Saturday, December 31, 2005

Kids, movies, and norms

Last night my wife and I went to see Narnia at a movie theater in Logan, Utah. I know it's based on a children's novel so I expected kids to be in the audience, especially at a 4:00 PM matinee. It ended up being one of my all-time worst movie experiences. Several parents brought their 2-year-old kids and let them run around the theater during the movie making all kinds of noise. It's been a while since I lived in Utah, so I need to ask, "Is this normal?"

At this point I should probably mention that I have three kids, and at one time we tried the "Let's all go to the movies together" idea. We went to see Polar Express, and I ended up walking around the theater lobby for an hour and a half with my restless baby. Lesson learned. Last night I watched two parents looking on as their toddlers ran right under the silver screen, yelping and squeaking. The parents finally scooped up their kids and stood in the lower aisle, determined to keep watching the movie. The kids eventually broke free and ran a few more laps around the theater. As a parent with young kids I am used to plenty of ambient noise, and I certainly don't expect any theater to be totally silent, but this was different. There seemed to be several parents who had come to the movie with the intention of letting their small children run and play while they watched a movie. Unbelievable.

I should also mention that I am not normally the type who makes a big deal about these kinds of situations. I usually wait until someone else says something, but the fact that no one was doing anything finally got to me. (Frankly, this little situation was more interesting to me than the movie anyway.) I ended up leaving the movie to talk to the management and ask for my money back. Even though that made me feel a bit better, I was still bothered by what happened. The theater manager said he would send someone to talk to the couple that was allowing their kids to run wild (I didn't see if that really happened). I went back in and watched the second half of the movie, partly just to see what would happen with this situation. The end of the movie wound up being just as noisy as the first half. Kids were still running under the screen with no parent anywhere in sight.

So the main thing I learned from this experience is that a majority Utah/LDS crowd will tolerate kids ANYWHERE. As far as I could tell I was the only one who was bothered enough to request a refund. I also learned that it's NOT a good idea to go to the last matinee of the day. There seem to be quite a few people who want to save a couple bucks on tickets this way. These are apparently the same ones who are too cheap to spend money on a babysitter, even if it means ruining the experience for a few hundred people. Hopefully this wouldn't have happened at a later showing. I don't think it would have been tolerated for an entire movie in any other state. In any event, I found another reason to be confused by "Utah Mormon" culture last night. (I know I am generalizing here, so if this happens in other places/cultures I would like to hear about it. If so, please ignore this last paragraph.)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

7150 Project: School IT Security Wiki

Well, the commercial blogging thing wasn't really working out. Then, a few weeks ago, I wrote some content for a CURI grant Brett Shelton is doing on IT security, or the lack of it, in our public schools. I kept thinking about school IT security, and finally decided to make it the topic of my 7150 (Learning Objects) class project. I've been working on it alot over the past few days, and right now I am wishing I was sitting in a more comfortable chair. Anyway, here's the link to my wiki.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Blogging to help pay for college?

This week I signed a contract to blog for While I have only written two articles ("Choosing Your Next USB Flash Drive" and "How to Fight Phishing & Spoof Email Scams"), I am encouraged by the fact that a big jump in hits yesterday. This may just be a fluke or a spike, but I would love to think my articles had something to do with the jump in traffic. While few people really understand the exact details of Google's magic formula for page ranking, it is clear to me that popularity can grow quickly and exponentially. I would love to be able to pay for part of college through blogging. We'll have to see if the increased traffic (and revenue) can be sustained over time. For now I will sleep with visions of sugarplums and Google Ads dancing in my head.

Commercial Blogs Project is up

I started my Commercial Blogs project here. Let me know if you think the theme is two hard on the eyes, or any other thoughts on this blog. This blog will be about making money with blogs. I'll be adding more content soon.

Friday, November 11, 2005

7870 commercial blog project

At Cafe Sabor Dr. Wiley said that the 7870 class wiki could serve as an example of a suitable class project. I am just wondering about copyright issues. I have narrowed my project topic to focus on commercial blogs (I may expand it if I find the topic is too narrow). I was planning on putting these together in a series of posts on a blog, organized categorically. Since 90% of my learning objects need to come from sources other than myself, how do I do this with out violating copyright? I know I can link to other sites like Wiley did in his 7870 wiki, but is that enough? I don't want to be a copycat, but the only idea that seems to fit is some sort of narrative peppered with relevant outside links.

One more thing that has been on my mind is that I want people to be able to find what they need quickly and efficiently. I need to look into this more, but has anyone found a way to organize blogs (other that just broad categories or chronologically)? Perhaps carefully selected categories are enough. Any thoughts?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Caswell Family History Blog Project

I'm not sure if this has anything to do with my 7150 project, but I have created a Caswell Family Stories blog here I grew up in a family of eight, and we had some fun times. This blog is a place to share fun family stories from when we were younger and lived overseas. We had some unique experience growing up in the Foreign Service, and I don’t want to forget them.

This blog also gave me a reason to try out WordPress, and I am sold! I've been getting excited about how WordPress makes blogging more organizeable. This will be important for my learning objects project when I need to categorize different types of basic computer FAQs. David, if you are reading this, do you know of a WordPress plugin that can generate crossreference links automatically within different articles?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Marathon Blog

Maybe I am just new to blogs, but I am used to the kind where someone vents their extreme feelings about some political issue and maybe in a few days they get a comment or two. And then there's my brother, Bob, who creates a post that generates enough traffic to slow the Internet down to the point that people notice. Sheesh! His one thread is bigger than my whole blog!

*regains composure*

OK, I'm back. I think that was my first time ever experiencing "blog-envy." All I can say is, "Way to go, bro. Google Ads was built just for you."

Monday, October 31, 2005

iterating toward openness » Great Screencast on Screen/Podcasts in Education

This was borrowed from David Wiley's site, iterating toward openness » Great Screencast on Screen/Podcasts in Education: "I never thought I’d see a screencast in a screencast, but that is just what I got watching this fabulous presentation about using screencasts, podcasts, blogs, etc. in support of education. Any time you come away with brand new ideas about how to be a better teacher, more efficiently, you have to share…"

I had to throw this on my blog for the hundreds of fellow teachers who are subscribed... the silent, lurking masses that do not register on any of my counters.... Anyway, this screencast is a must-see for anone who is new to this stuff, especially for teachers seeking new ways to reach students. I loved that the podcast of the quantum physics lecture ended up on the top 100 podcasts list. People are curious. One more thing: this screencast didn’t work for me in Firefox, so you may have to use something else.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Beware! Spoof emails are getting trickier!

It is more important than ever for Internet consumers to make sure they are on secure (https://), verified connections before doing any kind of business online.

I received a spoof email yesterday from “PayPal” that was so convincing that I almost fell for it. I am concerned that many other people will fall for this particular scam because it is so similar to a genuine PayPal email. Here is what is makes this spoof trickier:

  • It didn’t ask for personal information in the email itself. These kinds of emails are a more obvious form of what is called “phishing.”

  • The email, which didn’t have my name on it (another clue I missed), told me that my PayPal account been accessed from a foreign IP address and that I needed to verify my account.

  • The site it took me to when I clicked the link looked EXACTLY like’s log in screen. Most of the links on the page still linked to PayPal to make it even more convincing.

  • Everything it the website asked me for seemed legitimate EXCEPT it also asked for my credit card’s ATM PIN. This was very suspicious, and I stopped filling out the form. I don’t know for sure if my PayPal account info or credit card number were compromised, but I decided to play it safe and close both accounts.

  • After looking more closely, I also noticed that I was not on a secure connection (https://), even though the spoofers had cleverly inserted the same yellow lock graphic that is on PayPal's secure site. Although the web address contained the name, it was preceded by this combination of numbers: (an alternate IP address).

  • I looked up the spoofer’s IP address ( using WhoIs, and it belongs to Asia Pacific Network Information Centre, located in Australia! Sound “phishy” enough?

In the past I have received legitimate emails from PayPal asking me to go through a similar verification process, so I was fooled by this copy-cat spoof email and website. Beware that spoofers are getting trickier!

Above is a screenshot of the fake PayPal log in. It looks and works just like the real one, except you are not on a secure connection. (It's hard to see in the screenshot, but the address starts with "http://" and not "https://")

Once you "log in" (and they get your PayPal password), you are prompted to update your credit card. The only thing that has been added here is a space at the bottom for you to enter your ATM PIN number. Once they have this information, they can go to town on your credit card!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Cheese stick overdose?

My two-year-old just ate his 5th cheese stick in about 15 minutes. He seems fine, but is there a legal limit? Last week it was the same thing with apples. So much for moderation in all things...

"Pork Chop" in Logan, UT and again at Laguna Beach, CA

Am I an instructional designer?

I am about to print some business cards (you know, the do-it-yourself kind), and I am trying to figure out what titles to give myself. “Student” just doesn’t sound worthy of a business card. Maybe “PhD student,” but I am not officially in the PhD program, so it that lying? And if I’m going to stretch the truth a bit then I’m on that slippery slope that leads to falsified Microsoft certifications and the like. If I’m going to do that then I may as well photoshop my name on someone else’s diploma and be done with it!

So I’m back to nothing for a title. But I taught French and Computer Science in the public schools for seven years! Doesn’t that count for anything? Still, if I just wanted “Teacher” under my name I would have stayed at Redlands High School. So what else can I put on my Office Depot brand, premium matte, ivory business cards? I got a master’s in instructional technology while I was a school teacher. Does that make me an instructional designer? I don’t think so. I need job experience. Maybe I can get a $6/hour job at USU doing instructional design work to feel worthy of the title. Nah, I’d rather have extra time to go fly fishing. Besides, the one job I’ve had at USU only lasted a day…

I got one of those $6/hr computer jobs at the start of Fall semester because I felt guilty about not working. (In the past I have almost always worked at least part-time as a student.) That night I was at the used CD store and couldn’t bring myself to buy anything because I knew buying a $6 used CD represented an hour’s worth of work. So I quit my job the next day. I haven’t felt guilty about spending money ever since.

OK, time to make a decision. Here are my top three idea for my business card:

Tom Caswell
Instruction Designer Wannabe

Tom Caswell
Nearly-matriculated PhD Student

Tom Caswell
Unemployed by choice

Forget it. I’ll make business cards later.

An idea for my learning objects project

I've been following some of my classmates blogs, and it looks like most INST 7150 folks are starting to get serious about final project ideas. Here is some background on my project and the quickie version of what I want to do: I used to enjoy helping friends and family with various computer questions and issues. This included everything from saving a file to starting a new website. It didn't take long before I started getting the same questions over and over again, kind of like Groudhog Day. So I want to put together a collection of resources to answer some common computer questions that I keep getting. I am not sure anyone will ever look at them, but it will make me feel better to have something to refer people to when I am too busy to help. Here are some examples of the questions I want to include in my collection (I realize that many are specific to the PC):
  • What is System Restore and how do I use it?
  • What is spyware and how do I get rid of it and then prevent it from coming back?
  • What is the difference between XP Home and XP Professional?
  • What are cookies?
  • What are Windows updates?
Would you consider answers to these types of questions reuseable learning objects (RLOs)? Is this too generic an idea? I know sites similar to what I am describing already exist (,, so is there something I can do to improve on what has already been done? OK, enough for now; it's bedtime.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"What time is your name?"

This is the all-time best question to ask people (especially children) who don't speak English very well. It's great for when you are in a foreign country and someone is trying to practice their 3 sentences of English on you... especially if you are in a hurry to get somewhere. This question produces some of the best puzzled looks I have ever seen.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

If I had a nickel for every blog...

If I had a nickel for every blog I've started, I'd have about 25¢. I closed down my other blog because it had RSS issues. I tried "untweaking" the tweaks, but it was quicker to start a new one. Besides, blogs are cheap.