Monday, August 18, 2008

5 Questions before starting any new Project

Wrote these while sitting in a meeting. I have asked these same 5 questions many times before when talking with clients.

  • Who is the Audience?
  • What is the purpose?
  • What is the expected outcome? (Visualize and describe what the end looks like)
  • Who does the work?
  • What is the cost (people and money)?

I am sure there are more, but these 5 always work for me.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Posting and it's aftermath

The other day, I saw an instance where the responses to an article where much more interesting than the article itself, and in a way, were hopelessly intertwined.

Responses to "IT is boring say graduates" is custom made to generate traffic on a site like slashdot, or many in IT a daily read. And it certainly did.

First -- the study itself queried 2000 non-IT curriculum students in the UK for their views on job propects, funding and job satisfaction (or perhaps, "fun"). Only 60% said that they wouldn't go into IT because it would be boring.

What was astonishing for me was the vast similarity in responses -- essentially -- that yes, IT (and work in general for many) is boring -- and those young no-nothings better get down with that fact!

First off -- there are many questions to be asked about the data collection itself. That may not sound interesting -- but the story of the data can be quite revealing. Which students? Which colleges and curriculum (2000 students in theatre arts?).

The article was superficial, great headline and little substance. Custom-made for the soundbite delivery of Slashdot, and it's readers. There were some good responses, and of course the usual digressions on to things like capitalism and quality of life.

I think it is a dumb thing to ask this question. The idea of IT as a department will possibly evaporate in the next few years for some folks. There will be layers on layers instead. Certainly we see that now. Customization becomes the rule, not the option.

The idea of a boring job -- wow. I think that there needs to be engagement by the individual, or time is wasted (and we have a finite amount). I recognize the artistry of coding. I see the architecture and it makes me think. To be able to see profundity in everyday things is a valuable thing. I think some of the folks I work with are artists - not in the hokey "cybercowboy art" -- but in the very real classic sense, making objects that have deep meaning and are readily apparent. Good code is like this.

I have more questions than answers for this little bit of fluff of an article. I couldn't spend as much time on the comments as I would have liked, but the negativism I saw may have more to do with expectations and disappointment than what could be possible.

Gates Rant Shows He Gets It

We want to believe that Bill Gates is some sort of clueless nerd past his prime (ie "The Road Ahead"), but occasionally he gets it.

Read this rant
and see what happens when Bill Gates tries to install MovieMaker.

By the way, did you know there are two versions of MovieMaker for Vista?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The upcoming HD revolution

Tracking the cost of HD cameras has been a sideline as of late. I am finally in the market, and prices continue to plummet. As I mentioned in my other blog, there is the $200.00 Aiptek A-HD, which with all it's flaws, does indeed shoot HD video.

I think about this because I feel a sense of deja vu. "It's not professional" I heard someone pronounce the other day about a consumer HD camera. Professional Videographers avoided YouTube until it became apparent that they would be edged out by the great, unwashed masses.

I am quite excited by this trend. Watch this music video, which was shot entirely with a Sanyo HD1000.

There are problems to be sure -- chromakeying is more difficult with the type of encoding that is done on these cameras. There may be problems with using software based image stabilization, particularly at 30fps. I can say, despite popular wisdom, that I have managed to get acceptable chromakeys with DV footage. Sure -- I would love to shoot on more expensive formats that have a better colorspace. But it indeed possible. I can even mimic the color look of particular film stock with a $200 piece of software and a little elbow grease.

This stuff puts "close to film" in the sub-$1k region. Let others get excited by the upcoming RED Scarlet. I think the revolution is happening right now.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why Digital Monkeys Don't Get Books

Waiting to get into a session at the Apple Developer's conference, I heard the group in front of me talking about "full text search" in video, and how it would revolutionize *everything*. I can't imagine that they had seen a Virage demo from a few years back (their heads would explode most likely).

One pronounced: "Books will be dead in 10 years!".

I rolled my eyes.

He went on. "I took a class on publication, and loved goading the class! They didn't get it! Books are dead! You can't do full text search!"

Another chimed in: "Yeah, I had a friend that took a course with an open book final exam. He had the digital version of the book, so he was able to finish it in half of the time of everyone else in the class!"

Hoo boy. I would not hire that guy to build a bridge. Searching does not replace deep understanding of content.

I stepped in at this point. "Have you read any Tufte?" There was a blank look.

"He talks about information design. His content is in a book. It will never be digital, because digital is a poor representation of his work. It demands high resolution, and a specific layout that digital does poorly."

"Hmmmm, well....haven't you seen DIGITAL PAPER?"

"Yes, I have. It is a compromised experience. You trade off a rich experience and high resolution for search ability and portability. Two page layouts (image one page, text on the other) are removed. You don't get full color plates. The user experience of books is effectively destroyed."


"Imagine a map that fills a wall. A digital, zoomable version is a distinctly different experience. One is not necessarily better than another. One immerses you senses in a panoramic data representation that exposes relationships that may be masked in a lower resolution digital version. But the digital version allows for a different, but as valuable experience."

I forget the rest of my rant. I doubt I made an impression -- I probably came across as a gray-haired luddite. This is a shame, because here at WWDC I see the usual trap that a generation falls into (and I have fallen into myself). The dominant technlogy tends to inform all things -- remediation (aka bolter et al). It prevents people from seeing the compromises that exist in adoption -- the things that are left out. It prevents people from seeing beyond what is in front of them. These people will be temporal innovators - better software.....but will never make that dramatic leap to the next great thing. We have to forget what we know now when looking at what came before, what was compelling about it, what was left behind in the compromise to adapt "old media" to the shiny new. Books and digital representation of text are quite different things. They only have text and images in common -- the user experience can be aped in technology -- but in the transition it becomes a different thing -- again -- not necessarily better or worse -- different. Too many times we think in either/or.

I write this as I sit here in a session on Podcast Producer at WWDC, and as I look at the audience, I wonder who here thinks about this as I do, and how many cannot make the connection between the books on their shelf, and the text in a web page.

I hope we learn from the past.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Oh, Surprise -- Just Giving out $100 laptops doesn't help learning

I broke my promise -- at least I am not using the O**C word.

Curriculum design and parental involvement doesn't get you on slashdot. Giving out cheap laptops does.

Ho Hum.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

OLPC - More Hardware

New hardware, but same old plan.

This is the last time I will write about the OLPC for a while. I have to stop.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Whither OLPC

I haven't been keeping up with the little green laptop for a bit, with the flood of inexpensive (but not as cheap as the OLPC) laptops hitting the market. Machines like the eePC from Asus are not as clever in their design as the OLPC, but I think they may be much more desirable in the end, due to amenities such as faster processors and ram, and a user interface that are more like things people are used to.

This announcment that Walter Bender, one of the mainstays in the OLPC project has left -- because of the OLPC's move to Windows XP........exactly what many potential customers for the OLPC have been asking for.

I have picked on the OLPC project before. I think it is wrong-headed to get into the laptop business to begin with. True to form, the price point for entry level laptops is dropping just as happened with other consumer electronics. It is not driven by educational need but by the market, but education can directly benefit.

Maybe they can be focused on making their OS work on as many different devices as is possible. The world needs a nice, lightweight OS that has modern features, but can run on 5 - 10 year old hardware. I have run across old PII 233 mhz laptops for less than $50.00. That would be a great candidate for the OLPC OS, and would keep one more laptop out of a landfill.

As far as the grand theory of constructivist thinking driving OLPC -- perhaps the OS is the wrong place to start. Conceptually, having an OS that the end user can modify is interesting, but in the k-12 market, with strained resources and little time for training, it makes more sense to leverage what people already know, and let the technology act as a tool to expand on that knowledge. It is ultimately a myopic vision of the technorati to focus on open source philosophy at the expense of what the user needs. And, as past postings will bear me out, I fully support open source. But I care less about the underpinnings than the experience and opportunities that the technology affords me.

Why not spend time developing a simple programming environment that can run on top of any OS, and lets students create their own applications (even better, make it an interpretive language like Ruby, where the apps are web apps, and can run anywhere). Use OLPC's mesh networking, throw some multidisciplinary curriculum behind it (programming/design visual + motion/interaction/literacy/writing/math/science/etc) and some well designed curriculum and learning tools (good books, digital learning objects, good examples to copy and modify) that teachers can use to make use of this stuff. This is much less glamorous than building a cool green laptop, but will have much wider and longer impact.

Okay, it will be interesting to see where the OLPC project will be a year from now. I wish the project well. I like the discussion it has generated. I still think there is a lot of potential, but maybe not making laptops. Let others do that. Unlike the OLPC laptops, these new, small, inexpensive laptops will be devices that you and I will want to own and use daily, but the good news is that a 12 year old in kenya will want one too, for pretty much the same reasons.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008 takes a big step into academia

I am constantly surprised by what is available at For myself, it's a fantastic junk-bin of media, with a fair amount of it in the public domain. I have used many bits and pieces of content from in my own projects.

This announcement could be something important for academia. Zotero and have announced an alliance to allow academic papers, research, media to be searchable in ways useful for other's research. This includes, of course, the idea of metatagging etc, but also includes the ability to convert scanned documents into text via server-based OCR. Someone submits scanned documents, the server ingests them, and gives back searchable text. I am not certain as to accuracy of the conversions -- it may be low for damaged documents -- but I would guess there is a way to correct mistakes after the conversion. It is certainly better than nothing.

The plan has quite a scope. I just looked at Zotero, and it is quite nice. I have been using delicious bookmarks to handle tagging web content for research, but it appears to me that Zotero may be much better. I use the delicious bookmarks manager extension for Firefox, and Zotero is an extension as well. How convenient! I am installing it right now -- in fact, have to quit my browser to load it. That is enough for now then.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Second Life is Hype

Although I have a Second Life account, I rarely use it (I am Unh Oh in Second Life). To be honest, I have been quite underwhelmed with education's embrace of Second Life. Most of it consists of "virtual classrooms", unfinished experiments, or things that people won't really use on a regular basis, because Second Life as a whole can be sluggish, it requires specific thought to install and run (I have to go to my computer, open second life, log in, wait) -- it doesn't sound like a hassle, but given other lower-threshold tools at my disposal for communicating -- it is simply too much of a time drain.

I can (and will) write quite a bit about Second Life in the next couple of months, for it illustrates well some of the problems we face when trying to fit analog space into digital space. Assumptions about hierarchy. Assumptions about economy.

This MarketPlace story illustrates one of these critical points -- that it appears that companies are beginning to pull out of Second Life, after the gold rush. As one person succinctly puts it:

"Second Life is a world in which you can fly just as easily as you can walk. Maybe the idea of building a store doesn't make much sense."

I will extend that argument to educational institutions. Assumptions about hierarchies, how economies can work, gender roles, cultural assumptions, power structure. Wow. It is like a mirror at times that illustrates the flaws in these assumptions. It is a magnifying glass that illustrates some fundamental, underlying, bad assumptions about the role of technology in education.

I think (but have no evidence) that Second Life's population numbers are grossly inflated. I believe that not there are not that many people who use it regularly, compared to much broader services -- including myspace, youtube and facebook. It may not seem fair to compare these -- they are different things indeed -- but the cost of time -- what can I do in the next 3o minutes - I can wander around Second Life, or a I can create a blog post, update my Facebook account, check my email. It is an easy decision. One is a big blob, takes a while to load, and can take time to do stuff -- the other things -- specific, task driven, efficient.

All of this illustrates some bigger lessons about digital learning. I believe that we are seeing in Second Life can definitely be applied to LMS systems (WebCT/Blackboard, Moodle, etc). But more on this later.