Thursday, December 18, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Time for the holiday celebration dance for 2 weeks of vacation!

As a former technology director, the idea of 2 weeks off comes with the hesitation to believe it is really time off. The winter holiday time for technology departments is usually when most of the work is done without interruption. You can take the network offline to do upgrades that cannot be done other times in the year (including summer because people work in summer!).

If you are reading this and you are not a technology staff member, please take a moment to call, go by, or send a card to thank your technology department for their work. They will work while there is a 2-week "vacation" and they will work long hours and over the holiday weekends because this is the best time for them to get uninterrupted upgrades complete. Technology departments and Maintenance departments do not get vacation like other staff get vacation.

Beyond time off, the end of year is the time to reflect on the past and consider the blessings through your accomplishments. I am thankful for the job I have and the people with whom I work. This place has been great to allow me to extend my ideas beyond just technical skills. My participation in non-technology meetings is more than just being the guy who makes the Powerpoint for the board presentation (though I am still pretty good at this!). Plus I have the freedom to investigate new ways of doing old things and help evolve toward innovative and creative ways to help teachers and students learn.

In other words, I am allowed to be creative and to share openly my creative ideas. I have freedom to be the creative artist I may not have been allowed to be in other places and this is my holiday blessing for which I can do that Carlton dance for the holidays.

I hope you have a happy and safe holiday season with your family and/or friends.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Getting UnTechnical

So I have been gnawing on changing summer PD to be a lot more flexible for teachers based on their learning while also rewarding those who have been taking learning into their own hands.

The Texas Education Agency and SBEC have the requirement for CPE credits to be awarded to match clock hours required for maintaining certification requirements. A standard teacher certification requires 150 CPE credits and master teachers must receive 200 CPE credits. Those numbers are awarded based on amount of hours in professional development 150 CPE credits = 150 hours of professional development.

This type of accounting does not credit teachers for the amount of time they spend working and learning outside of offered time and space professional learning. 

And those of us who offer more technical training know that the training lab has teachers at different levels of knowledge on any given offering because some teachers have really spent time practicing and learning on their own. A session offered may be a waste of a morning because it is fundamentals. But yet, this is how we've always done it. 

I want to change that. 

So this is my idea and I would like feedback. 

Our summer week is four days. I want to take 3 of those days to offer a topic-specific professional learning day. The fourth day is open learning lab where anyone can come in and work on either a topic from earlier in the week or their own topic. They can come individually or in groups. 

But the shift is this: I am not going to be providing any technical training. All technical training will be available in video form to allow the learner the ability to stop, rewind, fast-forward, skip ahead, go back, etc. at their own pace. They will also have the flexibility to do this part of the learning when ever they want as long as they get their training before the group meets together to build tangible lessons to be implemented for the year.

Here is an example week:

Monday topic may be something like Google Earth in Literature. I would then provide the prerequisites for the course in terms of training videos showing the technical part of learning Google Earth and researching Google Literature Trips. The participant has the ability to either view the prerequisite training before the training day or in the morning. They can watch the videos at home, on vacation, at a coffee house, or wherever they choose. They may choose to not watch the videos if they already have the prerequisite knowledge. The goal though is they must know how to use the tool before the second-half of the training session.

Of course, they could choose to come to the morning session to be in a lab to watch the prerequisite training videos and to get minimal technical assistance from the facilitator.

The PM session would be the meat of the professional development as teachers could work independently or in groups to design lessons using the that specific tool (or combine it with others of course).

This would be the schedule for Monday-Wednesday. On Thursday, the lab is open for anyone to come in from the week to work together or collaboratively to learn more about their topic and develop lessons. It may be just an open lab for anyone to come in from previous weeks to continue learning as well with a facilitator to connect them to more resources and help flesh out ideas for use in the classroom. 

Another topic I have discussed with some teachers is to provide training on creating, editing, and sharing videos. At the end of this type of learning, I would want to have teachers produce video content on our annual required training topics (blood borne pathogens, copyright, aup, etc.) but give them the lab time needed to develop their videos more for the range of audience receiving training. Credit would be rewarded based on the project produced outside the time and space of a required CPE training.

And another idea is to use the SOLE (Self Organized Learning Environments) to allow teachers to group together to develop a BIG question and to spend their time researching to develop solutions. Over the course of the year, this is called a committee. But imagine taking a committee and compacting all the work into one day with a resolution at the end combining the research found and discovered in their own learning.

All of this would allow for overlapping, multiple learning opportunities with more time for staff to actually develop tangible lesson materials. Time and space shift to be variables to help give teachers more of what they want in a flexible schedule for learning independently and collaboratively.

I believe by incorporating these ideas into summer, we can shift professional development away from relying on one person to be the expert to allowing everyone to be more reliable to each other, thus strengthening the system itself.

What are your thoughts or ideas? Negative or positive feedback is encouraged as this is new for me too.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Failing Fast Approaching

In the age of self promotion, collecting "followers", and even sharing the reach or price of your social network on your social network, I submitted a session for the February TCEA Convention called FailCon in hopes of going back to a time when sharing your failures didn't compromise your social reputation.

I'm happy to report that this has been approved as a 90-minute session during TCEA. Not ideal for a mini-con but a good start for the first time. Who knows, maybe it will fail completely?

FailCon is actually a company leadership event catching on across the globe. It is the idea of having leaders share stories of failure in order to prepare for success. In 2008, Engineers without Borders started writing and publishing their annual Failure Report. Their site explains "[we] believe that success in development is not possible without taking risks and innovating - which inevitably means failing sometimes". Their report showcases the decisions and outcomes of failure along with how the failure still brought about innovative change.

I know I am starting to sound like an old fogey when I refer to "the times before". But there was a time previous to social media and everyone's own conferences when the statewide convention was where we would connect, commiserate, and motivate one another. A trip to a state conference meant you could share with others what you were doing and they understood your lingo, language, and passion because they were trying the same thing.

We all had similar failures. We had different successes.

But we were willing to admit these failures openly because we weren't competing with one another for followers or conference attendees. We weren't building our brands. We weren't self promoting. We weren't followed by our district communication department, principals, superintendents, or others like we are now on Twitter.

And all this isn't bad. It is just how the times have changed.

So FailCon is an idea of gathering a group together to share about failure and what was learned by failing. I'll be co-presenting with my pal Eddie Mathews from Kerrville ISD. We are also going to borrow from Jean Case's Be Fearless campaign to encourage people to continue to move forward after failure in order to make big change in their organization.

I'm posting about this in November because I am really excited by the session. And it may be something worthwhile or maybe it fails utterly. Either way, it is going to be great to try out! 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

ReVision Replayed

Here's something you may not know about me. Back in the early 2000s, I had this idea for creating a broadcast television show for kids to "revision" Music Television videos. The idea was to take a song and create a new music video combining their skill sets with the emotional connection to the song. I had students who were doing this on their own and sharing their revisions by CD or hidden on an FTP site.

This was all before blogging and video streaming was common. Beyond just being a television show, I felt a show like this could do something not seen in most TV programming: connect the audience to the content of the show through their experiences of being the content creators. At the same time, as a former video production teacher, I felt the show could produce a national curriculum to teach students proper filming and editing technique. As the show would grow, the curriculum would include more celebrity tips to strengthen the relevance of the curriculum.

So how do you go from idea to production?

I contacted producers. At the time, HBO was airing a show on their family channel called "30 by 30 Kid Flicks". Each show aired a student film and then interviewed the students who produced it to share their filming techniques. I had contacted the producers and they sent me a lot of production information including some rough-cut footage from the show. I also contacted a number of film producers in Texas to see if there were any student film groups or contests and to find out if they would be interested in helping develop this.

Over the course of a few months, I worked with a team to develop a production option package that I could "sell" to a broadcast company. It had multiple phases including show pacing, curriculum delivery, website community, awards for "best of", promotional considerations, and even interviews between music artists and their new video producers. At one point, there was mention of the possibility that these ReVision videos could be considered a category at the MTV Video Music Awards broadcast.

Through connections made in all this, I had the opportunity to pitch ReVision to two major music television companies. I had no idea what I was doing. I did think my passion toward the project would really sell the idea.

If you have ever seen "Shark Tank", you have seen a pitch. I had to sell my entire idea to a panel in less than 4 minutes. In retrospect, I can see ways I could have done it better but overall I think I was really convincing. I didn't want oversight on the project. I just wanted a production credit to continue pursuing other production ideas. This idea was a step toward other projects. I wanted to be a producer.

In the end, neither group was interested as both were moving away from producing music television. I packed up the idea and moved on. I figured I had done all I could. Plus, I had a full time job in education where I was completely satisfied. This was simply a hobby idea gone mad.

A few years later, I was reading an article on this company called YouTube and how they were being sought for purchase by Google. Before Google bought it, YouTube was buried under several copyright infringement cases and it made zero profit. It was video Napster. People were posting copyrighted content all over it and the broadcast media companies were trying to censure their content while suing YouTube for allowing it.

Reading that article, I remember how Google shared they were considering YouTube as a way "to create a new new platform for delivering web content and video streaming". I immediately figured Google would be creating online television programming channels and it could be a place for a ReVision show.

Copyright was the major issue plaguing YouTube but ReVision was a way to apply transformation to copyrighted works in order to release them as Fair Use. It was my BIG idea.

I had my work cut out for me.

At that time, Google had a suggestions page where they invited the public to submit ideas for them to develop in a site called Google Labs.

On multiple occasions, I submitted the idea for ReVision. It took some time and lots of attempts, but I made contact and there was interest. But, they wanted more time spent on the ideas involved with copyright, transformation, and fair use. This was to be tied directly into the curriculum.

I wish I could say that ReVision caught on but it did not. At a certain point, ReVision was taking up so much time that I had to consider leaving my job to work fully on research and development without pay. It was a passion until it was going to cost me.

While Google didn't pick up the tab for my idea, research, and final presentation I did "sell" the idea to UMG which formed Vevo in 2009. Selling an idea doesn't mean you receive a lot of dough. I didn't make a bankroll from it but I did help fund my Writer's Guild of America membership for that year. In order to sell an idea, you have to copyright it. In order to sell an idea and maintain copyright for broadcast television, you had to go through the Writer's Guild.

All in all, it cost me a lot of time. I spent months in research with materials provided by production studios, copyright analysts, and the Google research team. I learned A LOT and still monitor the growth of YouTube and Vevo. Tracking media consumption and development is a side hobby for me.

But it was an idea and passion I created, developed, shared, and moved forward with for a few years.

Who knows? Maybe ReVision will happen someday. My name won't be attached to it but I would be happy to see it produced somewhere. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Chrome Extensions

More and more teachers are adding Google Chrome to their computers. I am often asked which browser I prefer to use and I don't have a definitive choice. We are in the age of the browser war. Microsoft has Internet Explorer. Apple has Safari. Google has Chrome. Mozilla has Firefox. My definitive choice is I use all four. Different sites operate better in different browsers.

And none are as great as Netscape ever was! (PS: There is a Windows 7 version of Netscape Navigator available still!)

But Google Chrome offers a lot of add-ons to make their browser work better as a web-utility system instead of just a common browser. Where Apple has apps that run in its iOS system, think of Google's Webstore as a place to get apps that run in its Chrome web browser. 

TCEA has been keeping a Google Document open to share FREE Chrome extensions for teachers. I put the list together with descriptions for our staff in CISD to access. 

Before going through the list of extensions, make sure you do two quick things:

1. Download the Google Chrome browser on your teacher computer. 
*Teacher computers are open for installing based on your teacher login. Student computers will need a technician to come in and install any changes. 

2. Once the Chrome Browser is installed, login to the browser using your Google EDU account (contact Joel if you need help - don't create an account, use the account Joel made for you). 

The Chrome browser login will sync contents to your online Google account. And in some apps, if you lose network connectivity, the app will store contents to your computer to continue to work even offline. 

Now, explore, read, test, and play in this list of FREE & charming Google Apps for Educators.

Use the comments section below to post additional information, your test results, or other comments about Google Apps. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Professional Development Reformation

Two weeks ago, I attended a TEC-SIG meeting in Austin. TEC-SIG is a special interest group component of the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) and consists of mostly directors of technology and instructional technologists. 

We had the fantastic keynote speaker, George Couros, who spoke on Leading Innovative Change. While many things stuck with me during his presentation, a particular idea stands out from this quote by Will Richardson: "...teachers should be responsible for their own PD now. Kids wouldn't wait for a blogging workshop. Adults shouldn't either."

I am someone who provides staff development and I am never really happy with the type of staff development I provide. I am constantly trying to figure out new methods for engaging people into learning. I try to undo, redo, and shift professional development to be more participatory. I also don't like the model of PD expertise that limits knowledge to only one person in the room. I have moved around my fair share of districts to know that there should be more than one person who is the expert in something should they move again. 

So this Will Richardson quote has been stuck in my mind and now written on large format paper on my wall to help me develop a new way to help teachers develop their own professional learning and to enhance the entire system to be more dependent on itself instead of just 1 person.

And at this point of the school year, it is a good time to start asking questions about the format of professional development in order to develop new ideas for teachers to access in spring and summer. 

In years past, I researched how businesses group and then train their staff. I've studied books on gatherings, groupings, gamestorming, and collaborations. All these topics tied to adult learning. I've tried new methods for getting groups to collaborate and share. There have been some successes but an overall impact on shifting professional learning has not occurred. 

My eye has now turned toward the idea of SOLE - Self Organized Learning Environments, developed by Sugata Mitra from his TED Talk on "Build a School in the Cloud". While this is directed toward student learning, I am working on developing this for some teacher professional development. 

SOLE learning is when students are fueled by answering their own created BIG questions. In the toolkit, the following are the guidelines for running a SOLE learning environment:
  • Students form own groups of 4 and develop their own questions to explore.
  • Students can look at what other groups are doing and take the information back to their own group.
  • Students can move around freely.
  • Students can change groups anytime.
  • Students can talk and discuss between groups.
  • Students have the opportunity to share what they learned in their SOLE.
In all my years as a trainer, I have been part of committees that study professional development and look at course offerings to change up the catalog to reflect what teachers want to learn. I've developed catalogs and even curated online resources for teachers to access outside the catalog for further learning. I've hosted, participated in, and sent staff to conferences, unconferences, miniconferences, and learning events outside the district PD catalog. 

But, all of these involved having the guide of the district-built staff development catalog and calendar. Time has and is the impetus for staff development. It is the award system for credits. It is the organizer for space use. And it is the most limiting challenge to learning. Based on all this, my question is:

What if instead of providing a professional development catalog, our teachers self-organized by forming and answering BIG questions related to their field? 

In the SOLE method, teachers would organize into small groups to not only develop the initial questions but also develop the definitions based on further questions. Multiple groups covering the same questions will develop different perspectives to be shared. It seems to be a more action-research professional learning community when applied to adults. 

If this shift was to occur, how would professional development "credit" be awarded? Currently, credits are awarded by time spent in professional learning. A half-day awards 3 credits or a full day awards 6 credits. Our district also has distinguished levels of achievement for staff in how many hours of professional development they achieve each year. A change from a catalog would need to take this into account as well. 

Also, what is the final product? In current staff development, we award credit based only on time. If time isn't the factor, do we provide a quiz to measure what was learned? Or could we look at measuring with a tangible outcome? What is this tangible outcome? How do we "grade" it?

Do we get rid of the catalog completely or are some teachers needing to rely on the catalog for their learning?

These are just my beginning questions. I am reading, watching, and listening to ideas for answers. Perhaps the activity itself is a SOLE professional development idea question for us to develop. I definitely welcome responses and more questions about this. Maybe we can develop a new way to develop professional learning. Doesn't all learning start with a question?

Your feedback is welcome and encouraged!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday Fad: Disposing of DIVX

In 1998, Circuit City was a competitor with other multibrand consumer electronic stores across the nation. It was second in recognition and sales to BestBuy. At a time when DVDs were already successful, Circuit City and partners invested in a new technology coined DIVX. The DIVX DVDs were meant to be a disposable rental for $4 and up to 48-hours of viewing. After the 48-hours, the video would no longer play unless you paid for an extension to view or purchased a limited license fee to store it longer. 

To the consumer, the sales point was the concept of "No returns. No late fees." Previous to Netflix Internet streaming, the idea of disposable DVDs wasn't bad. You didn't have to send them back or drive over to your local video store. You simply watched the movie and then threw out the disc when you were done. It wasn't the best thing for the environment, but hey it was the 90s!

Also, you had to purchase a DIVX player which connected by phone line to the DIVX servers to track views over time and to institute that 48-hour view ability. 

Let's just say DIVX didn't do very well. Here's why:

1. Cost: A DIVX player initially cost twice as much as a DVD player. Price dropped a few months later to increase demand but it may have been too late.

2. Availability: DIVX players were sold only through Circuit City and a few of their partner stores. Blockbuster was approached to provide DIVX discs for rental but they turned it down. 

3. Limited Features: DVDs had extra trailers and behind the scenes features. DIVX had maybe one trailer and no extra features. Also, the aspect ratio of the video was standard viewing. It didn't adjust for the different sized televisions of the home viewer. 

4. Limited Titles: DIVX first released with only 10 available titles but within three months had expanded its library to over 400 movie titles. By the end of 1999, DIVX was no longer a viable product and Circuit City discontinued selling DIVX players. They even began offering a $100 rebate to customers who returned their DIVX players by the end of 1999.

In previous posts, I have shared a similar thread for why there are technology failures mostly tied to creating something not really needed by the market. DIVX failed because DVD was successful. The technology was the same but the only difference was you were basically throwing away a DVD you rented. Disposing of something you just purchased wasn't a good selling point. 

I think this is vital to remember as more technology becomes available and as we, the consumers, look at what we are investing in for our future. Does this current technology solve a current problem? And is that problem worth solving with technology? 

All in all, Circuit City experienced a loss of $337 million from DIVX and it was hailed as many technology insiders as one of the top 25 tech failures of the 1990s. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Friday Fad: MTV killed the video star

My generation grew up on MTV when it was Music Television.

MTV was cool because the videos were cool, the bumpers (like above) were cool, and the commercials were cool. It was the channel we wanted to watch 24-hours a day.

Adults were portrayed as incapable of understanding MTV or the kids who watched videos.

Musicians were outrageous, hip, cool, and different-looking. 

Music was the escape. We weren't set in a particular genre of music, either. We were entertained with every genre. We could veg out in front of our TVs because the videos took us on adventures through a variety of songs. 

I think my generation has their favorite videos. I like to visit the website Vevo to take a trip down memory lane by watching those music videos from the 80s. (Note: I had a small, small hand in developing the Vevo project (2008-09- a blog post for another time.)

MTV now vs. the 1980s-early 90s is the fad. It is not the same Music Television that made us cool for associating with it. 

Not to say the category of music television is dead. There are captivating videos continued to this day from artists available online for immediate consumption. And there are even great mashup videos that combine songs from multiple artists into solid tracks. 

But part of me remembers those original videos from MTV and the original mashup:

I miss my MTV. I want my MTV!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Student for a Day

Spanish 2 view from the back row
Today I had the privilege of attending our high school as a sophomore student. In fact, several district administrators served as students at our various schools. Our CFO attended an elementary campus as a third grader. Our HR director attended our middle school as an 8th grader. Two of our C&I directors attended elementary schools as 4th and 5th graders. And our Superintendent was also at our high school as a freshman and he rode the bus from home to work!

Our task was to get the student perspective on day to day instruction. As I entered teacher rooms, I let them know to treat me as a student and that I was serving as a documentarian. What I would view would not be part of an evaluation but just getting a student perspective.

Health Science class middle row
I have to say, I have really been looking forward to doing this! In previous districts, I have seen this done usually just by the Superintendent....for one class period...and the class is pre-selected by the campus administrators. It is more of a public relations event than an actual reflection of practice.

Today's Student for a Day was a bit more authentic. I went in to get perspective. I attended five class periods and lunch. I traveled through the halls with a backpack. I had normal bathroom breaks and a schedule to follow. I would have loved to stay the entire day, but I had to return for our team to share what we observed.

I decided not to post the actual observations but to share what we as administrators gleaned from this exercise. As a group we shared what we observed from teacher communication to how kids interact with each other and their teachers. We shared how teachers integrated new instructional design, technology implementation, and classroom organization.

In effect, we shared what we were able to observe as symptoms of systemic change: positive and negative.

Today was more than just "being a kid". Today was really about observing change at the individual classroom level. We can look at data. We can read the latest systems-solution book. We can go to conferences. We can get campus reports. But in the end, isn't the observable change what education is really about? And what better perspective to observe than at the student eye-level?

Notes from Algebra 2 AP

In a career as an instructional support staff member, I have had the privilege of visiting classrooms in various districts. My role allows me to be in classrooms when instruction is taking place. I am able to sit in a classroom without drawing attention to myself. I am not there to judge or complete a report. And teachers are usually comfortable with me being there. As a trainer, getting to see my teachers in their natural environment has provided invaluable information to help me hone training to meet their needs. I can produce more relevant training because of these types of interactions in their rooms.

Professional Communications
Venn Diagramming
I know I can get this type of data better than a principal or an assistant Superintendent because I am not in an evaluator role. There is a greater comfort between me and a teacher than an administrator/evaluator visiting the teacher. And my data collection is more global because I am not just observing technical knowledge. I am gathering data about workflow, classroom design, cording, organization, teacher movement, student eye-level, lighting, etc. These things are considerable data to someone like me who creates professional development. I can image my teachers by room when I know what their instructional space is really like.

My point is I hope this post leads you to take time to get data about your teachers by observing them in their natural environment. I would encourage you to take the step to try to be a student for a day. Think of it like filming a documentary in another habitat: dress like them; wear a backpack; use their wifi; and eat at their tables. Observe without questioning or interviewing.

Then collect and share your data. Share it with your other administrators. They may not know you look at more than who is or isn't using electronic technology. This would be a great way to share a new perspective they may not have considered. Who knows? Maybe it will help you create your own "Student for a Day" with your administrative team in your district?! It is worth the try!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Friday Fad: HD DVD

In the Fall of 2006, I submitted an article to the TCEA publication Tech-Edge. I was very nervous about it. In the article, I made the claim that one type of technology would surpass a similar one of equal measure. I was predicting the success of BluRay DVDs over HD DVDs.

My prediction was formed from two articles read online: In May 2006, Sony had announced that the new Playstation system would contain a BluRay drive to work with the HD graphics in the gaming system (ZDNet, 2006). And in June of that same year, Forbes reported Pioneer Electronics had stopped manufacturing the standard for DVD recording to focus its RnD on BluRay technology.

The problem with the early prediction was that HD DVD was the only available high definition video player and DVD for purchase for home. The movie studios had not released BluRay movies yet because BluRay players were not yet available in the United States. 


In the mid-1990's, commercials had been airing about a new type of TV coming soon that would display high definition content. Standard tvs at the time offered a 4:3 viewing aspect ratio with 480 pixels. The new high definition tv sets were going to offer a new aspect ratio of 16:9 with 1080 pixels. This meant a sharper image contrast than previously available. 

The initial HDTVs were not the flat-panel TVs we see now. They were still in the large box and the screens were still curved. They still took up a lot of space on a media console or table. At first, the market didn't choose to invest in HD TVs. There was not much content available because broadcast (cable/satellite) was still analog. It would not be until 2005 that the market would introduce consumers to the high definition DVD. On top of the conversion of DVD to HD-DVD, the FCC announced in 2006 that broadcast television would move to digital by January 1, 2007. This meant the consumer either had to purchase a new TV capable of handling the digital broadcast or they would need to purchase a digital conversion box to convert their analog broadcasts to digital.

This was the push the average consumer needed to join the high definition television market. In 2005, Toshiba introduce the HD-DVD player. HD was different than the standard DVD because it was 5x sharper and more vivid in color and included the Dolby Digital Sound standard which was also cleaner and crisper.

While the HD-DVD system was backed by Toshiba, the BluRay technology was financially backed by Sony & Philips. Microsoft was providing integration for HD-DVD with its Xbox 360 system. Sony was preparing to release its new Playstation system with BluRay integration.

In summer 2008, Warner Brothers, Netflix and BestBuy announced they would no longer provide HD-DVD formats and would be switching to BluRay. Toshiba made the announcement that year that they would no longer support HD-DVD systems and would stop producing the content and players. In the end, Toshiba's loss of the HD-DVD system was a loss of over $1 billion.

Why did HD-DVD fail?
The key answer to why HD-DVD failed is in the content it failed to produce. Sony Entertainment owned a large portion of movie rights when it purchased Columbia Pictures and TriStar in 1989. Most consumers wanted movies in HD that were not available through the HD-DVD formats so their frustration for an expanded movie library was not met by Toshiba who had trouble securing rights to produce such a large library. When Warner Bros made their announcement that they would no longer be issued HD-DVDs, the end was very near for HD-DVD.

The final straw was when Walmart quit selling HD-DVD players and the tide turned for BluRay players.

It is interesting to note that standard DVD still dominates the American market in terms of sales for home use. BluRay players have exceeded reaching 60-million homes but the new 8K-Ultra HD TVs are starting to be sold in the US markets. Where will BluRay stand in the new Ultra HD market? So far, early predictions are for more streaming video services than discs with the consumers.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Friday Fad: Introducing the iPod (2001)

Apple blew us away again this week introducing the Apple Watch. For me, I wasn't so impressed with the idea of bringing watches back until I saw this new Apple Watch. Now I want to wear one again.

In 2001, Steve Jobs presented the iPod to the world at one of their product showcase events. The video below is the promotional video about the aspects of the first portable music playing device with proprietary software library and store, and the ability to hold 1000 songs on one device.

Meet the Apple iPod:

Before iPod (in the late 90s), portable MP3 digital music players did exist. The players were just difficult to use and there were different ones: Sony, Diamond Rio, Archos, NOMAD - these were all battery powered MP3 players with storage for between 32MB-6GB price points. 

For each of these portable music systems, you had to use their proprietary software to install on our computer for managing your library. You still had to purchase CDs and then rip them to your computer using your Windows/Mac CD tools. Then you had to import the actual MP3s into the software for your MP3 player. And you had to limit your musical selection based on how much space your device could handle. 

Because of all these steps, the only people who used portable MP3 players were kids. Only kids could figure out all these steps and do it with little difficulty. It was rare to see adults with MP3 players. Adults had portable CD players. Kids had MP3 players. 

In January 2001, Apple released iTunes as a software for managing your libraries and playlists. It worked with your CDs and MP3s. Nine months later in October, Apple introduced the iPod as basically the portable version of iTunes "that lets you put your entire music collection in your pocket and listen to it wherever you go" (Steve Jobs). 

The iPod came to be because Steve Jobs perceived when travelers discover they did not have specific CDs or tapes with them to put in their players, they would not listen to music at all. His idea filled a problem by making music easy to manage and store on a portable system with enough capacity to store a large music library.

The iPod reached an even higher amount of success in 2003 when the iTunes store began selling music. Capacity had to increase from 6GB to 40GB by late 2003. In 2004, capacity went from 60GB to 160GB due to the store adding the ability to purchase TV shows and movies and color screen options were added. 

And then there is sadness because as I write this, a news blurb just popped up informing me that Apple discontinued selling the iPod Classic this week. It isn't available anymore. They still had a 160GB capacity iPod until September 9 when the new tech rolled out this week. With Cloud computing, the need for high capacity storage is just not needed as much anymore.

It is strange too when reviewing timelines on these releases on how close the iPod introduction was to the events on September 11, 2001. The introduction of the very first iPod by Steve Jobs happened one month after 9/11.

In the 13 years of the iPod, I only had two models and both were purchased in 2003. I had one classic model an employer purchased for me to learn to use. I will shamefully admit that this one sat on my desk unused for weeks because I didn't understand the scroll wheel. I had to have a kid show me how to use  it. The other model I still have in my car. It contains my entire music library in my glove box. I have a multi-CD changer system dashboard. I bet it still has some CDs in it but I don't think I could find where that CD changer is or what CDs are in it without the manual.

My iPod continues to hold my collections of music. I plug it in right before long road trips to get the latest purchases. It hasn't had an update to the software since 2007. And I will continue to use it until it dies.

Monday, September 8, 2014


Want the answer to going paperless? Don't install a printer. 

I am in the fourth month of my current job and guess what? No printer installed. 

My department has offered to give me a printer. Technology has offered to install a printer or to add me to a shared printer. I refuse. I was even offered a new printer to be installed in my office. I still refuse. 

Instead of printing, I use copy and paste more. I do strain to manage multiple open windows and tabs. I take screen shots more often. I use my iPad on a stand with a screenshot of previous screens so I can view multiple items at the same time, instead of printing. 

When asked to provide a handout, I make a collaborative document and share it online. I am used to the comic relief and blank stares I get from colleagues when I am asked to provide a handout and I give them a shortened URL to a collaborative document. I imagine they think that this bit of Austin-hippie will burn out soon. 

In some ways, it does feel like more work that it is worth. On a Macbook, I don't have a lot of viewable space like my colleagues with multiple screens. And there is temptation in the empty lab right next door. I know I could run in, print something, and leave without turning on a light and no one would know I did it. 

But I don't do it. I store everything I need in one cloud.

Am I paperless? No. I think I am just print-fasting. There are too many things in life requiring paper (cooking, toiletries, money, gift wrap, postal services, insurance, legal services, billing, etc.). Even the Quakers use paper. 

At work, I still use notecards to jot down small ideas or quick notes. I still use the large format Post-It notes and Sharpies to diagram big ideas. 

I just don't use the drawers in my desk to store paper. I don't hang files. I don't have folders. I don't have labels. I don't format labels or use Sharpies to separate which folder is which. 

My cloud is my home for my documents. All my files. I can access them with my computer, my iPad, my phone or your iPad, your phone, or that computer over there. 


People talk about trying to go paperless. How about taking the first step? Uninstall your ability to print. Think of it like a diet - you must remove the foods that may cause you to stumble. Remove your printers. Fast your printers. 

Now that does sound like an Austin-hippie!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Friday Fad: A Cat with No Lives: :C - CueCat

Before QR Codes or hashtags a company called Digital Convergence created and promoted a computer technology system called the CueCat. The CueCat was an infrared barcode scanner that plugged into your computer via USB/PS2 to find a website URL by scanning a barcode. The clever marketing strategists used the stretched out cat shape to partner to your computer's mouse. 

If we go back to 1999, the dominant operating system was Windows 98. Broadband Internet was available to about 6% of the world's population. Internet Explorer 5.0 & Netscape 6.0 were the most used web browsers. This was a time when web addresses were not plastered on the world around us. You didn't see a company's web address or a product web address unless you web searched for it. People didn't memorize web addresses. This was Web 1.0. The inclusion of multimedia plug-ins for Flash and Java interactive content would not arrive until late 2000. Company websites were about the company and not the products yet. The web was static. 

At a time when people were unfamiliar with www addressing or remembering to check out a website when they got in front of a computer, the confusing metrics of a barcode made as much sense as a URL. You could say a full http://www. web address to a crowd of familiar people and most of them would think you were speaking barcode. 

So the CueCat made sense in that you could scan a code to connect to a website without having to know http://www. - you just scanned something and it went there. 

Also the CueCat scanner was free. They had them available where newspapers were sold. At the time, these places were called bookstores. 

The CueCat attached to your computer by USB or PS2. Newspapers, magazines, and even special web editions of news sections would contain barcodes with the punctuation cue of a colon and a capital C ":C" indicated the place to scan with your CueCat.

As a resident in the Dallas area, I remember the Dallas Morning News heavily promoting CueCat as a revolutionary way to connect stories in print to content on the web. There was a $185 million dollar investment from the Belo Corp (owners of Dallas Morning News), Coca-Cola, Forbes, and others. 

In 1999, the CueCat was released to the general public but by late 2000, the life of the CueCat was nearly dead. By 2005, you could purchase CueCats in a liquidation sale for $0.30 each in orders of 500,000 or more. Wikipedia's entry about the CueCat includes the note that PC Magazine lists it as one of "The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time" (in 2006).

What caused the CueCat to use up all its lives ($185 million dollars) so quickly? 

1. No Privacy or Data Security

2. No Mobility

3. Didn't Solve a Problem 

Data Privacy & Security:
Each CueCat had its own serial number and you had to enter your name, your email, and zip code into the CueCat system to access use of the barcode. Each time you scanned with your CueCat, the data about what you were scanning and seeing online was sent to Digital Convergence. This system was hacked a few times and people's data was shared. No matter where you are in time, people generally don't like learning that their private information is collected or that it was shared by several hacks. 

Also in a response to the public outcry over data and privacy, Digital Convergence asserted that although the public received their CueCats for free, they did not actually own the device. In other words, because you are using something I gave you for free, I have the right to take and use your data as I see fit. 

That went over like a lead balloon. 

You had to be at your computer because it connected by a cord like your mouse. Not many people would sit at their computers to read the paper. A writer for the Wall Street Journal labeled it as "unnatural and ridiculous". 

No Problemo:
The most successful and marketable technology is that which solves a problem. For the CueCat, the problem they solved was typing a URL which isn't a difficult thing, really. In Technology, I have had many people come up to me and tell me their "million-dollar" idea for a new device or app they feel the world would pay riches to acquire. My response is what the market teaches us all the time: our devices and applications must fulfill something we need. You cannot simply create a useless technology and it be adopted quickly with a popular need for it to exist. 

Did you ever use a CueCat or remember using or seeing one?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Power of the Password

Huffington Post had an interesting editorial on the power of the password in this article linked here (Caution: article contains some expletives).

The writer shared how the need for changing his password became a mantra for himself each morning as he would type in the phrase "Forgive@h3r" in relation to a nasty divorce he had been through. For one month, this was more than a password. It became a mantra for him to live daily for an entire month. 

His mood improved from this new password and it changed the way he looked at his ex-wife. At the next password upgrade, he added a new mantra: Quit@smokin4ever and it helped him quit by having this monthly goal. Later he changed to Save4trip@thailand in order to save money for a nice vacation. 

Changing one's password can seem like such a burden. I often here from staff that they have too many passwords and a lot of people can never remember their passwords for the different systems they access. Why not make a password a life changing mantra that not only is remembered but reminds you of something in your life you have made as a goal. 

Using numbers mixed in as letters is as simple as recognizing the elements that unite them to appear like letters. This is commonly referred to as "leet" or leetspeak or numerically as 1337 which is short form for "elite" speak for the cyber community (according to W1|<1P3[)14 - Wikipedia). It is also characteristically called "calculator speak" which uses letters as replacement on a calculator. For instance, how many of you typed 0.7734 into a calculator only to turn it upside down to read the word "HELLO"? 

0 can be a replacement for "O"

1 can be a replacement for an "I" or an "l"

2 can be a replacement for "to" or "too"

3 can be a replacement for the letter "E"

4 can be a replacement for "for" or "A"

5 can be a replacement for an "S"

Websites and even business networking require more complex passwords as more cyber attacks on our security occur. Passwords must contain upper and lower case letters along with numbers and sometimes symbols. It can be a burden to come up with a password that meets the requirements. I often see staff create a difficult password out of frustration with being rejected each time. They make it nonsequential and with no meaning and then struggle to remember it or where they wrote it down when they were so quickly forced to make one. 

Make it easy and make it personable. This is a password that you may be entering often. I like the idea of setting your password to be a tangible goal in your own personal life - one that serves as a daily reminder each time you enter it in. 

Some other passwords the author set in his life:


Other ideas:

Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Fad: Time Recording via VHS

Friday Fad is for remembering a piece of technology from our not long forgotten past.

Today we are going to remember the absolute torture of being able to:

  1. program the VCR's digital clock, and
  2. set the schedule to record a show in the future. 

The videocassette recorder known by the short acronym VCR was at its greatest peak during the 1980s and 1990s. This piece of technology started as a way to view movies at home using the plastic-encased magnetic analog video film. Early versions of the VCR included only two buttons: Stop & Play. As more VCRs made their way across the market, we had the ability to rewind, slow, pause, fast-forward and record. 

A videocassette

Video stores were membership-driven places allowing you to rent a videocassette of a movie to take home overnight and then you would return the video to the store. There was a time when these stores would add a surcharge to your rental fee if you did not return the video rewound to the beginning. In fact, a major video chain increased market share when it removed this surcharge and provided its own video rewinders in the store to make sure all of its videos were at the start pointing point for the next customer. 

The VCR was analog TV at its peak. It was pre-digital. Fast forward and rewind took time. Fast forwarding through a commercial break required about 20-seconds and the image would get fuzzy while in this process. So you had to have a keen eye to watch what was being forwarded to the point you needed to return to your show.

This is what fast-forwarding looked like on a VCR.

In effect, you ended up paying more attention to the screen while the commercial was fast-forwarding than you would have if the commercial played out in real time. 

Renting movies was incredible but the power of the VCR was in its ability to record a show when you would not be in your home to physically press the record button. The entertainment industry called this ability "timeshifting" which represented being able to schedule a recording of video at a future date. Being able to do this required PROGRAMMING and most American homes struggled with this concept for entire lifespan of the VCR.

The VCR was a failed promise in its ability to timeshift because of three main reasons:

1. Clock programming
2. Menus not buttons
3. Labeling

The digital alarm clock was easily adapted into the American home before the VCR ever could be. People were able to quickly change the time on a digital clock. The reason is because the digital alarm clock had physical buttons on the exterior of its body clearly indicating hour/minute and up/down. 

The VCR clock did not have this. 

The VCR clock had written directions in the paper handbook showing how to access a MENU to find DISPLAY settings then to find the CLOCK to set your time using a remote. The complete failure of clock programming was that the remote had no indicators on it for adjusting time. The guide would explain that in Settings, you could use the Channel button to adjust hours and then the Volume button to adjust minutes. 

And believe it or not, most American homes could not make the jump to use the Channel button to adjust hours and the Volume button to adjust minutes. 

So most VCRs in our homes would flash 12:00 all the time. 

In the dark of night, you could navigate through your home by the flash of that 12:00. Every now and then you would be aggravated by that flashing 12:00. You would go dig out the manual and sit with the remote. You would navigate through the menus while sighing and getting more angry each minute. You would even refer to the handwritten note you put in the margin to help you remember what you did last time. 

And if you succeeded, it was such a prize to share to others in your home. "Hey, notice anything different?" you might ask your family in the living room? To be the wizard who could program your VCR clock was taken with such pride and accomplishment. These people were masters in their own homes. They were special. 

Pride was quickly ruined in the aftermath of any electrical outage or daylight savings. Clocks would again strobe 12:00 for months after one of those events. 

That flashing clock was a phenomenon that spread through culture in the form of jokes, comedic stand-up routines, punchlines in TV shows themselves, talkshow references, and even President Bush telling the LA Times in the early 90's that his vision for the nation included every single American being able to set the clock on his/her VCR. 

If you were able to program your clock, you unlocked the next level of programming your VCR to do something incredible. You could learn how to set a timer to turn on the record and then turn off at the end of a set time. You could timeshift. 

Once your VCR knew what time it was, it could work with the regular TV Guide schedule of programming. You could look in the paper for the guide to see what time something came on and then set the VCR to start at that time and turn off when it was over. 

Sound amazing?! 

It was and most VCR owners could not do this task on their own because it required that the clock be programmed to the correct time. Because most people could not program time, they could not use the timeshift feature. 

So how did so many people record shows without automatically recording?

The answer is: buy blank tapes and hit the record button on your way out of your house while hoping you don't run out of tape time before making it home. 

Most videocassettes had 6-hours of tape encased in plastic. These also had a cardboard or plastic case to keep dust particles out and make them more organizable. These also came with sticky labels which could be attached to the top-face of a VCR and the side like a binder. You could mark the contents of your tape on the side and top in order to help you know which tapes had your shows on them and which were blank.

Great idea. Didn't work out for most people. Most people don't label or keep the label current to the contents of the videocassette. Here is what most people did:

In most cases, you would remember on your way out the door that you wanted to record a show. You would visually look at whatever VCR tape you had closest to your hand at the time. The plastic viewer allowed you to see how much tape was used on one side compared to how much was left on the other. 

Using your most scientific judgement, you would estimate the amount of time the tape on one side would allow you to record and pick the one with greatest amount of space available. Then you would insert the tape into the VCR, hit the RECORD button, and walk out. 

This meant the VCR would be recording the entire time you were away until you returned to hit the STOP button or if the tape ran out of time.

Just a few problems with this:

  • Run out of tape, missing entire show
  • Run out of tape missing just the end of your show but you don't know it until you are watching it and the tape quits playing. 
  • Taped over a show you didn't want to tape over.
  • Someone changed the channel and taped what they were watching instead of what you wanted to watch.

But if the time was set correctly on the VCR, this opened up the possibility to set a timer to record a show at the time the show broadcast. Being able to do this was the equivalent of pulling Excalibur from a rock.

In summary, the VCR was truly an amazing tool for its time. The systemic failure and frustration with this type of technology was really on our inability to understand the idea that buttons can serve multiple purposes without being labeled as doing such. It also reinforced the idea that we are unable to keep items properly organized and labeled to accurately reflect the contents of what is actually stored on them. 

Imagine how much longer the VCR may have lasted if it had a clock with adjustable buttons available on the front of the device itself with the ability to adjust hours & minutes by pressing up/down. Imagine if VCR cassettes used dry-erase labels for easier organization and labeling. Could the VCR still be a market competitor now if these were available then?

What do you remember about VCRs?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Today I want to introduce you to a cool website and app called Thinglink


Free App:

Thinglink is a tool for adding multimedia layers on top of a static photo image. These layers are called "tags" and the tags can be web links, comments, photos, or videos. All you do is tap on the screen to add text or paste a link to other content (including videos from YouTube). 

To save a ThingLink, you must create a free account because your image is actually saved on the website. They will give you an embed code you can use to add your image to your own website. 

An example: My office tour -

On my Digital Learning website, I posted a photo enhanced by Thinglink that is a view of my office. Different objects in the room have the layers of information attached by the red circle buttons on them. You can tap on the different circles to get more information.

The image is viewable on multiple devices including computers and mobile devices.

The idea is adding on layers of interaction onto images so consider these possible project ideas:

Virtual tour
Interactive reports
Digital portfolios
Interactive maps
Interactive book talks
"Talking" art-work
Study guides

A Thinglink showing how Thinglink can be used in your classroom.

Examples of student projects:
Digital storytelling 
5 Senses Worksheet
Learning Functions
Musical Thinglink
Historical Images

Increase your digital fluency by incorporating multiple apps to create a final project using Thinglink.  

Use a collage-making tool like Pic Collage to blend multiple pictures into one image before opening the image in ThingLink.  

Record an explanatory video using either Screen Chomp or Educreations and save the video to your online account. Take a photo of the assigned worksheet and make it a Thinglink to play helpful tips on the assignment. 

Use your iPad camera to take a photo of student artwork and then film the student explaining their technique or their art to viewers on a Thinglink picture of their work. 

Photograph a book cover and allow students to write a review of the work or develop a Sock Puppet or Puppet Pals HD re-enactment of the story to embed into a Thinglink. 

If you have other ideas, questions, comments or if you make a Thinglink - share below in the comments section.