Monthly Archives: September 2017

Meeting: Building Open Source Educational Technology Applications

My research area is building open source educational technology that uses standards to integrate into learning management systems like Canvas, Sakai, Blackboard, Moodle, Desire2Learn, and others. If you have taken any of my on campus or Coursera classes you have used tools built using my technology.

The educational technology marketplace is at an interesting juncture where nearly 100% of the teaching is done using features built into entreprise-wide LMS systems like Canvas or Sakai. But the expectation is that more and more of the educational technology components will be assembled by teachers using smaller “apps” from some kind of educational technology app store. My research aims both at improving current generation LMS systems like and Canvas as well as lay the foundations for this “Next Generation Digital Learning Ecosystem” that will be more app-based and more under control of the teachers.

If you have any interest in working with me to create this new edtech Ecosystem, I encourage you to come to an orientation meeting:

Meeting: Open Source Educational Technology Research
Date: Tuesday September 26, 2017, 4-5PM
Room: 1243 North Quad

Depending on the interest at the meeting, we will come up with a plan of action. I might be convinced to run a weekly meeting or hold a hackathon / contest if there is enough interest. I have some funds to support this work and may be hiring one or more students to help me with my work if there is a shared interest.

You are welcome to just come and ask questions. Please send me E-Mail if you have any questions.

Chuck’s “TV” Career – 1994-2000

It is a long time ago, but I was once on TV nationwide talking about the Internet:

The whole thing happened because my late friend Rich Wiggins and I had as a friend a named John Liskey who was a reasonably high executive in the TCI cable organization. The three of us ended up at the bar in the early 1990s where Rich and I would tease each other about the emerging Internet technologies. Rich was always the logical NYT-reading academic (who never even finished his BS) and I was the pragmatic grumpy alpha coder (who ultimately got a PhD.) that knew the real world. So we would have spirited debates at the bar. John would sit and watch and say “these conversations should be on TV”.

So in 1994, John got TCI to hire camera folks, studio folks, a director and editor and we taped a monthly show that was sent (on tape) to the TCI affiliates in the major markets which showed each show 10-20 times per month on the “local origination” channel.

It started in 1995 But the cable companies were in a feeding frenzy in the late 1990’s so each time the Lansing / East Lansing market was sold to some other company, we had to rename the show – but John just went to the new company and kept us in production and on the air. Our shows were:

Internet: TCI
Nothin’ but Net
North Coast Digital

In 1995-1996 – we were avant garde. We won two national awards in 1995. We won a “Michigan Cable Emmy” and predated TechTV and Leo Laporte by 3 years. We were first on the scene but as soon as TechTV came on the scene with 24-hour programming and national distribution our days were numbered. We kept producing on a less-than-once-per-month schedule through 1999 and our last effort was to try to become reporters for TechTV:

TechTV Audition Tape

Our audition tape was viewed TechTV – but by 1999 – the “Old Guy Nerds on TV” was not front and center for their programming. They wanted to feature young good looking people talking about video games. So we had no chance. Interestingly, the future for Leo Laporte was no longer on TechTV either and he went on to create his own show on the Internet.

So it was a fun time – and a good time to teach me how to talk to a camera and think on my feet.

My Internet History, Technology, and Security course on Coursera and video based column in IEEE Computer magazine was a way to revive my collection of material from those early days in the mid-1990’s.

Secretly I just want to be the Anthony Bourdain of tech :)

How I build Open Textbooks

I am often asked how I build textbooks. I am a little weird in that I am radically open and refuse to use a commercial service or any non-open software. I prefer a line-oriented format in github,using open software and a process that I run myself.

The best example of how I write open books is here:

I write my books in Pandoc Markdown

I do pay for and use OmniGraffle for figures (InkScape is free – but super hard to use):

I export the figures export them to SVG and EPS:

Then I use pandoc (which uses LaTeX) to produce PDF and epub

Then I upload the PDF to CreateSpace and the epub to Amazon and it is auto-converted to mobi:

This is perhaps a more complex process that using Word, pressbooks or gitbook but I prefer a pipeline that I completely own and control and can adjust. Other methods are easier – I prefer control ownership and introspection over ease of use.

The worst not-spam DNS Verification Email Ever – DreamHost /

I am putting this post up as a public service since most of the results on the web are wrong for this topic.

Lately I have been moving a few domains to DreamHost because they have a super simple and 100% free way to use LetsEncrypt certificates on my domains.

This is my first experience with DreamHost and I am super impressed with the simplicity of their management UI, the competence of their tech support, and their free LetsEncrypt Certificates. I can have SSL even on domains that are only a HTTP redirect (I have a lot of those).

Transferring Domains

When you transfer a domain, there are lots of emails that go back and forth. Most of those make perfect sense sense. But there is one mail you get *after* the transfer is complete that completely looks like spam but turns out to be essential.

The mail is from (not what the DreamHost documentation claims) and has a subject line of:


And the text looks something like this (yes the question marks are there).

Fran?ais  Italiano  Portugu?s  Espa?ol  Deutsch  Polskie  Srpski

As of January 1, 2014, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names
and Numbers (ICANN) has mandated that all ICANN accredited registrars
begin verifying the WHOIS contact information for all new domain
registrations and Registrant contact modifications.

The following Registrant contact information for one or more of
your domains has not yet been verified:

You are supposed to click on a link to to verify the domain. Here is a screen shot of the mail.

My “WOAH THERE THIS MUST BE SPAM” detector went off like crazy. I Googled around a bit and many folks felt it was Spam. So I just deleted them and went about my day.

TL;DR This message is not spam

Somewhat later I went into my DreamHost account and saw this under Domains -> Registrations


So I resent the mail and the spam-like message immediately showed up. At that point I should have just assumed it was not spam. But just to be sure I talked to DreamHost tech support and they verified it was OK.

I clicked on the verification link to in the email and it said “thanks” – and then after about 60 seconds the “need to verify” message went away in my DreamHost UI.

So this message is legit. It is an interesting question as to the possible harm that we do when legit messages look so much like spam and then turn out not to be spam. It took me 3 weeks to figure this out.