Category Archives: Technology

The meaning of life according to Siri.

Whoever programed Siri, the new iPhone personal assistant, has a fabulous sense of humor and the amazing ability to predict what kinds of weird questions people might think to ask their new iPhone. Check out some of the creative responses Siri gave to a whole range of off-the-wall questions.

My personal favorite is this slightly disturbing exchange:

I’m not sure that I’m comfortable with the phone in my pocket having quite that much experience with this kind of thing.

But, even more interesting was this series of exchanges on the meaning of life. I think Siri is someone I could sit down and have a meaningful conversation with.

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I like my Mac; there, I said it out loud

upgrading on a budget

I actually made the decision fairly quickly, but it’s taken me a while to say it out loud. It’s hard to admit. Granted, it’s not like I’m having to say that like cats. That would be too much. But, still.

A while back I confessed that I had purchased a Macbook Air 11 and that I had two weeks to decide if I was going to keep it. That was three weeks ago. I still have it. It wasn’t a hard decision.

Actually, the first several days were a bit rough. I haven’t used a Mac regularly since I was an undergrad. What is the stupid “option” key for again? Why are all the “close window” buttons on the left? And, I nearly screamed the fifteenth time I hit what I thought was the windows key to open my start menu, which, of course, doesn’t exist on a Mac.

About two days into my grand experiment I came to the following conclusion: anyone who thinks that Macs are more “intuitive” obviously grew up using Macs.

Nonetheless, I persevered. A few weeks later, I still can’t say I know where everything is. But, at least I’m not frustrating myself at every turn. The learning curve has started to flatten out.

But, why persevere? Why didn’t I just give up and slip back into the familiar PC world?

First, and most importantly, this is the first laptop I’ve found that does exactly what I want the way I want.

Keyboard. I’m very particularly about my keyboards. Earlier in my journey toward the perfect laptop, I returned at least three simply because I didn’t like the keyboard. I like my keyboards responsive, quiet, and solid, with very little travel. And, many smaller laptops fail on one or more of those. But, I could type on this keyboard all day long. Indeed, I’d intended to buy an external keyboard for home use, but I haven’t done it yet. It’s hard to pull the trigger on another purchase when I like this one so much.

Trackpad. The multitouch trackpad is fabulous. I’ve used a few PC laptops that have tried to implement their own version, but they don’t come close.

Size/weight. I knew going on that this laptop was the perfect size for me. But, having taken it on one plane trip confirmed it. The best thing about that trip was watching the guy in the seat next to me trying to use his full-sized laptop. In coach. He had it propped halfway up his chest and was typing with his hands at an angle that would make a physical therapist cringe. Meanwhile, I’m working happily on my little MBA with room to spare on my tray for my coffee and pretzels. It was perfect. And, it’s light enough that I’m thinking about getting a new briefcase. It seems silly to carry such a light laptop in such a heavy bag.

Speed. This is a fast, little laptop. Granted, I don’t do video-editing or other CPU-intensive tasks. So, as long as a laptop can handle having 7 or more applications open at the same time, most of which will have multiple tabs/windows open, without slowing down, I’m happy. And, this laptop handles that setup better than any of the others I’ve tried. And, although waiting a little while for your laptop to start up isn’t that big of a deal, having it start almost instantly is fantastic. Solid state drives rock.

Integration. Since I’ve also decided to keep my iPad (another post on that sometime), having a Mac is perfect. The two play so nicely together. Now I just need to get an iPhone to make my conversion complete. Sadly, that won’t happen for a little while yet.

So, the machine by itself would have been enough to keep me in the Mac world. I know there are some nice PC laptops out there. But, I honestly couldn’t find one in the same price range that I liked anywhere near as much.

On top of that, though, I’m beginning to like the Mac environment itself. (Granted, maybe it’s just my subconscious at work trying to justify keeping the laptop.) I don’t see myself becoming a Mac fanatic, arguing that the Mac environment is inherently better, and wearing Apple gear all the time. I’ve used PCs long enough to know that there are some great programs out there that I’ll probably miss. But, the Mac programs I’ve used so far are pretty sweet. So, it doesn’t feel like I’m missing out on all that much.

Again, I’m only a few weeks into this transition, so this may change. But, here’s what I’m using at the moment:

Microsoft Office: I know, it’s probably some kind of sacrilege to use Microsoft products on a Mac. But, I work in a Microsoft world. And, although I used some great non-MS products, it just didn’t make sense to switch back and forth constantly. So, I’ll stick with Word and Excel as primary tools.

Scrivener: When I want to switch into pure writing mode, though, I think I’ll stick with Scrivener. I’m still in the trail period, so I don’t have to decide yet, but so far it’s a keeper.

Accordance: The nice people at Accordance sent me a review copy, so I’ll be posting a thorough review a bit later (along with a review of Bible Works 9). But my initial response is very positive. It’s a great tool that has been very easy to adjust to.

Evernote: I love Evernote. And, the fact that it’s a cross platform product makes it a no-brainer.

Dropbox: Another cross-platform tool that is very helpful. And, since I’m using MS products as my primary software tools, it’s easy to move in and out of my most common files on both my Mac and PC machines. (By the way, if you want to sign up for Dropbox, let me know. I get extra storage space if I refer people, and I’m always in the market for more space!)

Cloud Apps: And, of course, I use a number of cloud-based programs that don’t care what kind of laptop I have (gmail, Google calendar, WordPress, etc.).

So, the software switch hasn’t been anywhere near as difficult as I thought it would be.

All that to say, I’ve been thoroughly corrupted. I still don’t mind working on a PC in a Windows environment, but I’ll definitely be keeping my Mac. If nothing else, I like finally being able to join those Mac users at the coffee shop who get to give each other knowing glances as we look down our noses at everyone else.

Now if only I dressed more hip and drank anything but black coffee.

Can I Be Your Friend?

This one’s too much fun. Take a few minutes to watch this video and see how creepy Facebook behavior really is – in the real world at least.

10 Fascinating Facebook Facts – and what they say about us

Pete Cashmore, founder and CEO of Mashable, wrote a piece for CNN today on 10 Fascinating Facebook Facts – and what they say about us, drawing on insights generated by several recent studies about Facebook users and their habits.

With more than 600 million people actively using Facebook, these studies in fact provide a deeper understanding of our evolving cultural norms: our values, our morals and our changing relationships between one another.

One of the more interesting facts:

3. People in Facebook relationships are happier than single people

In February 2010, Facebook marked Valentine’s Day by comparing the relationship status of its users to their happiness — this was surmised based on the level of positive or negative sentiment in the user’s Facebook updates.

The result: Those in relationships were found to be slightly happier than single people. Those who were married or engaged were also happier than single people on average.

However, Facebook users in an “open relationship” — where the partners are not exclusive to one another — were significantly less happy than single people. Monogamy, it seems, makes us happy.

Read the rest here.

10 Historic Tweets that Captivated the World

Some tweets document history. Others make history. Others simply serve as a zeitgeist for how our culture and communication are evolving.

That’s how Mashable begins their fascinating list of 10 Historic Tweets that Captivated the World. It’s an interesting look at the collision of history, technology, and culture. (Somehow, though, Justin Bieber made it into this list as well. Why is it that every time I find an interesting list, his name is on it somewhere?)

Here are my two favorites.

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Check out the rest here.

Mac people vs. PC people – an infographic

HT Mashable

To Skype or Not to Skype: Technology in the Classroom

As my students can attest, I’m constantly fiddling with my classes. Almost every semester, I’m trying some kind of experiment, testing out some new content or a new way of delivering that content, getting feedback from students, and tossing what didn’t work. I’m sure it drives some students batty. But hey, it builds character.

One thing I haven’t tried yet is video-conferencing or live streaming in the classroom. I’ve done a lot with recorded material, and I’ve had students participate by phone several times, but I haven’t yet experimented with live video content. From other professors I’ve talked to, this approach has some tremendous benefits, as well as a few significant problems.

On the positive side:

  1. It makes it easier to use guest lecturers in the classroom. The costs associated with bringing a guest lecturer to campus are usually prohibitive unless the right person just happens to be in town (not terribly common in Portland). But, video-conferencing makes it far easier. Indeed, one of our professors in San Jose, routinely uses this approach to allow students to interact with the authors of books they’ve read for class. Talk about a great learning opportunity.
  2. It makes the classroom accessible to a much broader audience. Western has had a pretty aggressive distance education program for a long time,  making most of our courses available to people who don’t live in Portland. And, that’s a great thing. Live streaming takes this a step further and opens the classroom itself to more people.
  3. It makes it easier for students who need to miss a class. The Chronicle of Higher Education had an interesting article on this a few weeks back, “Absent Students Want to Attend Traditional Classes via Webcam.” I’ve already experienced this in classes that I’ve supported with recorded material. Students no longer have to scramble afterward to copy another student’s notes, hoping that she was paying attention in class. Instead, they can just view the lecture/discussion for themselves.

On the negative side:

  1. The technology isn’t always as stable as you’d think. Nearly every professor that I’ve talked with who has used some kind of live online content has a story about the technology not working properly and the classroom time that they wasted troubleshooting and fiddling with the technology. Even seasoned technology like Skype can glitch unexpectedly, costing precious classroom time.
  2. It can be frustrating for the students who are physically present. I can’t imagine that there’s anything more annoying that sitting in a class watching a professor fiddle with some technology designed to make the lecture available to people elsewhere. You have to be thinking, ” Hey, I’m right here! I spent good money on this class, so let’s get started.”
  3. Students may be tempted to skip class more often. This is one of the more commonly cited worries whenever you talk about making classes available outside the classroom like this. And, I’m sure it’s a worry that’s worth talking bout seriously. As the video clip below from the movie Real Genius demonstrates, though, this is a worry that’s been around for a while.

What do you think? If you’re a teacher and you’ve used these technologies in the classroom, what did you think? Was it worth it? Or, if you’re a student (or you used to be one), have you been in a class that used video-conferencing or live-streaming? Did you find it distracting or beneficial? Did it contribute to or detract from your learning experience?

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iPad 2 versus other tablets (iPad, Xoom, Touchpad)

I still haven’t purchased a new laptop. If you haven’t been following this blog for very long, this may not be terribly surprising. The rest of you know that I’ve been in the market for a new laptop for a while now. But, I just haven’t been able to pull the trigger. Technically, I’ve pulled the trigger several times and then stuffed the bullet back in. I’m now on my fourth laptop in the last six months and I’m still not happy. (I keep returning them.) So, the hunt continues.

And now Apple comes out with the second generation of iPads. So, although I’d written off the iPad a while back because I wasn’t happy with its limitations, I have to check it out again. Thanks Apple.

So, since I’m doing some homework, I think I’d pass along some of the results. Here’s an interesting link showing the iPad 2 from all angles.  And, here’s the most helpful infographic I’ve seen so far comparing the iPad2 to its major competitors: the original iPad, the Motorola Xoom, and the HP Touchpad.

The surprising benefits of not paying attention

A recent Wired article argues that we’re paying too much attention to the importance of paying attention. In “Bother Me, I’m Thinking,” Jonah Lehrer argues that the modern world is obsessed with being “focused,” and has missed out on the benefits of distraction.

As he points out at the beginning,

We live in a time that worships attention. When we need to work, we force ourselves to focus, to stare straight ahead at the computer screen.

Indeed, focus is so important that we routinely diagnose kids as having a disorder if they can’t pay attention sufficiently.

But, he goes on to summarize a number of recent studies that suggest there are real benefits to paying less attention.

For instance, researchers have found a surprising link between daydreaming and creativity—people who daydream more are also better at generating new ideas. Other studies have found that employees are more productive when they’re allowed to engage in “Internet leisure browsing” and that people unable to concentrate due to severe brain damage actually score above average on various problem-solving tasks.

The rest of the article focuses on several recent studies that support the conclusion that distraction actually helps promote creativity.

None of this suggests, of course, that we don’t need to be able to pay attention. He recognizes that focusing is a skill that most people need.  He just wants to highlight that for some people “distractibility can actually be a net positive.”

Although we think that more attention can solve everything—that the best strategy is always a strict focus fueled by triple espressos—that’s not the case. Sometimes, the most productive thing we can do is surf the Web and eavesdrop on that conversation next door.

Want easier bibliographies:? Create citations by taking pictures

Tired of typing all those citations for the paper that you’re writing? Wish there was an easier way? Don’t worry, there’s an app for that.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, QuickCite is a new app available for iPhone or Android that can create citations in several common formats (APA, Chicago, MLA, or IEEE). You just take a picture of the book’s barcode and it quickly emails you a bibliography-ready citation formatted in your chosen style.

The reviewer does note that the app has some drawbacks:

E-mailed citations don’t indicate which style is being implemented, so users who switch between different citation styles will have to keep tabs on the differences when using the scanned citations. Another challenge is that bar codes only became standard on books in the 1970s, according to the U.S. ISBN Agency, which is run by R.R. Bowker, so books published earlier might not work with the program.

And, since it’s bar code based, it won’t work on journal articles or other sources.

I have to admit that to me it sounds like a pretty limited tool that might be more hassle than it’s worth. But, I suppose if you’re putting in some library time and going through lots of books, it may be worth a shot. And, at only 99 cents, it’s hard to complain too much.