Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Submit to Haute Dish

I'm hanging up posters around campus to remind people that the deadline to submit is quickly approaching. In addition to artwork, photos, poetry and prose, this time we are also accepting multimedia. So, get our your guitar and sing a song and send us the MP3.

Submit to Haute Dish - Resistance is futile!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Fred, Megan, Henry and Kenny

Fred will have to remind me of the name of this restaurant. Great food. We went here after touring the Usability Lab at the University of Minnesota.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Haute Dish

Becky Haven has officially elected me as the new webmaster for Haute Dish, the online literary magazine for Metropolitan State University. I'll also be a web editor for the prose division of the magazine. I'm very excited about this.

I have a lot of ideas for improvements and how I can contribute. First, I'll concentrate on Becky's list of fixes and features. Aw, this will be so much fun!

Oh, the fish...you know...it's about school. They're in a school. I'm in a school...


Monday, June 2, 2008

I'm rearranging my blog

I'm rearranging my blog so that repeating categories get their own page.

Kenny's Hydroponics & Gardening Blog
About gardening and growing with hydroponics in Minnesota

Kenny's Odd-Things Blog
Funny and interesting things I find

Kenny's Homework Blog
Things related to what I'm studying in my graduate program

Kenny's Nature & Environmental Blog
Anything about the environment, nature, alternative energies

Kenny's Minnesota Restaurant Reviews
Various local restaurants I want to talk about

Kenny's Minnesota Blog
My reviews on live entertainment and local events

Kenny's Family Blog
Photos of my family and friends

Becky's Blog
My wife's blog about teaching 3rd-grade students in bilingual education

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Target Usability Lab

When we were at the Target usability lab, Pam, who headed the lab, wanted Fred, our classmate, to examine a list of gifts (from the website) for potential purchase for the soon-to-be-married couple. Fred resisted saying the following:

“No pricing? I’m already trying to differentiate pricing. Wow! Is it like jewelry-store pricing? If there’s no price, is it an I-don’t-want-to-know kind of thing?”

Pam replied, “If you’re stuck and can’t move on, I might say something like- I don’t know the answer to that. How do you want the pricing thing to work?”

Instead of ignoring Fred’s concern about the lack of utility in seeing prices, Pam explained how she would investigate the issue further. Conversely, Pam could have redirected Fred to a question regarding the usability of a specific area of the page. Instead, she took time to see what value she could find in Fred’s observation regarding the perceived lack of utility in price posting.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Usability Lab at the University of Minnesota

B-18 Walter Library
117 Pleasant Street SE
Lab Reception Room Phone: (612) 625-4385

Last night (May 14, 2008), I toured the Usability Lab at the University of Minnesota as part of a course I'm taking in my graduate program (Research and Usability class taught by Dr.Tori Sadler). A usability lab is where you go when you want to test your web site or software interface for user friendliness. If you are going to invest thousands of dollars into a web site launch or software distribution, the last thing you want to discover after-the-fact is that no one wants to use your product because it is difficult to use.

One example of how the staff at the usability lab would test your web site would be to select 6 to 10 people to perform specified tasks on the site. The tests would occur similar to the following:

  • The subject would enter a sound-proof room and be seated at a computer that is equipped with eye-tracking capabilities.

  • On the other side of a two-way mirror, staff would observe the participant as he or she interacted with the test interface.

  • The participant would speak what he or she was thinking while maneuvering through the interface.

  • The eye-tracking software allows the staff to monitor what the user is looking at, detecting what he or she reads or examines.

  • Mouse movements, key strokes and vocalizations are recorded for later study.

  • The staff records problems and challenges and successes experienced by participant.

I can think of a lot of software I've used that could benefit from this type of usability testing. For example, searching for topical help when programming in Flash. It's maddening to search for a word that is a key programming phrase and nothing is found. I'm sure you have had similar experiences with some software or web site.

Below is the meeting room where the staff allows companies to watch through the two-way mirror as their product is being tested.

Below a participant (viewed through a two-way mirror) speaks out loud as he attempts to declare a major using a college website being tested. He did not have an easy time figuring it out.

Below is some of the equipment used by the staff to evaluate the participant's actions.

Below, the eye-tracking software is calibrated as the participant looks at locations on the configuration screen.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The eagle that nests around the corner

Last night, we decided to check out an eagle's nest that is around the block from our house. I took my camera, which is just one of those portable Canon PowerShot A650's.

When we arrived, the nest appeared to be empty, but we kept starring at it like we were waiting to witness the Miracle of the Sun or something.

Becky said, "I think I saw something move." I zoomed in with the camera as much as I could. "I don't see anything" I said. "There it is again," said Becky. Suddenly, I saw its head peak up over the edge of the nest.

Apparently, it was time for dinner. It was nearly 8:00 pm, and the sun would set soon. It hopped onto the edge of the nest and looked around for a moment. Becky said, "I'm glad we didn't bring our dogs. Freckles would look like lunch."

With a lurch and whoosh, the eagle took flight. It was enormous, powerful and elegant. I already had my camera to my face or I would have missed the shot. Just like that, it was right over my head. I can't believe I was able to get this shot.

The eagle flew a few hundred yards away and perched above the lake. We kept waiting for it to swoop down and grab a fish, but its patience was much greater than ours. Still, it was fun to get a glimpse of such a majestic bird.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Palm Oil - The Death of a Rain Forest

I'm no tree hugger. Tree huggers are loonies who live in trees to keep the trees from being cut down. I am a realist. The real truth is that corporate greed around the world is wiping out rain forests. The real thing is, the low lands of Indonesia are being stripped of invaluable rain forests faster than most of us understand. Why? So we can plant for palm oil harvesting.

In my last blog, I extolled the virtues of Jatropha Curcas as a bio fuel. It doesn't require fertile land for growth- Grow it in the desert, on rocky hills or even salty plains with adequate drainage. Temperature requirements for Jatropha Curcas are similar for corn. Grow it like you know it.

View the rest of this blog entry at the following link (along with other articles about the environment):



Monday, April 28, 2008

Jatropha Curcas as a Bio Fuel?

A couple of years ago, I was on a plane reading an article about bio fuels. The article was trumpeting the benefits of a raggedy plant called Jatropha Curcas (pronounced JAT-ruff-uh cur-cuss). According to the article, the plant grew like a weed, but is more like a tree. It sounded like the perfect plant for bio diesel.

I assumed that I would be hearing about it in the news soon, but I never did. So, whatever became of Jatropha Curcas as a bio fuel? Why don’t we hear more about it?

By now, most of us realize the dangers of using corn as a bio fuel. It drives up food costs, it encourages the razing of forests, it injects nitrogen and pesticides in soils (nitrogen causes green house gases from soil microbiological processes), and it takes food needed for starving people and puts it in cars. I realize that oversimplifies the issue a bit, but the broad strokes are there for discussion.

For the rest of this blog post, please follow the link below



Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Rogerian Argument Video

Tonight is my last class for this Rhetorical Theory course with Anne Aronson at Metropolitan State. This has been one of the best classes I've ever taken. A constant theme for the class has been persuasion in writing. Interestingly, a sub-theme has been morality. Basically, most teachers of rhetoric (Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, etc), explain that it is more difficult to persuade your audience if your character is in question.

The video linked to the left is my last assignment for the class. The assignment was to apply a principle we studied to something I had already created. I chose to create a documentary-style video using Rogerian argument to examine the debate over creationism.

The video was created by transforming a debate I was having with someone who believed that Adam and Eve were literally the first people on earth because they believe the book of Genesis to be revealed wisdom from God.

Rogerian argument is used to defuse tension in debates that get very emotional - like politics and religion. The idea is start by telling the person what you like about his or her views. Then you find a common ground and move out from there. This video is a documentary-style video of my secular debate with Christian fundamentalism using the Rogerian Argument approach.

This assignment was challenging- both in trying to maintain Rogerian philosophy and in putting together such a large project in a couple of weeks. Due to time constraints, it's not perfect, but I think you'll find it interesting.

Check it out when you have time. It's a little long, but the video player I made for it has a fast-forward if you have to come back later.



Sunday, April 20, 2008

My Diet Update

I've been on a low-carb diet since January 2008. I weigh myself every Sunday morning. My goal was to lose 30 lbs by the time my Rhetorical Theory class was concluded. Well, that became a goal once I saw that I might be able to do it.

As of this morning, I've lost 31 lbs. This week's weigh in was important because I changed my diet. I've added fruits and grains back to my diet. Now I'm eating oatmeal for breakfast instead of an omelet. I'm snacking on fruit now instead of beef jerky.

This was my goal all along. First, drop some major pounds and then switch to a more low-fat diet. I'm still avoiding breads, sugar and potatoes. I can lose 1.5 lbs a week on low-carb.

I've been lifting weights at the gym for years, so I have a good base of muscle. You just can't see it due to the fat. It's getting better, I guess. The older I get the less forgiving my body is.

Here's a photo of me and Becky before our date last Friday.We went to Chili's (the baby back rib place). I highly recommend the Firecracker Tilapia. I love anything with cilantro. They doubled my vegetables and dropped the rice for me. I don't know how they cook their broccoli, but it tasted like it was drizzled with butter (so, so good). The Tilapia is glazed with a sweet red sauce.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Kenny in 1978

I was hunting for a book, and I ran across my high school yearbook from 1978. I was a freshman. I started reading some of the things that people had written in my yearbook, and then I remembered something that happened that day during yearbook signing. My girlfriend wrote something bizarre. You just have to read it. Here are some of the things people wrote in my yearbook.

"Kenny, you are a sweet, nice, good looking, funny, cool, weird... whatever. Stay the way you are! Watch yourself this summer. Love, Margie Overland."

"Kenny, You are a very sweet guy and I hope to see you in the future. Love ya, DeAnna Sisk"

Kenny, You are a good friend. I hope we stay good friends. Love ya! Sandra Ward."

"To a real sweet guy that will always be my friend. Stay cute. Love, Kelly Stelthing"

"Kenny, Your a real sweet and good-looking guy. Keep in touch Okay! Michelle Gardner"

"Kenny, to a very sweet and cool guy. Love always, Karen Reams."

But the following was the best one, because it was from my girlfriend. If you read it carefully, you'll see that it was my first "dear John" letter. See if you catch it.

"Kenny, To a guy I loved. Hope to see you in the future and summer too. Hope we can be together each day. Loved you. Love, Kathy Bidwell. Always."

We were standing in the high school parking lot on the last day of class. People were signing yearbooks. I had passed mine around to a few people. So had she. Then, we signed each other's yearbook. I don't remember what I wrote in her's, but it was probably mushy.

We exchanged yearbooks, and I opened mine to read what she had written. "Loved you?" I asked. "What do you mean, 'loved you'?"

Apparently, it meant "It's not you, it's me" and "Let's see other people." We broke up right there. Who breaks up with their boyfriend by signing his yearbook "Loved you?"

So, I opened my yearbook and read what some of the other girls had written. Apparently, "I'm a very sweet and cool guy."

The summer of 78 was a lot of fun.