If you are an adult and experience loneliness, society seems to be saying that you’re doing it wrong. Yeah. I have known no greater depth of loneliness than at one point in my marriage when my wife & I just weren’t communicating and much later when I was desperately in love and my lover had retreated to another bedroom in her huge house.
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Consumer-Grade Technology Won’t Cut It In the Classroom

Nothing will shake out the bugs and defects in anything quite like exposure to the energy and intensity of elementary students. I’ve seen nicely manufactured kid-friendly robots happily fail to drive forward after only two-weeks of exposure to elementary students. And we’re not talking about driving them off tables or running them into walls or any other forms of robot/technology abuse. Just the normal-but-intense usage by seven- to 12-year-olds during 40-hour a week summer camp sessions will show the weakness or flaws of any technology (or plan).

Broken Stylus Wire

Broken Stylus Wire

Currently my latest frustration is realizing that computer/technology equipment that was designed to work with either the military or university students doesn’t stand a chance when faced with a room full of 5-year-olds. Within less than a week my students had exposed a fatal flaw that would cripple every expensive 3D-augmented-reality-Windows PC. The styluses, necessary to run the 3D software, were vulnerable to eager 5-year-olds playing tug-a-way with said styluses. The wires, the wires were not designed to withstand 5-years tugging at them. So, if the wires attaching the styluses break, no 3D-augmented-reality functions and we’re left with very expensive PCs with no 3D interface. And no matter how much I might pre-test the machines before the school day begins, several students will complain when things are most hectic that “my computer isn’t working” and I have to troubleshoot on the spot, running through the list of possible problems, one that might be the stylus-wire has died a tog-of-war death. It can get to the point where I question the wisdom at creating curriculum that is dependent on the styluses to perform without failure.

Ever the one to work on the bleeding edge, I completely understand why teachers choose against using technology in their instruction. Sometimes it’s just not worth it to go the extra mile when three out of eleven computers don’t perform per plan. This is why NASA does everything with at least triple redundancy, anything goes wrong and people die. Mine isn’t nearly that dramatic, but when I’m really pushing the students to engage with learning material that isn’t easy, I do not need the technology to add another layer of difficulty by being unreliable or faulty. The 3D-AR PC vendor is great and more than ready to replace any stylus in the midst of death-throes. It’s just exhausting to work around these design flaws that always present themselves at the worst possible moments. That’s also probably why military expenditures are so costly, no one wants things breaking down at the worse possible moment (though I’m sure many a soldier quickly learned to work around faulty equipment when under fire!).

So, you want to see if there’s anything wrong with your design or technology? Just one day with my students will expose the weaknesses and faulty-thinking. We should really offer this as a service. I have my doubts whether many “innovative” tech companies have the balls to accept my challenge. It could be interesting (and more than a little frustrating for all parties).

2017-18 STEAMLab WK07: Art – Drawing Self-Portraits

2017-18 STEAMLab WK07: Art – Drawing Self-Portraits

This week we finished creating self-portraits using a simplified facial drawing techniques that I found on YouTube. This is the video that I shared with students last week, going through the video step by step as students attempted to draw their version of what I later called “generic white guy.”

Turned out that the activity last week was a huge challenge and most students were busy drawing right up the end of class and some classes did not finish the assignment. Many complained that they didn’t know how to draw noses (that seemed to be the biggest challenge) or mouths, etc., to which I had to remind them that that was why we were doing this assignment, to learn how to do this kind of drawing. This week, having gone through the steps last week, went much faster and almost all classes were able to complete the task with plenty of time for free time at the end of class. I also simplified the steps, combining the steps and allowing kids to use the triangle shape to draw their noses. It was a lot of fun seeing them create their images. Here’s a brief video featuring the simplified steps I gave to my students and examples of student work that I posted at the end of each day:

As mentioned above, at the end of each day I selected and posted one image per class across the six grade levels on my social networking feeds. Part of my inspiration for this blog post is that the single end of day image/comment isn’t really enough to share what my students are doing and what I’m learning in the process. Also, I’m wondering if I should set up a STEAM Lab specific Twitter account, just to make it easier it find these posts without forcing anyone to have to wallow through my incessant political/religious stuff. Hmmm.

Going forward, the basic plan for the year is to alternate each week between the five letters in the lab’s name: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math, and create a lesson with that focus, sometimes continuing the lesson across two weeks (like the drawing lesson). I’m using that pattern and a monthly calendar I gathered from the grade levels on the science subjects they plan to follow, to organize the curriculum. So far this year we studied the Eclipse the first week, we studied electricity/conductivity for technology week, did some lego building challenges over two weeks for engineering and drawing for art for the last two weeks. This is my second year creating this lab program and it’s an interesting challenge to manage the time limitations (37 lessons over the course of the year) and possible breadth of things that could be covered. Onward and upward.

Here’s my weekly white-board instructions followed by more student examples, posted by grade-level:


Kindergarten students


1st Grade Students:

2nd Grade Students:

3rd Grade Students:

4th & 5th Grade Students:

The Day after The End and The Rest of Your Life

Blood Moon by Hanzlers Warped Visions

I stayed up way too late into Sunday morning messing around with my blogs, such that I completely forgot about the “Apocalypse” that had been getting so much buzz on the web. Then I noticed that someone on my social network feed had “checked in” on an apocalypse page as “safe” like someone checking in after riding out a hurricane. Really? 2017 and we’re still playing this “I know when Jesus is coming back!” game? If you’re such a great biblical scholar, uncovering some unknown truth hidden for 2000 years in the Book of Revelations, maybe you should spend a moment or two explaining how you can completely ignore this statement:

“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself.[a] Only the Father knows.” Matthew 24:36

Egads people, how much must you hate your life that you are desperate for divine intervention to fix your life at the expense of some world-wide calamity? Over the course of my life I’ve already witnessed endless dates set for the Lord’s return. Beginning as a teenager in Southern California I remember the proclamation of the Chuck Smith, of Calvary Chapel fame, that Jesus had to come back one-generation after the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948, that being the late 1970. The net result was that thousands of young people literally not planned on living into their 30s (granted young people are not really known for having any long term plans…). But year after year, someone has generated a following based on secret knowledge about Jesus coming back bringing the End of the World, despite Jesus’ own worlds in the gospels warning against such knowledge. Insanity.

At the same time, I’m cautious about full-on calling believers on such things because, while I wish we were less willing to believe such bullshit and swallow delusional crap from charlatans and religious fools, this “hopefulness” isn’t entirely unrelated to our ability to succeed against all odds and do the impossible. It’s complicated.

So the day of this apocalypse has come and gone and no one will hold the “prophets” accountable for the false claim and the hopeful will lurch forward waiting for the next prediction (the next date now being October 15th). I found a video of one believer acknowledging what didn’t happen but still believing and doubling down on getting the next prediction right. Ugh. For my part I’ve long since realized, now that I’m in the last year of my fifth decade, that it’s silly for me to spend any concern on a Biblical Apocalypse when my own personal demise is guaranteed and I have fewer years ahead of me than I’ve already lived. Why wait for signs in the heavens when I already know that my part of this story is over half over. And knowing that how do I choose to spend my remaining time?

We traditionally spend so much energy on “some day,” often avoiding or shirking the responsibilities of right now. You don’t have to be a religious nut job to get that all wrong. Are you completely engulfed with the day-to-day, such that you’ve forgotten that there should be some destination (in this life) for all this effort? Or are you so about the “some day” that you’ve abdicated any joy in your daily efforts? It’s not an easy thing to balance. I had to get seriously in (in 2012) to realize that I couldn’t just let the days fly by. I’m not waiting for some mythical guy on a white horse to appear in the skies over Jerusalem or something that’s supposed to sound like trumpets to work on balancing the day-to-day with overall plan. And I haven’t been a “what’s your five-year plan” kind of guy, but I’m just now figuring that out. I don’t have forever, so what’s the plan? I hope the religious nut jobs find what they’re looking for, I’m just trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do with my remaining years (hopefully) and how often I should order that bucket of Coronas.

– Blood Moon by Hanzlers Warped Visions Follow
Blood Moon, https://flic.kr/p/bpFyAF retrieved 2017-09-27
– San Antonio bucket of coronas by Joe Bustillos, photographed 2017-06-26


My Addiction: A Blogging Problem

My name is Joe and I have a problem working on my blog or creating new blogs or posts when I have more important things to do. Even if I have student projects to grade for the next day or new curriculum to create for next week, I find it hard to not fiddle with my blog, fixing formatting, adding images and coding HTML. It’s even worse when I have a whole new blog to organize and create. It’s so weird, I don’t have time to get everything done as it is and I decide to jump into figuring out all sorts of blogging minutiae and creating new posts. Damn. In fact, except for random FB posts, I’ve been avoiding my blog(s) for months because there’s just not enough time to get things done. Well that didn’t work.

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer & The Community of Friends

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Turns out that famous recording artists are people with all the flaws, failings and feelings of everyone else you’ve ever known. As much as that should be a “duh,” I was pretty disappointed after Melissa Etheridge’s jilted partner aired dirty laundry about how Etheridge saved her emotions for her songs. That disclosure, true or not, soured my appreciation of her art. I became aware of Amanda Palmer through her TED talk and the enthusiasm of some of my Alt friends. What I first loved about her was her message of the importance of the connection between artists and their community and how commercial media doesn’t get it.

If you’re a Palmer fan, than you’ve probably already read the book (or lived it). If you’ve watched her TED talk and are curious, if you want to know how the Internet can change our relationships with the media producers that we love, if you once thought about how things would be different if you had risked following your heart, than this memoir is for you. I would also recommend getting the audio-version of the book read by Palmer. Her quirkiness, vulnerability and authenticity comes across in the recording. I’ve been lucky enough to have a few honest, out-of-the-box artist friends who have tried to keep me honest and helped when I’ve wandered from my path in life. I’m not really a big fan of her music, but I love her mission and how Palmer shared how her amazing journey began and survived because of her circle of friends and community. Enjoy.

2015-02-01_amanda-palmer-00 2015-02-01_amanda-palmer-00


The Newspaper Business in the Age of Digital Media, Part 1

Old newspaper by ShironekoEuro (some rights reserved)

Who still reads the local newspaper or any newspaper for news these days? I recently saw an ad for a position at the local alternative paper looking for a digital content coordinator, essentially to help the paper “develop and define the publication’s digital presence across a variety of platforms.” In the early 1990s I interned as a Fact-Checker for the Los Angeles alternative paper just before getting my Bachelor’s degree in Journalism but went into public education instead. Like many memories from those days, the paper and its clout seemed to be a lot bigger than the current version. A lot has changed in the intervening 30-years, making me wonder, what is it going to take to make the news business work with today’s challenges?

When I was a kid I watched my dad read the LA Times every morning and watch the evening news every night. I think I still have one brother-in-law who reads the paper daily. I also have maybe one friend who is a Sunday Brunch/LA Times Calendar section kind of person. And that seems to be about it for news consumption on the part of anyone that I can think of. I think I have to go back at least 30-years to remember the last time I was a faithful subscriber to the daily newspaper, but over my life it’s been more of an occasional novelty that I quickly abandon when the piles of unread paper get too embarrassing. Granted, working nights and going to school most of my adult life, I never seemed to develop the kind of sit-down-at-the-table habits that was part of my father’s world.

My own peripatetic lifestyle aside, the problems facing modern journalism aren’t any one thing. They are technological, economic and sociological. Everyone tends to focus on the economic and technological challenges… which are very real. Losing advertising dollars to the other emerging forms of media and the whole lost Want-Ads revenue stream would be show stoppers alone. And somehow technology is expected to come to the rescue, as in just eliminate the expense of paper (storage, processing and transportation) and go digital with a website or app on one’s smartphone or tablet and it’ll all be better.

For example, in 2010 when everyone from Sports Illustrated to Time Magazine jumped on the iPad bandwagon, I was quite interested to see if I’d suddenly become more of a regular news consumer without the embarrassing piles of paper to shut me down. I wrote quite a few times about my e-News experiences (see the links below). Yeah, it turns out that even though I had been using an online system called Zinio for some time on my computer, also having access to magazines and newspapers on my iPad didn’t quite make me a regular news consumer on the platform. Well, that’s not entirely true…

caveman-typing-750I guess the error, on my part, was assuming that because I didn’t consume my news like my dad that somehow I was doing it wrong. Because sitting down with the paper every morning and watching the news every night wasn’t part of my routine, somehow I was part of the reason that newspapers were disappearing. Yeah, not so much. Turns out that thanks to the 24/7 cable news channels and continuous news cycle, I’d gotten use to the notion that I could tap into news coverage whenever something was happening or whenever I wanted to. I learned over time to not depend on an AM/PM news cycle. That’s the sociological plus technological challenge: we’re no longer on the same “news cycle” and have an expectation to get our news whenever it’s happening and whenever we want it. Way back in 2005 I realized that my need for news, especially tech related news, was being taken care of via audio and video podcasts. I was getting my news very consistently and found sources who held to journalistic standards I’d expect from any kind of news source. There was nothing on TV or traditional radio that could compete. And waiting for the monthly magazine news cycle was completely useless. So the solution isn’t really about paper versus digital versions of the news, but managing live AND on-demand availability of journalistically vetted information.

The question remains, how do you get your news? Recognizing that my experiences aren’t remotely universal, I posted an informal questionnaire about ones news habits. I’ve upgraded the questionnaire to a google-doc based survey and would greatly appreciate your responses. Please click the following link:


Previous posts about Journalism and News:

Saving History: Rescued Film Project & 31-WWII Rolls of Film

I was just writing an article about something that happened eight-years ago like it was ancient history and decided to pull up and post images from that event. Then I stumbled into this article by Michael Zhang on the PetaPixel Facebook page about someone who was using his old-school photo developing skills and digital technology to rescue 31-rolls of undeveloped film that dates back to World War II.

What I love so much about this story is that each roll had to be hand-developed and taken care of in a way that wasn’t really doable with mass-processing. But at the same time without a digital scanner what image was there wouldn’t be rescuable. It’s a story about how analog and digital can work together. And without the curator doing the work, we’d never have these images to tell this story that’s been lost for almost 70-years.


Witnessing History: The Best Steve Jobs Keynote

402244783_255d93fd21_oJust over eight-years ago I was in the auditorium on January 9, 2007 and witnessed history when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world. It seems weird that this happened only eight-years ago, and at the same time hard to appreciate how the technology world really changed after that keynote. Apple was a sliver of the computer market with less than 10-percent of the PC market, the emerging smart phone business belonged to Blackberry on the business side and Palm Treo on the non-business side and you needed to be hard-wired if you wanted any meaningful connection to the Internet. The idea of a touch-interface specifically designed for the form-factor limitations and function just wasn’t on anyone’s radar.

If anyone doubts how revolutionary this touch-interface was, here’s an example of the smart phone Google wanted to introduce circa 2006:
google phone v1

verizon-voyager001Between the announcement in January and the release at the end of June the whole smart phone market flipped on it’s head and suddenly everyone was doing touch (except Blackberry!). Here’s Verizon’s attempt at touch-based interface circa December 2007 (image on the right).

A little over a year ago I found that I had unedited video tapes from this keynote (yes, I was using non-solid-state media at the time). Hopefully I’ll pull together this footage with other shaky-cam video that I must have gotten off of my Treo. In the meantime, the most complete version of the keynote is still available directly from Apple in podcast form via this link. For those just wanting to press “Play” I was able to pull up the following version on YouTube (though how long it will remain on YouTube is never certain). Enjoy.