An Editorial That Needs To Be Read


I’ll be clear right from the start.  I enjoy technology as much as the next guy.  It’s been a great facilitator for my own learning for my entire life.  It made for a significant part of my professional life.

I’m in the middle of teaching myself a new programming language right now.  The going is slow because I’m doing the tutorials on computer and it requires all of my focus and a devotion of time to pull it off.  As much as I’d like to be able to become fluent in it, I like to think that I’m human and enjoy doing just about anything else except study.

So, it was with concern that I read this story in the news this week.

Lacking a human French teacher, New Frontiers School Board turns to language software

The response from the school district is to be predicted.  No educational organization will admit to settling for second best for their students.  Unqualified in a particular subject area happens all the time with occasional teachers but that passes.  The lessons are prepared by a qualified teacher and the qualified occasional teacher will do their best teachng for that moment in time.  This isn’t a condemnation of the computer software either.  Rosetta Stone has a long record of providing language learning instruction.  It’s long been a choice for people planning to travel to other countries or language teachers to supplement the regular instruction in their classroom.

For me, it’s the notion that a teacher can be replaced by a piece of software.  

There’s more to learning a language than just walking in step through a curriculum.  Second language teachers that I know always build in an element of culture and conversation to impress upon students that their learning isn’t just a regurgitation of content.  All passionate teachers put their subject area in context to impress upon students its importance.

So, it was with a smile on my face that I read this editorial this morning from the same newspaper, the Montreal Gazette.  I would encourage you to read it.

Editorial: Students require a real French teacher

It’s an editorial that I wish I’d written.  Passionate, factual, and to the point.  There is a job posting on the New Frontiers School Board website for this position.  I hope that the news of this spreads and that there’s a replacement to be hired.  Perhaps a recent graduate who can’t find a job now?  Success in a temporary job can result in a permanent position.

In the meantime, the kids deserve to have a teacher in that classroom.

Exploring and Wasting Time


For me, it started yesterday by checking my Facebook timeline.  A high school friend had posted this article “What Color Is This Goddamn Dress?”  (Choice of words theirs…)

I looked at it – yellow and white, what’s the deal – and then moved on to do other reading.  I flipped on the morning news as I’m reading my Twitter timeline and this thing had gotten out of hand.  The story was everywhere and, in fact, trending on Twitter.  I walked the dog and came home and the talk was still going.  This is weird.  The current wisdom was that those that saw the colours gold and white were wrong and that, in fact, the colours where black and blue.  Yeah, right.  I know what I saw.

I went back to the original Facebook post and, son of a gun, the dress did look black and blue now.  How could this be?  Then, It occurred to me.  The first look was on my Macintosh computer and I’m now looking at it in Ubuntu.  Same browser – Firefox.  This truly was strange.  Then, I remembered that each computer can be configured with a colour profile.  On Ubuntu, it looks like this.

On the Mac, I had gone into the advanced calibration when I had originally set it up and had a “warmer” setting.

Could this be the difference?  I played around with a bunch of settings which made for some slight changes.  OK, maybe there’s something in this.  After all, I wasn’t looking at the original dress.  I was looking at a digital picture that had had who knows how many loads and saves.

Well, as you know, things had exploded with all kinds of theories, people looking at the image together, bad words being said to others!  I remembered back when I got my first pair of glasses.  The eye doctor had this test with the big E in black and showed it on a red background and then a green background and the question was “which looked sharper?”.  I hated to admit it but black on red always looks sharper to me.  It didn’t matter how much flipping with the equipment that he did.

But the media continues to explode with stories, theories, and scientific explanations.  “This Might Explain Why That Dress Looks Blue And Black, And White And Gold“.  Interesting scientific theory.  My original view was done in the dark and my second visit was next to a patio window with the blinds open.  So many variables.  I then tried it on my iPad and could see both colours depending upon what angle I was looking at the screen.

The posts keep on coming.  There were two where you could see the white/gold colour in one and black/blue in the other.  Enough is enough.  As my science consultant friend often said “There’s got to be a workshop in there somewhere.”  I saved both images to my hard drive and opened them in The Gimp.

Side by side, I can clearly see two different colours.

But, if you look closely at the bottom, I’ve had to resize the yellow/gold one to get them to be about the same size.  So, the originals weren’t necessarily the original image.  Even for this side by side, I’ve introduced some error into the picture.  And, besides, they are now both on the same computer with the same colour settings and yet appear different (at least to me…)  One of them has already been doctored to make the point.

The colour picker will get to the bottom of this.

         

I should have gone into forensics. 

So, I could do a little editing on my own.  How about green?

As I was doing this, I was thinking of a couple of lesson activities.

  • In the Comm Tech classroom, could you take the two images and adjust the settings so that they look the same?  Or, if you took one, could you make it into the other?
  • In a digital literacy class, it’s a perfect example of how you can see the same thing in two different ways?  It’s a solid reminder to question everything you see online!
  • In the science classroom, there’s probably a whack of scientific principles at work.  I’m just not a science teacher.

As I wrap up this post, I realize that I had left the search for #TheDress open in another tab.  There are hundreds of messages that have come in since I started this post.

The online world loves a good argument.  I’ve been online long enough to remember the classic nerd arguments.  “Who’s the better captain?  Kirk or Picard?”

(I’m solidly in the Kirk camp…)

Anyway, enough exploring and wasting time.  There’s better things to do.

Trying To Understand My Learning Curve


I find it interesting at times, to step back, and just wonder “Why do I do this?”  Or, “Why don’t I do this?”  Or, “Am I weird?  Everyone else gets it to work”!

Right now, the thing I’m trying to understand is my use of Google’s new interface for Gmail.  It’s simply called Inbox.

Like many people, I think we’re looking for the magic interface that makes email manageable and maybe even enjoyable?  I have Gmail pull all my email from various places (and other services) together in one spot.

When Inbox was announced, it was with limited access.  I asked for a copy and got no response.  Then, it went to a wider distribution and I tried again and go access to it.

I immediately installed a copy on my Android phone (that seemed to be a no-brainer).  I used it and I really liked it.  Tap here, get the material, I liked the layout and the way that Inbox organized my incoming messages.  It was different from the schema that I used with traditional Gmail.  I decided it was a keeper so I downloaded a copy on my iPad.  I had the same response.  This could be a game changer for me.  I tried it in Firefox, my default web browser.  It didn’t work; it wanted to run it in Chrome.  How about Opera Next then?  Nope.  It was a Chrome only solution with the promise of others coming soon.  So, I used Chrome for a while but kept reverting to Firefox because of the extensions that I use regularly.  Even when using it in Chrome, it didn’t seem to have the hook that it did on my phone or tablet.

Then, yesterday, Google announced that Inbox was available on all browser platforms!  Sure enough, when I opened Inbox in Firefox, it was there.  The look was consistent with the mobile interface.

image

How’s that for a Sylvia promotion.

But, I started using it for my regular email.  I didn’t like it.  How could this be?  It’s my go-to default on phone and tablet?

I opened another browser and opened traditional Gmail.  It did make sense.  Is this just a case of product loyalty?

Then, it hit me.  I did the same action in both programs.  With Inbox, it takes a few more mouse actions to do the same thing.  Plus, as I’ll admit, I don’t always read all of the mail sent me.  With Gmail, I could just easily tag the stuff that I’m not reading and then mass delete them.  I guess it’s a moment of realization that I get too much email.  Many of it comes from subscribing to this and that.  But, it’s one of my learning platforms and I’ll do what I want.

Maybe it just boils down to function?  It’s a lot easily to tap on a device than it is to move a mouse to a spot on the screen and click the mouse button.  Then, I really thought about it.

My approach to email is different on a computer than it is on mobile.  On mobile, I pick and choose what I want to read at the moment.  When I sit down at a computer, I’m on a mission to address them all and reach the mythical inbox-zero.

It was a worthwhile activity and analysis.  Now, Inbox access via Firefox is now just a couple of days old.  I will give it a thorough shakedown.  I’m willing to admit that it’s my preconceived algorithm for attacking the mailbox.  Maybe I’ll be further off in the long run mastering this learning curve.  As with most things Google, it’s bound to be refined and enhanced. 

I’d hate to miss out but it’s slow going at present.

Chillin’


OK, it’s darned cold out there.  On the weekend, our outdoor thermometer sensor stopped working and we saw -.- when we looked at the thermometer.  The morning dog walk revealed that it really was cold.

As I write this, the thermometer is working again.  It says -26 but anyone who walks a Husky knows two things….

  • cold is just an excuse to want to walk further
  • the real story is in the wind chill factor or the feels like temperature.

According to the Weather Network, it’s just going to be a peachy dog walking day.  At least the winds are going to be weaker today.  It truly was brutal yesterday for life in the Sun Parlor.

This led me to a little investigation to answer the day’s inquiry “How do they calculate the “Feels like” value”?

An interesting answer is found here in Yahoo! Answers.

But it’s not cut and dried.  Looking on the Wikipedia shows that there isn’t one simple answer.  In North America, we have the original calculation and the “new” one.  In Australia, they have an “Apparent Temperature” calculation.

Instructions and the formulae for the calculations, presumably in North American can be found here.

There are even all kinds of all kinds of applications on the web to do the calculation.  Here’s one.  Now, I can’t vouch for the validity of any of the calculations, but the reading and the formulae are interesting.  Then, I thought of the old adage – “everyone complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it”.

Well, Computer Science teachers do!

There isn’t a Computer Science teacher alive who hasn’t demonstrated or assigned a program to accept a temperature in either Fahrenheit or Celsius and had students output the conversion to the other.

So, why not construct a program to do this?

Wind chill temperature = 13.12 + 0.6215 × T – 11.37 V 0.16 + 0.3965 T V 0.16
In the above formula,
T is the temperature of air calculated in degree Fahrenheit or in degree Celsius
V is the speed of wind calculated in miles per hour or kilometers per hour

Thanks, http://www.howany.com/

Now, something like this doesn’t require a big, fancy program and compiler to work.  All I need to do is enter a Temperature and Wind Speed and do a calculation.  I had just read Alfred Thompson’s Monday “Interesting Things” blog post so I must have had Alfred on the mind.  I remembered a few years ago he told me about Microsoft’s Small Basic.  That seemed like the perfect tool.  I rebooted to run Windows and fired up the program.  Of course, there was a little bit of a learning curve to get the syntax correct (although Small Basic is really helpful as you’re writing the code).  So, I wrote the program, ran it, and got the answer that the Weather Network had generated.  How’s that for verifying that everything is working OK.  It’s somehow comforting to know that the algorithm, my coding, and the test data all converged.

Now, to convince the dog that it’s too cold to walk…

Conspiracy Theories


I used to work with a guy who was big into conspiracy theories.  I should look him up and go out for a coffee to get his opinion on the current state of things.  He had lots of great references to 1984 and Brave New World and used them at every opportunity.  I remember reading both books in English in high school and we actually did have some great classroom conversations about them.  They were far more interesting than The Great Gatsby.  We really pleased our teacher with our hypothetical discussions but we all “knew” that the scenarios would never happen.

But when you think about “today”, we’re sure getting close.

From a technology point of view, we knew that there was a possibility of email getting into the wrong hands.  Who hasn’t got an email that was meant for someone else?  Whether it’s on a server with your employer or, more commonly these days “in the cloud”, it’s out there once you click send.  There are so many potential hands that it could fall into.  But that’s OK.  Your IT Department might stick a warning to the bottom of the email.  “Notice – if you are not the intended recipient….” followed by a bunch of hoops to jump through.  Yeah, I’ll get right on that.

But think of a typical day.

  • Walk the dog – in front of houses or stores with security cameras pointed out at you;
  • Fill up with gas – security cameras watching you from on high to make sure you read the pump toppers;
  • Go into the gas bar because the pump didn’t print your receipt – smile as you enter or approach the cash register;
  • You bank already knows that you were there and how much you bought and put on your debit/credit card;
  • Speaking of banks, time to hit the ATM.  Smile at the camera as you enter the bank and then at the camera over the ATM;
  • Time for a coffee?  You can’t avoid the camera pointing through the drive-through window;
  • This is a good one – after I went around the drive-through, I passed a gaming centre where there was a warning sign that facial recognition technology was in place;
  • Got to hit the grocery store?  You’re on camera entering and walking down all the aisles.  I wonder if I read the contents labels, shake my head, and then put it back on the shelf, if I’ve now participated in product research;
  • Even my hair cutting place has me checking in so that I can do a survey afterwards.  I wonder if I’d get a reminder if 6 weeks passes and I don’t go back?

The list could go on and on.

We’ve just become used to it; it’s part of living in society in the year 2015.  You can mitigate it but you can’t evade it.

Even when we go online, we’re not immune.  We know about the email thing.  We know that search engines will track and remember our searches.  We might use services like DuckDuckGo or advertisement browsing addons in our browsers to keep things to a minimum.  But, just like losing count of the cameras in the grocery store, are you sure you’ve blocked them all?  We know our phone listens to us.  (That’s what phones do, right?  I just had a visual of Maxwell Smart but I’m not sure any image is in the public domain so just click here for a smile.)  We’re happy with “OK, Google” or the Apple / Windows phone equivalent.

Who hasn’t heard about hackers who get inside your computer and access your camera to see what you’re up to?  The solution?  Put masking tape over the camera?

But, you can always turn the computer off and just watch television, right?  After all, I have such slow internet access here that it would take a week to download a movie should I elect to so I don’t have to worry about Netflix tracking my patterns.

So, just to extend the theories a bit further, these stories hit the news…

Sigh.

What about the classroom where SmartTVs are mounted on the wall instead of boards because they’re cool and funkier.  Is your television vendor the only one listening to you?  If you read the story above, they warn that the information could be given to third parties.  Who else would have an interest in spying in your classroom?

All of this is fodder for great discussions in the classroom.  We like technology when it works for us.  We don’t like technology when it works against us.  Where is that line?

This could go on forever.  Maybe the dog is right – let’s find a good, remote forest and just go for a walk.  I just have to remember to take off my Fitbit and making counting the steps a thinking activity.

How To Get Better And Not Be Irrelevant


If you’re an educational Twitter user at any level, you need to read Tom Whitby’s post “What Twitter Shortcomings?“.  Tom is always good for a thought provoking post and he doesn’t disappoint here.  His reflection this time is in reaction to a colleague who has concerns about the “education culture social media”.

A return to the early days? Hmmm.  In the early days, there were no norms or standards for using Twitter.  It was crafted by the early adopters to be what it is or what it isn’t today.

In a way, I can understand the position that his colleague has identified.  There are, indeed, people who are using social media, specifically Twitter, for shameless self-promotion and trying to promote (or create) their “brand”.  You see it regularly – they haven’t posted for a year and then their employer sends them off to a special event and now they’re checking in to let everyone know that they’re there and you’re not.  There might even be a picture or two.  I met a keynote speaker once who was an “avid Twitter user” so I decided to see what her focus was.  Well, she had maybe 50 followers, followed 10, and had sent 40 Twitter messages, the last being a couple of months ago.  I guess avid is in the eyes of the beholder.

If you read the entirety of Tom’s post, you’ll see where he stands on these and similar uses.  To steal a quote from the post I made a couple of days ago.  I’m OK with that.  I hope that eventually they will be assimilated into the growth culture and start to share their own insights.  At the very least, I hope that they’re using the search function or following hashtags to get a pulse of what’s happening now.  After all, therein lies one of Twitter’s super powers.  In Twitter, we have a living, breathing entity that’s reporting on what’s happened minutes ago.  No more waiting for the book or movie to come out!  We’ve learned right now and we’re moving on.  We can choose, during this moment in time, to dig deeper or glance over a concept.  There never has been a better opportunity to do this in education.

I do really hope that, at whatever entry point they currently use, they use the opportunity to refine their level of participation.  As it would happen, I read another article with some great advice.  “The Secret Behind The Most Innovative Tweeters“.  In three pieces of advice, you can go from passive consumer to someone that makes people perk up because they want to know your thoughts.  They aren’t earth shattering attributes but, when I think of those who I value the most, they describe them perfectly.

Back to the original premise in Tom’s post…there was a time when professional learning meant sitting until the end of the presentation or getting through their book to decide that the presenter was irrelevant and not worth the time.  With the quick hitter of Twitter, you can make that decision and unfollow them immediately.  That’s another super power of Twitter that I think people often overlook!

After all, who wants to be considered irrelevant?

I’m OK and I’m Good with That


It’s a wild internet out there.  We’ve all heard about dodgy and unsafe websites and the problems that can happen when you visit the wrong one.  Both Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox have Google Safe Browsing technology built into them.  The list is constantly updated with reports of sites that would do malicious things to you.  There’s some exceptional reading about the topic and how it works in Firefox in the document “How does built-in Phishing and Malware Protection work?”  Google’s explanation about the same topic is also great reading “Making the web safer“.  Where does it come from?  Mouse over this interactive map.

But, as they say, even paranoids have enemies.

In addition to relying on this feature, I have the Web of Trust add-on running in my browsers.  It’s a simple traffic light approach that analyses the links on your current page and provides a visual that provides some advice should you elect to visit the link.  Even though a site might be technically “safe” according to the safe browsing rules, I like the categories of “trustworthiness” and “child safety” that are provided.

It’s somehow comforting to see a list of green lights letting you know how the site is rated and community rated before you visit it.  If a link goes to the same domain that you’re currently in, it’s not rated.

What do you do if you’re on a computing device that doesn’t allow you to install addons?  i.e. tablet, school/business computer that are locked down, someone else’s computer?

Before you click or tap on a link to that suspect site, you might want to check it out on Norton’s Safe Web site.  It’s an additional step, to be sure, but could save you some grief.  I decided to put it to the test with the worst purveyor of thoughts that I visit daily – dougpete.wordpress.com.

Don’t you feel better knowing that you’re visiting a site that’s OK?

I would have preferred “outstanding”, “insightful”, “brilliant”, “extraordinary”, but hey.

When these are your choices, I’ll take OK all day long.