Thursday, April 30, 2009

Changes to Kindle Document Handling

When Gordon Snyder and I present on present on the Kindle and the iPhone, one of the biggest features Gordon highlights is the ability to wirelessly send and receive document on the Kindle. In the past, you could email yourself a document and receive on the Kindle for only 10 cents per document. I can still hear Gordon saying doesn't matter how many pages or what size the document is - only 10 cents per document. While this announcement from Amazon adds "RTF" and "DOCX" files to the list of supported file types, the pricing structure has changed significantly - 15 cents per megabyte. I'll have to do a quick computation to see what this would have cost me.

Amazon Kindle's Blog: Kindle Personal Documents Permalink
For anyone who has recently sent personal documents to your Kindle, we'd like to let you know about some updates to our Personal Document Service (via Whispernet).
Starting May 4, in addition to the existing list of supported file types (DOC, HTML, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, TXT, AZW, MOBI, PRC), you can send RTF files to your Kindle email address for convenient wireless delivery. In addition to the existing experimental support of PDF, you can also send DOCX files for conversion. Some complex PDF and DOCX files might not format correctly on your Kindle.

We have also modified the fee associated with sending personal documents wirelessly to your Kindle. This fee is now based on the size of your file. The fee for Personal Document Service (via Whispernet) is 15 cents per megabyte rounded up to the next whole megabyte.

If you would like to download your personal documents for free, or if you are not in a wireless area, you can continue to send attachments to 'name' to be converted. These documents will be e-mailed to your computer at the e-mail address associated with your account login.

As always, you can also use our free document conversion service for any document you want to transfer over USB, and you will not be charged.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Low-Power Computing Cloud

A very cool cloud computing infrastructure built using netbook processors. Great potential to reduce power consumption of data centers.

Technology Review: Netbook Chips Create a Low-Power Cloud
Using a cluster of the same processors that normally show up in netbooks and similar mobile devices, researchers have created a powerful server architecture that draws less power than a lightbulb.

The architecture, dubbed a 'fast array of wimpy nodes,' or FAWN, offers a way to decrease by an order of magnitude the amount of power used by the computational infrastructure of Internet giants like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, eBay, Facebook, and others. If the predictions of its inventors are borne out, it could have a significant impact on both the bottom line and the environmental impact of cloud computing.

Power now accounts for up to 50 percent of the cost of operating data centers, and in the United States, its cost per kilowatt-hour is increasing. Even relative newcomers like Facebook use up to $1 million a month in electricity, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) projects that by 2011, data centers in the United States could use up to 100 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, for a total annual cost of $7.4 billion, with an estimated emissions impact of 59 million metric tons of CO².

FAWN, which is described in an as-yet-unpublished paper by David Andersen and his team at Carnegie Mellon University, tackles this problem with a combination of relatively slow processors (the kind used in netbooks and other mobile devices) and flash memory (the kind that stores data in digital cameras and USB drives). The somewhat counterintuitive result is an architecture whose performance per watt of energy is a hundred times better than that of traditional servers, which use faster (but much more energy-hungry) processors and disk-based storage.

The exceptional performance of FAWN is limited to certain kinds of problems--random access of small bits of information--but this kind of input/output-intensive task is exactly what strains the existing infrastructure of Web companies like Facebook.

FAWN is composed of many individual nodes, each with a single 500-megahertz AMD Geode processor (the same chip used in the first One Laptop Per Child $100 laptop) with 256 megabytes of RAM and a single four-gigabyte compact flash card. The largest FAWN cluster built to date, consisting of 21 nodes, draws a maximum of 85 watts under real-world conditions.

Each FAWN node performs 364 queries per second per watt, which is a hundred times better than can be accomplished by a traditional disk-based system working on an input/output-intensive task, such as gathering all the disparate bits of information required to display a Facebook or FriendFeed page or a Google search result.

Slick Multicamera Video on the Cheap

Great way to shoot multi-camera video with a couple Flip video cameras. Pogue mentions an issue with the Flip for long videos - I haven't seen this, but will have to keep an eye out for it.

Slick Multicamera Video on the Cheap
I wound up creating what looks like one of those PBS Carnegie Hall specials. Sure, two of my three cameras were unmanned, cheap plastic boxes, held in place with duct tape. But they let me keep interest alive by cutting back and forth, interspersing closeups of young players concentrating, soloists’ fingers riffing, audience reaction shots and so on — on the cheap. On the very, very cheap.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

What are You Doing This Summer?

Another iPhone app success story.

What are you waiting for?

Tapbots 2.0 - Tapbots Blog
We’ve been juggling day jobs with Tapbots for almost 9 months now. As of now that’s no longer the case. This month, Mark and I both gave our respective notices and we’re now going to be able to give Tapbots 100% of our energy. I think it’s nothing short of amazing that we are able to support ourselves with $0 investment (other than time) and all of it $1-$3 at a time. Weightbot sold 100k copies in its first 100 days, Convertbot is selling at about twice that rate. To say we’re excited about the future is an understatemet. We’d like to thank all of you guys for getting us to this point.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Unemployment Visualized

An interactive map of vanishing employment across the country. - By Chris Wilson - Slate Magazine

The economic crisis, which has claimed more than 5 million jobs since the recession began, did not strike the entire country at once. A map of employment gains or losses by county tells the story of how those job losses first struck in the most vulnerable regions and then spread rapidly to the rest of the country. As early as August 2007, for example—several months before the recession officially began—jobs were already on the decline in southwest Florida; Orange County, Calif.; much of New Jersey; and Detroit, while other areas of the country remained on the uptick.

Using the Labor Department's local area unemployment statistics, Slate presents the recession as told by unemployment numbers for each county in America.

Is Writing for the Internet a Viable College Program?

2009-04-21_0822.pngThese numbers seem to say yes. America's Newest Profession -
In America today, there are almost as many people making their living as bloggers as there are lawyers. Already more Americans are making their primary income from posting their opinions than Americans working as computer programmers, firefighters or even bartenders.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The U.S. Military and Mobile Learning

Gordon Snyder and I presented at a community college event in Springfield, MA. The title of the talk was "the future of Mobile teaching & learning." It was a great group we presented for; very interested in the Kindle and the iPhone SDK, which we discussed. I've embedded the slides from the presentation after the jump. If you're not convinced of the power mobile learning, read the article below - the U.S. military is at the forefront of mobile learning. They're even developing their own iPhone apps.

The Future of Networked Warfare Begins with Apple - ReadWriteWeb
'The future of 'networked warfare' requires each soldier to be linked electronically to other troops as well as to weapons systems and intelligence sources,' says a new report in Newsweek, and the product of choice appears to be the iPod Touch.

According to Newsweek, both the iPod Touch and to a lesser degree the iPhone are increasingly being used by the U.S. military because of their versatility, ease of use and comparative low cost.

The report notes that the iPod fulfils the military's need to give soldiers one device that can perform many different functions, and this device has the added advantage that it can often be controlled with one hand.

Software developers and the U.S. Department of Defense are busy developing military software for iPods in an attempt to gives soldiers even more functionality. A new program called Vcommunicator produces spoken and written translations of Arabic, Kurdish and two Afghan languages.

'Snipers in Iraq and Afghanistan now use a 'ballistics calculator' called BulletFlight, made by the Florida firm Knight's Armament for the iPod Touch and iPhone. Army researchers are developing applications to turn an iPod into a remote control for a bomb-disposal robot (tilting the iPod steers the robot). In Sudan, American military observers are using iPods to learn the appropriate etiquette for interacting with tribal leaders,' the report says.

According to an Army official in Baghdad, the devices have yet to be successfully hacked and at $230 a pop, the iPod may fit right into President Obama's 663.7 billion dollar defense budget.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Innovation in Tough Times

Is your school innovating in these tough economic times, or are you treading water or even waiting for help? If you haven't considered video conferencing, web-based distance learning, podcasting, gaming, and cell phones in the classroom - maybe it's time to jump in.
We are being watched
When asked how Apple would weather an economic downturn, Steve Jobs said ‘We will innovate our way out of it.’ Not ‘We are going to wait for a handout’ or ‘We are going to wait and see what everyone else is going to do.’ No, Apple is going to innovate it’s way out of tough times.

What a great way of thinking. We will innovate our way out of tough times.

And that is exactly the idea that education has got to have in the next few years in order to weather the economic storm. It is time to innovate. Time to transform education, not simply reform education. And now is the perfect time to do so.

So what does that mean? In a broad sense, innovation can mean looking at the education system as a whole and seeking more effective means of educating our students. It is time for education leaders to finally start taking technologies that have been pushed aside for years as distractions and see if they can cut costs while at the same time delivering effective learning. In the past, economic downturns in education have led to a slash-and-burn mentality, where positions, programs, or budgets were cut across the board in order to balance the budget. Now we have a golden opportunity to look at technology, specifically disruptive ones, as a means to innovate our way out of recession.

Some of those disruptive technologies include: video conferencing, distance learning via the web, podcasting, games as learning arenas, and using cell phones as learning devices. In essence, the entire Web 2.0 world can be looked upon as a possible place to save money.

Video conferencing has been used in business for years, and has made some inroads in education, but until recently, the cost of the equipment and the technical specifications were both out of reach of many districts. Now, video conferencing can take place anywhere there is a laptop with an internet connection. Classes can be held across cities, across districts, and across counties, all while saving money. Imagine having your child take that AP course at the same time and with the same teacher that until now was only offered at one high school at one time because there was only one teacher? Now that specialized instructor can be shared beyond the walls of the single school.

Distance learning creates situations that allow almost unlimited possibilities. Imagine, moving some classes onto the web, where students can take them 24/7? Universities are already doing that, and Texas is actually moving towards that model with something called the Texas Virtual School Network. With the TxVSN, students from K-12 will be able to eventually take courses that are not available at their home campus or district. Instead of just using online learning to catch up with credits, we can start using it to get ahead by allowing our students who want to take courses they will need without the limitations of having to actually sit at a desk in a classroom to do so.

Podcasting allows teachers to extend the classroom beyond the school, letting students take lessons, lectures, and the actual learning home with them. Your high schooler could take that history lecture home to study in the teachers own voice; your first grader could take home today’s reading and have the teacher reading it to her again while she followed along in her book; your middle schooler could relive the science lesson by watching what the teacher wrote on the board while listening to the class discussion.

And those are just some of the possibilities that are available essentially for free. Collaborative, cooperative, sharing of resources via the web is here for any school district to tap into for the asking. It is called 21st century learning. Our kids should be doing it. Ironically, this time of economic trouble may be the best time to bring these technologies into the classroom.

So we are all in this boat together. The kids, the adults, the public, the schools. We can do what we have always done and randomly chop funding and programs, or we can think about innovating our way out of it. The kids are watching and they are learning from us.

What are we going to teach them?

Writing in a Digital Age

This is a discussion that is just beginning on our campus.
Educators using technology to improve writing
As middle and high school students finished their state-required writing exams this week, a new report outlined the need to change how writing is taught in schools.

The report, titled 'Writing Between the Lines -- and Everywhere Else,' released Wednesday, is the third installment from the National Council for Teachers of English that looks at how schools can promote literacy in the fast-paced online culture.

The idea is that students spend more time writing outside class on computers and cellphones and that teachers should tap that interest and find ways to merge the two rather than focusing on research papers, essays, journal or letter writing.

'So much of it [students' online writing] is so shallow and repetitious,' said Sandy Hayes, past chairwoman of the council's middle-level section and a 36-year teaching veteran.

'It is that dilemma of how do we bridge the gap between quick, shallow writing and thoughtful, based-on-information writing.'

Faster, Bigger Hard Drives

A Step Toward Superfast Carbon Memory
Graphene, a flat sheet of hexagonally arranged carbon atoms, can transport electrons very quickly. This has made it a promising material for high radio-frequency logic circuits, transparent electrodes for flexible flat-panel displays, and high-surface-area electrodes for ultracapacitors.

Now researchers at the National University of Singapore have made computer memory devices using graphene. This is the first step toward memory that could be much denser and faster than the magnetic memory used in today's hard drives.


Graphene memory would have significant advantages over today's magnetic memory. Bits could be read 30 times faster because electrons move through graphene quickly. Plus, the memory could be denser. Bit areas on hard disks are currently a few tens of nanometers across. At densities of 1 terabit per square inch, they will be about 25 nanometers across, too small to hold their magnetization direction. With graphene, bits could shrink to 10 nanometers or even smaller.

Learn Civics Through Online Gaming

Interesting that Sandra Day O'Connor would focus on educational gaming after retiring from the court. It's tough to make any conclusions about the games, since the video on the site is of poor quality. Would be interesting to see what actual middle school kids think of the games when they become available next school year. From the Our Courts site:
Ninety-seven percent of 12-17-year-olds play games using digital media, according to Pew Research. Our Courts believes that smart games have the capacity to reach kids in new ways.

Classroom games will target specific learning goals and outcomes matched to state standards. The games will be accompanied by guides for use, lesson plans, and offline classroom activities.

In the Our Courts virtual world, students will learn about the function of law in society, explore areas of law that interest them, and shape their virtual environment.

Our first two classroom games, Do I have a Right? and Supreme Decision will be available for the 2009-2010 school year.

Do I have a Right?
In this game, students will advise fictional kids about their rights under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. As they advance, additional rights are unlocked and the scenarios get more complex. This short game will teach students that they have important rights grounded in the specific Amendments to the Constitution.

Supreme Decision: Freedom of Speech
In this game, students will work for a Justice of the Supreme Court. They will use the First Amendment of the Constitution to help their Justice decide whether a fellow student, Ben, can be suspended from school for wearing his favorite band t-shirt. If they demonstrate good reasoning, students earn the chance to write the majority opinion for the Supreme Court. This game will ask students to explore the parameters of the First Amendments free speech guarantee so that they can assist the Justices in performing their constitutional role.


O'Connor touts civics lessons via online games
Former Supreme Court justice didn't get a computer until she was in her 40s, and she doesn't have a Facebook or Twitter account. But using technology, she said on April 7, is the way to teach students about the Constitution and inspire a renewed commitment to civics education in U.S. schools.

Since retiring from the Supreme Court three years ago, the 79-year-old justice has helped develop free web-based games to teach civics. Yet she admits her grandchildren are much more tech-savvy than she is.

'I don't even do much text messaging,' O'Connor told the Associated Press in an interview.

O'Connor spoke to middle school students, civics teachers, and the Florida Legislature about the games she has helped develop.

She told lawmakers that more people can name an 'American Idol' judge than the three branches of government. And she said she hopes her games help students learn how to analyze problems and develop arguments.

'You're going to have greater success if you teach it in ways that [students] like to use,' O'Connor said. 'They spend 40 hours a week, on average, in front of some type of screen.'

Two of the games O'Connor was promoting--'Do I Have a Right' and 'Supreme Decision'--are designed for middle school students and are intended to be played in class. The games should be ready this summer, she said, and are part of a project called Our Courts. The project is being backed by Georgetown University and Arizona State University but is largely privately funded.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Computer School for Seniors

I think this is a great development. My mother is a senior and loves her iMac and her cell phone.Computer School for Seniors Launches New Blog That Spotlights Baby Boomers and Seniors: is now the home to a blog featuring commentary and information relevant to Baby Boomers and Seniors. The newly launched blog is testament to the fact that seniors are fully embracing - and actively participating in - the Internet age.

Since launching last April, Computer School for Seniors, a Carrollton, Texas-based online school for seniors, has been developing tools specific to helping seniors learn how to use the computer and the Internet. The senior-focused blog is the latest in a suite of resources.

The Blog will be updated daily by Computer School for Seniors faculty members and will cover topics ranging from computer tips to photography tricks to inspirational thoughts. In addition, the Blog will serve as a forum to feature different seniors - the most recent one being Paul Yowell from Longview, TX who was among the first to enroll in the School last April. 'Without the help of my computer, life would certainly be a boring situation,' says Yowell. 'I had to give up golf and fishing. But I still have my computer to brighten every day. At 83, I'm a 15% computer geek.'

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Twitter in the Classroom

This is very cool! Professor Encourages Students to Pass Notes During Class -- via Twitter
Cole W. Camplese, director of education-technology services at Pennsylvania State University at University Park, prefers to teach in classrooms with two screens — one to project his slides, and another to project a Twitter stream of notes from students. He knows he is inviting distraction — after all, he’s essentially asking students to pass notes during class. But he argues that the additional layer of communication will make for richer class discussions.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Let's Get Proactive

Great ideas from Seth Godin! Seth's Blog: On becoming proactive:
Tom points us to a provocative idea for home builders. If you want to sell a new house, why not offer prospective buyers help in selling their old houses? Send your idle crews to their house to paint it or do other important cosmetic fixes. Fill the old house with the furniture you use in your models, etc.

Take it a step further. If your home building service is totally slack, why not get to work upgrading and selling older homes or even foreclosed ones?

Consider what a solo entrepreneur could do using eBay: instead of waiting for people to hold garage sales, why not distribute flyers offering to run a virtual garage sale for anyone who will open their home to you? Go in with a digital camera, catalog and photograph the top 20 most valuable items in the house and sell them on eBay... and split the money. Your proactive effort overcomes the seller's inertia and you both profit.

Monday, April 06, 2009

iPhone Tricks: Calculus Formulas

Here's a very useful little 99 cent iPhone app Formulus - Formulas for Calculus. Much easier than lugging around a handbook of formulas.


Sunday, April 05, 2009

RIP Encarta, Long Live Wikipedia

This is no less signifiant than the death of the old print encyclopedias.Grown Up Digital » RIP Encarta, long live Wikipedia
Even though Microsoft claimed Encarta was the world’s best-selling encyclopaedia software, the company announced this week that it would discontinue sales of the CD-ROM shrink-wrapped product in June and shut down the Encarta website in October.

Why abandon the world’s best-selling encyclopaedia software? Because, as we all know, in the world of encyclopaedias, best-selling is meaningless. Most popular is what counts, and by that definition Wikipedia crushes all competitors. The Wikopedia entry in Wikopedia tells us that the site offers 12 million articles in 262 languages, with 2.8 million English entries. Wikipedia receives between 25,000 and 60,000 page requests per second, depending on time of day, with the English version accounting for slightly more than half.

The site was launched in January 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, and has since become the most popular general reference work on the Internet.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

AppleInsider | Stanford to publish free iPhone course on iTunes U

If you're interested in programming for the iPhone, this is a very cool development!AppleInsider | Stanford to publish free iPhone course on iTunes U
Stanford University will be publishing a video podcasts and slides from its popular 'iPhone Application Programming' course on iTunes U for free to the general public, beginning this week.

'There's a lot of interest in the iPhone,' said Brent Izutsu, Stanford's project manager for Stanford on iTunes U. 'This course provides an excellent opportunity for us to show the breadth and depth of our curriculum and the innovation of our students.'

For-credit enrollment in the class is limited this quarter, which began two days ago. Students taking the class will also need an Intel Mac and will probably want an iPhone, although Standford offers loaner iPod touch units. The course lasts for ten weeks, so it will just be finishing up as Apple prepares to release the new iPhone 3.0 at WWDC.

The video podcasts will present the same Stanford lectures on developing for the iPhone and iPod touch to the public using Apple's iTunes U within a couple days of the each class meeting, providing easy access to the course materials for iPhone and iPod users as well as desktop Mac and PC users and other devices with the ability to play standard H.264 video.

The Twitter Revolution is Upon Us

The Twitter revolution or the apocalypse?

Vanderbilt U. Advises TV-Character Applicant on Twitter
This week’s sign that the Twitter revolution is upon us: campus officials’ tweeting financial-aid advice to television characters.

Lyla Garrity, a cheerleader turned Christian youth leader on Friday Night Lights, the hit series about small-town life in Texas, dreams of Vanderbilt University. But — conflict! — her father loses her college savings in a bad business deal. As it stands, Lyla may have to follow her boyfriend, Tim, to the fictional San Antonio State University (he tells her she’s too good for that).

Melanie Moran, associate director of Vanderbilt’s news service, recently discovered that ‘LylaGarrity’ is following the university’s Twitter feed. Also, the character’s own feed, created as a marketing ploy for the show, mentions her dream college.

Harvard Goes Paperless - Sort of

I've never understood why so many schools are still printing all of this stuff. When I brought this up at my school, I was told "we have a print catalog because students want it. When we get new catalogs, students come and take them, so they must want them." Very circular reasoning - the students have no other option, except a very static online PDF version. It's 2009 folks - you don't have to Harvard to figure this out!

Wired Campus: Harvard Goes Web-Only With Course Catalog, Handbooks
Harvard University plans to stop printing its course catalogs, faculty and student handbooks, and the Q Guide—which publishes the results of each year’s course evaluations—after this semester, The Harvard Crimson reports. Starting in the fall, these guides will be published exclusively on the Web.

The move will save ‘tens of thousands of dollars,’ according to The Crimson. Officials say it is also a practical decision that the university had been considering for several years before the recession prompted general belt-tightening. The course catalog, after all, ‘is significantly out-of-date before the first copy rolls off the presses,’ according to Barry Kane, registrar of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Programing for the iPhone

Here are the slides from a "Programming for the iPhone Presentation" I gave to the college's Computer Science club.


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