Thoughts on teaching, technology, learning and life in an era of change.

Archive for December, 2008

Blogging via iPhone
December 27th, 2008

Well, this is a first for me. I am composing this post on the phone. I think this will be primarily used for quick text based posts. I think I should make the time to update my version of WordPress. Been a while since the last update.

Meetup with Tom Barrett and Steve Collis
December 24th, 2008

Yesterday my wife Shao Ping and I ventured up to Sydney to meet up with Tom Barrett and Steve Collis. I was keen to meet both Steve and Tom as they have always been thorough gentlemen in all of our communications and great supporters of my blog too. Great chaps indeed. Tom and his family are on holidays here in Australia. They have travelled all the way from Nottingham in England.

The view from Circular Quay

Shao Ping and I jumped in the car and drove to Allawah in Sydney, parked the car and hopped on a train to the city. We changed trains at Central Station, alighted at Circular Quay and caught a ferry to Manly across the majestic Sydney Harbour. We then walked along the Corso to the beach at Manly. We were a little early so we wandered about a bit.

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House and the city in the background

Manly Beach

Tom found us first and then Steve turned up. Excellent! Interesting Tom looked more Australian then either Steve and myself. We all made our way to a local cafe for lunch. It was a bit like a blind date really. I had never met Tom or Steve in the flesh before. Have you ever been on a blind date? My wife and I were joking about this on the way to the meetup. Perhaps I might fall for Steve or Tom! Nothing quite like an each way bet, eh?

Three men on a blind date. Tom, John and Steve.

We ordered drinks and a meal and the conversation began. We carried on for about 2.5 hours. We covered all sorts of territory from practical, down to earth blog posts, the effectiveness of Twitter as a source of immediacy and connectedness in the classroom, through to innovative teaching and learning practicesteaching second languages and emigrating to a different country.

Life is good. Holidays, travel, freedom, drinks with friends.

We compared our actual teaching situations and spoke of future plans. Steve’s recent trip to the United States was a source of interesting discoveries. My wife and I took a few photographs including the obligatory hardware snap. In fact the  hardware surfaced for all of about 2 minutes. I do not own a mobile phone so I played with a small camera for the benefit of the shot.

Mini unconference. NECC watch out!

We adjourned to Manly Beach after the meal and we also took a few photographs with the Santa hats I had brought along for the meeting.

Steve in a jovial mood

Tom by the beach in a festive setting

We all had a jolly good time and I am glad I made the trip to Sydney. The weather held off and it was just a great experience to meet up with Tom and Steve. Two great blokes, both hard-working and innovative teachers and each a source of support and inspiration. Thanks Tom! Thanks Steve!

PS. Tom is on his way to Adelaide now to catch up with his dad and perhaps Graham Wegner, another gentleman on the blogwaves.

Optus and Netgear provide a crap user experience
December 21st, 2008

Popped over to a friend’s place today to help him to connect his ASUS laptop to his Netgear Wireless Router.

I brought my Mac with me. It took my MacBook Pro a few seconds to connect once I entered the password for the WAP wireless network. I was surfing the net immediately.

Now, how about the ASUS PC running Windows XP? Three hours later I am not so sure. The NetGear Wireless router that was supplied by Optus is connected to my friend’s desktop machine. There was also a USB device for laptops, etc that would allow others to tap into the wireless network. We unpacked it and the installation CD-ROM that came with the device.

My friend and I ran the installation disc, plugged in the USB device, and it was recognised. During installation an alert appeared stating that a file named RtlGina2.dll was being installed and should we allow it? It was flagged as a virus by Windows. We denied installation of the file. As a result the installation failed.

Next time around we allowed installation of the RtlGina2.dll file. I felt it was risky. After all, viruses have piggy-backed on poorly mastered install discs before.

Now, the NetGear app was installed and it launched yet it would not consistentlty lock on to the wireless network. It was flaky. Very flaky. We worked on this for a while.

I changed the channel on the router and back at the NetGear app on the laptop and also conducted a ‘repair’ of the network on the laptop and it seemed to work fine. I had to access the routers control panel to change the channel. Not for the faint hearted. None of the materials provided by Optus or Netgear advised how to do it. I just happened to know the default url and access code for Netgear modems.

We rebooted the laptop to see if it would connect to the network without assistance. Well, guess what happened?

The Welcome screen had disappeared and we were left with the domain-style login box. All of the User account login choices for my friend’s family members had disappeared! When we tried to enable them again in Control Panel/User Accounts, we received an error alert informing us that another program, namely our little friend RtlGina2.dll, was preventing any enabling of the User logins! Can you believe it! I was dumbfounded, frustrated and angry!

The alert advised to launch the app that was using the RtlGina2.dll and disable it. Which app? Obviously it was the NetGear app as we had just installed it. But there was no way to diasble the RtlGina2.dll file at that level. What a load of crap, eh!? Plain, unmitigated crap!

Did some research on the Internet using my Mac which was still happily connected to the Internet and there were thousands of entries describing this problem. Various solutions are provided. I took my friend’s laptop home so I could work on the fix there. There were various solutions provided online: Fix #1 | Fix #2 | Fix #3 | Fix #4 | and so on….

I will have to take my friend’s laptop back to his place to see if it will connect to his wireless network now that the registries on the laptop have been altered.

The main point is this. Both Optus and Netgear should be ashamed.

The installation process should be seamless and worry free. Not so. What were some of the problems we encountered?

1. Getting the laptop to connect consistently to the wireless network was challenging and time consuming. My Mac had no problem at all.
2. Dealing with that RtlGina2.dll file during installation of the Netgear software. Allow or disallow?
3. Discovering that the Netgear had installation had removed the welcome screen and the user log-ins was a surprise.
4. Discovering that one had to switch off or disable the RtlGina2.dll file in order to reset the Welcome screen and user logins was a surprise.
5. Discovering that it could not be done via the Netgear software was a surprise.
6. Needed to surf the web to find a solution. What if you did not have an alternative Internet connection at home?

7. Having to alter registries on the PC! Registries! Can you believe it!!!!!

Shame Optus! Shame Netgear! What if I was an inexpereinced computer user? What if I was elderly?

This type of poor user experience is simple inexcusable.  Optus, it is pathetic. Netgear, it is pathetic. Get your act together. After reading the forums you will see it happens with a variety of Netgear wireless products. How can Optus and Netgear allow this to happen? Of course, Windows XP does not help much either.

How many inexperienced users, including the elderly and those on low incomes, have paid hundreds of dollars to have this problem fixed?

Getting started ~ putting knowledge into practice
December 19th, 2008

During the afternoon I gave a presentation via the Net to a group of teachers gathered together in Ungarie in far western NSW, Australia. They were attending a two-day Weaving Technology workshop. The title of the presentation was “Getting started ~ putting knowledge into practice”. The presentation was in conjunction with the NSW CAP programme, the DET and the Weaving Technology group. Anne-Maree Moore and Stacey Kelly were the prime movers behind the day.

A number of educators worked with the teachers during the last two days. In addition to Anne-Maree and Stacey the participants heard from Adam Currey, Phil Nosworthy, Darron Watt and Greg Alchin. A couple of new tools were brought to my attention during the two days: Kahootz and Shoutem.

The workshops that happened in Ungarie were a follow up to the excellent Weaving Technology conference that was held in Wagga, NSW, Australia last October. Following that conference I composed a few ideas regarding the thought or process of getting started with technology in the classroom. I blogged about those ideas at the time.

Essentially, when starting out with technology in the classroom I feel it is useful to keep the following three rules of thumb in mind…

1. Choose an aspect of the curriculum with which you hold a passion.
2. Choose an online tool with which you feel comfortable or ‘clicks’ for you.
3. Steer a simple, straightforward path at the outset.

As well, timing is also important… For example I find term III is favourable moment when the pressure is off somewhat. No final exams and no reports to write.

I pointed the participants in today’s presentation to the following resources…

Web 2.0 links and resources: Here you will find online guides and resources for applications and tools as diverse as Twitter, Second Life, Wikis and more. There are links to classroom blogs, wikis, Second Life sites, teacher blogs and a variety of advice from educators near and far. I have just updated the list with additional Nings and Twitter resources.

How to guides. This page is chock-a-block full of pdf guides to blogs, wikis, Twitter, RSS feeds, Posterous and much more. Feel free to download and use these guides. Worpdress has just been updated so that guide is a little out of date. I have also added these resources to my home page.

Blogrolls. These are some of the blogs that I read some of the time, not all of the time. This needs updating. Need to import my latest OPML file into Google Reader.

I have also uploaded four rough edits of an interview recorded by Nanyang Technological University. Four questions were answered. These videos could have acted as a back-up in the event that I could not connect with the participants for whatever reason. Click on each question to view the relevant video. You will need to ensure you have Quicktime installed.

What is Web 2.0?
How can teachers and students exploit Web 2.0 technologies for teaching and learning?
How can teachers benefit from web 2.0 technologies?
How can students benefit from web 2.0 technologies?

The presentation that was conducted this afternoon was recorded and is available here. Jump to 37.11 when the presentation actually begins. There were, initially, some issues with audio at my end. That was ironic as we had been experiencing some issues with video earlier this week. Technology keeps you on your toes, eh?

Cheers, John.

Battle of Thermopylae 480BC
December 15th, 2008

View larger image

This is an ancient aerial photograph taken just before the final stages of the historic Battle of Thermopylae between the Greeks and the Persians in 480BC. The image was taken by Anna Chronism. The Greek forces were courageously led by Leonidas. The troops are camped by one of the ancient walls of the pass. To the right the traitor Ephialtes can be seen.

How was this post created? The original photograph was taken using a digital camera. Mt Faber, Singapore, 2003. The ants were building a wall of sorts prior to a storm on a step on a path. Were they intending to funnel water towards or away from their nest I wonder? Why were they building a wall? Was the impending storm their version of an invading Persian force? I imported the photograph into Comic Life. The cartoon elements were added. I exported the project as an image. Opened it in Photoshop Elements and saved the image for the web. Large and small.