Thinking about technology investments

From the New York Post this morning, check out this story “A Lot Changes in Tech Over Four Years and 1,000 Blog Posts“.

It got me thinking about things.

According to the dashboard for this blog, I’ve made 4,255 posts.  The very first one goes back to January 8, 2008 and was titled “Blogging on First Class“.  It was an encouragement for people to look at FirstClass’ new blogging platform.

The post was actually the second written for this blog – the first one was “I hope this works” and was written just to test WordPress to see if it would do the trick.  While I really hoped that people would use FirstClass for blogging, I needed to test out WordPress.  It turned out to be a better blogging platform.  More importantly, the writing of my first few posts was quite funny.  It was almost infantile which I guess describes my blogging efforts back then.

Anyway, a lot has changed over the course of four years as noted in Bilton’s blog post.  He notes that the iPad wasn’t around then.  Yet, it’s so popular and universally present these days.

It really is the change over the course of four years that is of concern to me.  Four years ago, I bought a computer and, with fingers crossed, assured my wife that this is the last computer I’ll ever need.  It had an i7 processor with 8 cores, 4MB of RAM and a fairly substantial hard drive.  Admittedly, it can run just about anything that I want.  It was, as promised, a laptop that’s a desktop replacement and that’s basically where it’s used today.  Dual booting, I can run Windows 7 and Ubuntu and if you’ve been reading, it’s typically running Ubuntu.

Indeed a lot has changed in four years.  I think of the power and the storage on the machine and it’s a sad commentary that they really aren’t as important to my regular use these days as it was four years ago.

Four years ago, I needed a computer and software to do the word processing and spreadsheet documents (among other things) that I had on a regular basis.  Quite frankly, I can’t remember the last time I opened LibreOffice to do any such work.  In fact, as I type this blog entry, I’ve got a notification that there’s an upgrade to the LibreOffice program.  Four years ago, I would rush to get the upgrade.  Now, I use my Google Apps on the web to handle these things.  Google takes care of the upgrades for me.

Post Christmas, every store that I ever bought anything online is pummeling my mailbox with notifications of great bargains and deals.  I look and don’t feel the need to even wish and dream.  After all, I spend my days in a browser.  As I write this, I’m in one tab with a bunch of others open.

I’d be hard pressed to come up with any plausible reason to go computer shopping tomorrow.

In fact, the more I try to think this through, do I really need something as powerful (expensive) for the future?

How about schools?

I know many school districts are experimenting with Chromebooks and some with Surfaces.  From where I’m sitting, and for my particular use, it seems like a very smart (and affordable) solution.



Better Looking Presentations

This post is for all who do presentations but specifically to those working on their presentations for #ECOO13 this summer.

I hope that you’re not just firing up Keynote or Powerpoint or LibreOffice and filling in the blanks in a template to call it a presentation.  While this works, keep in mind audience engagement.  They want to hear YOU and the presentation behind you on the big screen helps guide the development of your topic.

This guide works best when it’s attractive and has the imagery to support your message.  I had the fortunate good luck to have a superintendent who delivered the very best presentations.  He was a master story teller and masterfully worked with Keynote as his presentation tool.  I actually booked some time with him one afternoon to learn how to be as effective as him.  That’s impossible but his tips did help me quite a bit.

He broke the mold about presentations long before it became popular.  He never started with a template (unless you called a blank screen a template…) and just filled his presentation with imagery, thoughts, and guiding principles to support his message.  In particular, he always included images of children doing things to support this message.  It was so effective.  You just wanted to hear his stories and follow along with the pictures.

His colours were right too.  At the time, we had just licensed Adobe Photoshop Elements for all Ontario schools and he made good use of it.  Before a picture got into his presentation, it went into Elements where he would use the eyedropper to get the colour codes from the images so that any text or drawing that he would use looked so professional.  Wow, this was one application of Elements that I hadn’t though about…and I was on the OSAPAC team that licensed it.

You can use it or find an even easier method using Pictaculous.  So, for example, this image from an infographic that I had made for myself at one time might make it to a slide in a presentation.

And, I’m bad with colours.  My philosophy has always been things go better with green.  So, this slide might well look like

and, of course, the complimentary colour with green is yellow.

Throw that up on a data projector and watch your audience gag!

Fortunately, Pictaculous comes to the rescue.  It’s very simple and even bypasses the need to use the eyedropper to get colours.  Of course, you’ll use Elements for more involved things.

All I need to do is upload my image and seconds later, I’m presented with the colour palette and suggestions for colours that will work well with the presentation.

Could getting the colours right get any easier?  There’s even an option for use with your Smartphone.

This will be really helpful for students who often confuse design with content!

Good luck with your presentations, Ontario Educators!


A Couple of Days with Ubuntu 13.04

I had a friend try to grind my gears over the weekend.  If you’re such a fan of Ubuntu, why are you carrying around a Macintosh computer?  It’s a valid observation but the reality is that I have both a Mac and a PC (Sony Vaio) and it’s the Vaio that’s running Ubuntu.  At the time of purchase, buying a big hard drive for the Macintosh was too cost prohibitive.  Not so with the Vaio and it was the perfect machine to partition and boot into Ubuntu as well as the Windows 7 that it came with.  Due to its size, I view it more as a desktop replacement than a portable unit.  But, if I have my rolly computer bag, you know it’s in there.

The Ubuntu side has always been considerably quicker than Windows.  When you spend most of your connected time in a browser, speed and ease is appreciated and you can’t beat it with Ubuntu.  Ironically, it was over the weekend as well that I decided to upgrade Ubuntu to 13.04, Raring Ringtail.  I didn’t really have time to explore at the time – I did the installation and then just starting using it.

It was only when I thought about it that I was surprised that there wasn’t any big exciting change in the release.  It wasn’t like there was a new and refined Dash or anything.  It was just working.  But, as I think about it, it’s working pretty well.  Everything  was functional but noticeably faster.  I wondered – is there something I’m missing?  I ran across this article “Press Reaction to Ubuntu 13.04 Is a Muted, “Meh” Affair“.  Surely, there must be more.

My next read took me to this article. “Get More Out of Ubuntu 13.04 With These Awesome Apps” and this “10 Things to Do After Installing Ubuntu 13.04“.  I’ll be honest, many of the recommendations were already in place but “Geary Mail” was a nice new find.  Quite frankly, many of the things that I do, I do in the browser.  If it’s not in the browser, it might be LibreOffice, VLC, or Gimp that’s my go-to application.  And, of course, they’re already there.  There was, of course, the ability to manipulate the various search lenses in the Dash.  That’s always fun but not necessarily a life and death change.

What is kind of neat is social integration right in the Dash.  No need to flip to a new tab to see what’s up.  I really like the concept of the lens and there’s so much to choose from.


I’ve got to be missing something.  So, I watched a video.

I guess I wasn’t missing too much.  This release is just a snappier, nicer experience.  So far, on this end, it seems to be pretty solid.  It’s definitely more responsive.  I always found it a better actor than Windows 7 on this machine.  With the new release, it’s even more noticeable.  I’m a really happy user.

10 worst-case BYOD scenarios (and how to prevent them)

One of my favourite reads when it comes to technology is TechRepublic.  Consistently, it provides great insights on topics that I’m interested in.  This morning was no different.  An article, with the title of this blog post, appeared today and takes on the topic of BYOD.  The focus of the article is the business world.  However, once again, I think that it’s important reading to education as well.  BYOD remains the elephant in the room for so many.

So, in the article, they take on 10 scenarios.  I’d like to take the opportunity to comment on them in the context of education.  In many ways, I think that education may be a bigger challenge since it has clients in administration, teaching, and of course, students.  All have similar and differing needs.

As I write this post, I’m also thinking once again that education, common sense, and just knowing what you’re doing and its implications can go a long way towards success.

Exposed Data
The concept of losing one’s device or having it stolen is a real possibility for all of us.  What can you do to protect the data on your device?  Certainly the ability to securely wipe the contents of the device as suggested in the original article is important.  After all, you might have student marks and records recorded there.  In the short term, make sure that you have a passcode protecting the device and require that it be entered each time you access the device.

Passwords in the Wild
How are your passwords protected?  It really is convenient to have your browser save and remember them.  But, if your device ever falls into the hands of someone else, your device doesn’t know who is at the keyboard.  Instead, consider a utility like LastPass to remember them for you and ensure that you have a master password set on the utility.  BTW, you’re not using the same password on every service, are you? And, BTW2, you’re not using a simple password are you?  During my reads today, I found that TweetSmarter had sent this image showing the most-used English language passwords.

Declining Productivity
I like the recommendation that all devices must attach to the local network.  There, you can filter and block the type of site that isn’t desirable.  Using one’s data plan to connect is a quick way around it.  Of course, the best approach is to ensure that everyone is engaged doing educational things while at the school. 

Compatibility Issues
The key to managing a plethora of devices, it seems to me, is to not even try.  The onus should be on the owner of the device to understand how things work.  I would look at a number of approaches for support – whether it’s a school conference, user groups, workshops, or ask a kid.  The powerful place for BYOD in education is the web which should serve as the great equalizer. Right from the outset, people need to understand that their portable device might have some limitations.  Make sure that if you’re going to plan BYOD activities, that you’re not expecting everyone to be able to access a web resource that requires Adobe Flash, for example.  Can universal HTML5 and CSS3 get here soon enough?

Bandwidth Overuse
I had to smile at the comment in the article that standard DLS won’t do.  If it won’t do for a business, it sure isn’t going to work at any reasonable sized school.  There are ways to measure your usage and your system should already be monitoring throughput as a matter of course.  A rule of thumb, I learned from a CIO friend is that you can’t have enough bandwidth.  Budget should be increasing annually in this area no matter what.  Last week, I did a workshop to a great bunch of educators in Thunder Bay.  The day was cut into quarters and I dealt with four topics: Developing a Digital Footprint, Twitter in Education, Social Reading, and Web That Works.  From the titles, you can guess that I was heavily depending upon the web.  Even with 40 people in a room in a convention centre and whoever else was in the building, we managed to bring the network to its knees.  Fortunately, I’ve run into the same scenario in the past and had so much of what I wanted to use cached so I was able to get through it.  Despite the assurances from the centre that they had great internet, they didn’t.  It might have been at one time but that pipe just needs to get bigger.

As an aside, I envied the folks in the middle table who set up their telephone as a local access point and didn’t have to rely on the conference centre network!

Device Management
You might be able to get away with just user authentication on this one.  You don’t want anyone sitting in the parking lot outside the school onto your network but a decent sized school district would have a huge management problem if you wanted to keep track of MAC addresses.

Wireless Bottlenecks
The message here is important.  Buy good equipment.  Spend the time to map out the coverage of the school and work on load balancing.  Purchasing and installing the bare minimum amount of equipment will only ensure that you’re pushing a problem to solve down the timeline a bit.  You’re going to want to do it right.

Autonomy Overuse
I see this as related to declining productivity.  The message has to be delivered and understood just what the goals are for accessing the wireless network. Use of the BYOD should address the goals.  It may be difficult but this needs to be established early before your classroom becomes an online arcade playhouse.

Virus Infections
It’s scarey to think that someone could bring a virus into your network and then turn it loose to infect others.  A universal understanding of the web as a dangerous place needs to be understood by all.  Perhaps a local computer vendor could hold an information session for parents about just how to ensure that their devices are safe.

Compatibility Complains
This was once a huge issue.  In the article, the author makes reference to documents in Microsoft Office format and offers LibreOffice and Kingsoft Office as alternatives.  Fortunately, in education, the use of Google Documents or Microsoft’s web offering minimizes these conversations these days.  We’ve come a long way and it’s been a rough ride at times but we’re starting to get it.

Thanks to TechRepublic for such a thought provoking article.  It’s full of great ideas that applies both to business and can to education.  From the business perspective, they seem focussed on the concept of universal desire for BYOD.  Education does have another challenge and that is equity of access.  Not all students are able to, either financially or because mom and/or dad won’t allow it, have their own device.  The inclusive classroom will find a way to accommodate whether it be the school’s equipment or diverse grouping, to gently handle this.

Sure, there are some challenges but they’re worthwhile taking on aggressively.  This infographic from Atomic Learning shares an insight to what could be.  Check it out.

While I’m sending you to links for additional reference, you need to also take a look at this Slideshare presentation from Microsoft Education UK.  They have some great thoughts about BYOD and I like the reference to BYOB (Bring Your Own Browser) as increasingly this is what BYOD means to most people.