Just a little bit of insight on the world around us and how we can better interact with it and each other.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

This is a repost of a post i wrote in 2011. I've been giving a lot of thought to it as the debate of AR and VR come to the forefront again as the big new things that are twenty years in the making. 

Two years ago, I built a home made Interactive Whiteboard in my living room using the projector that i used as a tv, a $35 Wii-mote (the controller for the Nintendo Wii Game console), and open source software built by Johnny Lee who came up with the concept. You can see his TED talk on where he's gone with the technology using inexpensive goods he's found at Radio-Shack and his open source software here. You can view my video here. I feel that I should get some credit just due to the sheer size of what used to be my TV screen, and i apologize for the crappy music. I figured it was better than hearing me mumbling to myself at trying to figure out what to display to get the concept across. I used this to show the potential of interactivity to teachers and pricipals and that there existed low-cost options to implement it into the classroom with readily available technology. Two years later, I have helped three four schools introduce differnt solutions and am hoping to see the evolution of the curriculum that utilizes these tools to enhance the curriculum and not just become flashy toys that are forgotten and collect dust like the 'Channel One' tv screens that were used in my grade school.

Now, I'm going to ask you to take a little journey with me, if you will, down the rabbit hole. For the last year, I've been talking about the next step in interactive technology in the classroom. If you haven't heard the phrase before, you will start to hear it more and more over the next two years. Augmented Reality (AR) is a term for a live direct or an indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input, such as sound or graphics. For a quick real world example of AR in action as a reference to what I am and will be talking about in this post, grab smart-phone and download 'Yelp'. The monocle feature utilizes the camera on the smartphone to show a live picture of whatever you're pointing the camera at, but uses GPS positioning and overlays relevant information and ratings of the restraunts in the area over their general viscinity. Play with it a lil and come back if you have to to have an understanding of where I'm going with this train of thought.

Concept 2: Then there was the 'GE: Plug Into The Smart Grid' commercial, this introduced to me the idea of glyphs in AR. The idea being that simple icons printed onto a page, when pulled up infront of a webcam on the computer could trigger an animation or video on screen. If you'd like to see it in action, click the link and it'll have you print out a page with a simple black and white pattern square on a piece of paper, and when you hold it up in front of your webcam, you'll see what blew my mind when i saw it over a year ago.

Inspired, I started thinking about how we could take real time information being presented in front of us and augment or enhance it with other information digitally.

Not surprisingly, people are already way ahead of me in this line of thought and some creative designers and engineers have already started implementing it for use with they CVs or portfolios.

This does begin to get a little sci-fi in my head when i say that what i picture is either people wearing a single monocle connected to a portable computing device or a full headset with cameras mounted to see what they would normally be seeing, but have it processed and then re-displayed to them with an overlay of digital content. Some companies have already started making content and hardware solutions that have students don headsets while the teacher

presents at the front of the class and places a glyph down in front of their document camera or pulls up on their computer and projects to the front of the class and while externally any looker on sees a seemingly random black and white square, the equiped viewers could see content pertinent to their lesson. Imagine a lesson on the solar system in which the students are able to be taken on a 3D tour and zoom in and examine the various layers that make up the Earth's crust. If we could use open source solutions and readily available technology to outfit a class with the hardware needed and the teachers with materials to utilize a class that otherwise couldn't afford a trip to the nation's capitol or the sites of ancient Greece they're learning about in their history class, they could take a tour of it without ever leaving their seats.

How hard is this to implement? How futuristic is this technology? It's already here. Admittedly, like all things, we'll probably see it in the entertainment

and gaming industry.

As with many things, the inspiration is now at hand, we need the implementation and people thinking about what they would want to show their class in a new way. I wouldn't mind having glyphs at the bottom of their text books that while reading, when they came across one would activate something like Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, or activated archive footage of news reels from the Vietnam era. The possibilities for the tie in of multimedia with standard forms of media are endless, but this way we could put them in one place and make essentially the worlds most in-depth pop up books.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Product Love | @Noisli

Noisli isn't new. I haven't seen it receive a ton of love and press. 
I honestly didn't think much about the new features when i first heard about them, but let me tell you... since really beginning to put them into practice, i have seen an increase in my work flow and productivity.
 I was listening to an author on Tim Ferriss' podcast discuss methods of writing. There were essentially two that he pointed out: some one who meticulously knows what they are trying to achieve and perfects it every time and word smiths it to death before they can leave it be and someone who brain dumps and writes to get the concept on the page and then steps away knowing that it is out of their head and written down and they can clean it up later. 
 I wish i were the former, but i think that is just my self consciousness and criticism allowing me to give reason for not outputting. Accusing my work and therefore myself of having not achieved the quality we demand of it and thus thinking it shouldn't be shared. 
 I want to exercise the proverbial muscles necessary to become the latter form of writer. I want to be prolific, for that is how my mind works. I have so many ideas that connect so many concepts and I truly believe that others either don't see them or let them pass without having commented on them. I'd love to at least get them out, so they don't become fleeting. They aren't always so beautiful, but at least they could be captured. 
 So that is what brings me back to Noisli, a website that i discovered some years back and paid for the app so as to support the idea they were promoting.
 Then they added the timer, the ability to save the combinations you came up with, and finally, the text editor. 
 The idea that you have a place to dump your writing without margins, lines, formatting or any other extraneous aspects but the text and that you can view it full screen as the color changes behind it while you listen to noise combinations designed to help you concentrate has truly been liberating. 
 I first came across the idea of boundary-less page in OneNote a few years ago and i was a little confused by the idea of being able to continuously add free-form to a page. Then i heard he founder of Evernote (also on an episode of the Tim Ferriss Show) explain it better when they released a major design update for their interface. He pointed out that we really have to start thinking in a post "paper" world. The skeuomorphic design that led us to Word Processing products that made us think about our writing in terms of 8.5" x 11" sheets of paper and how their layout would look when printed was passé when you were just putting information in a digital tool on the computer. 
 This changed my life.
 I like the power and options that are available in OneNote and EverNote for linking out to other areas, concepts, resources, and multimedia and sharing those Notes, Sheets, and Notebooks with others, but as far as clean and concise workspace for dumping words out of my head and in to the computer I have really enjoyed the one stop shop i've been getting out of Noisli.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


A person who studies the future and makes predictions about it based on current trends.

When i was young, i remember reading articles in the weekly magazines that we would read at school that predicted our future. Colonies on the moon and underwater cars. I remember waiting in line for the JetCars in Tomorrow Land at Disney and seeing videos of Walt Disney's predictions of automated cars and the home of the future. 

 Even though I have never been, i've always wanted to visit Walt Disney World's EPCOT. EPCOT, standing for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, is itself a giant Bucky Ball: a geodesic dome based on the design of Buckminster Fuller.

 Since my youth, i have become aware of others bearing the title "futurist" through various documentaries on their work: Raymond Kurzweil ('Transcendent Man') and Jaque Fresco ('Future By Design'), Michio KakuSyd Mead and even Frank Lloyd Wright ('Frank Lloyd Wright'). I am amazed at this category of people who used creativity to suggest what the future could look like. I find that they were/are the 20th Century's version of Renaissance artists, philosophers, and scientists. But i thought this title something that was from a by-gone era and no longer bestowed upon those of us who were born and raised in the last half century.

 It was seeing an update on Facebook from StarTalk Radio of their new episode featuring futurists Jason Silva and Melissa Sterry. This blew my mind a little. Jason is only four days older than myself. 
 I began to internalize the qualities I admire about the term "futurist". While i have grand ideas about the future of mankind and society as a whole, they vary quite greatly from self sustainable ultra efficient and integrated units like a city out of Star Trek to a post apocalyptic wasteland rendered back into the dark ages. But i made a connection between the aspirations of futurists to project the potential of various aspects of society to a simple cliche, "Think Globally. Act Locally."

 The truly great in the educational technology field do exactly that. Because of the constraints we all feel in budgets and timelines; the limited amount of time we can devote to professional development, and the rapidly changing pace of technology, technologists in the education sector either have to constantly be deploying newer versions of last years software, hardware, or service. Or they standardize and then make large leaps from version to version at once when all can be brought up another rung on the ladder. But again, i say, that a truly great ed tech professional has a vision beyond that which anyone else has yet reached. They see the target they desire to achieve and begin laying the ground work incrementally to get there.

 It is this vision of the future from which i derive my commentary on the outmoded state of any space that is called a "computer lab" and believe whole heartedly that the majority of technology in education should be in support of collaborative learning, even if it is the simple adjustment of the space in which the technology is utilized. We've seen it in the workplace, where the standard cubicle has been redesigned into team workspaces that harness the best performance by forcing group work. We have seen people's comfort level at using technology in their everyday lives increase and yet still using presentation tools and web based assessment in the same way it's been done for over a decade. Why can't we flip these things on their head and instruct the student in a more engaging fashion, using their best strengths to seamlessly integrate it as part of the curriculum without taking away from the strengths of standard manipulatives and physical tools, while assessing how well it is being understood?

 It is in this that i think my next business card will contain the two lines:
 "Educational Technologist"

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Helpdesk for Home

A Helpdesk for Home

Why I Decided to Practice During Non Work Hours 
What I Preach During the Nine to Five

In my professional life, I've had a computer based helpdesk established for quite some time.
 In Time Management for System Administrators Thomas Limoncelli discusses the folly in attempting to remember all the things coming at us throughout a day and Wikipedia states our short term memory is on average seven items, plus or minus 2.

 That is very true for myself, so when I accepted my position several years ago, I worked hard to establish the proper procedure for requesting assistance. I could promise I wouldn't manage requests in a timely manner consistently should the average four people pull me aside for "a quick question, "one small favor", "a simple request", etc before I had even reached my desk from the coffee machine.

 I have found trusting the process and utilizing a system that can automate responses, generate context based check-lists for me and keep track of repeated issues has saved time and improved user experience. It has also had the added effect of calming anxious attitudes towards technology over the years.
 So, knowing that, why a second system for my personal life?
 Because sometimes in our professional lives we don't apply knowledge we take for granted in our professional careers. So many SysAdmins i know don't back up their personal computers at home.
 I am guilty of what I have fought to eliminate at work: relying on my over confident brain to remember all the things I have to get done.
 I've read time management books and investigated various to-do list and reminder methodologies, but I find that what works for me from 9-5, works for me all day, in all situations.
 So, I grabbed an old machine i had lying around. Created a dummy email address for my domain that i would email things to myself as I thought of them or was asked to do and installed my favorite helpdesk and started configuring and tweaking taking the best lessons learned and practices i put to use at work to avoid leaving things left undone and escape feeling like i was trying to pack it all in in too little time.
 I'll go more into specifics of what i installed, how i configured it, and tips and tricks for using the system and various other software that helps tie into it in other posts, but wanted to share the theory. 
 How do you manage the laundry list (sometimes literally) of items that accumulate at home and at work?
 I'll keep you posted on how well it works in practice too; I doubt there will be much reverie in asking my wife to submit a ticket.

Monday, October 13, 2014

In Flight Productivity - a coach passenger's inconvenience

Update: originally posted in Spring of 2011, a recent trip to a conference in Austin reminded me of just how physically incongruent with how airlines think passengers are built i am, so i decided to republish this post. enjoy.

I remember reading science fiction books as a child and being absolutely amazed at the theoretical level of connectivity we would experience in the future. Being able to be anywhere and still be connected to our stream of media seemed like such an awesome concept. Then, on the plane ride back to Seattle from Washinton, DC they tell us that our plane has in-flight wifi.
Photo evidence of my experience
"Spectacular!" I say to myself, thinking I'll be able to let my wife know that I'm okay, that I miss her, and pre-edit some posts about the conference I just attended as I let the overwhelming amount of information and inspiration I encountered ruminate in my brain. The reality of the situation was quite the opposite of the utopia I had imagined as a child. It wasn't so much a failure of the technology, though, there is no way I needed to be responding to email SO badly i was going to pay $12 an hour for it. The truth was in the workspace allotted. I don't carry a large laptop. It's actually considered to be just smaller than average. And speaking of averages, by the statistics of the average size of the population currently, I'm about on par. Though, plane seats obviously haven't been redesigned since the 1950's when the only fast food joint widely available to the masses was McDonald's and they just proceeded to pack more of these seats into the same amount of space in an airplane that also hasn't been redesigned since the last century. With the young lady in front of me, enjoying the half an inch she gained by reclining her seat, i was attempting to work from my laptop and had to make a life and death decision as to whether i wanted to be able to see my screen at it's optimum and fully open angle, thereby accepting that i would have to commit seppuku to allow for the tray to be slid out and into the void created, OR do as i decided to (for fear of making a mess) leave it at about a 75 degree angle and hunker my shoulders down and crane my neck to see the screen as best i could. Let's also mention, the arm position at which I had to type without basically "throwing elbows" into the neck or chest of the passenger next to me. I have deemed it the T-Rex tiny arms posture and it worked for about four minutes, until I hit my funny bone on the arm rest i was attempting to stay within the boundaries of. Needless to say, this was not the best experience and in the end I opted to just wait until I got home to use the internet. I don't know if the airline or the company powering the wireless technology quite gets that just offering up the access won't be a cure for the greater problems of staying connected while traveling.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

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"Why do I lead?" #SAVMP part1

 As part of the School Admin Virtual Mentor Program, this question was posed as an opportunity for introspection. I had a knee jerk answer, but giving myself time to contemplate the question has provided me with insight that i am happy to share.

 My first initial thought was "because no one else will". It is easy to think one's self noble and taking up the standard and leading the charge because you see weakness or lack of presence of someone providing the leadership you are demanding like a petulant child.
 Life is not so black and white. The shades of grey and granularity that influence situations and perspectives that need to be understood that create the current climate in a single school could be beyond count, so carry that out into the greater world and even our own personal lives and it would be impressive if anyone could even attempt to understand the factors that affect a single decision in an organization's leadership.
 "Ogres are like onions..." I think of that line from Shrek and often hold it's truth in mind through my various interactions with people.
 To put it simply, my reason for leading is far less noble. I have an agenda.
 It is not as easy to define as "get the school to a 1:1 device level of technology integration", "reduce paper use" or "find ways to prohibit sewage runoff into our local drinking water". What i'm shooting for is a more ambiguous agenda of making all those i interact with, just a little bit better.
 This sounds silly to some people i've told it to, but asking myself during every interaction "what can i do to help this person be a little bit better?" has helped me rethink what i'm bringing to the table and what tools i need to be of service to others. I don't always lead by example, but I'm willing to try to be on the front line and help to the best of my ability to tow the line.
 I choose to lead because if i'm not willing to put myself out there, how can i ask others to. I'm willing to be the first to stick their neck out to risk change and also willing to be the bad guy and take the blame to provide cover so that the others have the safety they need to risk changing a little in order to move forward and upward.
 A phrase i heard recently that i enjoyed was "let's hold them up while we nudge them forward" and i intend to keep trying to do so in the service of others.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


 I'm Nick. I'm the Director of Technology at a small private school in Seattle, Wa, USA.
 I'm a husband and father of two. 
 I am a tech enthusiast and have a passion for technology in the education sector in particular. 
 If you have any questions for me, I'm always happy to field them. I hope to share my thoughts on various topics pertaining to the subject of technology and its impact and implications. 
 Thanks for stopping by; come back soon. 
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