No, really… I can’t hear you (or, The Funniest Thing on YouTube)

Want to see something really funny on YouTube?  I’m not talking mild chuckle funny, I’m talking about side-splitting, laugh until you cry funny?  While videos of screaming goats are always good for a belly laugh, but if you want to guffaw, check out your own videos.  Yup.  The ones starring you.  The ones where you provide detailed instruction or the ones where you are discussing some heavy topic in great detail.  Those videos.  Yeah.  They’re a riot.  To see the “funny” version of your video, play the video with the closed captioning turned on.  Unless you’ve done the work to correct the closed captioning, you will be amused by YouTube’s automated closed captions and how YouTube thinks it knows what you’re saying.

They can be terribly funny…. to everyone except the hearing impaired.  To those of us who are deaf, partially deaf, or have less-than-perfect hearing, YouTube can be one of the most frustrating places on the web to visit.  (Full disclosure…. I’m deaf in one ear and have a cochlear implant which helps me to a certain degree, but in order to fully understand what’s being said in many videos, I have to turn on closed captioning.)

cochlear

That’s me, and my Cochlear receiver (aka the outside part of my “robot ear”)

So what is to be done??

Two simple steps can be taken to ensure that your message is communicated clearly to those who have hearing impairments.

First, if the video is a screen-capture that contains instructions on how to complete a certain task, include text in the video itself.  I use Camtasia, which includes a plethora of “call-outs” and other ways to add text to videos, but the option to add text to the video is available with most video editors.

Second, if something is important enough to distribute (via Twitter or in a blog post), then take the time to edit the closed captions.  YouTube’s machine captioning provides a reasonable starting point, but it misses a lot of the nuance.  Punctuation is practically non-existent in YouTube’s auto-generated captions, and if you have a particularly long video, it may take extra time to get it just exactly perfect.  But it’s worth it!

Sure, I realize that you may not have time to go perfect every little detail, but if the message so important enough that you created a video, shouldn’t it be equally important to reach all people?

So that’s my rant for now…. Perhaps my next task is to create a video showing how to edit captions on YouTube videos.

As always, questions, comments, concerns, or (gentle) criticisms are welcome.

~R

On the Blissful Satchel Paige Philosophy (or I’m Not Where I Want to be, but I’m Getting There)

Every year around this time, I’m required to pause and take a look at what I’ve accomplished over the year.  It’s our institution’s end-of-spring-semester ritual of self-evaluations and performance reviews.  I don’t care to review my accomplishments too much, as I tend to subscribe to the Satchel Paige philosophy (“Don’t look back.  Something might be gaining on you.”) and I’ve such a propensity for over-analysis in the moment that any lessons I’ve learned from my failures never stray too far from my mind.

But when I do look back on the past year, I see some pretty astonishing accomplishments.  We’ve completed our migration from ANGEL to Blackboard.  I coded the scripts that take data from the SIS and convert it into a format that the LMS can understand.  I co-presented two sessions at the Innovations 2015 Conference in Boston. I lost hearing in one ear, have had vertigo for seven solid months, received a cochlear implant (making me only the 4th person with single-sided deafness to receive such an implant from UPenn Hospital), and have achieved stellar results training my brain to understand the signals it receives from the implant.

But there are other things that were not such great accomplishments.  I didn’t do such a great job at updating this blog (partially because I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time becoming a seasoned Blackboard administrator and partially because the room won’t stop spinning long enough for me to write too much).  I didn’t get to the point in my Blackboard admin life where I can really make all that back-end data work for me.  (We’re hosted by Blackboard, so I don’t get easy and direct access to the data I could use to generate analytics reports.  But now I’ve learned of BIRT for Blackboard and will experiment with it in the hopes that I can get this data to work for us.)  And most of all, I didn’t get to complete  the courses I started in the Fall.  I was working toward my next degree when my hearing loss occurred and I was forced to drop all my classes.  Major bummer.

So there’s all of that.  But at the end of the day/week/month/semester/year, the goal of my work is simple.  Improve student success.  Have I, in my own way, found a way to contribute to the success of our students?  I like to think I have.  I like to think that I’ve developed and employed some innovative strategies that will help our students focus more on the content of their courses and less on the technical aspects of the learning management system, which, IMHO, is the best thing I can do, and it’s a project that never ends.The more time students spend learning how to use a system, the less time they spend learning the course material.

Next, I have to do the same thing for our faculty.  My goal is to make it so their time is spent teaching or developing exciting, innovative new course content rather than struggling with the idiosyncrasies of the LMS.  But sometimes, that’s really hard to do.  When it takes folks months to follow up on a simple “How would you like your course for the upcoming semester to be configured?” inquiry, I’m not able to do what I do best because I’m having to track people down to get the information I need to be able to provide the service they expect.

But I digress (as usual).

The next year at our school will be very interesting.  We’ve got a new (yet-to-be-named) president coming on board within the next few weeks, a synchronous learning pilot launching this summer, and a whole bunch of other nifty initiatives planned, including my foray even deeper into the world of analytics and data mining.  So, it’s an exciting time to be alive and to be working in this community college.

So yeah, there was nothing substantive about this post, I know.  I just felt compelled to say something, and here it is.

’til next time.

~r

Googleholics Anonymous (or A Hard Habit to Break)

As I mentioned in my earlier post Rodney’s Rules of Digital Order (or “Wait, I was using that!”), I’ve come to the realization that over the past few years I’ve become addicted to the wide range of Google services.  My addiction didn’t happen overnight.  First, I used Google for search, and that was great.  Then, I decided to set up a Gmail account.  “Well,” I figured, “since I use Gmail and I DO use Google for all my searches, why don’t I use iGoogle as my start page?”  Then along came Google Reader and I was in love.  I’d used several standalone RSS readers for a while, but because I was increasingly mobile, I needed a single point from which I could access everything.  Then came the Android smartphone. Then came Google Earth and Google Maps.  Oh, and how can I neglect to mention Google Chrome?  Oh, and Picasa!  And Google Groups!  And Google Scholar!  and… and… and…

But I could switch to a different service for any of these things at any time.  I wasn’t hooked!  Not me!  Not at all!!  It’s just that Google has made it so easy, so comfortable, so convenient for me, why would I want to go anywhere else?  Then, when they announced the shutdown of Google Reader, it became evident that I really did have a problem, and as I devised Rodney’s Rules of Digital Order, it was crystal clear that something had to be done about my Google addiction…

Now, I’m doing something about the problem.  My first move was to switch to a new RSS reader and after doing some research (and being finally convinced by Alan Buckingham at ghacks.net) I’ve decided to go with The Old Reader for the time being.  It’s basically a newfangled old-fashioned Google Reader with a minor twist.  Plus, I like the general attitude of the site, which helps a lot.  I’d played around with NetVibes and Feedly but I wasn’t totally satisfied with the navigation and interface and The Old Reader definitely meets my needs (for now).

Next, I’m going to ditch Google Chrome and go back to Firefox as my primary browser for Mac, PC, and Android and use Puffin on the iPad (go ahead and pay for the darn thing.  It’s worth it!)  I had officially jumped ship from Firefox to Chrome in October of 2012, but if I’m going to break my Google addiction, I’ve got to leave Chrome behind.

I’ve been using DuckDuckGo for a few web searches lately, and now it looks like I’ll need to make that transition too…  (That’s gonna be a hard one to do)

As I look at this, I realize that it’s going to take some time and some serious effort to complete this dramatic shift from the way I’ve been doing things, but it’s something that I need to do.  Does that mean I won’t use Google at all?  No.  It simply means that I won’t be relying on Google to provide the answers to all my problems and will employ many different sources to craft unique solutions to fit my own needs… and isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?  Isn’t that flexibility one of the things that make me love the web so much?

Google made me lazy.  I’m taking back control of my Internet.

~R

Updates again? (or The Times They Are Still A-Changin’)

This was written in response to a question I got about why I am so vigilant about keeping the latest versions of everything at my disposal. For some folks, it seems logical. But other folks maintain an attitude of “what I’ve got is working, so why should I update it.” I can understand that point of view, but for what I do, I don’t have that luxury. Here’s why….

Every few weeks, it seems like Facebook or Twitter or Google or Instagram or (insert favorite web-based service here) unveils a new interface update or some new functionality. Every few weeks, two of my desktop web browsers install brand new versions of themselves onto my machines.

These updates can cause headaches for some users, but overall, these adjustments are merely minor inconveniences to which users will adjust in relatively short order. So why do software companies do that? Why don’t they just release a new version every year or two with all the major updates rolled into one fantastic new thingie?

The fact is that annual major releases are becoming a thing of the past, and the web is a much better place because of it. Back in the dark ages, when Internet speeds for most users were limited to 56.6kb/s, the idea of hundreds of thousands of users downloading and installing software updates was absurd. The servers would crash! The Internet would implode. Productivity would screech to a halt! And the fact is, these things are probably true. Distributing software via the Internet was a slow process way back then, and most companies chose to produce and distribute physical media instead of making updates available online.

Welcome to the new world, and it’s this new world that is causing such problems for dinosaurs like Microsoft. Yes, I just called Microsoft a dinosaur. Microsoft releases updates to Internet Explorer once every year or so, and each time the new version is released, we coding geeks know that our lives will be turned upside down trying to make sure our materials are compatible with Redmond’s latest output. But over the past few years, Internet Explorer has seen its share of users steadily declining while more flexible browsers like Google Chrome have seen an explosion of users. Why? Simple. Chrome meets users’ needs while the needs are still fresh. Internet Explorer does not.

We live in a fast-paced society, and what was the latest big thing yesterday is old hat today. Whether or not I agree with that philosophy is of no consequence. The facts are that our systems and processes must be flexible if they are to keep up. The tools we use are no longer one-size fits all, and the businesses that recognize this and adjust their practices accordingly are the businesses that will survive. The dinosaurs were replaced by faster, smarter, more adaptable forms of life. Businesses are no different.

But this is an instructional technology blog written by an instructional technology geek, why should that matter here?

The world of education is in the midst of a dramatic shift unlike anything that we have seen since the introduction of the printing press. Our students know this. Veterans of the industry know this. Even relative newcomers (like myself) are hip to this fact. The procedures we set in place today will set the precedent and determine the future of our organizations for years to come. If we fail to recognize the critical importance of this shift and strive to stay at the forefront, our institutions will suffer. Enrollments will drop as students opt for faster, smarter, more adaptable forms of education. Institutions will merge or close, and students who are already at the greatest disadvantage will fall further behind and their shot at the “American Dream” will evaporate.

So please, update your browser.

~R

Link: Two Computers, a Keyboard, and a Mouse

Link: Two Computers, a Keyboard, and a Mouse

Major league productivity booster for me.  I’ve got a Windows machine with dual monitors and a Mac.  This allows me to share the mouse, keyboard (and clipboard!!!) across the machines. I spent about 5 minutes setting it up and I’m already wondering how I went so long without it.

Kudos to ProfHacker (again)

On Disconnecting (or Rodney Unplugged)

The Idea

I’m funny about holidays and observances. While I do observe the traditional holidays (Yom Kippur, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Arbor Day, etc.), I’d hardly say I do so with excitement. They’re just days on the calendar.  Were I forced to choose, I’d have to say that my favorite holidays are Thanksgiving and Groundhog Day.  (Hmm… it would appear as if I have a special fondness for holidays that celebrate animals. Should probably talk to my therapist about that, huh?)  But this year, I decided to celebrate a holiday of a different kind, and so I did.

So what sort of holiday would an eternally connected geek like myself choose to celebrate???  Alan Turing’s birthday?  The anniversary of the launch of ARPANET?  Actually, to the contrary, it’s The National Day of Unplugging.

For quite some time, I’ve been secretly wondering what effect the state of perpetual connectivity is having on my life.  Can I go for an hour without looking down at my cellphone?  Can I survive an entire evening without logging into Facebook or Twitter?  But what if something happens in the world?  How will I know about it if I’m not getting constant alerts?  I might miss something!! A ha!! We’re on to something… as a matter of fact, it would appear that we have arrived at the crux of the proverbial biscuit… FOMO or the “Fear of Missing Out”.

Recognizing the effects of FOMO and the overwhelming power the Internet has over me, I decided to take the plunge and join countless others in a 21st century Shabbat of sorts, stepping back from all electronic communications, and focusing on other things.

The Experiment

My Facebook status update from Friday 3/1/2013.

Friday, March 1, 2013

5:55pm – I posted the above status update to Facebook, and the experiment was off and running.

6:00pm – I was already showing signs of withdrawal.  I didn’t have Delerium Tremens or anything, but I could already sense a hole in my life.

7:15pm – My wife and I leave the house to attend a weekly meeting of an organization to which we belong.  We have the keys to the building and always get there early to set up for the meeting.  As we get in the car, I realize that I can’t plug my smartphone in to the car stereo to listen to my “The Good Stuff” playlist on Spotify.  ARGH!  The Agony!!  So I turn on the radio (sigh).

7:50pm – We’ve set up the chairs in the meeting room and are awaiting the arrival of other meeting attendees.  I instinctively reach for the smart phone to read a little bit of the Bill James Historical Abstract (an incredible book about my other obsession, baseball) while we wait, only to remember that I can’t read anything I’ve downloaded to my Kindle app… Argh.

10:02pm – We’re back home and are getting ready for the second half of our Friday night television extravaganza.  The festivities began with Spartacus at 9, and continued with Banshee at 10.  I’m okay during Spartacus.  I don’t even think about the Internet.  But when Banshee starts, it takes all the willpower I can muster to keep from Tweeting about the show’s twists and turns (and about the awesome performance by Ivana Miličević).  Throughout the action-packed show, I find myself hanging on the edge of my seat, imagining what wonderful insights must be flowing through my Twitter stream.

Saturday – March 2, 2013

12:30am – On most nights, as I’m lying in bed, anxiously awaiting the moment when Morpheus comes to whisk me away into the realm of sleep, I often spend a little time playing word games.  But not this night… This time, I was waiting for sleep to come and my wife was on Facebook… and all I could do was look the other way, trying not to get caught up in the drama/comedy/reality show that is Facebook.  Somehow I managed to roll over and fall asleep without succumbing to the temptation to sneak a peak at her smartphone’s screen to see what all the hubbub was about.  How could I bear another 17.5 hours of this?

9:00am – My morning routine consists of breakfast and a cold caffeinated beverage followed by a cup of coffee.  This routine also includes a check of Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, and e-mail.  Breakfast without the Internet is a strange thing.  Instead of working or reading while eating, this morning I found myself alone with my thoughts.  For a few fleeting moments, I find a measure of peace in the relative silence in a mind that is typically filled with data and ideas.  I won’t lie.  It was neat… but weird.  I’d forgotten what this was like.

2:15pm – My day was busy and I didn’t have a chance to think about the Internet.  But once all the busy stuff was done, I sat down to watch my beloved New York Yankees play a Spring Training game.  Instinctively, I reached for the tablet to join the conversation on Twitter or to read some more of the Bill James book or to (insert digital activity here) while the game was going on.  And I stopped and reminded myself that the tablet and all other digital gadgetry were off limits for another 3.75 hours.

I desperately scanned the room in search of another form of input.  Could it be that I would have to simply watch a baseball game without any other input? But what would I do during the commercial breaks?  How did my ancestors do it?  How did I do it in those days before constant connection?

Then it struck me like a bolt from the blue…  Across the room stood a large wooden structure with a series of shelves which were populated by hundreds of foreign yet oddly familiar objects. I adjusted my spectacles and arose to review this discovery.  Alas, there they stood.  My dear old friends… books. OH! The adventures we’d enjoyed, these books and I. I stared stunned for a moment, dreadfully ashamed that I’d neglected my old companions for so long. Finally, I timidly reached for the shelf and selected one of their number to accompany me in my journey to the other side of the room.  I crossed the room and took my seat, with the New York Yankees still in the background, and opened the book.  Within moments, I was spellbound by the text and images recounting the adventures of baseball gods of yore.

What a splendid afternoon it was…

5:15pm – We got the call that my wife’s car was ready to be picked up from the shop.  The spell was broken and I forced myself to walk away from the book which had seized my attention three hours before, and went with her to retrieve her automobile.

5:25pm – I leave the mechanic’s shop and head back home. On my drive home, I tune in to a college radio station to hear an outrageous brass band blowing like crazy.  The track ends and the announcer informs the world that we’d just had our minds blown by The Jambalaya Brass Band.  While stopped at a traffic light, without thinking, I reach down for my smartphone and look up this band on Spotify, plug my smartphone into the aux cable and crank up this wild brass band.

Then it hits me…
I’ve broken Shabbat…
But it’s just Spotify, I thought.  It doesn’t really count.
And besides, I’ve only got a few minutes left anyway.
So it’s not a big deal.
(This practice, by the way, is what we call rationalizing.)

5:30pm – I return home and head back into the house to try and figure out how to spend thirty whole minutes away from the Internet.
I took a shower.
I washed my hair.
I ate a snack.
I watched the clock.

As soon as the big hand pointed straight up and the little hand pointed straight down, I reached for the tablet and posted to Facebook:

shabbat02

Yeah.  I really do gotta do that more often.  I learned a lot about myself over the weekend, and all joking aside, some of it wasn’t very pretty.  I’m a slave to technology, and I really need to cut the cord and spend a little more time in the “real” world…. so I can blog about what the “real” world is like.

Windows 8 My Computer (or First Impressions of the Latest Thing)

Let’s start with a little music, shall we?

(applause for the Bard)

By now, you’ve probably heard something about a new operating system from Microsoft called Windows 8.  (Unless, of course you’ve been living in a box under a rock on another planet, and even if you hitched a ride on the Curiosity rover or were in a box under a rock in the proximity of the Curiosity rover, you probably heard at least a rumbling or two about this new OS, but I digress.)

As we geekly types are wont to do, I played around with Windows 8 as a virtual machine while it was in Developer Preview and Consumer Preview modes, and when the witching hour struck on October 26, 2012 (that’s today, in case you didn’t notice), I was standing in line (or “on line” as they say in parts of New Jersey) on the Internet waiting for the wonderful new version of Windows to download to my laptop and streamline my digital existence once and for all.

Actually, I got it because I need to be able to support our faculty and students when they come calling.  To be honest, I was perfectly content with Windows 7.  However, as the bard said, the times, they are something something and if you snooze you lose and if you lose you don’t win and if you don’t win you didn’t try and if you didn’t try it doesn’t matter how you played the game but the game is the same it’s just up on another level and the answer, my friend, is 42 and… uh.  sorry.  got a little carried away with the cliche button (sold separately).

The upgrade to Windows 8 is cheap (for now).  The “Pro” version is only $40, although the price will jump after the first of the year.  The upgrade process is relatively painless, but if you plan on upgrading you MUST MUST MUST MUST MUST MUST do a system backup first.  You should be doing that on a regular basis ANYWAY, but for those of you who don’t back up as often as you should (yes, I’m looking at you), this is one time when a full backup is absolutely mandatory.

I upgraded right on top of my existing Windows 7 installation and didn’t lose any data and almost all of my programs are working properly.  But, you don’t want to rely on my experience.  DO A BACKUP BEFORE PERFORMING THE UPGRADE just in case you’re not as fortunate as I was this time around.  The download and upgrade process took about 60 minutes or so to complete.

I’ve only spent a few hours exploring the final release of Windows 8 and the first thing I’ll say is that it requires some adjustment. In case you haven’t heard, there is no Start button.  There is no Start Menu.  There is no Windows logo in the lower left hand corner of your screen.  That is weird.  But I’m going to try to adjust and see how life goes without it.  However, for those who must have a start menu, Lifehacker has come to the rescue with information on some third party tools that you can use to bring the Start Menu back to Windows 8.

But let’s get past the lack of a Start Menu, shall we?  Windows 8 WANTS to be your friend.  It WANTS to tie all the pieces of your fractured Internet self into one cohesive unit so that you don’t have to go all over the Interwebs to carry out your online life.  For example, Windows 8 wants to tie your local photos (the ones on your hard drive) and your Facebook photos and your Flickr photos all into one album so that you can click on the album and find everything in one place.  Pretty cool, in theory, and so far, considering that the OS was only released today, it’s pretty cool in execution.  But we’ll see how it goes in the long run.

Windows 8 incorporates the concept of “Apps” into its framework with some interesting results.  Some of the apps provide a solid, seamless integrated interface while others (like the default WordPress app) leave much to be desired.  I’d really like to be able to tie everything together, and I think that Microsoft is on the right track here.  But it’s going to take some time for that seamless flow to emerge for most of us.

Windows 8 is a fresh start, a new beginning, a chance for folks to bring all those fragments of their digital lives together into a unified structure.  Time will tell if it crashes and burns or if it really does change the way we get things done.  One the one hand, I think there will be some significant resistance to the change in the market and some consumers will see this as a reason to move to Mac once and for all.  On the other hand, Apple products ain’t cheap and many consumers and businesses will be hesitant to fork over the extra cabbage to replace all their equipment with Applestuff.

The bottom line is this: Microsoft has made a ballsy move. A universal OS that works the same on the desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphone is an idea whose time has come (or at least is coming soon).  Windows 8 wants to be that OS.  Will it?

Regardless of how it all shakes out in the end, one thing is certain. Windows 8 is a game changer.  Whether or not Microsoft comes out ahead in the game remains to be seen.

I’ll be spitting out more random thoughts and observations on Windows 8 as time rolls on.  I just wanted to add another little bit of noise to all the static that’s filling the air right now.

Til next time…

~r