Always something new

There is always something new to learn in the online technology world. Web 2.0 tools have certainly raised communication, collaboration and PLP’s to a new and exciting level.  This post shares two learnings from today.

Today I became aware of the Digital Buzz website and blog. The site looks very interesting based on my initial impressions. The URL is http://www.digitalbuzzblog.com. In particular you may find this Top 10 Social Media Presentations of interest. For your convenience the link is http://www.digitalbuzzblog.com/the-top-10-social-media-presentations-online/. A special thanks to Angela Maiers for sharing this link on Twitter.

This afternoon I started to read What I Learned From Frogs in Texas by Jim Carroll. I picked up a copy of the book at the Leading Learning conference in May 2009. I am just into the book and must admit I am intrigued already. In the first section of the book captured my interest with a couple of insightful thoughts. First, the notion of ‘aggressive indecision’ and secondly ‘lost momentum’. It is not much of a stretch to see how these ideas can be mapped to many of our educational systems. Now, to dig into the book. 

One area the immediately captured my interest is to see how the content of the book may line up with some future blog posts I have planned regarding systemic change as referenced in my earlier (and first) post titled Education Is The Place To Be

~ Mark

Parallels 4.0 – initial impressions

I recently purchased a copy of Parallels 4.0 Mac Virtual Machine software with the intent of facilitating some software testing processes I am involved in. As expected, the vendor boasts about the many features, performance and why their product is better than the competition.

The online puchase, download, install and registration processes went as smoothly as one would expect them to – absolutely no hitches. Not much for starting with the reference materials I dug into the process of setting up some different virtual machines. 

On the Windows front, I started creating a new virtual machine to set up a clean new win XP installation. The initial installation routine all worked fine on the pre SP2 CDs I had on hand. I also loaded a virus protection package and CUTE pdf, an open source pdf writer which I have used successfully on a number of computers. This concludes the straight foward, as expected portion of the setup. 

To date, I have not been successful in updating SP2, SP3 and other security patches either by the automated Microsoft web based process or via manual downloads and installations. Either way the updating process just hangs, so I am no further ahead. I have a couple more things to try to move this forward, but soon will be in start over mode. 

Parallels has a built in function called the transporter to capture the set up of a remote machine on the same network, so I decided to try out this feature on a fully patched XP system. The process begins by  installing transporter drivers on the remote (to be captured) computer. Next, you run the transporter option on the Mac and identify the remote computer from a pop up list or by IP address. I found in all attempts, the software did not detect machines running the client software and pop up list remained empty. Identifying the remote computer by IP address did not work either. 

Needless to say, this experience fell well short of the initial goals to have a virtualized setup for win XP to operate in. 

By way of comparison, I tried setting up virtual machines for Ubuntu desktop and Ubuntu Netbook. The OS is downloaded as an image file which is read and imported into the virtual machine. After the initial installation, you are prompted to complete one round of OS updates (in each case). I added the Firefox flash plugin and was ready to compute with OS, internet browser and open office (included). 

Both of these setups worked flawlessly, I in testing to date have run with out issue. 

Overall, Parallels seems like a promising application but it has some areas for improvement. There is no indication of updates to the 4.0 version. At this point, I will pursue sorting out the XP issues and look for support forums etc.  I will keep you updated in a future blog post. 

~ Mark

You Never Know When …

 

… a great technology discussion will occur. This week I was in seeing my eye doctor. During our session I commented on some new equipment I noticed in his office. This triggered a very interesting discussion about his desire to digitally capture eye images and store them, at least short term, as part of the patient records system. 

 

What amazed me was part 2 of the discussion which focused on all of the technology and business related challenges he had encountered. The original special (and expensive) microscope purchased for this purpose is still not working – the hook up is not straight forward and a long string of broken support promises from the vendor involved.

 

Further investigation into alternatives uncovered all kinds of interesting information – unbelievable price gauging in a relatively small and controlled marketplace, potential uses of other more reasonably priced cameras which seemed promising but these devices did not interface to the original expensive microscope, at least easily. 

 

What about other alternatives? I through out the idea of using a USB microscope for the task if the resolution and functionality specs could be met. I pictured a device something  like the Proscope which we have used with good success in our classrooms for science curriculum delivery. This notion sparked some interest, and will be investigated further.

 

The last part of our discussion hit on the storage and integration component. The computer in his office is a high end MAC. One would anticipate this computer would easily handle the graphic and interface requirements. The patient system in the office is a multi user  based system. I could not determine if it was written for windows or some other environment with my over the counter observations as the screens did not appear to be a standard Windows environment and looked almost DOS like. Hmmmm. More general discussion ensued regarding what a better integration package might look like. 

 

Who knows where this will all go, but it was a very interesting eye appointment!

 

~ Mark

Click, click … web design part 2

I have finished reading Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. Further to my earlier observations (see previous blog post), I wanted to share a few more comments regarding this book.

 

The point that really struck home for me was the notion of visual hierarchy. Web sites must be designed to enable the end user to quickly identify what is most important, relevant and least important on a page with great ease. Design elements that impact this include layout strategy, fonts, graphic use and colour schemes and choices. 

 

Just as important is the concept of what is NOT there on the page. Many web pages need a serious decluttering to achieve a better presentation and flow of information ~ important content vs. detractors ~ function vs. confusion. There are many good examples illustrated in the book.

 

Graphics are more that ‘just graphics’. They really do need to relate to real world uses to reinforce function to the end user. An example of this is the use of tabs. People know what tabs are – they divide, different information is contained behind different tabs. Tabs provide high level organization on websites because people can easily identify with the concept of how they function.

 

Steve outlines some great strategies around the whole design (check out the ‘truck’ test section and the notion of testing and validating before ‘going live’. 

 

All in all, this is a very informative book well worth the read! 

 

~ Mark

Upcoming changes to Facebook privacy rules

I was cruising through email notifications this afternoon and noted a new posting re upcoming changes to privacy settings in the Facebook environment. For interested readers, the article may be found at:

http://www.cio.com/article/496742/Facebook_s_Upcoming_Privacy_Changes_What_You_Need_to_Know?source=CIONLE_nlt_leader_2009-07-09

I hope this helps keep you up to date with your online safety and security knowledge – all part of Digital Citizenship development!

~ Mark

So what computer gear do I buy?

Given all of the options available these days, the seemingly straight forward task of buying a computer is now very complex. Desktop, laptop, netbook?  OSX, Windows, Linux? Standard apps, open source or a combination? Multimedia and presentation tools, ease of use, tech support, virus, malware & spam protection, how well can the user support themselves (trouble shooting, ease of updates etc.)?  There are as many questions as possibilities. Oh yes, what does the student need to be successful?

The context of the question? My daughter will be off to university next year and it is time to settle on a plan to meet her school needs. As a well seasoned technology user, I have to weigh in my experiences and perhaps biases into the final solution. 

Desktop, laptop, netbook: I think I would settle on the laptop. Portability is important. I don’t think the netbook is quite ready for prime time as the only machine one has access too – but it continues to get closer to this ideal. From my own experience of using a netbook sized computer, I would land on screen size and keyboard layout as potential hinderances. Cramped typing won’t cut it for a sole source learning tool. Good battery life is critical too. 

OS: This area is more complicated in terms of landing on a final decision. I am not a big fan of Windows Vista. While many linux based OS’s such as Ubuntu offer a nice stable system, the primary user in this case has little exposure to it, at least at this point in time, so self sufficiency comes into question. OSX is a robust system with great multimedia tools, but the ‘how much will you run into Windows requirements’ question still nags at me. Ultimately, it is hard to say, but I think this has to be accounted for.

I believe the best option for personal use falls in line with the direction we are moving as a Board of Education in our elementary schools – Intel based Macintosh hardware configured with the ability to run Windows. Our experiences in this environment have been very successful, and positive for the learning environment ~ a great suite of tools for educators and learners. On the Board front, we are starting a major roll out of this dual boot environment starting in the fall. This combination of OS’s offers access to all of the native tools in each OS platform, lets you benefit from the strengths of each one, and leaves room to add 3rd party software on either OS as required. A total win-win from my point of view.

Our Board solution will be done as a dual boot arrangement with an OSX based image configured with an option to boot into a Windows environment. This choice also allows both partitions to be maintained in terms of imaging, patching and software deployment with robust enterprise level tools. On the personal choice end of things, other options for OS emulation from Parallels and/or VMware come into the picture. I have some experience with the Parallels setup – it is pretty slick in terms of the way it integrates Windows into the OS environment. I the testing I did, the ability to update Windows through the MS UPdates website seemed to fail more than it worked so it seems that manual downloads and installations would come into the picture (still sorting through this). Both the desktop and netbook flavours of Ubuntu seem to be quite stable in the Parallels environment.  I have not personally tried the VMWare solution at this point.  While the notion of the integrated solution is appealing on the personal computing level, I still think the dual boot approach is the most stable solution at this point in time.

Software: Based on a decision to go with a dual boot setup, the software suite will end up being a blend of OSX and Windows native applications, standard applications (Keynote, MS Office, Adobe etc.) and a sprinkle of open source utilities. After all, it is all about getting the right tools to support learning! 

~ Mark

Facebook vs. Face-to-Face

Can Facebook replace face-to-face?  This interesting question was recently posed in the ISTE forum hosted at

 http://www.iste-community.org/group/landl/forum/topics/pointcounterpoint-can-facebook

ISTE will be selecting two responses from submissions to publish in the Sept/Oct. Leading & Learning with Technology journal. The response I decided to submit to ISTE is included below.

:::

Can Facebook replace face-to-face?  

Given the revolutionary change in the internet since its inception and the current capabilities of web 2.0 tools, this is certainly an interesting question to pose. As an avid technology user and life long learner this question has prompted a lot of pondering on my part.

In my view, life is fundamentally about people and relationships. Relationships provide the foundational connection between people as they foster many emotions: love, trust, comfort, sense of well being, caring and personal value. Relationships contain a core ingredient of real time interaction as one of many important components. I do not believe the essence of human interaction can exist in complete isolation. Social networking applications such as Facebook function in an asynchronous communication patterns. I do not believe fully functional relationships can exist with this interactive pattern only.

Based on this thinking, I would have to cast my vote as ‘no’. Facebook can not fully replace face-to-face interactions.

However, I do see an exciting future where people will have more and more opportunities to live in a blended world that maximizes one’s experiences that embrace face to face interactions and relationships, effectively use Facebook, other social networking tools, and other web 2.0 tools, as a way to connect with people, learn and work in a rich and collaborative manner.

As we continue to develop and refine our notions of the meaning of digital citizenship and learn how to embed these fundamental values in each of us, I believe we will have impacted human communication in a truly positive and global way.

~ Mark

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