Playing with Technology

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. ~Arthur C. Clarke

  • iPad! What is it good for?

    Absolutely nothing. OK, maybe that is not true. I did find it is very good for watching videos streamed from Netflix. I also enjoyed surfing the Web on it. Using it as an e-reader was a little awkward for me. In all the situations though it was hard to get comfortable. The iPad could be the first new technology that I just don’t get but that students might.

    I also struggled with just how one would produce content on the iPad. There are a few apps, such as Brushes, that seem to make great use of the multi-touch, but that list is pretty short when you focus on apps that could be used for education. Katie Stansberry gives a list of a few that she considers to have educational potential. Most of them seem to be geared toward K-12 and not undergrad. Maybe the best way for colleges and universities to use the iPad in their curriculums is to have faculty and students develop apps for the iPad. I think it would be of even greater benefit if the apps they develop were geared toward K-12.

    I know Apple is selling them like mad, but I just have to shake my head at institutions giving them to all the incoming first-years. Stanford Medical School is on that list so maybe my former colleague, Joe Benfield, can shed a little light on how Stanford Medical School is using them in the curriculum. I guess for the moment I’d just like to try an understand why these schools think the iPad is important to their curricula. Am I completely off-base?

  • Playing around with Genesis Theme Framework

    I have just about finished converting my site design to the Genesis Theme Framework by StudioPress. It really is the first, what I would consider to be a framework, that I have used. I have used what others may call frameworks in the past but pretty much all of them lacked the most powerful aspect of the modern frameworks, hooks. A hook is a function that allows the designer to insert HTML and in the case of Genesis, PHP, into the design outside of the normal flow of the design. For example Genesis provides hooks for inserting before and after the title, content, loop, etc. StudioPress even provides a plugin that makes it dead simple to insert your code using the hooks. You can even disable a standard Genesis function and use your own code.

    The current design is using hooks to insert the date before the title, the edit link after the title, and the post footer after the post content. It also uses it to do the footer by disabling the standard Genesis footer in favor of my own. All in all it took me about 8-10 hours to get the site looking like it does now. The majority of that time was spent looking at the site through Developer Tools to target the exact elements to style them. Getting the specificity right for the CSS can be challenging, but not terrible. However, that time is considerably less than what it took to get the old theme written. I have to acknowledge though that I have gotten more proficient with CSS, PHP , and HTML and that I was able to copy some code from the old theme. I would still argue that you would see much faster times to completion on designs than if you are not using a framework at all.

    There are still a few things to tweak like getting the edit post link to be on the same line as the title, preventing the post footer from displaying on pages and getting my Typekit fonts working again. I don’t see those taking very long and if I encounter any difficulties the support forums at StudioPress totally rocked it for me. There are other frameworks out there like Carrington and Hybrid (a couple that I have tried) and themes that allow for tons of modification through options (like WooThemes Canvas theme), but I would highly recommend Genesis and the Simple Hooks plugin if you are considering putting your design on top of a framework.

  • Digging into custom post types

    With the announcement of Anthologize (a product of the One Week | One Tool program), I started wondering about the possibilities for using WordPress as an eportfolio that was capable of producing a neatly formatted portfolio. The benefit of Anthologize is that this porfolio could be formatted as a PDF, ePub book, or as an RTF document. There are still a lot of bugs with Anthologize, but the potential is exciting.

    As I was describing it to my wife, she said she thought this would be great for one of her clients. Her client is in the recruiting business and collects information on up to six potential candidates for each position they are trying to fill. This information is currently typed up and then put together in a candidate book that is presented to the firm with which the recruiter is working. My wife wondered if it would be possible to do this using WordPress and Anthologize to automate the process and provide database storage of the candidates and digital output of the book. I told her I thought it could.

    As I see it we need to create custom post types reflecting the information the recruiter collects and wishes to associate with each candidate. Once those custom post types are created the recruiter would prepare the candidate book using Anthologize. The bonus would be that the recruiter could run a multisite setup and create a new blog for each placement they were working on and give access just to the client who contracted with them to make the placement. Now the client can view the candidates online via a customized candidate site or via PDF, ePub, RTF, etc. With a rating plugin they could even allow other members of the hiring process to rate the candidates by rating their associated posts on the site. I think I’ll be working on this in my spare time, referencing Alan’s series about custom post types, and keeping notes on how it might relate back to eportfolios and other things I’m thinking about in relation to my day job.

  • Playing with Technology now Multisite enabled

    I took the plunge today (first day of vacation) and moved to Multisite. It was a little scary when it told me to disable all my plugins but it looks like I have everything working. One thing I discovered is that the text in a Text widget is lost when doing this. I had to recreate what was in the header of my Sidebar from memory. I think it’s correct.

    The move will allow me to consolidate Orthogonal Creations and Jon Breitenbucher under this Network using the WordPress MU Domain Mapping plugin. It will also allow me to move WoW Ravings to it’s own blog and pull the Warcraft stuff off of Playing with Technology. That is what I’ll be working on for the next few days of my vacation. The cool thing is that this is all stuff that I should be able to use for some ideas I have for Voices.

  • Back on the Pipe(s)

    I really wish Yahoo! talked more about Pipes. I don’t know when I first started messing around with it, but it was probably shortly after Pipes was announced and showed up in one of my numerous RSS feeds. I couldn’t really figure out how I would use it. Then a year or so ago I came back again and created a custom feed for a faculty member and wondered why I wasn’t showing it to more people. It is really one of the coolest tools around for creating your own customized RSS feed. (I’m trying to put together a customized feed for Instructional Technology, if you have feed suggestions).

    The number of pipes available and the range of functionality is astounding. You can create pipes that allow for user input or pipes that operate on CSV and other data files available on the Web. The funny thing is I don’t hear about Pipes by the year and it worries me that such an awesome tool may just disappear one day. Maybe I just am not moving in the circles where Pipes are common place, or maybe people just take them for granted. But I think I’d like to get more faculty playing with Pipes and thinking about creative ways they could be used in education. What about digital storytelling with Pipes? Bryan? Alan?

    Edit: Based on the related posts it looks like I rediscover Pipes about once a year. I find that amusing and sad.

Sometimes I’m an Instructional Technologist and sometimes I’m a Mathematician, but I’m crazy all the time.



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