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Category Archives: Communications

Two networks our children may never know

Networks today mean something intangible. They almost always don’t involve human intervention. But there was a time when networks functioned because of people throwing switches and pulling levers.

I ran into these when visiting the old mining town of Jerome, Arizona yesterday. Take a look at two different networks, and appreciate old tech for a moment.

This model railroad, of the adjoining town of Cottonwood where we stayed in, incorporates the school, saloon, and the ‘company town’ where miners lived.  (If you are old enough to remember Johnny Cash’s song ‘Company Store,’ this is where that sentiment began. As in “St. Peter don’t you call me cause I can’t go; I sold my soul to the company store.”)

Railroad Network

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This other network, telephones, were something else entirely. The switchboard ‘networked’ someone to another, thanks to an operator like this.Telephone Exchange

 

 
 

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Little known fact: Shel Silverstein penned Dr. Hook’s “Sylvia’s Mother”

I know of many parents who have a copy of Shel Silverstein stashed away somewhere. He was a prolific writer of books such as The Giving Tree, and tomes of books of wacky, insightful poetry such as “Where the sidewalk ends.”

I was looking up the man, and discovered that one of the anthems of the early seventies, “Sylvia’s Mother” was actually a vignette from his life. he knew the original Sylvia, and if you the words of the song resonate in your brain, you’ll know he was trying to get the ‘operator’ reminding him it would cost him “40 cents more” to stay on the line.

When was the last time you had an “operator” intervene between you and the person you were calling?

FootnoteThe Giving Tree has been ranked one of the top 100 books for children, beating several by Dr, Seuss, and even Lois Lowr (The Giver) and Roald Dahl’s books.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2016 in Book, Communications

 

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Good Apple, bad Apple: Tough call to unlock phone

Which side are you on regarding the FBI’s request that Apple unlock the phone of a killer?

I lean on the side of the agency because I would want those who protect us to have every possible lock-picking device to thwart criminal behavior. But I can see Apple’s point of not wanting to give up liberty for security, as it could tip the balance when citizens (and businesses run by citizens, never mind if they are global corporations) hand over their freedoms to the state.

Incidentally, that Ben Franklin quote, which must be resounding in your ears about how Those who would give up Liberty for safety deserve neither, is one of the best mis-quoted statements by old Ben. He actually said that “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”  (Note the qualifiers – ‘essential’ and ‘temporary.’) 

What if Apple gives up a little temporary liberty, and stop making a huge thing of this Apparently Apple has unlocked some 70 phones before, but had done it without the media baring down on it. Given that there are dozens of websites that provide back-door services, and there being ‘ethical hackers’ who could unlock phones, I’m surprised no one has offered to do it for Apple, thereby freeing them of the PR nightmare.

Perhaps the government ought to hold a hackathon and see what surfaces. After all, DARPA holds cyber-security hackathons, don’t they?

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2016 in Communications, Mobile, Technology

 

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Star Wars, a gift when teaching image manipulation, animation

For the past few weeks I’ve been having a blast (and hopefully my students too), using Star Wars as material for classes on image manipulation, and color correction whether it is in Microsoft Word or Photoshop. The latter, for instance is a forthcoming 6th grade class that will be continued this year as well.

Chewey - DesireeStudents pick their favorite Star Wars image from Google, and the fun begins.

  • They learn to copy and paste (the keyboard shortcuts as well as the right-mouse commands).
  • The learn to layer an image, and color correct it – as in the example on the right
  • They learn to delete a background color using the much-ignored ‘Set transparency Color’ tool
  • They learn how to tweak the ‘saturation’ of the image, and what that means – and says. Or how to re-color an image for a specific effect.
  • It’s a good way to introduce ‘layers’ before we get to Photoshop.

Star Wars is also helps open the door to other topics and discussions about space.

Over the past few weeks, my 5th graders are working on The Moons of Mars – a PowerPoint, specifically aimed at understanding animation paths and orbits. I’m not a big fan of PowerPoint, but it’s a great canvas on which they could understand the purpose of animation, beyond the obvious wow factor.

I am now considering using Star Wars as a backdrop for a class on Digital Storytelling. Perhaps an animated cartoon strip with voice-overs matching the speech bubbles. I can see a lot of storm trooper effects, and tricks using the lovable BB8.

 

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Start taking notes! (It’s good for your brain.)

I’ve always known that note-taking is good for you. There are plenty of stories about this, and it’s always refreshing to see research and evidence for this. Here’s Why Writing Things Out By Hand Makes You Smarter: By slowing down the process, you accelerate learning.

One theory is that introducing ‘desirable difficulties’ that challenge the user help retention. The person who introduced this idea is Robert Bjork, at the Learning Lab – interestingly called Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab.

 

Of course the best example of note-taking can be seen from the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. His notes went like this:

“Put this in the Book of useful inventions and in proving them bring forward the propositions already proved…”

Or, in what looks like a ‘note to self, Leonardo jots down this:

“And this is to be a collection without order, taken from many papers which I have copied here, hoping to arrange them later each in its place, according to the subjects of which they may treat.”

A notebook, after all is a piece of ‘technology’ designed with a simple interface. Use often. Use responsibly!

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2016 in Communications, Media, Technology

 

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Media Illiteracy prevails, and the adults aren’t off the hook

As our modes of communication grow smarter, we seem to be doing a shoddy job of using them. This is not just about the misuse of Twitter, of which dumb tweets are legion. Such as a Time correspondent firing off a tweet wishing for a drone strike on Julian Assange in 2013. This is about young people who have too powerful publishing tools at their disposal. If you like to know more, you will love this compilation!

This week, six High School students in Arizona got themselves and their school into serious trouble, using SnapChat. They got a picture of themselves taken wearing shirts that spelled out a racial slur. They learned, too late, that an app’s ability to ‘communicate’ should not define the message. (If none of them had data-enabled mobile devices would anyone have even bothered setting up the shot?).

An editorial in the Arizona Republic asked how students who have gone through a curriculum that probably included close reading and discussion of the civil war era, could have been so crass.

It’s hard to imagine these girls got this far in school without reading the ugly chapters in American history about the enslavement and oppression of Black people. Did they fail to pay attention? Did they fail to connect the dots to real people?

Let’s not get parents off the hook. How much time are we spending with young people to inform them about media use? It’s easy to be tool literate and media stupid.

Here are some thoughts for parents who may be considering giving a teenager (actually pre-teens, now) a mobile device:

  1. You pay for the phone and the data plan. You own the device; you set the rules. A phone is not like a pair of shoes, it doesn’t have to belong to the end-user.
  2. You better decide on the apps that get on the phone. Don’t complain later when a kid is spending too much time on Insta-brag or Brat-chat. I mean Instagram and Snapchat.
  3. Like your car keys, devices not owned by a child should be stored outside of bedrooms at night.
  4. It’s possible for homework assignments to be completed without digital devices. Really!
  5. Make sure your child makes every effort to not be in a video taken by a fellow insta-bragger.
  6. Finally, make sure your child’s school has a policy that has been updated to match the ubiquity and speed of shared media. It’s no longer valid to call it a ‘social media policy’. It’s a device use policy.
 

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Too Much Information? Try Pottery!

I was listening to a teacher, Ron Carlos, demonstrating pottery a few weeks back, and he was telling students on how important it is for them to stay ‘in touch with the earth’ around them. This included being aware of the natural resources they have been blessed with. Creativity, he said, takes patience, and spending time ‘tuning in’ to the material. Sometimes, he said, it’s as if the clay in his hands decides what shape it wants to be.

IMG_0565It reminded me of the craft of writing. Many authors describe how the character they give birth to, often decides where to go and what path to take. Just like wad of clay, I suppose!

How does this apply to many of us? Many of us sleep with a cellphone by our bedside, and a wi-fi-connection within a few feet no matter where we wander. No wonder it is such a challenge to find ‘think time’ and creative time. We are victims of TMI  –which is an old acronym for ‘Too Much Information’, but also an acronym for ‘Too Many Inputs.’ And we can’t honestly blame anyone for it.

In a forthcoming workshop, I am planning on bringing up this topic of how important it is to be connected, but also to often (very often) be off the grid, so to speak.

Thank God, clay does not tweet!

 
 
 
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