Thursday, July 23, 2009

Take a Number...

Image: 'Happiness Queue' -

So, a couple of weeks ago, I tossed a tweet out on Twitter about how happy I was to have successfully set up a wireless router at the lake. Little did I know, the novelty would wear off way faster than I had anticipated, almost to the point that I wish we still weren't connected while spending time at the cottage.

First, a little context. The cottage is a log cabin located in Siglavik, which is a series of dredged channels along the shores of Lake Winnipeg, just south of Gimli, Manitoba. Siglavik is a little slice of paradise, less than an hour away from my doorstep in Winnipeg, yet it feels so incredibly remote. While spending time at the cottage, it's so easy to forget about the commitments and the responsibilities that await your return in the big city. We go for boat rides, we kayak, ride our bikes into the town of Gimli, walk along the beach, golf a little - life at the lake is far from roughing it. Check it out for yourself - it's a really unique location:

View Larger Map

Up until this year, the only thing I thought we were lacking to complete the experience was the internet... boy, was I wrong! Yeah, it's great to be able to Skype with friends and family who are far away. I love the power of being able to access Google to find out what kind of bird has built it's nest in our yard. And having the opportunity to share photos of this location with my online network is very powerful, indeed.

But it comes with a price - the downfall of being connected. When there's easy access to the internet, you feel compelled to check your e-mail several times a day. You find reasons to open up your laptop or pull out your iTouch on a regular basis. Being connected takes away that remoteness that used to go hand in hand with coming out to the lake.

And it's not just me who feels this. The thing that I've noticed above all others is just how much EVERYONE has come to value the ability to stay connected. My wife has spent more time online in the last two weeks than she did in the last two months - just because she can... My mother-in-law's been surfing YouTube for days, viewing and sharing all kinds of questionable content. My father-in-law's been monitoring weather forecasts several times an hour and reporting the updates in real-time. What ever happened to looking out the window or stepping outside to find out what the weather's like?

It's almost gotten to the point where I can't even get my hands onto a computer because everyone else has too many technology related things to do. All of a sudden, I'm not the only geek in the room ;-)

I've gotta take a number just to get a turn on my own computer...

I've come to the conclusion that life at the lake should always be


Friday, July 10, 2009

Building a Sharper Image

In my role as a technology coordinator, I've been asked to provide some input regarding the next 'image' that's prepared to roll out onto over 1000 Apple MacBook laptops across our division. My recommendations could seriously impact the tools and resources that are readily available to over 500 teachers and thousands of students.

Obviously, we'll include a wide variety of licensed software on these machines. But, in addition to the basics, I'd love to include a wide variety of open-source software so that our users can hone there skills more effectively.

Here's a partial list (in alphabetical order) of some open source apps that I'd love to see available to all teachers and students. While many of these apps can be included easily, a couple of them are in beta (or private beta), so some considerations need to be made before going ahead and installing them onto a slew of machines...

After glancing at this list, what other open source titles would you include? I'd love some more feedback from my network on this one ;-)

An amazing cross platform video game design application that allows users to upload, share and edit all levels that are created...

A no-frills audio editing and recording application which makes it very easy to produce audio podcasts...

A great photo editing application that can introduce students to layers, masks and other powerful image editing tools...

Instantly take your students on virtual field trips anywhere in the world for free - without having to deal with permission slips - what more could you ask for?

A simple to use physics engine where students can dabble with creating objects and solving complex problems...

A simple programming language developed by Mitch Resnick at MIT - introduces students to action scripts and allows uploading and sharing of files...

A comprehensive 3D design environment that allows users to create models to scale - features an online object warehouse so that objects/models can be easily shared...

A great little application for annotating or marking up photos - also makes it very simple to crop and resize image files...

An amazing application that allows you to freely and instantly connect with anyone, anywhere in the world...

SMART Notebook 10
An object oriented application that is used to create interactive lessons and activities for use with SMART interactive whiteboards. Why not encourage students to create and share their own Notebook files?

A very cool application for viewing constellations in great detail - allows zooming, searching, and even enables users to manipulate the passage of time to track the paths of orbiting planets...

A great little media player that handles some video formats that Quicktime may not like very much...

Preserving Oral Traditions

If a picture could talk, what would it say?

We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words. But no matter how well a picture captures a scene and a snapshot preserves a moment in time, there's no way that a picture can tell the whole story. The picture above conveys a message, but it can't tell you that it is quite content living in a garden that's lovingly maintained by a 90 year old gardener and that it's surrounded by equally beautiful flowers and produce...

In this day and age, we're bombarded by media from many sources. While I love the instant access to this visual and auditory media, I find that it's actually contributing to a loss of our oral traditions. We rely too heavily on a picture to tell the whole story and we leave out too many of the details.

More and more these days, I've recognized the need to preserve our oral traditions. We still need to be story-tellers first and foremost. Because pictures can't always speak for themselves.

I'm currently visiting family in Southern Ontario. While I'm here, I get to spend time with all four of my grandparents, each of whom are entering their 10th decade of life. I'm also spending lots of time at the other end of the spectrum with my two year old nephew. One of the things that's really struck me throughout the last couple of days is the ability that some people have to weave their webs through stories. To add value and meaning to their stories through the subtle little nuances of their speech and to embellish their stories with actions and artifacts.

I've got my camera with me but, to be honest, I haven't pulled it out as often as I thought I would. I've also got my Flip Mino HD in the bag, but it, too, has remained in the bag more often than not. While I really wish to capture and preserve all of the stories I'm privy to out here, nothing can really bring any of these stories to life as well as taking them in firsthand.

In order to preserve our oral traditions, we don't need to do away with all of the media. We just have to find better ways of merging it with our stories. Tools like VoiceThread are amazing for this purpose, providing you with ample opportunity to add more meaning and context to the images that we share. And then there's all of the web 2.0 tools that provide you with different ways to tell your stories and focus on the content.

And now, I'm off to historic Fort Henry, to hear some of the stories it has to share...