Monday, April 25, 2011

Twitter, podcasts and all things Stephen Fry !

One of the technical advances that I do have trouble understanding is that of twitter. I have tried - believe you me. I have truly! But I just don’t get it. If you were Oscar Wilde - yes I can understand. In fact one of my secret joys is looking up witty, one line quotes from Oscar. Many years ago my wife bought me a present - a lovely soft leather bound edition of the complete works of Oscar Wilde. I love diving into the book, reading his one line witty sayings (but boy- he must have been a pain in the arse to have known personally - no pun intended). In fact I even used his “one liners” as captions for a series of photos I did for bookmarks. But the fact is, that, very (oh so very) few of us have the verbal wit of Oscar. So why do we think that our one line of communication is going to be witty, funny, illuminating, intelligent, thought provoking or in the least of any interest to others ? 

Getting on the phone for Twitter

Maybe it’s my age (I have already admitted elsewhere that I am not 21 !) - but I tend to need quite a few sentences, paragraphs and a word count , to be able to elucidate the main point of any argument, discussion or communicative intercourse. Where does that leave Twitter ?  I know others will argue for it -”get with it” , “it’s the communication of the 21st century” . Sorry - I still don’t get it.
What led me to even discuss this is because of a person I am a fan off - that of the entertainer, author, comedian, actor and public speaker - Stephen Fry. Why he comes up in this blog is because the quality I greater admire in him ( none of the above - although I do appreciate and admire his work) is that of a “word smith”. I think I need to explain this definition, as I had thought the title of this blog “Wood Butchers” was self explanatory. But I have discovered since - very few people understand the term.
A “word Smith” is someone who makes a real craft out of playing with, manipulating, arranging and articulating words. They can entertain you for hours with their phrasing, structure and thought processes regarding words and ideas. This is their strength. This is what I see Stephen Fry’s strength as. And the fact that he combines this ability with technology. 
Stephen has written a number of books, plays, TV sketches as well as appeared as a speaker in a wide variety of places and events. His education is that of what I would call “the humanities” - highlighting Language, History, the Arts. Nothing of any practical use in the modern world, but Language based. Personally, I am of the age where I see this style of education truly giving you the bases for later life, but that is for another time and another  discussion.
The thing that makes Stephen unique (not really unique - but interesting for this conversation)  is the combination of this form of education and his absolute love of all things technical. He has emphasised  his word smith skills with that of modern technology. This is worded the wrong way around - and I have deliberately done this to emphasise the point! He has utilised technology to emphasise his word smith skills. 
He has a web site that keeps people up to date with his doings; he has a blog that keeps us up to date with his views; he produces podcasts to keep people abreast of his spoken views and he is constantly on twitter to keep you abreast of his immediate thoughts. 
He is a self professed technology nerd. To quote him - “I’ve never met a smartphone that I haven’t bought”. He is always the first to adopt any new technology. He claims to have the 3rd MacIntosh ever sold in the UK. He is a great fan of the ipad, iphone - anything Apple. He is even asked to “test drive” new apple products. So - here is a man who is totally absorbed in new technology. But - he makes it work for him, in a relative  and productive way. 
This is the main point - that I think a lot of educators miss. Technology is fun - but we have to make it meaningful and productive. If it is just fun - then it is really only a playstation or Xbox. It has to impart meaning.  This is where I think Stephen Fry has got it right. He is using technology to get his message across - without sacrificing  quality of thought. Granted - he is dealing with a narrow field - in regards to spreading his thoughts (as opposed to his acting or TV work). But he has incorporated new technologies extremely well. His main focus is communication. Whether this be by the old fashion pen - or newer methods such as Twitter, blogs or podcasts. 

Ah - one has to admit - he has style. 

Stephen Fry's website can be found here:

His podcasts can be found on itunes or here

Friday, April 22, 2011

"Skitch "- another old one revisited

Another older program that some people might find handy on a mac (mac only at this stage but they are looking for a win version this year). Skitch is the program. It is a freebie - but you can get the pro version for $19.95 US for a year. It has a number of extra and handy features. But I am just going to mention the free version.
What does it do ? Well - first and foremost - it will grab (or skitch) any screen shot. Doesn't "command,shift &3" do the same thing on a mac ? Yes it does but sketch has a few handy and concise features. It can grab a whole screen or part of; it can save it to a number of formats (png or jpeg on free version - a lot more on paid version); you can draw or write on the screen shot. This is particularly handy for presentations or instructional work. The screen shot below was "drawn" on using sketch.

It also can be used as a drawing program - to construct diagrams or illustrations for web or print use. Photo's can be treated. It will even use your iview camera. Sharing, of course is a strong point of the program. It has it's own storage area or you can choose to share your pieces in the usual way.
Skitch doesn't do anything that a number of other programs can't do - but it's handy having them in one place and easily accessible. It can screen capture, crop, resize, sketch , text and share - all very fast and easily.
If you haven't come across it before - download it and give it a go.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Some older things revisited

Sometimes you look at things and go "ah yeah - but I don't think I would really use it". The danger of the web or cloud based programs is that there is so much out there you can download heaps of programs that you never really use or utilise.
I must admit I am one of those people. I see a "cloud" based program and think "yeah - I would use that", only to find later - I downloaded it and it just sits there on my computer. I use it as an experiment but I don't really utilise it or find out what it really can do. Or it just doesn't fit the flow of what I find increases my productivity.
I have looked at a number of products to save notes, web pages, lists of jobs to do, files and reminders.
I really liked the notebook view in Office 2011 for Mac. It had an old fashioned "tabbed" notebook view with the ability to include audio files. Looked like it could be a usable format for me. The problem being - it wasn't viewable on another computer unless they had Office 2007 or above.
Another program I looked at about a year ago was "Evernote". I played with it - used it for a short time and dismissed it. Just recently I have come back to it. Why? Well first of all - it was because I wanted to save web pages/ bookmarks etc. I found programs like "Delicious" too involved and convoluted. I wanted something simple. I don't really want to share my bookmarks, favourite sites etc with the general public. I just want to locate a site or page -that I can easily locate on another computer.
This is how I started to use "Evernote" again. It has the ability to have a plug in on your browser (say Safari) that will do a screen shot of the page. You then can add notes, URL or any extra information. I started using it to bookmark subject bookmarks.
Let's say I found a website that I would like to use with HSIE later. I could bookmark it (including screen shot), give some detail about why I would use it, save it into a category listed HSIE- which I then could easily locate later using a search, listing the topic, HSIE or any other keys words I have used. I could even include a video or pdf I had found.
The other use I found was the ability to make "to do lists". Not something I normally think of (except on paper). But when you are going from one computer to another (as we are now in teaching - from the home computer to the school computer) - it suddenly becomes viable. I made a list of things I have to do at school (with a check button that would be ticked as I completed each task). At school I would activate my Evernote list and check what I had to do and tick them off as I accomplished each task. Very handy.

The beauty of the program is that it can be loaded on a range of OS - therefore it is like a travelling diary/notebook. I have it loaded on my mac's at home as well as my mac's and windows machines at school. You can also use it on iphone/ipad and android phones. Therefore it can give you access to your information regardless of what devices you are using or where.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Reading Experience ?

As a teacher - there is one thing that concerns me with technology and that is the aspect of reading. Whether people do it ? The quality of what they read! Is reading a book the same as a Kindle/ipad ?

But should I worry ? Books seem to be booming. JK Rowling is one of the richest women in Britain - everyone was reading Harry Potter. Best sellers on the New York best sellers list seem to guarantee the author fame and a comfortable income. Personally - I find this good. It indicates people are reading (maybe not my preferred titles )- but at least they are engaging with the written word.
But this is where the ground has shifted. What is the written word ? How long does it have to be ? What is the audience ?
One thing I am sure of - the ground has shifted from my safe perspective of a cozy book in bed on a winters night. Fantasy/ thriller when I want to escape. Autobiographical/ philosophical when I feel like taxing the brain. Magazine/ pictorial when I feel like the artistic, light and visual. But the thing they all have in common - they are paper copy, hold in hand traditional aspects of publishing. Love the smell of a newly printer book (that no one else has touched) - an ipad just doesn't smell the same ! But - things are changing. Anyone under the age of 35 see's the aspect of reading differently - twitter, blogs, Facebook, emails, texts - these are all the main forms of communication for anyone under the age of 30 - they don't know anything else!  I may not like it - but to engage this generation I need to change my thinking. It's only going to change more as time goes on ! Or is it ?
Paper may be replaced with a "digital form" but it seems like it really is just a shift of the medium rather than the content. Granted - there is more of the "one liners" - Twitter (Oscar Wilde and Stephen Fry would love it) - but I think these also will be replaced. Granted , probably by something similar, but this "one line" form of communication has always been around in some form or another. And I think with phone/ personal communication devices, will maintain and grow as a form of communication for the young ("remember when the old farts were on twitter and Facebook - how 2010ish- !!).
But - the conventional content doesn't die in all this ! It just changes. Best selling novels become PDF's or ebooks; magazines and newspapers become RSS or even interactive emags.
I personally buy a number of photographic magazines. Enjoy reading articles, reviews of equipment, tips etc. Recently I saw a digital version of the magazine. Instead of just having the review of the new camera - it had video footage, examples and 3D views of all aspects. Novel - but added another dimension to the information I was given.
Blogging is another form of reading that I have discovered recently. I always thought that blogging was something that 20 year olds did to talk about their great "unique" Thailand holiday or the great night out in town (who really cares except their friends ?).
I hadn't realised that many academics, educators, thinkers etc used Bloggs to share thoughts, information, ideas and communicate research. In fact, a whole range of thoughts and ideas that may not be exposed in the traditional press.
One that I found lately I thought may be of interest to others - regarding the main purpose of this blog - that of publishing. Have a read of it - see what you think.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Growly Bird Notetaking

About a year ago I came across a note taking format that I really liked. It was actually the Notebook layout in MS Word. This sort of layout - like an old fashion notebook (with the ability to do oral notes as well) really appealed to me. This led me on a hunt for some sort of mac equivalent.

This was when I came across a free program called "Growly Notes". A free program that does quite a lot. It is generously put out by two people (a couple I think) who have designed and produced a number of mac based "home" programs.

You can add booklets and pages; incorporate video and sound; draw notes on pages etc.  Worth checking out.
Have a look at

Sunday, April 3, 2011

All laptops are created equal ?

I'm not one of those people who falls in love with a bit of technology or talks about "how powerful" a piece of technology or software is. But, I must admit -sometimes one piece of kit does the job just a little better than another.
As mentioned in the other page regarding our journey into apple software and hardware - my own views were rather guarded. I had been a long time win user and only "tried" apple hardware to see if it was better for photographic purposes than win. My opinion in this regard is still undecided. When I first entered the realm of apple I argued quite heatedly with "apple" friends about the need for virus protection (surely you needed it - it only stood to reason).
I was (and still am) using a 15inch macbook pro for my personal purposes. I must admit, over time I have really come to like the apple software and especially their hardware. I enjoy working on my MBP for both work and personal purposes. The trackpad (I have not experienced on any other laptop I have used), the backlight keyboard (I know - not unique), the slim, light design. All made for an enjoyable and easy experience.
Twelve months ago we decided to embark on a 1 to 1 apple laptop for the students. Because of costing limitations and insurances from apple - it was decided that we would purchase MacBooks (the white ones). These had been proven in the US - suitable for students and would stand up to the job. It was necessary for the two class teachers, who would conduct the classes, to also have a macbook. These two would be upgraded to 4G of memory as well as run Fusions (for win XP).
The teachers would be encouraged to treat the laptops as their own. Take them from school to home, work directly onto them, returning each day to attach them to smartboards etc. This proved very successful and showed us the way forward regarding the deployment of class laptops for teachers. "Ownership" - had a high baring on productivity.
I was one of these teachers using a macbook and transferring it from home to school. I must admit the convenience of doing so was very productive. To be able to work directly onto the machine, set it up the way you wished, organise your folders to your manner of thinking - I found increased my productivity greatly. But, probably more importantly, increased my organisational skills. While you still drowned in a pile of paper - if you couldn't locate that worksheet or file - you knew where you had a copy on the laptop. The buzz of working like this lasted for quite a while.
Over time I found myself drifting back to my macbook pro. I didn't notice at first, but if I was doing something in low light - the illuminated keyboard of the pro was very handy. I had dropbox set up on both computers - so saving between the two wasn't an issue. But I found myself using my pro more and more and the white - less and less. Surely this defeated the purpose and convenience  of being able to work and plan on the same machine? So I started to examine my own rationale to why.
Let me say - there is nothing wrong with the white mac. It is reliable, sturdy and I certainly didn't notice any major difference in speed. But when you are working on the same machine for extended hours of the day (both at work and at home) - it's the little things that start to add up.
I noticed the difference in the keyboard, the illuminated keys as well as a difference in the key pressure. The weight of the machine was slightly less. The pad - a nicer and smoother feel. A built in SD card reader (handy for school cameras - which all seem to use SD cards). It came with 4G of Ram - as opposed to ordering it separately (needed to run Fusions more smoothly). All in all - seems like a nicer to machine to work on - and the price difference of $200!  If you include the extra Ram cost ($120) - then the difference is actually $80!
On the next round of laptops I was able to forward a convincing argument for equipping the teachers (who were going to be using theirs a lot more extensively than the students) with the Pro's.
Like all things in life - some things are not necessarily created equal.