Google #Cardboard: Virtual Reality Fun for $2.50

Google Cardboard

It’s fun to consider the future of wearable computing.   Many of my friends at work can’t wait to get their hands on the Oculus rift to start building virtual reality experiences.   Thanks to Google, if you’re interested in tinkering with virtual reality and you have a modern Android phone, you don’t have to wait or have a deep wallet.   During the Google I/O conference last week, Google announced a series of open source projects enabling early adopters and makers to tinker with early design concepts for Google’s virtual reality platform.

To learn more about this platform, please visit

You can also view the Google I/O session here:

From a quick review, here are some potential benefits of the technology

  • While the technology is still young, the virtual reality concept can provide captivating environments for training, educational games, and simulations.  The Google Earth app is just beautiful.  Someone needs to make Metablast using virtual reality.  It would be cool to explore the inside of a cell using virtual reality.  I can only imagine how artists will use this technology.   Good times!
  • I believe that Google is trying to start of movement of innovation using their cardboard project.   The Google+ community page for Google Cardbard/VR has 1900+ makers who are experimenting with the hardware design.   You can find people using 3D printers to print original plastic designs.   Others are using inexpensive toys for viewers.
  • For the most part, virtual reality is just expensive.    This move by Google will rapidly expand access to the technology while driving down cost across the industry.
  • I think it’s cool that Google supports native Android and JavaScript implementations of VR apps.   I believe that everyone  appreciates expanded capabilities of their existing Android phones.

In my case, I built the Google Cardboard viewer using my printer, paper, glue, tape, and cardboard folders.    Unfortunately, I would need to wait to obtain other parts and lenses.  Based on an idea from the Cardboard community group on G+, I tried getting a toy from our Dollar store.    With a few slight modifications, I was able to explore the Cardboard HTML5 and Android apps.   This has to be the most fun $2.50 I have ever spent!

I am looking forward to designing some cool educational experiences with the technology.


What kinds of virtual reality apps would you like to see? How would you use virtual reality?


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#InventToLearn #ISTE2014 Workshop: Projects and Inspiration


Inspiring and fun day of reflection, making and tinkering. Check out the project ideas, blog posts, and resources. Thanks Sylvia and Gary for the great day!  You guys are my inspiration.



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Summer Reading


After suffering through the semester from, well you know (see my last post here), I have not been inclined to do much reading or thinking about teaching. That said, I have read some interesting books during my summer break and I’d like to share them with you. When I get snippets of free time like I’ve had for the last 6 weeks or so, I tend to binge read. Some of these titles hold academic interest, while others were purely for entertainment. I realize that a couple are classified as “Young Adult Fiction”. Judge if you must.

Honestly, I feel a little vulnerable sharing the list with you 🙂 You can learn a lot about a person by looking at their bookshelf. I firmly believe that books have the capability to expand our worldview and open our minds to new ideas in a way that TV and the internet cannot. Books allow you to completely immerse yourself in a subject. When I’m reading the rest of the world just kind of falls away. That said, books can influence your thoughts and actions well after you are finished reading them. I’m still digesting the material but I do have a few initial thoughts that I’d like to share.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman

These two books were both set during World War Two. The first was a work of fiction, while the second was non-fiction. Both illustrated the power of fear and discrimination that dominated Europe during that time. They also provided examples of people that did not give in to the mass hysteria of Naziism and instead made choices that they believed were right, but put themselves and their families in harm’s way. Interestingly, both also emphasized the importance of education. In The Book Thief, the main character learns to read, while in The Zookeeper’s Wife, an underground school is maintained despite being outlawed by the occupying German forces.

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson

The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy by Seth Mnookin

These two books are centered on infectious diseases. The Ghost Map chronicles the emergence of the field epidemiology during a cholera outbreak in Victorian England. The Panic Virus, on the other hand, is set in the modern day and examines the many different factors that underlie the phenomenon of the antivaccine culture. As a microbiologist, it is hard for me to imagine a world in which people believed that miasma and vapors caused disease rather than microbes. I also struggle with understanding why parents make the choice to forgo vaccination in the face of scientific evidence that contradicts their point of view. Both of these books emphasize for me the importance of education, not just in terms of facts, but also teaching students how to think scientifically.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette: A Novel by Maria Semple

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Ok, so honestly, I don’t really have anything profound to say about these two books. They were both read for their entertainment value (Who reads sob inducing, romantic, teen fiction for entertainment? Me, that’s who).

What books are you reading this summer? I tend to choose books based on other people’s suggestions so I’d love to know what you are enjoying!!!


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OpenBarter: Case Study in Civic Web App Design (Part 1)



On May 31 – June 1, 2014, Middle Georgia citizens participated in the National Day of Civic Hacking(NDoCH), a fun weekend of community service using design, programming and technology.  In this national event, citizens across the nation explored challenges, created prototypes, and shared their solutions with their peers.

I had the opportunity to work with a great team at the Macon NDoCH event to help propose a barter market concept to help revitalize a city economy.   I think we all enjoyed pair programming since it enabled us to pump out code while teaching/learning the tools and technology.    Our team from Mercer Engineering Research Center really enjoyed the  opportunity to learn collaboratively with the students.   It was a blast!

What are  the benefits of our “OpenBarter” community exchange platform?

  • Encouraging Future Business Leaders: In our challenge statement that we selected, the Knight Foundation asked that we create an application “to help skilled individuals identify the opportunities they have as a fluid and independent working in their community.”   If you’re considering starting a career in freelancing or starting a small business, you face the problem of finding “start-up” capital.  By encouraging bartering in a community, freelancers can start offering their services in exchange for other resources, training, or skilled labor.  For example, I might build a website in exchange for lessons on writing a business plan.
  • Building the Community: According to Brian Redondo, the web application is only 50% of the impact.   The web site provides a marketing platform for a standing community barter market event.    According to Mr. Redondo’s vision, all barter exchanges are conducted “face to face” at a regularly scheduled community exchange event.    This will help foster positive relationships in the community.
  • Service Qualification through Gamification: Building on Mr. Redondo’s vision, students recommended adding gamification concepts into the website design.   As two community members conclude a exchange of services or goods, the community members rate each other on services provided.   With positive ratings or “karma,”  community members start to develop creative confidence.   Additionally, higher karma ratings will make the community member more qualified for future exchanges.   This also provides incentives for members to provide excellence in their goods and services.
  • Benefits of Open Source: As an open source platform, our solution can be scaled to communities across the world.   I don’t pretend to share that our software is perfect or production ready yet.   It, however, is a start.   Individual communities will need to decide how they want to manage the legal and marketing challenges connected to this concept.    It would be cool to see this solution used in farmers markets across the nation.  Additionally, I think the concept can be helpful in user groups, Makerspaces and Co-working Spaces.
  • Education: The source code can serve as a teaching tool for web application developers.  The source code can be found on my GitHub account here under an MIT public license :

Special Thanks To the Team



Team Open Barter


I especially want to thank John Robinson, Tyler Burnham, and my friend Harrell for their contributions.  I also thank the team from the Mercer Google Developer Group for their support.


Through our conversations with our college student team members, the students shared that they really appreciated the opportunity to see how web applications can be designed and prototyped using a MVC framework.   In our implementation, we used ASP.NET MVC.    While we had only two days to work together, we learned a lot and got stuff done.   In this blog post series, I wanted to outline some of the major ideas in the application design process.   I hope the content will be helpful to other college students interesting in civic hacking and learning web programming.

The Mercer students from our group enjoyed the opportunity to rapidly engineer a software solution.    In an agile fashion, we constructed user stories from a functional specification by Brian Redondo .    Based on the stories, the team collectively drafted an entity relationship diagram on a white board talking through the design and making trade-off’s to keep the solution small.  The following shows our second iteration of the database model.   While the design is not complete, you can observe how we analyzed the functional requirements from Brian Redondo and implemented the database structure.  Here’s a quick introduction to the major tables:

  • UserData: This table stories qualification information and contact information about the user.
  • ForTrade:  Users can offer many goods and services “for trade.”
  • Want: Users can offer many goods and services that they need.
  • OfferForTrade & OfferForWant: Members can place offers on trades and want items. It’s important to remember that barter exchanges are conducted in person at public, safe, and standing community event.   In future work, we will design data structure to rate services offered by community members.



Now that we have introductions out of the way, our next blog post will review the construction of the “model” layer of the application.  If you’re interested in learning more about ASP.NET MVC, check out this tutorial link:


We would love to hear your feedback on the OpenBarter concept.   How would you make the barter concept better?   Leave a comment below.  



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Survival Mode


Hey there. Remember me? I’m that crazy biology professor that used to blog on this site. I just survived the semester from H-E-double hockey sticks. Survived is a good word for it. I can’t say that I was the most inspired educator this Spring. Creativity and ingenuity kindof went out the classroom window. Instead, I relied heavily on old standbys and previous semesters’ work.

Let me give you some context. I was teaching two courses this semester. One that I have taught every semester since I began teaching, and a brand new prep (the subject of my last blog post in January). Teaching the new course was akin to being thrown into the deep end of a pool without floaties having just a rudimentary ability to swim. The person who taught the course before me didn’t give me much to build off of. She didn’t use a textbook and had not established a lab curriculum that I could easily follow. Basically, I had to start from scratch. This alone is intimidating, but I was up for the challenge.

But wait, there’s more! Let’s add in the weather. We live in Georgia. You may remember the the great Atlanta snowpocalypse of 2014. Fortunately, we live far enough from the city that we didn’t suffer through the horrible traffic; however, we had no less than four “snow” days at the beginning of the semester, two of which were days that we were scheduled for labs, which are hard to make up. I found myself making adjustments to the syllabus on the fly.

On top of all of it, I was incredibly sick for the first half of the semester. There was the stomach flu, an awful head cold, a sinus infection, the stomach flu again, pinkeye, a crazy rash all over my body, and oh did I mention that I’m pregnant with baby #3? Morning sickness is enough to suck any sort of motivation from your soul, but add all the illness on top of it and I was a bit of a zombie in the classroom. I found myself just praying that I could get through the semester without doing irreparable damage. Blogging just didn’t happen.

The one thing that I can be thankful for is that my microbiology course is so well organized at this point that I could let it mostly drive itself. I had all of the lectures already recorded and posted on YouTube. The lab curriculum was well established. I could copy homework assignments from the previous semester and I simply followed the schedule that I had been working to perfect the last several years. Am I completely satisfied with the way it turned out? Nope. There are lots of little changes that I want to make here and there, but this was not the semester to do it.

Now that it is all over I am taking some time to reflect and reevaluate. Summer is great for that. I’m also planning for the future. The next six months or so promise to be interesting. Coming soon, I will be teaching microbiology again during a short, 4-week summer term. Right now I am trying to figure out how to fit 16 weeks of material into that small space. This Fall will be another unique situation. Baby #3 is due at the beginning of September, which means I will be taking most of the semester off. I will be leaving my courses in the hands of one of the best micro instructors in our department, but the logistics of course sharing should be interesting at best.

All of that was to get you up to speed on what’s been going on with me and to explain my absence. I’m hoping that I can return to blogging with renewed enthusiasm now that I have a little bit of breathing room. Well, at least until September, but I’m trying not to think about that right now.

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Makers rocking #JavaScript at JSConf 2014

JavaScript Logo

JavaScript Logo

Scott Hanselman, one of my favorite programming/technology bloggers, argues that the JavaScript programming language is the assembly language of the web.   It’s the programming magic that makes modern web applications like Google Maps possible.   My good friend Chip Bell recently came back from the JSConf 2014 conference.  He was beyond excited!!   He shared stories of makers using JavaScript to program robots that played soccer, JavaScript powered boats, and quad copters.   The JavaScript language has entered the “Internet of things.”

In the following Storify post, I have tried to collect together presentation slides, pictures, videos, and stories sharing the latest trends in the JavaScript language.   It’s clear that the Makers movement has touched the JavaScript community in a big way!  It’s such a fun time to be a programmer and Maker!

One more thing, if you’re interested in learning JavaScript and HTML5, check out our free books post here.

What do you like from JSConf 2014?   Share a comment below!



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Macon National Day of Civic Hacking: Community Service Through Technology #MacHack

Hack For Change

On May 31 – June 1, 2014, Middle Georgia citizens participated in the National Day of Civic Hacking(NDoCH), a fun weekend of community service using design, programming and technology.  In this national event, citizens across the nation explored challenges, created prototypes, and shared their solutions with their peers.

Special Thanks to our supporters and sponsors:

Special thanks to Stephen Finney for being our fearless leader and organizing this engaging community service event.

Education through rapid prototyping

I had the opportunity to work with a great team at the Macon NDoCH event to help propose a barter market concept to help revitalize a city economy.   The Mercer students from our group enjoyed the opportunity to rapidly engineer a software solution.    In an agile fashion, we constructed user stories from a functional specification by Brian Redondo .     Based on the stories, the team collectively drafted an entity relationship diagram on a white board talking through the design and making trade-off’s to keep the solution small.   I think we all enjoyed pair programming since it enabled us to pump out code while teaching/learning the tools and technology.    Our team from Mercer Engineering Research Center really enjoyed the  opportunity to learn collaboratively with the students.   It was a blast!

You can find our code at on my GitHub account:

Middle Georgia will have two MakerSpaces!!!

Jay Flesher, community  and economic development manager from Flint Energies, helped us kick-off the weekend with inspiration.   Mr. Flesher announced a vision and plans for MakerSpace/FabLab in Warner Robins, GA called “Crowd source innovations.”  Check out this article for more details.    I’m really excited about this announcement since it would help build the Maker community in our city, provide a place for innovation/experimentation, and provide a place for STEM+Art outreach .   As you may know.. I’m a big fan of project based learning and Maker Education .  Check out CSI’s Linked-In community here.

Nadia Osman, director of the College Hill Alliance in Macon, announced a vision and movement in Macon, Georgia to build a community of Makers in Macon, Georgia.   This community is aggressively working to implement a Macon Makers Space.   Team members are invited to share their interest and insight at .

MakerSpaces are vital to our region in helping us diversity our economy, promote a culture of innovation, create jobs, and promoting “grass roots” learning experiences.   Interested?  Please join our regional Middle Georgia Makers group.  All makers of technology, crafters, and art are welcome!

Community Building

It was amazing to make new friends through the Macon NDoCH day.  I think the event has filled me with a spirit of hope.   We worked really hard this weekend in drafting our solutions in service to the community.   We, however, had a lot of fun together too.   The group collectively shared that we want to do these hackathons more frequently.   (once a quarter)    The team is starting to brainstorm our next event for September .    Got ideas for local challenges, please let us know!

Making a Safer World

I want to offer congratulations to the winning team from Middle Georgia State College of the Macon NDoCH day.   The team constructed a web application solution enabling citizens to report the location of fire hydrants and their operational status.   It was surprising to learn that this location data is not digitally common .   Their web application would enable Fire departments and citizens to report the location and status of fire hydrants.  The following shows “proof of concept” map that would be possible from their system.    Very cool concept for helping to keep our cities safe.

Learn more about the team and project on Twitter: @MrrDaVinci, @jsmcmurran, and @kentwhite99  .

@MrrDaVinci:  A mockup of how the product will look when all is said and done