I sure didn’t go looking for this expression but when I found it, it fit and was used perfectly.

I use an advertising blocker in my Browser.  My current choice is uBlock Origin. There are lots of them available and I’ve tried a few of them.  I’m fascinated with how they work.  When you have a slow internet connection like I do, it’s a real time saver.  Without it in place, you can actually see the browser start/stop as advertisements pop into place. 

I was actually doing some research when I found the term.  I had reached a web page where there was a banner that said something to the effect “It looks like you’re using an Ad Blocker – please consider whitelisting this site”.  I will admit to whitelisting some of my favourite sites because I know that it may be the only form of income that they have, I value the service that they provide and the writers that provide the content.  This research did lead to some interesting reading.  One of the articles, in particular, talked about the increasing aggressiveness of some advertising and it used the term “obnoxious” to describe it.  I thought it was an interesting choice of words at the time but, after this morning, I totally agree.

I was checking my Twitter feed and there was a news story that was of particular interest.  I was reading on my iPad.  Of course, Twitter is only good for 140 characters and a link.  I clicked the link in my Twittelator app and the in-app browser partially loaded the newspaper app and then it crashed.  So, I did what any rational person would do – I loaded it again, expecting different results.  Nope.  Crash.  So, I loaded the website directly in the newly released Firefox browser.  It took forever to load.  Forever is probably not accurate but in the digital world, I think we all know what I mean.  In among the few stories that appeared, there was advertising after advertising.  They just kept coming.  Eventually, they stopped and I started to scroll to find the story.  The browser struggled trying just to scroll down the page.  The advertisements seemed like my browser was full of slideshows.  Then, a pop over advertisement appeared in the middle of the page and it kept scrolling down the page with me.  There was a teeny little red X in the corner which is the universal sign for closing the window.  Either it didn’t work or I have fat fingers because I tried it a few times but kept clicking on the advertisement under it.  I finally scrolled to a spot where there wasn’t an advertisement and the X just didn’t work.  I finally gave up.  Absolutely obnoxious.

In my browser folder (I collect browsers), there was a copy of the Adblock Browser.  I loaded it and went to the website and it displayed like a charm.  I was curious and so really did spend the time to view the site in both browsers.  By my estimates with my ruler and my wife’s quizzical looks, 45% of the screen was devoted to advertising.  It would have been more except I didn’t know how best to factor in the pop over advertisement so I left it out.  Wow!  Then, I decided to give Firefox another chance and went to the site using the privacy mode.  It seemed to do a bit better job although I now noticed that the same advertising appeared three times on the opening page when I scrolled down.  Then, Firefox crashed.

By now, I was on a mission so I visited the website in my desktop browser and uBlock Origin indicated that it had blocked 26 requests.  Is that obnoxious or what?

In part of my original research, there was a great deal of concern expressed by content providers about ad blocking software and the financial effect that they will have on the industry.  As we know, some ad blocking software will accept payment from some advertisers to allow the content to go through.  The articles indicated that this is only the beginning as advertisers start to consider their options. 

I understand and probably wouldn’t be using blocking software except the sheer volume of advertisements on some sites, the tracking cookies that they provide, and how some of the advertising can take longer to load than the story that you’re trying to read.  So, at least for the time being, this software will be kept in place here.  But, like all things technical, you know what the industry will get caught up and we’ll be looking at something new in the future.

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.

The learning continues here – BeetleBlocks

Always be learning – I think it’s a great motto for survival in this day and age.

So, I’m working through my list of things to learn more about from the recently concluded Bring IT, Together conference.

I thought I knew of all the block programming languages.  After all, I’ve worked my way through Alfred Thompson’s big list.

But I picked up on a new language during Sylvia Martinez’ keynote address.  It’s called BeetleBlocks.  It’s another language that builds on the promise of the original Logo concept.  Among all the things that you can do is drive an object around the screen.  You start, as typical, with a blank screen.

What’s new with this picture?

All of the other tools that I have worked with previously have had an X and Y plane.  Notice in this case, there’s also a Z.  Yep, we’re now talking programming in three dimensions.

If you’ve used Scratch (or similar languages), you already have a valuable set of skills.  Now, just extend them!

I dragged a few blocks out onto the desktop and started poking around.  I was excited now. 

What can people who know what they’re doing do?  Fortunately, the resource comes with plenty of examples and I’m speed learning by going through the examples provided and modifying them to see what happens.

If you’re a Scratch programmer, you’re right at home.

Since the results are in three dimensions, it only makes sense that you can provide different views for the results.  In particular, the wireframe really showed me what was happening.

This project, currently in Alpha stage, and only supported on the Google Chrome platform (although it seemed to work fine in Firefox) is a very worthy addition to your set of tools for programming. 

It seems to be the logical next step for students who are proficient in Scratch programming and are looking for more inspiration. 

I hope that the product continues to mature and, who knows?  We may be talking about this as the Hour of Code approaches.


The fine print

Put up your hand if you read the fine print and understand the implications for every application or piece of software that you install and use.

Photo credit: mercucio2 from morguefile.com

I didn’t think so.

Me neither.

I wonder if lawyers do.  It seems to me that they’d be the only people that could fully understand the “party of the first part” stuff and all of the truly important implications.  After all, it would have been a team of their colleagues that wrote the original.

It’s a good discussion for the classroom. 

Have you ever taken an application’s terms of use and gone through it point by point?  It would make for a great conference presentation.

“Now many of you people use Snapchat?”  How many use the product world-wide?  Snapchat provides a picture of its popularity as a social network here.  So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that so many students use it.

Have they read the legal terms and conditions?

Do they know that the terms have been recently changed?  This article is worth discussing in class.  “Snapchat now owns some of your selfies forever“.

It will add credibility when you talk about social media with the traditional words of wisdom.  “What gets posted online stays online forever”.  “Don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see”.  It would be a good time to revisit the stats.  “Snapchat is the best way to reach 13 to 34 year-olds”.

Would something like this encourage students to read the fine print and understand just how they’re using software?  Would it help them to understand the implications and just raise their awareness?

I think we can all agree that it’s a situation that’s not going to go away.  In the time that it took me to put my thoughts together for this post, I downloaded an application in another window.  Time to install and start using.

Oh yeah, after reading and understanding the legalize and agreeing that I’ve read and understood everything of course.

Whose answers?

I got a little philosophical after reading a couple of articles yesterday.

I remember some of my first experiences with a search engine.  I’m guessing that it was with Altavista.  I was impressionable, I guess.  I couldn’t get over how I could send a request out through a wire and get an answer back almost immediately.

I didn’t go to school with this technology.  We had libraries with books and stuff.  If you needed an answer to a question, you’d make the trip to the library before or after school or at lunch and start looking.  There was a sense of satisfaction that arose when you found the answer to your question.  It didn’t really even enter into consideration that there might be another resource in the library that had a different answer or a different take on the question – I had the answer.

I guess, in hindsight, I had a great deal of faith in our librarian that she would only make available to us resources that only had right answers.  After all, she got paid a lot of money to do what she did.  It had better be correct.  The school activities didn’t really make us explore alternative answers.  Our goal was to get the work done and then move on to the next task or hopefully go outside and play.

So, Altavista was a godsend.  I didn’t have to go to the library anymore and look in a book.  I could just search for it.

As we know now, the concept of search just exploded.  We now have so many search engines just a click away.

I remember sitting next to a friend at a computer meeting and his default opening webpage was a list of search engines – Google, Yahoo, Bing, Lycos, Dogpile, Canada.com, etc.

You might find this list interesting “Top 15 Most Popular Search Engines | October 2015“.  Check out the list of hits and you’ll see a clear winner.

Photo credit: wintersixfour from morguefile.com

I remember either hearing this in a presentation or in an article that I had read “Today’s student will find the answer to any research in the first 10 hits of Google Search”.

Of course, for my teacher-librarian friends, we know that this has spawned a whole teaching sub-industry of fact checking and reasonableness of results.  A great example of this is happening right before our eyes with the current election and the different spins on facts that the leaders are taking.  They’re all truthful to some and questionable to others.  It’s another case of whoever shouts the loudest wins.

Today’s search engine is considerably different than those that we cut our teeth on.  Now, there are legal disclaimers about content, the site provides current news feeds in addition to search, advertising is sold on the site, you get instant answers, you get related answers, the search engine does a spell check for you, some search engines track what you’re searching for and where you go next, etc.  A company can even pay to get higher placement in search results.

Search engines will even buy placement in your web browser based on the logic that the average user won’t change the default search engine.

In theory, if a search engine was looking to provide the correct and best answer, shouldn’t they all return the same results?  But just like newspapers and their points of view, search engines have different indexing and searching algorithms to return results.

There are so many factors that go into the choice of a search engine.  When someone expresses a preference for a particular search engine, I like to ask why.  So often, I’ll get the answer “because they give the best results”.  Really?  How do you know?  Are they factually correct more often than not or is it like a newspaper and gives you the slant that you’re comfortable with?

So, dear reader, if you’ve stuck with me this far – whose answers do you trust best and why?

Mapping images

One of my favourite activities when doing a Hyperstudio workshop was to do a virtual tour of the school. 

From the Plant Department, I got 8.5 x 11″ floor maps of every school.  The workshop entailed a great deal of computer activities.  First, you’d have to work the scanner to scan the floor map which we would import into Hyperstudio as the background.  Then, using the appropriate tools, we would identify each classroom and effectively made each classroom area a clickable hot spot.  When you click on the hot spot, we could link a picture, a written description, a video, or an audio file related to the classroom or location within the school. We could cover the concepts in a two hour workshop.  Completion came in the form of students creating the content and then linking it all together.  It was a hit for open houses, interview nights, web sites, wikis, etc.

So, it was like deja vu all over again when I ran into Photogrammar this morning.

It was the same concept on overload! Whereas we might have been lucky to pull together 20 or so images, Photogrammar does it with just a few more!

Photogrammar is a web-based platform for organizing, searching, and visualizing the 170,000 photographs from 1935 to 1945 created by the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information (FSA-OWI).

A partnership between Yale and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the background for the source of the images and the goal is fascinating reading.

And, knowing me, you know that had me hooked at “interactive map” which can be displayed in a couple of formats.

By county

By dots

While I thought both representations were interesting to explore, I’ll admit to being intrigued by the Dot format.  I’m pretty sure that I can make out major expressways by the dots.

Regardless, each of the areas are hot spots that link to an image from the database.

Here’s part of one from Royal Oak, Michigan.

Notice the tagging and the descriptions.

All of the images are from the United States, obviously the scope for the project.  Still, it made for a fascinating bit of exploration.

Now, this is a huge project, to be sure.  But it still scales nicely to a classroom, school, or even school district project.  Imagine taking pictures around the school or a superintendent taking pictures as she/he does school visits over a school year.  Pieced together, it would make a fascinating story telling piece.  Hyperstudio is still available for purchase for the project.  Of course, that’s not the only option.  Thinglink takes the concept to the web with various choices ranging from free to district licensing.

Rather than scrambling at the end of the year for some sort of storytelling thing, adding an image here and there throughout the school year would result in a pretty impressive piece of work.

1:1 Done Right?

I’ve read through this article on Edutopic by Ira Socol a few times now and find something new each time.

The Basics of Open Technology

It’s about an implementation of technology in Albermarle County Public Schools.  If you follow Ira on Twitter, you’ll not be surprised that UDL is a passion and it’s part of the technology plan.  I love the phrase on the superintendent’s office “All means All”.

Ira’s got a special spot on my Twitter collection as he was among one of the first group of people that I followed and I’ve never been disappointed.  He doesn’t lob up his thoughts – he’s very direct and quickly gets to the point – I really appreciate that.

Take a few moments to read this article; it isn’t long but it’s rich in content.  It’s summarized nicely with “Trust in Children and Childhood”.  If you’re an IT Manager, you might just cringe at some of the practices but I find that it’s a truly kids first approach and let the technology help them as opposed to a technology first where we lock everything down and grant you the right to use bits and pieces of it.  It’s not just a play on semantics; it’s a strategic approach.

Now, for the majority of people returning to school next week, this won’t be a reality.  But, if your school has adopted a BYOD practice, you can coach students and families to use technology to enable and support their learning by following this one link from the article.

It’s the MITS Freedom Stick.  “The MITS Freedom Stick is a portable, use-anywhere accessibility solution.”

People often know of a few open source resources but the MITS Freedom Stick has amassed them together with a focus on inclusion of all students.  In the case of Albermarle schools, it’s installed – you can install them yourself or keep them on a memory key.  It’s a great collection.  Some of the titles are compared to the commercial version of the product, probably for parent/teacher convenience.  Students won’t care or will already know.

This should also serve as a discussion point for so-called 21st Century schools.  Are you really?  Maybe it’s time to talk about Early 21st Century and Mid 21st Century.  It’s not just providing a tool that should matter.  Shouldn’t students have access to the tool that will make them successful instead of a one size fits all selection?

For further reading, the Albermarle County Public Schools are part of a series on Edutopia called “Schools that Work“.  It’s good reading for understanding and asking the question “Why not us?”.

Additional Resources: