Sunday, May 22, 2011

Who'll present the first "Instagram in Education?"

Have not posted in a year and a half, after having been on Blogger 5 years. Not enough hours in the day, the week, the month, my life! recreational social software activities have migrated from RSS feeds and blogs, to Facebook, then Twitter, and now Instagram. Have not checked my RSS in over a month, and hardly ever read blogs any more. Maybe I'm too tired when I come home to deal with more technology, or the novelty of all those venues has worn off. I check into Facebook once a day, at the most, then for only 5-10 minutes. No way can I follow the 80 FB friends I have (tried hard to keep the number down). I also check into Twitter no more than once or twice a day now for 5-10 minutes, not enough to look at the hundreds of tweets from the 66 I follow. Also kept these number low as I could not keep up with more, given the great URLs to link to, even when I was on Twitter an hour or more a night.
I became intrigued with Instagram about 6 weeks ago. Here I could take a picture with my iPod Touch (4G) or pull it in from my Photos library, crop and tweak it, upload it, and share it with thousands! Not sure why this hooked me more than Flickr, maybe it was the structure of its "social graph." Simple and fun, the way social software should be.
For now Istagram works only on iOS: iPod Touch 4G, iPad 2, and iPhone. Its beauty is the simplicity and ease of workflow. It reminds me of the early days of graphics computing using software like Photoshop, Illustrator, GoLive, and even MS Word! Yes, there were years when Word fit on one 800K floppy (with Utilities on another) and using all that software was actually fun, not a new learning curve every time a revision came out. Scanner drivers used to fit on a floppy also. Anyone notice the HP scanner "drivers" now take up more than 120 obese megabytes? It's discouraging how bloated software has become. It's not fun any more.

Intagram is kind of a reverse Twitter, you post your image, then your comments if you have any. It is totally visually oriented. People can "like" the image, post their own comments, and can follow (subscribe to) others. No groups or privacy, everything is open. You can hashtag an image and moderate comments on your own posts. You can flag inappropriate images (no porn), and the developers have a down-home twitter feed here.

Having been to many conventions where presenters talked about using social software such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, etc. to enhance teaching and learning, I'm waiting for the first presentation on how Instagraph was used!

If you are interested, here are some sources to get you started, aside from actually using the app, for which there is no substitute.
Teaching with Instagram (very minimal, but one of the few references I have seen)
Webstagram web viewer, link to popular tags
Using Instagram in Android, info on other web viewers and API
Searching in Google is naturally a way to go deeper.

A New Genre of Art?
One thing one soon notices is that many photographs in Instagram are heavily edited. There is an entire growing cottage industry of iOS apps that allow you to apply various filters to process images on its mobile devices. This begs the question of what kind of art is this? Below are some examples...
From tonydetroit

From barnel02
From kareni

from rcoleman
And from me

Clever manipulation of processes in one app, then exporting, importing into another editing app for more processing, etc.. makes the activity a lot less "canned" and creatively challenging. It's often impossible to determine which app or combination of apps was used to create heavily edited images. These apps take processing to a much deeper and more powerful level than available in current desktop tools like Photoshop. It's the digital equivalent of using a number of hand tools, paints, shellacks, and surfacing compounds to create physical objects.

The images are meant to be viewed on the iPod's or iPhone's small screens, so I consider them the "miniatures" of the digital imaging world. If you have an iOS device, have some fun with
Maybe you'll be intrigued enough to find a valid, justifiable use for it, with filters or no filters, in teaching or learning. Then you can give the first presentation about Instagram at an educational conference!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Kindle "Paper" is Too Dark

I wanted to like the Kindle DX. In an effort to bond to it, I downloaded two books I really wanted to read, The Lost City of Z, by David Grann, one of our alum, and A Most Wanted Man, by one of my favorite authors, John le Carre. However, the experience left me somewhat disappointed, and did not compare to the feelings of reading from real paper. Trying to pinpoint the sources of my discomfort, I realized one is that the "paper" behind the ink seems too dark. I decided to perform some scientific testing of my hypothesis. I warmed up our Epson Exression 10000XL with SilverFast v6.6 scanning software, created a scanner profile with an IT-8 target, calibrated our LaCie monitor with the GretagMacbeth Eye-One Display 2 colorimeter, now the X-Rite i1Display 2 (Who the heck comes up with these product names!). I turned on our SoLux 4700K lamp, which reproduces the full color spectrum of natural daylight. In other words, all the things one should do to work in the area of critical color management.

I then scanned a few "pages" of the Kindle DX, the New York Times, and of a newly published hardbound book. The scans included our IT-8 target, whose accuracy was verified. The results were measured in the Lab, or CIE, colorspace, which is designed to approximate human vision. It aspires to perceptual uniformity, and its L component closely matches human perception of lightness. However, to make the results easier to understand, L was converted to K, or grayscale. Here, K=0% means pure white, and K=100% describes pure black. It seems one would want the background of a reading to approach white (K=0%), and the actual printed ink to approach black (K=100%). So, let's see how our calibrated scans measure out. Naturally, the media should be scanned again for verification, and the included images are not the original 400 dpi TIFFs.

First of all, on the Kindle DX, the white background measures as K=42-44%. This is quite high, as mid-gray is K=50%. The black "ink" on the Kindle measures at K=78-80%. The Kindle's white frame measures an average of K=5%.

The New York Times front page paper stock measured K=21-23%, darker than I would have guessed, and the ink at K=68-70%. That was brighter than I would have guessed, and appeared almost pure black to me. I did notice a lot of variation in the inner pages, as much as paper up to K=23-25%, with ink at 73-77%. I found the Times to be considerably easier to read than the Kindle, even accounting for its larger page size.

I scanned Blood's A Rover, a recent popular printed fiction book by James Ellroy. I selected a book which did not have pure white pages, as I noticed many recent fiction books are getting away from that. Here, the paper measured K=7%, and the ink at K=75% (there are slight variations, these are averages). This was the easiest of the three media to read, by far.

The interesting discovery is that the Kindle had the darkest "ink," at K=78-80%, of the above scans, but to me was the hardest and least pleasurable media to read. I believe a major factor was the background "paper" color of K=42-44%, which is almost a mid-gray. If this deficiency can be corrected, I believe it will make using it a more pleasurable experience. It may not help that the outer Kindle frame is almost pure white, increasing the apparent grayness of its "paper." I also think a laminated plankette of bamboo, walnut, ebony, leather, etc. would be more pleasurable to hold and look at than a piece of easily smudgeable white plastic. It was also interesting that the Times' and book's ink, which seemed visually black, was only about 75% black.

Now, don't get me wrong, I believe the Kindle would be extremely useful and much better than printed paper in some situations, and I also believe there is a bright future for e-book readers. Amazon's e-ink is fine, but one thing they need to do is to come up with a better e-paper.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Open Video, Ogg Theora and Critical Mass

A confluence of forces are pushing to the forefront an open, non-proprietary video standard. The critical mass has started emerging at the time of the OpenVideo Conference in NYC last month. The players:
- HTML5 and the new "video" tag, which makes it easier to embed video in a web page.
- Firefox 3.5 includes built-in support for the Ogg container, the Theora video codec and Vorbis audio codec, all of which are open source. No additional plug-ins are required to watch videos in these formats.
- Wikipedia will soon allow uploads of popular video file formats for server-side encoding to Ogg Theora, and will release a new player.
- Content owners such as Al Jazeera, Internet Archives and Metavid making hundreds of thousands of videos available in the Ogg Theora format.
- A new plug-in for Firefox 3.5, Firefogg, that allows encoding to Ogg Theora.
The above from and ReadWriteWeb
More on Ogg Theora from the CEO of, which currently delivers most video as MPEG4 and Flash:

The main problem with the Theora codec is that it's not currently as efficient as the more evolved h.264 and VC-1 codecs. Efficiency results in higher quality at lower bit rates. There are efforts currently underway to improve the codec's efficiency, these are still in the alpha stage.

The codec is not included with the standard Apple QuickTime/MPEG4, Adobe Flash, Microsoft Windows Media/Silverlight installations, another obstacle. YouTube, owned by Google, does not consider Ogg Theora currently good enough to replace its h.264 codec, wrapped in both Flash for web viewing and MPEG4 for downloading. Hopefully, when Ogg Theora is mature enough, some of the big corporate players will jump on the bandwagon. However, other big players have already decided that it is "good enough!"

It's nice to see an open video standard finally arise on the web, competition can only be good for most of us.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Unexpected time to reflect and reorganize

We were without power for two days at the college, through no fault of our own. I had a backlog of comptuer and network related work, and at first I was chagrined. Then I realized it was a good opportunity to step back and take a look. Where have I, and the labs I am involved with, been and where we are going? My brain, notepad, pencil, whiteboard and marker do not need electrical power!

Ninety percent of my time is spent "in the trees," figuring out how to solve countless new problems in using technology, and maintaining our computers in the ATL and DCC with software upgrades and "clean-up" operations. The power loss was an unforeseen but welcome opportunity to step back, see the forest, and evaluate the big picture.

One of the more challenging recent projects has involved subtitling, with three faculty suddenly needing good solutions and workflows. With over 10 programs out there, and little previous personal experience, it took considerable research and testing to find the best one for our needs. We settled on Annotation Edit, a bit pricey, but it has a generous educational discount, and tech support was very responsive. Spending a bit more at the front end, and buying a good solution, usually saves lots of time and aggravation further down the road, and pays for itself.

Another interesting recent project involved assisting a faculty member in purchasing an HD camcorder. We settled on the Canon HG-20, this records to either hard drive or memory card. For a loaner we would have chosen memory card only, but this one had a slightly larger chip, and good low light capture was desirable. I taught her student assistant how to use Final Cut Express to digitize and edit about 20 hours of older Digital-8 tapes for research purposes. It was especially rewarding as the student was an extremely fast learner, I usually only had to show her something once, and she got it, and figured out quite a few things on her own. I love fast learners!

Upcoming projects this summer include:

♥ Researching and piloting a good podcasting solution. Apple's upcoming Snow Leopard Server has both a new built-in Podcast Library and a Blog Server that can be used for podcasting. With our Developer Account we will test the pre-release versions. I will also be investigating the Opencast site for new developments in open source podcasting.

♥ Configuring two new computers for the ATL, a dual boot Mac for video and audio editing and a Windows machine for graphics.

♥ Expanding our lab storage with a new 8 terabyte RAID, this will almost double our storage capacity.

♥ I wish I had the opportunity to attend the Open Video Conference, but will have to settle for watching some of the many interesting on-line videos, and hope to catch up in this rapidly evolving area.

♥ Getting familiar with the Digi Mbox 2 Mini audio interface and ProTools Le 8, we will be installing these in a new 17 computer Mac lab, along with other video and audio production software: Final Cut Express, QuickTime Player Pro, MPEG2 QT component, Flip4Mac Player Pro, Toast, Audacity, iLife 09, iMovie 06, MPEG Streamclip, Perian and Silverlight.

♥ Getting our multicasting, both live and playlists, back up and running. We left this on a back burner, we were all busy with the successful migration to Google Apps for Education.

♥ Conduct a security audit of our servers, and ensure they are as hardened as possible against hacking.

♥ Evaluating the new OS 3 for the iPod Touch, and preparing for some new iPod enabled courses.

♥ Moving support materials from our old wiki (in MediaWiki), to our new one (in Google Sites). This is an ongoing project, and will probably take a year to accomplish. For a while, we will be using both to support the use of technology in education. My approach is to move what is needed, it's too much to move everything, and technology can change faster than I can move. One thing about a wiki, it's never done!

All in all, it will be a busy summer, and gone before we know it!

Once a year I also go through the DCC, storage cabinets, my office, and our storage closet. I organize and dispose of obsolete technology that will not be needed in the future. I am always amazed at the hundreds of items, and thousands of dollars' worth, of software, hardware, printouts, and books that I eliminate. I usually do my clean-up in late August, the power loss enabled me to perform the majority of it now.

When I was a shipwright at Mystic Seaport, I bought and used woodworking tools that were at least a generation old. These older tools, such adzes and chisels, were much better made than their modern counterparts. When I dispose of computer technology that is obsolete after only a couple of years, I often think of my beautifully crafted adze, which must be over 50 years old, and still works like a charm.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Testing YouTube's Fair Use Policy

Sunday, May 3, was Pete Seeger's 90th birthday. There was a big celebration concert in Madison Square Garden on that day, to praise this amazing man, his amazing wife, and his amazing life. I posted a video to YouTube, as a tribute to him, and as a test of YouTube's interpretation of Fair Use law in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C., Section 107

The video is of Pete's performance at the Inauguration Concert in January. According to my interpretation, use of the above clip is allowed under Fair Use. The factors to be considered in determining Fair Use, and my analysis, are:

(1) The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
No money is being made from posting the video, and it is instructional for the public to hear how Woodie Guthrie's usually unsung lines are finally sung in public. This is also newsworthy.

(2) The nature of the copyrighted work.
This is an interesting area that I need to research further. It appears that "This Land is Your Land" may not even be copyrighted any more. However, HBO may claim that this specific performance is. And Bruce Sprinsteen's agent and recording contractors may also.

(3) The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
This is an easy win. The posted clip is only 5 minutes long, the entire concert was an hour and 54 minutes long. There were other compelling performances.

(4) The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
Here again, we win. HBO is not currently making the clip available either at cost or for free, so there is no potential market. If HBO does decide to make the concert video available, it has to be re-analyzed.

Anyhow, it's my little experiment in copyright policy. I'll keep everyone posted regarding any news. If YouTube takes down the video, I will try other hosting services. This post is a draft, if anyone has any ideas on how to improve it, or any feedback at all, I'd like to hear from you.

Note: I heard from Mike below, he made some good points, and will edit this draft to reflect them.

Incidentally, there is a movement to help nominate Pete Seeger for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Teachers as good Connectors

Interesting how teaching approaches have gone from "Sage on the Stage" to "Guide on the Side" and now "Connectors." This from a paper by Will Richardson, one of my favorite bloggers, in Edutopia, World Without Walls: Learning Well With Others. Subtitled "How to teach when learning is everywhere."

To quote a snippet: "Inherent in the collaborative process is a new way of thinking about teaching and learning. We must find our own teachers, and they must find us. In fact, in my own kids' lives, I believe their best, most memorable, and most effective teachers will be the ones they discover, not the ones they are given. That's no slight against the people in their face-to-face classrooms, who are equally important in a connected world. But it does suggest that we as educators need to reconsider our roles in students' lives, to think of ourselves as connectors first and content experts second."

Lots more good stuff in the article. Of course, a good teacher is probably a combination of all three: sage, guide and now connector. Will's article also led me to Classroom 2.0, which I joined. This is a social network for those interested in Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in education. It's a great example of what you can do with Ning.

Visit Classroom 2.0

Yes, one more social network to belong to!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Don't have enough collaboration tools?

here are a few more to investigate...
Mindmap from Mindmeister

Above link found in crazygeekchick article on "27 Free Must-have Online Collaboration Tools"

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Social sharing e-books through Stanza

Stanza is a free iPhone "e-reader" app that has been downloaded more than 395,000 times, greater than a recent Citigroup estimate of 380,000 Kindles that it predicts Amazon will sell in 2008.

The most exciting thing about Stanza is that you can also download the free Stanza Desktop, create your own digital books in the eBook format, and post them on line to be automatically opened and downloaded by using the "epub" protocol. They can be either posted on a web server, or shared from your own computer, much like iTune's ability to share your library with other iTunes users. A difference is that in this case you can actually download the e-books from a shared library.

Stanza does plan to charge $15 for each single-user license when it comes out of beta, but academic discounts are planned.

All we need now is an iPod with a larger screen, that 3.5" monitor is still a bit too small for me for any extensive reading.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

What Else Can Yoda Teach?

This is pretty interesting to me: George Lucas has started The George Lucas Educational Foundation.

To quote, "Our vision is of a new world of learning. A place where kids and parents, teachers and administrators, policy makers and the people they serve, all are empowered to change education for the better. A place where schools have access to the same invaluable technology as businesses and universities -- where innovation is the rule, not the exception. A place where children become lifelong learners and develop the technical, cultural, and interpersonal skills to succeed in the twenty-first century. A place of inspiration, aspiration, and an urgent belief that improving education improves the world we live in."

Web site at edutopia

Lots of information, nice videos, and podcasts. Though mostly targeted towards middle and high school levels, there is a wide variety of content that is also relevant to higher ed.

I hope to find the time to dig deeper in edutopia. There is always an entertainment element to education, if you can engage the students in any manner, they will pay more attention and learn more. Lucas may have some tricks up his sleeve in this regard. However, he is not just an entertainment innovator, but also a technology innovator, and is now turning his visions towards education. Lucky us!

I already stumbled across an interesting article on the typical process of technology adoption in education as a four-step process:

1. Dabbling.
2. Doing old things in old ways.
3. Doing old things in new ways.
4. Doing new things in new ways.

Full article here.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Is Google Video for business good for education?

Last week Google introduced a new video product: Google Video for business, this is part of their Google Apps Premiere Edition.

Google is also making this available in their Google Apps for Education, but I have reservations regarding the suitability of the product as currently offered.

1. The business Premiere Edition is $50/user/year, but Google is making Google Video "for business" free to Education Edition customers until March 8th 2009. After March 8th, 2009, the cost of the video service will be $10 per user per year

Google should have made it free until the end of the second semester, by June 1 for most institutions. Anyone seriously interested in using this needs to do it for the entire semester, so they better budget that $10/student right up front. It's a bit late for many to start piloting this new video product this semester. Four of the five apps (Sites, Docs, Calendar and Chat) are still in beta, how many simultaneous betas do we want to test?

This may be the start of the "drip, drip" in making money from some free Google services. But then they are a business, aren't they! And why should we expect a free service from anyone?

2. Google Videos "for business" uploaded to a Google Apps for Education domain can only be viewed by users at that domain.

Users are not permitted to share videos with people outside of their Google Apps account. This is a problem if you want to use Google Video for business to overcome the 10 megabyte file size upload limit in Sites.
As we all know, 10 megabytes does not get you much video! Individuals outside an institution's Apps for Education domain account can be invited to its Sites wikis as collaborators and viewers, but they will be blocked from viewing embedded videos.

3. According to this link, with the Education Edition the ability to upload videos should be limited to faculty and staff only. Hopefully this can be over-ridden by the administrator, and "should" is only an unfortunate suggestion. We see more and more students creating content on the web, we don't want to cripple this by making video uploading and sharing unavailable. Upload privileges should be controllable in a granular fashion, on a specific Docs or Sites basis.

4. While $10 per user per year may not sound expensive, it "applies to all uploaders and viewers using the service."  With say 2,000 students, 350 faculty and 250 staff, this is $26,000/year, not a small sum for many institutions.

I have to admit I still have not performed a thorough comparison of the differences as they apply to educational uses, including advantages and disadvantages, between YouTube, Google Video and Google Video for business, but the above limitations are a concern. In addition to the Google products there are of course other video sharing services that may provide a better fit to an institution's needs.

There is a naming confusion between the new Google Video for business and the normal Google Video. I can't find the Google page now, but it stated that Google Video for business is not the same as Google Video. Maybe they should use caps in the "for business"?

I have another little beef to get off my chest, while I am on the soapbox:

Google has been making high-quality downloadable MPEG4-H.264 versions of many of their regular Flash YouTube videos. However, the download link is hidden and has to be activated through a hard-to find but easy to use process. Google should locate the MPEG4 download button, when the download is available, to be clearly visible by default on their YouTube video pages.

We prefer to use MPEG4 when possible: Flash is proprietary, MPEG4 is an open standard. Flash does not play on portable devices, MPEG4 does, or can be easily converted to do so (iTunes>Advanced>Convert Selection). Downloaded YouTube vides are in the FLV format and can't be played without special players, or have to be converted, they don't play with Flash Player, MPEG4 can be played with QuickTime or iTunes. Flash files cannot be used in podcasts, MPEG4 can be. There is no reason, however, why the two formats can't peaceably coexist in educational settings, and their feature sets are constantly evolving.

If Google is making YouTube videos available as MPEG4s, they need to make them easier to find.