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Author Archives: Angelo Fernando

About Angelo Fernando

Author, business journalist, elementary school teacher, podcaster. I have been blogging since 2004, and a business and technology columnist for magazines, since 1994. Passionate about education, and media literacy.

Uncle Ben

It’s spring break for me. I’m taking time out here to talk about someone who defies everything we tend to believe about the Internet as a communications tool, and how social networks have become the quintessential (essential?) glue.

Uncle Ben just turned 78 today. You would not have seen it pop up on LinkedIn, you won’t see glowing wishes and purple prose about him on Facebook, WhatsApp, or for that matter an email thread. And yet I’m willing to bet that Uncle Ben has more friends than you. Lower-case friends, I mean.

People call on him every day to talk to him (not simply to ‘Like’ him); those who stop by his apartment don’t tale selfies with him because deep down they realize that a few hours spent together is all about him, not ‘all about me.’

When his sugar level goes up the whole world doesn’t know about it. When he’s spending a few weeks harvesting a bumper crop of beans in Bandarawela (his second home that he has freely opened out to anyone in the extended family) you don’t see close-ups of the pods in time-release photos. (Indeed they would make great Vine videos!) AS you may guess, Uncle Ben does not crave or entertain self-promotion. He’s a single man with dozens of nephews and nieces, and grand-nieces and grand nephews, and hundreds and hundreds of fans – down the street, at the market, the three-wheel taxi drivers, at the tennis clubs… I could go on.

I once attempted to show him how to use text messaging (stupid me: I thought, since most of us nephews and nieces would love to stay in touch, he would dig this). He gave up. But he loves chatting – the authentic kind of chat –and always gives us a call whether we are 30 miles away of 10,000.

As some of you know, I often write about curious or marvelous technology trends, and big shifts in how people communicate, collaborate or become more productive. Today, I am so glad Uncle Ben never reads my column, or never does any of these things. He’s the happiest guy I know, who lives entirely offline.

Happy Birthday, Uncle Ben!

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2015 in Sri Lanka

 

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Will you buy an Apple Watch to save time or eliminate ‘gaps’?

I’m not being a Luddite here when I say that the Apple Watch could be the killer app in social – as in being the thing that kills our ability to be social beings.

I’ve followed the developments of the smart watch for more than a year now, and have even talked to students and many others about it. I come at these ‘smart’ devices from this angle: Like all things in technology, whether or not we need the product of service, whether or not we approve of the trend, it’s important to stay tuned to what dimension is opens up. Technology seldom turns out to be what it started off as.

  • Facebook is less and less about making friends. It is now all about gathering and sharing data, and you are its accomplice.
  • Twitter did the classic pivot, from being a neat way to bypass the clunky Internet and stay in touch with a few, to turn into a one-to-many engine.
  • Quora (I’m not sure how many of you you still use it) began as a great community, but is also a search engine.
  • Instagram was once a terrific creative space until the selfie-obsessed discovered it

As for the Apple Watch, it opens up a new solution to the ‘stop staring at your phone’ problem. But just because it reduces the number of times someone will take a phone out of his/her pocket, it could start a whole new trend. Siri users, for instance will find it irresistible.

My comments to the story on TechCrunnch was that there’s a boon and a dark side. We hear that the best ideas are formed when we are offline.

To which I came this comment: “A big benefit of wearables is the sensors, don’t have to use it for notifications. Not that it will stop people engaging in info overload if it’s readily available.” The point is well taken, Michael Mahemoff. But I am glad you mentioned information overload.

Mind the ‘gaps’ – This is the perfect time to introduce Michael Powers (“Hamlet’s Blackberry“) who wrote extensively on this. He makes a great observation of “the gap” we need between utilitarian devices and the best uses we put them to. If you pile on screen experiences, says Powers, “there are no gaps in your connectedness (and) you never get to that place where the most valuable benefits are.”

I love the look and the convenience of a smart watch, but I don’t welcome it. I don’t think you need to be pro something and therefore against its disruptor.I adapted to an ebook reader, yet will always read and buy books made of atoms.

But just like Google Glass this is one wearable I will skip because if only because it eliminates the ‘gaps’ I am not willing to give up.

Take the poll, and let me know. Or leave a comment.

 

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Steve Jobs Vs Maria Montessori – Who Won?

I envision a debate between the late founders of two institutions that have impacted hundreds of thousands of children.

Steve Jobs is at his podium with a sleek tablet (downloading material from the Cloud, so to speak).

Maria Montessori is holding up a handful of sand-paper letters.

The debate begins, and Dr. Montessori, who doesn’t care to introduce herself, begins handing out rectangles of sand-paper, and pink blocks to anyone who cares to listen. Jobs is tap-tapping away on an iPad with retina display and fingerprint recognition.

But seriously, I have been fascinated to see how often modern educators, and people from all areas of student involvement invoke Maria Montessori today. I just came across an article by Dale Dougherty, the founder of MAKE magazine and creator of Maker Faire, among other things. He goes on to talk of her “education of the senses”

Montessori describes other exercises that encourage children to explore the sense of touch: setting out metal containers of water heated at six degree intervals; tablets made of three different woods that differ in weight by six grams; other tablets that have alternating strips of smooth paper and sandpaper.

Now you know why I was temped to compare the world’s best-known tablet promoter, and user of old-fashioned tablets!

 

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2015 in Education, Mobile, Technology

 

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Are hand-helds making kids dumber?

Besides being a technology writer, I am also the husband of a Montessori teacher, and we are truly concerned about the effect of tablets and smart phones.

My wife has taught very young children for about 27 years, and we have begun to observe disturbing real-time effects in kids for whom hand-delds have become proxy toys and baby-sitters. These screens are being outsourced by parents to take on the other aspects of parenting – stimulating thought-processes, imagination, language development etc.

Perhaps she will not say it in so many words, so as co-director of her Montessori school, I think it is time I did.

You may hate what I have to say, but for all of you young parents who start your day by giving your kid a screen at breakfast “just to keep her quiet,” or let a child ‘play’ with a smart phone on the way to school, you are damaging or impairing his/her development. This is not just our opinion. This is based on ongoing observations, and there is plenty of new research on the subject.

Pediatricians and brain researchers have been telling us for years that real life not its digital approximation is essential to neuron development. Issues such as attention, cognitive delays, and “decreased ability to self-regulation” aka tantrums, are common problems parents seem to face. Research is pointing to these being related to over-stimulation by technology. Many call for urgent ‘media diets’ with kids.

Check with your pediatrician, or do some research. Don’t just Google “toddlers and smart screens” but observe a child’s social behaviors when there are no screens, vs soon after a child has spent an hour on one.

Below is a quick summary of some of the arguments.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2015 in Education, Technology

 

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My school profiled on US Dept. of Interior website

When Sec. Sally Jewell visited our school last week, little did we know how it would figure in the grander scheme of things. It was much more than a simple ‘air drop’ of a dignitary.

Turned out it was to kick off something bigger – a Listening Tour, of Native youth.

Yesterday we noticed that apart from the previous media coverage of this visit, the folks managing the communication for Secretary Jewell’s department had featured a lot of great shots of her engaging with our students. Two of the students featured are potential podcasters in my class on audio. Three are in robotics.

Here’s the video:

And below are some of my pictures taken at the event – also covered here on this blog.

This, taken in my class. Student Council president and robotics student explains how they approach a mission, program and document their work.

More pictures from my class blog, here

We often complain that government is tone deaf to much of what goes on in our communities.Speaking to Sec. Jewell, I could tell that this was much more than a token visit so as to report to the boss she’s been on the road.

We spoke of science. A lot! I mentioned that in the midst of so many changes in education, government seems to be not doing enough to promote science and technology.I mentioned that the State of the Union this year barely touched on STEM, despite Obama’s otherwise talking the talk on why we need more investment and more STEM teachers in science in schools. She was a good listener.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2015 in Education, Events, Robotics

 

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War of the Worlds, fought in Zeros and Ones

Cyber War is a hot topic once again. It has been covered by the BBC (“Silent War’), and even by TR (Russia Today) which cites Edward Snowden, and Defon. Also CNN, has covered it –scary CNN style!– about attacks on individuals via social media.

Last month, I was asked to cover this topic for an upcoming special feature in LMD Magazine. I found out some disturbing activities, and reality-checks that the public doesn’t seem concerned about. After all, we are busy worrying about how corporations’ databases are being attacked, and personal information stolen, because that’s what the popular news networks latch onto.

“But make no mistake: America is under attack by digital bombs,” noted Senator Michael McCaul last year when calling for cybersecurity legislation.

In his book “@War: The rise of the military-internet complex.” Shane Harris gives us one example of how governments fight a War of the Worlds scenario. The Chinese have been hacking sensitive US databases for some time, but in one such attack, the government initially withheld this information. Possibly so as not to tip-off the Chinese hackers, he says.

This was a de-facto military assault on a military target. And the target? The design plans for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet in 2007, the so-called ‘fighter to end all fighters,’ that had a price tag of $400 million. It’s well reported today that more than 100 of the world’s militaries indulge in some sort of cyber war tactics. For more on this see Peter Singer’s excellent article in Popular Science.

For this article I interviewed Cornel Ruston, a Sri Lankan-born, California-based network security consultant, who talks about how why all organizations, not just government agencies need to protect their ‘crown jewels’.

The problem is, despite all the fancy communication technologies in our arsenal, we have become sluggish, in the way we communicate with all those who might help thwart cyber war-styled attacks. We tend to put more emphasis on the locks instead. But for every lock, there are a hundred lock-pickers.

If you like a sneak preview of the article, it will be released on Feb 26th.

 

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Visit by US Secretary of Interior to my class

Exciting morning yesterday with the visit of Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewell to our school.

Sec. Jewell was kicking off to the Obama administration’s ‘Listening Tour’ in Arizona, visiting Native American schools and communities. She devoted a good part of her talk to stress the importance of science, in the four STEM areas. “I am the ‘E’ in STEM,” she said.

As part of her tour she stopped by my class to hear about the robotics program.

One of my students in robotics, who happens to be the president of the student council, explained our program and research projects.

Some media coverage, below.

 

Cronkite News, ASU

KJZZ Story – Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Begins Native Youth Listening

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2015 in Arizona, Education, Robotics

 

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