Texting

http://dsugdenholidays.wordpress.com [still away]

It’s always interesting to observe the customs of others, especially when your own customs are informed or affected by the observation. Likewise, it is said that travel broadens the mind. That is certainly true in most cases although I have to say by no means all. But that’s a discussion for another day.

Like smoking and mobile phones at home, many States have banned smoking in public places and the use of cell phones whilst driving. But they are not universal bans. I quote heavily from the Wednesday July 29th edition of USA Today (page 8A). All rights to those quotes go to the original author. I’m not discussing smoking here.

Apparently ‘Cellphones are as much part of American’s lives as cars these days’ with the number of subscribers,‘270 million’, outnumbering that of registered cars. For all sorts of reasons [see  ‘Smart Mobs’ 2001 – Howard Rheingold] Americans were late adopters of the cell phone, but are now making up for it. During the two weeks we’ve been here we’ve seen all manner and ages of people using all types of cell phones to call (often, like the quiet coach gob-merchant – to SHOUT), to receive calls and to text.

However, there is still no blanket (Federal) ban on texting whilst driving. On our trip from Newark NJ airport into Manhattan, we saw one guy texting on two phones – while we drove slowly through the Lincoln Tunnel. Slowly I grant, but in his case – dangerously. To and from San Francisco airport both shuttle drivers answered calls, briefly, but nevertheless answered. We saw many such car-phone discussions in both Seattle and San Francisco.

But there seems to be a growing debate over here about such usage and David Teater (senior director for transportation initiatives at the National safety Council) asks ‘How many more lives need to be lost before we enact and aggressively enforce laws…?’. Over here the debate isn’t just whether to use hands-free devices or not – it’s whether to allow the phone to be used at all. I wonder how vociferous that debate will become at home?

Truck drivers are apparently 23 times more likely to have a collision when texting than when not texting (which beggars the question: how many times are they likely to have a collision anyway?). The discussion about a blanket ban on talking on the phone is being debated state by state and 21 States (and DC) ban any use by ‘novice drivers’. Five States have bans similar to the UK, where only hands free devices can be used. But we’ve been in two of these and like the UK, have constantly seen the law broken.

Now, I’m as guilty as the next person for using my phone whilst driving, but always hands-free. And, I no longer text or tie my shoelaces while the car is mobile!! It would be hard to argue though that talking on the phone is any more dangerous than talking to passengers. On a recent bus ride a sign above the driver said something like: You may ask the driver for directions but do not engage in conversation as it is dangerous. What’s the difference?

Do other in-car distractions vie for banning too? Noisy children? Chatty aunts/wives/husbands/uncles? I don’t know – what do you think?

Still on holiday: See http://dsugdenholidays.wordpress.com

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Holiday

Wordle: FF Sugden

After today my ongoing ‘holiday’ post will be on http://dsugdenholidays.wordpress.com – You’ll still see the Flickr stream alongside – but adventures and observations will be logged on the other pages. I may record another MacBook Pro (3) blog here – so if you’re interested, please set up your RSS feed (top left of page)

So, it’s the end of another academic year. My reflections?

Well, I’ve continued to meet people (teachers, tutors, trainers, lecturers, managers, support assistants, librarians – call themselves what they will) who are ready and willing to take up the technology challenge and to embrace the ‘e’ in e-Learning. Sometimes it’s just terminology that puts people off or frightens them – if only we had an agreed lexicon to work with.Even now, so many people believe that the ‘e‘ stands for ‘online‘ and that ‘online’ means ‘at distance‘ and that they don’t do that (and consequently close down the receptors).

But things are changing. I’ve detected a real willingness this year, to make this work. I know that my work exposes me to a wide range of practitioners and that even so, my opinion might be biased, but I think that one of the biggest drivers in the take-up (of whatever we want to call it) has been MoLeNET. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been closer to a wider range of practitioners with this project but I suspect that the excitement and breadth of uptake has been because the tools, techniques and technologies employed have been seen to directly address learner needs, expectations and preferences.

I’ve also continued to work alongside the most wonderfully talented bunch of individuals I’ve ever had the privilege to meet. Mick Mullane called us (the MoLeNET team) ‘a bunch of mercenaries‘ the sum of whose parts were greater than the whole (or something!!) But it’s not just MoLeNET. On the NIACE e-Guides programme and the BDP eCPD PDA programme – a whole bunch of creative people have come together for the good of ‘e’. Well done and thank you for working alongside me. It’s been a pleasure.

Others fall outside these work groupings: far too many to mention (and I dare not mention in case I miss anyone accidentally) but thank you – you know who you are.

This is beginning to sound like a last will and testament – it’s not meant to. Yet my final paragraphs might sound like one.

What are they doing to F.E.? It is being gradually and quietly killed off. Prove to me it isn’t! I know that learner numbers are now in decline and that cost savings need to be made but the cuts are killing creativity and spoiling the life chances of thousands of young learners. In the wider F.E. sectors (ACL, WBL etc) similar cuts are stifling adult learning opportunities. The whole of the F.E. sector (all post 16) is an essential part of the education system here in the UK, yet its role and purpose is often misunderstood. The teachers (trainers, support staff etc) are all dedicated professionals devoted to making the lives and careers of their charges more productive and enjoyable – yet, at every juncture they are faced with cuts and the expectation of extra work that affects their work-life balance.

So what does F.E. do? It saves those young learners who are failed by the school system (remember: the system failed them – they didn’t all fail the system) by addressing their learning needs/styles (in the wider sense – not the narrow learning style questionnaire sense) and applying the TLC that has been missing in their academic lives – just because at 14 they don’t look like achieving faux benchmark success.

Things will continue to get tighter as the government strives to find ways of recouping the money it has given away to our errant banking system (health and education every time) and as it gradually closes down in preparation for an election next year. LSIS have already had their budget cut – and they are one of the main funders of all things good for staff development. But I don’t have an answer so  I’ll stop there.

It’s much easier to talk about this and make sense than write about it.

I have to pack.

Packaging

So, once again, a BBC news item has sparked off a Sugden rant.

How many of us I wonder, actually need the amount of packaging we get? More importantly, how many of us care? For me, there are too ways of looking at this: there is the packaging that something needs; for example to stop it from becoming damaged, stolen, dusty, touched (in the case of food), licked (food again – and possibly some technological items?), tarnished or maybe just to hide an undistinguished or ugly product. Then there is the packaging that vendors use for reasons known only to themselves!

Food packaging is improving (slowly) and things like tomatoes can once again be picked up and popped into a paper bag (by the customer) in an increasing number of supermarkets. There are still some tomatoes – an by extension other types of fresh food – that are presented to us in the same way that Apple (computers, not food) present their own wares – in designer fashioned, cushioned boxes that are worth just as much as the product. This is an affront to the environment and should be banned. The food industry hides behind ‘required legislation’ – but even this allows for some common sense.

However, my rant today is based on three purchases I have made over the last 24 hours.

Yesterday, I bought a Belkin Express Card media reader. The product itself is about 3″ long and 1.24″ wide, but the packaging it comes in is akin to a straightjacket which only real men with real tools should attempt to open. People may have lost fingers (possibly arms) attempting to open one of these rigid plastic oubliettes. Well I could call them oubliettes except there is no trapdoor or other visible means of entry to the prisoner inside. You start cutting with scissors and give up when two pairs of these have broken; you then tear at the tiny bits that have given away to the scissors and subsequently lose digits and limbs, or at the very least copious amounts of blood. Then you give up and phone a real man with real tools. I managed to complete the job with one last swing of my not-used-much-now meat cleaver. But even then, the amount of packaging inside was excessive. Why do I need instructions to put an Express Card into an Express Card slot? The only instruction required is that printed on the card itself: <- This end into PC |  This end for media ->

I had also ordered a new camera from Amazon, along with an external hard disk (with which to back up my Vista laptop – which is going back to its makers for repair). I was much happier with most of the packaging used here – mainly because I was able to open it. Nevertheless it was still excessive and sadly, mainly plastic. To be fair, Amazon’s own packaging was no more than needed – a sturdy box with crumpled up brown paper to stop movement in transit. The Amazon packaging wasn’t helped by the size of each product.  Each of these were packed in figure hugging plastic coffins. When I opened the box, my camera was presented to me on a cardboard mount – to make it look better when I opened it I suspect. But why? I already liked the look of the camera from my time online completing the purchase. Why do the manufacturers not think ‘he/she knows what it looks like, he/she knows what he/she can do with it, why don’t we pop it into a carry case which can be used later (after all such a case is designed to protect the camera from bumps, dust and licking), pop it into a padded brown envelope and Bob’s your uncle‘. Then there wouldn’t be the need for all this packaging.

The three small items I bought would fit (unwrapped) into a pint pot – why then, do I need a wheelbarrow to dispose of the packaging?

MacBook Pro 2

I know that I will have to list other idiosyncrasies as time goes by – and I know that I finished last time on keyboard shortcuts (or, [sorry Gail] long-cuts in this case) but this time I want to start with the things that have helped me to be productive on the Mac.

The first thing was Flip4Mac WMV http://www.telestream.net/flip4mac-wmv/overview.htm. Flip4Mac WMV allows you to play, import and export Windows Media® files from most QuickTime applications including QuickTime Player, iMovie and Final Cut Pro. Well I don’t have Final Cut – but I do have the rest. As most of my work up until now has been on Microsoft products, it had been annoying not to be able to play .wmv files. The download also includes an Internet plug-in that plays Windows Media streams within Safari and other web browsers.

I also needed a Cam Studio like tool that worked on the Mac – but couldn’t find one. I’m sure that there’s one out there but I haven’t found it yet. So I used Screencast-o-Matic. This worked perfectly and in many ways (although I don’t know why) better than on the PC based machines. So capturing mouse movements on screen along with audio voice over, is no problem. I could do with a Mac based version of Microsoft’s Photo Story 3 though – any ideas?

Another thing that helped productivity was Firefox for the Mac. The Safari browser is ok and seemed to do ‘stuff’ without complaint, but I couldn’t get it to work on Moodle! It would show me pages and let me interact but wouldn’t let me ‘author’ – which was a nuisance (b.t.w. – is Nuisance THE hardest word to spell?)

My next MacBook Pro post will discuss my trials with iTunes – a journey I’m just beginning. Also my feelings now that I know I was sold an end-of-line product and missed out on a seven hour battery (image above explained next time)

Alzheimers

I came upon a news item today on the BBC [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8132122.stm] which suggested that “Drinking five cups of coffee a day could reverse memory problems seen in Alzheimer’s disease“. Tests conducted on mice had re-confimed earlier research that also suggested caffeine could hamper “the production of the protein plaques which are the hallmark of the disease“. Which in many ways is good news as I like coffee (proper coffee, from a proper copper coffee pot!) – but sadly, it doesn’t like me. Coffee can cause acid reflux, so I drink it with care (and some admiration).

I became interested in the effects of Alzheimer’s some time ago as I see myself charging headlong into that particular morass. I sincerely and fervently hope that I don’t inflict myself upon my family in that way, but it is a door that flaps around in my future (along with other more and less scary doors) and one I will make every effort to avoid.

My grandma suffered from the dementia side of Alzheimers as she got older. At 80 she recognised me as someone she knew and believed that I was in fact my dad. She simply blanked that fact when we (my dad and me) were together in her presence.  As she grew older she often asked “who do you belong to?” and given that peice of information could often piece little things together. So scary, but not so bad. She once told me (in a rare lucid moment) that she missed two things in getting old – dancing (she danced right up until her mid seventies) and reading books. “I love books David – but can’t remember what I’ve read when I turn the page“.  My dad who is now 82 has lived in fear that it will decend upon him – but it seems to have passed him by as he is as alert as he always was.

My friend’s mother-in-law retired from teaching, spent a quite lucid year or so in retirement before falling foul of the full blown ‘I have no idea what I’m doing – at all’  version of the disease. Relly really scary.

And why do I think that I might have the skipped generation version? No reason really – I forget things, but I think we all do and the more work I have going on, the more things I have to think about: the more things I have to forget. It is a worry though, that I spent so many years of my life cooking in kitchens where the de rigeur cooking utensils were huge aluminium pans. I also have a fine set of industry standard aluminium pans I use at home. However: There is circumstantial evidence linking this metal with Alzheimer’s disease, but no causal relationship has yet been proved.

Hey ho – life goes on.

http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/index.php

http://www.alzheimers-research.org.uk/

MacBook Pro

My new laptop arrived on the same day in May that my TechDis Accredited Trainer confirmation arrived. It was hard to decide which I was most excited about. Initially, I think it was the TechDis trainer status because it is something I have always hoped would happen. I will write about the scheme and what I like about it soon, but for now I want to register some of the trials and tribulations I have had with the laptop.

Well, I say laptop – because that’s what it is, in the strictest sense; but really it’s a delight, a willing servant, a friend, a colleague, a flirtatious tart (especially when finding WiFi), a trial, a nuisance, an enigma – a puzzle? It’s a 15″ MacBook Pro.

This is my first foray over to the dark side (well – second, if you include the iPhone Trail back in February) but is something I’ve considered for a long while. The final straw was when my Vista Laptop (a real meaty beast with everything you might need from a laptop) started playing up. Having used Windows exclusively through all of it’s incarnations since x3.1 I’d become used to the slow start up and the constant need to download updates but now it was throwing me off the internet every half an hour or so. There were other frustrations (which eventually turned out to be the fault of Firefox and Zone Alarm) but with my XP laptop seemingly on its last legs I took a leap of faith and bought my first Apple computer. As a final Windows footnote – my XP laptop is currently enjoying a new lease of life as we found it was still insured and sent it for repair. The scratch pad hadn’t worked for almost two years!

So why so many epithets for the MB Pro? Well, it is all of those things and more.

Positives:

The battery life is good. Depending on what I am doing it will last between 3 and 4.5 hours. I’ve just unplugged it to see what it say now – fully charged and on low light, with Safari open and writing the blog – it say 6.5 hours; but of course it lies. I might just get 5 if I’m lucky.

Just open the lid and there it is, panting ready to go anywhere you want to take it. I suppose that this is one of the reasons I would never get a full 6.5 hours out of the battery because the machine may well be ‘closed’ for varying periods but using just enough juice to be ready when I need it. To be honest – this is its biggest positive for me: open and go!

Negatives

Not too many really – mainly frustrations. The first would be the price – ouch! and the next would be the quirky new way of using a keyboard; learning the idiosynchrocies of an Apple OS.

Some of the keyboard controls I’d come to expect over 20 years of using a p.c. simply don’t exist. For example there is no [delete] button. It took me an age to find out that [fn]+[<-] deletes to the right (as opposed to [<-] which deletes to the left). There is no real right click without a mouse. There is – but it involves two keys [ctrl]+click on the pad. However some of the right click functions can be totally keypadded by using the [cmd] key, which I think used to be called the Apple Key. [cmd]+X or C or V or Z for example does cut, copy, paste and undo as expected. But (certainly here in WordPress) the paste doesn’t retain formatting – and I’ve yet to find a format-paint function.

Anyway – enough for today. I will come back to this as I record my trials and excitements with the Mac.

Also see: MacBook Pro 2