Archive for Hardware

This iPad case can do anything.

One case with four modes maximizes the ability of the iPad to act as both laptop and mobile tablet while also protecting the corners. Unfortunately, the case is also too tight and may stress the glass screen. Love the form factor, however. Supernight 360

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Third grade laptop holder

Better than a cart!

New Epson Input Panel

This input panel provides clean projector controls and makes it easy for a structural contractor to complete an entire projector installation without an audiovisual specialist.

Digital Revolution

Write Chinese Characters with a Mac Trackpad

One of our Mandarin teachers discovered this feature the other day — very useful for students to practice handwriting Chinese characters!

Apple appears to be bringing touch features to the Mac using the trackpad rather than the screen. The handwriting feature includes virtual buttons that you press by tapping along the right or left edge of your trackpad, as if you were tapping a phone or tablet screen. David Pogue writes,

Touch-screen computers don’t work. There, I said it. Spending the day with your arm outstretched, manipulating tiny controls on a vertical surface is awkward and exhausting. The ache you feel later is not-so-affectionately known as Gorilla Arm.

Apple has built what it considers a better solution, a horizontal multitouch surface. That’s the trackpad of its laptops, and the top surface of its current mouse.


Why Not Give Away Flip?

“Cisco has to do things fast. Selling Flip could take too much time.”
– Brent Bracelin, Pacific Crest Securities (source)

Perhaps that explains why a beloved consumer and classroom device is being terminated by Cisco Systems, which bought Flip in 2009. Our school must own 30 Flip video cameras, between a loaner box in IT and individual cameras scattered about teacher offices. We will still see them for years, likely. Nothing is simpler than a big red button to capture video.

Cisco is not doing such a good job of reputation management in schools. First, institutions that use Cisco Clean Access associate the Cisco logo with blocking them from the network. Now, Cisco has terminated a much-used school device.

We were planning to purchase another box of Flip cameras this summer. What will replace them? We could spend more and get a box of iPod Touches instead. They shoot decent video and could also do so much more. However, we would lose the simplicity of dedicated devices and would have to manage a pile of connection cables.

Preferably, another small video camera company will emerge as a decent replacement, or by some change of fortune, Flip will find a way to stick around.

Why aren’t systems more compatible?

A Mac can barely print to a Windows print server. Google Docs hardly works on an iPad. eBook readers  do not open the others’ formats. Outlook for Mac cannot save a PST. Why aren’t these popular systems more compatible? Eric Castro reminds us that these companies are competitors that work to maintain a strategic advantage and increase profit.

Users express the misconception that computers are designed to work as well as possible for the customer. If only this were always true! Great design can drive sales, but usability takes a back seat when competitive advantage is involved. Users would love a touch screen Mac, but Apple has little incentive to compromise its iPad strategy. Microsoft would prefer that Office for Windows always be stronger than Office for Mac.

Tech departments can help users avoiding incompatibilities by communicating issues clearly, suggesting workarounds, and helping people understand how companies develop features and consider compatibility.

Here is a helpful graphic from Gizmodo.

source: Gizmodo

iPad: Finding the Grey

Here I am at 30,000 feet, blogging on the school iPad with GoGo wireless. How far these technologies have come in such a short time! I have previously stated that the iPad is poor for content creation, but now I am beginning to see the promise. I am finding the grey space between evangelist and curmudgeon.

By far the best feature is the long battery life, able to last a cross-country plane flight or a full day of class use. No device is effective when it’s out of juice. The keyboard is just tolerable if I place the iPad in landscape orientation. I’m probably typing at 20 words a minute.

I recently read the accreditation report of a peer school that is rolling out a 1:1 iPad program. That’s one iPad for each student in the school. Last week, my reaction to this news was surprise and lack of understanding. It’s highly unlikely that we would do such a thing at our school. Having learned more about their school, I can see the rationale now.

1. They are committing to replace texts with electronic content as much as possible. The iPad is best equipped for content consumption, so this fits great. Presumably, they have strong teacher support for this.

2. They are interested in better supporting students by presenting materials in multiple media (another advantage over print).

3. They are simultaneously seeking a new learning management system platform. The iPad rollout will take place along with a new platform for delivering instructional content and working together.

4. They have a smaller budget than most laptop schools. A 1:1 laptop program is likely out of reach, so it does not make sense to speculate how much better laptops are than iPads. The real question is how much better iPads are compared with laptop carts and shared desktops.

5. Similarly, they may not want to increase tech staff. The iPad lends itself to a distributed management model. Load them up once and then let go of the management responsibility. So far at least, the iPad appears to suffer few weaknesses compared to a device with a full operating system.

6. They are seeking distinctive programs to help attract students within a competitive independent school market.

7. They are timing the rollout to coincide with iPad 2 (good move!). They should avoid the limitations of the first version, gain a camera and microphone, and perhaps lower the price, plus whatever other improvements Apple has cooked up!

I still have questions about feasibility of this program. Can students really write essays and complete assessments using the on-screen keyboard? How will the school deal with the lack of a central file storage system? Are enough teachers committed to developing sufficient electronic content? I look forward to seeing how it goes.

Giving TiVo one last chance

TiVo seemed so promising when I first introduced it at Catlin Gabel two years ago. Teachers had asked whether we could record TV, and classroom schedules don’t match up well to live TV. Television still produces vastly better quality documentary programming than YouTube.

Once I had the devices in place, enthusiasm waned. I tried the devices in different locations: our server room, a Spanish classroom. It helped When I provided DVD burning as a service. Now I have one in our multimedia auditorium and the other in the P.E./Health classroom. The teachers are excited and have been trained. Now let’s see whether they use them. If not, it will be curtains for these devices.

What Happens To Old SMART Boards?

Joking aside, it’s pretty interesting to watch old technologies find limited but useful roles after they become obsolete. This SMART Board is very small and difficult to calibrate. It may get used as an electronic whiteboard from time to time, but it has found a more practical application as a sturdy portable whiteboard.