The SF Chronicle wrote a story about my mobile phone programming course that uses Google’s App Inventor for Android. Below are the students at USF’s CS night (click the pic to see article).


Here’s an example

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "Jing is a screen capture tool", posted with vodpod

Jing is free and easily installed. When its running, a little sun appears in the top right of your screen. You can click it to get a capture widget up, and then easily create a screencast. You can also upload the screencasts you create to screencast.com. I also grabbed a bookmarklet from vodpod.com which allows me to easily post any video to a wordpress blog (this is how I got this screencast posted).

My friend Paul Gestwicki from Ball State University sent me a link describing a killer app. for the mobile phone. The app. mashes GPS and Map annotation to give the user an augmented experience of the objects around him. Here’s a clip from one of the companies, mobilizy.com, about their product Wikitude:

Paul sent me the link because at a recent Google workshop we’d brainstormed about an app. for creating ‘custom tours’ where GPS or barcodes are used to give the user info about objects and places around them.

Google is giving my class at USF 20 Android smart phones, with a goal of exploring the use of a new visual programming language tentatively called App Inventor for Android. The language (tool) is still restricted to Google’s trusted user program and the university professors they’ve invited for the project.

It’s basically a block language like Scratch for the Mobile Phone. One cool aspect, which I learned at a Google Workshop, is the way you use a barcode scanner on your phone to download a newly developed app. to the phone. Very cool.

My Introduction to CS class at USF was featured at a Google User Group Meeting. Freshmen Aaron Draczynski and Matt Cline demonstrated the ‘Bookface’ social network software they created as a class project using Python and Google’s App Engine:

The idea behind the class was this: computer students typically don’t get to write web software and other cool stuff until they’ve learned the basics for a year or more. This can lead to a lack of motivation and students not continuing as CS majors, even though they are really excited about the web and computing.

This summer I learned about Google’s App Engine and was pretty wowed. It eliminates some of the barriers to web programming for beginners: you don’t have to setup a database or server as its all setup for you and housed within the greatest computing infrastructure ever created. Could this technology, combined with the wonderful Python programming language, allow beginners to learn web software in one semester?

As we near the end of this experiment, I believe the answer is a profound ‘YES’. The students have been extremely motivated, working harder than perhaps any other class I have taught. I think they’re pretty excited to have written a social network as opposed to just using one!

If you’re interested in learning to build dynamic web applications using Python and Google App Engine, check out these  notes.

Who is behind Prop. 8?

One way to push for equality is through economic and political pressure, as in the divestment movement of South Africa. One part of this will be to make public the people behind the YES ON 8 movement. This means exposing who directly funded it, who indirectly funded it through a funding chain, and who is being funded by such organizations.

To explore this idea, I performed a bit of research using Google and opencampaigns.com. One money chain I found was this:

protectmarriage.com <– FIELDSTEAD & CO (Ahmasons) –> Robert Huff, CA assembly

Protectmarriage.com has raised nearly a million dollars for Prop. 8. One of their donors is FIELDSTEAD & CO, a group that was cited as one of the most influential evangelicals by Time.

Here is an excerpt of the Time article about influential Evangelicals:

THE FINANCIERS: Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, 55, Fieldstead & Co. foundation, Irvine, CA. Projects that savings-and-loan multimillionaires Howard and Roberta Ahmanson have paid for over the years through Fieldstead & Co., a private philanthropy in Irvine, Calif., include an institute linked to the anti-evolution intelligent design movement and a study of social endeavors by third-world Pentecostal churches. The have lately been counseling newly powerful Christians about hubris. Says Roberta, “Christlike humility and (improving) the lives of human beings should be the goals.”

Howard Ahmanson is an heir to the Home Savings Bank.

Fieldstead & CO. also funded politicians:

They didn’t directly fund Prop. 8, but they’re taking money from those that did.

This little bit of research is just a sample of what could be done. With collaborative software, this could be a joint effort, and the various funding chains could all be followed. Can such research help? Can we build a database where people can view businesses, politicians, etc. who are behind this discrimination? The SF Chronicle put a searchable database up prior to the election and the site was heavily used. It only showed direct funders, however. Many of the people funding yes on 8 are proud of it, but there is also that quiet segment who would rather their neighbors and friends not know. And perhaps more important, others who have indirectly funded 8 without even knowing it. Those are the folks who might apply persuasion and/or pressure with the greatest gains.

If you’re interested in such a project, email me at wolber at usfca dot edu.

Yesterday’s California supreme court ruling on gay marriage was a joyous event and should be celebrated with utter abandon. For some reason the image of Harvey Milk and his infectious smile have been floating around in my head since I heard the news. Congratulations to all activists whose courage and sacrifice made this day possible.

Unfortunately, with any civil rights victory, one is forced to immediately ponder the consequences. The fear of a violent backlash. The fear that such a historic victory could lead to a political backlash that could effect the upcoming election so critical to our very existence.

There are certainly parallels to February 2004, when the Massachussets Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, arguably helping Bush win states like Ohio in November. Could this ruling have a similar catastrophic effect? Or are things different in 2008? SF Mayor Gavin Newsom thinks so. He called it, “a golden oldie for the Republicans, and I think they’ve played it one too many times” (chronicle) Gavin may be right, but gay rights were indeed a huge issue in 2004 and many Democrats feel the fires were stoked both by the timing of the Massachussets ruling as well as Gavin’s city hall matrimonial actions in 2004. One could certainly argue that homophobia will play as well today in Ohio as four years ago.

So should we celebrate this victory quietly until November? Should gay people not hold hands or kiss in public until McCain is defeated? Or should they do the exact opposite and follow Harvey’s call to come out like never before?

Barrack Obama has a similar dilemma. Does he come out in full support of gay marriage? This would bring a smile to my lips, and further ingratiate him with his base, but would it help him get elected? Does he stick with his “civil unions” stance? Or is there an alternative in which the government treats all people the same– with civil unions– while “marriage” becomes a strictly religious institution (such has been proscribed by the authors of “Nudge”)?

Its an age old dilemma, one that leads to angry debate  (witness the criticism Barney Frank has taken for his compromises). But this is one that must be considered with utmost care as the lives of millions are at stake.