Intercar Communication Tames Rhode Island

According to Time Tech, the federal government is deciding whether new cars can be equipped with transponders which will tell other cars their position. They may do things like alert other drivers or possibly even interact with the breaking systems of fellow drivers causing them to slow or stop to avoid accidents. Experts estimate that these advanced systems may reduce accidents by up to 8%.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 7.22.53 PMThis may be a good thing for Rhode Islanders, who have long-held the honor of being the worst drivers in the nation. Imagine, every time we swerve toward another car in traffic or cut across two lanes with no spaces, all the other cars could automatically jack up and leave us the room we need.

Also, when another car comes dangerously close, loud alarms would be helpful. I’d learn to obey alarms such as Amber Alerts without spilling my coffee–the only thing Rhode Islanders are permitted to drink and drive–all over the upholstery. I need to be impervious to distraction to hone in on my Rhode Island driving skills because I’m not from these parts. You can tell the true Rhode Islanders because they drink Dunkin Donuts iced coffee even when it’s 20 below. My coffee–you’ll see upon investigation–is always hot, and often homebrew. An outsider. I digress.

This technology can do more. Even more than simple transponders, it could be effective as an advanced intercar communicator. I’d call the upgrade the FU model. This would interface with the dashboard video screens, sending thank you texts to courteous drivers, and have a built-in button for the Rhode Island salute just like Waze has for police and obstructions. I could send Rhode Island’s favorite finger to indicate “You’re an idiot,” to those who park six inches from my driver’s door in a perfectly empty lot, and could compliment the politicians and important people who all keep the really low license plate numbers–just like their offices–for generations at a time.

I’d want an automatic warning for things like “Teen driver,” or “Driver over 80,” or “Driver doing makeup.” You might think Rhode Island doesn’t need car-to-car communication. After all, the state’s not that big–usually opening up a window will do. But I think these things would be helpful. I’m tired of Nader bars and child restraints I can’t buckle without the right combination of swears. Give me something I can use.

I’d be grateful.


Video Games Are Not for Girls My Age. No Exceptions.

Screen Shot 2013-12-27 at 6.55.58 PMI’m the proud owner of a gaming system. It’s a hand-me-down gifted by someone who couldn’t believe we didn’t have a gaming system. It was as if he found out we didn’t have food or had only one pair of socks to share between us. He had extras and gave us an X-Box 360. I wrapped it and put it under the tree–it was a hit. I’ve never owned a gaming system. Correction. I have owned one. Pong. We had advanced Pong, which came with a skeet shooting game–there was a duck option, too, before that’d get you killed by PETA or DCYF, because guns certainly are not cool these days.

I used to hole up behind the couch and wait for my unsuspecting younger brother to play squash or tennis. At just at the right moment, I’d sniper the ball. The ball would disappear, and he’d lose. It was really funny. I was a good shot. The game was too primitive to realize the gun didn’t go with those games.

The good Lord rewarded my malice by never gifting me a gaming system. My brother got a Nintendo, and all of my friends had Ataris, but I had nothing but books. Look where it got me.

So, now that we have a gaming system, I find there are a lot of nifty things I can do with it, like finally get my movies on the flat screen TV we bought when we moved into this house fifteen months ago. I’d have skipped the TV entirely and gone with the books, but turns out that wasn’t one of the choices.

I tried to set up the X-Box myself, but I’m not certified. It seems to be a gender-specific operation for boys from the ages of 3.5 to 30. I’m not in that demographic. Video games are not for girls my age.

Nerd #1 helped me yesterday, but it was taking too long and I was getting upset. If I can calligraphy the Gettysburg Address faster than I can turn on a device and make it work, then someone in Silicon Valley or Japan has to get on the stick and make it more moron proof. It’s just not keeping up with me. I needed a break.

Nerd #2 came to the house today, giving me a hands on tutorial on how to use the controller. It’s a pain in the ass. I painstakingly entered in every single letter of my entire history, arrow by arrow, erasing and starting over more than once. Then I got this gamer ID issued to me–one that I cannot possibly remember. I snapped a picture of it. I don’t think anyone wants to play games with me, but if they do and they don’t shoot me immediately, I’ll need to remember my own name.

Really, though, I don’t want to kill anyone or shoot rainbows out of my butt. I just want to keep my promise. I told Declan he could play Skylanders.

Two hours later, the X-Box is set up. The house is quiet. The boy is watching Netflix–which he was watching on the computer just this morning. But now that he has the Netflix-X-Box, I’m getting to do some work after all. The X-Box 360 has bought me some peace. Just wait until I figure out how to put Skylanders on. It’ll be even quieter.

Declan told me he was going to give me what I wanted for Christmas–world peace and an end to human suffering. Turns out, he has given me an iota of it after all.

An Idiot Avoids the Genius Bar

I didn’t really want to go to the Genius Bar. Not that there’s anything wrong with geniuses. Technically, I am one. I know this because they made me take a test in second grade. Naturally, I won’t retest. That would just be stupid. My IQ can only go down, and most likely probably has. I’d rather walk around with a superiority complex than find out I’ve been reduced to the “far below average” category where I so richly belong–if they tested for common sense in there, I’d need a category lower still.

For this reason, I need a genius to help me fix my computer. I try to do it myself by Googling and getting deep into the Mac forums, but sometimes I need someone to walk me through it like I’m five. Of course, when I was five, none of this would have been invented. The the local genius would’ve handed me a pencil, troubleshot it by putting it in the sharpener, and walked away.

My computer’s slow and freezing. I have the Cadillac of iMacs in addition to the laptop, but I also have a six-year old who’d commandeered it for Netflix. I kicked him off in favor of work. It took me an hour the other day to clean the screen.

“Buddy,” I said, “Remember, this one isn’t a touch screen like the iPod or Kindle.” That’s me pretending to be tech support.

“And the iPhone?” he said. He knows his devices.

“Yes, like the iPhone. This one you don’t touch. It took Mommy a really long time to clean it so we can see.” He looked at me and blinked two times.

“I didn’t touch it with my finger,” he said, “I touched it with my wax. And put gum on it.” Some kid at school gave him a ball of wax constructed from mini-cheeses. I’d like them to find a better use for it than coloring my iMac display.

We can’t share computers forever. The only thing to do is to go to the Genius Bar, where real geniuses reside. Except it’s Christmas shopping season. The fear of God strikes me down. Not that I’ll be tempted to buy, but it’s crazy in there. Everyone in the world needs an iPad Mini NOW. I’m scared. I take a deep breath and start to make my appointment.

But when I look, there is another option. I can chat with a genius now and avoid all that.

I spoke with Adela the Awesome. She didn’t make me feel like the idiot I probably am. Even when she made me empty the trash to the tune of 33K items, she waited with me, like I was actually intelligent. I was taking notes. I want to be smart like Adela one day. I promise myself I’ll empty the garbage more in the future. And clean out caches. And do whatever I did to reset the PRAM which involved using twenty fingers and a combination of key pressing that only a gamer or six-year old could actually do. Adela made me feel competent as I tried six times to get it right.

I think, in fact, this whole thing was another IQ test disguised, so that I can actually see how much I’ve declined. I’m waiting for Apple to email me or post my score. But as long as laptop works, I’m okay with the fact that the world is smarter than me. That means there’s someone to lift me up when I need it.

And I didn’t have to go to the mall during Christmas.

I Do Dumb Things. Ban Technology.

A video posted to my Google+ profile. I didn’t notice. It’s gone now, no use looking. It was me staring down my webcam for about 20 seconds. No makeup, terrible hair, stained shirt–frightening. I was playing with settings for a Google Air hangout. Apparently I sent it live…happens to the best of us. Good thing I was behaving, even if I was looking Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 6.55.42 AMpretty ragged.

It reminds me of a time long before Google. I was at work in my first cube-based career. We had a ten-line Simplex system which allowed transferring calls from cube to cube without identifiers. This created a ton of crank calls. Three of us were new. One co-worker always cranked called us in an outrageous foreign accent. I think he thought it was Indian. I thought he needed to take a couple more engineering classes to get it right.

“Hello, I would like to report a claim,” he’d say. We, the new people, would get sucked in every time, and answer fake accent guy. Finally, I learned. I’m good at languages, dialects, and accents. I can spot a fake from four cubes away. My phone rang.

“Hello, I would like to report a claim,” the voice said.

Fool me once, forgivable. Fool me ten times–I just wasted a lot of money on college. “You have to talk to Steve about that,” I said. A couple of people noticed my not usually assertive tone, stopping behind me.

“Okay,” said the voice. I paused, waiting for the usual burst of laughter and the loud slam from across the office.

“Hello?” said the voice on the other end of the phone.  The crowd behind me grew.

“Yes, I’m going to transfer your call.” I smiled. Steve was getting good. Very, very good. Not a single guffaw or snicker. He was really polishing the accent.

Long pause.

“Okay, I am ready for you to transfer my call.” Soon, everyone was behind me, waiting for the end of the joke. Including Steve. I threw the receiver and ran to the bathroom. I never knew what happened to the man on the other end of the call. I hope Steve helped him. I felt guilty. I want to teach this man’s kids so I can make it up to him in the cycle of life.

I was recently asked about digital citizenship. It’s an area of concern for teachers, IT people, and educational leaders, many of whom block, ban, or avoid technology in the classroom because it might not be used appropriately. It’s a problem I’d like to solve.

Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 6.56.47 AMHow do we make students responsible citizens so we don’t have cyberbullying, crime, hate, cruelty, bad grammar, pranks, and general negative vibes in the universe?  Tech definitely gets a bad rap on this one. “Bad” occurred before the Internet. It will occur long after something better’s invented. We all make mistakes–case in point that Google Air video. We can be rude with or without the Internet. That phone call is a fine example. Improperly used, technology can detract from classrooms, like devils advocates say. I think back to every teacher I ignored in favor of writing, folding, and passing notes in class when the only technology I had was a pencil.

If I teach kindness and good manners universally, paying attention to what I model, tech should be okay. I teach these lessons to my students. I show them a few profiles of mine on the spot. They’re always hoping for dirt.

“If you’re looking for a picture of me drinking a 40-o wrapped in a paper bag on a street corner singing a-capella, you won’t find it,” I say.

“Why?” asks a kid.

“Because it doesn’t exist.” It’s the punch line of the lesson. “You need to behave, in writing, on the Internet, and in life, like it’s being broadcast. Because one day, it might just be.”  If my life were broadcast, it’d be the cure for insomnia. I should patent it.

I found a picture of Declan piling blocks on me. It self-posted to my Vizify. Then, of course, that video of me staring down the world on Googe+. I look like someone who’s applying for a makeover show, in need of rehab, or a costume designer for a horror set. Hideous, but harmless.

That’s the risk you take, I guess, in the 21st century.

Bottom line is this…we misbehaved before we had tech. Good teachers mitigated misbehavior with motivation. I didn’t pass notes while sitting on the edge of my seat. It’s our responsibility to get students ready for real life. Real life includes technology. If I leave that part out, I’m not doing my job.


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Google Can Get Peach Salsa Out of Your MacBook Pro

The phone rang. I don’t use the phone for calling much anymore–it’s sort of a mini dictator that chimes and pings, commanding me to do certain things–answer you, be amused by your blog post, watch a video, work, attend something, look at photos of your kid, submit something…As I get sucked over to the dark side of tech and more and more dog-trained, I use the phone part of the iPhone less and less. Eventually, Apple will name it the “iCommandCenter,” or the iBigBrother because it knows what I’m doing before I do.

Which is why I wish iBigBrother could have predicted that I’d be startled when the actual phone app rang at the exact moment I was testing out a bowl of my freshly made peach salsa, sending salsa sailing out of my hand onto the right side of my keyboard. I swished it off immediately, but it was liquidy salsa–salsa needs to set awhile after it’s made.  Peach salsa and electronics are bitter enemies.

Screen Shot 2013-08-25 at 2.36.37 PMI started to Google “spilled peach salsa on Mac.” Google knows everything. Google is my friend.

“Wait!” I thought. “Won’t typing squish salsa into the keys more?” I reached for my iBigBrother who’d predicted this all along.

“How can I help you?” asked Siri.

“I spilled peach salsa on my MacBook Pro.”

“You’re stupid,” she replied.

“No, Siri, I need to clean it, what do I do?” This is important!

“Cry. You just fried it, idiot.”

“Isn’t there anything I can do?” This is SERIOUS! School starts MONDAY!!! Answer!!!!!

Siri mocked me. “Nope,” she said, “You’re screwed.”

Google. Google won’t let me down!

Google is your friend,” said the voice in my head. If Siri isn’t my friend, kiss up to Google. I hold no malice toward Google for being a mind-reading megabrain selling my information to the highest bidder. Google’s free. I use it in my classroom. I’ll sell my soul to anything that’s free and not blocked in the classroom. That’s the truth.

I had to act fast. I could hear the computer translating the salsa into Spanish, playing Mariachi music on the way to circuits frying.

Time to learn a new skill. I picked up iBigBrother and Googled. “Unplug your Mac IMMEDIATELY.” Immediately had passed. I went for ASAP. Unplugging complete. Salsa seeping through the keyboard. “Invert your Mac.” Despite the fact I didn’t have enough common sense to unplug a liquid-deluged electronic device, I had turned it upside down until salsa stopped dripping. I sopped up the keys.

“Clean the keyboard.” Every time I wiped the keyboard I felt the sticky ooze under the letters and numbers.  The speakers crinkled. Turns out it wasn’t fried speakers, just an old “I get chicks” Barry White song popping into R’dio unsolicited. Phew. Not frying yet.  Turning off the computer–good idea. Easier said than done when there are eighty apps  open. A week’s worth of WIP (works in progress) leading my machine toward RIP. It finally went black.

“Take off the keyboard. If possible, take out the battery.” More Google. Praise God for the half-hour video teaching how to rip off keys with parts smaller than the IQ of someone who dumps salsa on the keyboard in the first place.

A couple of keys were different. Panic. Deep breath. There was no one around but me–and Google. It was my moment of truth. Dive in–if underpaid children in China can do this, so can I.  Two swears and an “I wonder if I need my F-12 key” later, the keyboard was reassembled, any remaining liquid deep in the recesses of the machine. Time for prayer. And more Google.

“A classic newbie mistake is trying to turn the machine on after an hour or two. Leave it for 24 hours minimum. 48 or 72 is better.”

I had a premonition about this last week, “I’m not properly backed up.” Backup was last week’s project. This week’s–to spill salsa on it, making the backup worthwhile.

I’ve finished canning the salsa and peaches. If the computer works, I’ve learned a new skill, thanks be to Google. If not, this is the most expensive peach salsa I’ve ever made. Sixteen jars divided by the cost of a new computer breaks down to a total cost of $93.75 per jar.

Put in your orders now.

We (Don’t) Got the Beats

Screen Shot 2013-05-16 at 6.23.24 AM“Miss, come here.” I do.

“Can you please explain to him why he’s stupid?” said friend about friend.

“Elaborate? Give me the details of this conversation?” I inquire.

“He’s got $80 headphones.” friend says. Now, I am the queen of coupons, the maven of money-saving, the pinnacle of penny-pinching. They know what I’ll say.

“What do you need $80 headphones for? What could you buy with $80?” I discuss opportunity cost. No one signs up for an economics lecture at 7AM.

“Well at least they’re not Beats, those are expensive.” says the money-waster.

“Beats are big,” I say. “I don’t understand–we are three decades removed from MY Day, when the Walkman was invented…” I notice they are staring at me with a curious mixture of shock and disbelief. When the Walkman was invented…  “It’s true. I remember. We used to run like this…”  I mime running with a hand carrying a suitcase, “Because it was so darned big. We make things small now.”

I continue, “Just yesterday I had my new iPod implanted in my arm. I use a QR code to update the play list so I can run. The headphones were inserted in my brain through my nostril and I only sneezed twice. All bluetooth. Why,” I ask, “Are you people,” I motioning to the collective group of teens, “reinventing headphones that are bigger than football helmets?”

These are stealth,” said the proud owner of the $80 headphones.

“Why are they $80, then? I have to know. I can get a Bose speaker for ten dollars more.” My students often educate me. Seems like something I should learn.

“Well, this part’s gold,” he said.

“Gold?” I ask.  “Is this where you put your gold if you can’t get a chain or a fake gold tooth? Or maybe you’re still uncertain about the economy?” There I go, more economics lesson. Maybe I’m indeed, too old to understand. The teens laugh. I’m reducing this expense to rubble. Opportunity cost one, student zero.

“Well, anyway, Beats are for hip hop. These are for metal.”

“Oh, so now there’s a socio-musical-political underlying implication to this?” I’m happy because at least one student understands what I’ve just said.

The rest need coffee.

Or louder music to block me out.

We never resolve which headphones are best, or why, when they are not permitted in school, half the crowd buys lime green ones the size of Texas rather than the “stealth” ones with the bling, but I agree to stay after and listen to my cheap ear buds next to the Beats and the Skull Candy bling buds.

Because it is time, they advise, “for you to be educated.”

“I agree.” I say. “It’s important to learn something new every day.”

Building Bridges Instead of Burning Them–EdTechRI

Shawn and HeatherI was teaching a unit that was boring. But it’s in the curriculum so I had no choice. I tried to chug it down and get on to something better. I gave the test. They bombed.  I don’t even like tests–In a few years, I bet we won’t even need tests–they’ll wear a Yankee Hat that will suck out their collective knowledge and send me a report.  I won’t even have to teach them because there will be an app for that too. Oh, how much money the tax payer will save!

All these apps are very cool–it’s what I’m trying to do–get these things into the classroom.  But sometimes looking around at the old and the new in classrooms makes me wonder if I’ll ever get to the Yankee Hat stage.

Yesterday, all that faded into the background. I was in the middle of an event designed to change the world. An event filled with rock stars, creating rock star vision. It was the EdTechRI Shark Tank Smackdown. Actually, I think there was a better name than that, but it was really the culmination of a year or so of work where we sat down and got key players together at the table to discuss the issues faced by educators and entrepreneurs system-wide. The bottom line, educators and entrepreneurs need a constant dialogue. By opening the lines of communication, we solve problems and get those solutions where they need to be most–to the teachers and the students who need them.

Last night’s event was beautiful. It was sponsored by the Highlander Institute, which brings blended learning (teachers using tech and traditional methods) and EdTech accelerator Socratic Labs, (they help ed tech startups develop so they can be successful) and housed at the very classy Rhode Island Foundation, which supports pretty much every good mission in the state.

photoThis event was special for me. When I started my tech journey approximately one year ago, simply by making a few Learnist boards and beginning to use them in my classroom, I never imagined it would end in my involvement with Learnist, EdTechRI, and the EdUnderground–in getting to work with some of the world’s best and brightest in the field of teaching and educational technology–in seeing both sides come together.

It seemed there was a disconnect–education on one side, and entrepreneurs on the other. School systems didn’t always get the best technology, and entrepreneurs certainly wanted to build it, but they sometimes lacked access to the feedback they needed from the classroom end. Teachers would say, “Oh, you’re a vendor.” Vendors sell stuff. Entrepreneurs and visionaries create stuff. Totally different. We don’t have vendors. We have visionaries creating critical solutions with cutting-edge technology.

In getting the sides together, Rhode Island is solving problems in education.  Some of the best platforms in the world need one or two simple tweaks to rock the education world. Teachers give that feedback. I’ve seen this first hand. It’s magic.  By getting the educators and the entrepreneurs together, we eliminate about seven layers of bureaucracy. We have the tough conversations we need to have about our commitment to engaging students and making education real–and better. By involving visionaries, creating bridges and partnerships with the best and brightest the teaching and technology worlds have to offer, everyone wins.

I looked around the room, and saw the picture.  My friend Heather Gilchrist, who mentors startups and has personally yanked me off a cliff on my own entrepreneurial journey. Shawn Rubin, who, though he doesn’t know it yet, is pretty much the face of EdTech in Rhode Island and will be on the forefront of this momentum nationally. My EdUnderground friends and antagonists. A room full of startups and entrepreneurs in various stages of development pitching their creations to smiling teachers and educational leaders, all  tweeting feedback on the board. A food spread that reminded me of classy seminars when I was in Corporate America. People laughing and having a good time. Business cards exchanging, entrepreneurs and teachers lighting up when they found the right match to discuss needs and solutions, and in general magic in the air.

And I got to come along for the ride.

To be continued…