Turn of the season

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There are signs of the turn of the season everywhere. Summer to autumn. It’s lovely and brings anticipation of the sight of glorious fiery foliage, of warm cinnamony baking smells and rich harvest meals together with friends.

This is also my first post using WordPress on the iPhone since the iOS 8 update, and a new photo app, Pomelo.

It’s always a bit nerve-wracking committing to an update, especially on a 3-year-old phone that is practically ancient in technology time.

Happily, I can say that it’s been fine so far on my 4s, contrary to many online writers bemoaning the hit to speed and productivity and usefulness of iOS 8.

The feature set I wanted the most was the ability to edit photos using app features, directly from the stock photo collection without having to open an app to do so.

Lucky me, this works – but with limitations. Newer apps, Fotograf and Pomelo, for example, work fine with the “open in…” function. Alas, my favorite app, Afterlight, does not probably due to hardware limitations of my older gadget. I still use Afterlight the “old” way: open app, import and then edit and save back to Camera Roll.

Which brings me to: the new absence of Camera Roll in favor of photo Collections. To see all my photos, I can only view them in groupings organized, inconveniently, by location/date, rather than one massive collection ordered chronologically. I much prefer the old way, as do scores of other iPhone users, according to Internet forums and posts. Errrrrrr. This is a gripe, and one I fear I will have to come to terms with as Apple steamrolls user options in favor of whatever new features they are attempting to integrate.

(There is a whole other discussion here about how users are conditioned or trained to use technology in particular, prescribed ways, but let’s save it for another time, or for my other blog.)

But regardless of this one rather big downside, in general I am very pleased that my (old) iPhone is not functioning any less efficiently or smoothly since the iOS 8 update.

The Apple Halo effect

I was listening to a podcast this week, I can’t remember which one, where Frederico Viticci of MacStories.net was talking about how he came to be an Apple fan. He said that he had a friend who had a gorgeous, slick iPod, which inspired him to get one.  The simplicity, usability and the general gorgeousness of the device along with his experience on it, nudged him towards getting a MacBook soon afterwards. And from there, the rest is history, as they say.

After I heard this, I checked around online, and indeed, there is an entire world of people who have succumbed, been seduced, been persuaded by and converted to this way of life.

I’ve joined this particular throng.

There is a term for this: the APPLE HALO EFFECT.

In 2009, I got a MacBook Pro 13.3″. At the time, there was a educational purchase deal that included the iPod Classic (really really useful and gorgeous, and really, 160 gb?).  Then in 2010, it was an iPod Touch. During a trip for work, I got an iPod Nano (square one). In September 2011, I needed a new phone and wen phoneless for 2 months until the iPhone 4S was released in Canada. When I started grad school, I purchased an iPad 2 and went paperless as much as I could. As soon as our finances are more stable, we may invest in an Apple TV device to stream home media and music.

What a halo. It’s just that THINGS. JUST. WORK, generally very well, very smoothly, and amazingly well with each other.

(I purchased a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 in October 2011, since mon Mari had a Samsung Galaxy S2 phone, and had an AWFUL experience and returned it for the iPad instead, which is a story for another day.)

Some people may ask if we really need all these devices. The answer is no. But they have been useful, and have enabled us to connect, share, teach and learn in ways that we otherwise would not have tried or known about.  Of course, with these (and any) devices came new habits and behaviors and thus the need to cultivate social rules and understandings around how we engage with them, and how we need to shepherd our time, so that we don’t end up spending fruitless time with gadgets that could be spent otherwise. (I admit, we do struggle with this, but I think  this is becoming more and more common for any modern household with children who attend school.)

I do want to add that we are not ONLY Apple at our house.  We have 6 computers in our house, and 5 are not Apple. Mon Mari has an Android phone. I look forward to trying out the new Galaxy Nexus 7″ tablet, so very much, too.

Anyway, the Apple halo effect is alive and well. I can testify to it.

The new Polaroid Instant Digital Camera

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Didn’t think this camera would be born again.

Well, it hasn’t, not exactly. I guess in spirit, though the form is quite different. Though the retro format will be missed, it’s cool to have actual, paper, material photographs in your hand again. I read that it prints out business card size photos.

Now, if only it had wi-fi connectivity…..

Explaining a Kindle to Charles Dickens

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Here is a school project by Rachel Walsh, a student at Cardiff School of Art & Design. The assignment was to “explain something modern/internet based to someone who lived and died before 1900″.

She created a metaphor for the Kindle, in order to demonstrate the gadget to Charles Dickens.

The project caught my eye: it’s a mix of analog & digital, a remix work, and it’s about books. Throw in some historical analysis, interpretation and cultural commentary, and voila – what a fine piece of illustrative art AND food for thought.

More photos of this project and Ms. Walsh’s other work are available at her tumblr blog: http://rachelwalshillustration.tumblr.com

Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction – NYTimes

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Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.

Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.

“Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing,” said Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston. And the effects could linger: “The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently.”

I’m thinking we’re going to have to make even more of a conscious effort to include tech-use savvy and wisdom in our child-rearing practices.

Our bodies are going online – but where will it lead us?

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Internet-connected implants

That’s just sensors on the outside of our bodies; imagine what implants could do. The organ sensors we began this post with might be just the start. There are already Internet-connected pacemakers, where might we end up? If an Internet-connected implant was attached to our brain at all times, interpreting our thoughts, we may be able to dictate an email by thought alone or order a pizza for when we get home just by thinking about it.

This may sound like science fiction, but our knowledge of how the brain works is increasing, with brain-controlled movement of prosthetic limbs and even “mind reading” developing. It may not be next year, or even this decade but our brains could well be Internet-connected eventually. You think people would reject such an idea? Not everyone would opt for such an “enhancement” but if the benefits are great enough, some would. Back in 2007, 11% of respondents in a survey said they were very or somewhat likely to accept an online brain implant if it could be done safely……

It may sound like a distant nightmare but it’s a perfectly possible conclusion for a sequence of technologies that are already being developed. Just be thankful that you’re likely to be dead before the scenario rears its head.

Our prof has mentioned something like this a few times, that tech-controlled body-related developments are a future possibility and that he is generally wary of such “advances”.

Well, here we are, a few steps closer to this new reality.

To connect or not to connect, on the road

I was going to Vancouver for work on Thursday/Friday and I seriously considered NOT bringing my macbook with me – less heavy, travel lite, faster through airport security, etc. BUT I knew that Le mari and le petit, way across the country, were going to be at le petit’s birthday party on Saturday and I wanted to be there via Skype to view, talk, and be connected with them during the celebration. So, 2.5 pounds heavier and later, I brought that macbook with me.

It really made me think about being connected vs. unconnected.

I can NO LONGER fathom a world where information and people are not accessible by phone, VOIP, email, FB, through the web, etc. How did humans live and work in the world, even 5 years ago, before the advent of the iPhone? I say iPhone, because previously, the smartphone (Blackberry) was primarily the tool of the business man or woman, but the iPhone has made the smartphone a commonplace gadget for any university student, mom, office worker, teen – well, the ones with the means to afford it – as well as the business users.

It’s not like I was afraid to leave the macbook behind. I planned to check my email at my friend’s house on her computer in the evenings – but I honestly had a little twinge of….what: anxiety? fretfulness? the feeling that I would have missed something or things, if I wasn’t able to be online for a whole 3 days. Being a distant but interactive participant at my son’s 2nd birthday party is a more compelling reason to justify why I HAD to be online on the weekend, but really, did I NEED to be?

The answer to the question is NO, I didn’t NEED to be, but by having the macbook with me, there were lots of things I was able to do easily and oh-so-painlessly while I was away from home, among them:

  • check the transit schedule for the bus I was going to take to my Friday morning meeting
  • confirm my flight
  • find the nearest location for LUSH (to stock up on bath stuff)
  • be present, for a full 25 minutes, at my son’s birthday party across the country, at a cost of $0 (my cost, anyway)
  • read one complete novel, skim a few chapters of my bookclub book, and read my class weekly article
  • listen to 3 albums, start to finish
  • transfer money

The sheer scope of things one can do via a laptop and a wi-fi connection is mind-boggling. This past weekend half-persuaded me to re-consider the convenience and added value of owning a smartphone or tablet. Ok, more than half-persuaded.

On the flipside, it made me think about the landscape of the world we live where I chose to engage in those particular activities that I did over the weekend. Why didn’t I just pick up the telephone to confirm bus or flight times? Why didn’t I just carry the paperback version of the book I was reading? I could have not listened to music during my 3 days away, and maybe instead have gone to see live music at a club one night. Not quite sure where I am going with this, but it just made me question why I did what I did, and made me wonder if I would have chosen different things to do, had I not been connected to an ever-growing, seemingly infinite pool of readily available information at my fingertips.


Desktop vs. laptop

Yesterday on a walk to work, I caught up on my podcasts and listened to MacBreak Weekly’s episode #205. The hosts mentioned that though Apple had made some significant changes to and had released new iMacs, the front page of the Apple website still features iPhone 4. It seemed like the new desktop Macs didn’t warrant a major announcement by Apple and that Apple is still focusing on mobile computing more than traditional computing.

That got me thinking: Le petit has already been engaging with computers and the web although he is not even quite 2 years old. He’s already meeting his grandparents across Canada via Skype on a regular basis, he has a French children’s program/songs playlist that we’ve earmarked for him on YouTube, he’s learned ABC’s on FisherPrice’s online games site, and he knows that we can film him and play it back on the laptop, an activity in which he takes real delight.  We move the laptop(s) around the house as needed and he will even pick it up and bring it to us to indicate something he wants.

Now that he’s actually LEARNING things, I was considering lately that when we formally start working with and teaching Le petit  to get around on a computer by himself, I was certain that it should be a desktop computer. We have 3 laptops and a netbook between le mari, Le petit’s grandparents and me; no one has a desktop anymore.  In which case: does it make more sense, in light of the fact that mobile computing is become more and more relevant, to have Le petit engage in computing and web activities via mobile platforms rather than on a stationary one?

My rationale for considering a desktop include: a big screen, a separate keyboard, and a mouse for his little hands to click away on. Even if we can add a wireless keyboard to the laptop, the largest screen we have in our house is 14.1 inches.

I realize that by the time he is in school, for his generation,  mobile computing will really be the medium used in communicating and learning and exploring among his peers and probably in school. In fact, by then, maybe the standard computing device will be the tablet, or something different that we haven’t even seen yet.

In the time it’s taken to write the above paragraphs, I have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter if we use a laptop or desktop.  When Le petit is young, the things we want to teach him will be the same regardless of the hardware: how to click, taking and looking at photos, how he can engage with family and friends through the web, what’s email and chatting, exploring and searching for information, etc. He will pick up the mobile part naturally through school and socialization. My inclination for the desktop was more ergonomics and visibility. If we don’t get a desktop, maybe we will invest in a larger monitor to use with the laptops at home.