Is Nothing Sacred


If you know me well, you know that one of my daily rituals is to have a peanut butter sandwich for lunch.  It’s one of life’s treats for me and I enjoy it so much.

It does mean that I have to have lunch by myself as there are folks who have allergies and I’m sensitive to that.  It is a situation that I deal with to treat myself to this delicacy.

Now, in the news we read about a recall of peanut butter in the United States because of salmonella.

http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2009/01/12/health-salmonella.html
http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSTRE50F7GH20090120

Say it isn’t so!

What’s scary about things like this is that you don’t know until it’s reported in the news.  By the time it makes the top of the news stack, there have been sicknesses or even deaths to raise the awareness.

At this point in time, it’s still good news for my lunchtime plans.

http://kraft.com/MediaCenter/country-press-releases/Peanut_Butter_Ingredients_Update

It really does give you pause to think though.  We rely on the quality and work efforts of so many people as we go through the day.  Similarly, there are people that rely on us to do out best.  It may be time to mentally revisit the old adage “Autograph your work with excellence”.   

We all need to pull together, doing the very best that we can.

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Two guys in Toronto


So, I’m sitting at my desk this afternoon working on documents and planning for next week’s Symposium. 

Over my left shoulder, I have Twhirl doing its thing pulling in Tweets as the day passes.  For the most part, I’m just ignoring it as it announces every couple of minutes that something new has arrived.

Then comes the special sound that indicates that there’s a reply or a direct message addressed to my attention.  That immediately gets my attention so I swing over to see what’s up.  Usually, it’s just a little chatter among some of the folks that I’ve befriended.  In this case, however, it’s a message from an acquaintance from Toronto.

He’s working on a presentation, has posted the work in process, and has invited four or five of us to take a peek and comment.  This is a nice diversion from the task at hand so I hop on over to Google documents to check it out.  It’s an interesting presentation, nicely crafted with lots of engaging graphics, and coupled with some give and take, would form the basis for a terrific presentation. 

I compliment the author and throw back a couple of suggestions for inclusion – after all, when you ask for another set of eyes, you’re looking for more than a “yep, yep, looks good to me”.

As I look over the screen, I see that it wasn’t just the original requester who was involved.  I notice on the opening slide the names of the presenters.  More importantly, I note that the two of them have the document open and are editing it as I watch. 

I start to realize that there is something special happening here.  First of all, people are actually working together and collaborating on something.  Secondly, they’re doing it online at the same time.  It is possible to do the collaboration bit in other ways – like mailing the latest revision to your partner, but here they’re both at it at the same time.  But, the third thing is a real testament to people that practice what they preach.

Not only is there the serendipity that I happened to be near a computer and connected when the request went out, but that our little network was sufficiently advanced that they felt comfortable inviting me in for a look.  I’ve chatted personally once with one of the gentlemen and about three times with the other.  But, through our actions on the network, and having discussed other things, we felt comfortable with looking at, sharing, and commenting on a work that will be presented somewhere, someday.  I don’t know when and for the purposes of this discussion, it really doesn’t matter.

I had a conversation about the same sort of thing with Paul C. of Quoteflections just the day before.  I had been commenting about the power of networking when you’re the only person teaching a subject area in your school.  In my case, I talked about Computer Science teachers.  When they head to a staff room, it’s seldom that they’re going to run into a big selection of similar minded Computer Science teacher.  They are truly the lonely runner.  How do they get feedback or ideas?

Just like today. The network, of course.

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Mr. Tweet


Twitter has had just an enormous impact on folks who would grow their Personal Learning Network.  It’s a conversation; it’s a collaboration; it’s chatter; it’s making new contacts; it’s all of this and none of this depending upon how you handle it.

It’s also an area with a very friendly and open API that inspires all kinds of folks to write utilities to interface with it.  I’ve been trying to keep up with them on my wiki at this page.

In the past, I’ve offered a number of suggestions via this blog for finding interesting or related or celebrity or news/sports/weather people/services to follow on Twitter.  It’s a good way to increase the power of Twitter for fun and learning.  And, oh the learning.  If you’re not using Twitter, you’re missing so much.

Recently, a newcomer has shown up on the scene.  It’s name is Mr. Tweet.

Mr. Tweet offers yet another alternative. 

Unlike previous strategies which require work on your behalf, Mr. Tweet does much of the work for you.

All that you need to do is follow Mr. Tweet on Twitter.  When your time has come, you’ll receive a direct tweet indicating that this service has done its work for you.

What’s the work?

Well, the first thing is to produce a list of people that are following you that you aren’t currently following.  Often, you’ll get wrapped up in using the service and perhaps ignore those who start to follow you.  You can play catchup with this component of the service.

The other component is even more interesting.  Through some sort of algorithm, Mr. Tweet purports to find your trends in friend gathering and offers some suggestions for people that perhaps you should be following.  This is another very interesting route to take.  Unlike the previous suggestions, this will find many more people that you have never heard of before.

I gave it a shot and was quite impressed. 

Twitter offers so much if you use it to its maximum.  Using the additional utilities make a great service even better.

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Desktop Suites


There was a time and day when I thought that I knew exactly where I wanted to go with a desktop productivity suite.  There are so many choices.  I had purchased Sprint from Borland as a word processor, VisiCalc as a spreadsheet, and never had a need for a database or presentation package so I was all set. 

Both Sprint and VisiCalc appealed strongly to the programmer in me as you could make either of them do virtually anything that you wanted them to do.  Had I reached utopia?

If the truth be known, my word processor and spreadsheet needs haven’t really gained appreciably since I used the products.  In fact, I wrote and published an article in 80Micro about how to create a markbook for recording grades using VisiCalc.  What else could a teacher need a spreadsheet for?

But, time marches on and these products were dropped in favour of more powerful GUI applications that could do far more tricks on a computer that anyone could humanly want. 

Probably the first fully integrated package that I used seriously was the Ontario Ministry of Education licensed Clarisworks application.  This was such an interesting concept with all of the components working with each other, eliminating the need to load another application to do particular tasks.

From there, I migrated to the Ministry licensed WordPerfect Suites and they did a fine job for me.  There came a time when I bought a copy of Microsoft Office and then the Ministry licensed StarOffice and I switched again.  All along the road with these switches comes the inevitable discussion about “industry standards” and the need to be compatible.  You inevitably end up with the discussion of standards; OpenOffice proposes the OpenDocument standard but the Office format keeps getting thrown in your face as the de-facto standard.  After all, everyone knows about .doc as a standard.

Until the latest incarnation and the .docx format is introduced.

How much is enough?  Do we buy yet another product just to generate a file with a certain extension and now proclaim that to be the new industry standard?  A lot of folks are.  They’re proclaiming the advantages of using ribbons for productivity instead of menus.

As I blogged recently, we seem to be wavering in technology abilities balancing power and performance against portability.  With the new Netbook machine available, we have to consider just what it is that we need to run on these machines to do our tasks.  Do we have enough “umph” to get the job done?

The power of the Netbook lies in its ability to connect to the network and therein lies another option that may well be the final? place for office suites.  Who cares what the standard is when you use an online service like Google Docs or Zoho Tools.  Imagine a product with just enough power to get the job done, with a hosted service and its free.  Standards?  Who needs any stinking standards.  As long as the document is hosted, they can change and upgrade the power of the product all they want.  I just want my documents when I need them.

In a Web 2.0 world, it gets even better with the ability to subscribe other folks to your documents and allow them to edit along with you.  Now, we’re talking about the real power of the network.

As Chair of the RCAC Symposium Committee, we have members all over SouthWestern Ontario and we get the job done without a lot of distance travelling meetings.  We use the power of the network to get the job done.  Today, for example, I put together our timeline of the event with the names of those who have volunteered to do certain roles.  All of the key moments are placed online with times so that we know exactly how to pull this event off without a hitch.  If committee members don’t agree with my view, they can of course edit it so that we have everyone’s perspective and input to make the day the best that it can be.

Had I reached utopia years ago when I bought those products.  Heck, I wasn’t even close.  I was only buying software.  It’s the network of colleagues and the enabler to bring everyone to the document that gives us the best of the best.

The message is to never rest – keep on top of things – never underestimate the ability of technology and now the power of network input to put you over the top.

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