Where Have You Been?


If you’ve ever watched an episode of Law and Order, you know the importance of cell phone pings to solve various crimes.  As a phone moves from location to location, it needs to connect to a service in order for the phone to work; that’s just how it works.

Now, Google has a similarish service called Timeline.  Clicking this link should take you to your timeline if you’re logged into your Google account and you have your location history enabled.  I gave it a shot.

The first map that was displayed sort of showed that I’m an Ontario-type of traveller with most of the travelling done along the 401, with a few sidetrips to the Niagara Falls area.  None of this was any big revelation; I know where I’ve gone and I always take my phone with me.  The little red dots that are displayed are cell phone location check-ins as I travelled.

There were a couple of outliers though and those were interesting to check in to.  If you’re a regular reader of this blog or a CSTA member, you know that I was the Program Chair of the recently concluded CSTA Conference in Grapevine, Texas.  That would explain the red dots in Texas!

Clicking a dot reveals the location underneath.

So, it was no surprise that I was at the airport, then there’s the hotel/conference centre, and then a couple of interesting location.  Fireside Pies.  I swear; I wasn’t there.  But, as we were driving around looking for a parking spot for the Mexican restaurant that we ate at, I remember seeing it!  And, the Bookstore at the University of Texas at Dallas wasn’t on our agenda but I remember seeing it as we went to the Computing Centre.  So, I guess close does count in this case!

Google assures us that only we can see the locations in the description of the service.  Of course, those of us who are foolish enough to blog about our trips have already revealed the locations to those who read the post anyway. 

Make it stop!  If this is a little freaky, then it’s probably time for you to check out your privacy settings.  This blog post explains how to do this and more.  In the meantime, on your location history timeline, you might be interested in seeing most visited places.

I seem to have a weakness for parks and ONRoutes.

In the classroom, this would be a very engaging and visual activity for students (they all have cell phones, right?) and a great launchpad to an awareness that there are things out there unseen.

In the meantime, if you’re going to commit a crime, make sure you turn off your phone so that you’re not leaving digital tracks!

Playing for Speed


Do you ever wonder if, somehow, you could make your computer work faster?  I wonder about that constantly.

Since I seem to do so much on the web, it’s a natural that I start there.  I recognize the limitation of my Internet Service Provider and I’ll gladly sign any petition to allow for cable or fibre optics to be pulled down our road.  In the meantime, I tweak and wonder and head into town to mooch fast internet from my daughter when a major update is needed.

In the meantime, I dance with what I’ve brought to the dance.  That largely means using the Firefox or Opera web browsers.  Every now and again, I’ll go under the hood and see if I’m not shooting myself in the foot.  I do have an addon fetish …

and that’s just what’s available for viewing.  There’s more hanging around that don’t place a one-click icon in the browser.

I read about a new (to me anyway) browser called Citrio.  I did a quick download (and it really was quick) and I was up and running in seconds.  Citrio is based on the Chromium browser so there was just about no learning at all to get started and it wanted access to the Chrome content already on my computer.  Users of Chromium, Chrome, and Opera would have no problem making the move.  I gave myself license to play around with it after reading Alfie Kohn’s post “Five Not-So-Obvious Propositions About Play” which every educator should read and ponder.  I’m basing my freedom to do this under his point #3.

I’m also mindful of a gentleman that I worked with for a summer job on a farm and his advice “Curiosity killed the cattlebeast”.  Everyone should work on a diary farm at least once.

Citro lived up to its billing as really fast to download and start.  There’s nothing as empty looking, however, than a newly installed browser.

Well, OK, I had to install Scribefire in order to write the post!

There was no doubt that Citrio had the clean look of a new browser but I’d have to put it on a testing suite in order to compare actual speeds.  Rendering of pages did feel nicely but the pages were still slow to complete.  You know why?  Advertising.

It’s noticeable because I’ve learned to read content faster than being distracted by flashing graphics that so often accompany advertising.

Thanks to the OLDaily read yesterday, I learned of this student from Simon Fraser University “Adblock Plus Study“.  It’s a good reminder that there are potentially more things alive on the internet than what you’re looking for.  (They also pay the bills for some companies)  It’s a good read.

It’s also a confirmation that a different browser may not make a huge difference in the speed with which a page appears in front of you.  It’s also a function of everything else that comes along with the desired content.  For those who pay dearly in dollars and time for bandwidth, the lesson is data savings from SFU is really worth noting.

So, the bottom line here is that I haven’t found a magic speedup bullet in a new browser but have confirmation that blocking advertising is one of the best things that I’ve done for myself.  There still is a place for a browser without addons installed though.  There are times when a page appears broken and it turns out that what’s being blocked is crucial for success.  For those events, it’s nice to have a Plan B!

Pencil Coding


I’m working through my to-do list from the CSTA Conference.  One intriguing programming environment is Pencilcode.

You know that things are a little different when you go to create an account.

Unlike other services that want you to give up your first born for access, real names are not allowed.  Interesting.  I started my discovery by poking around the support page on Google Groups.  It gave me a sense of what sorts of things people were asking about. 

Then, it was time to dig in. 

Like most languages involving turtles, it’s always a good sense of the language to draw something.  For me this time, it was a capital P.

In green, of course.

If you’re familiar with any block programming language, you’re off to the races with Pencilcode.  Just drag your action out to the work area to build your program.  Clicking the “Play” or “RePlay” icon will clear the workspace and you can see the results.  I particularly liked the mathematics friendliness by having a grid on the workspace.  It certainly helped with the turns and distances.  But, confession time here, I still did the body motion and head turn to get my bearings. One of the really nice features of Pencilcode is the ability to reveal an individual step on the output screen via mouseover.

One of the concerns that I often hear from those who are not fans of block programming is that students become too familiar with blocks and moving to text can be a challenge.  Pencilcode tempers that a bit with the ability to click the icon dividing the code from the block collection and moving to a text mode.

Did I hear Logo enthusiasts just give a big gasp?

Pencilcode is a nice addition to the entry world of coding.  But, don’t write it off as a simplistic approach.  By working your way back the file directory structure, you can see the efforts of other Pencilcode programmers.  There are some pretty interesting pieces of code to play around with and remix for your own purposes.

The fact that it’s all available via the web means no software installation and you’re up and running right away.

Yes, You Can


I had a chance to do a quick workshop at Tim Horton’s the other day. 

I ran into someone I used to work with and she showed me one of the summer projects that she was working on.

It was essentially to collect data from students and bring it into a spreadsheet for the students to analyse.  That’s always a fun and very useful activity and can be used to address expectations from the mathematics (and other) curriculums.

The tool being used to collect the data was a Google Form and it worked nicely.  The plan was to collect the data from there, export it in Excel format and then use Excel to work with the data, reformat it, draw some charts, reach some conclusions, etc. 

I asked this question “I thought you were an Office 365 Board”.

I got this response “Yeah, but you can’t do forms with it”.

Me – “I’m pretty sure you can.  Let’s take a look at your Excel Online.”

Now, creating a form isn’t as explicit as it is in Sheets but it’s right there in the middle of the ribbon of a new spreadsheet.

The term is “Survey” and it’s a clickable button.

And, you’re off.

You have all the functionality that you probably could use in a form or data collection tool.  The response types include Text, Paragraph Text, Number, Date, Time, Yes/No, or your own Choice.

The button itself has the options for viewing, editing, deleting, and most importantly sharing when you’re done.

It’s equally as slick for creating, publishing, and sharing.  The results are immediately gathered into an Excel Online spreadsheet which then can be shared, manipulated, filtered, etc. as you will.

The end result for the students will be exactly the same.  But, by doing everything in one spot, it’s a bit less work for the teacher and you don’t need to have two different online accounts to pull it off.

Becoming A Better Writer


You know, I always thought that I was a fairly good writer.  After all, I have Sheila and Lisa to correct the mistakes that slip through my writing cracks.

But, in all of us, there’s room for improvement.

In my quest for summer improvement, I installed the ProWritingAid into my instance of Google Docs.  It comes with a basic collection of tools for free and then premium features if you want to go that extra step.  

Those of you who have been interviewed here on the blog know that it’s done through a collaborative document in Google Drive.  All of them, except for my Microsoft friend Alfred, where we did it using Microsoft’s similar product.

I try my very best to make sure that I’m on my best writing behaviour there.  The results reflect both on me and the person being interviewed. 

My most recent interview was with Instructional Coach Jennifer Aston.  Once I installed the application, I ran it against our interview.

Here’s a bit of the results.  (Normally, I would throw in an ellipse but I now know that’s wrong.)

Uh oh.

Now, I’ll not bend a bit about using Canadian spelling, even if it’s identified as UK spelling!

But, the rest of the document analysis would imply that I’ve got some serious work to be done with my writing/proofreading skills.  But, that’s a good thing.  If it makes me a better writer, I’m good with that!  After all, WordPress complained that I was a passive writer and I worked on that.

Can I beg off the rest by saying this is my face to face voice?

You can find the application in the Add-ons menu in your instance of Google Docs or directly here.

Note:  I did run this through the aid and came back with no problems.  Am I better to read?

Scanner in Your Pocket


I remember my first scanner. 

It was huge and connected to my computer via an RS-232 connection.  My memory is probably not perfect but I seem to recall the lights in the room dimming when you pressed the scan button and the scanner first warmed up and then did the actual scanning.  It was fairly noisy and, of course, I had to try scanning at least once with the lid open to see how bright the light was and it was also neat to see the ribbon cable move back and forth with the scanning light.

For a computer consultant, this technology was a gateway to a whole bunch of other things.  We used it to teach about PDF file creation, integration with Adobe Photoshop Elements, include source documents in Hyperstudio, scan student work to email, ….

Time and technology changes. I remember a portable device that plugged into your computer via a USB connection.  In this case, the document moved, not the light.  Today, where space is a precious commodity, my scanner is also a printer and a photocopier and sits off to the right on my desktop.  The connection is still USB but the speed and quality of the output is pretty impressive.  It works really well if I have the document I wish to scan right here with me. 

But the modern scanning person wants more.  Is there an app for that?

Yep.  (If there wasn’t, this would be a pretty pointless blog post)

Check out Office Lens from Microsoft.

It comes as no surprise that there’s integration with Powerpoint, OneNote, and Word. 

Depending upon your source, you can toggle through Photos, Whiteboard, and Document modes to help get the most from the application. 

What’s unique about this is that the application is available for any phone device – Apple, Android, and Windows Phone.

It’s not the sort of application that you’re likely to use daily but it’s nice to know that you have that functionality in your pocket when you do need it.  Perhaps you’re going to a conference and want a better capture experience than just taking a photo of notes?  Or, you’re doing some brainstorming with a class on a whiteboard and want a permanent copy?  Or ?  Just think of all the times when you’re have to make a photo take the place of a professionally created document?  That’s when this application will be of its biggest value to you.

It seems to me that this is a definite keeper, particularly if you’re not an Evernote user.  Install it and just remember you have it when you need it.

It’s So Obvious …


… and yet it’s never been incorporated in your phone …

In my never ending search for the magic bullet that will make my digital life perfect, I look and look and look for the perfect answer, even when I don’t know what the question is.  I tend to shy away from looking in the Play Store because everything there is branded by the author as the latest and the greatest.  They probably are from their perspective but I learned early that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to download and check them all out to see if the claims are true.

Instead, my visits are usually limited to finding something very specific.  Since most of the software is free or moderately priced, there are times when I download and discard after a couple of uses.  I’ll bet you’re exactly the same way.

I always like to read reviews and reports from other people’s experiences.  I’ll let them do the heavy lifting and then decide whether or not it’s going to fit my needs.  In my own little world of paranoia, I’ll also let them determine if the application has unexpected results or privacy concerns.  It’s a little buffer for my own protection, I guess.  Perfect?  Hardly, but it’s just another layer.

It was with this mindset that I read this article this morning.  “5 free Android apps that do amazing things Apple’s iPhone can’t“.  Who doesn’t mind a little mudslinging first thing in the morning?

As I reviewed the applications and the claims about what they do, I’m in awe with the divergent thinking that the developers put into their works.  After all, why didn’t Google or Samsung think of this first?  In particular, I focused on the Clean Master application.  Hey, Valia wrote a review of it.  How cool is that?

I think that we all know that there’s cruft on all of our computers and devices and, if we could just get rid of it, performance would go through the roof.  Maybe this will do it.

But, it was one of the features that gave me a facepalm.  Why isn’t this part of every phone?

I think of all the times that I’m asked by someone to “borrow your phone for a sec so that I can Google something”.  You hope that they’re just using your browser but you know they’re just a tap away from your email, your photos, or your text messages.  So, you might keep one eye on them while they’re using it.

We know that we can lock our device with passcode or a swipe pattern and only a fool doesn’t.  But locking by potentially sensitive information or application isn’t a feature that I’ve ever seen built into a phone.  This was just so obvious.  I love the thinking.

It’s not that you’re going to find the key to the crown jewels on my phone but you’ll find family pictures, text and email messages with friends, or my latest dual authentication codes.  Wouldn’t it be nice to share a device knowing that those are protected?

I’ve said it before and will repeat it.  When smart people push technology to its limits and give us solutions that others didn’t even know was a problem, we all win!