The Next Wave of Classroom Technology

The following feature article was written for Waldorf’s “The Torch” quarterly magazine.  See the original article here!

We are living in very an unique time. It is a time where teenagers carry smartphones, college students live on their laptops, and jobs are centered around email, texting, and video conferencing.  For those who are behind or feel it is too hard to learn now – the world around them seems to be evolving faster than ever… and IT IS.

Graduating college just over 2 years ago, I was on the cusp of what is now somewhat of a technological revolution.  Since 2008, the adoption of smartphones has more than doubled for adults to an impressive 35% – and that number continues to grow.  A study by Pew Research Centers puts 18-24 year olds at an astonishing 49% using smartphones, and 58% of 25-34 year olds. So what does that mean? Nearly half of all college-aged students are carrying a smartphone – and it’s effecting how they learn. Continue reading “The Next Wave of Classroom Technology”

Review: Kurt Cobain’s Graphic Novel meets the Digital Realm (iPad App)

The iPad, for me, is a web browser, a productivity tool, and a way to consume visual media.  When I was tasked with checking out “Kurt Cobain: The Graphic Novel,” I was skeptical as to how it would fit into my typical iPad use – but I’m glad I gave it a try.

Downloading the app (available here) was a fairly painless process, although it does take a little time, even over wifi, due to the applications size.  The App Store requests the user to be 17+ in order to download, as the novel does contain some “R” rated (violence, drug use, sex, depicted suicide) content.  The $5.99 price tag was also relatively easy enough to swallow, especially for a Nirvana fan or comic book enthusiast.  The story takes you through the life, fame, and death of Cobain, in a unique and extremely visual 84 pages.

Overview: At first launch of the novel, you’re greeted with a comic book illustration of Cobain, with angel wings, on his knees crying, which very quickly establishes that this is the digital version of “Godspeed” – the print version of the Kurt Cobain graphic novel.  The home screen is optimized for both landscape and portrait viewing modes, but that doesn’t extend to the pages of the novel.  From the home screen, you can jump right into the comic, although there are a few other options (intro, help, about, etc).  There is also a light guitar riff that plays on the menu.  Enjoy it, because it’s the only sound included in the app. Clicking “enter” springs the comic open, and you’re immediately swept into the comic’s artwork by Flameboy.

To me, this feels like a real comic book, and, in my opinion, it is a truly brilliant use of the iPad’s screen.  They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, and this graphic novel holds true to that.  The art work is dark, detailed, and tell most of the story by it’s self.  A simple double tap of the screen on any of the tiles will bring it full screen, and from there, users can swipe left or right to read it frame by frame.  This feature makes the digital version stand out over the print version and really improves the experience as a reader.


Verdict: Reading the novel, to me, almost felt like I was watching it on TV.  I found myself getting somewhat lost in my own imagination as I slid from one image to the next.  A soundtrackto the novel would have made it truly interactive, although the experience can be enhanced further by loading your iPad music library up with a handful of Nirvana tracks, and letting the music help set the mood of the graphic novel.

Comics and graphic novels are definitely a market that can utilize the iPad as a tool to further their reach, and “Kurt Cobain: The Graphic Novel” is a prime example.  If you’re into Nirvana/Kurt Cobain, or know someone who would really enjoy a digital comic, I recommend you check it out in the App Store… it’s worth it!

Rating: I would say that “Kurt Cobain: The Graphic Novel” is a 3.5 out of 5.

Pros:

  • Illustration Quality
  • Frame by frame content viewing
  • Like reading a ink and paper comic book

Cons:

  • Lack of audio content
  • Lack of true landscape version
This review was written by me, as a guest writer for Mactrast.com

Check out the original post HERE!!

1955-2011

In the passing of Steve Jobs, I felt it appropriate to dedicate the home page to Steve’s genius and different thinking.  I also wanted to share a handful of quotes that I feel can apply to many things in life.

“Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.”

 

“We’re just enthusiastic about what we do.”

 

“Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything.… one is very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career…. …Apple’s been very fortunate it’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world”

 

“We’ve never worried about numbers. In the market place, Apple is trying to focus the spotlight on products, because products really make a difference. […] Ad campaigns are necessary for competition; IBM’s ads are everywhere. But good PR educates people; that’s all it is. You can’t con people in this business. The products speak for themselves.”

 

“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

 

“The most compelling reason for most people to buy a computer for the home will be to link it into a nationwide communications network. We’re just in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for most people–as remarkable as the telephone.”

 

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

 

“Picasso had a saying: ‘Good artists copy, great artists steal.’ We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas…I think part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians, poets, artists, zoologists and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world.”

 

“[Y]ou can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

 

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

 

“I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. Humans came in with a rather unimpressive showing about a third of the way down the list….That didn’t look so good, but then someone at Scientific American had the insight to test the efficiency of lomotion for a man on a bicycle and a man on a bicycle blew the condor away. That’s what a computer is to me: the computer is the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with. It’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.”

 

“But there is one more thing…..”

 

“… Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

Steve Jobs: Think Different

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.

They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo.
You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things. They push the human race forward.

And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world,
are the ones who do. – Steve Jobs, Former CEO & Founder, Apple Inc.

New Trends in Web Design…

The web is a constantly changing place, and the way we view websites and perceive “good vs bad” webpages has a lot to do with what is popular at a certain time, and what the abilities of the designer are/were at that time.  In today’s Web 2.0 world, with sites like wordpress, blogger, youtube, and a gamut of social networks, we are used to interacting with the web in a certain way.  Here are a few trends (for now) that make a site more visually appealing and user friendly.

Minimalism

Simplicity, lack of clutter, and precision… all words that describe what has been a fairly consistent trend in web design.  When designing, using empty space and allow it to frame your message – creating a more precise communication of the content that is most important.  When aiming for minimalism, I would suggest using a grid system—but keep in mind that designers have mixed opinions about this approach. Without a grid, though, there is a danger that what you produce will appear disorganized and incomplete.

Typography

A variety of type faces have been around for quite some time, and today designers are using it as a primary tool of innovation. Until recently, many web designers used a strict set web-safe fonts (Times New Roman, Helvetica, Arial). But with the growing numbers of tools and applications, typography has become a primary design element in its own right. The demand for larger and more exciting fonts is rapidly increasing, and these fonts are replacing the old system fonts as designers play with new techniques, styles, and sizes. Tools such as WhatTheFont, CSS Typeset and Typetester have helped designers be more creative and allow for different typeface to be used across the web.

 

Smashing Magazine on Textured Backgrounds

Textured Backgrounds

Literally everything I’ve seen lately has explored and implemented this in some form of another.  There is always some type of grain, noise, stitching, or other texture that subtly appears in the background of sites.  You many not fully notice it, but it’s back there, and there are a few things to know about using it…The visual experience of the audience increases exponentially if the background is aesthetically pleasing and precise. The points to focus on are simplicity of design and the illusion of textures to create depth and dimension on the page. Nothing too excessive, and nothing to transparent.  Test and retest until you find that perfect fit.

These are just a few trends that are currently popular… to see more, check out the links below and try different things to make your site unique and hip.

Web Design Shock

Active Web Group

Web Design Tuts+

Web Design Ledger

OSx 10.7 Lion

So I know it’s like a month out of date, but I just finally got Lion installed on my macbook.  I love it. I’ll touch on a few of the big features, and how I feel they will impact work.

The 1st things I noticed was Mission Control. I had just started trying to utilize spaces, but couldn’t justify using them because they weren’t convenient to get to. With mission control, using a simple multitouch gesture makes it fast and simple to see all the spaces and choose which space to put which applications in. I also like having the dock available at the bottom, so if I were to need to open a specific application in a specific space, it is simple to do so. Launch Pad was the 2nd big thing I noticed, which give a very iOS feel to desktop computing. When you open launch pad, all the applications on the computer are aligned in a large format grid on the screen. It seemed really neat at first, but for me, I prefer the dock at the bottom. It’s what I’ve gotten used to and I have all the major apps I use right there. In experimenting with these features, I did stumble across the multitouch gestures that activate each feature. It’s smooth to use, and it makes for a very fluid transition between my iMac and my Macbook Pro (assuming you use the Magic TrackPad for your desktop mac). A few other multitouch gestures I discovered: go back or forward in safari with a 3 finger swipe left/right, slide between spaces/dashboard with a 4 finger left/right swipe, easy pinch and zoom in safari and several other apps with 2 finger pinch/spread.

The redesigned Mail app was my next stop on the exploration of Lion. I have to say, the update is very nice and adds a certain iOS-ness to the application. The conversation viewing is also very nice, although there seem to be a few strings of emails that don’t work correctly. My assumption is that if someone were using Mail on a mac, and emailing me, it would look very similar to a threaded text conversation (like on an iPhone, Android, newer BB, and others). This makes reading past emails much smoother and easier. I’m not a big email search person, but the new search feature works very slick also. Another thing I noticed in Safari and Mail (works in other applications also) is that when typing, Lion will automatically drop suggested word(s) under what you are typing if you hesitate for a few seconds – akin to typing an email or text in iOS. It also has a form of auto-correct (DAMN YOU!) that will correct some words and simple type-os. I have yet to experience an incident like with iOS, where it creates a totally bogus sentence, though.

The final “big” feature that I was initially unimpressed by was Air Drop. When I followed the keynote presentation at WWDC, and even when I initially installed Lion on my MacBook I thought it seemed silly and impractical. When I installed it onto my iMac, however, it became apparent that it was a very convenient tool. Here’s a practical application:

Students have gathered in our multimedia lab, each on 1 of 12 iMacs. The instructor has a folder of files for the days exercise on her iMac at the front of the room. In the past, students had to log into a server, navigate to a folder, download the file to their computer, and then remember to disconnect from the server before class was over. Now the instructor can simple open up the Air Drop, and with a simple drag and drop, each student can receive the file from the instructor without having to connect to any server. It’s fast, simple, and wireless. And to make it even better, a student who is on their MacBook or MacBook Pro in the classroom can also receive the file. A simple drag and drop is all it takes.

There are several other “big” changes to Lion (full screen applications, for example) that are fun and impressive, but are not features that I’ve found I need or utilize at this point. So far everything seems clean and works well… It’s the OS Lion GM release, so I will update after the official release is made if there are any other big changes. Speak your thoughts in the comments below!

Final Cut Pro X

So last week I downloaded FCP X for our computers in the multimedia lab. Like most post-production people out there, I had my doubts and concerns about what exactly Apple was doing. My initial impression, FCP X is a glorified version of iMovie (the new one – the one that can’t really do anything). There was a time 6 or so years ago when iMovie was a reasonable program. There was a lot you couldn’t do, but there was a certain level of professionalism that I admired. Then iMovie ’08 (version 7) hit, and it was a complete change. I could no longer stand to use it, which was fortunate, because I had spent the previous 4 years learning how to edit in Final Cut. Final Cut was it, the software that had all the features I could ever need (save for “3D” depth & motion graphics – later to arrive in Motion & in my learning of After Effects). I have been editing with Final Cut now for 8+ years and with the release of FCP X, I had big concerns.

This redesign is a joke, if you ask me. Where did all the ease of Final Cut go. I feel like Apple tried to make it more “simplified” for the users, encouraging more people to get into video and fill in that prosumer gap in the video production market – but why take the trusted Final Cut Pro line and kill it off? Is this really the end of Final Cut as a professional level editor? Will Apple realize the mistake they’ve made, and retitle this to iMovie Pro (as I’ve seen kicked around on the web)? Or will this be an offspring of the Final Cut line, perhaps the new Final Cut Express? I certainly hope Apple does something, because there is an entire market that depends on their video editing software, and I can’t imagine anyone taking me seriously if I were applying for a post-production job and I were to say “I’m proficient in Final Cut Pro X, hire me!” It seems a little like applying for a babysitting job saying “I’m great with kids! I had a pet gold fish for 3 weeks!”

If Apple wants to compete, something needs to change. I’m not about to switch to Windows to use Premier (although from what I’ve seen, the newest version isn’t awful)… and unless something major has changed lately, Avid doesn’t seem like a good option… I guess I’ll just stick to FCP 7, and hope that Apple comes to their senses and makes things right for us all!

Maybe you disagree? Hit the comments below to share your thoughts!

Reformat

I’m on day 2 of completely reformatting and reinstalling software on the computers in our lab at Waldorf. I’m on my final computer, and tomorrow get to move to a new room and continue doing the same for 3 more computers. And it has led me to a few things I’m excited for….

-OSx Lion – hopefully a nice smooth transition

-Software that isn’t disc based – installing from files on a server is handy

-A way to move computer settings from machine to machine to ultimately save me 3-5 minutes per computer.

I also got the privilege to choose the new computer theme for the lab… 3 years ago, the lab was changed from each machine being names after 1 of the 12 apostles to 12 different Dr. Suess characters. This year, I chose something near and dear to my heart…. Star Wars. Each machine is named after a planet in the Star Wars solar system. The instructors computer – the Death Star. My laptop will also be receiving a name to coincide with the theme – Naboo.

Mobile uncertainty…

I’m not sure why, but for the last week or so, I’ve been very torn about what mobile phone I prefer.

2 years ago, I signed up for AT&T and picked up this joke of a phone – the Pantec Slate

(please take a moment to laugh at it’s beauty – or lack there-of…  about 5 months later, my wife (fiance at the time) and I decided we should be on a phone plan together – ditching her parents contract, her LG chocolate, and Verizon – to get on AT&T with me… we scored a deal with the AT&T rep that got us each iPhone 3G’s, and I was on to a smarter, better phone.

Being the Apple fanatic I am, it was perfect… it looked right at home with my macbook, cinema display, and my lifestyle… It was awesome!

6 more months pass, and we relocate to norther Iowa… and not much to my surprise, AT&T has

terrible coverage in the area… so terrible, in fact, that they inform me that my “Off Network” usage is too hight, and that they will disable my ability to access the internet with my iPhone unless I’m on AT&T’s network – and I still get to pay the $30/month/line to have data… That wasn’t cool with me… so I talk to a rep, he says we can get out of our contract without the termination fee!  I say “Deal” and I start looking for a new carrier…. Big Red.

Verizon doesn’t carry the iPhone at this point (early 2010) – so I weigh the options and choose the original Moto Droid – “The brick” if you will” – for my wife and I… and we HATE it.

I find a deal through work where I can buy a slightly used (read: Practically new) BlackBerry Tour – and I bite… and I love it… something about the lack of excess on it is just perfect… and that keyboard – RIM deserves a medal for their keyboard, it’s phenomenal – and I rock that for almost a year…

Then Verizon picks up the iPhone 4 – and of course, I do what I do best – I get the techy toy and I bask in the glory that is another new Apple product – and one that matches my iPad and Macbook – I have the full set!

 

But it’s been about 5 months since I got my iPhone back, and I’m starting to miss my Tour… what about BlackBerry makes it so appealing… why am I so tempted to pop into the Verizon store and have them swap devices?  I just don’t get it… it doesn’t seem right…

 

What to do… with iOS 5 coming, I’m gonna stick to my guns and hang on to the iPhone… who knows, maybe the iPhone 4S/5 will seal it.

 

[images: property of cnet.com & thetechjornal.com – via google images]

Square

So I recently read about Square. You know, the little credit card reader that plugs into the headphone jack of your iPhone or iPad. It’s a great idea – and I started thinking…..

Being from a small town, I don’t go to half the places around because they only take cash or check.  Cash is a pain – if I have it, it’s gone right away… I feel like it’s ok to spend cause I know I can’t overdraft and I’d never pay my bills with it.  Checks suck cause you write a check and a week later (if you’re lucky) it comes out of your account – and during that time, you want to be sure you factor for it in your balance… Obviously card is the way to go – and Square is a step towards the future… Small towns need this. For $500, you can buy an iPad – you get the square for free and pay almost nothing for each transaction – and now all the mom-and-pop businesses can start taking card.

To add to this, Square is starting to introduce Card Case – think of it as having a store credit card for everywhere you love to go… only without the ridiculous fees and all the obnoxious emails & “special offers.”  It’s a way to link your bank account to your profile, and for a store/shop to charge your profile with your consent.  You don’t even have to touch your wallet.

I had heard rumors of Near Field Communications (NFC) – which is a way to swipe your mobile device and have it contain your bank/credit information to be charged.  It involved extra sensors and the risk of losing your phone and someone having your phone and all your money at their fingertips.  Card Case seems like a much safer, more logical spin on it. Those folks over at Square have their stuff figured out.  And how can you not like them, Jack Dorsey (one of the founders of Twitter) started it.

Now if only there was a way to work for Square as a marketing person… I’d be killer at that.

Check out Square!

Let me know what you think!