Memory Making in the Digital Age

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Ok, so this has come up with a couple of friends in the last few days, so it seemed to be an appropriate topic, even though it's not directly related to educational technology.

The first instance was when a friend was bemoaning the artwork and projects that their child had made at school. They were concerned over how to manage the amount in a way that might be meaningful later.

The second was when a friend tweeted that she was trying to put her infant son's 0-6 month clothing away. I recommended that she save 1-2 items only, and put the rest somewhere for reuse (for another child) or to give away when the time came. She resisted.

So I thought it might be useful for someone out there if I shared my "system," especially for things like kids' drawings and school work. So here are the "rules" I use:

  1. Never save anything that is a worksheet or fill-in form.
  2. Things that are seasonal (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, etc.) should go with the seasonal decorations after you put the child's name and year on the back. I get my kids' stuff out every year at every holiday. They hate it (they're now 17 and 13), but I love it. And it makes it reasonable to store.
  3. Things that are self-created or drawn go into big bins that are separated by cheap manila folders. One bin per kid. Each folder designates their year in school. The stuff doesn't go in the folder, but behind it. The folder itself just lets me know where things are.
  4. At the end of the year, the kids and I survey their bin and pick the things they find really special and want to keep. The other stuff gets tossed, except...
  5. Another friend made a great suggestion that you could take digital photos of the other artifacts and save them on your computer. Then, the digital file becomes part of their "record" later. :) I LOVE this idea and plan on implementing it.

That's it. Someday, I'm "supposed" to make all this into a scrapbook. Don't know when that will happen, but that's the plan, anyway.

What are your ideas for keeping this stuff organized?

Sometimes You Just Know

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When it feels right. When there's engagement. When there's a good feeling about it.

That's right, I'm talking about teaching class. This summer, I had a good class. Students, a nice mix of undergraduates and returning adults, met for several sessions on Wednesday nights. They spoke, asked questions, sent me links that extended the content, and worked at perfecting their assignments, sometimes even redoing them to improve their score, even if only slightly. 

When this happens (and it happens more often than I sometimes realize), the students names are easier to remember, and you regret the last night of class even though you're happy to be finished. The few "bad" classes (you know the ones--everyone's sitting, no one's engaged, they want to know what they need to do to get an "A") make you appreciate the good ones all the more. 

This was a good one. Maybe I'll see some of them again some time. In any case, I wish them  all luck in whatever they choose to do next. Rock it, people!

Foursquare: The Anti-Green App

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So I've been playing Foursquare for awhile now. Checking in, trying to earn badges, looking at the leaderboard, like that. For those of you who don't know, Foursquare is a location-based social application that allows you to use the GPS on your mobile phone to "check in" when you go somewhere. Headed to the office? Check in! Going to the grocery store? Check in! You can also earn badges, such as the Pizzaiolo badge for visiting 20 different pizza places, or become mayor of a location by checking in more often than other folks. 

The application is social in that you can friend people and then see where they are checking in. Several friends call it "the stalker network," since we can look to see where the gang is at any one time. I am, of course, careful to friend only those I know personally because of this feature. I also don't tweet my location, as you can if you choose to. But this post isn't actually to talk about the pros and cons of Foursquare. Essentially, I think the app is fun and I like the idea of seeing when I first go to a new place. And being "mayor" of somewhere is cool, too.

What I want to talk about here is the point system used by Foursquare, and how that connects to issues of sustainability. You see, the way the points system works is that you get 1 point for your first check-in of the day, 2 points for the second, and so on. If you go to a lot of places in any given day, then, you can actually rack up a lot of points. Which puts you up in the "leaderboard." Which is, in essence, part of the contest--can you get more points than your friends this week?

So lately I started thinking about the kind of behavior Foursquare rewards with points. I get a lot of points on days when I run errands, for example. If I stop at two grocery stores, do a lot of shopping, and am generally out-and-about (and spending money), I get points. Which makes sense from a business model perspective--foursquare encourages people to frequent businesses.

From a green/sustainability perspective, however, I think Foursquare is a bit more insidious. Especially if I'm competitive (which I am--see? I even admit it!). If I forget to check in, do I drive back to the store to do so and get the points? Do I deliberately go to more places than I need to in order to check in more? Does the app, in short, encourage the sort of consumption that I'm not wholly comfortable with? I think in a lot of ways it does. It might be less so in a city where I can walk to a lot of places, but where I live, driving is pretty much the only option. So I'm earning points. But I'm also using more gas, spending more money, and consuming more goods, which I don't necessarily need. 

So from here I think I'm going to take Foursquare casual. Checking in, fine. But if I miss one, so what? And no more checking the leaderboard. I'll never catch up to some of the folks I'm connected with, anyway. :)

User Error

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Today, I got a sense of what it's like to be a user. Not of drugs, but of technology. As in, the one to whom the phrase "user error" is attributed.

I never liked that phrase. To me, it feels like blame on the user end, and as Donald Norman can tell you, often user error is as a result of bad design. In my case, I had followed all instructions, as had the staff assistant who was assisting me. We checked, we double-checked, and because we had problems before, we even triple-checked. This time, when things didn't work as they were supposed to (for the fourth time, I might add), I sent a note off to the powers-that-be explaining that we were done using their system and would be looking for something else.

Today, I spoke with a very nice person who was clearly not trying to make me feel bad, but who said that it appeared that we hadn't done thus-and-so in order to make the system work. I double-checked with the staff assistant, who outlined doing exactly what we had been instructed to do. While the tech on the phone was clear that it was "possible" there was a glitch, we are also clear that none of us is absolutely 100% certain that we clicked the one button. So in the end, I'm left thinking that the help desk is probably thinking (as would I, were I sitting where they are) that we were the ones who erred.

But here's the thing: I'm not a novice computer user. I can write code, install a CMS, and even mess with PHP if a gun were held to my head. But I'm left feeling incompetent. And why is that? Because, as Norman tells us, technology is the one area where the user blames his/herself even when design is bad.

Now, I don't think the instructions (written by this group and the nice person who helped me) are necessarily bad. However, I do think the system is highly unusable, from a usability perspective. So why do I feel like an idiot anyway?


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Well, I probably need to go get some ice cream cake. Because I gotta tell ya, got nuthin in the blog post realm tonight. Spent from a weekend of yard work, a couple of days of work-work, and a night of teaching before I remembered this post. So I'm gonna owe ya, y'all. 

Ice cream cake. Yuck.

Last Day

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So today is my last day at my current organization. Am I leaving? No. Being fired? Hope not. But tomorrow, you see, at 8 am, my organization will begin a day of conversations about the new organization we will be, and how we will leave the old organization behind. 

For nine+ months (yeah, I get the analogy), lots of folks out there have been working on what our organization should be doing and what we will look like. While I wasn't involved in most of that, I have seen the care and consideration these people took, as well as the stress they've lived under. 

Simon Sinek, in his TED Talk, discusses the need for organizations to "get to why." He says that "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." And I think he's right. I'm looking forward to hearing the community "why" tomorrow, and also to giving kudos (and hugs, where required) to all the folks who worked really hard to get us even this far. 

For now, though, here's my own personal Why. 

And here's a link to Simon Sinek's talk, which I think is fabulous:

New Years Resolutions

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Well, it's been quite a year. One year ago, I was in a very different space in my life, and a very different time. Lots has changed over the course of that time, and I have to say that it was mostly for the better. Much better. I've made new friends, solidified old ones, and even reconnected with some I hadn't seen in far too long. 

So, even though it's pretty much mid-May, I thought it was appropriate for me to make a few resolutions. So here they are. My promises to myself for the upcoming year.

  1. Make less promises. I have the tendency to "volunteer" for too much, and end up making myself crazy trying to do it all. So from today, "I'm sorry, I can't help you with that" is going to enter my vocabulary.
  2. Plan the work, and work the plan. This is my resolution to work on preventing my distractibility (ooh--a shiny!) from getting in the way of my accomplishments. Even if it means turning off Twitter. Or, god-forbid, my music. 
  3. Honor those around me. I have been utterly blessed by a large circle of fabulous people--at work, at home, and in my virtual life. I need to thank them, more. Starting now. So thank you.
That's it. I'm limiting this to three, so that I don't overcommit myself (see resolution number 1). 

So I got a new TV. An HD TV. Flat panel, sleek, nice. Even bought an HD cable to make it work. Figured we already had HD downstairs, so it would be a matter of putting the HD cable into the cable box and it'd be a "go." Except that my cable box was old enough that it didn't HAVE an HD input. #Fail. So I unhooked the old box and headed to my cable company (My company is Comcast, by the way) for an exchange.

I know, I know. Your cable company. The company you love to hate. They charge for everything, it takes forever to get service, and service calls occur under 80-hour windows, where you're trapped in your house, desperate for the cable guy to come, afraid to even go to the bathroom lest they appear while you're unavailable. Have heard it all. Have experienced a lot of it. "We're experiencing high call volume right now. You will be a decade older when we finally answer and you won't remember what you needed anymore." This time, I was informed that the amount that I was paying for HD wasn't for the service, but for each TV's HD service. $15 per. Nonetheless, I sucked it up and took the box.

The box I liked. Compact and sleek, I saw it as living nicely under my TV, taking up very little room. So we set it up, and we called to activate it. They did so over the phone, and we waited for it to take effect. 

And waited.

And today, 24-hours later, I realized that something was just "not right." I didn't have all the channels, and I kept getting a "you must activate this box" message. So I called. And got the "longer than normal" wait-time message. Gotta admit, I wasn't feeling all that "Comcastic." 

Enter social media. I had had an experience a year or so ago when my internet went out and I couldn't get through to tech support. I Tweeted something like, "Comcastic my fanny!" on Twitter, and lo and behold, @comcastcares (Frank Elias) sent me a message asking me what was up and how could he help? I thought, "Ok, no harm no foul," and direct-messaged my phone number. From text messaging on my cell and Twitter, Frank fixed my internet issue. No phone call, no waiting, and actually, very little hassle.

So this time, while I simultaneously was on hold waiting for phone support, I also fired up my computer and tweeted, "Looking for @comcastcares or one of Frank's compatriots. Need a reset (or something) on the new HD box. kthx." 

A minute or so later (still on hold on the phone), @comcastBonnie asked me what was up (Frank has expanded his network, clearly). And again, within 10 minutes, I'd direct-messaged Bonnie my phone number and she activated the box, eliminated the message, and then told me I'd have a buttload more channels now. Before I ever got through on the phone.

And this is why, even though my cable company frustrates me sometimes, I absolutely love them, too. Because people like Frank and Bonnie have decided to make it better. By using social media. By having conversations with their customers, rather than just talking at them. If anyone at corporate Comcast reads this, I hope they call their Twitter crew right away and ask them what else they can do to improve the company. Because these people get it. 

Twitter useless? Hardly. And this is an example even a luddite could appreciate. 

On Planning

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I am simultaneously a planner and a non-planner. That is, I like to plan some things way far in advance, and for others, last-minute is just fine. One of my other traits, however, is to get overwhelmed if I have a lot of planning to do. And right now, I have a lot of planning I need to do. That's where others come in--folks who can suggest strategies and ways I can lay out what I need to do without becoming overwhelmed. 

Projects at work, for the kids, for teaching, for the fellowship I attend, for myself, and for my house. How do I mesh them all together? I'm considering using Project for this, but honestly, the format somewhat overwhelms me and I don't really know how to get started. Part of me thinks I just need to get some big white paper, lay out everything, and go from there. Maybe with crayons. Figure out where the chunks go and how I might organize them. Or index cards. I just think I need something physical to help me to get started. 

Anyone else have ideas? What do you do to help you to plan? 

Will it Never End?

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Okay, gang. To start, this post will probably offend someone out there who doesn't realize that I'm typing this with a smile on my face. And for the record, I do like Apple products (in fact am typing this very post on my Mac). So take this as you will.

Mad props to @honeydo for the link, as well, which she knew would send me over the edge. What she didn't know was that I was in serious trouble for a blog post this week, and this gave me enough to go on. So thanks for saving me from the horrors of ice cream cake!

A Few Questions...

I have a few questions for you. Got an iPhone, Mac, iPad, iWork, iLife (in every sense of the word)? Do you watch Apple unveilings online? Salivate madly (and stand in line) for the latest and greatest? Is your greatest wish to move next door to an Apple store? Is Steve Jobs your yardstick for design, dress code, and behavior? Are you one of the hipster, black-turtleneck-wearing crowd?

Oh, and are you single? (if the answer to the rest of the questions is "yes," then no great guess as to why the single thing, folks.) :P

The Solution (or iSolution, I guess)

So now, we have an iSolution to the iSingle problem:

Here's what it looks like:

Cupidtino Screen Shot

My Reaction

Here's what I think (in no particular order):

  1. OMFG. Srsly?????
  2. Well, maybe that will get some of these fanboys/girls paired up and off the streets, where they are a danger to themselves and others
  3. OMFG.
  4. Is there a business model for this? Oh, wait. Fanboys. Fangirls. Nevermind. ;)
  5. Will everyone's profile pic have them sporting a black turtleneck and hipster glasses?
  6. How many users will use Steve Jobs' picture as their profile image?
  7. OMFG.
You get the picture. Much like the iPad, I Just. Don't. Get. It.