Friday, June 18, 2010

A Story of Transit: 48 Hours

... many miles over a short time, with lots of good conversations!

I always find it amazing that when you go in simple faith that things will just work out and relax... things just work. The past two days have been a great example...

I knew I needed to attend and present at a TALCO meeting up at the Durham Board of Education in Whitby on the Friday. This presented on opportunity to slate a workday with a colleague on Thursday, seeing as I was going to be up in the general area.

The challenge was to see how I could stitch disparate locales together and still leave my car at home so as not to deprive my 21 yr old of wheels!  Time to stitch together our wonderful, disjointed bits of public transit, call on a few good friends to collect me at end points... and then just relax and let the adventure flow...
(shot this at the Georgetown GO station at 6:45 AM, Friday morning)

Thursday morning:
(5:00 AM) 
Car from home to VIA station (Windsor) [thanks Brenden!]
VIA train
from Windsor to London
change trains, VIA train from London to Georgetown
from Georgetown to town of Acton (10:30 AM) [thanks Debbi!]

- workday in Acton -

Friday morning:

(6:30 AM) 
Car from Acton to Georgetown [thanks Walter!]
GO train
from Georgetown to Union Station, Toronto
from Union Station to Lawrence Station, Toronto
from Lawrence Station (Toronto) to town of Whitby (9:30 AM) [thanks Ruth!]

- workday in Whitby at the Durham Board of Ed -

Friday afternoon & evening:

(4:00 PM) 
Car from Whitby to McCowan LRT station in Scarborough [thanks Philip!]
LRT train
from Scarborough to Kennedy Station, Toronto
from Kennedy station to Bloor/Yonge Station, Toronto
Change subway lines, then subway from Bloor/Yonge Station down to Union Station, Toronto
VIA train
from Union Station (Toronto) to VIA Station (Windsor)
from VIA Station (Windsor) to home. (11:50 PM) [thanks Pat!]

Along the way one ride fell through, some connections were late... but in the end it all worked.
 - saw great sights from train windows;
 - had great conversations with friends as we shared rides;
 - received trustworthy and friendly directional advice from strangers;
 - swapped stories with fellow passaengers enroute....

I was technologically passed along as well - my network connections swapped along seven  different ISPs while I maintained connectivity *most* of the time (okay - there was one series of firewall issues... grumble...).  My laptop and iPad preformed as the usual road warriors I have come to trust them to be.

It was a long and busy 48 hours... but well worth the effort.

Thanks, everyone!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Best "spots" at the 2010 Enviro-Expo

2010 Enviro-Expo

I went to the 2010 Enviro-Expo which highlights some of the best new ideas and gadgets in the environment and "green" field of thought…
Many of the innovative designs come right out of our local tool & die shops as they refocus energies on more than just the automotive industry. Here are some of my favs... I expect you may see these enter the consumer market soon... indeed some are already available.

Homeowner's rooftop wind turbine
silent magnetic wind turbine

It's meant for YOUR home's rooftop, uses magnetic coils instead of traditional turbine parts... NO sound at all. ...very lightweight so moves in slightest breeze, but tough - can handle sustained winds up to 45 mph.   Watch for this  from Honeywell...

Also from Honeywell - wonderful very low power LED lights which fit all the standard incandescent bases, have warm colour ranges, can be easily dimmed, generate NO heat...

LED ribbon; lavenderLED ribbon lighting

This stuff is great! ... comes by the meter - totally flat, cycles through colours or can be remotely controlled, is very bright.... has very low power consumption. ( NOTE: no more of that heavy awkward "rope" lighting stuff!)

2000 watt solar panelsGenerate 2000 Watts with these solar panels
Each panel (6 of them here) generates 2000 watts electricity, and comes with "sell it back to Ontario Hydro" connection... pays back within 3 years, earns after that...
What's your rooftop earning for you?

even die green!You can even "die" and stay "green"
Entire casket is biodegradable... no hazardous chemical finishes, no metal parts or fasteners... just wood, wood fiber, hemp fiber.... Already available at funeral homes and they even have the embalming fluids with no hazadous chemicals as well.

recycled drink pouches
recycled drink pouches
Beach bags made of re-used foil drink pouches...
Very chic!

enviro packaging

enviro packaging

Made from simple corn, with higher protective cushioning level than styrofoam, and disolves in water within 15 minutes...

Farmers also promoting "green" business ideas....
Just don't eat it... won't hurt you... just awful to taste!

So... as Earth Day 2010 rolls around this year, what are you inventing to help the environment?

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Pebble in a Pond… further thoughts on Google Wave

Google Wave has now become a part of my daily toolset. The newness and giddy experimental phase has passed and now the "is it good-enough" functionality assessment is settling in.

Those who know me well have experienced my dance through applications and utilities… at any given time there can be hundreds apps on my laptop and another thousand or so on the towers…. and I prune them regularly when they fail to live up to my demanding expectations.

This number has been shrinking as I find robust enough web/cloud apps that enable collaborative work with online colleagues. Google Wave seemed to bring the promise of meeting that need… but was it good enough to join the elite stable of keepers? It needed to be put to the test.

Moving the Wave into my daily routine

Once we got the development team into Wave, we brought it in to our dev routine to see how it could enhance the workflow. It quickly became the tracking tool and communication hub… it was the bulletin board to leave messages, the daily reminder for "what to tackle next", the wish list for new feature ideas we wanted to pursue…

Some of the easily integrated extensions in Wave added functionality:
  • we added embedded live site views to demonstrate problems and fixes,
  • dropped in screen shots to demonstrate differences,
  • added polls to vote on changes,
  • embedded a Google calendar to track milestone dates
Side problems that grew lives of their own and future release ideas were easily split into their own waves for ongoing discussion.

Along the way I set up several "idea" and "how-to" waves for further exploration of the tips and tricks I'd learned… like how to embed the i-frames correctly, the steps to place a google calendar, and testing of a code snippet editor that maintained syntax coloration. These were shared more broadly, with folk beyond the dev team.

Are We There Yet?

I think so… Wave is still Preview Beta, and still by invitation only (though we were able to get all our team invited)… but it is already proving to be a useful tool within the workflow.
All the team are on the same page… outstanding items get tracked within the threaded flow, and the blips get flagged as done or detailed with future considerations. The embedded examples of site page and code add a richness and visual clarity to the discussion.
Yup... it's a keeper.

Good going, Wave team!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Starting small ripples in a big pond - GOOGLE Wave goes preview

"Hi - I'm
and I'd like to wave with you! "

As one of the lucky ones to gain an invitation to Google Wave, I'd like to document some of the possibilities and curiosities discovered in the first few days of being immersed. It's a whole new mindset folks - some of the expectations brought forward from previous social media tools like Twitter, IM and Skype still apply, but others seem counter-intuitive and are raising healthy waves of discussion in this fast growing community.

Several folk have already documented rudimentary user guides (see Google Wave 101) so I won't duplicate this effort... instead I'm focusing on the user experience: what's disconcerting, what's different, and what's exciting.

Browser inequities
We've experimented with most of the standard browsers out there and found some interesting quirks - Google's own Chrome browser fairs very well (no surprise there!) Firefox also fairs well with very few noted problems for either Mac or PC. Flock is also smooth in Wave - indeed it seems more responsive that Firefox. Safari is not quite as happy, and IE is bearing some bruises as well... One of my friends is using Swiftfox which is Firefox 3.5 on a Ubuntu Jaunty OS - she notes that it works but has had a few problems. This is still a very new preview version of Wave... browser support will likely be a moving target for some time to come.

As you type - it appears
Initially it's very disconcerting to see people's responses appear as they actually type them - to see the typing corrections, the word changes, the sentence substitutions... there is no sober second thought here - as you start to type, your every keystroke is live to all other participants in the current wave. In many ways it is like a peek into a colleague's mind/thought process as you see their keystrokes - and very unlike Twitter or Skype where you can type, edit, rethink and rework your words before committing them to be public.

It certainly speeds up the conversation... you can jump right in and start responding or adding to the information as soon as you perceive the flow - no need to wait for them to finish the thought! Reminiscent of a free-for-all conversation? Sure is, and some wave conversations are already revolving around the "netiquette" of letting one speaker finish before jumping in...
Even more interactive is the ability to actively edit what others have written.. even while you are still word-smithing an extended response, another wave participant can can jump in on words you just typed and start editing them. Note that YOUR posts have open edit access to all in the wave - not just you. Depending on your browser, AND which panel within the Wave environment you have opened the wave in, these edits by other folk may be highlighted in yellow, or bolded, or flagged with the other waver's name while these edits are current. [NOTE: Go back to a comment within a wave at a later point, and the only indication of an edit is that the authorship of the comment is now credited to all users that have touched it... there is no indication which words or sentences are attributed to which author. ... hmmm]

If you have a high level of need to think, rethink and carefully craft your words before others see them, this instant as-you-type viewing will deeply disturb you. When working and waving with folk with whom you have a level of trust, however, this is incredibly liberating to the flow of the conversation and to the collaborative process... much close to a realtime conversation then a long scrolling roll of chat.
This kind of open conversation and experimentation builds a wonderful collaborative group dynamic - Doug Peterson sums it up well in his blog post about his initial Wave experience - "Building Knowledge and Trust".

Waves are nonlinear
Even more fun comes when you realize that a wave is not a linear timeline ... there is no need to add your 2 cents worth at the end of the toilet paper roll and hope your friends realize your comment pertains to something from several hours (or days) earlier... instead just click on the comment or item within the wave that you want to tag or add to, and a new indented box places your comment within the wave, hierarchically threaded to fit the point where you were relating. In a busy wave it is almost magical to see comments blossoming up and down the length of the wave - many expanding ripples of thought!
So how do you read a wave? - Each time you see the list of active waves in your inbox, each wave shows a numeric indicator of how many items are in that wave, and how many of these have been added since you were last there... once the wave is open, all new items have bright green margins so you can quickly scroll through and see what's been added. You can choose to click on and mark each item as read individually, or click a button and flag the whole wave as read. It seems overwhelming at first, but some of my waves have over a hundred participants, and I find it quick and easy to catch up on the conversations... and jump in at the points where I wish I'd been present to interject. Anytime the wave's levels of threading get too confusing or you want to see just how the current conversation came to be, you have the option to rewind it, and play it back sequentially, one addition at a time.
And you can capture and archive the wave as a read-only copy for future reflection.

The tsunami effect
Start your ripple, but the wave is free to grow...

One click is all that is needed to start a new wave... enter your topic or opening sentence and then click to add as many of your contacts to the wave as you wish - a small discussion group of three colleagues or a larger group of all your friends - just click on their name and they are also on the wave. The next time they log in, they'll see your new wave in their inbox and see all the current conversations, gadgets, images and included files those already active in the wave have contributed. One feature getting discussion is the fact that anyone within a wave is free to add anyone else they want to... waves GROW with participants as they become popular. This "add your buddies" behaviour is not new in social media tools - within Skype, anyone in a group chat could add in anyone else. What's different in Wave is the content access... unlike Skype where you only see the conversation from the point you were added, Wave lets you see the full wave content from it's inception.

Floods of contacts
Anyone you see in a wave is just one click way from being added to your contacts list... it becomes very easy to find folk and build contacts. Indeed some waves can be created as open and public.. you can add yourself... and thus there are growing "directory waves" of educators, of librarians [self-organized into a alphabetical list, of course! ;-) ], of IT folk... "Linked-In" waves, so to speak.
Controversy swirls here too... with open growing waves, your contact information is out there and some wavers have noted a concern...
"By being in a wave, anyone who is invited to the wave (regardless of source) can then add us to their contacts. Spam potential? There is no way to block. Just flag subsequent waves as Spam -- it's already one of the options in the toolbar".
This will be something to watch... there's nothing like floods of spam to kill a good conversation!

Is this new social environment still quirky? - you bet!

Some odd bugs noted are:
  • the ability to add users to your contact list - but never delete them ( delete function is missing)... feels a bit like Hotel California!
  • no ability to see who's online or not... while a wave may contain any users, it's difficult to know who's live unless you catch them typing!
  • some actions, like sorting waves into folders within your inbox and colour coding them for ease of sort are finicky.. you often don't see the changes you've made unless you force a screen refresh or log out and back in again.
... but hey - it is a preview version... still in infancy beta!

Cool tools and gadgets

I'm still busy exploring all that is possible... but there is a growing list of extensions and gadgets working within Google Wave... plus a number of reported successes with some of the tools from the Google Gears toolset.

Do plan to have both bandwidth and RAM... Wave is not for slow connectivity, nor older computers.

Is it worth the effort to muck about, explore, learn, fail and play? ... definitely!

And one final thought in closing ... here's a humorous quick explanation of what Wave is... and why folk are scrambling for invitations... enjoy!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Access Copyright Decision - the impact, and the possibilities for change

Ontario school boards have been recently informed that they face huge retroactive copyright bills following Access Copyright Board's decision. (read the news coverage of this story )
This average 6-figure $$ charge per board covers the retroactive copyright charges for photocopying texts in schools...

While this comes at a time that many boards are struggling to balance budgets, it should come as no surprise... the boards have been challenging the payment of copyright fees in education and have known a ruling was coming for over a year now. .... so that's a can of worms I'm not going into...

The silver lining... an opportunity for change

What I *do* want to comment on is the opportunity, or silver-lining for education in this ruling. The paper-bound era of the photocopied classroom needs to be rethought.
This ruling makes a solid case toward using online / digital resources in the classroom; resources which add currency and relevancy, are primary-sourced, and cover broader scoop. They are much friendlier to environment too!
... And there are MANY solid digital and online resources provided for educational use:

• The excellent online journals and databases provided to the entire province through Resources Ontario are just one prime example - they cover resources from EBSCO, Gale, Cedrom, etc.

• The amazing "primary-source" digitized originals included in the discovery portal add a richness to the study of social sciences, civics and heritage that make a photocopied page pale in comparison.

Using these, and similar resources, students' assignment work can be expressed in full digital, multimedia formats... boosting student interest and engagement.

Surely it's time to step away from the binder of photocopied handouts as student notebook!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Update on Personal Identity & OpenID

I've updated the information for "Personal Identity and Online Persona - Using an OpenID" and enriched it with additional links as part of the presentation I offered as online session for my colleagues in Australia.

The updated posting can be found over on their Edublogs Live PD site.

The Live Recording (60 minutes) of the session can also be played back.

It was a fun session, with lots of good comments! I enjoyed our conversations.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

OpenID - rolling forward with broad use

"The Dam Just Broke:
Facebook Opens Up to OpenID

Facebook has become the biggest example of a social network that allows users to log-in with OpenID credentials granted to them by other companies' websites. Major networks have said for months that their ID could be used as OpenID, but becoming "relying parties" that accepted OpenID from elsewhere was the step everyone was waiting for. The dam has broken."
Read the full article at the ReadWriteWeb site.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Owning Your Digital Identity

... a journey through digital personas and reputations

I'm starting with some basic assumptions...
• you are online
• you have an email account
• you may use online conveniences [banking, income tax, savings bonds, pension plan, OCT, benefit inquiries, passport]
• you may use online services [paypal, ebay, iTunes]
• you may engage socially [twitter, facebook, skype, chat, wiki, blog]
• someone you associate with owns a digital camera [you've been tagged - did you know?]
• someone you know uses twitter, facebook, skype ... and mentions you.
So... even if you *think* you are not known virtually... you are.

Let's talk about your digital identity...
I used to try to avoid a digital trail, to lurk and go unnoticed... so a lot of my accounts used aliases and avatars. I did not even post any pictures. But eventually I realized I had no control over others (and cameras are everywhere now) - so now I select the kinds of images I hope will represent me... (though a small .PNG file of my windsordi avatar is still most likely how you'll see me as it's known and is a tiny reusable file).
I previously lurked and read the works of others, but never posted comments and shared little of my own. But over the years I've changed ... I've embraced the concept of open learning and sharing thanks to solid teaching and modeling by fine folk like @courosa, @shareski, @dougpete , @suewaters and a host of others in my PLN. Instead of trying to *hide my assets*, I have learned to *share - but be digitally aware*.
I live online, I track my digital footprint, I take care with passwords and I regularly review my digital reputation and identity.

First stop on the journey... Can you avoid all this digital identity stuff?
The short answer is NO. ... no more than you can avoid using the internet. Services and business are now online, your government expects to serve you online. Indeed it is almost impossible to not be offered virtual contact as the primary point of contact, with some secondary grudging possible options for a *real life* person.
How fast is this moving? An excellent brief review of the current Forrester research in this area is provided by Jeremiah Owyang in his business blog. It's coming if it's not already here in your life - interacting in a social network across connected services will be the norm.

So.. you have to function here... can you be private about it?
MAYBE... but remember - others won't be
• anyone can see who you talk to (check out Twitter Friends)
• and, of course, who they talk with... and "share" you with (Twitter Friends)
• and the reputations of company you keep (TwitterSheep)
and I'm not even going to start on photo sharing and Facebook - that's another entirely separate discussion!

Remember - the social tools expect that you have this "connectedness". You need it for many of the tools to function.
Just like you carefully built and nurtured your financial and credit rating during your teen and early adult years;
Just like you built your professional accreditation and reputation;
Now it's time to build your online reputation and social credibility.
Nothing to be afraid of - just some practical steps.

Tools that know who you are (HINT: use them yourself!)
Let's talk tech for a moment... how do these tools work? How do sites know about you... the key words to know are microformats, RDF and FOAF.
Microformats are the unseen bits and pieces that any site provides to enrich the content being presented. RDF and RDFa are ways of repurposing the visible content on screen... and FOAF - which stands for friend of a friend, is the way your connections get tracked and linked. All this information may not even be visible to you on the site... but it is there, it can be scraped, and there are tools to view it and collect it. Don't be afraid of it - be aware of it. Use it yourself.

Want to see these tools in action? ... then download a couple of the popular Firefox browser plugins and check out a Twitter profile.
These browser add-ons or toolbars allow you to easily see the microformat data on the page - and to see how quickly the information can be collected and shared.

Google makes good use of the microformat data and is very efficient at aggregating it into a user profile. Here's my google identity.
And there are browser tools that let you tap into this information live from any web page you are on... Identify: Google People With Two Keystrokes

Why it matters - your Online Reputation and Credibility
You should be aware of the need to track and manage your online identity - not as a horror story approach, but rather as an awareness that digital hijacking is possible... your reputation can be pwn'd. Some reading for you...
Why, When & How to Protect Your Brand Online
A Guide to Protecting Your Online Identity

So - know your digital footprint - know where you live online. Use some of the online services to track your identity:
• See who *else* is presenting as *you* - try UserName Check. This tool is intended to allow you to test a possible user name across many social sites at once... but it's great at reporting where your current user name is in use. Spot any that you don't think you have an account at?
• Once you've claimed your Google ID, plug it into the next link then scroll down to see Site Connectivity - who's claiming to be connected you?
• ..and the most basic option of all, of course, is to Google yourself! You may be surprised at the pages of information about you... and see some things you had not expected.

The Wrong Way - The Right Way
- too many logons and passwords to remember?
- letting the browser or computer *remember me*?
- use the same password EVERYWHERE?
- have stickie notes stuck to your monitor?... or under your keyboard?
- using obvious security questions?
- actually told the truth about your birthday?
- flagged or pinned your home location on a map?
If so, you may be guilty of being careless with your information. Time to tidy up.

Let's talk password management and levels of logon... I'd recommend using an OpenID tool rather than trying managing a string of passwords. The concept of having an online identity management system is not new...companies have been trying to own this space:
- 1999 - Microsoft "passport" (now Windows Live ID)
- 2008 - "Facebook Connect"
- 2009 - "Sign in with Twitter"
[Note: see a comparison of these last two.]
You need to understand how these services operate and then use something that fits your online style.

What is OpenID?
OpenID is a way of identifying yourself no matter which web site you visit - an account creation tool and a logon option where you choose how much web sites get to know about you. You do NOT have to provide all the personal detail some sites think they have the right to ask. Two great, easy-to-read sites explain the concept...

    How to get an OpenID? Surprise! You may already have one. If you use any of the listed services, you already have your own OpenID
    I really like to use a PIP - a Personal Identity Portal format for my openID. Verisign - one of the trusted names on the net offers a personal certificated OpenID service.

    Once you have one, where can you use your openID?
    Many sites now offer this as a logon alternative. If your site doesn't, use their "contact us" link and ask why not!

    Remember - have different levels of *you* - you can have different openIDs for different levels of risk. One for your open sharing social media sites... another one for serious interactions or purely professional logons. Remember that this virtual persona will accumulate all the microformats bits of data into a viewable ID.
    I've been asked how to replace the current crop of sloppy passwords at existing sites, with the new, clean OpenID. There is no easy answer here - yet. Some sites will let you reset completely, but most just allow new passwords, not new user logons unless you are willing to lose all your accumulated data and start fresh. You'll have to decide for yourself where to cut loose. But trust me - you will be joining new sites and signing on for new online services... from now on, vow to stay clean with one OpenID.
    Is this ID any safer than a strong password? No - if you are casual with the logon to the site you use as your OpenID and stick it to your monitor, then you are at as much risk as before. You still have to be responsible with your data. You still have to start with one STRONG password. There's just a lot less to have to remember.

    Shaping the Public *You*
    You do have the power to correct and shape the microformat data that accumulates in your online ID. You can selectively emphasis the friends you are proud to associate with! FOAF-a-matic is a simple online form approach which lets you describe yourself in RDF ( not all that difficult - honest!) and gives you a simple line of code to embed into your wiki, blog... etc.
    And there are FOAF tools to let you see the result... try FOAF.Vix - a FOAF Visualizer and Relation Explorer.

    If you just want to simply edit the information already collected, and not be bothered with embedding any code then follow these helpful hints - "Now You Can Change What Google Says About You" (even easier to do !)

    If you create a valid ID for yourself, populate it well, and update it regularly - it becomes much harder for someone else to become you virtually. Real identity theft is always an ongoing problem, but reputational theft becomes much harder. Online sources and data accumulators rank the data they collect... if you shape the bulk of it and populate it with the "good stuff" about you, the bad and misleading will still appear... but much lower down the list.
    Earlier we visited my google ID... now you can see why it is as rich as it is. It is shaped with the good stuff... and I can alter it at will.

    Open Learning plug...
    Now that you know... teach your students... don't *assume* they get it!
    As students join social media sites or build class wikis, they should start with one secure OpenID.
    As they start out into the co-op and work world, they should learn to shape the public persona they present.

    I offered this dialogue as an online PD session recently for the Ontario Educators' Meetup . You can listen and follow along with the chat in the recording of that Connect session .
    Take a moment to check out the results of the online polls. How do you rate yourself?
    How many of these online identity bad habits are you guilty of?
    What do you know about openID?
    How many of there pro-active steps have you done for your online ID and reputation?

    Any questions?

    UPDATE: Saw this related interesting article... a nice follow-up and further food for thought... Opinion: I got yer privacy right here, pal