3650 Days Later

vigilToday is Easter and also the tenth anniversary of the shootings at Virginia Tech. On April 16, 2007, my oldest son was a senior at Virginia Tech and I will never erase the memory of that day and being on the phone with him as we watched the coverage of the mass shooting on TV.

He was safe.

But his engineering classmates and his professor that morning, Kevin Granata, were not. The class was working on muscle and reflex response and robotics projects. Professor Granata was helping my son fill some gaps in his software skills by working with him outside of class time. He was his adviser for his capstone senior design project team that was designing a biomimetic walking robot.

That morning Professor Granata heard the shooting and took about twenty students from a classroom to his office. After they were locked in, he went downstairs with another professor, Wally Grant, to investigate. Both teachers were shot. Professor Grant was wounded and survived, but Dr. Granata died from his injuries. The students locked in his office were all safe.

Kevin Granata was 45 years old. He was married with three children.

The university’s Day of Remembrance events this year began on Friday and continued today with the lighting of a ceremonial candle, at midnight, at the April 16 Memorial, followed by a wreath laying this morning and a full reading of the biographies of the 32 victims who were killed. There is a evening candlelight vigil at midnight, and then the ceremonial candle from the memorial is carried back to Burruss Hall.

My son was there Friday along with his wife who also graduated from Virginia Tech in his class of 2007. She was there recruiting for her employer. He made Blacksburg a stop on his way to North Carolina for a visit with John, a classmate and close friend.

Another classmate, Colin Goddard was one of the 7 students in his classroom of 17 to survive that day. He still has three bullets in his hips and knee. After the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in Newtown, CT. Seeing the very young victims on TV made him feel like the way my wife and I and the rest of the nation watched his tragedy at Virginia Tech. He decided to work for gun safety.

Colin served as a Senior Policy Advocate for Everytown for Gun Safety, and when he decided to get his MBA at the University of Maryland, he continued to volunteer as a Survivor Fellow with the organization.

Everytown for Gun Safety was created by Michael Bloomberg to combine several like-minded groups (Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America) under one centralized umbrella. Everytown for Gun Safety will focus on background checks rather than gun bans, a course parents from Newtown took after being unable, even with President Obama's strong support, to get federal support in Congress for stronger gun regulations. They will also will fund grass-roots operations dedicated to ensuring anti-gun voters reach the polls.

Ten years - 3650 days - later and it doesn't seem like much, or enough, has changed when it comes to the way Americans deal with gun violence.


Into a Twelfth Serendipitous Year



On this anniversary day for Serendipity35, we enter year 12 of blogging here.

This blog is approaching 100 million page hits. It will probably click over to that rather magical number this summer.

I don't think this is the year that Serendipity35 becomes a book.

February 2 is an interesting date to have as our anniversary.

In America, this is Groundhog Day. It's an old and thoroughly unscientific time to watch the behavior of animals (particularly the groundhog) as an indicator of what weather we can expect ahead: 6 more weeks of winter, or an early spring.

It is also the subject of a funny and thoughtful film, Groundhog Day, about someone caught in a time loop on this day.

For Christians, it is Candlemas.

But today is also the exact halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.

I find all four of these things hopeful, and I am hopeful that I will continue to want to post here about my thoughts on learning and technology.


Blogging By the Numbers

100 millionI was eager to check all my blog statistics this month because I had calculated that the numbers would trip my blog odometer over to a big number. I keep a spreadsheet for the 8 blogs where I write online. I don’t keep track of stats for my Tumblr or Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any of the other social sites I use. And I don’t obsess over the numbers month to month because I don’t get any income from people just viewing a page. I am curious about which posts got the most attention because it gives me some insight into what people want to read.

Looking at the total page hits for the eight blogs over their lifetimes, the number has now crossed the 100,000,000 mark.

That’s one hundred million page hits, which doesn’t mean there were that number of “unique visitors.” It is safe to assume that many of those hits come from the same people – and that’s a great thing. Blogs get subscribers and followers who are usually notified of new content and who, hopefully, come back to read more of your posts.

That number – 100,000,000 – sounds like the population of a country – my own little country of blogs.   My blog country is a bit smaller than the 12th largest, the Philippines at 107,668,232, but we are bigger than Ethiopia (96,633,456) and Vietnam (93,421,832). Sure, we are only half the population of Brazil (202,656,784) and Pakistan (196,174,384), but everyone in Austria (8,223,062) could visit the site a dozen times each to get us to 100,000,000.

One of my blogs, Weekends in Paradelle, has a largely North American readership, but the UK, Germany, France and India account for about 25 percent of visitors to this particular blog.

But my most oldest and most read blog is this one, Serendipity35. I have been writing about technology and education here since 2006, so it has a head start on the other blogs. It pulls in about a half million hits every month (532,468 in January and 859,860 in December 2016) and accounts for 97 million of those hits.

hourly statsSerious bloggers look at when people access their blog and then try to post in that time period. For Serendipity35, which has a much wider global audience than the Weekends in Paradelle blog, there is no “hot” hour. People are dropping by here all day and night from somewhere as the graph here shows. 

It’s nice to know there is a country of visitors out there. 



 


Take a Holiday Break and Pay It Forward

Google Santa Tracker village

I'll be taking a break from Serendipity35 until 2017 as the university closes up for the holidays. The kids all finished their exams and are tucking in for a winter nap until the new semester starts in January. Though that semester is called "spring," it will be quite cold when we return to educating here in New Jersey.

In the meantime, you can use the Google Santa Tracker or the old reliable NORAD Tracks Santa websites to play and follow Mr. Claus on his global travels. Pay it forward is an expression for describing the act that when you are the beneficiary of a good deed, you repay it to others (forward) rather than back to the person who did you the good deed. A lot of people learned about it via the book or the movie with that title, but the concept is much old, and owes something to Lily Hardy Hammond's book In the Garden of Delight.

Here are some charities I can recommend if this reminds you at year's end about those with greater needs than our own and less resources to deal with those needs. 

Smile Train is an organization whose site can break your heart with photos of kids with cleft lip and palate issues in developing countries. They cannot eat or speak properly, won't be allowed to attend school or hold a job and face very difficult lives. A donation of any amount is appreciated and $250 provides for the 45 minute medical procedure that will change a child's life.

One year I chose providing clean water as my focus. It's something we really take for granted in the U.S. More than 1 in 6 people in the world don't have access to safe drinking water and 1 out of every 4 deaths under the age of 5 worldwide is due to a water-related disease. There are a number of organizations that work to provide clean water for people and can even fund a well for an entire village. Here are 3 groups that you can consider: http://www.charitywater.org , http://watercharity.org/ and http://thewaterproject.org

Another year I decided to support charities that help our service members and their families.

Get Involved with Joining Forces

OurMilitary.mil: Community Support for our Military

United We Serve

National Resource Directory   


My wife selected the Michael J. Fox Foundation several years ago when two friends of ours were diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. This foundation has an aggressively funded research agenda for ensuring the development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson's today.





From myself and Brother Tim at Serendipity35, we wish you a very happy and healthy launch into your dance around the Sun in 2017!


A 16mm Education

16mm projectorMy elementary school days were the 1960s and back then seeing a film in class was a big deal. Those 16mm educational films often left a bigger impression on me than the books and lessons. A decade or so later and I was the teacher in the classroom and I became very good at threading those old 16mm projectors that often ate up the film.

Television as an educational tool was pretty rare. I recall my fellow students sitting on the floor of the gym in 1962 to watch one small television set as John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth.

A bit more than a decade later I was threading one of those 16mm projectors as a teacher to show my students films. Some teachers took advantage of using films a bit too often. We called them "plans in a can" and they were popular emergency plans in case you were absent without warning or on a day before vacation.

I was pretty frugal in my use of films, but I also taught a course on film and video production, so I think I had legitimate reasons to show films. Before there were home video players, 16mm films were the only way to do it.

The Sony Betamax hit the U.S. in 1975, and my school bought a VHS videocassette recorder (VCR) in 1977 when it was edging out the Betamax for the home video market. That VCR was something I used more and more, though my students were still shooting their own video on reel-to-reel VTRs (videotape recorders).

Sony changed that with their 1983 Betamovie cassette camcorder. My school bought a full size VHS camcorder and so did I. My first home movies of my newborn son were recorded with a video camera plugged into a VHS deck.

But I have very fond and surprisingly vivid memories of those old 16mm films that I saw a s a kid in school.

Many of them have emerged online. I assume that many of these films have had their copyright lapse, or maybe the companies that produced them have gone out of business or just don't care about their use any more.

I recall this film on "Lunchroom Manners" as one I saw in school. I also recall Pee Wee Herman using part of it in one of his shows. Watching "Mr. Bungle" in school settings today reminds me of my own school and the kids look like a lot I did then and my fellow students. Since I have no film and video of my own early days, these are like home movies.







I can imagine teachers in the late 1940s and 1950s showing in a health class films like the 1951  "Going Steady." (It doesn't portray going steady as a good idea.) And I'm not sure how teenagers in 1949 would have viewed the tips in Dating Do's and Don'ts. These were made by Coronet Instructional Films, which produced hundreds of films for the school market.

Public domain films from the Library of Congress Prelinger Archive and Archive.org can be a real trip down memory lane for people who came of age in the 1940s through the 1970s.

But the films I saw in school that left the biggest impression on me were the ones about science. Many of them were well made and from Hollywood producers and studios. I vividly recall "Our Mr. Sun," a film directed by Frank Capra who is best known for It's a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and many others.





That film launched the Bell System Science series. My father worked at Bell Labs in New Jersey then, so I thought then that he might have had some vague connection to these films (he didn't). It was the time time of the space race with Russia and an early version of STEM education that we all needed to know more about science. My father was determined I would be the first in the family to attend college and really wanted me to become an engineer.

With animation and live action, "Our Mr. Sun" was really well-made for the time. Capra had been producing documentaries for the Army during WWII such as the Why We Fight series and this documentary side business continued after the war. I know I saw that film multiple times in school, but this Technicolor beauty was originally telecast in 1956 and 1957 to 9 million homes and then some 600 16mm prints were distributed to schools and community organizations through the Bell Telephone System film libraries.

Another film I recall was on the atom. I grew up in that "atomic age" when the fear of nuclear war was very real. The film I recall was produced by Walt Disney Educational Media. Walt Disney began hosting his own television show for ABC in 1954. In exchange for a weekly hour-long Disney television program, ABC was funding some of the construction of Disneyland. The show was originally named Disneyland but went through later incarnations as Walt Disney Presents, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, The Wonderful World of Disney etc. All in all they ran for an amazing 54 years.

The "Our Friend the Atom" was a pro-nuclear energy film but it did compare atomic energy to a genie in a bottle, both of which are capable of doing good and evil.







Not all the films were about hard science and another one I recall must have had some impact on my decision to go into the humanities and major in English. Another from the Bell Science series produced by Frank Capra was "Alphabet Conspiracy" which was the story of the science of language and linguistics. The premise was a plot to destroy the alphabet and all language and it featured the very odd Hans Conried.

The growth of television after WWII scared many parents and educators. Kids were watching a lot of TV and, like film and comic books before it, the fear was that it would rot their minds. The same cry was heard with videogames, the Internet and now with smartphones, which contain all those formats.

I wrote my Master's thesis on the influence of television on children in regard to violence and isolation. There is no doubt that all this media influenced several generations, but I'm not sure that it rotted any brains. I suspect it inspired many kids.



This post first appeared at One-Page Schoolhouse


Hey, Maybe Your Blog Could Be a Book

blog to bookIt's a dream/fantasy of many bloggers: that their blog can become a book - or maybe even a movie. I've thought about it, and I wrote a post about the idea on another blog of mine this month. Here is a version of that post:

When I started blogging in early 2006, blogging was already becoming pretty common. I started blogging as something to use both in my teaching at NJIT and as a way to get my ideas out there. I had been doing workshops and presentations on the still-new blogs, wikis and podcasts for a while and I was trying to get faculty at the university to incorporate them into their courses.

Then I was asked to do a presentation for business people on those topics. Though I was doing podcasts and had created a few wikis, I was not a blogger. One of my colleagues at NJIT, Tim Kellers, was my tech guru and he created a blogging platform for us to use in our presentation using software called Serendipity. Thus, Serendipity35, this blog about learning and technology, was born. And it's still going.

In 2004, the New Yorker had said that books by bloggers would become a cultural phenomenon, but I never gave that a thought in those days. Since that first blog, I have added 8 other blogs to my weekly writing. As a few friends like to remind me, "if you only channeled all that writing, you would have a few books by now."

Then came stories like that of Julie Powell and her blog about trying to cook the entire Julia Child cookbook in her New York apartment. PostSecret and Stuff White People Like are other blogs that became multiple incarnations of books, but Julie was the star student.  

Her original blog on Salon.com is gone, but is archived on the great Web.Archive.org site. The blog began in 2002 as she cooked her way through Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." In 2005, it became a book, Julie and Julia:365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. In 2007, a film version was announced - the first major motion picture that started off as a blog.

Say what you will about the writing of Powell, she had an established readership and that is why a publisher knew that readership could translate to book sales. This is not new to publishing, TV or film - choose things (comic books, hit plays etc.) that have a built-in following and are a surer bet.

The film adaptation, directed by Nora Ephron, also titled Julie & Julia, was released in 2009. The film was actually based on both Powell's book and Julia Child's autobiography My Life in France. This was not a small, independent film. Amy Adams starred as Powell and Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Julia's husband Paul was played by Stanley Tucci.

But that is one blogger who got great deals out of many millions of bloggers. It is tough to find a number for how many blogs exist (active and archived) currently but just Tumblr.com's cumulative total blogs in July 2016 surpassed 305.9 million blog accounts. That makes the odds about the same as winning the Power Ball lottery.

Yes, Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody got a book deal out of her blog (not the one that led to her best known screenplay for Juno though).

Another success story is Tim Ferriss, whose blog, the Four Hour Work Week, was listed at number one on the top 150 Management and Leadership Blogs.

In 2010, photographer Brandon Stanton started a project to create a photographic census of New York City and his blog version (and Facebook page) of Humans of New York became the book Humans of New York: Stories and was a bestseller.

All of these are why you can find lots of blog posts about turning your blog into a book. For example, look at thebookdesigner.com/2015/06/making-the-leap-from-blogger-to-book-author/ and authorunlimited.com/turn-your-blog-into-a-book-effectively.

I still haven't moved any of my blogs to the print (or film!) world. I could see my poetry project at Writing the Day as a poetry collection. I'd like to think that Weekends in Paradelle and One-Page Schoolhouse have enough posts to produce a collection of essays. The same might be true of the several thousands post on Serendipity35, but I realize that many of my posts are "dated" in the time they were written. Editing would be a major part of turning a blog into a book. I believe that, despite tales of the death of print, an actual book still holds a special, higher place in our culture than a website.

Publishers: contact me.