Legos + Math

Saw this and thought it was a great use of play for learning.

Click here.

Matt Reads: Worm

Most most recent book in the #MattReads series was Mark Bowden's Worm. Subtitled the "First Digital World War" it chronicles the discovery, dissection, and ultimate stalemate between the worm Conficker's creators and a group of nerd. Besides the technical stuff (and it is an easy, albeit disturbing read for the layman) it was an interesting anthology of a very small subculture, the nerds. Bowden calls them the Tribe, the very small group of software engineers, network administrators and security specialists who understand how the internet works. Or, the non-tech translation, these are the folks who make sure the planes don't fall out of the sky, that the lights stay on... oh yeah, and my mom can read Facebook.

BTW, Conflicker is still out there, sleeping. By estimates, there are over 6 million machines that remain infected... As was illustrated in this vivid tale, that is enough computing power to grind the modern world to a halt. We're one set of instructions away from waking up Godzilla.


The Playing Fields of Eton

While certainly some parents push their kids into too many sports commitments in search of D1 full rides or Olympic gold... On the other hand, I know -- more than a few -- colleagues who are disdainfully dismissive of sports. It is galling to their sensibilities that kids might seek excellence in something other than (or, from their PoV, at the expense of) their subject, and gasp, something so crass as chasing a ball. Turns out sports may have some value in our quest for #LifeReady students. Guess the Duke of Wellington / George Orwell was correct: The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.


Matt Reads: Man in the High Castle

Next up in my #MattReads series is Phillip Dick's alternative history of the post-WW2 world where the Nazis and Imperial Japan divide the (former) United States and the World. Phillip Dick is one of the giants of Sci Fi, he being most famous for works like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep which was made into a little film called Blade Runner. Anyway, you all know how I love the dystopian genre...

Very interesting read. It's written from the first person prospectives of several characters but includes snippets from a banned book - The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which includes another alternate history of the world after an Allied victory. Two alternative histories for the price of one!!

I picked up The Man in the High Castle before wanting to view the new Amazon series based on the book. Good book, now I'm anxious to start viewing it... 


Ubuntu Phones? Dual boot with Android? Yes Please.

A preview of what Ubuntu Touch might look like on a mobile device. How exciting. Presumably since this is running on a Nexus device, there exists the possibility of dual booting between operating systems too.


Jamaican Slave Revolt Interactive Map

I found this interactive map about the Jamaican Slave Revolt and was totally captivated by both the subject and the medium.

From the project's website:

This animated thematic map narrates the spatial history of the greatest slave insurrection in the eighteenth century British Empire.  To teachers and researchers, the presentation offers a carefully curated archive of key documentary evidence.  To all viewers, the map suggests an argument about the strategies of the rebels and the tactics of counterinsurgency, about the importance of the landscape to the course of the uprising, and about the difficulty of representing such events cartographically with available sources.  Although this cartographic narration cannot be taken as an exhaustive database—for instance, it does not examine major themes such as belonging and affiliation among the insurgents or the larger imperial context and interconnected Atlantic world— the map offers an illuminating interpretation of the military campaign’s spatial dynamics.

In particular, I was struck by the way the information was conveyed both geographically and linearly. The project's website calls it "animated thematic map". But for me, the combination of additional media, geographical location, and a timeline told a story in a way that text could not.  It was a fascinating topic and I was happy to learn more about the revolt.

However, was struck me even more was the method and medium of delivery. I did not read it in a book. Nor, did I read about it in an academic dissertation. Yet, the result was the same - I was engaged, interested, and learned a lot about the revolt. In fact, I want to make the case that because the medium was multisensory, multimedia, interactive it was more effective than text. A picture is worth a thousand words. Which got me thinking that perhaps this project-based research project would be a great replacement for the "traditional research paper".

Now, this is not to say that thesis construction and the written organization of an argument is not important. In fact, you can see that structure in this project even with paragraph after paragraph.  It was obvious that the material was well-researched, provided essential context, and laid out an argument about the topic. The end-effect was the reader was presented with a clear picture of the Jamaican Slave Revolt -- again, importantly, more effectively than the (mere) written word.

Sure, the project is the work of Harvard professor, Dr. Vincent Brown, so no doubt he access to deep pockets and sophisticated tools.  But what if these tools were available to middle school students or high school students?  In many ways they are, for example Google's Map Engine Lite or Google Earth provides a lot of the tools, though not nearly in a completely slickly wrapped project. In fact this particular map was designed by Axis Maps, one of the cool Cambridge firms (where I wished I worked) and you can see it in the production value. Dr Brown also cites Stanford's Spatial History Project and Harvard's Center for Geographic Analysis as providing assistance.

Interestingly though, Dr. Brown, besides being a professor of African American Studies at Harvard is also the director of the History Design Studio. BTW, love the inclusion of the name "studio" in a history department offshoot.

From the HDS website:

The History Design Studio is a workshop for the most exciting new ideas in multimedia history. Joining a commitment to the professional practice of history with an experimental approach to form and presentation, the HDS is a creative space where students and scholars can design new modes of historical storytelling. We express historians’ core values through the innovative methods of artisanship and craft. Extensive use of primary sources, keen historiographical awareness, attention to change over time, and an overarching respect for evidence guide our projects in databasing, storyboarding, audiovisual narration, performance, cartography, and software development. By stretching the canvas of historical scholarship, studio participants make lasting contributions to the understanding of the past and its many meanings.

If places as esteemed as Harvard are presenting social sciences in this way, I can only hope it is a matter of time before there is a trickle down to secondary and middle school education. I only wish I was a college senior applying to grad schools again... this looks like SO much fun. And for a student like me who visualizes things before I can articulate them in words, this sort of opportunity was well, an opportunity missed.


Mappa Mundi

As the map website teases, did you know:

The Mappa Mundi contains over 500 drawings, depicting over 420 cities and towns, 15 Biblical events, 33 plants, animals, birds, and strange creatures, 32 images of the people of the world and eight pictures from classical mythology.

It was made in 1250. Yeah, that makes it a really old map.

The Hereford Mappa Mundi is a medieval map of the world on vellum (yeah, animal skin), it is one of the few surviving and largest example from that period. Until recently if you wanted to see it, you had to visit Hereford Cathedral. That is until recently...

There is now a fully digitized and interactive map available for exploration online.


More Google Maps

More cool stuff from Google Maps. They recently partnered with the National Geographic Society and other groups to digitize a whole collection of historical maps and made them available online. Other organizations include the World Bank, USGS, NASA, as well as government organizations.

A handy tool enables you to change the opacity of the overlay so you can switch back and forth from the modern map to the historical one. You know if you wanted to see if Sherman's March to the Sea followed the Interstate.

You can search the collection thematically or by keyword. Overall the collection is limited (when you consider all the NG maps that are sitting in my basement), but I image will grow over time. Pretty cool start.


Twitter Map of Snow

Ever wonder if it snows in cyberspace. Well, yes. Here is what a snow day looks like as the word "snow" is mentioned on Twitter on February 13, 2014.  A pretty "cool" visualization.

iOS in the Car

Several media outlets including the Financial Times are reporting that Apple is going to unveil "iOS in the Car" this week with partners Ferrari, Volvo, and Mercedes-Benz.  The creation of iOS in the car was announced at last year's WWDC by Apple VP Eddy Cue (see above), but little is know what the system would look like or do. Perhaps we are about to find out at the Geneva Auto Show....

BTW, here is the original FT piece. It is behind a paywall, but you can read up to 8 articles for free. It is their scoop, so I even thought it isn't "public" I felt obligated to post a link.

So what might iOS in the Car look like?  Here is a list of things I would like to see:

1. Hands-Free, Eyes-Free

Most certainly iOS in the Car would have Siri and a host of other "hands-free" applications. BUT, if this system, or any other product stands any chance of thriving in the car ecosystem it must also be "eyes-free". Something like HAL2000 or the MotoX that responds to voice prompts without touching the device. My device is usually in the cup holder in the center console... even though Maryland is "hands-free" state (mea culpa here), obviously I do pick up my phone from time to time while driving. I would never text or write emails, but turning it over to see the time, or traffic alerts, or why my wife keeps calling me are all stuff that even the most conscientious of drivers do.

2. Do not Disturb

Yes, yes hands-free and eyes-free are important features. We all loath to be disconnected from the grid, so most people would probably love features extended for voice and text messages. Maybe even a sultry Australian female voice to read my incoming text messages... But, for me, the car is my Fortress of Solitude. I don't want to be bugged. No offense folks, but when I am in the car, it one of the few times all day I am by myself... Yes, a specific conditional VM message or reply text - Hey, I'm currently on the road, I'll get back to you when I stop. A successful operating system would no doubt have multiple levels of privacy control. Perhaps even a tie-in with parental controls - so that as a parent I can disable my son's phone whenever it is moving more than 8 MPH... Just thinking ahead.

3. Heads Up Display

This might not be wildly popular with law enforcement or parents of teenage drivers, but I think some sort of heads-up display would an awesome idea. Just like in the cockpit of a modern fighter-jet, some information is important enough to displayed on the glass - in the field of vision of the driver. Obviously this would be great for things like an integration with maps or turn by turn directions... But also consider a speedometer and fuel meter. Or even, really out of the box, something like the Prius "efficient driving" icon. It should be said though, it should not be a way to display incoming messages, movies, etc. More on that later.

4. Music Integration

Some cars already do this either through a plug in wire (like BMWs system) or via Bluetooth. But I'm talking about something baked into the operating system.

5. Radio "DVR"

But what would be a real killer app would be a radio DVR feature. Yup. This would be a must have for me. Ever get to your destination and you have to wait in your car to hear the solution to last week's Car Talk Puzzler?  Or miss the first 20 minutes of that FreshAir interview? The operating system would know and either give you the choice of starting the program from the beginning or cuing it for listening later on your mobile device or next time you got in the car.

6. Replace Warning Lights

Things like change the oil, low tie pressure... Yup.

7. Proximity Sensing

The next two functions aren't really automotive related, but are features that combine existing or burgeoning technology that are coming to mobile devices in the not so distant future.

Can't remember where you parked? Or fumble around for your keys? Chances are you know where your phone is though. So imagine you can flash your headlights or have your car beep from your phone -- a kind of "Find my iPhone" for your car. Also envision a NFC feature that unlocks your car when you get within two feet of it. Or maybe a feature that enables you to start the car (and turn on those seat warmers) while you are still finishing your morning coffee.

8. Cashless Transactions

Goodbye EZ pass or even transactions at the gas pump.

>> Update. Saw this after I had finished this post. Looks like Android might be coming to Mercedes too.


Research Comes to You

Betcha didn't know that you could set up searches for specific keywords and have updates delivered to your mailbox whenever those words are mentioned on the Internet?

Not only can you scour the Internet, you can also pull information from academic sources too.

Yup. No need to go looking for research, research comes to you.

Now, it will still be up to you to curate this information - and just because it *is* on the Internet doesn't mean that it is true.  If you are interested in assessing the credibility of online resources, I would suggest this Chrome extension I built for Ms. Gibbs and Mr. Waller.

But whatever you find on the Internet should not be a replacement for information that your teachers or librarians have accumulated for you. The school's vast library of online databases is an excellent resources, and really, in most instances should be your first stop for research.

But using Google Alerts is a great way to automate a lot of searching and conveniently deliver it to your mailbox with a little bow on it.

Watch this brief video to learn a little more about Google Scholar. For more suggestions, click here.

Some things to consider when using Google Scholar:

1. Use Keywords

Google Scholar works just like regular Google, you search for specific keywords or phrases. Nothing new here.

2. Understand Boolean Searches

However, as the video mentioned, Google Scholar offers you more refined search criteria following Boolean search operators: AND, OR, and NOT. Learning to master these search tools will yield more narrowly defined results and save you time sifting through information that isn't useful to your research.

Not following me with this Boolean thing, click here.

3. Look for specific authors, sources, or date ranges

What to find everything I've written in the New York Times this year? No problem, Google Scholar will help you refine that search. BTW, results: 0

4. Create a Google Alert

Finally you can create alerts that will deliver your research for you... So that if I ever do get published in the New York Times, you'll get an email sent to you with my (front page, naturally) piece.

For example, I have an alert set up for the words "McDonogh" AND "School", and often get stuff like this that I might otherwise miss.


I hate Snow School.

Meh. Yeah, I get it, we're behind. We're missing days. We might lose Spring Break days... But don't you think they're taking this "Snow School" idea a little too seriously?


Flipping Data in Excel or Google Sheets

If you are a frequent Excel, Google Sheet, or Google Forms user I thought you would be interested in this handy formula I recently uncovered. It "flips" the orientation of the data 90'.

This is the way Forms deposits data in a Sheet (top to bottom):

However sometimes you prefer to see the data from right to left.

Well, a really simple formula does the trick.

First thing, create a second sheet. Then in cell A1 of the new sheet, type in the following formula: 

= Transpose(Sheet1!A:E)

Note, I have added the bold and grey formatting in column A just to illustrate where the 'header' information goes. If the title of your first sheet is more than one word, I would suggest you rename it without the spaces. When you use Google Forms it automatically adds the word 'responses' to the title you gave the form. I'd suggest you take out the space by clicking the name of the sheet tab at the bottom of the page. Additionally I have used columns A through E because that is the number of fields I had... You should use the range of columns in your spreadsheet.



New Features in Chrome: Hijacked?

Last week Chrome unveiled a couple of new features. Click here to read the original post.

One of the features will notify users if their settings have been modified in anyway (say if you have downloaded something that has malware). Not only will it let you know with a pop-up window (see below) but it will give you the chance to roll back any changes to your account. 

NOW, having said all that... the cynic in me wonders how long it will be before some enterprising hacker includes that "exact" pop-up in their virus-laden screensaver application. A legitimate concern... and certainly using this in Chrome is not a substitute for smart browsing ... you know don't click on links in odd emails, don't download stuff from strange sites, etc... But interesting addition to Chrome and at an attempt to make your browsing more secure.