Sunday, September 20, 2015

Wearables and beyond

I can't remember the first time I heard the word computer.  I do remember my grandfather, who read Popular Science, my dad read Popular Mechanics, I loved them both, talking about com-poo-ters.  Yes, that was his pronounciation.

At the University of Wyoming there was a class, just a one-credit course, on computer languages that I took just for the heck of it.  We used punch cards and a huge full-room computer called a Philco 2000.  Because I had that knowledge of computers I was hired to initiate the use of computers in a federal office in Alaska.  About that same time the son of a co-worker who worked with an engineering firm in Anchorage invited several of our office to see his IBM1140, I think it was.  It was about the size of a deck, much smaller than the one in Laramie.

Later that year I traveled to the regional office of our federal department and saw the spinning tape and discs of an IBM360.  Then the office bought an IBM selectric typewriter that could storage keystrokes on a magnetic card.  By the time I left that job in 1977 we had a printer, the key punch for punching cards, and we used an computerized accounting program.  The program was run on a computer in DC but we could print it in our office.

In '77 we moved to remote Alaska where we built a simple home and started making wooden toys for financial income.  On a trip around the states in 1981, I saw my first desktop computer, a HealthKit using a audio cassette for memory.  Soon after that we bought our first Apple II which we used to inventory our little wholesale grocery business.  After that things moved too fast, an Apple GS, a Mac for Marc when he went to college in '91.  A Mac at the new job at Jamestown College, a Mac laptop, it weighed a ton.  Then there was a Power Mac, an iBook, several MacBooks, iPads, and iPhones.

If you jumped into the middle of this short history some place you may not have sensed the great changes from no computers, just manual adding tools to devices that you wear on your wrist and can be involved in almost everything you do.

I've remained intrigued with the possibilities of computers over the years but more recently have become frustrated with the gap between expectations and promises and reality.  I don't remember the mechanical adding machine to ever make a mistake although my first electronic handheld calculator didn't do square roots correctly consistently.  But now it's like a user is problem shooting almost constantly, or at least several times a day.  Of course, in my attempt so be a diverse person with many interests, activities and skills, the computer becomes a part of almost each one of them.

So today I will prepare for the class that I will teach this fall, a class using computers, coding and the Internet, by using a computer.  I will organize pictures from my past, using the computer.  I will research and write family history using the computer.  I will do several arts and crafts projects using a paintbrush, a bandsaw and, yes, the computer.  I will send greetings, answer questions and ask questions of friends, family and associates using the computer.  I will cook several meals in some cases with recipes from the Internet.  I will calculate my exercise using a mini-computer, my iPhone.

As someone who played in the dirt with make-believe characters as a child, I still cherish those activities and work toward a balance of computers and dirt.  I now leave the com-poo-ter to work in the dirt.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Wearables and More

The email alerts are full of articles about the AppleWatch ranging from "you must have" praise to "why bother."  A novel thought was that when the watch first hit the market and people were skeptical about its grandiose features and didn't buy as predicted, the stocks would fall and one should invest in Apple.  It may sound counter-intuitive but you've got to be a strong pessimist if you truly believe that Apple will not continue to lead the market in novel and creative electronics, such as the AppleCar.  Now that the AppleWatch is on the market the only problem is that manufacturing can't keep up with demand.  So don't buy Apple stocks today; it's still on the top.

It is a curious device, this AppleWatch, and while many people are eager to have one, they don't know why and probably can't afford the $350 or more price tag.  It can monitor your heart beat and exercise habits but so can other less expensive devices.  It can't take pictures and it depends on the iPhone as a companion to perform many of it's functions.  Being on the wrist creates some interesting postures of the users, holding one's wrist up to one's face to talk to and view the watch.  Its size will also create another set of skills for maneuvering its small screen and apps.

Probably an important draw and probably the most important cultural change will be that it is with us always.  It will become a part of the individual wearer.  It will mean that the wearer can and will be in contact with a mass amount of information about themselves and the world.  We may have to be careful what we say because it will respond to voice commands.  It will track our every move and record that information.  But knowing the details about our health may be a motivation to live healthier.

Interestingly enough some articles talk about the sleek design of the case and band are more inviting than the technology.  That could take one to the $10,000 or $17,000 version.  Obviously that's in the category of luxury and extravagance and I don't know anyone in that category.

As for me, I admit the temptations are there but I think I will wait for version two and the reactions to the first version.  Then decide.  Maybe version two will have a camera.  If it follows the pattern of the transition from the first iPad with no camera to the later versions with cameras, there will be a camera soon.  For now I will return to the garden and watching the birds.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Spring Term - Day One

Twenty-two students of Western Oregon University are writing a blog on the same subject.  It's my first assignment of the term for ED270 Technology in Education: setup a blog probably in or and reflect on each day's class topic.  Another twenty or so will do the same on Friday.

I ask them to include some thoughts on what they learned in the day.  I too learn something, a lot as a matter of fact, during each class.  Some may not think what I learn is worthy of college credit, probably because there are few or no big words or deep theoretical topics.  I learned that preparation for class includes having batteries for the remote wireless mouses.  Didn't have to deal with that when the mouses had tails of wires connected to the computer.

I confirmed that a typically solution to the problem of not being able to login is completely turning the computer off, which on these new Macs is a challenge because the on/off button is behind the screen and essentially flush with the entire surface.  I learned that my students are for the most part digital native as they grew up with computers and cell phones in their homes.  They all had cell phones and they all had regular interaction with computers, social networking and other popular computer programs.  I learned from their blogs and reflections of the first day that much of what we didn't in our full busy day was not thought of as learning.  Maybe it was the lack of big words or challenges beyond their enjoyment.

I affirmed that I can still make mistakes and I can still recover for the most part.

I learned that most of the students are first- or second-year students and appear to be very intelligent and willing to learn and engage with the subject matter and each other.

I affirmed that I still love teaching and working with students energizes me.  I affirmed that working with students is where I'm intended to be.  Life is good.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Past, Present and Future

It's a question that won't go away: how is technology affecting our lives?  While the question can go back to the industrial revolution with factories and machinery, or even back to metal replacing stones in tools, today our focus is on computers.

I smile when I think about men using computers because forever they could use tools in their dominant hand, but when they started to use keyboards on computers they needed to use both.  As farmer boys moved to the cities to work in offices, their muscles weakened, their weights went up and their health went down.  To get the exercise they went to the gym where more technology existed to counter the effects of other technology.

This morning as I sat in the doctor office the TV screen was running a short clip on the affects of computers, and screen time, on health; not just on children with the affects of obesity, lack of exercise and shortening of the attention span, but also on adults and old people ailments such as heart conditions, hypertension, stress, lack of sleep and more.  They were recommending adequate sleep and a moratorium on screen time just before sleeping.

Some have never indulged in computers and some don't watch TV, but most of us use both and would never give them up.  They are a part of our lives both as a necessity and leisure activity.  Computers are here to stay.  What we need to do is resolve how to use them best, how to counter their negative affects and to balance all aspects of our lives to healthy, and clear thinking.

I think I will go for a walk and check out the availability of the classroom.  Walking is good; at least as good as writing this post.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Blogging is Archaic

Blogging seems to have been around for quite some time.  So it's old, especially by technology standards.  It may also be even old-fashioned when stacked up against the more recent interactive web applications, or it may just outnumbered by the plethora of interactive social media websites.

Blogging has been around since the late 1990's when interactive websites were becoming more available.  Prior to interactive websites, a webpage was static and to put information on the Internet one needed knowledge of HTML and FTP.  Blogs received their names as a truncation of web log, a log being similar to a captain's log or a personal journal.

Blogging websites allowed individuals to deliver their writings to the entire world which meant they were able to publish their daily activities, and far more powerful their opinions on a variety of topics, hence becoming their own editors, publishers and journalists.

In education one can follow the same pattern of logging and opining, or one can recognize the effectiveness of this tool and use it to benefit education, such as communicating with students about lessons, or parents about activities and students' work, or administration with suggestions and questions, or the community about just about anything; and allowing a response from the audience.

Currently there are numerous websites that allow one to create a blog, and typically for free.  Over time the popularity of different sites wane and ebb.  Google's Blogger was a hit for years; more recently it's Wordpress and Weebly.  Fundamentally they're all very much alike, but each offers different features to entice users into their web.  Individuals therefore can choose their own preferences based on their desires, interests and reasons for blogging.

Our challenge today as educators is to continue to evaluate the effectiveness of blogs among themselves and against other social media, and to evaluate its effectiveness in education.  If you haven't noticed you're reading this in because I started it years ago and would just as soon not start more blogs elsewhere on the Internet.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Thinking Ahead

There's no denying that everything ages.  Some philosophers would exempt God but not computers and people, two items with which I am very intimate.  People are much more durable than computers whose life expectance is around five years.  I'm already in my seventieth year far beyond that five-year mark.  Recently I claimed to feel like 35 but more recently I will claim 39 and that claim getting harder and harder to support.

The spring term at Western is a week away from completion, the same day of graduation.  I have only two more meetings with students.  Currently I am scheduled to teach only one course next fall and I'm planning to not teach the winter term.  Spring term a year from now is completely up in the air.  I'm gradually moving into not teaching or as some call it, retirement.  There's an implication with that transition that I'm getting old and I'm not ready yet, so I need to redirect to a youthful exciting activity for the future.

One activity during these upcoming free days will be to plow through the piles that accumulated waiting for the day when there was time to tackle them.  Another is to continue volunteering as we have in the past and add new volunteer opportunities.  Certainly I need to keep in the agenda routine and regular contact with the world of technology so as to not get left behind.

Thursday evening was the last class of the CSE610 Computers in Education class.  Everyone was there which is a positive stroke in itself, but again they behaved as if they were interested and eager to learn.  The topic were Google Apps, what's available, how they interact and their advantages and limitations; navigation using hyperlinking by reviewing several website authoring sites and creating a website modeled after the portfolios that were presented the evening before.  Several actually created websites as if they could be the beginning of their portfolios. A long week of trying to design this evening of class culminated  in a meaningful and exciting evening which included the traditional end-of-term brownies.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Remember the future with iMovie on an iPad

I still remember the day we introduced the iPod Touch to our classes at WOU.  During a brief faculty preview straining to see the tiny screen and get my "what seemed like oversized" fingers to find the letters of the keypad, I remarked, "When will they make one of these so that older folks can see them?"  That was just a little over year before the iPad.

The iPad was good but Apple and the tablet world decided that an iPad was a little too big so there came the Mini iPad.  Now there's rumors of the Maxi iPad.  I'll bet it's bigger.

Last week I did a "command performance" teaching iMovie, not on the desktops in the classroom like I've done for years, but on the iPad, which I have never done.  It was a delight despite the fact my first reaction was that it was very watered down; no green screen, no fine tuning of color.  After working with iMovie on iPad and having 20 students do the same, my reaction is much more in favor especially for younger students such as those in K-12.

A convenience is that you can take the video and stills directly with the iPad.  An inconvenience is that it's more challenging and sometimes inconsistent gathering videos and pictures from other sources.  It's a typical Apple philosophy: make it friendly, make it compact and don't sweat the small stuff like interfacing with other complex devices.

Most actions are intuitive, well, that is after you get the hang of it.  Click on the handful of standard icons, click and drag clips and images from one place to another, touch and hold in some cases like when rearranging clips in the project.  Touch clips and drag corners to shorten or lengthen chips, swipe your finger through a clip to split it or free a portion.

The younger I pretended to be, the more fun I had, especially with the trailers, which essentially give one a story board where one only need to personalize a little text and add my clips or stills which I can quickly gather with the same iPad.  Saving is automatic but getting it to a more universal format annoyed me as I'm not a fan of youtube, facebook or iTunes.  They work and with a bit more energy I can get them to be useful in a PowerPoint or webpage.

Now if only I had an iPad with iMovie.  And the open mind of a third-grader.