Optimism and new Starts

Another academic year is now underway. This one marks a milestone for me as I will be eligible for retirement after Christmas. While I have no intention of slowing down at all at this point, that knowledge brings with it a sense of freedom. The overall effect is that I now feel like I did much earlier in my career. For some reason this start feels cleaner and more possibilities than usual are apparent. I just stepped in from outdoors and that fresh fall air is still on my clothes. That, along with the sunlight peeking in through the window is a nice reminder that fall is not far away–my favorite time of the year. But tropical storm Irene is not far away. Who knows what’s coming?

Half full or half empty? Pooh or Eeyore? You know you can have it either way and while sometimes it does feel good to wallow  and be a bit of an Eeyore it’s been my experience that your health, both physical and mental, depends upon your outlook. Simply put, it’s better to be optimistic. Now, do not get me wrong. Putting a smile on your face is not always the correct response. Grief, anger, fear and all of the other so-called negative feelings are a part of life and only a fool would try and pretend to be joyful all of the time. Through it all, though, in order to survive, you have to continually believe that you can come to terms with the many struggles you face. Hardship is just a description of the journey sometimes, not a reason for abandoning it. This article from Forbes helps to explain why it can be actually more enjoyable to persevere.

It was initially disappointing following the trend away from Adobe Flash on the web. Since it hit back in the late nineties–remember futuresplash??–the platform has enabled  developers at all technical and design skill levels to create effective, interactive animations. I’m not insisting it was perfect; it’s security vulnerabilities, for example, have certainly created more than a fair share of trouble. Despite that, Flash was undeniably an easy-to-use and cost-effective platform. But it looks like its time has come. It probably started with Apple’s decision not to enable it on its mobile devices but ‘blaming’ the whole thing on Apple would not be fair. There were many other reasons. Nonetheless this trend, along with Silverlight’s demise, has left the web with few standardized options for creating cost-effective interactive content. Fortunately necessity is doing her normal thing and several possible replacements are starting to catch on. Over the past few weeks I have had an opportunity to look at several.

First there’s Adobe’s own Edge Animate, still under development. You can download a functional preview copy here. It has a flash-like interface and, as far as I can determine, will have somewhat similar and equal functionality once it’s ready–which will be soon I hope. The animation output will be javascript in an HTML5 wrapper so an up-to-date browser will play the animation natively. Best of all the product is designed with mobile devices in mind so there’s every possibility that the content will work equally well across all types of platforms.

Because it’s more like flash, the quality of the output will depend very much on the quality of the workflow. While individuals will be able to produce excellent content the breadth of the skillset required (instructional design, visual design, subject matter expertise and programming) is such that the best content will come from larger teams. That’s not to say that this product will take innovation away from individuals and place it squarely in the hands of for-profit corporations. No. The teams can be from corporations, sure, and I hope they do, but they can also be on a more voluntary basis with individuals volunteering their skill-sets. Consider the creation of an educational piece. Suppose YOU wanted to create one. Here’s what you would do:

  • Sketch out your idea, paying particular attention to the instructional outcomes. Storyboard it.
  • Show it to a colleague–and this is important–do not get defensive about the feedback but instead act on the advice and modify the design accordingly.
  • Show your storyboard to a colleague who has an eye for visual design–preferably a trained artist or designer. Plan the look and feel of your piece.
  • Construct the item using Edge. It’s not that hard once you work through the tutorials.
  • Test the item on the audience and modify before finalizing it.

Steps 1 and 2 are the most crucial. A good design is necessary–but not sufficient of course–for a good product. If you do more than one project you will eventually get into a groove and will find the process better and better. Your programming skills will also grow and with them, the level of interactivity in your work.

Edge was not the only product I viewed. I also had the chance to check out Articulate Storyline. It’s currently available and educational users get a 50% discount. The interface is a breeze–it resembles PowerPoint. Like Edge it does not require any plug-ins. It can publish the javascript-HTML5 package and directly to IOS. It’s also easy to use.

So–there’s reason for optimism. More than that; I think there’s real reason for excitement. With dual-core phones and tablets now a fixture in the marketplace the hardware certainly exists to bring the best of the connected world right to the palms of our hands. This year, now the software is up to the task too.

So are you, too, an introvert? I’m one. Don’t get me wrong–I truly enjoy the company of others but, unlike extraverts who seem to charge their batteries through social interaction I seem to be the opposite. My job and my personal life puts me in constant contact with truly interesting people. Being ‘Pooh’ I have learned the value of living in the moment and so, find my days steeped in the company of others. And I like it that way! But this means that as the day wears on my energy level gets lower and lower. By suppertime….the power level is nearing 0% and a little recluse time is generally necessary. Non-introverts find this hard to fathom. Why does this generally agreeable and outgoing person (I am referring to myself here) seem, at times, to be so distant? Is something wrong?  Of course not. I just need to get away and plug back in for a while. This bit from deviantart speaks to me so well. Is it you too?

Every so often we get a chance to take a good look at ourselves. Some things we like and others…may need work. This year I have to see myself as in a period of transition. My own children are moving into adulthood and I am in late-career. More and more the person I am now is different from the one I was at the start of my career. Of course there are still essentials that have not and will not change. Core values are core values. But so much else is different. Tastes of all kinds–all different. In particular, differences in core assumptions are becoming more apparent. Things that I took–and still take–for granted are not so universal any more.

Here’s a somewhat trivial example. People who text and drive irritate me to no end. I am SICK and TIRED of (a) almost being run over in crosswalks and (b) being cut off by those IRRESPONSIBLE DUNDERHEADS who believe it is actually possible to maintain the situational awareness required to drive while focused on reading and writing texts on the smartphone.

Here’s how bad it actually is. Last fall on ‘20% off night’ I dropped my son off at the Mall (me–I would not go inside the place on that crazy night when they take off the 20% they had put on just 2 weeks earlier but that’s another story) and was leaving for home when I saw a father and son get out of their car and head for the mall. I took notice of then because both of them were using mobile devices as they walked. The father (about 35 y) had what looked like a blackberry and was busily texting and the son (about 10 y) had a Nintendo DS and was playing a game. Bang! They both walked, at the same time, into the same parked van! Stunned as a bag of hammers! Now just think about that. If neither had enough awareness to walk through a lot of parked cars what does that tell you about anyone’s ability to drive while so engaged?

But I also have a story about generational differences. While watering the plants I care for in the atrium of my place of work I overheard two students talking about texting. Normally I mind my own business but the topic was just too interesting. Here was the consensus: texting while driving is a pain because it is soooooo hard to text while driving. The driving gets in the way of the texting.  Now that is a completely different point of view from mine, isn’t it. We do agree somewhat but we certainly disagree on what should be done about it!  So I suppose there is some room for optimism. The problem, I suppose, is recognized and it only remains for that value to become more widespread and treated in much the same was as we do with drinking and driving. But–the law will not help. Social values are the thing. When people collectively decide that it’s a bad idea then it will stop. That conversation sheds a new light on how it will stop. Instead of stopping the texting the new generation would probably rather stop the driving. This means, perhaps, more use of public transportation and more emphasis on autonomous driving.

Holy Crap! Did you know that leaded gas is still available? It’s illegal for on-road use but is still available for marine use, aviation and racing. There are moves afoot to rid it there too but it may be a while. In the meantime, the fuel used in most light aircraft and most marine gasoline engines is the single highest source of lead in the atmosphere. So how do you like your poison?

I made mention, in the last post of ncc, nanocrystaline cellulose. This week I saw a decent article on in in Gizmodo. My small city (pop ~30,000) spends around $100,000 annually painting traffic lines at least twice per year. It seems to me that ncc would help make a super paint for roadways. Investors?  :>)

Privacy, or rather assaults on it remain, for me, the biggest concern at the moment. Two separate articles: here and here, addressed it this week. Once more, to be clear, my issue is not with the sometimes-necessary invasions. From time to time, in the interest of public safety, or for that matter, to ensure the carriage of justice in any form, it will be necessary to pry into peoples’ personal electronic ‘lives.’ I can accept that. In fact I certainly support it.  My issue is only with procedure. We need gatekeepers. Judges need to be part of the picture. In that way we can ensure that the whole business is carried out in keeping with accepted norms are regulations. I remain hopeful that, as citizens, we will contribute meaningfully to the shaping of appropriate laws and guidelines and not end up as victims of an unregulated surveillance society.

Deprived of meaningful work, men and women lose their reason for existence; they go stark, raving mad.
–Fyodor Dostoevsky

The most remarkable discovery made by scientists is science itself.
–Jacob Bronowski


About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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