Lately it’s been knee-jerk to Tweet an article that we recommend to our followers to read. I do it with articles, videos and funny pictures all the time. A long time ago, in a place not so far away (right here actually), I would blog about articles that I recommended. It would be a quick post with a link and maybe some short commentary. Blogging is not dead for me, even though we joke about it in the DTLT office. We are not as prolific as our fearless leader, our “Big (Blogging) Toe“.
However, now its time to BLOG about an article. One that I feel is extremely important. I guess, so important that I didn’t Tweet it – I need to BLOG it!
Did you read it? If you did, good. No, great! Now go act. Contact the FCC. Save the Internet before it’s too late. I’m not being hyperbolic. The Internet as we know it, or rather, knew it, is being morphed from what will serve the needs of the public, to what will serve the needs of those few companies that provide services and access to it. With no competition and ever rising prices for access.
To begin our story, the state of Virginia, and other southern states have recently had to deal with at least a couple of nasty winter storms. I write this as my university has closed for the second day in a row courtesy of about 10″ of the white stuff. This most recent storm crippled traffic in the Raleigh, NC area, in the same manner that a couple weeks ago traffic was at a standstill in Atlanta, GA.
Just prior to that storm in Atlanta, we here in Fredericksburg had a storm that dumped enough snow to make “snow cream” (I tweeted about it, as shown above).
When the Atlanta storm hit, not only was it unusual for such a storm to be in that area (though not unprecedented), there also arose a conspiracy. Fake snow was manufactured by the government, so the theory goes. It contained nanobots and involved chemtrails, and even includes a specific warning for people NOT to make snow cream out of it and, well, let me let him explain it . . .
OK, say what you will about this explanation and “theory”, it was brought about by some unexpected behavior of snow in a place where it’s not normal to have it. When a lighter is put to that snow, it doesn’t appear to melt, but instead disappears or even burns, leaving behind some black marks. What is the explanation? Well, let me refer you to this guy . . .
So it’s sublimation. That explains the so called conspiracy. There. done. Further experiments show that the snow does indeed melt just like we expect. Now, sublimation is a term, as this gentleman indicates, from “science” – it is when a solid skips the liquid state and goes straight to a gas. When the snow is heated, as with the lighter, it doesn’t melt. It turns directly into a gas and disappears. Or does it? Here’s the real explanation . . .
This video is a bit longer than the other two videos, so if you’ve got a short attention span, the explanation is that the snow isn’t fake, but it doesn’t sublimate either. What happens is that the snow absorbs the melting water when the flame from the lighter is applied. It is well demonstrated when the snow is put in a heated pan and melts. Water doesn’t appear in the pan right away. What you see is the snowball get more and more slushy (to use a scientific term), until the snowball can no longer hold the water, then water disperses in the pan and eventually we are left with just water.
So be honest with yourself. How many would have been satisfied with the sublimation explanation? Obviously many people were. Imagine my excitement when an explanation was posited that it wasn’t explained by sublimation, but an even more simple explanation of absorption (and also the “soot” is there because of a separate chemical process of burning and hydrocarbons being left on the snow).
The point of this post is to ask “what makes us hold our beliefs?” At what point do we walk away satisfied with our answer? Why do we tend to not go deeper? Is it laziness? Lack of curiosity? The definition of science is, in a word, knowing (or knowledge). But scientists don’t stop. They also know that there is STILL plenty of stuff we DON’T know. They keep going because they know there is MORE knowledge out there.
Thanks to Gardner Campbell’s post about the process of discovery, I was reacquainted with this video . . .
The interviewer asks a question he thinks will garner a simple explanatory answer – What’s going on with two magnets when they either repel, or when turned around the other way, attract each other? Richard Feynman’s answer is far from simple. Gardner goes on to describe the “bad Sunday School technique” where the teacher poses a question that has essentially only one right answer. Why ask the question when it results with a dead end?
He also mentions Jerome Bruner and his approach of not “problem-solving” but “problem-finding”. Now goodness knows that academia is riddled with something known as “problemitizing” or creating a problem out of something that should be straight-forward. It’s the stuff that makes your head hurt after a committee meeting designed to move something forward and someone asks that one additional question, “have you thought about this…?” Thus the ultimate question behind it – “What if we get this wrong?”
One of the money quotes from Gardner’s post:
“For it seems to me that we are tempted to imagine reflection as a process of discovering and affirming lessons learned and problems solved, when anyone who has spent a moment in reflection will realize, I believe, that the depths of that practice awaken conjectures and dilemmas.”
This is the dichotomy. At a certain point we make decisions based on the best information – the information that we believe to be true. But there is perhaps infinitely more depth to the questions we are asked.
I’ll stop here, at least for now, because my head, and probably yours, is beginning to hurt. This all reminds me of this scene from Animal House . . .
I’ll end with two more points. First, go read Gardner’s post. It is one of those posts that I am convinced is leading toward good things. Thinking about thinking.
Second is the question many people asked when Bill Nye debated Ken Ham. Why in 2014 are we still debating Evolution vs. Creationism? Was the question answered in this almost three hour debate? I’d be surprised if there were many people who moved to the evolution side (or to the creation side for that matter). Why is that? Because people believe what they want to. They will live with that satisfaction for as long as they want to. They will either stop seeking, or something will trigger them to continue to go deeper. It shouldn’t be difficult to encourage people to go deeper, but we as teachers sometimes get to the point where we find it impossible not to require it. That’s where a good teacher comes in and is able to encourage it.
Epilogue – So the last of the “rivers” that I mentioned above is a project from Kirby Ferguson that is as he calls it “A serialized documentary about the forces that shape us.” I have no idea what will ultimately come out of it, but it has that hook, for me at least, to want to find out more. If Kirby’s “Everything Is a Remix” is any indication (and why I ponied up 12 bucks), it should be terrific!
I am happy to finally be able to announce that the University of Mary Washington has partnered with MediaCore to run a pilot installation of their media platform. MediaCore will mean many things to many people, but more generally it will give members of the UMW community the ability to control and curate their media collections. It will be more than just a “campus YouTube”.
Speaking of Youtube, we all know it and (mostly) love it. However, when it comes to student media projects, especially when they are incorporating copyrighted material and using it every bit within the fair use clause, they can still get dinged with the takedown algorithmhassle. Students having their own media space is crucial for their experimentation and expression (kind of like Domain of One’s Own). What better way to do it within an educational context and on a platform that is specifically geared toward educational media hosting. MediaCore will serve that function and allow students to share their media work locally behind a login, or make their work public when they want/need to.
The other idea behind using MediaCore is the idea of curating “collections”. Youtube, Vimeo, and even content from TED Talks and Archive.org can be curated by a user to share unique combinations of media elements. It allows the viewer to go to one place to view media from disparate places. “Playlists” can then be easily incorporated into a WordPress site or in Instructure Canvas – what UMW uses as its university LMS.
MediaCore is also “mobile ready”, and from both a viewing aspect as well as an “ingestion” aspect. MediaCore’s Capture app for mobile devices allows a user to capture video and upload directly into their MediaCore space. However, it’s not limited to video that you might have just shot. It includes any media that you have saved to your “camera roll” (I can’t speak to how it works on Android devices, but I imagine it’s similar). So this might include images, screenshots, screencasts, or other video produced in any app that saves to your smartphone.
Finally, what will make MediaCore special to the UMW community is the integration with WordPress (both UMW Blogs and the Domain of One’s Own initiative) and with Canvas. MediaCore makes available a WordPress plugin and Canvas LTI integration that will allow users to post video to a WordPress post or page, and any Canvas area (pages, modules, etc.) that uses the visual text editor. You can also upload video to MediaCore through WordPress or Canvas plugin interfaces.
So we will try to push MediaCore to its limits and see what’s possible. MediaCore support have been very responsive to questions as well as suggestions for new features. So let the pilot begin!
Today is the start of the Spring 2014 Semester at the University of Mary Washington. From the window of our office in DTLT we can see the students beginning yet another chapter in their academic career. From the same window we can also see the Information Technology Convergence Center (ITCC) quickly moving along to completion. The frame of the building has been completed for a while, and now we are seeing some of the details like brickwork, and even the cornices being placed. We’ll soon see the columns going up (I hope) and then the attention will turn to the insides of the structure.
To celebrate the new school year and to update you on what the ITCC looks like at this point in time, I present the time-lapse construction video of the building so far . . .
Video captured by TrueLook, Inc. and courtesy of W.M. Jordan Company
Thanks to the TrueLook company - for providing the constantly updated view of the building as it takes shape. They’ll be providing the video when everything is completed somewhere around mid-year. For us in DTLT, the excitement is “building”. Ooh, sorry about that.
Happy New Year one and all! I don’t know what it is, but 2014 is one of those years that sounds special for some reason. I can’t put my finger on it. I was finally able to slow down a bit during the Christmas break. The way things have gone for me in recent years, I have not been able to get into the spirit until after the actual holiday. Musing about surviving the holiday is not new. The turn-off for me begins on “Black Friday” and goes downhill until everyone stops literally trampling each other for holiday deals. Online shopping, for me is a savior – forgive the “reason-for-the-season” pun. Speaking of Online, it certainly was an oft-spoken word in the EdTech community. Certain segments of online course offerings went from boom to bust in 2013 (you know, the “M” word?).
So what got me thinking the most about online education and its efficacy? Christmas lights. Um, yeah, an explanation is needed.
Just after Christmas, my brother came down to visit. One of his suggested activities was to go see the “Tacky Lights Tour” in Richmond, Va. There’s a long list of houses to visit, so in an effort not to drive “all over Richmond”, I used the top 10 list to plot a course of a few of the “best” destinations. I couldn’t have done it without Google Maps and turn-by-turn directions on my iPhone.
The first house was in the Tuckahoe neighborhood, near the University of Richmond. Ahead of us was a limo. That was the first indication of how seriously people take these light shows. It was a narrow street and this particular display didn’t compel me to park and get out. I hoped that the next set would be more impressive to my and my brother’s family. I then plotted the course to the house (actually houses) that the list said was the “must see” – on Asbury Ct.
We turned into the neighborhood and saw a huge display, but we hadn’t reached our destination yet. It was a house that backed up to Westbury Lake, just off Patterson Ave.
This one got us primed. I parked, got out and snapped the shot above. Back in the car to the real destination. As we got close enough to see it, my brother let out an audible gasp.
It’s actually two houses with an unimaginable amount of lights, as well as a window display of animated Christmas dolls. We got there at a good time because as we left there was a small traffic jam forming with more limos and buses (I kid you not). Mind you this was December 30. I can’t fathom what crowds would have been like BEFORE Christmas. Off to our next house – The Christmas House.
A quieter street and a (relative to the last site) more humble set-up, but with a friendly man who greeted us and gave us the story of HIS lights. He said it takes four days just to plug everything in. I thanked him for what he does and wished him a Happy New Year.
Our last house was a visit to what I’m guessing is the most famous couple who put on a display and that’s the house of Al and Esther Thompson’s at 9726 Wendhurst Drive in Glen Allen, Va. You can read and see more about their display at http://www.christmasonwendhurst.com/.
In visiting just these few houses, we were filled with Christmas Spirit and a great sense of joy and care for the holiday.
So I’m doing my best to use words and pictures to convey what I saw that night. I took tons of pictures. Close up, and wide angles. I was trying to capture details that give you a “picture” of the whole. I even took a little bit of video. Lots of news organizations and TV networks have covered the displays. It can’t, however, match being there, in the moment. I couldn’t adequately capture the look of wonder on my son’s face. He did say that it was one of the most amazing things he’s ever seen (at least in his short, 11-year-old life).
And that’s where we are with online education. We’ve made leaps and bounds with technology to help us convey content and disseminate information. However, we are inching forward with technology to give that full experience. Maybe, one day, we’ll have technology that everyone can use and has access to that allows a 3D immersive experience that can closely approximate “being there”. What’s important is that we take advantage of everyone who can write about, and photograph, and create video of these experiences, so as to amplify the experience. That amplified (social) experience is taking place online. It will enable a rich online educational experience. How rich is to be determined, but there are some talented individuals thinking in this space right now, and I have little doubt they will maximize the experience.
Epilogue – Here’s one video segment from CBS to give you a flavor for the Richmond Tacky Lights Tour:
I just finished watching the documentary Room 237. This is not a review of the film, but I found it interesting enough to watch. It probably is something you should see if you’re a fan of the film it references – Stanley Kubrick’s, The Shining.
The basic content of the film is interviews with several people who analyze the film for hidden meanings and conspiracy theories. Some are interesting, and some are just plain wacky.
The one piece of information that has stuck with me has to do with numbers. Specifically repeating numbers. Mirrors play a big role in The Shining, and mirrored numbers play a large part as well. Specifically the numbers 12 and 21 and their doubles 24 and 42. What fascinates me the most is how big a role the number 42 plays (I don’t know why it fascinates me, but so be it). Here are the occurrences of 42 in the film:
When Danny is talking to Tony in the mirror, he has a shirt on with the number 42.
Danny and Wendy are watching the film “Summer of ‘42” while Jack is upstairs (supposedly) sleeping.
Room 237, when multiplied together equals 42.
The number of letters and spaces in “All work and no play makes jack a dull boy” – 42
When Jack visits the Gold Room and walks up to the bar, the stools are arranged four on the left and two on the right.
Mr. Halloran’s license plate of his rental car has an obvious 42 on it.
There are 42 vehicles in front of the Overlook at the beginning of Jack’s interview (not including the Sno-Cat).
42 is the number of times Danny says Redrum near the end of the film.
Most of the above information comes from this post about the numbers, though I did think of the 42 letters and spaces of “All work…” before I saw this site
Time to watch The Shining again and find some more number 42′s.
I am writing this post the day before the October 2013 Apple Event where new iPads, MacBooks, Mac Pros, and a new OS X version known as Mavericks will all be announced. Rumor has it that a new Apple TV (ATV) will be coming soon too, but may not show up until a bit after the event. There’s even some question as to what it will be. The important thing, at least to me, is that Apple keeps adding capabilities that hint at getting serious with their set-top box. For me, it is the most complete device based on my home theater ecosystem.
Until recently, there were a few things that were missing from the box. One was a good built-in radio service, ala Spotify or Pandora. Apple has “fixed” that with their iTunes Radio app which is now prominently displayed in the top row of icons on the ATV screen. Also, more and more TV network apps have been added to watch programming like ESPN (Watch ESPN), the Smithsonian Channel, Disney Channel, and Sky News. The ESPN and Disney apps require that you have a cable subscription and that you authenticate with your cable provider account. The question going forward is whether there will be more independent apps that WON’T require cable. There are other services that would be nice on the device, but you can always use an iPod/iPhone/iPad to Airplay the missing apps to your TV. I do prefer them built-in though. The other issue is that the home screen is getting crowded since Apple has been adding more apps. This may be addressed with an updated device and new interface.
The final piece to this puzzle for me (and the purpose of this post) is the ability to play my HiDef movies (Blu-ray in most cases) through the ATV. That is, I have Blu-ray discs that I’d like to “rip” and then play on the device, and since it doesn’t have a hard drive built in, it means serving them up via my Mac Mini and iTunes. Blu-ray copy protection was cracked almost from day one of the format’s release. I have been using a program called Make MKV (a free program in what seems like a perpetual beta) which will create a single HD video file from Blu-ray movies using the h.264 codec. The problem was (is) that the ATV won’t recognize the .mkv format (actually mkv “container”), even when the h.264 codec is used (most of the apple video out there – QuickTime movies – uses the h.264 codec). So the next step was to use something like Handbrake to re-encode it into an Apple TV friendly file. The problem with that workflow is time. To re-encode a file of this size takes, depending on the processor speed, many hours (like 4-8 hours or more). There’s two problems with that. The first is, who wants to wait 4 to 8 hours? The second is when you re-encode, you’re losing quality. Even though the x.264 codec that Handbrake uses is extremely good quality.
So the solution is a program that I discovered recently called Subler (free from Google’s code repository). What it does is “re-wrap” the file in an Apple compatible wrapper (like an .m4v file that iTunes recognizes). If you’re not familiar with re-wrapping, it essentially takes the files inside one “container” (like .mkv) and puts it in a new container (again – .m4v). The advantage of Subler is that it takes considerably less time to re-wrap than it does to re-encode. So even though the file is several gigabytes in size, it will take about 30 minutes to complete. Note – that is on top of the 30-60 minutes that Make MKV takes to rip your Blu-ray disc. So an hour and a half versus 4+ hours. You decide.
Once you have your .m4v file, just add it to your iTunes library and then if you are sharing iTunes, your ATV will see it. Subler also adds metadata so you can indicate that the file is a movie, in 1080p HD, and even include the artwork for the movie (a google image search for the movie will give you what you need). It will then appear in your list of movies with the artwork and an “HD” indicator. I can report that the video looks fantastic – and I have one of the 2nd generation ATVs that only does 720p (I also have a TV that is 720p). Obviously the 1080p files get scaled down, in case you were wondering whether a 1080p file works on a 720p Apple TV. On a new 3rd gen. Apple TV with a new-ish flat panel it will look, well, like a Blu-ray disc should.
Two final notes. First, 1080p, Blu-ray quality video is only half the equation. When creating the MKV file and then using Subler, you need to make sure to use the multiple channel information (i.e. 5.1 surround) to get the full glory of the movie on your home theater.
Second. You should know that Subler will only be able to re-wrap to an Apple format if the MKV file is using the h.264 codec. I have HD-DVDs that I have used codecs like MPEG 2, and VC1, so they will need to be “transcoded” to h.264 (or x.264 in the case of Handbrake). That means get ready to wait.
I’ll be working on some screencasts to show you some of this as soon as possible. Those of you who know your way around this stuff already can get started with moving your Blu-rays to your Apple TV right away. Enjoy the Apple Event tomorrow and here’s hoping that they have something truly new to show off.
I’m writing this simple (hopefully short) post to ask something of you. I want you to subscribe to the YouTube Channel known as UMW NewMedia. So far I’ve asked people to just do it, and with moderate success, the number of subscribers has increased. What I haven’t done is told you why. Hopefully, after that, you will be more willing to (if you already have, thank you most kindly!).
YouTube, well, you know what that is. I would waste your time explaining it. One part of YouTube that I’m very interested in is the Live service that they now have. You can now live stream using YouTube, but in order to use the service you need to have a certain number of subscribers. When it first landed you needed 1000 people. Now it is a more modest 100 subscribers. The UMW NewMedia account has 47 as of this writing. So I need your help (again, those who haven’t already subscribed). You DO need a YouTube account yourself. You then need to go to the UMW NewMedia YouTube Channel. Login, if you aren’t already, and hit that Subscribe button! Once we get to 100 subscribers that will enable our live streaming capability and we will bring you more live streaming events (from our own account) like the Minding the Future event we just held at the University of Mary Washington campus.
Now there is no reason not to subscribe. Really, NO REASON. And thank you!
We now have a place where UMW student media producers can go to get creative. Announcing 4 new iMacs at our Simpson Library (near the circulation desk)!
We’ve certainly had Macs available before to students, but they have been within specific departments. The Arts Complex – duPont (Theater and Dance), Pollard (Music), and Melchers Halls (Art & Art History) has long had Macs available for THEIR OWN students. However, when a student from an “outside” department wants to use a Mac, their weren’t many (any?) options. I wrote about these Macs at the end of last year and put forward the argument that Windows machines were mostly inferior for digital media projects. Now with these Macs accessible to any student (a UMW login is required), and software such as Final Cut Pro X, and Adobe Photoshop available to use, I can sleep better at night.
We still have some configuration issues we want to work out such as giving users a common “Dock” that has all of the software visible. I also am working on documentation for media production to help students who are new to this stuff. It’s interesting to see that these machines are being used, because more and more people are getting comfortable with them, and bringing them to campus. I have overheard student’s excitement about it.
Of course, all of this is a precursor to opening up the IT Convergence Center next Fall, and providing those spaces to work on digital media projects. Our library already offers up for loan some digital cameras as well as iPods and iPads, and more of this will happen in the new building. I also feel a bit funny still touting Macs over Windows machines, but I don’t think anyone can argue that Movie Maker is better than something like iMovie. And, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Final Cut Pro X is THE best video editor out there.
Finally, for you geeks out there, here are the specs on the iMacs as well as the software that is available:
21.5″ iMac w/ 3.1 GHz i7 processor
16GB of RAM
1TB Fusion Drive
NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M 512MB video card
Apple Mouse and Extended Keyboard
Apple Final Cut Pro X
Adobe Production Premium Suite CS6 – Photoshop, Premiere, Illustrator, Flash, After Effects, and more
Miro Video Converter
Evom Video Converter
Follow up – It should be noted that there are Mac’s (complete with Final Cut and Photoshop) in the Media Suite in Monroe Hall for students who are taking classes in the building.
I should also state how much I appreciate the Simpson Library staff for getting these up and running (in concert with our IT Support staff) and having the vision that this is a necessary addition to the library space.
The Internet is always on. Except when it isn’t. Except when you really need it.
OK. The Internet isn’t quite like water. It isn’t absolutely necessary for survival. But we’ve come to rely on it so much that we really miss it on the occasions when it’s not there. Over the last week, I’ve come to the amazing realization that Murphy’s law applies to the Internet – it is when you are about to hit the Publish button, or when you are right at your deadline, that your Internet will go out.
There are actually multiple points of failure, at least with my relation to the Internet. First there is the basic connection. I’m lucky because I have a work connection (that’s really fast) and a home connection (that’s really fast). So if things are down at one place, I can usually go to the other for those times when I really need to be connected.
The second point of failure is the places where I do my publishing. I’ve had several hosting “companies” over the years. I put “companies” in quotes because sometimes it has been university servers that hosted my sites. In my line of work, we have had lots of hosting companies that we have dealt with. Web hosting can be a lucrative enterprise, but it’s got to be stressful when customers are asking “where’s my site?”
So those points of failure happen. Not really that often on the whole, but 99.9% uptime still leaves a good portion of time when things are screwy.
So here’s two examples. I was recently working on some online documentation. As can happen with writing, you can get into a “groove”. When you get in a groove, you forget things, like remembering to save. This happened while writing documentation and when I went to save there was no Internet connection at the time. A few wrong moves later and I lost all of my work. I thought to myself “when will I learn”.
The second example is spurring me on to write this post. Right at the moment I can’t get to my host to write in WordPress. Bummer. I hope those Hippies are getting somewhere. I’m very grateful that they work as hard as they do. As I’m writing this I’m getting messages that they’ll be back up soon.
However, I’m realizing that writing offline and then posting is something desirable to me. I did it years ago with Microsoft’s Live Writer. These days, I write in Evernote. Constantly. When I say write, sometimes it’s “clipping”, as in clipping websites (blog posts, product reviews, wish list items). But I find myself formulating what I want to write in Evernote more and more. I want to publish to the web from Evernote. It does do it, kind of, by “sharing” notes. But the notes all have the Evernote branding and I’d like a little more control over the look and feel of the posts. You know, like I have with my own blog.
So what if I could publish my posts to a “Notes Blog” automatically. Type up my words in Evernote, make it live somehow and have my note synched to the web host.
Well, it’s here. It’s called Postach.io. It’s early days still, so I’m trying to temper my enthusiasm, but I’m excited nonetheless. Here’s how it works. You need to be using Evernote, which is another tool with a passionate following. Evernote is the place where I put all kinds of stuff. The short description is that you have notebooks and you can tag stuff and get organized. It has replaced Delicious for me because it saves the actual webpage frozen in time and it will save the link so you can return to it. Also Delicious has been a bit of a mess lately.
Once you’re using Evernote, you then need to establish an account at Postach.io. You then link your Evernote account to Postach.io and when you want to publish you write your note, save it in your notebook labeled Postach.io (or you can change it to another notebook if you like), and finally you give it a tag of “published” (you can change the tag you use as well). It’s a new paradigm of publishing. You move your notes into a shared area and then Postach.io does the rest. They have some very nice and simple themes that make it all look good.
In the past I have shared Evernote notes in the standard way here and here. But now I can post them in more of a blog setting so they look like this and this.
You can also get an RSS feed, so automatically publishing to a WordPress blog is a cinch (can you say FeedWordPress?). Which is where you get the redundancy part. Commenting is supported through Disqus which I need to look into further. There also automatic Tweeting and Facebooking, so there’s even more ways to get your message out.
So here’s to the experimentation. Hey, and look, my hosting “company” is back online!