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Archive for the category “Tech”

Time for the classroom to catch up with technology

image courtesy Google images

In today’s high tech world it can be intimidating stepping out into the job market.  Employers regularly use social media and online resources to find qualified candidates to fill positions, and applicants need to be increasingly tech-savvy.  It is the job of educators to prepare our students for this environment, and our job to hold them accountable.


Our public schools largely missed the boat when it came to computers.  Computers were pushed to the back burner in high schools and used as a database and a word processor rather than the multi-media learning tool that they had the potential to become.  We are at risk of doing the same thing with tablets.


The smartphone market has exploded, and phones have transformed from communication devices into portable personal assistants.  They do everything for us, from tracking calories to managing schedules to sending emails.  Many can’t imagine life before smart phones.  Now tablets are ready to revolutionize the market once again, and it is important that our classrooms move at the same speed as the real world.


The time is long past due for tablets in the classroom.  Imagine the opportunities for an immersive learning experience.  Instead of reading “I Have a Dream” students could watch the speech.  Rather than learning about Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats, students could listen to one.  Students learning music could read sheet music and listen to the song being played simultaneously.  Students would have a textbook, dictionary, and thesaurus with them at all times.  In gym class students would be able to track calories burned and have video instruction for weightlifting and exercises. The cost of textbooks and materials would be drastically reduced.


Students in India are given the Aakash tablet for a mere $40.  Although the Aakash is certainly no iPad, it is very functional, and the concept is one that should be applied in the US.  The United States has already begun lagging behind other industrialized countries in terms of education, and the fault partly rests with our insistence on going into the 21st century with a 19th century teaching model.


Some classrooms have embraced the “flipped” classroom approach, in which students watch tutorials and learn concepts at home and then come to school to practice and hone their skills.  The students log into an education program that gives them sample problems to work through and allows the teacher to track their progress and identify which students are having problems in which areas.  This allows for the teacher to then work with those students individually while the rest of the class continues to learn.  This approach gives struggling students the individual attention they need, and does not hold back students who work at a faster pace.  These programs provide much needed flexibility and individual specialization.  One such program, Khan Academy (a very interesting overview found here), has a free version optimized for the iPad.


The possibilities for enhanced learning techniques on tablets are endless, and it is the responsibility of our citizenry to engage in a competitive approach to learning that utilizes the best methods.


New iPad a Letdown

ImageWednesday was Apple’s first product launch since Steve Jobs’ passing, so there was understandably a lot riding on it.  Unfortunately for Apple fans, and the for the company, the new iPad (don’t-call-me-3) was quite a disappointment.

Aside from boasting a new screen resolution 2048×1536 (basically the same resolution as the ASUS Transformer 700 series and a few other high-end Android tabs) and an improved GPU, there’s not much to talk about.  It’s using an updated version of the same old dual-core processor, which has yet to show any performance advantages to Android’s Tegra 3 quad-core chip, or even the Snapdragon S4 dual core chip, despite Apple’s claims.

Apple has finally brought a couple of features to the table that really should have been on the iPad 2 already, so at least they are catching up to the present.  They’ve added 4G connectivity and an updated camera, although the camera is still just a 5mp shooter.

So is it worth another $600 for an iPad 2 with a better display?  Maybe to loyal fanboys, but not to the average consumer.  To be realistic, the iPad 2 already sports 720p video recording and 1080p playback.  This is more than enough for the average user.  The only real advantage to the new iPad is the 4G connectivity which, as usual, does not require a new 2 year contract.  That’s a very nice feature.  The rest, however, leaves quite a bit to be desired.  If Apple can’t deliver on a stellar new product every year, then maybe they shouldn’t release a new product every year.  Or at least don’t price it like it’s a new product when it’s just the same old thing with a couple tweaks.

Why Androids Eat Apples for Breakfast

Often, I am asked by my friends to come with them to help pick out their new cell phones.  It’s usually been almost two years since their last phone, and a lot has changed in two years.  Partly because I am mobile-technology savvy and partly because I’m just a big nerd who takes great pains to stay up to date in that department, I can usually be of service.  The first thing I tell anyone who asks (because it is always the first thing I am asked) is NOT to get an iPhone.  I’ve been asked so many times and had to explain so many times that it seems more prudent to just write it down for all to see.

Before the criticism begins, allow me to give credit where credit is due.  The iPhone is a good product.  In terms of functionality, user-friendliness, vision, and implementation, the iPhone (especially the iPhone 4S) is ideal for many people.  But, as Samsung has recently tried to point out through their Galaxy ad campaign, it is by no means the only thing out there.  In fact, the biggest reason that Apple is such a powerhouse today is only because they were first out of the gate, releasing the first iPhone in July 2007, over a year before the first Android device (HTC’s G1) was released.  Since the G1 it’s been an ugly battle, with both companies viciously competing for market share and driving the technology in the field to dizzying new heights.

Despite Apple’s significant lead (a year is a lifetime in the smartphone industry), Android has taken massive strides to catch up and surpass Apple in almost every respect.  So before you run out the door to buy your new iPhone, consider a few things first.


As mobile technology advances more quickly than any other industry and Apple had such a huge head start, how is it that in just over three years Android has been able to overtake Apple in such a significant way?  Within the answer lies what is the most crucial difference between Android and Apple, and also why the iPhone will eventually cease to be a viable product.  That reason is “open source.”

Put simply, anyone can do anything with their Android phone.  In contrast, the user can’t even take the battery out of the iPhone.  This represents a stark contrast in company philosophy.  Android is an open source code.  The developer codes for Android software are available for free to anyone who cares to mess with it.  You can “unlock” your Android phone and rewrite the very code that it runs on to make it do what you want it to.  This is far more advanced than the average user is capable of, but there are plenty of people out there who love doing exactly this, and they make the results of their work available for free to the rest of us on the Android platform.  Apple, on the other hand, charges $99/year for access to their code, and developers can do only one thing with it: create apps for the Apple AppStore.  Any attempt to rewrite the iPhone code would be immediately rejected, and those caught modifying and distributing modified codes would be prosecuted.  In the long run, it is this philosophy that will be the death knell for iPhone.  There is an active community of thousands of Android enthusiasts working tirelessly to make the platform the very best that it can be.  The open source nature of Android encourages this.  Apple retains such tight control over every aspect of its product that it simply cannot utilize the resources of the developer community in the same way that Android can.  This point is perfectly represented by the graph below, comparing the number of iPhones shipped to the number of Android phones shipped.


Now that the techy part is over, it’s time to discuss what everyone with a smartphone really cares about- apps!

While true that the Apple AppStore still contains more apps than the Android Marketplace (459,000 to 319,000 as of October 2011) there are three things to keep in mind here.

(1) Apple has a 16-month head start on Android.  Considering that in just the last three months of 2011 there were over 100,000 apps added to each platform, 16 months is a tremendous lead, and for Android to close the gap this quickly is an impressive feat.

(2) Android is catching up fast.  October’s numbers were the latest exact figures available, but Android boasts on its website that the Marketplace now contains over 400,000 apps, and Apple claims to have over 500,000.  Regardless of claims and speculations, one thing is clear- Android is catching up.  Also keep in mind that because of the open source nature of Android, apps can be downloaded from other sources as well, including the Amazon AppStore, the AppBrain market, AppPlanet, and countless others.  Including these third party sources, Android far surpasses Apple in sheer numbers of apps.

(3) Android offers far more free apps than Apple.  In fact, 70% of Android apps are free, compared with a mere 35% of Apple apps.  From a developer standpoint, this could be a disappointment, but for the end user it is extremely satisfying to know that you got the same app for free that your iPhone carrying friends coughed up anywhere from $3-$5 or even more.


There is one final, crucial aspect to consider when purchasing your new phone, and that is the hardware and software it is running.  In this area, Apple at least gets kudos for keeping things simple and reliable.  There is only one iPhone every year, and it comes straight from Apple.  Every new iPhone is guaranteed to feature significant improvements over the previous generation of iPhone.  Not so with Android.

Android manufacturers have recently stated that beginning this year they will focus on quality rather than quantity and most all agree this is a welcome trend.  For the last two years Android handsets have been flooding the market faster than anyone could keep up with them.  The high-end and some mid-range Android phones have always been superior to iPhone (and any other phone on the market), but the low-end and certain other mid-range phones have tarnished the platform and left many consumers feeling that deciding which Android phone to get is just too much trouble.  Many simply believe all Android devices are the same.

In order to give an accurate comparison, we will focus only on the high-end phones (generally called “flagship devices”) of the various carriers, which represent the best of Android, and compare them to the iPhone 4S, the best of Apple.

Motorola uses the slogan “Droid Does” in their marketing campaigns.  This accurately sums up the difference between Android and Apple devices.  Android does, and Apple does not.  What does Apple not do?  Several things, including but not limited to- NFC chips (Near Field Communication, used for such services as mobile banking), AM/FM radio; widgets (extensions of apps that update automatically on the phone’s home screen), 4G network speeds (that’s right- the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S are NOT 4G phones), and memory cards/SD cards/SIM cards.

Despite lacking several software features found in nearly every Android phone, the iPhone 4S falls short in the hardware department too.  Without getting overly technical, the biggest problem with the iPhone’s hardware is that it is outdated and overpriced.  The just-released iPhone 4S is powered by a 1Ghz dual-core processor, the Apple A5.  The Apple A5 chip is based on Cortex 9 technology, which is almost three years old.  Samsung has been able to use Cortex 9 technology to produce 1.5Ghz processors, so the question remains why Apple chose not to utilize the technology to its full capability.  Even the upcoming iPhone 5 with an updated Apple A6 processor is based on Cortex 9 and expected to run at only around 1.2Ghz, while Samsung’s highly anticipated Galaxy S3 is expected to be running on Cortex 15 technology, boosting performance to 2Ghz and providing up to 75% more speed and power than Cortex 9-based chips.  Even with inferior hardware, the iPhone 4S retails at $400, and that is WITH a 2 year contract.  In contrast, flagship devices from LG, Motorola, Samsung, and HTC (the major Android manufacturers) have never topped $299, and most go for $199.

The other major disappointment is that the iPhone 5 will not be a quad-core device, meaning Apple users will have to wait at least another full year before they can hope to see a quad-core iPhone.  For those who don’t know, dual core devices were introduced for the first time last year (making their debut on Android, incidentally) and provided twice the speed, computing, and processing power of any handset released prior.  Dual core has now become the industry standard.  Quad core devices take it still further, promising a 5x performance improvement over dual core, essentially making mobile devices capable of running at speeds equal to or faster than a desktop PC with high-speed internet access.  Quad core technology is already in use in some Android tablets, and at the Mobile World Congress at the end of February, quad core phones will be premiered for the first time, yet again exclusively on Android.

In the last three years, Android has come from being the dark horse of the mobile arena to the fore runner.  In the coming years Android’s expertise and superiority will only become more pronounced as they continue to deliver cutting edge technology with the best hardware and software at the best prices on the market.  Unfortunately for Apple, their reign of smartphone dominance is already on the decline, and they will continue to be outpaced and outdone as Android delivers what consumers expect out of their products.

More on Social Media

This is from an article I wrote for the UNO Gateway student newspaper (published 02-01-12), posted here for your viewing pleasure!  The article in the newspaper was titled “A realistic approach to social media, please!”

Many classes embrace social media as the new norm.  To be taken seriously, a company must have both a physical presence and an online presence.  Any business nowadays knows this.  No start-up would think of opening its doors without a website or at least a Facebook page to accompany it.  Social media has become integrated as a large part of our culture; it is an extension of our selves, a means of building and maintaining relationships, both professional and personal.

Sure, most teachers don’t allow texting, Facebooking, or Tweeting during class (although there are exceptions), but it’s been recognized that social media contributes to the learning environment in new, exciting and unique ways.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across a textbook with an introduction that not only advocated the rejection of social media, but actually encouraged readers to phase out their online presence via Facebook, Myspace, Linkedin, etc.  In fact, heralded it as a “ray of hope” that some would do so.  This got me thinking…

We all know someone who *gasp* doesn’t have a Facebook.  Usually it’s our great grandparents or our great aunt twice removed.  We expect some people to be resistant to change.  For some, new technology is just a hassle.  Our parents and grandparents have lived for decades with only the telephone as the quickest means of communication.  Obviously the world didn’t stop turning then, so what’s the big deal?  Is it just a passing fad?  The aforementioned textbook goes on to say that we, as a society, have reached a “saturation point” with social media.  We simply won’t tolerate it any more.  Everyone’s had his or her fun with it. It has outlived its usefulness, on to the next.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Sure, we all get tired of hearing about how well your best friend’s crops are growing in Farmville, or who got 250 million points at Bejeweled, or who was able to use the word “zygote” in WordsWithFriends.  But just because millions of us waste our time on trivial mind-numbing games doesn’t mean the idea has gone the way of the Furby.  Far from it.  What we are seeing is not a saturation point but rather a turning point.  Social media has been pushed to its fullest capacity as far as entertainment value is concerned.  We have reached the point where social media has been transformed into something entirely different from its original conception.  It is now a powerful tool to be utilized and molded to suit our needs as sentient beings in the information age.  We are just starting to make this turn- we have not yet fully passed the turning point of putting social media to productive use.  We are still so flooded with messages from Farmville and beyond that it is hard to keep focused on the bigger picture.

The bigger picture is that social media is a useful tool in building healthy relationships, both professional and personal.  If you feel like all of your friends on Facebook are superficial acquaintances, it’s probably because they are.  Many of us haven’t been taught how to effectively promote social relationships or interact on a personal level at all, which makes it impossible to utilize social media effectively.  Being neighbors in MagicLand or CityVille does not make you neighbors in real life.  Giving your neighbor in ZooWorld a new panda for their zoo does not give you grounds to be offended that you were not invited to your ZooWorld friend’s real-life bachelor party.

Having a Facebook page does not mean you have become an excellent communicator.  An excellent communicator is able to use a Facebook page to effectively maintain solid, lasting relationships with other people.  That’s what Facebook is about.  Effective communicators understand that our online personas are an extension of our actual personas.  Effective communicators understand how to build relationships and how to enhance relationships, both in person and online.  The two are not mutually exclusive.  They work together in a way that allows us to maintain a relationship regardless of distance, and that is the beauty of social networking. It is the responsibility of the individual, family, and community to promote healthy, respectful, and ethical social skills. We are social creatures, and social media allows us to create, define, and enhance those relationships we care about.

To avoid the problem of impending social media ‘saturation,’ these lessons need to be understood at an early age, and these values emphasized in our culture.  We need to fight back against the jaded view that all users of social media are simply wasting time and that this is a passing annoyance that will fade in time.  This attitude only serves to further our lack of social competence and leaves no room for the possibilities that social media presents.

Twitter in 300 Words


For a long time I was one of these people:

“I have Facebook.  Why would I need Twitter?”

I knew how to send messages, look up funny things, and find bands that I was interested in.  That’s what social media was for, right?  It didn’t really serve any purpose, but it sure was a great way to waste time!  Of course, that was before I understood the “social” part in “social media” and certainly before I had ever heard the term “Web 2.0.”  I could never understand what the big deal about Facebook or Twitter was, or how people ended up with so many friends and followers.  Why would anyone even want that many friends?  Why didn’t anyone care what I ate for breakfast or what my new shoes looked like, but other people were getting hundreds of comments?

Today I take a different approach, and though I wouldn’t consider myself a social media guru, I have finally come to the point where I don’t want to throw a celebration every time I find out someone has added me as a friend or started following my tweets.  The social aspect and the importance of it have become clear to me.  The opportunity to interact with other people is something I’ve learned to appreciate as I’ve learned to do.  I am able to maintain mature personal relationships, relationships that are based on more than “Liking” each and every status update.  I am also becoming more proficient at interacting professionally.  This is a new skill, and it comes slowly.  I have realized that social media is a way to get a message out, and a way to receive the message others are trying to get out.  It is this mutual respect of individuals and their ideas that give social media its value.

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