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july 13, 2000
photo hereThis would be my first week of "work" here. So Monday morning, I strolled down to the CREATE office at NAU. I may keep repeating myself, but it is simply wonderful to be able to walk 15 minutes to work or to go to a cafe. In Phoenix, every little errand is a car trip.

The first part of the morning was spent talking with Mike Kelly, project director for CREATE, photo herewho invited me or allowed me to invite myself here to do some work. We chatted over coffee at his favorite Java site, Macy's Coffee House on Beaver Street (you can buy a "tab" there, and the clerks simply subtract your purchases by hand written on a little card).

today's photos
- all photos   o o o o

o o Flagstaff
o o NAU and the CREATE office

My project will involve investigation of "multiuser" technology for some virtual chemistry lab exercises. This technology allows us to create chat rooms, group collaboration tools, shared whiteboards, where students could interact. This can be integrated into a CD-ROm application or over the web. it is very powerful, and I am interested in delving into this because it is something I can use on other projects.

But even more compelling is that the technology has mainly been used for creating multimedia chat environments or games, and we have not seen one application yet in education.

So after some discussion about our work modes and goals, I got to sink me teeth into some code. I was able to set up the computer I am using to act as a server for the multiuser tool plus having it be my test web server. This may not be permanent, but you can peek into the "skunkworks" at http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~create-p/alan/

After work, I hopped on the mountain bike, and headed from Thorpe Park up a steep climb to Observatory Mesa, home of Lowell Observatory. I think it is about a 500 foot elevation gain in a short distance. Up at the top I started exploring some of the back trails, and ended up not exactly where I started, but with landmarks like the San Francisco Peaks around, it is not too hard to find your way back.

Waking up a bit sore o Tuesday, I treated myself to a morning breakfast at "Biff's Bagels" (every time I have to enter a name for a web site registration, I use "Biff Cantrell", who by last count, had downloaded at least 25 installs of Shockwave).

The time goes fairly fast when I am deep in programming mode. I made good progress on adapting some of the example files and have customized them to something closer to what we can use on our project. On a break, Dena the key office coordinator helped me get a temporary NAU identification card (it says I am "faculty") which will allows me to use the fitness center and to blend in with the other "Lumberjacks" (the NAU mascot).

It seems as though everyone in Flagstaff is a rockclimber, mountain bikker, and river runner. The standard footware is Teva sandals, where the formal look is socks in Tevas ;-)

After work I got another bike ride in-- this time back up the hill to Buffalo Park using the very nice Urban Trail, and then following it across the mesa to the south (the bike map provided by the city is of such poor reproduction I cannot even read the name of this mesa!).

On Wednesday morning, I switch from walking to biking to NAU. It normally would be about a 7 minute cruise (mostly downhill) except for getting held up by the Amtrak train blocking Beaver Street. Flagstaff is a train town, but after a few days you stop noticing the frequent rumbling of various freight trains shuttling back and forth.

At the CREATE office, I am diving deeper into understanding this multi-user programming. It is rather complex, and being a new technology, there are not a large number of examples to examine. I am able to modify some of the samples to make linked chat rooms and shared whiteboards.

For lunch, the folks in the office head over to the Beaver Street Brewery, a local brew pub that photo herealso serves up some excellent and original pizzas, sandwiches, and various pasta/seafood dishes. On other visits here (not on the work clock) I've sampled some of their brews which are also very tasty. And being across the street, we grab some Macy's Coffee to go.

In the evening I spend a few hours finishing off another "randomAlan" column I write for the Director Online Users Group (DOUG). Most of the time is creating a demo application that fits in (or is) the column's topic. I do not think my stuff is very complex, but my editors keep telling me it is good stuff.

Good enough for me.

Thursday brings it to a full week up here. In the morning I have some good discussions with Mike about our project as well as some exchanges on experiences in what works best for working with faculty on technology projects. Later we brainstorm with Paul S, a chemistry professor who taught last year at NAU and is going to be teaching at Yavapai Community College in Prescott. Paul's suggestion for a topic important to second semester chemistry students is understanding the ideal gas law, the relationship between pressure, volume, temperature, and the number of gas molecules in a closed system. That is, PV=nRT to shake up your dusty chemistry cobwebs.

The idea is to create a shared environment where students can log in and manipulate these different variables. What the multi-user technology allows us to do is make it so that the effects of one groups efforts (say increasing the temperature) can impact what another group is doing. Our plan is to make a part of it like a game. The working title is "You've Got Gas!" (that will change).

With this idea laid out, it makes it easier for me to determine what parts of the programming I need to concentrate on and I can then break it done into components to develop.




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