Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Poller Project

The Poller Project

This project is intended to be a single PHP script capable of administering a simple, browser based, multiple question, multiple choice poll for small audiences such as during a presentation or lecture served directly from the presenter's computer. It is driven by MySQL database tables that contain the poll questions, and into which the responses are recorded. Two browser windows are used on the controlling computer: one that is set to “display” on the projector screen, which refreshes once every second to control the poll (if it is set in automatic mode), and one set to “console” which the presenter or associate uses to start the poll, and advance the questions if it is not in automatic mode.

The presenter establishes a local, wireless network and seeds the PollInfo table with the IP address of the controlling computer. Members of the audience connect to the that IP address using their laptops and mobile browsing devices. When a “question” is asked, they are able to respond by selecting one of the responses that will display on their screens as well as the main projection screen.

The current version (0.3.0) allows for displaying different lexia depending on the statistical mode of the responses to the previous question, allowing the presenter to adjust the flow of the presentation based on anonymous feedback from the audience. Since the software is free, open source distributed under the GPL, it can be modified and extended to perform other functions. Here are some facts about the sample data included in this package: the name of the Poll is FOSS, the controlling webserver IP address is; from the first question to completion, the poll runs for approximately five minutes, which is 300 seconds; there are n discrete questions, a few of which accept responses from the network interactors via HTTP to the PHP program poller.php; only two did, for a total of approximately ten responses; out of approximately twelve humans; four different Ogg Vorbis codec digital audio files are played during the course of the poll.

After the poll is complete, running the old CGI script (poller.cgi) yields the results:

Results for Question 13: These FOUR FREEDOMS are guaranteed by

A) Creative Commons 0 responses

B) DMCA 0 responses

C) GPLv2 1 responses

D) Linux 0 responses

E) Microsoft Shared Source 0 responses

Results for Question 15: So what is Linux?

A) Finnish detergent 0 responses

B) Monolithic kernel 0 responses

C) Shareware operating system 0 responses

D) Unix-like suite of system programs 0 responses

E) Free, open source operating system 3 responses

Results for Question 43: The Storyspace software Michael Joyce used to create Twelve Blue is

A) Discontinued 0 responses

B) FOSS 1 responses

C) $295 0 responses

D) Shareware 0 responses

Results for Question 74: Are these oven controls designed well?

A) YES 1 responses

B) NO 0 responses

C) Did not read Norman 0 responses

When I used the “What is Linux” question in a presentation with about 50 attendees of the 2007 Computing and Philosophy conference, the responses were mixed. The participants in the Introduction to Texts and Technology seminar all chose “Free, open source operating system,” so it was appropriate to present the GNU material. A future version of the program could skip or condense the GNU segment if the statistical mode of the responses to the question had been correct response.

Please visit the project web site on Sourceforge ( for more information, including how to download the source code. Included in the 0.3.0 release are the SQL statements used to create the questions for the “FOSS” presentation, and a full dump of the database in order to recreate the state of the webserver at the end of the presentation.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Giant Underwater Books

I literally drew this on the table cloth tonight as I was trying to come up with some kind of experimental book that was, for a change, not related to computer technology or free, open source software.

It is a giant underwater ribbon of recycled garbage arranged to be read by divers over many years using flashlights that project three dimensionally on the surrounding particles suspended in the water (BS&W is the technical term from petroleum engineering, not sure what the oceanographic term is even though I had an oceanography course in college). You can read what is woven and otherwise inscribed onto the fabric of the huge text itself, or view the image shimmering around you.

  • This book is like a Moebius strip or a continuous sheet like the old cloth towels wound like typewriter ribbon you used to find in restrooms to dry your hands. Floating, suspended in the water both sides are legible.Out of habit I divided it into a sequence of pages, like large computer display screens or an infinite Escher-like Turing Machine tape. Consider the clustering concept that Michael Heim describes in Electric Language: a four foot by five foot paper sheet that is beyond the scale of any imaginable computer display in the 1980s - the 'pages' of this book are larger still. That is why one of the divers exclaims, It's going to take me 10 years to read this!

  • Reading tied to swimming underwater instead of playing dead on dry land. At first it seems very unnatural, but once staying still to read seemed odd. DL quote, noting that in BofB no non-sedentary reading methods are described. Doesn't Ulmer play on this idea with his Dreadmill?
  • Blocks out sound and other visual distractions. The aural effect of submersion reflects on Ong's distinction between the all aboutness of sound for speaking versus the singular locus of vision for reading.
  • Just as the Kindle is being promoted as a 'green' environmentally sound reading device, this huge underwater ribbon will be woven from garbage floating in the oceans today, by robots or specially trained sea creatures. Over many decades as the books are slowly 'written', trash will turn into treasure. It is the reversal of the destruction of nature by the side effects of literacy, if you are like Ong and credit the rise of modern science and industry to literacy and print. Crap, technology creeps in..