links for 2008-11-25

Bouncing Around

Those of us old enough to remember “real computers” think back fondly on the IBM 1130 or 370 or 360 or a Honeywell 6660.  These were the things that carved out my career with computers.  The languages were the classics.  Fortran made us think mathematically.  And, I’ve jokingly mentioned many times that it was COBOL that taught me how to type.

At university, I recall going to bed at 6pm so that I could be up and over to the mathematics building by 1am to take advantage of the faster processing times and the shorter lineups.  Lineups?  For what? 

There were the good ol’ days when computer programs were keypunched onto cards or optically marked with pencil.  We were actually far removed from the computer that did the processing.  The lineups were actually whole classes handing in decks of cards to be run through a card reader – then communicated to the computer for processing – to finally generate a printed output.

For me, this was classic computer.  Because the whole process was time consuming between algorithm design and successful execution of the program, the more care that you put into things, the shorter it took to get the job done.

Flash forward to this afternoon.  I’m waiting for my wife and have my Blackberry in hand in the car getting caught up on email until she arrives. 

I wouldn’t want to use either methods of computer as my primary source.  I was thinking about how technology has bounced around over the years.  I recall my first TRS-80 computer, my first 8086 based machine, my Aptiva, my Palm, my P4 clone, my first work laptop, my current work widescreen laptop, and now into the mix we’re starting to see a smaller network based computer.  I haven’t delved into that area yet because of lack of need and a nagging spidey sense that the market hasn’t quite determined where it’s headed with this technology.

It would be an interesting exercise to chart the size and performance of these things.  Normally, we think that things get better in all specification with time, but it hasn’t.  There are compromises in terms of screen resolution and size, hard drive storage, processor speed, keyboard size and functionaliy as we bounce around on a harmonic series of specifications. 

I do get a sense that we’re narrowing in on the perfect computer but we’re not there yet.  However, we’re closing in.

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links for 2008-11-25

Reading Changes

This article from the New York Times Magazine should give pause to everyone.

I think back to filling my car up with gas as I left the ECOO Conference in Toronto recently. There was an LCD monitor over the top of the pump showing weather, news, and of course, commercials.  I recall thinking that it was the logical successor to the cardboard advertising indicating that you could get a discounted car wash or windshield fluid.  You’re there, for at least $50 worth, as a captive audience so why not use the opportunity to do some advertising.  Your audience isn’t going anywhere until the pumping is done.

Now, all effective advertising needs to be seen to “do good” and so the connection is made that a little advertising is a small price to pay for some on the fly travel advice or the latest news or a weather forecast.

The design of everything that is displayed is obviously carefully thought through.  With one glimpse, I get details that I need.  It’s not small printer; it’s not paragraphs to read; it’s not the next great novel.  It’s what you need and just when you need it.  In the time it took to fill up my car, I had seen all that there was to see and it was starting to loop through again.

It’s quite obvious that the designers had done their research and their homework to get the messages (and commercials) through to the customer.

The New York Times article strikes right to the heart of the matter.  People typically don’t have time for the next epic.  Give them what they need and then move on.  I’ve commented many times during the US Presidential campaign about the YouTube generation.  Like it or not, we need to acknowledge that folks will focus on the 30 second message.  We can watch or read a screen in amazingly quick fashion.

What is the implication to education?  It means that we need to honour this way of spreading the message.  It’s a whole new form of literacy.  More than just reading though, all of us (students and teachers) need to be able to produce this type of succinct content whether it be blog, webpage, printed page, movie video, podcast, letter, …

It’s a difficult skill to master.  I try to do it daily in my own blog posts.  I use what I learned in school with proofreading skills, but most importantly in editing so that the post is straight to the point.

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links for 2008-11-24