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.