Crossing from p.m. to a.m.

Posted December 15, 2008 by pdraper
Categories: Uncategorized

I’m not alone in wanting to be part of a “revolution”. There are so many different ways to be part of the new new thing. But the transformation from one day to the next is really a subtle thing. Let your attention drift for a couple minutes, and the clock has turned from 11:59 to 12:01 without the slightest fanfare (except maybe on one day of the year). ist2_973819_clock_at_midnight

Really the trick is keeping your eyes open to incremental movements — itty bitty things that will result in different weather tomorrow, or a headline a month from now, or new vocabulary a year from now.

Moving things from 11:59 to 12:01 requires unabated effort sometimes. A consistent leaning in one direction will eventually turn the largest boat. Sometimes a couple degrees to the left is all the movement that’s required, even if your objective seems completely orthogonal to where you are now.


TED and the replacement of the classroom

Posted April 29, 2009 by pdraper
Categories: educational technology

Tags: , , , , ,

There are three primary functions that a classroom education provides, especially at the college level.

  • Encyclopedic reference material and a guide who is very familiar with its contents who can help navigate the material. This has traditionally been the role of the textbook and the professor directing the use of the texbook.
  • Invigorating and insightful presentations of the content. This is the role of the lecturer.
  • One-on-one interaction to pinpoint, diagnose, and correct misconceptions and rusty skills. This is the role of the tutor, which may be a mix of classroom and office hour visits.

For this combination, a great deal of money is paid. However, more and more, these functions are becoming available in online vehicles that are just as usable and at least as productive.

The first element is rapidly being replaced by Wikipedia for reference and online news for currency. Students are voting with their wallets on the relative worth of books versus Wikipedia, much to the chagrin of higher education publishers.




The second element may soon also be on its way out, as online video becomes the default delivery. As an example of how good this can be, take a look at TED, short for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It is a growing collection of lectures by experts and inspirations of the highest class. Subjects span an already wide range, though not quite yet up to the range of departments at a typical university. Give it time.

The third element is still a way off, but when a solution is found, there will be real competition for classroom-style teaching.

Amazon consolidates its ebook position

Posted April 29, 2009 by pdraper
Categories: consumer technology, educational technology

Tags: , , , , ,

Monday 4/27, Lexcycle announced its acquisition by Amazon. Lexcycle is the maker of Stanza which, along with the Amazon Kindle app, comprise the two leading ebook reader apps on the market. Like the Kindle app, the Stanza app is free. By the end of 2008, Stanza had been downloaded a million times and was awarded Best Free App of 2008.

The Kindle app was a remarkable move by Amazon, opening the ebook experience to users who don’t have a Kindle device, and expanding their ebook storefront at to iPhone and iPod Touch users. To sweeten the pot, the geekerati that have both kinds of devices will find that the last place they read on one device is synched with the other device.

The Stanza acquisition opens the market even more, as Stanza supports purchases from storefronts other than Amazon. For example, libaries can loan ebooks rendered with Adobe PDF or EPUB formats using Adobe Content Server digital rights management. 

It’s not clear whether Amazon’s move is a preemptory, elbow-swinging defense of their market space, or whether they really see potential for combining the two complementary business models. 

From Lexcycle’s site:

We are not planning any changes in the Stanza application or user experience as a result of the acquisition. Customers will still be able to browse, buy, and read ebooks from our many content partners. We look forward to offering future products and services that we hope will resonate with our passionate readers.

We are excited to join forces with a company that has innovated on behalf of readers for over a decade and is a pioneer in ebooks. Like Amazon, we believe there is a lot of innovation ahead for ebooks and we could not think of a better company to join during this exciting time.

Browsing the Lexcyle user forums, there is a mix of optimism and pessimism about the consolidation. For example, one anonymous poster wrote:

So I’m wondering where the purchase of LEXCYCLE by Amazon is going to lead Stanza. I mean lets be perfectly honest here, there’s very little to gain by Amazon from leaving Stanza alone. So, I see this going one of two ways:

1.) Is Amazon going to roll the Stanza application (desktop & iPhone) into their existing Kindle infrastructure… ie. take the desktop app, the ePub technology and toss the rest away or

2.) Is Stanza going to gain the ability to read the .azw format and purchase books OTA from Amazon?

What does seem plain is that, with this move, the other players in this space, like the Sony eBook Reader, are now at an enormous disadvantage. Expect that a number of these also-rans will dry up and blow away before 2009 elapses.

What may also be in play is Amazon actually anticipating its eventual capitulation of the device to Apple and the horde of me-too’s. Steve Jobs famously dismissed Bezos’s Kindle as an unusable piece of junk and expressed the further thought that people don’t read books anymore. But if the rumors of a “media pad” with a 9.5″ touchscreen from Apple do turn out to be more than rumors, then this device would easily out-Kindle the Kindle. Apple doesn’t have to market such a device as an eBook reader. It would just be one of the many things the new device can do, thanks to the App Store. When other manufacturers start to mimic the new device, the Kindle’s fate (the device, not the app, not the business model) would be sealed.

Apple cranking to shake everything up again?

Posted April 28, 2009 by pdraper
Categories: consumer technology

Tags: , , , , , ,

Whether you love them or hate them, Apple has a tendency to cause wide ripples when they enter the market space with a new product. The iPod and iTunes redefined the consumer end of the music business. The iPhone and the App Store completely altered market expectations of what a cell phone is supposed to do for you, and how software is developed and sold. In both cases, the devices caused an industry realignment around me-too campaigns.

So, rumors are a-flyin’ about two new developments which are not as interesting from the Apple product perspective as they are from the field-changing potential. They are expected in the second half of this year.

The first is an iPhone-lite, smaller and thinner than the present iPhone. What’s interesting about this is that the deal negotiations are with Verizon, which means that Apple intends to open up its market penetration by providing different products from its line-up to different carriers. This may also be a preemptive strike against the Palm Pre, which is the only strong contender against the iPhone and in active talks with Palm.

The second is something without a name other than some kind of “media pad”, which has been reported to be smaller than an Amazon Kindle, but with a larger touchscreen than the Kindle’s screen. It is rumored to be something on which you’d play music, HD movies, and photos. But think about it a minute. That’s the nominal description of an iPod Touch (except for HD), but with the App Store, the iPod Touch is much more than that. It’s a facebook client, an ebook reader, a calendar keeper, a web browser, and (with the Skype app) a phone. Plus, it’s rumored that this will also be distributed through Verizon Wireless, which means that the wireless network connection would be much more than just wifi zones. leatherholes-apple

We’ve pooh-poohed here the notion of an Apple netbook, as that term is usually understood — a low-cost, low-capability, traditional format laptop. But we’ve also said that this doesn’t rule out a new breed of device that starts a new wave of “we can make that too” hysteria and changes the industry. In this case, what it may well mean is a significant change in what is sold in the Electronics department at WalMart, as well as what’s sold in wireless stores like AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, and so on. It may not be long before you’re headed to the Verizon Wireless store to buy a computer for your kid going to college in the fall.

15 most dangerous US cities

Posted April 27, 2009 by pdraper
Categories: politics and economics

Tags: , , ,

Forbes has just preduced a list of the most dangerous cities in America, from 2008 FBI data. Are you as surprised as me about what cities are not on this list, and about the southeastern concentration of the ones that are on the list?

Numbers in parentheses are violent crimes per 100,000 people.

  1. Detroit, Michigan (1220)
  2. Memphis, Tennessee (1218)
  3. Miami, Florida (988)
  4. Las Vegas, Nevada (887)
  5. Stockton, California (885)
  6. Orlando, Florida (845)
  7. Little Rock, Arkansas (837)
  8. Charleston, South Carolina (824)
  9. Nashville, Tennessee (817)
  10. Baltimore, Maryland (791)
  11. New Orleans, Louisiana (773)
  12. Baton Rouge, Louisiana (728)
  13. West Palm Beach, Florida (726)
  14. Charlotte, North Carolina (721)
  15. Philadelpha, Pennsylvania (709)

“Whoops,” CERN physicists quoted as saying.

Posted April 27, 2009 by pdraper
Categories: science

Tags: , ,

In an unexpected development, web cams near the Large Hadron Collider recorded an unexpected development. Reviewing their calculations which showed that the LHC could not possibly create a black hole, physics now acknowledge that they forgot to convert inches to centimeters at one point in the calculation.

1 billion downloads on the Apple App Store

Posted April 24, 2009 by pdraper
Categories: consumer technology

Tags: , , ,

one-billion-apps-hero-20090418At about 1:52pm PDT on 4/23/09, the countup on the App Store hit a billion downloads, and some lucky git is due to receive a tote-bag-full of Apple goodies and an iTunes card worth 10,000 songs.  Apple hit this milestone in nine months.  

There are three important observations to be drawn from this short history.

One: The success of a device does not hinge entirely on the design of the device.  Rather, it’s the infrastructure that supports the device that makes the difference. This lesson was learned by Jobs with the iPod, which didn’t really take off until iTunes was released, and it is central to the Kindle story as well. Apple’s ads for the iPhone have concentrated almost solely on the “There’s an app for that” koan, and it’s significant that the revenue from the software storefront rivals that from sales of the hardware. More and more, the reason for getting an iPhone is not to have the device but to have access to the App Store, which is only accessible with Apple devices.

Two: Skinny applications are all the rage. Desktop computers have big, wonking operating systems to support big, wonking applications. The operating system costs you $100, and the applications will cost you $100-$500. But could you do most of what you need if you had an operating system that cost 1/10th as much, and applications that cost 1/50th as much? Yes, it turns out you can, for the most part. Really the question at this point is, when does the desktop paradigm become vestigial?

Three: The gauntlet has been thrown. To the other app store johny-come-lately’s, that is, the Palms, the Nokias, the RIMs, and so on. Apple is saying, “Think you can match our success? Prove it. A billion downloads in nine months. If you can’t do that, you’ll never be a contender.” And Apple may have a point. Time will tell. Nine months, in fact.

What classroom tech hardware should K-12 education invest in?

Posted April 21, 2009 by pdraper
Categories: educational technology

Tags: , , , ,

Aside from district-wide servers and server-based applications, which is an obvious and driving need, there is the problem of what technology to put in the classrooms. The reflex reaction is computers, but this isn’t at all obvious as the best choice of investment dollars. Now that there is a good piece of change in the Obaman Stimulus package for tech investment, this suddenly becomes a pressing concern.

The options really fall to two.

The first choice is hardware that is aimed and specifically designed for classroom use. On the more exotic side, this includes interactive whiteboards, such as those made by SMART, Promethean, and Interwrite; and classroom response systems or “clickers”, like those made by Quizdom, eInstruction, or TurningPoint. These will generally cost $2000-$3000 per classroom. Even on the more pedestrian side, there are things like LCD projectors, teacher laptops, and document projectors (like Elmos) that are more in the vicinity of $750 per classroom. Once these investments are made, it’s very likely that they will last 5 or even 10 years without needing a replacement.

But the second choice is more insidious, and that’s just “keeping up” with baseline technology. For example, delivery of educational audio on regular audio CD is vastly inferior to delivery in MP3 format, either on an MP3 CD or via download. But now ask the question if education audio were delivered in support of a course in Spanish, say, on an CD with MP3 files on it, how many language labs in today’s schools would be able to play that audio? And this doesn’t include the portable players that many teachers use in their classrooms, which may well be five years old or more. If teacher resources are provided on DVD, it’s surprising how many teachers do not have access to an $80 DVD drive for their computer. And it’s simply atrocious how many districts are still using Windows 98, an operating system that is no longer really supported by its maker.

So while IT departments try to justify next year’s tech planning budgets, or try to think of ways to spend stimulus dollars, consider this. In about 4 years time, it’s going to be pretty difficult to rent on movie on DVD, that medium rapidly disappearing in favor of wireless streaming. What are school districts doing to prepare for that?