Filed under: — Joe @ 4:25 pm

Looks like I missed it by a month or two, but still worth recognizing that this blog passed its 10-year anniversary in March. Started in March 2004, and although it’s been intermittent for much of the time, looking back I’m very glad to see and say that I’ve had the site and will continue to have it.

And it’s worth noting how much, in ten years, WordPress and my work with it has contributed to my personal and professional life. When I think back to the original thinking, the first start (TypePad vs. WordPress was an original question), I remember that many of my same concerns (flexibility, community, design options, ease of use, affordability) are still informing my choices now.

Anyway, happy 10 years, mountebank.org/blog. This old theme looks a bit old-fashioned, now, true. But if we wait long enough, it’s sure to have a new retro appeal.


Prometheus for the Truly Nerdy

Filed under: — Joe @ 12:45 pm

Short review of the new Ridley Scott movie:

It’s silly. Not even very scary.

Most important fact.

Yes, on the alien planet, entering the hollow mountain, the members of the scientific exploration team were using the Fenix TK-45 flashlight.

I sat through the whole movie thinking “is that a TK-45? I think it is.  I’ve been wanting to buy one of those!”


WordCampNYC 2010

Filed under: — Joe @ 2:22 pm

It’s that time of year again, and I’m proud to be joining my fellow WordPressHeads at Baruch this weekend!

WordCampNYC – Oct 16-17


Macaulay Eportfolios Plugin List

Filed under: — Joe @ 8:57 am

One of our Instructional Technology Fellows asked for this list, so instead of just letting it sit in my sent email box, I thought I’d put it out for others to see.

These are plugins we’re using on our Macaulay Eportfolios WPMU install. It’s a snapshot, really, with some that I haven’t been able to make work, others that are just lingering because I haven’t found a use for them or gotten around to uninstalling, and a bunch that I plan to install simply missing. But this is the way the plugins list looks as of right now.

I’ve been using the plugin called “Plugin Commander” to determine access to plugins—some of them I want enabled just for class blogs, others for all blogs, others just on request. I’ll try to explain for each one whether and how we’re using it.

bbPress Integration–Provides single sign on login with a bbPress installation.
This is installed but not really working yet. The idea is to provide forums (for groups in buddypress). But I haven’t been able to make it work. The single sign-on part (see the next plugin on the list) is working fine, perfectly. But I don’t have group forums showing up on their group pages as they should. I think I will get it working this summer–there’s a new RC of bbPress that probably takes care of it. I’ve installed that, but haven’t had time to check it out.

WPMU Enable bbPress Capabilities–Enables bbPress member capabilities when a user is created within WPMU. This allows immediate login as a ‘member’ after a user is created in WPMU.
This one works—if you login to our WPMU, you’re also logged in to our bbPress, and vice versa, but since the forums don’t work in buddypress, it’s not of much use yet.

Ada Active Blogs–Adds a sidebar widget to let you display active blogs by post count from WordPressMU. By CAPitalZ.
Probably not useful for most users, and BuddyPress kind of obviates the need for it. I was using it to provide a list on the main Eportfolio Gateway page of active eportfolios.

Ada New Blogs–Adds a sidebar widget to let you display new blogs from WordPressMU. By CAPitalZ.
Same as above.

Ada Updated Blogs–Adds a sidebar widget to let you display updated blogs from WordPressMU. By CAPitalZ.
And this one’s the same as above, too. Useful for a gateway or overall main site, but if you have BuddyPress, that will take care of this for you. These widgets were great in the pre-BuddyPress era.

BM Custom Login–Display custom images on the wordpress login screen. Useful for branding. By Ben Gillbanks.
This one is quite nice—it’s what let me style the login page to use Macaulay red and our logo, instead of the standard WPMU login page. I’ve got a good-looking (in my opinion) login page with our logo and a nice graphic and our color scheme.

Embed Allower–Allows embed, object, and other security risks tags. LGPLv3. By Hendy Irawan.
A big security risk if you’re allowing open registration (which we’re not). Don’t use it unless you know and trust and can track your users. (But without it you can not embed YouTube videos or anything similar). In any case the Google Maps Quicktag plugin (see below) serves the same function and is easier to use. Still a risk, though, so understand that risk.

FeedWordPress–simple and flexible Atom/RSS syndication for WordPress By Charles Johnson.
This lets you have an RSS feed for all the posts in your whole wpmu installation. Very nice for me as the admin—I just subscribe to that feed and lets me keep an eye on all the new posts as they come in. I catch spam that way, and can see what’s happening on the whole site.

Google Maps Quicktag – MU–Google Maps Quicktag makes it convenient to open the Google Maps web site while editing, where you can generate your map and copy the needed code to paste into the editor. Due to a security concern, WordPress MU sites with open registration are not recommended. Use at your own risk. By Daniel Denk.
As I said above, this is essential if you want people to be able to embed youtube videos or google maps or anything with similar code. WPMU prohibits those by default, stripping the code right out of the posts. But it is definitely a risk, because people can embed anything at all—and execute code if that’s allowed—and bring the whole system to a crashing halt or worse. I limit our registrations to just our students (and ITFs) so it’s a little safer. But even so, I’m taking a risk. But I do want those videos and so forth to be embedded. It’s worth the risk to me, at least for now.

My Link Order–My Link Order allows you to set the order in which links and link categories will appear in the sidebar. Uses a drag and drop interface for ordering. Adds a widget with additional options for easy installation on widgetized themes. Visit the My Link Order page after updating WordPress to apply essential file patches. By froman118.
This looked good but I have not been able to make it work right. Oh well.

Privacy Options–Adds more privacy options to the options-privacy and wpmu-blogs pages. Just drop in mu-plugins, no core edits needed. By D Sader.
This is a nice one—I don’t know if anyone is actively using it yet, but I always want to give students a lot of choices about private vs. public.

Role Manager–Role Management for WordPress 2.0.x, 2.1.x, 2.2.x, 2.3.x and 2.5.x.. By Thomas Schneider.
A whole lot better than the default role management. Gives you really fine-grained control over what different roles can do and not do. Very useful for class blogs where students need to have specifically defined abilities and prohibitions.

Spam Karma 2–Ultimate Spam Killer for WordPress. Activate the plugin and go to ManageSpam Karma 2 to configure. See Spam Karma 2 About for details. By dr Dave.
This is no longer supported, not being developed anymore, but I still like it very much. I think it’s very effective. Eventually I’ll have to stop using it and switch to akismet, which everyone else uses for anti-spam. You absolutely MUST have something to prevent comment spam or you’ll be swamped almost immediately.

WPhone–A lightweight admin interface for the iPhone and other mobile devices. By Stephane Daury, Doug Stewart, and Viper007Bond.
Somebody asked for this, and it seems cool (I use it myself sometimes) but almost nobody else really uses it. How often do you (or users) want to administer (not read) your wpmu blog from an iPhone? Not that often. I have a new plugin on my own blog at mountebank.org/blog which gives you an iPhone READING interface. It’s very cool and I will probably install it on here if it’s compatible.

WPMU Mailer–Mass emailer for WPMU By Inviz.
BuddyPress obviates the need for this. But I did use it when we took the system down for the server migration.

WP Sentry–Granular user and group access controls for private posts. By Pete Holiday.
Installed it but haven’t used it yet.

BuddyPress–BuddyPress will add social networking features to a new or existing WordPress MU installation. By The BuddyPress Community.
Of course!!

Calendar–Nice and simple Calendar with events support and full customization:) By Vanguard.
Somebody wanted this for a class blog. Not sure how well it worked for the class, but it seemed like a good solution in my testing.

Email Users–Allows the site editors to send an e-mail to the blog users. Credits to Catalin Ionescu who gave me some ideas for the plugin and has made a similar plugin. Bug reports and corrections by Cyril Crua and Pokey. By Vincent Prat (email : vpratfr@yahoo.fr).
I was trying it out but didn’t really like it.

Custom CUNY Academic Commons Profile Filters–Changes the way that profile data fields get filtered into clickable URLs. By Boone Gorges.
Terrific invention by CUNY’s own Boone Gorges which lets users decide which words in their BuddyPress profiles will be links.

Flickr Photo Album–This plugin will retrieve your Flickr photos and allow you to easily add your photos to your posts. Configure… By Joe Tan.
I don’t think it’s been all that useful for our students. But could be good in a community (or class) where flickr is used regularly.

NextGEN Gallery–A NextGENeration Photo gallery for the Web 2.0. By Alex Rabe.
Very nice indeed! Excellent for photo galleries, lots of features. This one is really essential if you want to do work with photos. I think it’s probably the best photo gallery plugin I’ve seen. (But students need to be trained a bit to use it, and we haven’t quite got there with any of them yet. I’m hoping to get a few fore-runner/pioneer students using it well in the fall, so we can have some good examples).

podPress–The podPress pluggin gives you everything you need in one easy plugin to use WordPress for Podcasting. Set it up in ‘podPress’-Feed/iTunes Settings. If you this plugin works for you, send us a comment. By Dan Kuykendall (Seek3r).
I love this plugin. It lets you have a nice embeddable media player, with very few clicks, for video or audio. I think it’s far better than the other options (notably Anarchy Media Player) which seem more popular. Also gives easy and understandable iTunes integration.

ScholarPress Courseware–All-in-one course management for WordPress By Jeremy Boggs, Dave Lester, Zac Gordon, and Sean Takats.
Not quite there yet, but has a lot of potential. It adds schedule, bibliography, and assignments pages to your blog. Makes it into (almost) a course management system. I know the team is working hard to get it fully compatible with WPMU, and then it’s going to need some bit of tweaking. But we will be using it, I’m sure.

Simple:Press Forum–Fully featured but simple page-based forum By Andy Staines & Steve Klasen.
Installed it but haven’t been able to make it work in any very usable way.

(ALSO–I need to get CommentPress up and running. I’m hearing that it’s now–or almost–working and compatible again)


The Producers

Filed under: — Joe @ 4:33 pm

We gave all our incoming freshmen Flip Cams this past fall. These are very small digital camcorders. They are small enough to be carried all the time, ridiculously easy to use (no cables, and basic software is already installed right on the camera itself, and using AA batteries), and the video quality is quite acceptable, especially for YouTube.

My thought was that these would be useful for the walking tours, interviews, and other elements of the neighborhood websites our students produce for our Seminar Two (”The Peopling of New York”). But I didn’t foresee all the many uses they would actually serve. Students used them for videos in Seminar One (”The Arts in New York”), and some (sophomores) borrowed and used them for PSA’s they created as projects for Seminar Three (”Science and Technology in New York”). Others are even asking for them for Seminar Four (”Planning the Future of New York City”). Our students and faculty in the alternative spring break service learning program (in New Orleans–”The City that Care Forgot”) are using them to document that work, and a student working on an independent research project on Obama’s first 100 days has one, too.

And in this year’s Snapshot NYC event, students had the chance to create an entirely new type of project, “re-curating” the photo exhibit (of their own photos) that we had posted in the building.

Much of this is available on our YouTube Channel, so it’s searchable in YouTube, it can be seen by the multitudes of the public, commented on, made into favorites and followed.

And then at this year’s Yield Event for our newly-admitted students, I met a student who asked me if we would be giving the flip cams to freshmen again in the fall. When I told him we planned to, he said he was glad and said “you know, all the kids in my high school know about Macaulay because of those flip cams.” It seems that those YouTube videos are being seen by all kinds of audiences, including our own prospective students. As others have noted, YouTube these days is not just for funny cat videos–although the appeal of those is undeniable!–it’s also a first-choice research tool, especially for young people.

But there’s more than that. I had been thinking about “student stories” for our re-designed website, as well as videos of faculty and tech fellows and even staff. But I had been thinking “Oy, what a chore to have to film all these and edit them and post them.”

I was thinking in the old way. The students not only have flip cams, they use flip cams. And they post and share what they make with those flip cams. There don’t have to be (at least not all the time) centralized or official producers anymore, because they/we are all producers.

This is what students are showing us–with the flip cams, with the eportfolios, with so much that we do. We give them support and tools, and they use those tools and that support to produce.

What they produce might be rougher or less polished, or it might not be. But it’s theirs and it’s what they’re used to, and there’s a multiplier value, or several of them. They can produce things that we never expected, that we wouldn’t have thought of, that might be much better than what we thought of. And they get to learn from the producing, so the actual process of documenting their learning is another type of learning activity. And they get to learn from the sharing, too, when they interact and become engaged with a larger wider audience.


Newspapers Will Fold?

Filed under: — Joe @ 9:52 pm

Time Magazine lists 10 Newspapers that will either Fold or Go Under Next.

1. The Philadelphia Daily News
2. The Minneapolis Star Tribune
3. The Miami Herald
4. The Detroit News
5. The Boston Globe.
6. The San Francisco Chronicle.
7. The Chicago Sun Times
8. NY Daily News
9. The Fort Worth Star Telegram
10. The Cleveland Plain Dealer

They give their reasoning for each one in the linked article above. It could be they’re right, even about all of them.

But here’s something I notice…I read this list because of a link from one of my twitter community–somebody I don’t know in “real life” at all. He linked to this Time Magazine story. On Yahoo News (where that link above is going to). And Time is actually just taking it from 24/7wallst.com.

So if I’m counting right, this story reached me only after being re-purposed 4 times from its original source. And now it’s reaching anyone reading this after a 5th.

Content “producers” become content aggregators–and content “consumers” become content disseminators in the new media economy. And then those disseminators comment on the content, and re-purpose it, and make their own points. Like I’m doing here. So everybody’s role gets reshaped. Who’s the “real” producer?

Interesting times, that’s who.

(And by the way, I can’t think of a time in the past 10 years or more when I’ve actually bought a paper copy of Time Magazine–or even touched one except when stranded in a doctor’s office with nothing else available.)


This is what it’s about

Filed under: — Joe @ 2:01 pm

When we talk about open publishing, open creating, students having the tools to be their own media sources, not just consumers, this is what it means. Lights? Cameras? Nah. I’ll just do it on my phone!


Blog From iphone

Filed under: — Joe @ 7:44 pm

parachute jump at Coney IslandTo post directly from the iPhone, and even with a picture. How nice!


Sync iCal Outlook Entourage iPhone Google Calendar

Filed under: — Joe @ 11:45 am

This was (for me) the holy grail of syncing. I wanted all the possible syncing to work in all the possible directions–so if I added an event (or changed or deleted one) on the calendar on my iPhone, it would be reflected on the other calendars, too–and vice versa and versa vice. On Mac and on PC. (probably not necessary to explain why this complicated syncing was necessary–but I know, from much googling, that others would like to be able to do it, too.)

At first it was looking like it really would not be possible. But then two new developments made it all work.

IPhone 2.0 included true Exchange integration, and Google Calendar released their Calendar Sync (PC only, damn it, but that was workable).

So here’s how it all works now…

On the iPhone, set up to sync mail, calendar, and contacts with Exchange. That’s easy one-step, and syncs almost instantly.

Then the Exchange server handles syncing all that info with Entourage (on Mac) and Outlook (on PC).

The Google Calendar Sync handles syncing Outlook with Google Calendar (I keep that running in a VMWare Fusion virtual Windows XP machine on a desktop Mac).

And Spanning Sync (on the Mac) handles the syncing between Google Calendar and iCal.

Believe it or not, the whole thing works. There is (at most) a 10-minute lag for any event to sync, but they all do reflect all the same changes, and the best part is that it works for the iPhone without connecting the cable to sync.

Of course, an open calendaring standard, shared by everyone, would make all these gymnastics unnecessary. But as long as there’s Microsoft Exchange around, I don’t hold out much hope for that actually coming.


Macaulay Eportfolios

Filed under: — Joe @ 6:35 pm

eporfolio site screenshotIt took me longer than I wanted, but I finally managed to get the Macaulay Eportfolio site up and running. I’m very pleased with the initial installation–this is using WordPress Multi-User as an eportfolio platform, something that more and more people are starting to do. It was a long process to decide what would be best for Macaulay students–and I know there are many possible solutions to this kind of question. But WPMU offered several advantages for our needs. After some email exchanges and a visit with Jim Groom, I felt that the advantages really made it worth a try.

Those advantages, in brief:

  • Free and open source. It’s always good to conserve resources, and it didn’t sit well with me to shell out many thousands for a product that we might not stay with for very long, and that would then, by virtue of the money we spent, also own us–or at least hold a lien.
  • Easy to use and maintain with a small staff–and no full-time programmers. WordPress has a huge and helpful community, and I and the Tech Fellows have extensive experience with using it, changing it, fixing it, and extending it.
  • Easily customized (templates) look and feel. WordPress has so many themes, with such a variety of looks. Most of the “regular” eportfolio systems go too far in one direction or another. Either they’re completely standardized with at most a little color change to express individuality, or they’re wide open and thus very difficult for students to navigate the process of customizing their appearance. WordPress themes, which give a range of different attractive options, easily switched or re-switched, or even altered (or created from scratch) by more advanced students, seemed like a perfect compromise
  • A cabinet of curiosities/museum. This was kind of the controlling metaphor I wanted for the eportfolios, and WordPress really lends itself to that. For a while I was stuck on the repository idea (the box in the basement metaphor). I was really considering that the eportfolio system had to be a full-service system, with the area for “dumping” all the artifacts or content integrated with the system for reflecting on and presenting that content. But Jim Groom (in one of those should-have-been-obvious brilliant recommendations) unstuck me from that. The repositories are out there, easily available, and it’s just not necessary (or even really advisable) for me to focus on providing them. With YouTube, flickr, Google Docs, voicethread, odeo, etc., why bother to focus so much on providing that “box”? As a cabinet of curiosities, or as a museum, it’s possible to just pull all the content and rearrange it, to walk around or to sit with it, to show it to others in a guided tour, or to have private rooms, or members-only displays. The metaphor’s not perfect, but it got me moving in the right direction, and I integrated it into the site description.
  • Easy to organize and reorganize. This one may need a little work with WordPress, but the idea is that the categories become the organizing tool. Like tagging, the categories can be post-facto, rather than predetermined, and there can be multiple (or adjustable) categories for any item. That’s key I want integrative learning–seeing relationships between and among different learning activities, to be built-in to the eportfolio.
  • Reflection and interaction central. Once the repository is separate from the system, the posts become reflection and consideration…and even better, they also provide the interactive element through comments. If an eportfolio lives and grows, and encourages collaboration and development…well, that’s what it’s there for. And rare.

Those are the basics (apart from the ones I’m forgetting), and it remains to be seen how it all works out when (probably in the fall) students really start using the system.

One of the best things we have here at Macaulay is the Tech Fellows–so however it all begins to roll out, I’ve got them for support, and ideas, and development, too.

More updates as this develops!


Know How to Ask

Filed under: — Joe @ 10:27 pm

In the course I’m co-teaching in the CUNY Graduate Center’s Interactive Technology and Pedagogy program we’ve been talking about some of the skills and tools that students need to know and use in the media universe. We discussed (it was a digression, as I remember) how access to information sometimes can be a curse as well as a blessing, if students don’t have the appropriate questioning, critical, and researching skills.

And then serendipitously I was reading Robert Silverberg’s Nightwings (I read the first part long ago, when it was a Hugo-winning novella, and only recently discovered that Silverberg had added another whole section to expand it into a full novel.)

In Silverberg’s imagined post-lapsarian world, some kind of pickled human brains take the place of networked computers…but there’s still that same problem:

Any citizen has the right to go to a public thinking cap and requisition an information from the Rememberers on any given subject. Nothing is concealed. But the Rememberers volunteer no aid; you must know how to ask, which means you must know what to ask. Item by item you must seek your facts. It is useful for those who must know, say, the long-term patterns of climate in Agupt, or the symptoms of the crystallization disease, or the limitations in the charter of one of the guilds; but it is no help at all to the man who wishes knowledge of the larger questions. One would need to requisition a thousand informations merely to make a beginning. The expense would be great; few would bother.

For larger questions, neither the Rememberers nor the internet can be of much help…at least not without the real skills, almost enough to be a Rememberer, or more than a Rememberer, yourself.


Why not? An iPhone Review

Filed under: — Joe @ 8:17 pm

antique telephoneIt’s not like there aren’t enough iPhone reviews out there, but this is mine! If you don’t want to read my whole review, here’s the bottom line.

I love it. It’s great. Some flaws, but nothing that can’t be corrected, and even with the flaws, it’s totally, totally worth every penny.

Now–my background. I’m moving to the iPhone from the Treo 650. I owned the Treo for almost three years, and I liked it very much. Bought it new for full price (which was only a little less at the time than the iPhone is now), and used it every day. I am not one of the high-powered productivity fiends who are the biggest Blackberry customers. I don’t depend on the phone or instant email for critical business. I also used my iPod every day, for music and podcasts.

So–the iPhone. Let’s take the categories of the functions it offers.

The Phone. First of all, it’s a cellphone. It’s a great phone. I don’t care about voice dialing, had it on the Treo and never used it even once–never even set it up. I do have a bluetooth headset (just got it a couple of weeks ago) for when I’m driving, and it paired immediately with the iPhone, no trouble at all. The sound quality for listening and talking on the iPhone is terrific. Much better than I’m used to, and that’s the case when using it held up to my head, using the speakerphone, using the bluetooth headset, or using the builtin mike in the iPhone earphones (that was a surprise feature! More about that later).

People have complained about ATT reception and service areas, and that has been no problem for me whatsoever. In fact, with the Treo, I had Sprint, and that was much worse–in my own house, I got almost no reception at all. With ATT, I get great reception everywhere so far.

The controls (dialing, hold, conference calling) and the contacts (especially the picture caller ID) are just perfect–efficient, easy to use, even attractive (and more about that later). You can’t add custom ringtones, a fact that people complain about, but that doesn’t really bother me. I almost always keep it on silent and vibrate anyway. The vibrate might be a little weaker than it was on the Treo. It would be fun to use my own mp3 (I used to use the bosun’s whistle sound from Star Trek) for a ringtone, and if they make that possible later it would be good, but it’s far from essential.

It does get a little warm when you hold it to your ear on a long call–like any cellphone.

The Internet The browser is great. The screen (and this is a feature that helps everything on the iPhone), is the brightest, clearest, most beautiful screen I’ve ever seen. It’s absolutely gorgeous, including in bright sunlight. Having the pages display as real websites, not a WAP-crippled version, really helps. I can even read the small text sometimes without zooming in, and when I need to zoom, it’s quick and easy and intuitive. The browser is super fast on wifi, and even though people complain about Edge, even on Edge it’s much faster than what I was used to from the Sprint Treo. Flash support would be a very good addition–that’s the biggest lack, but from what I hear, it’s coming soon–maybe by the fall.

The Keyboard The lack of a period key on the main keyboard is a little bit of a drag (although I learned that it is a drag–if you drag your finger from the “123” key to period, you don’t have to really leave the main keyboard), and it’s taking some getting used to for me to appreciate the auto-correct function, but after even just about half an hour of using it, I could see that it’s going to be way better than the Treo. I wouldn’t want to type long extended things on it (this post is typed on my computer, not the iPhone), but that’s the case for any portable device. For small emails or text messages, or for URL’s, it’s going to be faster and easier than the other keyboards, I’m sure.

I don’t mind the lack of touch feedback. The visual feedback is good, and there’s sound if you want it turned on. I never was able to type on the Treo without looking anyway–and I don’t think people do that on the Blackberry (I may be wrong). Another thing that seems to get ignored is that mechanical, physical keyboards tend to break or get clogged up with gunk. On the Treo, the “H” key was reluctant to register for quite some time–overuse and dirt, I’m sure. That will never be a problem with the iPhone keyboard.

Email I’ve used it with gmail and with POP access to another (work) server. It’s totally fine. The engadget review mentioned a delay in moving from one message to another or in deleting messages. I notice no such thing. It’s almost instantaneous. Unfortunately, there is no bulk email deletion–you do have to go one at a time–and that’s a drawback. Also, in Gmail, because of the way Gmail structures “conversations” you get a copy in your inbox of every message you send. Too bad, but it’s not an iPhone problem, it’s a Gmail problem.

Of course there’s no push (other than Yahoo). You can set it to auto-check at different intervals (every 15 minutes is the most frequent), but I’m not doing that. If you really get hundreds of emails a day, you’re probably better off with a Blackberry. But that’s not me.

Here, too, the screen and the appearance help a lot. If you get html email, the colors and fonts show right up. If you have picture attachments, they show up, too. The way things slide on and off the screen, or into the garbage can when you delete them–the animations–are fantastic.

iPod The sound quality is great. The navigation in cover flow, and the album art (again, the beautiful screen), it’s all beautiful. The included headphones have a (very tiny) little microphone/button built in to the cord–and that allows you to pause, resume, or go to the next song without taking the iPhone out of your pocket. It also automatically pauses the music and lets you answer a phone call, just by clicking it, and then resume the music after the call. You don’t have to put the phone to your ear–just click and talk.

There is one big bug right now. You can not browse the web and listen to the iPod at the same time. Well, you can–but it will constantly crash (not a major crash–it just stops playing the music) every few minutes. I’m hoping they’ll fix that soon. I don’t want to browse and listen to music all the time, but it is one of the promised features, and I do want to be able to do it, when the opportunity arises. It’s been widely reported, so I’m sure Apple’s aware of it. It’s clearly a bug, and whatever it takes, it needs to be fixed.

I’ve read the complaints about not being able to use third-party headphones without an adapter. To some extent that’s true. However there are a few things to mention about that–one is that the iPod headphones that are included seem to be better sound quality than included headphones used to be with iPods, and the little clickable microphone thing on the cord is a big, big benefit. So third-party headphones might not be so necessary. The other thing is that the jack is actually a standard jack, it’s just recessed (maybe to protect the jack from twisting or pulling of the cord?), so most third-party headphones, because of the rubber sleeve around the jack, won’t fit. But–what I did with the cord for my car’s cassette adapter and my Sony headphones is very easy. If you take an Xacto knife and shave away some of that rubber, you don’t need any adapter, or anything. Your headphones will work just fine. It’s a little ugly, and messes up your headphones’ appearance (not much, but a little), and I can see that if you had a super-expensive pair you might not want to do that, but it works fine for me. In fact, I’m planning to do even more surgery, I think, and graft the Sony earbuds onto the iPhone cord, so I can have the comfortable earbuds with better sound, and still use the clickable microphone thing.

Other Features The camera is great–much better than the Treo (however, it is a cellphone, not a digital camera). No video, but maybe someday, and again, you can use a real camera if you want video. The Google maps feature is amazing–clear, sharp, and (in wifi) very fast–satellite view looks fantastic.

The YouTube is fun–and I’m seeing great teaching and learning possibilities there. It’s easy to upload videos (student-created or instructor-created) to YouTube, and students can then watch them on a portable device, in the field, in a museum, on a walking tour, at the library…and those videos can be screen captures, slideshows, maps, logic puzzles–there are lots of possibilities. Even better, one thing that the iPhone has that iPods don’t, is a speaker–not a great speaker, but decent. So YouTube videos, or video or audio on the iPod function, can be shared. That’s a great benefit-students can share content with each other, working collaboratively, with a little portable device.

I think it’s likely, too, that there are more features to come–the thing is basically a very small computer, with a phone, that can be carried around. It’s approaching the ideal tricorder. It doesn’t have all the sensors yet, although the proximity sensor that it uses to sense a nearby face and turn off the screen might have some interesting possibilities, like the sensors that determine the orientation and automatically flip the screen to landscape or portrait mode. I’m also interested in the camera as a sensor–reading bar codes? facial recognition? character recognition? It’s not the highest resolution ever, but I think the use of what is actually a visual sensor for teaching and learning (in a mobile environment–outside the classroom) deserves more thought.

The Notes function is lame. It doesn’t sync with anything.

The Calendar is excellent–mostly (again) because of the screen and interface. It syncs great with iCal, but unfortunately just puts all your calendars into one–doesn’t keep them separate if you have separate calendars for, say, work and home. So that’s a flaw.

The SMS is good (but no automatic smilies 🙁 )–and if you really want chat, there is Meebo, the Weather is fine, the Clock and Calculator are fine (the Clock has some good functions, the Calculator is very standard–neither one is anything to get excited about, but who really gets excited about clocks or calculators? Not me).

I don’t have any use for Stocks, and haven’t even looked at it. I’d eliminate it if I could. Couldn’t care less.

Syncing is really quick and easy–and you can disconnect in the middle with no problem. Another feature that I haven’t seen anyone mention is that you can sync to different computers for different things. I have my music library on a PC, so I sync to that for the iPod function, and my contacts and calendar on a Mac (that syncs to Google Calendar), so the iPhone can sync to that machine for those functions–it’s not tied to one single computer for syncing.

Overall I can’t say enough for the look and feel. INTERFACE MATTERS. That’s the big lesson of all Apple products, and the look and feel here are really revolutionary. It’s just so much better than any other similar product that there really aren’t any similar products. The animations and interactions are not just eye-candy. They help make the device more usable, they play into our intuitive senses of how things work and what we’re doing. And the screen is just so great to look at!

The flaws are not serious…and the fact that Apple can fix them (and will they? I think so–hope so), transparently, automatically, when you sync, which you’re going to do anyway!

The very biggest flaw (aside from the crashing when browsing and listening to music, which is clearly a bug that needs to be fixed), is that there is no way to read ebooks. I may be one of the very few people in the world who actually likes to read whole books on the portable device, but I read many of them (dozens) on my Treo, and with the great screen on the iPhone, it would be so, so much better. Apple has to come up with something for this. ITunes can already handle pdf’s, so I’m hopeful. But this is the only really serious drawback for me–reading on the subway one-handed, without having to take a paper book out of my bag, had become a very pleasant routine for me.

Again, bottom line, this device is great. And no, I didn’t wait in line at all. I walked into the Apple store (with my wife and kid) at a mall in New Jersey just off the highway on my way home from vacation, bought two iPhones, and walked out. No shortage, no struggle. And the activation on iTunes took all of 10 minutes–for two iPhones–once I got home.

There are more features and more things for me to discover–and I probably forgot to mention some things here–but that’s the general response.

Call me fanboy if you like! I can’t protest!


Testing Lightbox and Iimage Browser Together

Filed under: — Joe @ 11:51 am

the iimage browser window with the options I addedSo this is a fun thing–I took the Lightbox 2 script and married it to Iimage Browser. Lightbox has the effect that anyone can see (check the images below). It takes a thumbnail linked to a full-size image, and instead of just having that full-size image open up normally, it gives it a cool overlay effect–this page darkens, and the new image opens above it, sort of laid on top. Even better, if there’s a series of images, it gives the number of them, and “next” and “links” that appear when you mouse over the image. That’s fun, but it wasn’t quite elegant or user-friendly enough. On this blog I use the Iimage Browser plugin on the back-end (you can’t see that as a reader) to easily upload images and add them to posts. I had already hacked Iimage Browser a bit, to add options to “float” the images on the right or left of a post (wrap the text around them). So for this, I hacked it again, to add the lightbox function for any thumbnail, and to give a simple text box choice, no coding necessary, to also use the Lightbox series effect easily. If I get time (and remember what I did), I should probably wrap it up and pack it up with nice instructions, too. It’s not really a big modification to either the script of the plugin–and if I were even better about this (and had more time)–I would really put it all together into a plugin that would do everything. But for now, it was a stretch of my abilities, and I’m impressed with myself that I made it work!

Here’s an example with just one single picture (without wrapped text–not floating)this is my caption
So that was one picture–now I would like to have a series of pictures all together and be able to navigate next or previous. so I’ll put them here
this is the cuny bannerdportfolio pagethe online ad


WordPress as a CMS

Filed under: — Joe @ 3:21 pm

Well, I’m here to tell you it can definitely be done. I’m not the first to discover this, of course, but I really was surprised to see just how well, and how easily, it works. My favorite art historian wanted (with her colleague) to turn all the content they had developed (“lectures” from online courses, podcasts, YouTube videos, flickr images, great sites and web resources) into a kind of free, multimedia, online textbook for art history.

Their experience was that most of the art history textbooks for undergraduates were just, well, wrong. They were pitched to a level that didn’t match, they weren’t engaging in either style or content, and they managed to turn the exciting social history part of art history into just more dull-as-dishwater, decontextualized, blahblah.

(A perfect example of this–today I was in the Art department at my college, and I saw a copy of Gardner’s Art Through the Ages–one of the major textbooks in the discipline, being used extremely effectively, extremely practically….It was used as a booster to lift a computer monitor up to eye level. Probably would make an excellent doorstop or paperweight, too.)

Even the textbook publishers who did have websites connected to their texts seemed to just reproduce the text–nothing towards making them more engaging–and in any case, those sites were closed–available only to people who bought (for more than a few dollars) the print textbooks or some kind of access key.

So they wanted to do something different in style, something open, something making good use of multimedia, something searchable and visually attractive…and they didn’t want to have to learn a whole lot of html, flash, css, and everything else. And they wanted to be able to collaboratively add to and edit the site.

WordPress to the rescue! With a theme they liked, wordpress’ built-in pages and custom fields, and a few expedient plugins (and the help of their friendly neighborhood geek guy–me), over one long weekend they got a very good start, which can easily be continued and expanded, at creating exactly what they wanted…smARThistory.org!

I think the potential here is very exciting–student sites, course sites, more of these “web-books” (or whatever you want to call them), that can be used to publish and collaborate and produce. The idea of the CMS is perfect for this kind of project, and yes, there are many CMS’s out there. But for simplicity of installation, configuration, extension, design…I like the wordpress!


On Online Discussion Forums

Filed under: — Joe @ 9:44 pm

Forum Cartoon from weblogcartoons.comI’ve discussed before my on-again off-again membership in the online discussion forum Global Affairs. I’ve been banned, reinstated, considered quitting, taken long breaks, thrown up my hands in disgust, been forbidden to send private messages to some members, and received very friendly and considerate messages from others. I’ve won a “post of the month” award, read posts by others that have brought tears to my eyes, or had me literally trembling with anger. I’ve been called a bigot, a socialist, a decent human being, a true gentleman, an ideologue and an apologist. But through all of that, since November 2002, I’ve been an active member of the forum, reading and posting day after day.

So, why?

I’ve been thinking about this in a couple of contexts–one, of course, and always, is the connection and the contrast with the kinds of online “forums” that I run when I teach online. Those are different than the experience at GA (or the other forums where I’m a member and post some of the time, but less frequently–at BroadbandReports, UbuntuForums, Brighthand,TotalChoiceHosting, InternetInfidels, Beliefnet…I didn’t realize there were so many!). A discussion forum where I’m teaching a course is different for me–and I think that it’s different for the students than for the participants in the other forums, too. (I’ve often wondered how it would go if someone I knew from online discussion would take my online class. How would we interact in the class, and how would we interact in the forum, after that?)

And there’s another context–recently my daughter has started her own involvement in her own online discussion forum…and she seems to enjoy it (and be frustrated by it, and drawn to it), just as much, and in the same way, as me. Brings up some interesting nature/nurture questions!

I’m thinking that part of the appeal has to do with the community–which is rather obvious–the people about whom I end up caring, who have characters and roles that feel familiar, and comfortable, with shared in-jokes and jargon. But connected to that, too, is the adoption of a persona. I don’t think that my online persona is all that different from my face-to-face persona, but the fact is, when I look at it (looking back, especially), I’m much freer online–to be playful, or aggressive, or to push arguments way beyond where they can really productively go.

This seems to be what my daughter does, too–the hot political topics of the day, or the bigger philosophical questions (the existence of the soul)–online I get totally involved in discussing these, and discussing how we’re discussing them, and little tiny elements of the discussion of the history of this discussion. Face to face, to preserve peace, or to save time, or just to get anything done, there’s just no time for this.

It’s also especially attractive to discuss these issues with people who are so, so different from me (except that they’re the same in one important area–they like to discuss things online!). I seem to spend the most time, and have the most fun, in forums (like GA) where I’m a distinct minority. Almost everyone (very few exceptions) is politically far to the right of me there–and almost nobody (very few exceptions) has the same kind of experience (professional, personal, academic) that I have. Over and over again, I’m the sole defender of a point of view–against multiple (I won’t say enemies, but opponents). And I must like that, somehow, because I keep coming back for more. My daughter’s role in her forum is the same in this regard, too.

Of course, there are also advantages which are shared in all asynchronous online discussion (as I’ve written about elsewhere). There is time to consider, to take someone else’s argument apart line-by-line, to pursue an off-topic drift or digression. There’s also the entire resource of the internet right there–to cite sources, investigate claims, illustrate with images, and so forth. The “wizard factor” (you want to see a hedgehog? I wave my hand and there’s a hedgehog!) that I enjoy so much in teaching online shares its magic with all online discussion.

Finally, there’s something I notice especially in the tech-oriented forums (and the tech areas of broader-ranging forums like GA). People like to help each other in these forums. How do I get the Beryl Window Manager working in Ubuntu? What should I say on my resume about a college that changed its name after I graduated? What do I do about an invitation from an in-law I can’t stand? In these forums, people ask for help with problems from the mundane to the life-threatening, and they get it…and everyone values both the giving and the getting. That’s a human interaction, whether it’s in the online world or the physical world, which is truly valuable.

There’s plenty more to be said on this subject…but it’s partly what I’m thinking now.

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