Monthly Archives: August 2023

Happy Birthday, LT!

LibraryThing appeared on the World Wide Web on August 29, 2005. They are celebrating their 18th birthday with a fun scavenger hunt that encourages you to explore the site. If you are a reader and book lover, it’s worth creating an account to play!

My own 18th anniversary is coming soon. I joined the site on October 13, 2005. According to LT practice, I am permitted to buy one book for each year and one to grow on. I better get started on my wishlist. LT came around at just the right moment when I was considering how to catalog my rapidly growing book collection. I had been tinkering with an Access database but it meant entering the books manually. LT solved that with a web-based search along with the offer of community of readers. I have written about my involvement in LT in the past including my participation in their 75 Books a Year group.

In 2005, I only entered one book: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. I even wrote a short review. The next year I entered a few more and then began keeping my completed reading regularly in 2007. I have not yet catalogued my unread books but may devote some time this winter to working on it. LT sells a handy dandy scanner called the CueCat. They also offer a library management software program called TinyCat. It has a free version for individual users and low cost versions for small institutions.

I am grateful to creator Tim Spalding and the whole LT team for developing this readers’ retreat, demonstrating how to harness the Web for good.

Happy Birthday, LibraryThing!

Origin Story

I met my students last evening and had fun getting to know them and starting to dig into the course. I worry a little that I tell too many stories of the old days when it took minutes to connect to the Internet, and we were unable to move from our tethered devices.

Last night, it was the story of my middle school that, via a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, had such early access to the Internet that we went for at least two years without a filter as such technology was still being developed. It was early days so “bad” websites were not as widely available, and we talked to the students about responsibility as well as closely monitoring their usage. Remember, this was the mid-90s so access was on desktop computer in labs or classrooms. 1:1 and BYOD were not part of the regular vocabulary.

I have a few memories of accidental, inappropriate access. was a funny parody of and one dear child tried to get to Playboy by typing, which then kept coming up in the address bar. The venerable elementary school principal, a wonderful woman, went searching for pictures for her website and we were all surprised when the first one depicted a scantily clad, buxom young woman sprawled on top of a desk in front of a chalkboard. We had a good laugh and moved on.

Oh dear, I just told a story, didn’t I? I threatened to tell my students the origin story of witchyrichy, my standard username since I joined the Internet, but sadly did not have time. I don’t think I have shared it here either so, dear readers, another story for your amusement.

It is Halloween, October 1996, the year in which my middle school received the afore mentioned grant. I was teaching 8th grade communications skills in a computer lab. Yahoo was two years old and the Google of its day. Everyone wanted a Yahoo account but needed some help figuring out how to do it. When I sat down at one of the lab desktops to create a Yahoo account (I think I had been using a Virginia PEN account but that’s a story for another time), it seemed that many variations of my name were already taken. So, I took a look at that year’s costume choice with pointy black hat and long black dress, and witchyrichy was born.

I am a little embarrassed to admit that I did briefly egosurf in front of my students last evening. As I scrolled, I was reminded of all the various sites that have come and gone over the past 20 years from bookmarking tools to online communities. I think I feel a story coming on…

Back to Building the Plane

In a recent email, a colleague at the university where I teach called Artificial Intelligence the wild west. It reminds me of the early days of the Internet in schools, something I was fortunate to participate in as both teacher and professional developer.

Tonight, as I begin my ninth year teaching a graduate-level school technology course for budding administrators, I will be showing a video that I used to show in workshops during the early years of the Internet but haven’t shown for a long time. After nearly three decades, we have gotten comfortable with the Internet as a part of our lives in the classroom. In fact, these younger educators may have little or no memory of a time when they, both as students and now teachers, didn’t start the day by logging on.

But, AI is challenging that comfortable complacency, with schools scrambling to develop policies around what I think really may be the technology the forces educators to reconsider how they teach. The Walla Walla Public Schools are a good example of how schools often approach new technologies. They blocked ChatGPT last spring but are now embracing it for both teachers and students. The article is worth a read as it covers the issues related to cheating and bias The school district ultimately believes it is their responsibility to help their students grapple what is quickly becoming a ubiquitous technology:

“We’re fostering 21st century learners and we’d be doing them an injustice if we didn’t educate ourselves to therefore educate them on how to use it responsibly,” LaRoy said. “This is the world they’re going to go into. We really felt like there was no other option than to jump on this and embrace it.”

Walla Walla Union Bulletin, Loren Kykendall, April 15, 2023

It feels like the early days of the Internet but with a larger sense of urgency. We’re building that plane while we are flying it.*

*The commercial was for a company called Electronic Data Systems. I was surprised to discover that it was founded the year I was born by none other than Ross Perot! Thanks, Wikipedia.

Taking a Spiritual Path to AI

I teach edtech courses to K-12 educators each fall. We’ve talked about AI in a general sense but I know that this semester, we need to dig into what this new technology means for everyone, including educators. It just might be that transformational technology we’ve been promised.

I was just trying to figure out where to start when a new podcast from Dan Harris at Ten Percent Happier appeared: The Dharma of Artificial Intelligence. Harris started the podcast echoing my own sentiments: his team knew they had to tackle the subject but couldn’t figure out how. Until they found this book: What Makes Us Human: Artificial Intelligence Answers Life’s Biggest Questions. Its authors–Iain Thomas and Jasmine Wang–trained an AI on spiritual texts from the Bible to Maya Angelou and then asked all the big questions of life.

The answers form the bulk of the book, and they are surprisingly spiritual and inclusive. They focus on what connects us at the core as humans without concern for individual religious beliefs or practices. The writing is reminiscent of motivational and devotional texts. In the end, the Beatles may have had it right: all you need is love. Here is part of the answer to the question: What is the meaning of life? “The meaning of life is love. We have a tendency to think we are separate from the Universe. We are not separate. We are part of it, and it is part of us” (p. 37).

The authors are not oblivious to the issues of AI, with Wang especially expressing real fear at the power and potential for harm represented by this technology. The podcast was unsettling. We are grappling with something we don’t fully understand.

Farm Life

Our first planting of corn has been producing for almost a month! Eating fresh and freezing as much as possible.

In Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, about her family farm in southwest Virginia, she describes the extensive preparations they took to protect the garden from weeds and critters before going away for a week. I was away for two weeks at the height of the growing season with no time for preparation, and my gardens, both vegetable and flower, were busy both producing and returning to the wild when I returned. I was able to wrestle back some control from the weeds while also harvesting corn, green beans and tomatoes for consumption and preservation. My freezer is slowly filling up with bags of beans and plastic containers of corn and tomato sauce. It will be a delicious winter.

The Pear Orchard
The pear orchard with six trees and lots of delicious, eat-off-the tree pears.

I have also been canning pear jam with the bounty from our six pear trees, all of which have produced amazing fruit this year. I am using this great recipe from Practical Self Reliance; it makes a beautiful, chunky but spreadable jam. My only hack is that I use my pressure cooker to cook down the pears as it requires less tending than the stove top.

The world of “real” work is calling, and in between gardening and cooking, I got started on a couple projects for the fall semester. I was worried that, after feeling very retired for the first months of 2023 and especially while I was hanging out with my parents and then digging into my part-time farmer life, I wouldn’t have the energy or motivation to deal with timelines and deadlines and other people. Fortunately, my skills at prioritizing and focusing kicked back in but with a better sense of balance. I was able to integrate work without it overwhelming the rest of my life the way it might have in the past. Plus, it has been a great time to learn new tech skills: I am incorporating AI into both my edtech courses and have been having fun learning about and experimenting with ChatGPT. More on that later.

For now, I’ve got pears to prep and tomatoes to pick, and I might even take a bike ride on a Monday morning.

Pears hanging low on the branches