Category Archives: Technology

Ban Laptops in Class?

Clay Shirkey has written powerful and surprisingly non-curmudgeonly article on the evidence for and rationale for banning laptops. It’s called “Why I Just Asked My Students to Put Their Laptops Away.” I’ve been on the fence about this for some time. He writes:

Against oppositional models of teaching and learning, both negative—Concentrate, or lose out!—and positive—Let me attract your attention!—I’m coming to see student focus as a collaborative process. It’s me and them working to create a classroom where the students who want to focus have the best shot at it, in a world increasingly hostile to that goal.

and the evidence he refers to about screen use affecting the test scores of anyone student who can see the screen, (whether they’re using or not) is particularly frightening.

Allowing laptop use in class is like allowing boombox use in class — it lets each person choose whether to degrade the experience of those around them.

Hoping for the Turn of the Tide

bannerfrom an article in Sunday’s New York Times by Prof David Kirp called “Teaching is not a Business”:

“TODAY’S education reformers believe that schools are broken and that business can supply the remedy…. Marketplace mantras dominate policy discussions…. This approach might sound plausible in a think tank, but in practice it has been a flop.

“While technology can be put to good use by talented teachers, they, and not the futurists, must take the lead. The process of teaching and learning is an intimate act that neither computers nor markets can hope to replicate. Small wonder, then, that the business model hasn’t worked in reforming the schools — there is simply no substitute for the personal element.”

You can read the whole of the article at the NYTimes site. While it’s mostly about primary education and particular intiatives in the USA, it clearly applies to higher education as well.

Instant Translation — A killer app for Google Glass?

wordlensImagine sitting down to read a journal article. You look at it and you say… “Oh, it isn’t in English. Where did I put my glasses for reading German?” I reckon we’re about a year away from that.

If you’re using an iOS device, download WordLens now. It is amazing software that will translate in real time using your device’s camera lens, combining the tasks of optical character recognition with lookup and translation. It isn’t brilliant for pages full of text, but point it at signs, menus, or book titles and it’s great. They used to charge for each individual language, but the whole company has just been bought by Google and for a limited time they’ve made all the additional languages available for free. Download the app, and then from the app, download the “More Languages”.

I first saw it about 3 years ago. What I really loved is the way that it even attempted to match the colour and size and typeface of the text it was translating. It seemed like science fiction then and it still does. But the obvious thing to for Google to do with this is not to pack it into Android phones and tablets, but to put it into their glasses! Imagine walking around in Russia with your glasses automatically translating all the signs. Or putting on your glasses and having a German newspaper turn into English in front of your eyes.

That’s next year. Today, you still have to use your iPhone or iPad. Download WordLens.

Now where did I leave my rocket-pack?

New Adobe Voice

Last week Adobe released a fabulously simple app for iPad called VOICE. It’s beautiful and simple.

So far, it’s completely free. But the fact that you can’t export your creations out of Adobe’s cloud, and the fact that Adobe is in the cloud storage rental business make me nervous.

Find out more about it at Adobe’s website.

Phone wars

copyWriting for Vanity Fair, Kurt Eichenwald has produced the definitive chronicle of the war and the reasons behind it thus far.

A Samsung designer e-mailed… “… it is too similar to Apple, make it noticeably different…”

referred by Daring Fireball

Google Knows…

An article and infographic by Tom Gara goes into frightening detail about what Google knows about us.

every single webpage you have visited in the last five years… everything you have ever searched for, every address you looked up on GoogleMaps, every email you sent, every chat message, every YouTube video you watched.

If Google knows that much, just imagine what Facebook knows! Apparently, they’re stocking away 600 terabytes of information about people every single day.

And here’s an article by Matt Petronzio about a woman who tried to conceal her pregnancy from Google and Facebook and what’s now being called “Big Data”.

Vertesi said we need to be more aware of the information we give our servers voluntarily, and wondered if a time will ever come when we can opt out of giving personal information to the Internet. Winter Mason, fellow panelist and data scientist at Facebook, said that he doesn’t think that’s possible anymore.

Dropbox’s Moral Compass

At Boing-boing, writer Rob Beschizza’s headline is:

“Condoleezza Rice, surveillance and torture fan, joins Dropbox board.”

The DropDropbox site is more graphic, with photos of waterboarding.

The week after Mozilla/Firefox CEO Brendan Eich was forced to leave his position for his views about marriage equality, Dropbox has decided to take Dr Condoleezza Rice into its leadership team, a politician whose views about intercepting e-mails and phone calls are considerably more relevant. According to various reports, Dr Rice supported and perhaps even had a hand in approving warrantless tapping of home and office telephones as well as the e-mail of United Nations Security Council members in 2003, merely to determine how they would vote.

TechDirt tries to be optimistic, referring to some strong statements by Dropbox’s leadership against NSA snooping in the past, yet calls the appointment of Rice a “tone-deaf” move.

There are many alternatives to Dropbox — box is the one I’m currently leaning towards. A few were profiled by lifehacker a couple of years ago.

e-mail to your future self is a URL that will take you to a form that will allow you to write an e-mail now, which “” will send in the future, at the time you specify. Deceptively simple, automatically uses the timezone of the reminder’s creator and factors in daylight savings time. It’s a service from Cluj-Napoca in Romania.

John Stott’s 20+year Foresight

chipFriend Antony re-posted this bit from Justin Taylor a few days ago, and it just amazes me. In 1982, John Stott wrote about the microchip and its implications. Remember now — 1982. The Apple II was around but the Mac was a couple of years away, much less the internet. Stott wrote:

‘It is difficult to imagine the world in the year A.D. 2000, by which time versatile micro-processors are likely to be as common as simple calculators are today.
We should certainly welcome the fact that the silicon chip will transcend human brain-power, as the machine has transcended human muscle-power.
Much less welcome will be the probable reduction of human contact as the new electronic network renders personal relationships ever less necessary.
In such a dehumanized society the fellowship of the local church will become increasingly important, whose members meet one another, and talk and listen to one another in person rather than on screen.
In this human context of mutual love the speaking and hearing of the Word of God is also likely to become more necessary for the preservation of our humanness, not less.’
John R.W. Stott, I Believe in Preaching (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1982), 69.
Antony sums up better than I could:
Apart from the keen foresight, I’m struck again by Stott’s ability to say a lot in a little, to see the upsides (‘We should certainly welcome…’) and potential downsides (‘Much less welcome…’), the careful qualification of statements (‘likely to be…’, ‘probable reduction…’, ‘likely to become…’), and his reinforcement of the theological and pastoral significance of the church and Scripture.
Antony Billington’s blog is just called Billington’s Blog. Antony’s article about this, called “John Stott on the Microchip”.
Justin Taylor writes a column called Between Two Worlds for The Gospel Coalition. His article merely reproduced the Stott quotation without comment and was called “The Prophetic John Stott“.

Real World Digital Tracking

bandI read a frightening article by John Foreman. Starting out with a discussion of the electronic bands that Disney theme parks use to track their guests, he goes on to talk about how easily we give up our information to those who want it. Big brother indeed.

While not everyone is online all day long, we’re all implicitly offline. Wouldn’t it be great it we could gather [real world tracking] data and use that to tailor the offline experience much like companies now tailor your online experience? “Personalizing your meat-space experience” is a gross way of saying “pretty much control your life.”

Read the whole of Foreman’s article “You don’t want your privacy” at Gigaom.