I’m not on the playground

Yesterday morning, I had just finished playing my online games with my friends and had noticed that there were some updates for apps on the iPad.  For those of you on this platform, you know that it’s quite common to get a rush of updates whenever Apple does something with its operating system.  In this case, iOS10 is the reason.  People have been downloading and updating but it’s always a good idea to wait and see if it goes well or if there’s a point release.  That was indeed the case – all kinds of articles like this one have been floating around.

Beware: Apple’s iOS 10 Update Bricks Some iPhones and iPads

Anyway, I took a look and there wasn’t any application that I use frequently enough or have a problem with so I wasn’t in a hurry to download.  As I always do, I took a look at the Featured applications and the release of Swift Playgrounds caught my eye.  I had been reading so much about this application and how it was going to be yet another game changer for education and those who wish to teaching coding.

Off I was to download it – only to find this:

Fair enough, I guess.  I was a little hesitant since iOS has been getting progressively slower and crashier for me since roughly iOS7.

But, if you’re going to be in the game, you have to play by Apple’s rules.  So, I checked to see how long this was going to take to download.  Settings | Software Update and “Your software is up to date.”  with iOS 9.3.5.  Time to do a quick bit of research and …

Goodbye, A5: iOS 10 ends support for iPhone 4S, iPad 2, and more [Updated]

Sigh.  My iPad2 isn’t eligible for the upgrade and it looks like it never will be.

This is the second iPad that I’ve owned.  I had an original iPad and it always felt like it was rushed to market.  This iPad2 was a real trouper.  Except for the slowness and crashing, it still works well when it works.  But all good things come to an end, I guess.

I’ve always been puzzled by the timing of the release of Apple things.  For example, in the case of Swift Playgrounds, it would have been nice to have had that all summer so that teachers who wanted to teach coding could a) become familiar with the application and b) ask their IT Departments to have it installed in cases where, by rules, teachers are not allowed to install their own applications.  I guess that a c) would now be important – update the operating system.

Apple was always seen as being so friendly to education – the timing makes me question that now.

So, $660 would allow me to upgrade my device buy a new device to test out this application.  Obviously, this won’t happen any time soon.  Like so many, I’m waiting with real interest to see how Android applications run on Chromebooks.  For half that price, you could have so much more.  In the meantime, there still remains the excellent applications Hopscotch and Scratch Jr.  For the many schools that have purchased their many iPad2s, that’s the only coding option.

But I will remain curious about this Swift Playgrounds.  I hope that someone kicks the tires and shares the experience with the rest of us.


Doug gets cultured

One of the things that I really like to do anywhere I go is explore.  There’s so much to see if you just take the time to do so.  I don’t know, for sure, if my wife enjoys it but I certainly do.  With Google’s “new” Arts & Culture application, I can extend my exploration into places that I’d never think possible just be being connected.

It’s not that there’s a shortage around here.  Just across the border is the magnificent Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village complex.  So much to see and yet so little time.  And, as we know, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  In Windsor, we have museums and galleries of our own.  I’m certainly not an expert at any level, but I do enjoy looking and resist the urge to touch. 

Given what’s happening in the US political process right now, it’s a interesting to take a look at “Electing Lincoln” from The Henry Ford.

Of course, politics isn’t the only topic in this curation of culture. 

One of my all-time favourite visits was the Harry Houdini museum in Niagara Falls.  Sadly, it’s gone now but artifacts from Houdini live on as a result of a simple search within the application. 

And, it’s not just stuff.  Check out the categories.

Even just poking around, you get the sense that there could be more categories and the use in education just smacks you between the eyes.  You’re only limited by your imagination and desire to inquire.

Check out the details and launch of the app on the official Google Blog.

What really puts it over the top for me is the integration with Google Cardboard and Streetview.  Some of what you’ll have seen may be a one off situation just exploring on your own.  The application brings it all together.

Download the application here.

When you do get your copy, you’ll absolutely want it installed on your device and your classroom devices.  If the time isn’t right for your district’s IT Department, you can always plan to enjoy it on the web here.

It’s just a storage drive

Well, actually, my iPad is much more but it turns out that it can be much more than that.  I just hadn’t used it that way.

Here’s my own personal story of discovery.

It started when I was writing the post “What does the fox say?“.  I had taken a screen capture and was about to bring it into the post I was creating.

I had just forgotten about where I was. 

iPad owners know that if you plug your device into a Macintosh or Windows computer, it launches the iTunes or iPhoto applications.  (Which, by my terms of use are the most unintuitive piece of software.  Friends have suggested alternatives!).  The applications are there to let you view your media and play it.  Increasingly, iTunes seems to be an advertising program for further Apple services.  Why can’t the default view be the media on the device instead of something for sale on the store?  Rhetorical, I know.  We know the answer.

I never plug my iPad into this PC.  I did when I first got the computer to transfer media when it ran Windows 7 but it never charged the iPad.  Why?  “Why Doesn’t an iPad Charge When Connected to a Computer?”  It just isn’t an issue; I typically use the USB charger that came with the iPad and everything works well.

Now, I don’t know why but I was writing the post and decided to use the screen capture image.  I’m writing the post using Scribefire in a Firefox tab.  It’s how I write most of the posts.  Out of habit, I plugged the iPad into the computer and was going to transfer the file.  The second I did that, I could have done a face whack.  There’s no iTunes or iPhoto for Linux so how am I going to do this?  Probably like I would any other time – go to the iPad, find the picture and email it to myself.  As I reached for the iPad, I stopped in my tracks.

Two things happened.

First the iPad was displaying the green icon indicating that it was charging.

As I turned back to the computer, I noticed that the Launcher had an icon wiggling.

Son of a gun if it hadn’t mounted the iPad as an external device.  It was sitting right over the Windows 10 icon which is a permanently mounted device.  Does this mean I can just get in and explore? 

I try and … nothing.

But, it’s a good nothing.  I shouldn’t be able to just start exploring.  The iPad was locked.  So, I unlocked it with no idea of what I might find. 

What I found was interesting.  I now had access to a completely visible file structure.

If you’ve ever poked around a hard drive, you’ll recognize or guess what might be in those folders.  Of course, what I’m looking for is in the DCIM folder.  I quickly located the image that I wanted, saved it to my desktop, and brought it into the post.  I feel good.  Maybe this computer stuff is starting to “take”.

But then I started to poke around everwhere to see all kinds of stuff that I guess Apple doesn’t want you seeing when you’re navigating with iTunes. 

Ubuntu was good enough to suggest, as you’ll see in the top right, that I could use Rhythmbox to play the music and Shotwell for the images.  I’ll admit; I was really excited.  It was a whole new world for the geeky me to explore.  I took advantage of it to feed the inner me need to learn.  Oh, and play some music just because I could.

Normally, at this part of any blog post, I’m looking for something interesting to wrap it up.  I’m stumped.  It’s probably no big deal to the majority of blog readers, I’m sure. 

For me, it was a great moment.  By documenting it here, am I doing the visible thinking thing?  Let’s run with that as this post concludes.

What does the fox say?

It’s one of life’s great mysteries, I guess.  

At the same time, sounds of animals are one of the more interesting and engaging things for the youngest of our learners.  I’ve got one app on my iPad that has stood the test of time through three kids.  It’s called SoundTouch and it can’t come more highly recommended.  There is a Lite version if you’re a little leery about shelling out money right off the bat.

For the little fingers, it has the greatest of interfaces…

Click on a cartoon animal and the screen changes to a random image of it, the iPad speaks its name and the name is displayed on the screen.  It’s guaranteed to keep attention for at least two or three minutes but also guaranteed for repeat visits for another go at it.  Animals aren’t the only categories – you can pick a different category from the bottom of the screen.  The imagery is absolutely first rate.

The only real problem that “we” have is forgetting to tap with a single finger and end up sort of mashing the screen with a palm instead.  Experienced iPad users know that that will generate an app switch to something else.  So, if an errant Twitter message gets sent from my account, you now know why!

If you’re not ready for the app yet, how about turning to Google?  If you have the time and patience, there’s lots of goodness in YouTube.

For immediate satisfaction, just send the search message directly to Google “what does a dog say”?

Turn up your speakers and let it woof, er, rip.

Of course, you’ll want to check out all of the sound collection.

You won’t find the fox though.  It still remains one of life’s great mysteries.

Pipesapp – not just the news

When I was at the Bring IT Together conference last week, I got a ping from an unknown (at the time) source …

I get unsolicited messages all the time and typically ignore them.  If fact, I just blocked an account yesterday that was trying to get me to buy something.  I like to have control over what I do and try to make informed decisions.

But, this message had me hooked at the use of the reference to the Zite app.  Until it was acquired by Flipboard, it had been my go-to reader in the morning. Plus, this long time user of Unix and Yahoo! Pipes was just intrigued by the name.  So, I downloaded it to give it a shot.  I’ll freely admit to being a news junky and had no shame in adding it to my folder of “News Apps” on my iPad.  There’s lots in there.

In addition to having an appreciation for different applications developed by talented programmers, this genre fascinates me.  Even if I tell two applications what my likes and preferences are, they often manage to find stories for me that come from different sources and are completely different.  In my mind, that makes it so important to have more than one source if you’re looking for the good stuff.  Plus the Pipesapp icon was the same colour as the Zite app icon so the two of them sit nicely side by each in the folder.

Out of the box, Pipesapp was not unlike so many other applications.  When I told it that I was looking for education stories, I got flooded with stories from the US.  They are interesting, to some extent, but I’m more interested in Canadian – particular Ontario – stories and that will hopefully come as the application learns what I’m reading and what I’m not reading.  There are other assumptions too – once I allowed it to know my location and that I like sports, I get all kinds of Toronto Maple Leafs stories.  Given my location, it would actually make sense to send me Detroit Red Wings stories but if truth be told, I’m forcing it to send me Montreal Canadiens stories.  Over time, it should learn and will get me right.

So, I launch the application and begin to add pipes to it so that it can get me what I’m looking for.

Sadly, finding the top stories and those related to it are all too easy for any news reading application given the events from yesterday.

You’ll see the pipes that I’ve added along the left side of the screen under the “Top Stories”.  Reading is as simple as selecting a pipe from the left and then the story of interest on the right.  Once you select the story though, the game changes from so many other news reading applications.

A long, long time ago in Grade 10 I had difficulties reading and understanding the content.  In today’s schools, there probably would be a program or assistance for me.  But in those days, there was only one solution and it included a red pen and lots of Xs.  I remember the exact moment when things changed for me.  I was in a book store in Goderich and saw and bought a book titled “How to Read”.  Or, at least that’s what I thought it was titled.  It might be better titled (or maybe it was ) “How to Speed Read”.  I wish that I still had that book but sadly don’t.  Anyway, I took it home and devoured it hoping that it would make me a better reader.

And I think it did.

I don’t think anyone would have predicted the huge amount of information that we would be bombarded with these days.  But I learned the technique of identifying key words, expressions, sentences, and ignoring the fluff that so often pads articles.  Education – you are the worst with all the babble that’s added so that you can meet your quote of 1000 words before an article can be published.  Rant off.

What blew me away is that the Pipesapp will do its own version of the speed reading technique for you automatically for many, not all, stories.  If you look to the left, you’ll see a summary of the article that they call “Quick News”.  It’s like the story has already been summarized for you.  I’d love to know how the technology behind that works.  It’s not 100% but the machine learning that’s involved is pretty impressive.  Now to get my attention to read an article, I’m first hooked by the title and then reeled in by the quick summary.  To the right, you’ll have the option to read the whole story.  The best part?  None of the advertising that you’d expect to see embedded in articles.  If you’re missing it, there’s an option at the bottom of the screen to see the story on the original site.  And, of course, there’s the suggestion to read related articles to help you expand your thinking beyond the original article.

Using the iPad’s hook to services, I can share the story to Twitter for others to read and have it automatically dumped into my Diigo account for later review.  I can also send it to the Flipboard document I call “Readings” so that I can bring it back there as well.  I’m a big fan of automation and Pipesapp fits nicely into my workflow.

There’s another feature that I’m not sure that I’ll use but who knows?  I could see this going over nicely in the classroom.

The application gamifies your reading.

As a new user and still poking around refining things, I’m definitely a Noob.  But as they say – the more you read, the more you know.  I’d be hesitant to point students to Pipeball.  Just sayin’.

I’ll admit to a slow introduction to Pipesapp installed just a week ago.  It’s different from other applications that I’ve used and so my reading was affected by my learning how the application works.  I also tend to read while on my computer or my Android phone, neither of which is supported at this time.  But, when I get moments with my iPad, it works like a champ.  I just have to use it enough so that it knows what my preferences are.

If you’re interested in downloading and giving it a test, it’s a free download from the iTunes store here.

Disappointing Support

Recently, it came to public notice that there had been some malware distributed through the Apple Store for iOS devices.

All of a sudden, the fanboys who are quick to point out problems when something happens in the Android environment, fell silent.  Fortunately, the online community has been there to lend support and information.  Apple’s first bit of information was that “if you suspect something, redownload the application”.

When the details started to emerge, it hit like a “Top 10 List”.

The timing for this was bad.  Like most people, I had had the upgrade to the latest iOS installed and many of the applications that I had installed were clammering to be updated.  How would you know there might be a bad apple in the bunch?  After all, in the Apple environment, everything comes from their tightly controlled store.

Photo credit: FidlerJan from morguefile.com

More information came out with the now named XcodeGhost problem.

But even more information revealed that the Top 10 List goes far beyond 25 applications.  “Apple App Store malware ‘infected 4,000 apps‘”.  Not quite 4000, but this list has more titles of concern.  XcodeGhost Malware: List Of Infected iOS Apps That You Should Delete Right Now.  It’s time to do more checking.  Another list is found here.

The problem has been identified as developers downloading the Xcode software for App creation from locations other than the official store due to slow connection speeds in China and have offered a solution.  Apple will host Xcode on Chinese servers following malware attack.  It’s a little like closing the barn door after the fact but it should serve well in the long run.  The Xcode is a big download and it had just been updated.

As a person interested in computer stuff, I am interested in this sort of thing and, as you can tell by the linked articles above, have been doing a great deal of reading.  However, as a user of an iPad and iOS, I was disappointed that I had to find out through third party sources.  If they knew of the problem, certainly Apple did.  Most certainly Apple knows every application that I have on my device.  The iOS 9 was pushed out; it would seem to me a notice of the problem could have just as easily been pushed as an info message, identifying any problems with applications installed or “You may have heard of these problems but your versions are OK to use.”

This is comforting news “Is Your iPhone, iPad Or iPod Infected By The iOS XcodeGhost Malware? Apple Will Let You Know“.

The whole incident is just another reminder that we need to be vigilant about our use of technology and maybe we all need to up our geek level and do a little technology reading so that we understand what’s happening in our digital world.

Hands on Geometry

Geometry was always one of my favourite subject areas.  I guess I just like the whole concept of visualization and being able to manipulate shapes.

One of the universal tools for geometry exploration and construction is the Geoboard.  I used it quite a bit teaching Grade 9 mathematics.  It was a wonderful tool to even the playing field for students coming from Grade 8 and having varying levels of geometry understanding.  It was also a reminder that, since banning javelin throwing, it was one of the few times that we intentionally arm students with weapons.  You’ve just got to know that with 14 year olds, the first few days with the Geoboards and real elastic bands was interesting.

Time moves on and it’s a natural that this wonderful technique has been extended to the digital world.  Same stretching concepts, coloured and unbreakable bands, and a kinder, gentler, less painful implementation.  With school computers meshed with Bring Your Own Device programs, finding a universal solution is a desirable move.

The Math Learning Centre provides one that’s both web and app based.

There are lots of options available depending upon your needs and screen size.

Of course, measurement dealing with area and perimeter leap to mind.  But, don’t limit yourself to just that.  With a little imagination, this device lends itself to all kinds of ideas.  Check out these Pinterest resources from Diane Fangmeyer, The Remade Mama and Inesa A as starting points.  Of course, Pinterest is the perfect place to pin these ideas.

I remember one particularly neat idea we used with the Grade 9s.  Standing in downtown Windsor, one of them had taken a picture of the Detroit skyline and the students replicated it in class with a series of Geoboards.  (We had small ones so had to improvise).  We used a picture of the Renaissance Centre and the students painstakingly reproduced it on the Geoboards.  Of course, it had to be to scale.  Imagine the math.  It was a great activity.

Doing it today, the mechanics would be completely different.  We’d be doing it on computers or devices.

The Math Learning Centre makes its Geoboard available for free:

They’re well worth a look and evaluation for your classroom.