Monday, November 29, 2010

Multitasking: Destroying focus?

Test your multitasking ability with the NY Times.
Pictured above are my personal results.
In a previous post, I made a jab at multitaskers--using one article to suggest that having to switch frequently between tasks means that we do all of our desired tasks worse than before.


A string of Windows 7 commercials like this one hits the nail on the head: being able to do more at the same time in fact limits what we can do at once. Fascinating, no?


The question for me as a teacher is: 


How is this Affecting Our students?
It's hard to say at the middle school level where I teach, because these students have never been known for great attention spans. At the college level, many students bring in their laptops and unlimited distraction capabilities with them into the classroom. My kids don't bring their laptops anywhere (few probably own one), but I'm worried that with every new smartphone that hits the market, our culture is pushing this myth that the more things you can do at once, the better person you will become. When article after article after article report that multitasking does not increase effectiveness, I say that this is not doing a great deal to help our young people take full advantage of their powerful minds.
Test your multitasking ability with the NY Times.
Pictured above are my personal results.


Prove It To Your Students
Try this lesson plan to show your students about the cost of multitasking.


Test Your Own Multitasking Savvy
If you think that this claim is not true, try taking this test posted by the NY Times.
My scores are pictured on the right and above right. 






Friday, November 26, 2010

Acer Aims to Kill Laptop


Like this writer, you may be tired of hearing about yet another entry into the brand new world of tablet computing. So what if Acer is offering not just a 7” Samsung Galaxy Tab-sized alternative but also a 10.1” iPad-sized alternative. So what if Acer, like so many other companies, is making a grab at Android software for its tablet without making virtually any changes (yet) to the interface compared to a puny little phone.

But Acer's plans may be more than just a “Can I play too?” from the annoying kid down the street.

Instead of a Laptop?
By offering two different screen sizes and a fun way to dock your machine at home, Acer appears to be moving ahead with the plan to kill laptops set forth by tablet PCs everywhere. If you ask me, Acer is making a smart move to offer both previously-exclusive screen sizes. Whereas before a consumer's choice to board either Apple's or Samsung's corporate train was bound together with the choice of what screen size to get, now a customer can leave out the choice of screen size from the decision of what company and software to side with.


Some commenters say that a tablet PC is good for on-the-go use or media consumption such as videos, photos, and web, but not great for creating things such as spreadsheets, word documents, and photo/video editing. However, by offering big screen sizes and a keyboard dock, your on-the-go machine can take a break from travel to become a dedicated creation control.

It should be said that the iPad has a dock and a physical keyboard you can get to let your on-the-go Apple tablet become a powerful home computing device. As a matter of fact, the Samsung Galaxy Tab has all these things too. I'm not saying that Acer does these things better than its opponents necessarily, but that to me it illustrates the slow decline of the laptop as we know it. I think the tablet PC is coming into its own as a more mobile choice than a laptop; especially now that tablets now widely come with the capability of an in-depth user interface that doesn't sacrifice an already-small screen space for a virtual keyboard or a drop-down menu of input options.

Laptop Fused with Tablet?
Acer stands ahead of its competitors because of its variety of personal computing options right now: not just 7” and 10.1” tablet PCs, but now a laptop that might combine what's fun and useful about a tablet touchscreen and double it. This laptop has a touchscreen that replaces the keyboard, unveiling yet an even more advanced way of breaking down the wall between a user's mind and a computer's response. Take a look at this video here:


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving: MIT Robo Turkey May Threaten Tokyo

Photo from http://web.mit.edu/
The robotic turkey developed by MIT (that selfsame university that gave us the hosts of NPR's Car Talk) has evolved into a robotic flamingo... and beyond.

Will this horrible mechanism one day conquer Tokyo? Only time will tell!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo of Aqua Teen's "TurkETron"

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Students Use Technology to Break Down Barriers

A Smart Board Lesson/Anticipation Guide
Just Once” is written by Thomas J. Dygard and anthologized in the Elements of Literature: Introductory Course © 2000.

All Moose wanted was to run the ball on that football field. On the other hand, Coach Williams wanted his biggest player doing what he did best: hitting other players. This would give the little guy holding the ball a big opening through which to burst and run for a touchdown. Moose knew that his job was important. He knew that it was vital, even. But he was stuck on one fact: the people in the bleachers never cheered his name, no matter how badly the runners needed him to score. It was always the runners that got the glory. Come on, Coach. Just once.

Journal/Discussion: Have you ever wanted one chance to try something new?

I think that the theme and conflict of this story is easily generalizable, yet understanding Moose's central conflict begins with a basic understanding of his circumstances: football. I want to help my students connect on an emotional level, but this is nearly impossible for those students who, by not understanding how football is played, don't know what Moose wants and why he can't have it.

Many of my students love football. Almost daily I get asked who “my team” is. I respond with the name of alma mater, of course, but apparently college football doesn't count: “No, Mr. Brinker, your real team. I mean like the Steelers, or the Cowboys, or the Eagles. Which one is your team?”

However, many of my students are not fans of football and know very little about the sport. In fact, many of my little football fans can't articulate what happens on the field, but they still know if their team wins or not.

In order for them to appreciate what Moose does every day and what he would rather do if given the chance, we need to break it down on the Smart Board with a few well chosen languages: in this case, visual, kinesthetic, musical, and oral. “Multiple intelligences” are what we sometimes call these different ways of reaching someone.

First we look at a bird's eye view of the football field and ask this basic question: “Where does this team want to get the ball?” Inevitably, a student is equipped to answer: “To the end of the field, or the end zone.” Right.

Then, like a football coach, I get a student to put hands on the board and drag the X's and O's around to show one basic play: one player holds the ball and runs forward, while at the same time, another character runs in front and hits opposing players. This is the kinesthetic component: some students learn best by moving their hands and manipulating objects. Research has proven that much fo the time, a boy's brain goes off like fireworks when he sees a physical object moving through space. That's why boys throw stuff and jump off things like animals. It's a drug for their brain. It's also a great way to keep these little balls of fire engaged, so whenever possible I let them use the Smart Board.

This tool is called the "Magic Pen." Why magic?
Just circle with your finger, then... 
Now I point to the screen. Of these two characters, which one is probably Moose? Answer: the one in front. Great!

Now, which character would Moose rather be? Answer: the one in back, carrying the ball to score. Yes.

For the oral component, we've been talking this whole time about which player is whom and where on the field. I'll offer one more basic explanation to cap off a running oral discussion before entering into the visual side.

...it automatically draws a much nicer circle. Magic.
Some of my non-football fans may still not understand: How come you need two players to carry the football down the field? Do they both need to hold the ball? That's silly. What does the player do who doesn't have the ball?

This is a great question, because knowing this answer is the key to identifying Moose's central role and conflict on the field. To answer the question, I'll show a clip from Remember the Titans where the players run this play. In the scene, the music swells up, communicating in yet another language to students the literary importance of the football play we're about see—that importance is this: the underdog can still overcome the odds, and two very different people can cooperate toward a common goal.

In the movie the camera dips down and seems to glide alongside the running players, showing my students visually that one player runs while holding the football, glancing around like a scared animal. At the same time, the player in front runs with both arms battling off opposing players as the two work together down the field: huff huff smack, huff huff smack, huff huff smack.

By now, my students' engines are revved, whether they cared about football before or not. The fanfare of the final music and the beaming faces of the cheering crowd speak to a much wider audience than does the basic football playbook. My students are ready to give this text everything they've got.


To see the section of Remember the Titans that started it all, you might find it in this clip below, beginning at the time 8:01.





Monday, November 22, 2010

Interview with a Teacher Blogger

"Cool Cat Teacher" is, like me, both a teacher and a blogger with a major interest in technology's role in our lives and the classroom. You can read more about her blog here.


How do you use new technology for your job?
I take at least 15 minutes 2-3 times a week to "play" with new technology. as a teacher who teaches students how to learn new technology and also how to stay abreast of technology change, it is vital that I "practice what I teach" and DO IT myself.  I'm always playing with new things and sometimes even testing new things for companies as part of my blog (which is very exciting for the students - this is how I found some cool things like ArtRage and my M90z touch computer.)  We have a very limited budget, so often I'm trying free or open source software or websites.  Sometimes students learn as much when we use a website that is in Beta and we have problems than if everything were perfect.  Technology, in order to be profitable, has to meet needs and remain innovative and edgy - I find that I also have to remain innovative and edgy to be excellent in my teaching.

Is there any technology/website made in the last 5-7 years that you can't live without?

My gmail, wikispaces, elluminate, and timebridge. These are four of the most important sites I use, but I'd also say the Amazon website and my Kindle - although my Kindle isn't a "website" per se - I receive about 8-9 blogs and news sources on my kindle that are vital to my survival as a person as they provide the mental food that keeps me growing and vibrant. I can also read my kindle when I'm away from the hustle and bustle of life and can soak in learning.
Is there any technology/website made in the last 5-7 years that seems useless to you?

Gosh. I think everything out there has some use or it ceases to exist eventually. I think the only thing that is often useless is negativity. A negative attitude makes us sick, causes us to worry, and makes us unable to perform our jobs. So, I think, if I know of one useless thing it would be a negative attitude. Ban negativity and the word "can't" and I'd be happy and I think we'd get a lot more done. We need constructive criticism but often nowadays because of the pressure of the world in which we live we get obstructive criticism which serves to obstruct us from getting anything done. Now, more than ever, we need the determination and drive to improve our classrooms and world!


What's one thing you wish you could do with technology but can't yet?
I am ready for Augmented Reality and what it will offer us. It is frustrating that Foursquare and Gowalla don't get that we really want an educational overlay of our world that allows ANONYMOUS or private users like our children. Although Foursquare is adding overlays that will allow us to go into a town and see what history is in that town, it won't allow us to take kids on field trips and have them tag the artifacts and things they find with their information without causing privacy concerns. I think that location based apps need to realize that there is a HUGE potential for the educational market of our world that requires a higher quality privacy control than exists today. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Blackberry Tablet Parks Near Stadium But Doesn't Enter Ring--Yet

A recent video demonstrates strengths that Blackberry's new tab PC has over the iPad in web browsing: faster loading times and flash support (i.e. animated web pages, for example).


One article suggests that the Blackberry's double the horsepower in internal hardware simply outshines what the iPad has under the hood. However, it goes on to say, the iPad might have improved by the time the Blackberry tablet comes out, which is still a ways away.


What's still at stake, however, is the screen-size quandary: are customers looking for an amazing new handheld device more like a blown up cell phone or more like a mini-laptop? I'll admit that the size of the screen is tied for #1 on reasons why I might choose iPad. Reason #2 is the apps.


Now what I need to see is a competitor show me that the software on a 7" screen makes it all worth my while.


See the video here:


Sunday, November 14, 2010

RockMelt + Fb Email Could Rip Space Time Continuum

In this post, we'll take a look at what happens if two social media software forces on the horizon merge onto some hapless citizen's computer screen. Heaven help us all.



RockMelt Gives You More Stuff To Do At Same Time

Netscape-person Marc Andreeson is backing a new internet browser, RockMelt, that's driven by the power of social media. It's built off of the same thing that gives us Google Chrome, but this time the sides of your screen will be loaded down with all the social media shortcuts you could possibly need in a hot second. Hang on... I need to Tweet that, Like it, and Post it to my profile right now.

Google Chrome = Gas Powered Mini-Cooper
Fun, lightweight, and gets you
there without costing battery life


One RockMelt tester reported that all the excess live activity made him feel twitchy, like having too much caffeine. It seems that for everything you might do on the internet there are 30 responsive actions you can take to let everyone know that you did it. One second... I need to Share it, Friend it, and save it to my queue right now.

Well, imagine if this was combined with other news, like say for example:

Facebook Awakens Sleeping Gmail Killer

In a move that's called “Project Titan” by those on the inside and the “Gmail Killer” by those on the outside, Facebook seems to be opening up a new portal into a seamless social-media-driven email client. This will let you have an email address ending in @facebook.com, and it will presumably further merge your personal and your social lives, so everyone will be all up in your business.

Caution: Checking Facebook Email on RockMelt May Rip Space-Time Continuum

If you find yourself with plugs running from your upper spine down one arm to a USB port while in the other arm you have a coffee needle slow-dripping into your arteries, you may be going too fast. In fact, your brain speeds may reach critical mass and threaten the fabric of space and time. A tiny black hole could invisibly open, right behind your computer screen, and it will suck all of your brain power through it to the other side of the unknown reaches of the universe.

Is All This Constant Brain Activity Making Me Better?
According to some reports, excessive and constant multitasking can actually make you do everything worse. One family suffered from burned cookies, dropped grades, and a $1.3M business deal nearly lost. Think about it: Are you getting more done? Hold up for one minute... I need to poke it, Buzz it, Yelp it, and tell everyone I know. Right Now. 

Thirty of your friends like this. Do you like it too?

Choice Tech Headlines from Nov 7-13





Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cage Match: Apple iPad versus Samsung Galaxy Tab

In this space we'll take a look at the breakdown between the world's first significant tablet PC competition. In the first corner we'll start with the iPad, since it came out first and currently rules the market sphere for tablet PC. In the second corner, we'll take a look at what the Samsung Galaxy Tab brings to the table.

LLLLLet's get ready to rumble!


Apple iPad Strengths and Specs
  • Large 9.7” screen diagonal
  • 40,000+ apps in a moderated app marketplace
  • 10+ hrs battery life
  • seventh-month headstart on market share and customer feedback
  • cheapest model is $100 cheaper
  • rumored to multitask as of iOS 4.2 releasing apprx. 11/16/10
  • bigger screen makes viable eBook reader
Samsung Galaxy Tab Challenges and Turn-Offs
  • Even Google despaired at the Tab using its Android—it was designed for a cell phone, not a tablet
  • much less battery life
  • no USB charging (ex. via laptop)
  • smaller screen has less than half of the area than iPad



Samsung Galaxy Tab Strengths and Specs
  • 7” screen diagonal viewed by some as refreshingly large compared to cell phone
  • runs popular Google Android 2.2 interface
  • cameras in front (video conference) and back (taking photos)
  • 6+ hrs battery life
  • like iPad did, Tab may spark renaissance of specific-to-device app development
  • can see Flash web pages
  • multitasks
  • easier to hold in one hand
  • Fits in more places, such as purses or jacket pockets


Apple iPad Challenges and Turn-Offs
  • Although small and thin, does not pack as easily as the smaller Galaxy Tab
  • significantly heavier than the Tab
  • less mobile carrier options for 3G model
  • no cameras... period


Conclusion
Choosing which competitor you favor will depend on your needs from the machine. For business purposes including video conferencing and ultra portability, you may like the Galaxy Tab. For personal purposes including a huge variety of fun and useful apps, the iPad may be for you.


Seeing the possibilities of the Samsung Galaxy Tab is somewhat of a changed attitude from my initial reaction, which you can read here: Dead on Arrival: Don't Need Tablet's Limited Size and Software for $600

Friday, November 12, 2010

Brief Illustrated History of Google

Based on a True Story
(Click on a picture to view larger version)

Larry Page and Sergey Brin conceive the idea.

They hire Craig Silverstein and name the
company after the number 10 to the power of 100.

Starting with a gift of $100k from the cofounder of Sun Microsystems, they try to
sell the company for as little as $750k. They are turned down, but they subsequently
receive about $25 million from other companies to keep going.

Google expands rapidly by buying lots of other good ideas, including a
3D Earth software and internet upstart-turned-sensation YouTube.

Google begins hopscotching around several different
industries and services until it just about offers everything.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Justin Bieber vs. Level 19 Fire Troll

Now you can choose on Google's free in-flight WiFi

Need to play World of Warcraft in the sky between JFK and LAX? Or review the YouTube library of Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga music videos before the peanut cart arrives on the aisle? Let the fight between two of your favorite WiFi options begin--maybe even before the seatbelt sign turns off!

For most of the year, you can pay just $11 for 24-hour access to Google's WiFi internet at certain airports and on certain planes. However, recent news reports let us know that Google is once again offering free WiFi at certain airports and on certain planes during the holiday season.

Free?!?!
Wait a second, you're saying. There's no such thing as a free lunch, and certainly there's no such thing as free WiFi.

How does a big ticket company like Google get its millions if it spends its days offering free, high-quality, and useful items? I feel like Microsoft charges for nearly every little thing it can offer, so to me they're not on board here. What's the business strategy in offering free stuff?

To me it seems like Google has long held a mantra of offering choices and, when possible, free choices. Their original search engine was famously simple to look at, not riddled with flashy banners and ads, and yet today Google is considered today to be a powerhouse in advertising.

Google acquired YouTube and kept the free service free: because free is a great word for building an audience. Today Google offers free WiFi all year round for a number of nearby Californian residents. From Google we get a free internet browser, a free desktop gadget utility, free lightweight yet powerfully adaptable email, and even an entire operating system (although this last one is admittedly not free; it does come preloaded on gadgets to be announced in the future).

The company's unofficial slogan at its inception was, “Don't be evil.” My thought is that the company seems to have spent its history making useful products that are either free (Google Earth is free, but its former competition wasn't), pleasant in their efficient utility (Chrome, Google search engine), or just a straight up challenge to the existing market competition (Buzz, Android).

To see evidence that Google is growing and succeeding, just take a look at the history of their investments, including stocks and acquisitions. I don't think that just because a company is enormous means that they are evil. So far Google has been pretty good to me.

Next time:
A Brief History of Google: An Illustrated Companion

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ug Goes Out: Self Publishing



With this link you can view the first half of the book on Google Docs or even download it directly from there for your eBook reader.








Ug Goes Out is a children's book I published earlier this year. Here's the description on the back of the book: “When a caveman quits his job at the coffee shop, he takes a break to discover who he truly is.”

Nearly a year ago I leapt into the foray of self publishing, hoping against hope to draft a Newberry Award winning children's book on the first try.

Previously, for a college course, I had already mapped out a certain narrative about a caveman living trying to navigate life in a suburban neighborhood, a life in which he experiences everything from pet ownership to courtship and a career switch.

I spent the next several months drawing the pictures, whipped it up into a PDF, and uploaded it onto Lulu.com. This shouldn't sound so simple: I was able to complete this book mostly by using weekends and precious vacation days from work. It felt like a monumental task.

I marketed my book through word of mouth, using a blog, Facebook, and by passing out pretty fine-looking bookmarks (if I do say so myself) with my design of the book cover and where one could get a copy if one so chose.

Ordering about a few test copies, listing my book on Amazon and eBay, and ordering the bookmarks to pass out at work took a reasonable step of faith on my wallet's part ($138.98). Fortunately, my wallet's blind faith was satisfied for a net proft of $4.17, enough for a small sip of coffee at your local multinational coffee chain. After reading the dangers of self publishing, I considered this no small feat and patted myself on the back for a job well done.

When the process was completed, I wanted to do it again.

I had seen all kinds of potential for Ug and the world from whence he came, including the characters I've made but haven't used yet. A ninja learning patience. A pirate learning communication skills. A Western outlaw learning temperance. A knight learning bravery.

My work with students who have special needs showed me that Ug could be a great metaphor for their cause: a unique individual puts his talents into a real-world skill set while at the same time learning to connect with, for the first time, another human being.

Although Ug doesn't have a particular disability, I began thinking about how I could extend the metaphor while at the same time making it more particular. Could the pirate have Tourette's syndrome? Could the ninja have ADD? YES! A heart-warming series of children's books in which lovable mythical characters live in a suburban world and have to deal with issues that make them different and special—some of the same issues that many kids today have to deal with.

Raise your hand if this is a good idea. All I need now is to take a paid year sabbatical to work on these books.

If you would like to download the first half of Ug Goes Out in PDF to read on your eBook device, please follow this link.

If you would like to download the entire PDF for $3.99, please follow this link.

If you would like a paperback version of the book for $19.99, please follow this link.

If you would like a SIGNED paperback version of the book: let me know with an email to glowsandbeeps@gmail.com, and we can work it out.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

To Tweet or Not to Tweet: Hamlet's Blackberry



Did you know Hamlet had a Blackberry?


The Bard's greatest non-actor tackled an issue that confronts our society today: connectedness or nonconnectedness. Whereas he wrestled with whether to follow up on his ghost-father's plea for vengeance (connectedness) or go ahead and wash his hands of all that rotten mess in Denmark (nonconnectedness), author William Powers addresses our society's ability to use our new powers of constant digital connection to create real connections between people--or does this constant connection drive us further away?


You can read/listen to Powers' interview on NPR, where he talks about taking each weekend off from digital connectedness. A sort of "Internet Sabbath," the article says.


In his 2007 essay,  "Hamlet's Blackberry: Why Paper is Eternal," Powers explains that when Hamlet is overloaded with new and shocking information, he does the same thing we do in that situation: pulls out his smart phone and processes. For all we know, he may have been adding the ghost as a contact.



In fact, Powers describes a little tablet popularly carried around by people of the 16th century, and later by the likes of even Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin. Hamlet pulls out his tablet, which he calls a "table," and begins making notes. He can erase the notes with a sponge at any time to make room for new notes, which he says he will do upon hearing the ghost's chilling news.


Hamlet's tablet, like the modern Blackberry, came before the iPhone.

Monday, November 8, 2010

HDTV on a Teacher's Budget (part 3)

On part 1 of this series we talked about screen size and contrast ratio and how important or not important they should be to the HDTV customer on a teacher's budget.

On part 2 of this series we discussed what those numbers and letters mean in 480p and 720i.

Now we wrap it up with how to get the most out of your HDTV... high-def media and great SOUND.

Your High-Def TV Wants High-Def Media

Right off the bat let me just say that my wife and I mostly just wanted a bigger screen after spending a year with our laptops. We knew that ever since HDTVs made their hostile takeover of the television market, we could virtually do no wrong at achieving just a bigger screen. With that in mind, we do want a nice picture to look at, but we don't care if we have trouble counting the sweat glands in our favorite quarterback's flushed cheeks after a near sack and QB sneak for the touchdown conversion in overtime.

For many people the answer to getting high-def media is easy: (1) cable TV often comes with an assortment of HD channels, and (2) if you don't have Blu-Ray, you can still get a decent quality out of a decent DVD player that has component cables. (“Component” video cables are red, green, and blue, and are only responsible for carrying video information. They do not carry any sound information. This makes their quality better than their counterpart, “composite” video, which is just the dinky little yellow one that comes out of your Super Nintendo.)



Ready for a money-saving solution when your goals are a little lower? At home we don't have cable TV, and we don't feel like upgrading to a better DVD player. The answer to how we get our HD TV: our computers. Plugging in a VGA cable (the same one that goes to your desktop computer monitor) directly from my laptop to my HDTV achieves a video quality of about 480p, which is high def enough for sitting 8ft. away from my TV. My laptop screen displayed on my TV looks better than it did on my laptop! Hallelujah! DVDs look amazing, and any internet content is only limited by our internet connection.

We watch our favorite movies and shows instantly from Hulu and Netflix, so we have more media content than we can handle.

Worry Bout It Meter: Flat Tire (pull over and fix it, but you won't die). Regular, non-HD cable programs look far worse on an HDTV than they do on the boob tube. I will say that non-HD hardware, such as the Nintendo Gamecube, looks fine on my TV. On the other hand, my cheap DVD player makes everything look red and a little blurry. On the third hand, my laptop produces a great picture on the TV with just a regular old VGA monitor cable.

It Sounds So Easy
Here's a trick many people don't realize. After both of us spending years as film majors in college (including analyzing movies and creating them from scratch!), my brother and I both agree on this one truth: good sound quality is often more important than video quality. If you can get a half-decent set of speakers to turn up the volume and make you believe that your favorite drama is happening, your brain will jump through all kinds of hoops to make you believe that the tiny, grainy video you're watching on YouTube is both convincing and satisfying. The same is true for your relationship with your TV.

Most of our media plugs into our TV directly from our laptop, so getting the sound is easy: speakers designed for computer are plugged directly into my laptop. There are two speakers spaced evenly around the living room and a subwoofer that kicks out the bass “floor” of the sound field.

Worry Bout It Meter: Def-Con 1 (if you're not worried about this, you could foul up the whole operation). In my opinion, the speakers built in to a TV are never good enough. Turning up the volume produces a sound that seems flat and metallic, and it gets worse when it's loud. The best way to get decent sound cheaply is to buy a set of computer speakers (a good indicator of quality is if it has a subwoofer for bass and requires its own power supply). If you're not going to plug this into your laptop to simply blast your laptop's sounds (i.e. if you're streaming off of Netflix, like me), you should investigate what sound system/speaker setups you can get that receive sound directly from your device (ex. Cable box, blu-ray player).

Conclusion
My advice: even if you're going to order online, visit a store to see if your favorite size and model produces the picture quality that you're after.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What new technology don't you need?

You should fill out the survey below, and we can figure out if there's any where technology doesn't really need to take us.

HDTV on a Teacher's Budget (part 2)


In the last post we looked at how important or less important screen size and contrast ratio are when you're selecting your amazing HDTV on a teacher's budget.

Today we're going to tackle a different number you'll see on your TV specs: screen resolution. This is usually represented as--for example--480p, 720p, or 1080i.

480p...720p...1080i...What does the “p” and “i” mean?
Progressive Scan: In the first instant, your screen shows one picture.
In the second instant, your screen shows a second picture.
In this way, your on-screen hero is given the illusion of moving,
even though you are only basically seeing photographs.
This digital idea reproduces what film projectors have
done since movies were invented.
First, take a second to think back to how a moving image was displayed to an audience many decades ago: the film projector would unwind a film roll of thousands of tiny pictures. Each completely motionless picture would pass before the display area so fast that the many pictures in quick succession would create the illusion of a moving person, horse, or circus clown.

Interlaced video: Instead of updating 100% of the picture
with every passing instant, interlaced video just
updates every other horizontal line. First it updates the
even lines, then the odd lines, and back and forth.
In the world of digital video on computer monitors and high-definition TVs, there are two different options for showing moving pictures: progressive (p) and interlaced (i). A progressive video pretends to be a roll of film by showing you thousands of motionless images, one after the other, creating the illusion of a moving train, dog, or lunch-break business tychoon. An interlaced video instead alternates horizontal lines across the screen: imagine if just the even rows down the side of a house changed to show a new image, then just the odd rows changed, then just the even rows changed, then just the odd rows changed... you get it.

The number in a TV resolution, for example “1080” in a big TV, represents the number of horizontal lines going down the TV when it shows an interlaced image, usually represented as 1080i.

Question: My TV is 1080p, but you just told me that it only shows one flat image at a time, like film. So what are there 1080 of?

Answer: Progressive TVs just retain the numbering system from interlaced images as a way of communicating to the buyer how highly-detailed your TV is. In this case, your 1080p TV is as highly detailed as a TV with 1080 horizontal lines of color information, even though yours does not use interchanging horizontal lines.

Many HDTVs now are only progressive, so you will only see 480p, 720p, and 1080p. The higher this number the more sweat glands you will be able to count on your favorite athlete during a game.

Worry Bout It Meter: Spilt Milk (care enough to clean it up, but don't cry about it). In my opinion, even the lowest high-defness of TVs today (about 480p) is plenty of high definition for me. I can't honestly say that I would notice the difference between these calibers of HD, so I'm guessing that for many people this is more of a NONfactor than they may at first think.

Next time:
HDTV on a Teacher's Budget (part 3)... we'll take care of how you can get HD media on your HD screen cheaply, and most importantly: the surprisingly MOST important and oft ignored thing about sealing that high definition experience. Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Microsoft Kinect: The "Justin Bieber" of Modern Gaming is Not Racist

This just in: after fielding sensational headlines that the Microsoft Kinect might be "racist" for not distinguishing well between multiple dark-skinned users, it turns out that the lights in the room just may have been too low. Not racist. Room too dark. Makes sense.


Confused about how I could compare the Microsoft Kinect to Justin Bieber? To find out again why the video game industry's potential next big concept is like Justin Bieber, please take a look here.

HDTV on a Teacher's Budget (part 1)

The holidays are coming. Will you do what I did at the end of the summer: tell yourself you've earned a home theater upgrade?

My wife and I used our laptops last year to watch any movies we wanted to see. Now that HDTVs are down to the $300-400 range for a 32” screen TV (a screen size that, although one of the smaller sizes in Best Buy, used to pass for the family set in my household), getting one just took some planning ahead and a revised “spending awareness” for several months.



We purposely aimed our sights for an elusive mark when shopping electronics: we wanted to drive the price as low as possible, but we also wanted a reliable product that serves our needs—not a cheap knock-off with a half-life like a gallon of milk left in the garage. In other words, we wanted to walk out of that store feeling that we had saved, not compromised. Well, we got what we wanted, and we rolled out of that store doing heel-clicks all the way to the car.

If you're thinking of doing the same thing for yourself in the next few months, and—like us—you are on a limited budget, here's what you need to know about what you really need in the high definition realm and what doesn't matter.

Screen Size: What They Recommend and What You Need
Some sources recommend about 4” of diagonal TV screen for every 12” you plan to sit away from that TV. We have a narrow living room, and our TV looks across the short dimension, not longways. That means that our couch is only about 8ft. away from the screen, which fits our 32” TV perfectly according to the popular recommendation. We're supremely happy with how well we can see our screen from across this short space.

Worry Bout It Meter: Flat Tire (pull over and take care of this, but you won't die). If you obey the strict recommendation of inches of screen to feet away from the TV, and if you have a large living room, you may find yourself unpleasantly compelled to up the ante at the cash register on the way out of the store. Be strong. Bring a tape measurer to the store to map out about how far away you plan to sit from the TV, and then YOU can make the decision!

Contrast Ratio: How Light is Light and How Dark is Dark
This is the number that describes the range of light and darkness your screen can handle. Presumably, if the number is big (like 1:1,000,000), then all the whites and light colors will look dazzling, and all the blacks and dark colors will look deep and shadowy. The other presumption is that a narrow range (like 1:10) would produce flat, virtually inseparable colors. For these reasons, many people want to boost this ratio to the maximum contrast available.

Here's the thing, however: although this is true on principle, after a certain point it's no longer distuingishable to the naked eye. Some companies even allegedly find a way to simply blacken their black colors twice as much, providing just about the same exact final image but enabling a TV company to advertise 1:1,000,000 instead of 1:500,000 for the contrast ratio. Then, because they made a subtle change invisible to the naked eye, these alleged companies allegedly add a block of money on the price tag because their TV is twice as powerful in this one small way.

Worry Bout It Meter: Fuh gedaboudit (not your problem, baby). I recommend all but ignoring the contrast ratio. Unless the ratio is horribly below the average competition, I say that a high-def TV a contrast ratio does not make.


Next time:
HDTV on a Teacher's Budger (part 2)... we'll look at what the "p" means in 720p and whether or not you need to stress about it.