Seeing the Forest AND the Trees

Technology for a better world.

Open Web Foundation announced at OSCON July 24, 2008

Filed under: Open Web Foundation — pdxbob @ 5:53 pm

Technologies such as OpenID and OAuth were created as open specifications to provide a single digital identity and to allow you to provide secure access to your data for services which you use on the web. In an effort to “create a home for community-driven specifications,” the Open Web Foundation was announced today by David Recordon at O’Reilly’s OSCON in Portland. Why another non-profit organization for technical specifications, you ask? Scott Kveton, one of the founders of the new foundation says:

“To answer several of the pain points around getting an open specification to be able to be used in the marketplace and keep community members writing code and specs and not legal documentation, several of us came together to create the Open Web Foundation.”

A huge thanks goes to the people who have worked over the past months to pull this effort together. Some of the other announcements can be found on their blogs:

Dawn Foster

Scott Kveton

David Recordon

Brady Forrest

Also check out the slides that David presented this morning at OSCON. As I get ready to embark on the next part of my software development journey at Vidoop, I’m proud to become part of an organization that so strongly supports these efforts and which does so by employing some of the significant players in the open web, people like Scott Kveton, Chris Messina, Will Norris and Michael Richardson.


Great Happy Hour Space for Non-Profits June 27, 2008

Filed under: donating,DonorsResource,non-profit — pdxbob @ 9:21 pm

Last night I attended a Happy Hour for, the creators of the Virtual Warehouse which brings together donors and non-profit organizations in need to items (clothing, kitchen items, computers, furniture, you name it). The Happy Hour was held in the showroom space of California Closets at 1225 SE Grand Avenue in Portland. There were I’d guess fifty people who came from non-profits interested in receiving item donations, donors (such as myself), board members and other supporters of this unique service for nps.

I met some interesting people, including Jeanne Ann Van Krevelen, owner of Escalation Business Consulting, blogger at The Edgy Entrepreneur and on Twitter at JeanAnnVK. Jeanne’s blog has got some great, targeted advice for new and small business owners and non-profits. I recommend checking it out.

I also met Brenda Lee, VP of Business Development at Pavelcomm, an IT service and consultancy located in NW Portland. Pavelcomm has been providing IT services to non-profits in the area for years. Some of their clients are Cancer Care Resources and the Franciscan Spiritual Center.  They are also active with Trillium Family Services and the Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Brenda understands the IT business. If you are looking for outsourcing IT or getting some IT help, I recommend you give them a call.

Ok, so you’ve read this far and I haven’t mentioned anything about the venue, California Closets showroom.  I was pleasantly surprised at the elegance and simplicity of this space for small happy-hour-style gatherings. California Closets provides this showroom to non-profits for such events and given its central location and relatively-easy street parking in the area, I think it is a great spot for non-profits to gather their friends and supporters for an early evening happy hour. The location was perfect for a happy hour that is very interactive. This is different from some of the events I attend where geeks get together around laptops, such as BeerAndBlog. I didn’t ask if they have WiFi but the setting is not really targeted toward the technical community.

Thanks to Kiyoshi Terada, Marketing extraordinaire for, for the invitation.


Great Resources for Non-Profits June 26, 2008

Filed under: non-profit,philanthropy,technology — pdxbob @ 4:54 am

Last night I attended the monthly Portland Net Tuesdays meetup, which meets at the AboutUs headquarters in SE Portland. This meetup brings together people interested in the use of technology in non-profits. I’ve been going since February, when the second Pdx Net Tuesdays meeting was held. The topics last night were Connec+pedia and Squarepeg. Bram Pitoyo has written a comprehensive review of the two presentations here. These are great resources for non-profits.


Giving Children a Chance in Cambodia June 25, 2008

Filed under: Cambodia,children,philanthropy — pdxbob @ 5:23 am

As my personal business card reads ‘Technology for a Better World’ I try to use technology to further good causes. I just blogged about donating items instead of dollars through a Virtual Warehouse and now I’d like to ask you to consider donating dollars to a cause that is so important to the future of our planet: fighting human trafficking. Yes, we have to slow down global warming and live more sustainably, but if we don’t fight the battle against greed and outright criminal abuse that the human traffickers are carrying out, we are forgetting about the children of this world who depend on us to provide a decent future for them.

James and Athena Pond are Oregonians who dedicate themselves to empowering young girls who are victims of human trafficking by providing them with opportunities to live a normal life and to heal their wounds. They founded Transitions Cambodia, have a transitional care home in Cambodia and consult worldwide to advise on setting up similar homes. But ultimately they rely on donations to get their work done. Transitions Cambodia, Inc (TCI) is trying to raise $1,000. on a Facebook cause by July 4th.

Please consider donating even as little as $10. to help them reach their goal by Independence Day.


Spring/Summer Cleaning and Donating June 24, 2008

Filed under: donating,non-profit,philanthropy,Portland — pdxbob @ 7:19 pm

I don’t use my home office as much as I used to, primarily because I love sitting anywhere in my house with a laptop on my lap, and I also love sitting in coffee shops with WiFi. The home office has accumulated a lot of computer equipment that is unused and I finally got around to unloading the older gear. I had, and have, many options for unloading computer equipment and furniture: my young-adult kids, Craigslist, FreeGeek.

But the first place I think about now is, a Lake Oswego-based non-profit. Online cash donation has been common but what if we can donate goods online?   Della Rosenthal, Director and founder of DonorsResource, has been organizing the giving of needed items to low-income families for years. She collected and distributed more than 20,000 items to families in need in Portland in only 18 months, manually, and offline.  Now her new dedication is to connecting donors and nonprofits in need or goods and resources. DonorsResource created Virtual Warehouse that enables donating and receiving items online

So I got started by putting two CRT monitors, a printer and two desks into a “box” in the Virtual Warehouse. How easy is that? I just had to name the items, optionally providing additional description and pictures, and the site stores a virtual box in the Virtual Warehouse, ready for the taking by a Portland-area non-profit. When an organization shows interest in receiving my donated items, we, the donor and the non-profit, make arrangements for delivery or pickup. That’s why the storage is called a Virtual Warehouse. Clever.

You can also give to a specific organization, even search for organizations by category of donated items such as computer equipment, men’s clothing, cell phones, office furniture, etc. The site is cleanly designed and easy to use. Currently, there are hundreds of non-profits in the area looking for donated items to help them with their mission. If you have unused computer equipment, furniture, clothes, kitchen items or virtually any other home or office stuff, consider donating to a needy non-profit in the Portland area.


Fight Sex Trafficking by seeing the Holly film this weekend May 21, 2008

I have just pledged on to go to the Saturday night viewing of the acclaimed film, Holly, at the Hollywood Theater if twenty more people will agree to go. I have seen this film before and it is a gripping story of an American expat, played by Ron Livingston of Office Space fame, who is disgusted by being propositioned by a very young girl while in Cambodia. The same reaction he had was also what James Pond, founder of Transitions Cambodia, had when he was in Cambodia years ago. Along with his entire family, he decided to do something and the result is a wonderful organization that rehabilitates girls who had fallen victim to sex trafficking in southeast Asia.

This is a big weekend for Transitions Cambodia in Portland! They are holding a silent auction at the Burdigala Wine Shop in SE Portland on Thursday night. Details here. Then on Friday and Saturday nights, Holly will be screened at the Hollywood Theater in NE Portland, followed by Q&A with James and Athena Pond, founders of Transitions Cambodia, Victor Jaya Sry, In-Country Director from Cambodia, Keith Bickford, head of the Oregon Human Trafficking Task Force, Wendy Freed, noted trauma therapist, and Guy Jacobson, writer and producer of Holly. Tickets for the movie can be purchased at here.

The Hollywood Theater can hold a lot more than twenty people. I’m pledging to encourage people to be part of a special evening and to learn about an important problem that affects both developing and developed nations.

Pledge, won’t you please? Hope to see you Saturday night (or if you make it Friday night).


Game Programming Competition & Making Learning Fun May 20, 2008

Filed under: education,energy,OGPC,technology — pdxbob @ 5:11 am

As a former high-school teacher and parent of two children, I have always had an interest in seeing how education can be made to be fun. I’ve seen a lot of different styles and even experimented with some of my own unique approaches, but still the statistics ranking students in the United States indicate that there are many kids falling through the cracks. I don’t need to bore you with those numbers. Instead I want to reflect on a great experience I had this weekend as a judge of the Oregon Game Project Challenge where about twenty teams of high school students presented and demonstrated the computer game they created over the last month or two. For specifics on the competition and the top grand prize winner, see fellow judge (and fellow Corillian-CheckFree-Fiserv-ian) Stuart’s post here.

What most intrigued me about the experience were two things: 1) the students showed a lot of positive team-building skills as they regularly commended each other’s work, accepted a degree of specialization and were proud of their contribution, and in some cases exhibited a synchronicity in their story-telling presentation to the judges. The second thing that intrigued me was that the competition had a theme: energy, which each team was to incorporate in some way into their game. Since I was judging in the category of Game R&D, it was important to me to see how the students obtained information on energy and how they applied it in the game. Just having a theme (that was something other than killing all of the zombies or another worn-out game idea) gave team participants who were not the jedi programmers on the team a chance to apply themselves to research and to creatively incorporate their ideas into the game design.  It was so cool to hear stories about “ethical decisions” that a player had to make in a game, and about “monitoring the pollution level” as different actions were taken in a game.

This was the first programming game competition put on by TechStart and I am looking forward to the second OGPC next year. If you know high-school students who might be interested in this type of challenge, or even teachers who could share the idea with their students, please contact TechStart.

A week or two ago I picked up a book at Powell’s Technical entitled How Computer Games Help Children Learn by David Williamson Shaffer, an Associate Professor of Learning Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I just started reading it yesterday and I am very impressed with his approach. The book is intended to show how we can use game technology to teach children and young adults how to think as if they are in the real world of work. That’s not exactly how the author put it but it comes close. This type of thinking is really close to what I envision as necessary in educational thinking. To give you an idea of what I think really works, I’m going to relate an experience I had as a “seminar” leader way back in 1976 when I led a seminar on the topic of Government & Business for the National Junior Achievement Conference held one week in the summer at Indiana University.

I had attended the conference as a student delegate two years earlier after I had graduated from high school, and returned as a counselor the previous summer. In 1976, I decided to lead a seminar and chose that Govt/Biz topic. All of the seminars that I had attended as a student had been really boring: the seminar leader presented slides or gave a talk with notes. There were questions and answers afterward. Sound familiar? My approach was radically different. I devised a simulated scenario where a company had the right, to a degree, to pollute a nearby river (this was the 70’s ok) and recent studies indicated that there were more environmental effects on the ecosystem than originally thought. The company also wanted to ramp up its production to meet a growing demand. After explaining the scenario to the students in a ten-minute lecture-style address, I walked them to a classroom where they were instructed to form teams of 6-8 to a table and discuss the open-ended questions that had been written on the blackboards (remember, it was the 70s). Ultimately, each team was expected to provide a resolution to the government – business conflict that had occurred.

This “game” as I like to think of it, had no single winning team, but the enthusiasm shown by the kids was at a high level. They loved having the ability to discuss amongst themselves these tough problems and to debate solutions. I facilitated, walking around answering questions mostly by pointing the discussion in a direction. This teaching approach is obviously more adaptable to social sciences and humanities than it is to the hard natural sciences but I’m confident that if the topic were the chemical analysis of the environment that we still could have had a roaring good time debating how to go about doing the research and completing a study (ok, yeah I was quite a nerd in hs).

There are a lot of ways to get students engaged in learning. I see another recent interest of mine converging on the motivational education plane. Within the past couple or few years we’ve seen an explosion of APIs (application programmer interfaces) to gazillions of databases of data or services on the web. ProgrammableWeb is a site that follows the evolution of the “programmable web.” In this article, it proudly states that there are over 3000 mashups in its online repository! Each mashup is an application that uses data from one or more web sites to present it or use it in a unique way. Thirty-nine percent of those, it reports, are mashups involving mapping such as Google Maps. On their “Mashups” tab, you can see what the “Mashup of the Day” is. Today it is one called “ResumeDroppr.” There is a popular mashup called “Follow Oil Money” whose description is

An interactive tool that tracks the flow of oil money in U.S. politics, displaying Federal contributions as maps and drillable tables.

Now, getting back to education. Imagine students creating mashups. There are tools for building them (Sprout comes immediately to mind) so teachers/facilitators/educators have a way to focus the less-tech-savvy students by directing them to easy-to-use tools. I’m personally excited about this as an instructional medium that I might even start working on something for teachers and students to use.

What are your thoughts about using games, mashups, other media, as teaching tools and environments?