Column: “The Severed Lion’s Head and the Cue Zebra” Web Review Magazine, Bleeding Edge Column

“The Severed Lion’s Head and the Cue Zebra”

Web Review Magazine, Bleeding Edge Column, 10-1996

By Caleb John Clark

header-edge-cjc head-lion

I’m in a matte black room with 30 Web developers sitting in a half circle. Some sit on futons, others on old wooden theater seats. It’s a NoEnd Web developers meeting in an artist’s warehouse in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill. Steve from OnLive! Technologies is gearing up to give us a 28.8 baud guided tour through Utopia, a 3D chat VRML environ, using his company’s Traveler Software. Steve has hooked his Pentium laptop to a video projector that blasts his screen 10 feet high at the end of the room. A phone line snakes out and connects to the Net. Speakers flank the screen.

It’s been Christmas time for OnLive! lately. Packages of money have been arriving from investors like Intel, MCA, AT&T, Creative Labs and others. A couple of months ago the mother lode came in when Softbank lobbed $23 million at OnLive!

So clearly they’re working on something interesting, and that’s why Steve is sitting among us, wrinkling the creases in his not-advised-for-futon stand-up pants. We half listen as he slogs through the end of a mind-numbing company presentation on the theory and technology behind the product.

Here’s the pitch: OnLive! wants to create an online 3D environment that accurately simulates a cocktail party. The technology is group audio chat in an immersive 3D graphical environment with “multi-participant real-time voice communication.” For geeks, that’s low-latency, full-duplex, additive voice bridging and automatic gain control with customizable avatars and voice disguising options, all using audio specialization and distance attenuation. TCP/IP protocols, stand alone or as an extension of a Web browser. Full 3-D polygon environs, crude lip sinking, and blinking 300 polygon avatar heads.

In P.N.E. (Pre-Net English), the rooms have depth and ambient noise, and you can walk around in them. Talking is like talking on the phone, except you can change your voice. When you approach an avatar, you can hear them better, and if you turn your head you’ll hear them out of one speaker. All this on a Pentium with speakers, a mike and a 14.4 modem (we were using a 28.8) jacked to the Net.

Yadda, yadda, yadda… We sip beers and wait for something to actually happen. A month before, the guy from The Palace had come by and shown us a pretty cool 2D chat world using balloon text, GIF backgrounds and 2D avatars. Very populated, very frat party like, but cool, totally open tech. He had just booted up the world and let us play and ask questions.

The NoEnders are always skeptical of speakers. It’s a healthy skepticism born of the information overload Webheads can fall prey to. The only effective cure being the immediate installation — in the Eustachian tubes and vestibular nerve — of dual redundant bullshit filters.

The No-End group is a mailing list of Web Developers that meets once a week to drink beer and schmooze about the Web.

We’re geeks. Shush! Just let us noodle with the buttons and ask questions. The call of a modem brought me out of my inner rant. We were getting down to business.

Steve picked a fairly cute (for 300 polygons) lion’s head severed cleanly at the neck as our avatar du jour and we executed a spiral teleport through the roof and into one of the main rooms. A stylized Egyptian courtyard with background music greeted us. Our first-person POV gave a mild Doom/Quake-sans-bloodbath feel.

Humm…voices? Yup, voices coming from a group of similar severed animal heads floating four feet above the ground, and chatting like nothing at all was strange about that. They sounded like garbled signals from dying astronauts on the dark side of Mars.

A few of us who have been infected by networked Quake deathmatch-itis poked ourselves in the leg as we instinctively reached for the fire button. I would have felt a lot better with a rocket launcher and full armor in this strange place, but I feel like that walking down the street. I should stop playing Quake.

Steve pushed the forward arrow and we glided toward the group. The voices got louder. They got clearer. We could hear what they were saying. It was a fairly coherent discussion.

Now he had our attention.

Imagine if you will, approaching four unknown animal heads at a cocktail party in ancient Egypt. Imagine being a floating lion’s head as you do this. Naturally you’d go for the attractive, young and downright appetizing Zebra head.

(Conceptually speaking this is getting pretty weird. It might help to hearken back to any hallucinogens you might have taken in the past, or ask a friend who’s imbibed to explain.)

Back to our little trip…

We float up to the back of the Zebra head and Steve says “Hi” into his laptop’s speaker.

The Zebra turns around, faces us, blinks, moves her mouth, and a clear female voice says, “Hello!”

Thirty jaded Webheads gasped in unison.

The feeling was emotional…yeah, emotional. You know, those things that tighten your chest and confuse you. They’re rare on the Net. Our avatar was recognized as a sentient entity, we were heard, present, real.

But we were not real, we were nothing more than polygons resembling a cartoon. This was far and away an entirely different animal than text chat, video conferencing or 2D chat.

This is the beginning of something new and shining. Now we just need to figure out what to do when we get there. Companies like OnLive! are going to set up these environments, but it’s up to us to figure out what to do in them. Let’s make some good choices!

It’s getting stranger out there by the minute, buckaroos. Good for those of us who suffer from Future Impatience, which is the exact opposite of Future Shock.

Turn my garage into a Holodeck, slip a Transporter in my closet, install a replicator in my kitchen. I’ll say, “About time!”

Caleb out.

Web Review copyright ® 1996 Songline Studios, Inc.
Web Techniques and Web Design and Development copyright ® 1996 Miller Freeman, Inc.

Essay: Web Garden. NetBytes Magazine

NetBytes. 05-1997

netbyte_essay_96And below.
Caleb John Clark

Ever since I was a little kid my mother and all her friends had gardens they tended every year. Last week my mother sent me a 1970 edition of her first garden book, “Grow Your Own”. On it’s cover a couple holds a baby in the sun. The couple is a cliché. The husband looks like a young Garfunkle, maybe from an upper middle class Jewish family and highly educated, but perhaps he went awry after his first LSD experience during his senior year in college. The wife is possibly of WASP heritage and doing her best to look like the American Indian’s her ancestors killed. It almost seems like a parody, but it isn’t. And for all it’s clichés, staring at the this funky picture got me thinking about connections between my mother’s gardens and the personal web site I’ve had for three years.


I recently planted a raised bed garden and started a compost pile myself. I can’t explain exactly why, but I think it has to do with the inevitable migrations kids make towards becoming a lot like their parents. This has given me a taste of my mother’s world among the plants and revealed many more striking parallels between my web site and her dirt sites.


In a broad sense the parallels are of rebellion. My mother rebelled against her parents world partly by growing her own food, something her parents just didn’t understand. I am part of my generations greatest rebellion, the Net, and I have a personal web site which my mother simply does not understand. While my mother is learning about the web and excited, she was not part of it’s birth, just as I was a flower child kid during the sixties, but not part of the birth of the hippie movement. There is a gulf of intimacy that separates our rebellions.


On a more narrow level, gardens are maintained by light touches of finger tips that pull weeds, get rid of bugs and turn the soil. Web sites flourish at the hands of light taps to keys and mice that pull weeds, get rid of bugs, and turn the code. Both rely totally on our eyes seeing tiny details and gently moving our fingers to alter them. It’s a very personal, intimate, almost meditative process to work on a garden or personal web site.


Anybody can look at my garden layout, what went where and how it worked out, but they still have to plant and grow their own crops. One of the foundations of the Web was open access to anybody’s HTML code. This enabled most of the first wave of Web developers to learn from “stealing” the code of others. But just like a garden, you could only steal the layout and technique, you still had to put your own content in. In the post coital cuddling of the HTML learning curve, the content soon revealed itself as the hardest part. And like new gardeners quickly learn, planting is easy, it’s getting the plants to produce fruit that’s the hard part.


Gardens have rows like Websites. Often gardens are contained in raised beds, but at the very least most are within rectangular frames, like web sites. The content on a web site branches off from a main page, like the content of gardens hanging from the branched stalks of plants. Gardens need constant maintenance to produce crops, and as anybody with any kind of web site will tell you, it’s the maintenance that takes most of the time with them as well.


Both web sites and gardens have crops. For web sites crops are work gained, or some other acquisition, that was made possible by someone visiting your web site. So your work translates into money and thus food. Garden vegetables translate into saved time, food, and thus saved money.


A good garden makes one more self sufficient, as a good web site makes the builder more self sufficient, able to access their portfolio and resume from any computer hooked up to the net.

Gardens need compost to constantly make the soil rich. The compost for my web site is my brain. Warm and wet like good compost, ideas fester in my head, concentrating until I put the finished product on an update of my web site.


Anybody can walk by and look at my garden, but in reality only a few people do. Even fewer people take my offered seedlings to plant in their gardens at home, or vegetables to eat for dinner. Nobody but a thief would take an entire mature plant home from my garden. Web sites are planted on the land of the world’s Net and most are public for all to see. While anybody can look, few do. Occasionally someone will take some text and put it on their site, but taking an entire clump of work is frowned upon. You are welcome to take the seed of an idea and let it grow on your site until it is your own creation. And just like gardens, it’s the seeds spreading among friends that help web sites evolve.


Over the years a garden will end up having some areas where old pots gather and old equipment rusts. A personal web site usually has some dead HTML documents hanging around. Both the equipment and the HTML documents could easily be deleted, but for some reason they stay, as if to prove the garden’s age and to show some of it’s rich history.


Every year the layout of a garden within the rectangle changes, as does a personal web site’s layout within it’s rectangle. New kinds of plants to experiment with, new knowledge to implement, just like the new technology a web site is always sucking up and trying out at the changing whims of it’s owners. But the majority of the content stays mostly the same on a personal web site, as in a garden, the mainstays having been established and new ideas only added to the foundation.


The Net is in a renaissance of epic proportions with changes grinding and churning daily, but personal web sites move much slower then the commercial ventures. Like a garden, a personal web site is more of a hobby, or portfolio; not a career to hammer at daily, but a plot to tinker with and let grow along with the work you do.


Gardens grow out of the earth, are made up of the earth and go back to the earth. Web sites are made of digital 0’s and 1’s, a new earth. But like plants in gardens, dead bytes are not totally erased, only reformatted into basic material and then grown into something else.


So, let’s rebel and let our web gardens grow! Our parents may not understand, nor society. But they will in time, just as we have grown to understand and accept a lot of the what those crazy hippies were babbling about in the 60s. Some dream of going back and being 18 during the summer of love and now others dream of having been part of the birth of the web. I for one am glad one of these dreams became a reality for me.

Caleb out.

Article: Journey of a flower child into the land of educational technology consulting.

Journey of a flower child into the land of educational technology consulting. Educational Technology Magazine. 9(4), 24-30. 1999.


And below.


Before After
fig1_caleb_before fig2_caleb_after
The author pictured where he works as a graduate assistant in the Instructional Media Lab at San Diego State University’s Department of Educational Technology.



This report is the story of one graduate student’s experience in the fall of 1998 while taking Allison Rossett’s class, EDTEC 644: Advanced Instructional Design at San Diego State University (SDSU). EDTEC 644 is an advanced class in the Master’s Program in the Department of Educational Technology. The class places students with real clients for a semester of instructional design and technology consulting work.

This report is formatted using Joseph Campbell’s theories on story telling in his famous book, “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” (1949). It also uses the later interpretation by Christopher Vogler, “A Writer’s Journey” (1992). Campbell found that all cultures tell stories in much the same way. He identified seven common characters, and twelve common plot points in most of the world’s storytelling and mythology.

The author hopes that sharing his experience using the structure of a Hero’s Journey will help future students learn about the softer side of educational technology consulting.


The Journey

The Setting


The Comfort Zone: San Diego State University (SDSU)

Amid the sprawl of San Diego, California sits the campus of SDSU. Palm trees and flowers that bloom all year grace its campus. 30,000+ tan and barely dressed students study and play here. SDSU is the flag ship school of the 22 Campus California State University system with a total of 300,000+ students. SDSU started over a 100 years ago as a teacher’s college. Within its respected department of education is the 25-year old Department of Educational Technology, or “EDTEC”. It is here where we will find our Hero pursuing a Masters degree.

A particularly comfortable part of this comfort zone is the EDTEC Instructional Media Lab, where our hero works as a lab staff Graduate Assistant. This high-end multimedia computer lab has an atmosphere of constant learning as the lab staff helps beginning EDTEC students build instructional products on high-end computers.


House in Point Loma

A 15-minute drive from SDSU, where our hero lives with two other male graduate students in a small house. By their standards the house is reasonably clean, most of the time. Others have different opinions. It’s a small house, so everybody knows exactly what everybody else is going through all the time.


Red’s café/arthouse/performance space/boutique

In Point Loma. Reds is an extended environ of the comfort zone at SDSU. It’s owned by a red-haired-earth-mother and staffed by angelic hippie chicks. Reds’ mission statement hangs near the coffee re-fill counter. It is so attractive that every refill of coffee results in urges to quit it all and live the simple life as a Java jockey.


The Cast of Characters

The Hero: Caleb John Clark

Our hero’s name is Caleb John Clark. He is a flower child, not to be confused with a hippie. His parents were hippies. He was born amid the left leaning winds of 1966 and raised during the screaming liberal gusts of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Before he could read he saw Hendrix burn his guitar and the Rolling Stones rock Golden Gate Park for free. After college Caleb picked his revolution – the Web, and moved into the geek culture in San Francisco.

Our hero is a man who has never worn a matching suit in 32 years – ever. Sure, he’s been forced into a coat, tie, and slacks, but they never matched. To this day merely passing a building where “suits” are coming and going causes involuntary scorn.


The Mentor and Trickster: Professor Allison Rossett

A ball of fire wearing parachute pants and cowboy boots. The only professor who makes a habit of cruising through the computer lab once a week to see what students are working on. A fast talker and 20+ year veteran of the department. Along with being the mentor, Allison is constantly tricking people by dancing between the world of corporate America and academia with apparent ease.


The Shapeshifter: The client, Debbie Smith

Debbie is young, attractive, tough and smart. She is the head of Widget Inc. training department and she is Web/Net savvy. But she is a client. And as any consultant will tell you, something happens to people when they become clients – they morph into shapeshifters. First they want one thing then they shapeshift and want a different thing.


The Shadow: The corporate world

A world that our hero must journey through successfully to pass EDTEC 644. It is a world he was conditioned to hate, a world that runs on different priorities, and a world he does not want to dress for.



The Story


Chapter 1: The Normal World

We find our hero in his last year of a Master’s degree program in EDTEC at SDSU. He loves his job working in the computer lab, helping students use the many high performance computers in the department. He is a happy techie in a world of state sponsored technology. This entire world can be negotiated successfully in shorts and sandals, tee shirts and jeans, which fits Caleb’s closet to the tee, as he has no other clothing.


Chapter 2: The Call to Adventure

One day Allison came into the computer lab while our hero was on duty. She was on one of her weekly tours to see what students were up to. Since Caleb was in the middle of signing up for next semester’s classes, he shouted, “Allison, if I could take only one class from you, which one would you suggest?”

Allison thought deeply for a moment. The students in the Lab couldn’t help but notice this drama unfolding and looked up from their computers. Finally Allison spoke, “Well, I’d say 644, the class where you work with clients on real projects” she said, looking around the Lab with a slight smile, “I’d like to get you out of your comfort zone.”


Chapter 3: Refusal of the Call

Caleb liked his comfort zone, it was comfortable. And he was much more interested in Allison’s other performance technology class, EDTEC 685. And it had been years since he had worked as a Webmaster and resided in a corporate cube. Besides, he didn’t own anything even remotely suit-like anymore, and he was happy about that simple fact. Caleb decided to take her other class, EDTEC 685.


Chapter 4: Supernatural Aid

One day Caleb was sitting outside enjoying some full spectrum light when a series of sane thoughts magically shined into his head. Maybe Allison was using her laser pointer on him from afar? Maybe it was a higher power? Or maybe it was the double latte he’d just sucked down on an empty stomach? The sane thought sounded something like this: He’d asked Allison which class to take. Maybe he’d be well advised to take the class she suggested.

He signed up for EDTEC 644 that day. He figured he’d be just fine outside his comfort zone. He’d just view it as an “EVA” (Extra Vehicular Activity) like on the space shuttle and keep it a short journey into this hostile environment. Or course he’d need to pick the right client.


Chapter 5: Crossing the First Threshold

The first night of EDTEC 644 the clients presented in class. They represented every corner of the industry, from public schools and community organizations, to Fortune 500 corporations and small Internet companies. One of the clients was from a 23 person local corporation called Widget Inc.

A young hip looking woman from their training department named Debbie presented for Widget Inc. She was well dressed in California business garb that cost more than our hero’s truck.

Debbie explained that her company helped businesses learn more about health insurance options for their employees. Widget Inc. consulted, offered workshops, and sold CD-ROM products that explained all the ins and outs of the complicated health care options. They were looking for a new approach to educating their clients and they wanted to use the Web. She went on to say that they had lots of data from commissioned surveys, product evaluations and workshop questionnaires. And that a focus group would be set up for this specific project.

Caleb listened and knew he wanted Widget Inc. as his client. He figured this would be a great opportunity for him to setup an online community. He’d been studying online communities, and working as a professional online forum host, for the past year. It was a subject he felt experienced in and this sounded like a situation that could capitalize on the information sharing a good online community spawned. He requested Widget Inc. as his client, and after a few tense days, was assigned by Allison to work on their project.

At the next class Allison mentioned that dressing in business attire was expected for the first meetings with their clients. She suggested that a little over dressing for the first meeting couldn’t hurt. These were not good words for our hero’s ears.

The night before the first meeting our hero ranted around his small house subjecting his roommates to endless speeches about having to change his style of dress for any reason, for anybody, any time. Also, after a year of graduate school, he didn’t have any clothes remotely close to business attire. He resolved to be himself and wear what he always wore this time of year – shorts, a tee shirt and sandals.

After much sane and calming talk by his roommates, he was convinced to wear a button down shirt and black shoes with clean jeans. He even buttoned the top button on the shirt, but he held the line at a tie.

At the meeting Debbie did not noticed the rash that formed around his neck from having a collar buttoned tight, nor did she see the uncomfortable way he walked due to having his clothes tucked into his pants.

Despite the clothes throwing him off, it was a good meeting. Debbie and he had a good work vibe and the work ahead seemed exciting. His charge was to research their extant data (wow, he was using the jargon already), then write a report recommending a new approach to educating their clients, and then make a prototype of one of his recommendations. He felt excited about the prospect of implementing what he’d been learning about online communities as well. As we shall see our hero was not only putting the cart before the horse, he’d put the horse in the cart and was hauling it blindly up a hill.


Chapter 6: Friends, Foes, and Tests

The next day Caleb drove his old truck to Widget Inc.’s office where he picked up all the Widget Inc. CD-ROMs, and extant data.

He drove to a café and started reading the reports, questionnaires from workshops, product reviews, telephone interviews with customers of the CDs, and consultants spread sheeted reports. These were foreign documents and foreign languages to our hero, so it took a long time for him to figure them out.

After several sessions with the extant data it was becoming obvious that Widget Inc.’s clients were confused in the process of learning about this subject, and that Debbie was right, a new approach to educating their clients was needed. But our Hero was beginning to see that maybe his idea of recommending an online community was a little off. Also, Allison’s classroom teachings about the value of analyzing optimals, actuals, and drivers was beginning to make him think he may be a little ahead of himself.

Upon further reflection Caleb had to admit that his original idea of an online community was probably not going to fit here. These business people were too busy to become part of an online community! What was he thinking? They needed some new kind of quick education on the run. But what was it?

Later in a café, as he sipped a beloved cappuccino, our hero thought maybe some sort of a map in the woods or a guide in the jungle was needed here. But remembering the fresh, and terribly young, death of his first born idea about online communities, he put this idea safely under wraps for the time being.

As the caffeine hit, his thoughts turned to the up coming focus group organized specifically for this project. The focus group sounded like an opportunity to try some material he’d been reading in Allison’s “Training Needs Assessment” book. He’d just read about groups being a good place to “solicit options on optimals, actuals, causes, feelings and solutions” (Rossett 1987). Allison had also been letting students read advanced drafts of her soon to be published “First Things Fast” book.

“The major part of performance analysis is to figure out what to do. During performance analysis, we emphasize the quest for drivers rather then the detailed definition of the domain or content area, because it is the drivers that define solutions.” (Rossett 1999)

Maybe this focus group would flush one of these drives into the open. Our hero was excited at the thought of actually seeing a real driver in the wild.

This excitement was soon quelled. The day before the focus group, Debbie informed everyone that the dress code was “Business formal.” Not good! Caleb panicked. He got mad, then he got madder.

The night before he subjected his roommates to a fashion show of desperation – and in their borrowed clothes! After hours of ranting, an outfit was picked: black pants, a borrowed white shirt, a borrowed tie and his grandfather’s suit coat. It felt workable.

Arriving at the focus group his mistake was immediately obvious. He had reached too far and failed completely. Looking around at the crowd, he could see plenty of suits, and plenty of businessmen in weekend jeans and shirts. But he could find nobody wearing a borrowed mishmash of clothes that traversed both worlds. He would have been much better off having worn clean jeans and nice shirt and shoes. It was a painful fashion lesson: “Never attempt a look you can’t pull off.”

The focus group lasted for two hours and involved listening to 8 intelligent business folk talk about their needs, feelings, and thoughts. It was run by an experienced outside consultant and tape-recorded. The focus group resulted in the most valuable data for the whole project. The main unmet need that came about from this focus group was that clients needed a map to help them figure out employee healthcare options. They were lost in a process.

The next challenge was to outline what his report would look like.


Chapter 7: Nearing the Main Crisis

After the focus group, Caleb listened to Debbie go over what they expected from his report. He was shocked. It was clear that he was not going to get out of this by just recommending an online community, or other cool Web technology that he thought would be work. He was actually going to have to justify his decisions with data, literature and theory. Debbie was expecting a report from him that detailed the extant data and what he had learned from synthesizing it; a review of the existing products strengths and weaknesses; a detailed synthesis of the data from the focus group; all wrapped up in report with an executive summary, conclusions, and appendices. It was a lot of work! A meeting was set up at Red’s Café to solidify the outline. “My god” thought Caleb “a meeting just for the outline! What have I got myself into?”

That week our hero had read an article in Allison’s readings packet entitled “The Instructional Designer-Subject Specialist Relationship: Implications for Professional Training” and one passage had jumped out at him:

“There are also some drawbacks to requiring or encouraging students to work with individuals outside an academic setting. As a professor, one is endorsing a student to work as a professional, yet the student is a novice, not a professional.” (Morrison 1998)

He made the mistake of thinking about this on his way to the meeting. It made him nervous.


Chapter 8: Major Crisis

At the meeting all went well until the conversation turned to the subject of who the report was for, and what its main goal was. Then things started to get sticky between Caleb and Debbie.

Debbie made it clear that the report was for her to get money for the project from her superiors and that as a consultant, his “allegiance was to the client”. She also made it clear that the URL for Caleb’s personal Web page should not be included because although she loved his site, it was not professional looking. He’d been building his Web site since 1994. It was a strange digital portfolio in the style of the Internet generation, and very personal (see:

Caleb’s heart started pounding. His face flushed. Someone was telling him where his allegiance was! He was hearing a suggestion that his personal truth, as he saw it, might be anything but paramount in his report! His Web site was being judged!

He believed that his off- beat Web page should not only be mentioned, it should be highlighted! He believed he should use the page as an advantage to prove his “Wiredness” in the new information age, strengthening the credibility of his recommendations. And his recommendations should pay allegiance only to the truth of what he believed he should recommend!

He could not hide his feelings and spoke about them. Debbie pointed out that if he wanted to work in the field as a consultant he’d have to start putting the client first. And that his report would be used by her to get funding for projects, so he should do all he could to help her.

Caleb disagreed and countered that the best way he could see to help her was to give her a truly objective list of recommendations that she could use along with other data to get funding. The meeting ended badly, with both sides talking about apples and oranges.

Caleb drove off to school and let loose an uncensored email to Allison venting all his anger. He spent the rest of the day fuming and ranting. Allison read Caleb’s letter and didn’t throw him out of class as he had half expected. Instead she addressed each of his concerns, mostly agreeing with the client, but also giving him way to maintain his identity. She also told him some stories about her beginning consulting years that were similar to his experience. It was exactly what he needed, to be heard and have it understood that he was mad and why.

After a good nights sleep Caleb set out to write the report with renewed vigor. His goal: To please the client, while at the same time maintaining his personal beliefs and honor.


Chapter 9: Taking the Reward

One day our hero happened to talk to his crazy hippie uncle and tell him the story of his focus group fashion disaster. To his surprise his uncle was shocked that he didn’t own a suit and said, “A nice suit is one of life’s necessities.”

The next thing he knew he was with his uncle at a nice store wearing a 100% worsted wool classic charcoal business suit. On his feet where shiny Bostonian shoes. Under the suit was a new pressed light blue shirt with a new tie, albeit slightly hippie in design.

Wearing the suit our hero could not deny that he felt richer and quite handsome. This was amazing given the fact that he was actually poor and sporting a mature case of “grad gut”.

He realized that his rebellion against suits for the last 30 years had been misguided. He had never had a good suit; that was the problem. And his rebellion was not against the suits, but certain types of people who wore suits. Armed with his new fashion weapon, and a new understanding of how to use it, our hero started on the report.

As he wrote the first draft, he came to the conclusion that his main recommendation was going to be a Web based tool like he had imagined. His readings in class backed this up. Allison’s Job aid book (Rossett and Gautier-Downes 1991) talked about procedural job aids being good for complex subjects and made up of steps to follow not memorize. Procedural job aids also it answered the “How” and “When” questions and put forth actions using verbs. Further, her book said that the checklist format should be used when the task is “difficulty, new, or ambiguous challenge that requires the user to consider many factors.” Perfect! A Web based interactive checklist generator seemed perfect for the job.

As he wrote his report, the metaphor of being lost continued to be pervasive. Widget’s clients were lost in a process. It was like a graduate class without a syllabus. The content was there, but it was not framed in a way that let users build any kind of…of…. what’s that word…schema!

Wow! That was it! He leafed through his EDTEC textbooks reading about constructivist theories and schemas and scaffolding. He’d read this stuff before, but now the words were starting to make sense in a real world situation!

Next his journey lead him to rediscover “Advanced Organizers” in one of his textbooks titled “Instructional Message Design” (Fleming and Levie 1993). Advanced organizers were for building “the context in which a message is intended to be interpreted” (p. 84). Further reading revealed that advanced organizers set up cognitive scaffolding and were often in the form of overviews, and outlines.

It was all becoming clear! Our hero needed to propose a Web based interactive procedural job aid creator that would serve as an advanced organizer for establishing the context, and building a schemata, that the learners would use on their journey into employee health care options. Caleb was shocked at how professional that sounded.

This tool would be a Web page that would prompt user for some basic questions about the their situation using drop menus and check boxes. Then this tool would return customized and tailored answers to the user in the form of a checklist. This checklist would be printable and designed to have steps checked of as the user went through the months it takes to research employee health care options.

Such a tool skimmed the area of artificial intelligence, but Caleb realized that it didn’t have to be that complicated. In fact, the programming could be pretty simple, for a good programmer (he immediately thought of his friend Paul, who he’d worked with on other projects). Each question could have a paragraph of text associated with it. When the user selected an answer, the program would tag the paragraph associated with their choice. When the user hit “submit” only the paragraphs that were tied to each choice would be passed to the output text in the form of a checklist.

Our hero tore off into writing his report. His lead suggestion was this Web based interactive checklist maker.


Chapter 10: The Road Back

The first draft of the report was passed in. Debbie liked it.

Then, when Debbie suggested he add details about an macro process she’s been thinking about, things started to get dicey again.

Caleb felt the blood begin to boil again. But this time he remembered some words from Allison’s letter. She had said that sometimes when the client is pushing your buttons, the best thing to do is concentrate on listening to them. So our hero composed himself and tried to do just that, he sat and listened. She spoke of this process she wanted the report to explain, how it was a systematic problem with the company as a whole, how to tie it all together and get funding from her superiors. Again, Advance Organizers came to mind. She was trying to make one for her whole company, and put it in his report.

Suddenly a ray of high-grade consultancy slammed into his head. It spoke to him as if from Allison herself. “Your draft reports are causing Debbie to come up with great ideas-which is a good thing. What isn’t a good thing is that she wants you to re-write the report to include each subsequent set of ideas that your drafts of the report stimulate. The report needs to be finished and Debbie needs to use it as only a part of her pitch, not the whole thing.”

When Debbie was done, Caleb agreed with her ideas, but suggested that his report was not the place for the new ideas. He urged her to summarize her ideas in the cover letter that she present to her boss along with his report, her other data, and his prototype. He suggested that now he should start building a prototype.

To his surprise, Debbie agreed.


Chapter 11: The Climax

For this next meeting Caleb wore his suit. Glancing up into the sky as he walked to the office building he expected to see Jerry Garcia, Wavy Gravy, and other famous hippies sitting in the clouds taking aim at his head with huge burning joints. But they weren’t there when he looked up. Maybe it was his slightly hippie tie.

At the meeting the suit got a big reaction from Debbie and the staff. When asked about it our hero said, “I just felt like wearing a suit.”

The meeting was a great success. Debbie then explained her plan for implementing the main idea from his report; a Web-based interactive checklist generator that would customize and tailor a checklist to the user’s company.

After listening patiently Caleb spoke up. “It sounds me to me like Widget Inc. is suffering from the same things that its clientele are. Namely a lack of a path to follow with easily understood goals and objectives.” The staff admitted that this was so. Our hero felt the rush of consultancy gone right, he saw the light!

Leaving the meeting our hero went straight to school in his new suit. He had a meeting with Allison that day and figured he might as well show off while he was all dolled up and looking professional.

Arriving at school caused quite a stir! Nobody had ever seen Caleb in anything approaching a business suit. Allison was so impressed she had Caleb have his picture taken in his suit in the Lab. All day long students coming into the Lab would stop and stare at the remarkable transition. And our hero was amazed at how the men seemed a little intimidated and the woman kept saying how good he looked. This was very good for our hero, who adores attention.


Chapter 12: Return with the Reward

With the report behind him, and a happy client, Caleb started building a prototype of the Web based interactive checklist generator. Debbie liked the prototype. And she mentioned that she’d like him to bid on building the real thing, and that this would involve real money.

A few days later our hero was back in Red’s café with his laptop building the prototype. The product would be linked off the main company Web site. The user would enter their first name, and then answer some basic questions about their company. After clicking on “Submit” the user would get back a checklist, like the one pictured below, with suggestions on how to proceed on their quest of information.


Staring at the almost done prototype on his laptop screen, it hit him. His journey was over! He’d made it back alive, a little wiser for the trip and a little better clothed. He ordered a fresh cappuccino and reflected on what he had learned from the journey:


* The value of analyzing extant data, and doing analysis with real users

* The danger of thinking you know the solution before you do

* People doing any project need a map of the terrain they will be negotiating, and a path to follow, or veer off from, as they progress.

* The value of reviewing literature and textbooks.

* Always have at least one nice suit, a clean shirt, a good tie that fits who you are, and new shoes, in your closet.

* A flower child can wear a suit and not become a mindless drone of the evil corporate money machine.

* We can all profit from a worthy mentor.



The author would like to thank the following people for their help in creating this story: Lisa Hasler, Brett Pollak, Carl Czech, The spring ’98 EDTEC 644 students and Uncle Binny and Uncle Cove, Kendra Sheldon. Also, my roommates Brett Clapham and Travis Wall for their borrowed clothes and for putting up with my clothing rants.




Readings Packet (Rossett, EDTEC 644)

Rossett, A. & Downes-Gautier, J. H. (1991) Handbook of Job Aids. San Diego, CA: Pfeiffer.

Campbell, J. (1949). Hero with a thousand faces. NY, NY, MJF Books.

Fleming, M. L. and W. H. Levie (1993). Instructional message design: principles from the behavioral and cognitive sciences. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Educational Technology Publications.

Morrison, R. G. (1998). “The instructional designer-subject specialist relationship: implications for professional training.” Journal of Instructional Development 11(2): 24-27.

Rossett, A. (1987). Training needs assessment. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Educational Technology Publications.

Rossett, A. (1999). First Things Fast: A Handbook for Performance Analysis. San Francisco CA, Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.

Rossett, A. and J. Gautier-Downes (1991). A handbook of job aids. San Diego, Pfeiffer.

Vogler, C. (1992). The writer’s Journey: mythic structures for storytellers & screenwriters. LA, CA, Michael Wiese Productions.


EDTEC 644 Textbooks and Readings

Clark, R. E. (1998) Building Expertise: Cognitive Methods for Training and Performance Improvement. Washington, DC; International Society for Performance Improvement. [Aztec Shops]

Jonassen, D. H. (Ed.) (1996). Handbook of research for educational communications and technology. New York: MacMillan. [Aztec Shops]

Rossett, A. (1987) Training Needs Assessment. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications. [Aztec Shops]

Readings Packet (Rossett, EDTEC




Quoted In

Quoted In 8 dos and don’ts for student e-portfolios. USA TODAY COLLEGE. Christina Jedra.  11/21/2013. Article.

Quoted In Article: Teacher Training Needed to Meet Technology Needs in Classrooms. US News and World Report. By Ryan Lytle. September 20, 2012. Article.

“Born Dropped Out: Questions for Hippie Kids,” ITP Thesis covered by The Atlantic and BoingBoing.

Interviewed in Book: Design for Community. 2001. “The Art of Connecting Real People in Virtual Places” Interviewed as expert in online communities and social networking via email exchanges. Derek M. Powazek, Paperback, New Riders Publishing. 

Interviewed in Book: Beyond the Podium. 2001. “Delivering Training and Performance to a Digital World” (interviewed as expert in instructional design / educational technology). Dr. Allison Rossett and Kendra Sheldon. Jossey-Bass / Pfeiffer, publishing.


Geek Learning

Geek Learning. Clark, Caleb John. TechTrends. 44(5), 41-45. 2000.ISSN-8756-3894. Download Pre-Published PDF.


Defines a “geek” as a person in love with technology, computers, and the Internet, and suggests ways that technology-training professionals can discover their “inner geek” to improve their ability to design appropriate learning and performance systems. Presents actions to take and examples for game playing; exploring; embracing technology; “killing” fear; reading the manual; understanding basic concepts; and transferring concepts between software.

Paper: A Wiki Way of Working.

A Wiki Way of Working. Internet Reference Services Quarterly. Volume: 13 Issue: 1. DOI: 10.1300/J136v13n01_07. Caleb John Clarkab & Emily B. Masonc. pages 113-132 2008. Written while working at Antioch University New England’s Library Media Services. Go To Site.


This article describes how three digital tools are used in combination at a small graduate school library to create a “Wiki Way of Working.” The evolution and usage of three “wiki-like” working protocols are detailed; a shared server space with read/write permissions for all staff, an online employee schedule that all staff can edit independently, and an editable training and knowledge management wiki. Focus is on the creation of the wiki and lessons learned. A literature review explores the current usage of wiki technology and how wikis are a return to some of the founding ideas behind early hypertext and the invention of the Web.


thumb netcenter

Online Discussion Host, Netscape Inc. Netcenter

In the last 1990s I worked part-time  for Netscape Inc. as they booted up and ran an online discussion forum called”NetCenter.” This was  during a time when Netscape was THE Web browser people used, and their home page has huge traffic. I was a community host in the successful. “Professional Connections” forum until the community was sunsetted. netscape_lastquote

netcenter_quote netcenter_career9_98 netcenter_ii_1_99 netcenter_ii_1_99 netcenter_II    netcenterlastforumshot



Student Work: Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), NYU, Tisch School of The Arts

Thesis: Born Dropped Out, The Hippie Kid Stories.
An experiment in new interfaces for documentary video as part of an NYU ITP Masters Thesis. Users explored a website of unedited short videos of children of hippies who recorded themselves on video answering the same 20 questions. Project was Covered by Boing Boing and The Atlantic. Download PDF of Paper | Documentary made from interviews on YouTube. May 2008.

hippie kid stories screenshot


The Green Helmet: Solar safety bike helmet
A solar powered, safety lit, weatherproof bike helmet.
Instructable (featured). 2007

The green helmet solar bike helmet


TechTrek TV
18 episodes of a video blogging show I co-created and produced with with fellow students . Link to Episodes in 2007/2008

blip screenshot1

A Tribble
Physical Computing Project with two fellow students. Furry, purred when petted, made sounds. Improved on the original in that is wasn’t asexual so it didn’t procreate like Star Trek Tribbles.





2FerCam. Picture in Picture Camera rig.
Camera rig for hands-free operation of small video camera that enabled both people in an interview to be seen at once. Used flexpipe, a make-up mirror and harmonica holder. Instructable. 2007.

camera with mirror pic in pic


Cong: COoperative POng Game
Programmed a version of the classic Pong game to be based on cooperation. The goal of the game was to get the balls to collide in the middle. Paddles moved constantly up and down. Users pushed a button that released the balls from the paddles toward the center. If both users timed it right, via practice, or hopefully by communicating and cooperating, they BOTH got a point. The next round the paddles would move faster. 2008.

cong game screen shot


Mars Ball. A spaceship idea.
Prototype design for a Mars transportation and colonization module. Provided both a green house, house, and shaded porch. 2006mars ball design

DIY_Squared: A paper on the effect of the Web on the diffusion of how-to knowledge in terms of ingredients, capabilities, costs and instructions. Final Paper. Clay Shirky’s User Generated Class. NYU, Tisch ITP. Download PDF.

thumb noend group

NoEnd Group Facilitation

Group Cofounder/Facilitator. NoEnd Web Developers Group.
Co-founded a well known special interest group and email listserve in 1996 called “NoEnd.” The group was for anyone interested in the Web – developers, geeks artists, writers. We met weekly in San Francisco with up to 50 folks and guest speakers. At meetings, each person was asked to answer the question “How was your week?” in an attempt to humanize the then young Web. Our listserve grew to over 900 before being “hot tubbed” (see below). Jan 1996 – Present

Published Paper referencing NoEnd. Let your Online Learning Community Grow: Three Design Principles for Growing Successful Email Listservs and Online Forums in Educational

Essay from the NoEnd listserve lessons learned

“Hot Tubbing an Online Community”

Caleb John Clark, January 12th, 1999.

Email listservs often parallel in person group growth patterns and grow very fast, too fast. Sometimes this will lead to a situation where pleas to the list have no effect and the list is in danger of degrading into flames and lots of useless noise.

Here’s a proven way I’ve come up with to get a list back on its feet and back to its core misson and people.

In Oakland California there’s a hot tub in the back yard of an early producer of the Grateful Dead. You have to go very quietly along an ally next to his house, and then punch the code on a redwood door to get in. My friend did not let me see the code.

There’s a changing room, a hot tub, a redwood deck, a hammock, and a few small redwoods and plants on a lot behind his house that he never developed. Talking is discouraged. No drugs of any kind are allowed. Clothing is optional.

I have an image of the friend I was with during my visit. It’s burned into my brain. She is quite an attractive woman and was standing buck naked in a light drizzle of warm summer rain. The ex-producer had came down from his house (which is inches from the tub) and they had struck up a conversation.

So here’s this soft friendly 50 something original hippie, fully dressed, talking to this young naked woman, at night, in the rain, beads of misty water dripping from his hair, and her body, and all among redwoods in the middle of Oakland. I just swung naked in the hammock I was in and marveled at the scene. We ended up going into his house and he played some jazz on these new speakers he’d just got. They were 8 feet high, three inches thick, and looked like the Monolith in 2001. They sounded smooth as the slick redwood decking of his hot tub.

Later that night my friend told me about the hot tub. She said it had been around for years and at first there was no gate. But then a few incidents happened. Negative things, like drugs or violence. So a gate was installed with a code. The code was then given out to only a few long time users of the hot tub. They in turn shared the code with close friends they trusted. Eventually the code would spread over the years and something negative would happen. Then the code would be changed again. This had happened a few times in my friends long experience with the tub.

I took this over to email mailing lists and thus we have “hot tubbing”.

When a list gets too big, has too many flames, and won’t respond to cries for sanity from it’s core members, hot tub it by doing this:

  1. Send out a well subject headered message saying something like: “in 24 hours this list will end. A new list will start up. The new lists’ address will be given out at local meetings in person only. If you want to start your own local list, please do so. We are sorry for the this but this list can no longer support the number of people on it.”
  2. Kill the list.
  3. Start a new one.
  4. Give out the address at an in person meeting.
  5. Your core group will immediately subscribe to the new list and email out their close friends the new address. In a few months you’ll have a good list again, albeit much smaller.

Wired Magazine Story on Two-Year Anniversary of The NoEnd Group

wired news article on noend


No End in Sight for San Francisco Web Developer Group
by Janelle Brown

5:02am  20.Jan.98.PST
SAN FRANCISCO – In a shabby YMCA hostel, complete with mismatched sofas and a cast-iron stove, 60 webheads gathered this weekend to hike in the rain, play Internet charades, and talk about the meaning of community. A celebration of the two-year anniversary of the local Web developer mailing list and social group NoEnd, the slumber party came at a critical point in the group’s existence.

For the second time in its history, the group faces problems arising from a popularity that threatens to drown its intimate feeling, as well as the low-noise to high-combined-knowledge base, that list members prize. The question members face is how to preserve focus and group dynamics in both the physical and virtual worlds, without having to turn away newcomers.

What started as a handful of Web developers and designers getting together at a bar to share their woes about working online has, two years on, become a group of mailing lists with more than 300 members, a series of meetings with speakers ranging from Thomas Dolby to the designers of Salon, plus parties, bonfires, and copious amounts of microbrewed beer.

Unlike most online groups, NoEnd was built around face-to-face meetings, from the group’s belief that working online could be a lonely and alienating job, and that meeting in physical space was the best way to “humanize technology.”

At the twice-monthly AA-style meetings, each person tells the group about their week and how they are feeling – a warm and fuzzy, San Francisco-style routine intended to get everyone to participate and connect on a personal level, rather than simply looking for tech tips or good business contacts.

Not that business interests aren’t served by belonging to the group. Beyond just building a support group, the network is designed to put people with questions together with people with answers on everything from ad rates to Perl scripting, and numerous projects have been spawned by people that met via the list. As one woman attested this weekend, she can now charge twice as much for her production services as she could a year ago, since she can tap the collective knowledge set of several hundred Web-whizzes.

While the meetings are considered the glue that holds the group together, the mailing list has often been the force that draws new faces in the first place. A mishmash of technical advice, industry gossip, and plain old chitchat, topics range from deconstructing Lucky Strike advertisements to JavaScript fixes and Netscape’s strategies.

Though nearly all vital lists at some time or another face the same issues when noise-to-signal ratio increases with the number of subscribers, the responses to ever-larger group sizes have been diverse. The 2,500-person-strong WWWAC Web-developer mailing list out of New York resolved the issue by breaking down into special interest groups, matching writers with writers and database specialists with database specialists both in the mailing list and meetings.

craigs-list, a jobs-apartments-events mailing list with 1,000 subscribers in the San Francisco Bay Area, has simply broken the list down into “subjects”: subscribers can pick the types of posts that they want to get, and all messages are filtered through one moderator, eliminating most chitchat.

“NoEnd is smaller – and it has to stay that way because of the nature of conversation,” says Craig Newmark, moderator of craigs-list, who also stays on NoEnd because he enjoys the social aspects of it. To preserve community on his list, “the idea behind the problem of size was to keep splitting the list into subcategories; earlier, it was important to do a digest form…. But people could still get their names out there and reveal something about themselves in a way that means a lot.”

But with the mandate of “humanize” rather than “swap information,” NoEnd is trying to preserve the organic but unified group while still reducing the noise – an issue that became the focus of the discussions this weekend.

“The growth mirrored classic group growth. Excitement, rapid growth, crash, readjust with a core, slow growth,” says Caleb J. Clark, the group’s original founder. “Love and caring for others, not self advancement and networking has kept it going. We’ve found that networking happens better this way anyway.”

Last year, the group faced a similar dilemma when the group’s size neared a thousand members; then, the solution was to quietly move the list to a new server, so that only the diligent and truly committed would stay on. This year, they’re looking for a less discriminatory approach. One solution proffered was to post initial questions or topics to the mailing list, and then move the thread to a Well Engaged bulletin board. Other ideas included implementing 24-hour “blackouts” once a week, adding topical micro-lists for technical questions, or simply appealing to members’ ability to self-censor those “couldn’t agree more” kind of posts.

Meanwhile, a satellite NoEnd group is forming in New York, founded by former San Franciscans and bicoastal commuters who miss the NoEnd meetings or are looking for a more personalized alternative to the WWWAC group. Other NoEnders are talking of pooling resources and time to help build Web sites for needy organizations – perhaps even becoming a nonprofit group (as WWWAC and craigs-list have).

“If you attract people interested in only taking from a group – taking names, taking information – then unless you also take their money, it’s hard to survive. If you attract people ready to trade in like value the information and caring they receive, even giving a little more at times, then you can survive and grow,” points out Clark. “NoEnd’s hardest challenge is resisting the temptation to grow just to grow.”

Related Wired Links:

A List? No, an Institution

Silicon Alley Revels with NY Film World Tourney

HTML Showdown Pits Valley against Alley

[Back]Copyright © 1993-97 Wired Ventures Inc. and affiliated companies.
All rights reserved.