Wednesday, June 29, 2005


Outlining Roars Back

To outline means to organize the relationships between the main and subordinate points of an idea, activity, project or argument. Digital outlining adds the ability to move, minimize or hide less important details. Though the paper-based use of outlining had fallen into disfavor in writing classes, its fluid digital reincarnation brought it back to life in school classrooms and adult planning activities. The announcements of free tools with strong or complete online operations have brought it roaring back into action. Check out the recent announcements of Cmap and Inspiration (for handhelds and Smartboards) as well as management organizers such as Backpack and Basecamp for new ways to think about the concept of outlining.

Outlines provide concise visual ways to organize knowledge in order to create meaningful change in the world. Outlines create an organized bridge of prioritized steps between the Look and Evoke stages of problem solving. Such tools adress the overwhelming mass of information presented by the world at large and the complexities of selecting different computer applications.

Concept maps go beyond text outlining to provide a very fluid form of outlining. Outline use contrasts sharply with rote learning with reports showing that it is not only being better for meaningful learning but better at fostering long term memory (Kaczor, 2005). Outline creation is useful for both building understanding and testing or evaluating that understanding. This way of organizing helps take the results of brainstorming and planning and makes it easier to organize, prioritize and prune the thoughts that emerge, then proceed with the expansion of the structure that is left standing. The ease of use and efficiency of computer-based outlining brought new life and power to the concept.

Click outline essay to go deeper into the idea and practice of outlining.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


The Blogosphere Show - Simple Podcasting Systems

this is an audio post - click to play

Click above to listen. Only a single phone is needed to create a podcast. But both the speakerphone and the cell phone shown in the picture below are needed if someone at a distance needs to participate. If your phone services do not offer conferencing, this is a simple workaround; otherwise the audio will be higher quality if phone conferencing is used to make a three party call, with the third party being the audio service.. To start an audio conference with the design in the picture, I begin holding the cell phone next to my head for some initial comments, then set it on the speaker phone. The picture shows what this setup looks like.

Blog audio conference set up.

Here's the transcription of this 3 minute 17 second podcast.

"This is another podcast in the Blogosphere Show with Bob Houghton speaking. Welcome to this podcast on simple podcasting systems. This is a test of using my cell phone for automated podcasting. I'm using my cell phone as a microphone to record an audio conference using a speaker phone. When I finish recording and tap the # key on my cell phone, I have the option of replaying it, deleting it, or immediately posting it to one of my blog sites as an mp3 file. If I post it, when my blog site is opened, an icon for playing the audio file is visible and plays with a single click.

Here's what I'm doing right now. The current most simple set up I can think of is to open the cell phone and place it on its side on top of the speaker phone. The speaker phone is sitting on top of an upended standard size box of Kleenex to put the phones close to my lips. The microphone within a cell phone only records well within a very short distance. Within the speaker phone, I have the phone number I'm calling on speed dial so the tap of a single key will dial. This procedure will waste as little cell phone time as possible.

To test this equipment without interrupting someone else, find a local number that plays a tape of information, such as a movie theatre that plays a recording of its shows and showtimes. I'll dial that now.

[I put the cell phone down on the speaker phone. The phone rings, the tape answers, and I talk over pieces of the playing tape which forces the speaker phone to silence the theater recording until I stop talking.]

At the moment the speaker phone is still sitting approximately some 7 to 8 inches away from me. I'm going to pick it up now and put the cell phone next to my head. I'm putting it next to my face in the usual manner. You should now hear the voice quality improve somewhat. The free web posting service that I'm using is through a sign up with which in turn uses a service called Audioblogger.

For better recording quality, plug a headphone set with microphone into your cell phone. This allows you to experiment with positioning the speaker phone and your lips further away from the cell phone and still have decent recording quality. However, it does require you to remember to carry around a headphone set to carry this out.

This is the Blogosphere Show and Bob Houghton. Check for other broadcasts." END OF PODCAST

Assuming you have a national cell phone calling plan, the cost of such work is just in your cell phone minutes. If your podcasting is official company work, then there is no additional cost to be the "host" of a podcast. Audio quality varies greatly with the quality of the microphones and related knowledge and software. The audio quality of a recording is not as crisp as a live phone conversation because it is compressed in making it an mp3 file. The above design in the picture is further lowered in quality by using a cell phone microphone to record the sound from a speaker phone. Higher quality audio requires more professional equipment. Information on podcast setups with real microphones are not hard to find, e.g.: $100 U.S. Roadhouse design; or $200 U.S. BSW's podcast packages. See a Google search for "podcast setup" to sift more, but such approaches require much more web editing skills. Even given their five minute limit per recording, I find's cell phone arrangement for podcasting to be not only the simplest and most efficient approach, but low-cost and mobile as well.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Partner Blog and Web Page Designs

A "partner" blogsites parallels a standard web page so that sections of a web page essay can have a place that allows commentary and feedback on its sub-sections. Consider the similarities. Blogs are generally thought of as a collection of periodic postings organized by date, each posting its own topic that does not necessarily directly relate to the last. An essay or any large document is also a collection of headings or sub-topics but organized by sequence so that each sub-topic follows from the last to form a coherent whole. Here's an example of a blog organized as large document or essay.

See the sidebar link in the above blog site which connects to its parallel as a web page. The web page in turn has a link to its blog site. At the blog site readers can use the comments link to discuss each section. The author or authors of both sites having the passwords to both would keep these two parallel, building on the feedback and re-weaving it into the section of the web page essay and re-editing the original blog posting. Revisions to the web page would come after consensus formed in the posting at the blog site. The web page provides a streamlined printout or reading without the distractions of the comment and date data. The web page also provides more secure control of the developing document than with a wiki, but slows down the evolution of the more comprehensive document. The comments section of the blog provides a way to track, remember and negotiate each heading section of the document. This has interesting implications for group editing of policy statements, manuals, and grant and curriculum development.

It would also be possible to create a troika, a three way partnership of blog, wiki and web.

I will post other examples of these tandem and troika concept as I have them.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


Mossberg and The Mystery of Blog Creation

Blogging remains the fastest way to generate a web site for addressing community problem solving. In comparing the top three free blog creation services, Walter Mossberg's excellent Wall Street Journal column on blog creation (2005, June 15, D4) found that's approach to photos was a hassle. There are points to quibble with in his review.

Mr. Mossberg was most kind to respond quickly to my email which complained that he had his facts wrong in noting that one cannot quickly and easily add narration to a photo in Blogger. I retract the "facts wrong" thought and leave his paragraph as misleading. He intended his critique to knock Hello which works with Picasa to upload selected and edited images. He wanted to be able to add the narration or description to the photo while in Hello during the upload process. I prefer the editing to be done back in the back in the blog. Why add the duplication of editing in Hello when it is already quite adequate in the blog editor?

He wants the Blogger approach seen as cumbersome and slow, a view that I find too narrow in just weighing upload time. There is a larger "environmental impact" in working with images and ignoring it misleads readers. This line of thought will require another post.

What he concluded was a problem of's design for uploading photos using the Picasa photo editor, I find a powerful free application well worth the effort to learn. He found it a hassle to download and install this free program. There is a larger view that he did not address by focusing on just the quickness of getting an image in a blog posting. The fact is that anyone who uploads images will need to work with an image editor to crop or touch up the photo. Once installed, users will find it is a jewel of an editor, and an image collection organizer that photographers should not be without. Picasa adds to efficiency and simplicity in managing collections of images in addition to making image posting quick and easy. Yes, it involves more steps than MSN Spaces, but then it is a more comprehensive approach to the larger set of problems in working with images, a process that everyone must deal with in one fashion or another using some additional application.

His comments failed to discuss audio uploading and podcasting for beginners, which Blogger provides for free and in a design of great simplicity. Image posting is an important feature, but as much attention as image and text posting has been getting, podcasting is even hotter. Blogger's telephone call in feature which automatically converts your "voice mail" to an mp3 file and makes a clickable linked icon automatically deserves widespread attention. MSN Spaces and Yahhoo 360 have yet to even get started on adding audio posting services. I've enjoyed the ease in with which I can copy and paste image, audio and text into one posting to provide a real multimedia experience that still makes for quick display times. See other postings in this blog for such multimedia examples.

That said, Mossberg's review of the big three blog services highlights important features and conclusions for those getting started with blogging. I thought his best hit was the current lack of privacy controls in Blogger which both MSN Spaces and Yahoo 360 provide. Privacy controls are an important option. His analysis ranked MSN Spaces first, Yahoo 360 (not yet publicly available) second and in third. Stay tuned as the feature set of all three of these services is bound to change for the better in the months ahead.

Friday, June 10, 2005


PR Harmonizing

A critical factor in community problem solving is listening and remediating ideas. Remediating? Habermas would call it harmonizing. Humans have an amazing capacity to hear and see what they expect, not adjust to what really is. Stereotype thinking infects us all. Nora Carr makes a career of dealing with this as a publication relations (PR) specialist, who keeps a column going in eSchool News, with one eye focused on the "dark side" of media. She recently mentioned this blog and other work of mine as part of her column that can be found here:

For those following the CROP perspective of this blog, Nora makes a key point. "The key to building an effective blog is to view it as a relationship-building tool that will help you engage your stakeholders in new and important ways." Solutions to real problems have to begin and end with mutual agreement and understanding about many things.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


Habermas as Blogging Philosophy

It is hard to match the socializing and harmonizing potential of sharing a meal with someone. What is there about the clink of silverware and dishes that stimulates conversation and a little problem-solving. Are blog sites just a weak substitute for good mealtime conversation? Unless videoconference pricing drop off a cliff, it is hard to imagine replacing blog sites any time soon with doing a videoconference lunch with multiple points around the globe. Now there's something to look forward to. A meal seems such a perfect image for communicative action theory. Given global social customs, one could conjecture that brains and stomachs take particular pleasure in doing their digesting together.

Habermas's Communicative Action Theory (1984) provides a deeper perspective from which to examine the nova-like explosion of blogging. Who would have known there was such an additional pent-up life-force needing further social discourse? What was so limiting about phones, email, newsgroups, listservs, chat and web pages that blogs exploded across the web's social universe with such force? Considering the virtues of a blog site, one must surmise that the needed harmonizing of ideas in the public sphere was not public enough in email, not interactive enough in web pages and not a stable or a clear enough narrative in newsgroups, email lists and chat.

For an introduction to Habermas, try Deflem's less dense treatise.

Deflem, Mathieu. 1996. “Introduction: Law in Habermas’s Theory of
Communicative Action.” Pp. 1-20 in Habermas, Modernity and Law, edited by
Mathieu Deflem. London: Sage. Available June 9, 2005 at

Even more digestible translations of Habermas would be of interest.

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