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Category Archives: Technology

“Sending a message” – There’s the contents and there’s the medium

Slogans or protest messages on T-shirts get stale, however funny.

Speaking of making a statement, I can’t think of a better artist who has been ‘sending a message’ than Bansky.

But when a mailman landed a gyrocopter on the Washington Mall this week it was not the message that got people’s attention, but the medium. One man in an exposed flying machine.

You know it’s creative because no one seems to be talking about the contents of the envelopes that c was supposedly carrying to the nation’s lawmakers at the Capitol. We are all focused on the delivery method, aren’t we?

Marshall McLuhan  who coined the phrase ‘the medium is the message’ must be smiling, up there. No tweets. No PR agency. No Facebook page. But a pretty powerful statement.

Note: Hughes does maintain a website, where he says

Hello – I’m Doug Hughes, a mailman, pilot and the author of this web site. In my time, I’ve delivered a lot of letters, and I’m delivering 535 letters by ‘air mail’ today – a special delivery to every member of the US Congress.

On this blog post (worth a read) he speaks of wanting to ‘change the narrative’ in Washington about whom we elect. He might succeed — if only the evening news folk will only stop talking about the potential danger of the stunt.

 

 

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Skype with a rocket scientist – Today’s STEM Talk at Salt River Elementary

It’s funny how an ‘old’ technology comes to the rescue, even in education that’s all about Ed-Tech.

I’ve used Ustream, am experimenting with Stre.am, one of the newest shiny objects for collaboration and live-streaming. WebEx is not feasible for legal reasons, which is why Skype has come to the rescue. Skype – that grandaddy of web conferencing tools– is old in Internet years! Released in 2003, it came in a different era from our one-click chat apps that are morphing into lean, mobile must-haves. It’s still a trusty, if not crusty application.

Anyway, for this ongoing series of STEM Talks, I am pleased to be able to connect my school with an eminent NASA scientist, Dr. Ashwin Vasavada. He is the lead scientist on NASA’s Curiosity Rover mission, and comes to us via the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California. For those of us with one-planet experience, know this: Ashwin participated in Galileo mission to Jupiter, and Cassini mission to Saturn.

My students have some background to Curiosity, because of robotics, and some have seen the full-scale model of this Humvee-sized robot at ASU. I’ll be curious (I know, bad pun!) to see how they engage with him.

Place: Computer & Technology Lab

Time
: 4:00 pm

Light refreshments will be served.

Check out previous STEM Talks here, and here.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2015 in Ed-Tech, Education, Technology

 

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What Arthur C Clarke foresaw, still amazes

It’s been 7 years since Arthur C. Clarke passed away. Most people remember him for the movie he is associated with: 2001: A space Odyssey, since he co-wrote the screenplay with Stanley Kubrick.

Every time I pick up one of his books I am amazed at what he envisioned. My favorite book, a heavy tome, titled “Greetings, carbon-based bipeds!” is chock-full of his essays. Take this statement:

“The breaching of the barrier between brain and machine is perhaps one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of human thought.” (Page 218) 

Notwithstanding my interest in robotics, I don’t agree entirely with him when he says “To put it bluntly and brutally, the machine is going to take over.” He probably envisioned when we humans would outsource our memory to the ‘machine’ we unthinkingly call the Cloud. Or when it would be quite OK to hold a conversation with Siri.

Arthur C. Clarke was blunt, and obstinate, but he was also very humble. He insisted that he did not “discover” the geostationary orbit. Why? Because he says, “Its theoretical existence was perfectly obvious to anyone…” (Page 443)

Today we have satellites conducting all manner of business, from espionage, to knitting together a much fragmented world.

Aren’t we glad he pointed out the latter possibility to us?

1983 photo of Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, and Arthur C Clarke.   Linked to via http://nalakagunawardene.com. Photo owned by Arthur Clarke Estate

 

Worth reproducing here a comment he made in 1974, cited in Wikipedia.Speaking of how a young person’s life would be impacted by a computer, he said:

“He will have, in his own house, not a computer as big as this, [points to nearby computer], but at least, a console through which he can talk, through his local computer and get all the information he needs, for his everyday life, like his bank statements, hisc reservations, all the information you need in the course of living in our complex modern society, this will be in a compact form in his own house … and he will take it as much for granted as we take the telephone.”

Listen to the last question about man’s “social life”. 

He didn’t foresee some of the addictions that would come with the ‘compact’ screen he anticipated.

 

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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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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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