January 2007 Archives

January 31, 2007

Neolithic Briton Vacation Spots: Finds at Stonehenge

The Times Online is reporting a recent discovery around the Stonehenge monument. They have found at least 25 clay floors from the Neolithic period, which are 14 ft. by 14 ft, have a central hearth, fencing posts, and indents from box beds and a dresser. They also found extremely large amounts of trash within the site, such as charred animal bones and broken pots, which show that either it was a temporary dwelling, or the inhabitants lived in very poor health conditions. Due to the lack of bread-making evidence (mill stones, grain kernels, etc.) it would suggest that these structures were temporary dwellings, and not permanent homes.

The really interesting thing is the evidence of half-eaten food, namely from the remains of the animal bones. This suggests that the location was used during a feast, as such waste wouldn't be seen when food is less available. The commonly held belief is that these feasts were held during the winter and summer solstice, relating to the orientation of the stones and posts found around Stonehenge. But it's also believed that there were funeral feasts that were common, or basically really big wakes. That argument is better left to the experts, as my focus on ancient history came about a thousand years later, during the Iron Age.

So why am I bringing up this find? Because of the construction of the house. They had clay floors, with wattle and daub houses. For those that are not familiar with wattle and daub construction, it is using cob (see my post yesterday), and a wooden frame to build the houses. Cob walls tend to be very thick, while wattle and daub walls can be 5 inches thick, because of the wooden support system in the framework. Most likely they were thicker, around 10 inches thick or so to allow for better insulation. But, because the house was so small, it makes sense that even that requirement wouldn't be necessary with a roaring fire.

The fun is thinking of the construction, and how long it has lasted. Sure, the walls have been gone for centuries, but the clay floor has remained. Clay floors are not as durty as they might sound. Think of them as ceramic tiled flooring, but with more give. If you dropped a dish on a clay floor, it's more likely that it would survive than if you drop it on a ceramic tiled floor. They can also be well sealed by applying boiled linseed oil, or other oils. This reduces absorption within the clay, and allows for easy cleanup. That being said, it sounds like the floors may not have been that well treated, as the dwellings were not meant for permanent residence.

So, in my view, these dwellings were locations for the feasting part only (as people in that period were nomadic), and as such, it was a sort of vacation spot. They were probably motel rooms, or cabins, that were built just for coming to the spot. As such, it brings us a little closer to understanding how similar we still are to our Neolithic ancestors.

January 30, 2007

Getting Ready For Spring: The Building Project

It's been a while since I have posted anything about my Micro-Farming project that I want to have in my back yard. Well, that's because the project has been placed on hold due to cold weather. But don't think that is going to stop me from planning! In fact, this summer I have a couple of building projects that will be put into place once the ground begins to thaw. Here is what i have planned:

The Patio
Currently, I have a covered patio that has made a terrible storage area. Why terrible? Because I want it as an addition to the house, but can't do so until it's enclosed. It's fairly large, being 20 feet along the back of the house, and 16 feet out, and would make a perfect family gathering/tv/dining room. I also plan to have the laundry out there, to open up more space in the basement for a kitchen. That being said, the room needs to be well insulated, manage heat well, and needs to have a feel that is completely relaxed.

I have been racking my brains out on how to best do so, while running plumbing and electrical wires without needing a lot of additional materials. While I was looking into it, I followed a train of thought that began with my reading of The Celts: A History. Why not try a low-cost building material that is abundant in the area while also keeping a versatile medium? I started thinking about cob.

What is cob, you may ask? Cob is a mixture of clay, sand, water, and straw that is built into a single monolithic structure. The walls are thick (between 24 in. and 9 in.), are load bearing, almost as tough as concrete, and because of their mass have excellent insulating properties. The key to cob is that it is very cost effective, so the cost of finishing the back patio will be reduced drastically. And, because I am only building three walls, the project shouldn't take very long to complete. It also doesn't require drywalling, insulation, or special holes for running electrical wires. It does need to be waterproofed with a lime wash, which can be picked up at any local hardware store.

Why cob? I have to admit, it was an interesting proposition. My wife still thinks I'm a little nuts with this decision, because it's so radical in today's design structure. But all that aside, it's really cheap, and really easy to build. It's also fun to do, since it doesn't require a lot of skill to put up. There is also an added benefit of the environmental factor.

But there is also a huge stigma to building with cob, namely a "hippie culture" that revolves around this building medium. Why? Because you are basically sculpting your living space, instead of buliding your living space. Because it is truly sculpture, the creative side flows, and some pretty radical bulidings have been built through this medium. Now, I'm not saying that the buildings are not livable, because they look quite nice. As I'm more of a traditionalist, I prefer straight walls to curved, sloping walls. When you start talking about the "zen" of cob building, then I may just roll my eyes. But when you talk about the historical significance to cob building, namely that it was the building material of choice for the Greeks, Egyptians (the common folk, at any rate), and many of the Celtic tribes, then you get my attention.

For more information on building with cob, you may want to check out the Cob Cottage Company, or the Earthed World website. Both have come traditional and more artistic buliding examples, and Earthed World actually has pictures of building a site from the ground up.

The Garden
Now, as I previously said, my wife seems to think I'm a little crazy with this idea of the cob room, and will need some convincing. So, I thought the easiest way to do so would be to start with a small cob project that isn't going to be too terrible to tear down, but still have some functionality. So, I'm going to begin with a cob fence around the garden area. This will both keep me busy and off the computer games for a while, and it will also give me some practical experience in building with the material. If I can build a very functional raised garden out of cob (and I should be able to, since it's pretty much self-draining), then I should be able to make a decent-looking patio as well.

So, this means a cob raised garden. I was thinking this would be a good opportunity to see how well cob can survive, as well as give me some opportunity to try dry-laying stone foundations. The cob will just be the top part of the garden, with most of the soil being set between the stone. That way it will not erode the cob too much, and I don't have to worry about whitewashing the inside of the garden.

The Greenhouse
Yes, the greenhouse will be built out of cob as well, if this goes well. In fact, it will merely be an extension of the existing patio, and separated from the new room by a wattle and daub wall. This uses cob on a wood frame, so the wall can be thinner. But again, it all depends on how the garden wall goes. But I will include a foundation to the greenhouse in the garden wall, since they will be connected. I may even put a door through, which I didn't intend to do initially. This new medium gives me a lot of options I didn't think I had before.

So, that's my update on the micro-farming project. Everything else will come together as I get these done, starting with the first real thaw.

January 25, 2007

Respect and the World Today: What Should It Mean?

Every morning, as I commute in from the West Side of the Salt Lake valley to the East side, I listen to the local public radio station, KUER. I listen to KUER because I find it the least biased news radio that I can find (notice, I didn't say unbiased. There is no such thing as an unbiased person, or message). And every morning I am agog at the political spectrum's reaction to any little news from either side of the divide. If it isn't a Democratic leader directly insulting foreign leaders (i.e., Prime Minster of Iraq), it's a Republican leader attacking the current Democratic leadership for their distain towards the Republican minority.

Then, if politics isn't enough to make you sick in the morning, driving to work becomes a nightmare. There is only one feasible East-West corridor in the Salt Lake valley to get to Salt Lake City proper: SR 201. That means it's backed up considerably, and people are constantly trying to cut each other off to shave a couple of seconds off of their commute. Are these people only from Utah? Good Heavens no! I've been cut off by people from California, Alaska, Nevada, and one vehicle from Georgia. They all felt that their needs were greater than mine, and therefore felt it necessary to run me off the road (once quite literally).

Where has all the respect gone in today's world? Or has there ever been any respect, and I'm searching for the historian's rose-colored glasses? People keep talking about drivers getting more hostile, politics becoming more partisan, and people in general becoming more about themselves than about others. I would like to explore that concept for a moment, if you will allow me to digress.

Respect, as outlined in Wikipedia is an attitude that results from the interaction of other people. Giving respect means that a set of socially accepted behaviors are exibited in order to better the relationship. The key is in the relationship, and this will be outlined later in the discussion.

The Evidence
So, having esablished what respect is, let's look at the experiences that I have already outlined, beginning with Politics. Political posturing has been the hallmark of the political process since people started to rule each other. Any time you have a group of people together, they all try to position themselves into power at the expense of the others. It's the oldest strategy in the book, and unfortunately it is still successful. In fact, Roman politics is a prime example. Partisan politics was the hallmark of the Roman world, and continued to become more divided until murders and beatings became common place in the name of "the State". But yet, people supported it. Why? Why would anyone support violence between political factions?

Before we answer that question, let's look at the drive to work. People cut each other off all the time, and it's becoming more common. In fact, a recent case caused an acid spill in Utah, closing a busy part of the freeway for hours during the rush. And if that wasn't bad enough, 3 additional drivers were then charged for running the blockade while the Hazardous Materials team was cleaning up the acid. Why would they do that? What were they thinking? I think there is a pattern emerging here...

I have two additional examples that I think will help us clarify what has been happening. One is a post made on Slashdot. I would give you the URL to the post, but pretty much all posts on Slashdot have become this negative. The comment degraded the Government for wanting to assist students that were victims of cyber-bullying. How could anyone in their right mind question the motives of someone trying to protect children from a very invasive and damaging practice? It's like asking why a teacher pulled a bully off of another kid with a bloody nose. And yet, the question was posed, the critics were unleashed.

And finally, there is Mugglenet.com. Yes, I admit it, I like Harry Potter books. Not as much as I enjoy a good book from Plutarch or Livy, or even the Lord of the Rings, but it's a great story. That being said, there are a lot of people that don't like it, as it refers to children learning witchcraft, and therefore they are trying to do what they can to stop it. Recently Mugglenet posted a news article on Laura Mallory, a concerned religious mother that is trying to get Harry Potter books banned from the local schools. Here is the post:

Laura Mallory to appeal yet again
Laura Mallory, the mother who has been crusading since August 2005 to remove the Potter books from the County's school libraries, is set to appeal to the County's Superior Court the decision Georgia state made in December to keep the books on shelves.
Mallory said, "We will take a stand for truth, and pray God will touch the hearts of this generation." For the past year and a half, she has vehemently preached that the books indoctrinate children in witchcraft. She hasn't, however, actually read the books.
Mallory says she is poised to take legal action and has apparently received "significant donations" from "supporters" in aid of this.
Emerson's Comment: Ever seen a fly crash itself repeatedly into a transparent pane of glass, never quite getting the hint? Yeah. (Emphasis mine)

For those of you who are not familiar with Emerson, he is the creator of the website, and just started college not too long ago. He is famous for calling those "shippers" who want to see a Harry/Harmione relationship "deleusional". Do you think he would say this to these people square in the face? Does it reflect any kind of respect for their beliefs? Keep in mind that this is all over an fictional character in a fictional world. Is this type of action a result of respect?

The Review
Okay, we have the evidence, so what does it say? Well, let's go over the requirements for respect. First, there needs to be a social interaction. This means there needs to be a social basis for respect to exist. Secondly, the one giving respect can decide what those social boundaries are. So let's look at each of the pieces of evidence again:

1. Political Partisanship: Political candidates are appealing to their parties, and to their parties only. They don't care to have a social interaction with those of the other party, and therefore don't feel the need for giving respect. Hence, you have a situation where insults, digs, and posturing becomes the normal behavior within the political spectrum. That's how you get noticed within your own party, by "standing up" for them against "the enemy". And, I would like to add, that goes for all representatives. They are fighting for their voters back home. That means that New York doesn't care about Utah, Tennessee doesn't care about California, and Virginia doesn't care about Idaho. They are all in it for their social group.

2. Driving Hijinks: The social concept on the road is almost none. People don't see people, they see other vehicles, and these are vehicles that they don't want to have a social interaction with. Hence, there is less of a personal argument to exibit the social niceties that come from respect. It's the personal disconnect from others on the road that lead to a decline in respect.

3. Slashdot: Many technical people have, by their own making, a bad reputation for not respecting other people. Partly because almost every single one of them has, at some point, been the victim of verbal abuse due to a technical failure. So, in order to mentally handle that, I believe that they have disconnected themselves from those who can't fix the issue, and therefore have a superiority complex when it comes to, well, everything. Therefore they ignore many common social niceties, because they are catering to their own "superior" community. I would like to point out that not everyone in technical positions is like that, but there are enough out there that do this that make the generalization fairly safe in it's assumptions. Therefore, their comments are made for the sake of their own community, rather than for the general internet population. Beginning to see a pattern here?

4. Emerson's Comments: I have to admit, it's because of Emerson on Mugglenet that I stopped reading his website for 3 years. Instead, I checked out other comparable websites with the same news materials. Only recently have I begun to return for the Editorials, but I am still annoyed by these little comments of his. Why are they tolerated by the Mugglenet community? It's the equivalent of a CEO slamming the Mail Room because they think mail should be color coded, and he doesn't. The answer is in the question, because it's his community. The CEO can slam any part of the company, because it's his company. Granted, it will mean that portion of people will then leave, but perhaps the CEO thinks that it will not effect the company's bottom line. The same with Emerson's comments. Perhaps he felt that since he didn't agree with these people, he can slam them and not feel the effects on his website. But ultimately, because the rest of the community supports his views, he is not critized or asked to apologize. It's because his social circle sees such disrespect as respecting their views.

The Conclusion
So, given these examples, it looks like people are not becoming less inclined to offer respect, they are just becoming less social in their interactions. Their spheres of influence are becoming more narrow, and so the scope of respect is also narrowing. So what does this mean? Does this mean that flaming emails, flaming posts, and flaming cars are our future?

I don't think so. Nothing can make people more social, but we can all take steps to expand our own social circle. First, we all need to change our mindset. Mankind means we are all of one kind, regardless of who we all are. The concept of equality needs to be expressed for everyone, regardless of their points of view. Sounds like a utopia? Well, it probably would be if it ever could happen.

This is perhaps the hardest for people to act on, as it means singing camp-fire songs with people that just don't agree with you and never will. How can you possibly respect them? By acknowledging their opinion, and not attacking it. I have a problem with attacks for the sake of argument. Just because you can attack someone else doesn't make your point right.

Anyway, that's my rant. My only hope is that in presenting my points here, I didn't disrespect anyone else in the process. If so, I would like to apologize in advance.

January 23, 2007

Book Review: The Celts : A History

For those of you who know me rather well, you know that the majority of my family tree comes from Scotland. Many is the time that I have recited the immigration story, as I find it very unique. It was not the result of economic need and forced immigration as with many Highland villages. Nope, it was in an effort to escape from the wrath of royalty. Was this religious persecution or political pressure? No! It was because my ancestor lost his temper and threw his workman's tools into the front seat of Queen Victoria's favorite carriage. Why was this a problem, you may ask? Because it had to go through the dashboard to get to the front seat. Needless to say, he decided it was time to leave the country.

So, with that little tidbit out there, and with my BA in Ancient History, you may understand my fascination with the Celts of Britain and Ireland. They represent a large portion of my background, and indeed the background of a large percentage of those living in the United States and Canada. So I have been interested in researching the culture that has had a huge impact on my up-bringing, whether I was aware of it or not.

With that now understood, here is my review of The Celts: A History by Peter Berresford Ellis.

Thousands of years ago, before Rome was breaking itself from the Etruscan empire, there existed a group of people with a similar language, belief system, and cultural interaction (laws, crafts, etc.). These have been referred to as the Celts, representing a distribution from the Po Valley in modern Italy to the majorty of Spain, to the central region in modern Turkey (Galatia), Following the Rhine to the great Northern Islands of Britain and Ireland.

The Celts were an Iron Age people, which meant that they used Iron in much of their daily implementation from weapons to cookware. Because they can be grouped into this larger designation, many modern Archeologists have tried to deny the label of Celt to this culture, preferring to designate them "Iron Age" instead. Peter Ellis does an excellent job in explaining how the logical distinction between other Iron Age groups (i.e., the Greeks, Romans, Numedians, etc.) can be drawn with the use of linguistic and cultural lines.

Ellis then continues on to address the cultural aspects of the Celtic people, referring to both the insular Celts (Britain and Ireland), and the Gaulic, or Continental, Celts. These chapters seem to be in a defensive mood, first addressing those that question the existence of a "Celtic" people, and then defending the image of the Celts against the works of the Roman references to the Celtic tradition. In some portions of the book, such as when the question of human sacrifice is addressed, Ellis seems to attack the Roman criticisms by pointing out the Roman use of human sacrifice. But at no time does he admit to the Celtic use of human sacrifice, as archaeological evidence (i.e., bound and beaten victims found in bogs with golden bonds) has indicated. The closest he came to an admition is the acknowledgement that all Indo-European cultures have at some time performed human sacrifice. I would like to add, that in those instances it generally was a period of great need for the people, and seen as the only way to pacify particularly hostile dieties.

The first problem that is addressed in the book is that of no written cultural records in a native Celtic tongue. Ellis points out that the Celts had an Oral tradition that kept their records. For those that are not familiar with the Oral tradition of maintaining histories and cultural experiences, I would like to point out that both the Illiad and the Odyssey were both compositions that were handed down to Homer through an oral tradition, and many aspects have been proven historically accurate that would have been obscured at the time of Homer, some 300 years after the fall of Troy. So oral tradition has been proven to keep many facts accurate over long periods of time.

That being said, there are several written records by both Romanized and Christianized Celts, as well as ancient Irish records that help shed light on the Celtic culture and mythology. As such, it becomes the job of the scholar to wade through the biases that they are faced with to try to get a clear picture of the ancient Celts as they existed. The same it true for any book written, as all scholars have their own level of bias. Ellis is unique to a number of scholars that I have read in that he acknowledges that bias at the beginning of the book, and allows it to surface in assumptions could be made based on incomplete evidence.

The one portion that interested me the most was that of Celtic architecture. Nothing, in my mind, has more impact on a culture than their architecture. The Celts were incredibly practical when it came to their designs and buliding materials, and created villiages and cities that were easy to maintain as well as completely functional in their given environment. The best example that I can think of are the insular Celts and their use of round wattle and cob housing. The shape maximized the efficiency of heat retention, while the building materials provided for a quick and easy way to construct and maintain a lasting structure. A great example of such architecture can be found at the current Butser's Ancient Farm, where a number of ancient structures have been created in a 1 to 1 scale archaeological experiment.

For those interested in a quick introduction to Celtic belief systems, Ellis provides a comprehensive overview of the belief system as given to us by archaeological finds and existing epics in the old Irish. As one reads the evidence presented, it becomes clear how the Celts can be considered Indo-European, as it parallels various Sandskrit, Latin, and Germanic belief systems.

All in all, the book is an amazing read, and I would recommend it for anyone interested in a quick overview of the Ancient Celts as a cultural identity. The list of suggested reading also provides a number of additional references should you become interested in more indepth examinations into the Celtic peoples of the pre-Roman era.

January 13, 2007

Apple ][: Return to Cupertino

For those that have been following my blog, you will recall that last month I attended a Candidate for Train the Trainer Training, which allowed Apple to determine if I were qualified to teach the Mac OS X Support Essentials class. Well, I have been asked to return in order to go through the Train the Trainer program for Mac OS X Server Essentials class.

It's important to note that returning this soon after another class is very unusual. In order to qualify for the Server Essentials course, one needs to have completed at least two classes for Support Essentials, with a result of 4.0 or higher (maximum 5.0). That also includes access given to the Apple Training Intranet for tracking, supplies, etc. Well, in this case, because we at the University of Utah will be offering this course in March, the training department had made a specific exception in my case.

I will be staying at the Cupertino Inn again, as it was a very pleasant experience the first time. Again, the class appears to be held in the Harry Potter room (in De Anza 7), which is the location of the training department, and legal team for Apple. I hope to have roughly the same experience that I had last time, which included:

1. Lunch time at Caffe Mac, with the excellent Italian, Japanese, Mexican, and popular American food selection.
2. Time with the Training staff, as I am looking to find a more academically friendly deployment method for the class.
3. Time at the Company Store, particularly if the trainer is willing to vouch for us (which means we get company discounts).

Small things have changed my potential purchases, namely I don't intend to purchase a Video iPod, as I had wanted. No, instead I will be getting an iPod Shuffle (for mobile usage), and saving the remainder of the money I was going to spend for the iPhone's release. I will also be purchasing some clothing for my Apple classes that I will be offering, as well as some more software for my Mac.

So what do I expect from this experience? Well, I intend to spend a lot of money, get to network with more people at Apple, and ultimately get some goals done for the University. I don't think that this experience will improve my teaching or presentation skills, though it may help me fine tune them. Expect me to drop at least one post while off in the land of the Mac, particularly if there is anything of note to mention.

January 12, 2007

Learning Styles: A New Perspective

It's been a while since I have focused on education and training, what with all the exciting news from Apple about their new iPhone. But I came across a really neat article in Google Scholar search that I thought I would review for you here:

Learning and Teaching Styles In Engineering Education

Most instructors and learners deal with the "simple three" when it comes to learning methods, i.e. tactile, auditory, visual. These methods deal more with how to address a learning method rather than the learning method itself. Because it's easy to take away and implement, it's therefore easy to accept as the norm. But this article by Richard M. Felder covers a different approach to learning that I think should be recognized. Not only does it revolutionize the idea of learning styles and techniques, but it gives greater insight to the learning process. And, as with any insight, it makes implementation less of a complex process.

Karl Jung and Learning
Many of us know Karl Jung for his great insights to the human mind. His phychological analysis is well known, as it breaks up the human phyche into several archtypes with the ability to exibit any given archtype at any given time. That being said, the human phyche has it's preferences, which makes a lot of it's actions more predictable in it's behavior. This is where various concepts of personality traits come about (i.e., the number or color scheme).

For those of you who are not familiar with Karl Jung's work, try to think of it as an extension Quantum Physics. At any given time, anything can happen, but the universe is more likely to perform based on the most likely outcome. The human mind would be roughly the same, but far more volatile. That, in essence, is the basis for this article. Learners have 10 total possible reactions that they could give in a learning situation presenting 32 total combinations of learning styles at any given time. That being said, they are only likely to exibit 5 at any given time, and will most likely exibit the same 5 more often than not.

The five categories are as follows:
Perception
Input
Organization
Processing
Understanding

This is far from the common three that we see on a regular basis. Why is that? Because they are merely aspects of the five listed here. But how do we get 32 total possible combinations from these five? Because each of the five gives us two additional types, and those in combination make 2^5, or two to the fifth power. We will look at these five options, and the two additional types in each later.

Needless to say, this was a new perspective that I have been looking into, and will provide a full accounting once I fully analyze it.

January 10, 2007

Apple iPhone Revisited: The Keynote Presentation

Last night, as I was trying to explain to my wife why I needed to find a way to pay for a $599.00 phone that I wouldn't even use as a phone, I pulled up the Keynote Presentation that Steve Jobs had given himself. Why? Because I wanted her to see it in action to understand why I would want it, and also because I had not seen it. The streaming service was so busy before I headed to work that it wouldn't play.

Seeing the presentation was far more impressive than reading any play by play from any website. The information they gave was correct, but it wasn't complete. Very important features were left out, because they didn't have time to write everything out. Nothing against them at all! But nothing beats viewing the presentation yourself. So, here are my revised views:

What I Didn't Like
Yes, even though I really want to have this device, there was something I didn't like. I didn't like the fact that the Calendar was not demonstrated. I wanted to see something that was impressive based on iCal, but instead Steve missed it. It was even on his agenda. I'm sure those that were there personally had a fairly decent idea, but the streaming presentation had such a poor resolution that one couldn't see it properly to see what the differences are from the various smart phones that were listed.

Also, the price is really high, in my opinion. Granted, I'm speaking as a fairly stereotypical Scot in that regard, but $499.00 is not a price I would pay for a phone. That being said, I would (and have) paid that for a Pocket PC, even without phone capabilities. So it was an internal conflict, but as this is basically a PDA that has just about everything I wanted from an Apple phone, I can justify the price.

Finally, there wasn't an option for video chat on this device, though I can see why. The device doesn't have full 3G capability, but just EDGE (which is fast, but not as fast as 3G). The good news is that Steve said specifically that future phones will have full 3G capability, which I hope will also support video conferencing within the device.

What I Liked and Missed
The interface is amazing, and only done justice from watching it. I had wondered how a quick scroll would happen, and the demo on the Apple website wasn't as clear. Multi-touch UI is wonderful, and I'm glad it's out there, as I do see it becoming the new standard within all personal multimedia devices.

The 2 megapixel camera was also a surprise, as it wasn't pointed out in the reviews that I had seen, nor on the website. I probably could have noticed it if I had paid attention to the icons listed, but regardless I had spent most of my time thinking about widgets that could be developed for the device. It's not the video conferencing camera that I wanted, but it's still pretty cool.

It's running OS X.. not embedded, but pure OS X. That's exciting. Of course it's streamlined, meaning that they left out some development tools that are available for the desktop (i.e., Carbon), but it does support Cocoa applications. Good news? High quality applications that run natively. Bad news? Cocoa is for Objective-C and Java only, and therefore limiting the development platforms that can utilize it. But that being said, Steve Jobs didn't seem too phased when he read the quote about serious software companies developing their own hardware. Basically, they don't mind that their software development is limited. It means that they can control the software that runs on the thing, and therefore supporting it is that much easier.

WIDGETS!!! In case you didn't catch it before, it has WIDGETS!!! For those that don't want to develop full programs for the phone, they can produce a widget that will work. Specifications have not been set for the iPhone as of yet, but once it is set the development will be in full motion. What does it mean for me? I'm looking for an eBook reader that can read one of the major formats through Java or JavaScript, and then convert it to a widget for the phone. At that point the last major requirement I have for a PDA has been met. I will be a happy camper.

This will probably be the last time you will hear about the iPhone from me, until I purchase it. Then I will write up a full review. Until then, we all have to be patient... Argh! ^_^

January 9, 2007

Apple iPhone: Phone or PDA?

Well, all the guessing and waiting has paid off: Steve Jobs announced today in the Macworld Keynote that Apple will be releasing an iPhone in June of 2007. But as they went through the features (according to the live "play by play's" that I have read), it became painfully obvious that it was far more than just a phone, or even an iPod. It will be a computer in and of itself, allowing for WiFi and EDGE connections. That makes it a PDA, at least in my book. Don't believe me? Check out the features as shown by the Apple website:

Touch Screen
As far as I know, there isn't a multi-touch screen out there for a phone. There are some that requires a stylus, but nothing that is meant to work with your own finger, at least not well. The screen is also well designed, with 160 dpi resolution. That's much higher than any phone that I am aware of.

The OS
Yes, it's running Mac OS X Embedded, which means that the OS is robust, based on BSD, and basically has the same interface as the Dashboard (yay!). That is what really sold it for me.. You can build widgets for your iPhone, so software for the iPhone shouldn't be a problem at all! Look for some really cool widgets coming in the near future.

The interface is also intuitive, which means they integrated the Rosetta software from Newton into the QWERTY keyboard interface.. It's really cool based on the demo's available.

PIM
Yes, the personal information management software fully integrates with iCal and Address Book. Also, Mail has full functionality (still can use your Exchange server). There hasn't been any word on it yet, but with WiFi built in, I would be surprised if iCal would sync with the CalDAV server that Lepoard is due to release. That's good news for all Apple IT networks, now if iCal would just have native exchange support! Perhaps that's also coming down the pipe.

Widgets!!!
For those that have been following my public list of wants for an Apple PDA, I mentioned that I wanted a PDA that would use widgets. Well, I got my wish. But instead of having a Front Row interface, it has a Dashboard interface. Before I had time to get dissappointed, it became clear why. It takes a lot less time and effort to use the Dashboard rather than Front Row. And as it doesn't have a click-wheel, Front Row is completely obsolete.

The widgets that come with it are basically the same default widgets with Tiger, with the exception of Google Maps, and the Phone application. Yes, the phone is actually an afterthought, it seems. The design is stressing the usability of the device as a device, not a phone with add-ons. That's what I really like about it.

A Keyboard!
Yes, there is a software keyboard built into the device. More and more, this is looking like a strong candidate for a distance learning student that want's to be able to truly be mobile without taking a huge laptop with them. Why? Because it can be used as such, doesn't require a stylus, and is smaller than my old NEC Pocket PC.

My 2 Cents
I thought that I wanted to get another 12" laptop, but now I don't think I need one. I'll probably get a nice iMac like my wife's, stick with my PowerBook as I need it, but use the Phone for all my day to day applications. That can be done with this device. The expansion of mobile device concept in this direction is incredible.. THis is what I have been looking for in a mobile device. Ease of use (Pocket PC didn't have it), simple application development (widgets), and multiple connection options means this is the device that I would want in my pocket.

January 8, 2007

This Week: Macworld Expectations

There have been a lot of speculation as to what Apple will announce this week in Macworld (the keynote being on Tuesday, Jan. 9th), and many have been quite wild, while others have been fairly conservative. Either way you look at it, someone want's to say that they got it right, and therefore become famous for their ability to "second guess" Apple's company directions. While I have my own theories, I would rather post what I want to see from Apple, as opposed to what I think they will debut. After all, I don't believe in dedication to any one brand, as long as my needs are met.

So, here is what I would like to see, as far as consumer electronics and software are concerned:

A Native Mac PDA
If you remember, I have posted this in the past regarding iPhone that has been rumored. As you know, I don't care about the phone itself, but everything I focused on was for a PDA. The one thing that I would love to see is a PDA by Apple that had applications that would work as Dashboard Widgets (and vice versa), and an interface like Front Row. That would clinch it for me, at least.

iTV with TV Connector
We know that the iTV device is on it's way, but those that have looked at the prototype, it didn't have a hookup for Cable. That means it's not meant to be a replacement for all your devices, just an additional one. Well, I would like to see a TV Connector that will work with the iTV device. There are currently several that will plug in through a USB or FireWire port to your laptop, so it shouldn't be that much more to have it plug into the iTV device with it's USB cable.

A Device to Integrate Cable/Sat. TV with iTV
Wouldn't it be great if all your video can be integrated into the iTV device? That's what I would like, and having an additional device that would integrate Cable and sat. TV with your iTV would make it that much more impressive. Granted, I don't expect this to come from Apple, but from the cable and satellite companies.

iCal integration with Exchange
While the new iCal Server (CalDAV) that is being included with Lepoard is timely, the reality is that most organizations use Exhange for their mail, calendar, etc. server. Why? Because it's all included within the same service. That being said, it's about time that Apple integrated Exchange support within iCal.

A Spreadsheet Program
Pages is decent, and Keynote works for a presentation program, but there still isn't an Excel program that was released by Apple that can compete. That being said, anyone that uses NeoOffice (Mac OS X port of Open Office) knows that there are alternatives to Microsoft's Excel.

More Movies in iTunes
Yes, I would like more movies available through iTunes. Not that I use iTunes a lot, since I generally like to have the additional video and special features, but there are several movies that I wouldn't have minded. Yes, I would purchase some movies though iTunes if I didn't care about special features.

So that is my list that I would like to see come out. While there are a number of other things that could be announced, these are the things I would like to see eventually.

January 3, 2007

Technology Advances since starting my Master's Degree

There were a lot of updates to technology since I started my Master's degree, and the changes have influenced the way distance education can and may be implemented. These are fairly dated, as I originally wrote this entry back in 2005, so please bare with me. ^_^

Technological Advances
The most important technological advances that have been made in the past year and a half are the creation of WiMax wireless communication, the release of Firefox as a browser, the increased development of 64-bit processors, and the release of Mac OS X Tiger. These advances bring distance education closer to each student and instructor with increased speed, security, and performance.

WiMax Wireless Communication
WiMax wireless is a new protocol that allows for wireless speeds of up to 70 Megabits per second. That, of course, isn’t too impressive. Wired networks through a Gigabit connection is at 1,000 Megabits per second. What’s truly amazing about WiMax is that the range of the connection is up to 30 miles, while still maintaining a connection speed of 1 Megabit per second (WiMax Technology article, 2005). This is roughly the same speed of a T-1 connection, which many businesses run off of now.

So what are the implications of this? It means that a reliable, strong wireless connection can be made in even the most remote locations, allowing for broadband Internet access to be brought to even rural areas. As a major limitation for online students in those rural areas, the new availability of wireless broadband Internet increases potential distance learning students. Schools, both secondary and university level, will have the potential and ability to increase their student body without needing to increase the physical campus.

Firefox Browser
The Mozilla group, an open-source organization that had worked on browsers and web rendering in various forms, released Firefox. For a long time, the main complaint amongst users of the Internet were either the bulky performance of complex and all-inclusive browsers like Netscape or Mozilla, or the security concerns that came with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Because of the proliferation of Windows, the largest market share had gone to Internet Explorer.

With the release of Firefox, there was finally a browser that had a small imprint, had the speed off Internet Explorer, but yet was amazingly secure and safe to use. Bugs and issues were quickly found and fixed, maintaining the safety and security that the general user had looked for in an Internet experience. In fact, since it’s release, Internet Explorer’s market share has dropped from over 95% to under 90%. Websites, such as eBay, have realized that they need to cater to additional browsers, instead of just Internet Explorer (Mozilla.org article, 2005).

So how does this effect distance education? Most learning management systems require browser access, and as Internet Explorer loses market share, it’s necessary to design courses to work with all browsers, and not just one. This requires more work on the instructor’s side, in order to cater to each of the browsers that are likely to be used. This means designing the courses for Internet Explorer and Firefox, as well as Mac’s Safari. Ultimately, it would mean simplifying the HTML code to basic code, instead of using a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor. This is because your WYSIWYG web page editors like Front Page or Netscape Composer tend to include additional code that is specific to their platforms they cater to.

64-Bit Processor
The 64-bit processor is an innovation that increases software productivity, provided that the software has been designed for it. Generally, it means that software or program rendering is done with additional speed, such as rendering video or processing database entries. Servers benefit the most, allowing for increased database performance, server response time, and therefore more number-crunching power (Langberg, 2005).

How does this benefit distance learning? Students are able to access their material faster and with better response times while using a server with a 64-bit processor. But it doesn’t stop at the server level. Instructors using a computer with 64-bit processing power can render video in real time, stream video and audio from their system. For example, Apple has built in 64-bit software for High Definition imaging and video processing. It also allows for better software clustering, increasing the processing power by adding additional Macintosh computers together.
Macintosh OS X: Tiger

When Apple and released their Unix-based OS, many thought that it would be the doom of the company. Instead it gave the Macintosh, which was already well designed through the user interface, a stable and versatile basis that became very popular with the growth of Linux and Linux programmers. With the release of Tiger, their latest version of the Mac OS, systems are more easily clustered, provide better security, and allow server systems to be installed on a desktop for easy offline development (Apple website article, 2005).

How does this benefit distance learning? The first benefit would be the server side. Showing the versatility and power of the Unix format, Mac OS X Tiger integrates many of the strengths of an open source environment that otherwise would be associated with the Linux movement that is constantly being attacked by Microsoft. Mac OS X brings apparent legitimacy to the open source movement, and sets a level of performance that needs to be met. This means that future educational environments can be developed and implemented on a Mac OS system. An excellent example would be my implementation of Moodle, an open source learning management system, on my Powerbook. This makes it easier to develop course material offline.

Conclusion
There are a number of technology advancements that have made, or will make, distance learning easier and more effective. That being said, there are also a number of innovations that will make designing a course more complicated, or more specialized. Learning at a distance requires keeping up with the latest technology releases, because so much can change in such a little time. Here, with the release of new wireless technology, new browser technology, processing power, and innovations in server-side technology, learning management and course design becomes an exercise in organization.












Resources
Anonymous, WiMax Technology WiMax Forum website, found at HYPERLINK "http://www.wimaxforum.org/technology" http://www.wimaxforum.org/technology on 5/30/2005

Anonymous, Firefox: Rediscover the Web, Mozilla.org website, found at HYPERLINK "http://www.mozilla.org/products/firefox/" http://www.mozilla.org/products/firefox/ on 5/30/2005

Langberg, Mike 64-bit upgrade is right move for Microsoft, The Seattle Times, Business and Technology section May 30th, 2005, found at HYPERLINK "http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2002292806_btsoho30.html" http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2002292806_btsoho30.html on 5/30/2005

Anonymous, Mac OS X Tiger Overview, Apple website found at HYPERLINK "http://www.apple.com/macosx/overview/" http://www.apple.com/macosx/overview/ on 5/30/2005
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