iPad goes to Chicago

So, day one of my working holiday in the USA. Wherever possible, I am using the iPad as a means on being productive whilst on the move. The first thing I’ve done is but ‘documents to go’ on James Clay’s recommendation and I’m writing this piece, today, on that. I’ve opened a new document and simply started. In landscape mode, the text is big enough and the keyboard is HUGE – certainly big enough for two fingered typing at a speed my brain can keep up with. I’m using documents to goIto draft this, instead of the WordPress App because the App simply isn’t good enough. I could (I know) email this to WordPress, but then the post isn’t formatted in a way I like, so it’s better that I create the text here and then open up the online version when I can and post from there. We’ll see.

We set off last night (Tuesday!) about 5.30pm as we had to drop my brother Andrew and his partner Debbie at the airport for the first leg of their return to Australia. They’d been with us for a month and will finish off their holiday with a few days in Dubai. We then went to the airport Travelodge, where Sharon had secured us a deal that offered a night’s sleep and a meal for two for less than £50. The meal was no better than could be expected but we were let down on the draft beer front! They had none – a myriad of bottled beers but no draft; so we shared a reasonable bottle of Chillean CabSav. Despite it’s proximity to the airport and to the M56 our night was undisturbed by noise.

We’re now in Dusseldorf, waiting for our connection to Chicago – so if there’s WiFi there, I may well post this en route. As it happens, I’ve got a little more to mention now we’re in the air – the food is tremendous! Well done Lufthansa.

I’m writing this in portrait mode now, mainly because I’m working off the seat-back tray and need a little angle. The keyboards is still an ok size, but I’m not working as quickly in this cramped environment. Still, it’s much better than trying with a full size laptop.

Well, the above was written on the iPad but because the WordPress App is functionally useless, I’ve had to finish off on the MacBook Pro – and that’s been a real trial of patience. We’re in Chicago at the moment, we’ve been on the road since 5.30am and it’s almost midnight (18.5 hours?) and our next flight is in about 2 hours (1.75 hour flight!!). Because, even cutting and pasting my notes into the Safari iPad version of Wrodpress didn’t work, I’ve now connected Documents to Go with my Dropbox and Google Docs and have copied the notes to iPad Evernote App. So – I can access the words I wrote on the iPad in any of a number of online places. So – far – so good. If this appears online, we’ll all know that this has worked? Too tired to write more – goodnight.

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The Aussies prepare to leave

It’s hard to believe, but in about 24 hours, I’ll be 24 hours from Tulsa. Another Stateside sojourn is in the offing, but this time I’m taking (a lot of) work with me. Mind you working on the Internet with 25mbit broadband is more appealing than working with my maximum 4mbit but often less than 2mbit BT Broadband at home! I also think that the 35-40c degrees of fine weather will suit me better during my time-off days and evenings (A/C permitting) than the intermittent grey cloud and rain we have here.

So we’re taking my brother and his partner back to the airport on Tuesday evening and staying there ourselves for a first-thing Wednesday morning flight to Tulsa via Dusseldorf and Chicago. It really doesn’t seem like a month since they arrived here from Australia.

The last two weeks have passed in a frantic haze. First of all work, and my preparations for the work I must do whilst in the States, took up a lot of my time and then, because Andrew and Debbie (especially Debbie) had wanted to experience France, we took off last Wednesday for a three night stay in Boulogne. Now, I’ve been to Boulogne before and I’ve stayed there overnight before, but have never toured the area surrounding Boulogne and Calais. So that led to an interesting two days driving around.

Our first morning’s objective was to amble over to Watten, on the canal just north of St. Omer. First of all, I hadn’t realised that there was such a network of canals in this part of France, nor that the back roads were so beautiful. We passed through Ardres, where it was market day, so we stopped and had our first ‘real’ coffee. St. Omer was the eventual destination for the day (a place from which you need a compass, SatNav and informed passengers to get out of) before touring the valley just south east of Boulogne (I’ve forgotten the name) and finishing in Montreuil-Sur-Mer.

Our second day saw us on the coast just inside Normandy, at Cayeux-sur-Mer (which is just next door to Brighton!) and in Abbeyville. It had rained fairly hard before we got to Abbeyville, so it was a damp walk around the town – which is probably worth a longer look some day. Cayeaux was a complete surprise as it was quiet, clean, warm (we had lunch in the town square) and easy to park. Once again, the trip was a real taste of France, something I’d not expected this far north.

None of the food we ate on the trip was worth writing about, we just had the usual stuff which is served up for tourists (along with the derision one often feels the French reserve for the English in this part of the world – I don’t feel to be an inconvenience elsewhere in France).

The worst part of our trip was the journey through England. En route, it took 40 minutes to get from the back of the queue for the Dartford Crossing to the toll booth and coming back, about 20 minutes. But then we had roadworks on the M25 which sucked up 40 minutes and a queue to get out of Bishop Stortford services that lasted for 20 minutes. Does anyone think we’re over populated (bearing in mind that France is five times the size and has roughly the same population)?

iPad in France

[This wouldn’t ‘send’ from the WordPress iPad App – grrrr]

I’m writing this on the iPad. We’re home now from our short sojourn in France and I can start using it properly again. I still don’t have 3G but I suspect that that’s just because I’ve not been here to rattle anyone’s cage yet. Monday!

So it wasn’t much use on France. The hotel had free WiFi but the login procedure required me to enter a mixture of letters and numbers each time I wanted use it during a 24 hour period – which was a real pain (because on the iPad keypad, like all the other ‘i’ products, you flip between letter and number keypads). Without 3G it is very much like a house cat – not much use outdoors!

Anyway, as I say, I’m typing this into WordPress on the iPad and it’s really cool, I’m managing a fair rate or words that don’t need re-spelling or correcting Unlike my typing on the iPhone, I can do it with two fingers too which speeds things  nicely.

I’ll blog about Boulogne and my next few weeks later – on the Mac.

iPad

Two very generous friends bought me a 32gb WiFi/3G iPad recently. I have thanked them personally for their generosity, but don’t feel it appropriate to name them here. You know who you are – thank you.

I had originally decided to wait for the next iteration of the iPad as I’m not a great follower of hype. However, the iPad did appeal to me in many ways: First of all, it seemed to be the fulfillment of everything I’d hoped for when the Asus ‘eee’ was first seen in Autumn of 2007. I’d wanted something small and manageable that I could work on whilst travelling. However, the ‘eee’ failed on a number of points – too fiddly keyboard, too small a screen (I can’t have it always, I know), crap battery life and a strange operating system (mine was linux). What’s more, my power pack failed fairly quickly too so my ‘eee’ has been redundant for a couple of years now.

I then tried the iPod Touch. Never mind the screen size (I know that I’m contradicting myself, but read on), actually working on it was ‘sort of’ ok. I couldn’t be too adventurous; it wasn’t a fully equipped laptop after all – and (unlike the ‘eee’) never tried to be. But the Internet, via WiFi was ok and I was at least able to communicate, make notes and access ‘stuff’ (and Apps etc.). I found the onscreen keyboard to my liking, so it worked for me.

Then came my love of the iPhone. My original comparison with the iTouch wasn’t good but with the advent of the 3Gs, it became a tool of choice. Because I’d mastered the onscreen keyboard earlier, there were no teething troubles either and the 24/7 (ish) access via 3G and/or WiFi made it a must have tool.

Now, before I go on, I have to say that much of this ‘Apple worship’ started in June 2009 when I got my first (there you go – I must be having another at some time) MacBook Pro. THAT is my first tool of choice. THAT is what I do real work on. But THAT struggles with the Vodafone 3G stick that I have (I blame Vodafone) – I still need something that keeps me in touch with the world when I’m travelling.

So – the iPad looked like it might be the tool I needed.

Part of me thought that it was a product that was rushed to market. Some things didn’t seem to add up. Anyway, my first touch was at Ashton Sixth Form College just before they launched their MoLeNET Academy. First thoughts: a bit heavy? A bit slippy? Brilliant graphics? Perfect size (this was what I’d hoped for – something with a reasonable screen) and – very Apple(y). Touch screen (yes please); finger scroll, two finger zoom, longish battery life etc. in fact everything I’d hoped for. But – (now I’m back to the iTouch negatives) no camera. This is a product that cries out for a camera. Open call to Apple – put a damn camera into iTouch and iPad – please.

Now, because I didn’t want to ruin the iPad before I started, I had to wait until I got the various covers and condoms required to protect it. Just why screen protectors are not supplied with the product I have no idea. But I bought one and had Sharon fit it (because [apparently] I am a fat fingered oaf!) I also bought a rubber condom to cover the slippery back surface, but have now discarded this because it was no less slippery. This is a fault. I know it’s cool and groovy (etc) but unless you have a tight grip it could easily fall on the floor (and break?). Older people, those with poor motability etc, may just find the product unusable. I replaced the condom with a leatherette pocket from Amazon:  and this was a much better choice although it does increase the bulk slightly. http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41eceW9bm2L._SL500_AA300_.jpg

So on Saturday last, I began my journey of iPad exploration.

It still feels a little heavy, but reassuringly so. It’s not that easy to just hold and work with, but with a table, or on my lap on crossed knees its fine. I’ve had to update many of my Apps (this was pretty automatic as iTunes recognised the new connection and the Apps that could be updated seemed to jump out and say ‘update me please’)! There are other Apps that sell iPad specific versions, but so far I’ve not seen the need to do this.

I think I’ll write a little more about the iPad and its use to me when I’ve had more time to play. But for now I’m neither underwhelmed or overwhelmed. Watch this space.

Ale Trail

On Saturday last I met Dave Boulton (and several members of his family) along with Vic Dejean, to undertake (it’s a chore – but someone has to do it) the Beer Train Trail from Stalybridge to Huddersfield. This is slightly different to the one Oz Clark and James May did on T.V. and actually takes in several of the villages that the ‘local’ train stops at.

If you ever want to follow the trail you need the train that travels between Manchester Victoria and Huddersfield (or visa versa), usually one per hour. We started in Stalybridge, where the pub on the platform sells real ales (which is the main criteria for this trip) and reasonable food. Here, they specialise in pies with black peas – a particularly west of the Pennines delicacy.

We then went to Greenfield, missing out a stop at Mossley.

At Greenfield, the Railway pub is across the road from the station. Greenfield is close to Uppermill, if you know the area. I have no idea what I had to drink in these first two pubs, but it was a great pleasure getting to know Dave’s relatives and friends and talking shop with Dave and Vic.  Sadly, the pub was very quiet and without much atmosphere, in fact there was no one else there except the eight of us.

So then we moved on to Marsden, just one stop down the line, but at the opposite side of the Pennines.

Now, at Marsden I’m back in home territory and we walked into the village only as far as the Riverhead Brewery pub. I do know that I had two pints of Cardamom Bitter here – which were the best two pints of the day.

We also ate here (hot beef sandwiches with gravy) and therefore had to let one train go by. But what a lovely day!

We had our second pint outside, by the river in brilliant sunshine. Sharon had joined us by this stage.

Slaithwaite was next; Slawit, as we say around these parts. The Ale-Trail web [http://www.realaletrail.net/] suggests a walk to the Swan pub at Crimble but I suggested that we go to the Commercial instead. The Commercial is right in the centre of the village and has a great selection of real ales. Because the weather was so good, everyone else was outside, so we had plenty of room inside to relax in the cooler atmosphere.

Then we hit Huddersfield.

The area outside the station, St George’s Square (the home of a Harold Wilson statue), was heaving with people. The Huddersfield West Indian Carnival was well under way, so not only did we have two real ale pubs to go at, but plenty of things to see and do as well. Apart from Sharon and me, everyone had to get a train to Wakefield about 7.30pm – so until then we had beers and curry or kebab (at Kebabish opposite Wetherspoons).

Cracking day. Thanks everyone.

Busy week

Phew – what a week! I have delivered eight hands-on workshops in four different colleges and a come-and-ask-me day in a Salford School.

In Huddersfield (Kirklees College) on Monday I had been asked to work with the Foundation Learning team to help them understand how some of their new kit could be used. The kit had come from a RSC-YH sponsored ‘Pathfinder’ project but had only just arrived – so not being used yet. The workshop was therefore very timely.  And, much appreciated, although I’d only been required to attend the morning session, they asked if I could stay on and “tell/show them more!” It was a great day.  My own learning was accommodated too as we did a short iPhone App-swapping session too. Best one seen on Monday? Photofunia App: free.

I continued my work with the Albion School in Salford on Tuesday, where we are helping the teaching staff to develop their VLE.  My role, as I’m sure I’ve said before, is to increase their awareness of interactivity alongside the VLE development. As always, it was another enjoyable day.

Then my travelling really started. I was at Newcastle under Lyme College on Wednesday to deliver the first two of six almost identical workshops. Each was tailored for different audiences, but each does in fact delve into the ‘Potential for ‘m” which I have discussed before. The workshop looks at mobile and modern (Web 2.0) tools and how sound pedagogical theory an weave it’s way through their deployment.

Thursday was my hardest day. I left home at 5.50am and got back at 10.10pm. A long long day – but very enjoyable. I’d been asked to work alongside Ron Mitchell at Tower Hamlets College in east London. Now, trains to London are expensive enough but when you leave your ticket at home (doh!!) it becomes an even more expensive proposition. I’d put my outward journey tickets in a waistcoat pocket and then at the last minute, decided to change the waistcoat. Easily done. Luckily, I had my return tickets in my wallet (good job I didn’t change my trousers?) otherwise the journey would have been twice the cost. Working with Ron, and the staff at Tower Hamlets was a real pleasure. Thank you.

Then on Friday, I was at Sheffield College. This was to be my last MoLeNET presentation before the final conference in September. For the third day running the weather was fabulous and everyone seemed keen to learn about ‘m’. Once again, I came away feeling refreshed – although remained dog-tired after such a busy week.

Even Saturday was busy – but in a relaxing, pleasurable way. I met Dave Boulton (and several members of his family) and Vic Dejean, to undertake (it’s a chore – but someone has to do it) the Beer Train Trail from Stalybridge to Huddersfield. This is slightly different to the one Oz Clark and James May did on T.V. and actually takes in several of the villages that the ‘local’ train stops at. I will post the day’s reflexion shortly.

July 2010

I used to like this week. This coming week was the fun week when we chefs (and sundry hospitality bods) were able to meet other teachers employed by the college. This week was when we were expected to attend cross-college events and training. There was always another less liked week, during which we met our college colleagues, when we had to carry out enrolment etc. – but THIS week was always best. It was fun and it was often developmental in a CPD sort of way. When I first started, many moons ago, it also signalled the final week before I could wrap the family up and shoot off to France.

I still like this week – but now for different reasons.

As I’m self-employed, I can’t always guarantee when work will come my way but this week is always busy. On Monday, I am working with Kirklees College on behalf of the RSC-YH. This is odd because my old college Dewsbury, and Huddersfield (where I’m going) merged in 2008. The foundation area, which I’m visiting, seems to be run by some of my old Dewsbury Colleagues – yet my own ‘hospitality’ area at Dewsbury, closed last week: for ever.

On Tuesday I’m back in Salford where I’m helping a school to develop their VLE. I have a further two days with them the following week too. On Wednesday, I’m delivering a ‘Potential of ‘m” session for Newcastle under Lyme College. This is where I look at Mobile learning and Modern learning (with Web 2.0) and linking them both to basic (Blooms) theory. Then on Thursday I’m working with Ron Mitchell, for Frank Wall at Tower Hamlets College. I think I know what I’m doing there. Then on Friday I’m at Sheffield College delivering another ‘Potential of ‘m” workshop (x2) for their MoLeNET project.

So it’s a busy week. It doesn’t let up next week either, when I do the two days in Salford, meet a colleague in Birmingham and deliver another workshop for RSC-YH, this time in Halifax. And all this time, my brother and his partner are here visiting from Australia. He’s off to Heartbeat Country tomorrow and Wales next week – before joining Sharon and me in France for four days after I’ve delivered my final gig – in Newcastle on 20th! phew.