Posts in Web/Tech
From Channel One to iPads: Our Fascination with School Technology

Remember Channel One?  Remember when the tv's showed up in our classrooms, amazingly free of charge and Anderson Cooper got his big break as a teen a.m. news anchor?  Those were supposed to change the way we do school.

And then there were Smartboards.

And laptops.

And now we have iPads.  If you've followed the recent circus in Los Angeles and their multimillion dollar rollout of iPads to students, you're probably wondering about whether or not iPads actually make a difference in learning.  

Me too- actually my doctoral dissertation is on that very topic so it's a big deal when one of the nation's largest school districts decides to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into a technology just four years old.  

To see the latest on the L.A. fumble, click here.   Turns out they may be changing course and rethinking their decision.  

That's too bad since iPads actually do have a positive impact on schools IF deployed thoughtfully.  They might help to bridge the digital divide as they are doing in one poor California district.  There are some best practices that ensure for a smoother deployment and actual benefits from using iPads. 

But all of this misses the point- if you're focused too much on the tool, a school may miss out on the real point of schools: learning.  Just like in your backyard when the leaves fall from the trees, you need the right tools to wrangle them into piles.  Still, you're going to need a rake or two and maybe a tarp to move the leaves after you've piled them up.  You'll still need to sweat and reserve several hours to get the job done. 

It's not about the tools- it's about the work.  

If a school is focusing too much on iPads and not as much on teachers and kids, it's deployment of expensive tablets will probably fail.  

What aspect of technology is currently helping with learning in your school?

Web/Tech, School, iPadsMike StPierre
How a Shift to Android Improved my Productivity

When was the last time that you made a major change in your workflow that resulted in a dramatic increase in productivity?  

 

I love gadgets.  I can still remember my first PalmPilot and subsequent Palm Treo devices.  When the iPhone first came out, I jumped in and have owned the iPhone 3G, 4, 4s and 5.  All have been great and have become important tools in my productivity toolbox.  

 

Something changed in the past several months.  I got bored with my iPhone.  It's built with precision craftsmanship, works fairly well and is stunningly beautiful.  When I had the iPhone 5 for a week, the best comparison I could make was to the latest and greatest … Toyota Camry.

 

Before you accuse me of blasphemy, let me explain.

 

My brother has a Camry.  It's comfortable and offers a smooth ride.  The gas mileage is good enough.  With each new iteration, it improves over the previous model.  The only problem with a Camry is that it's, um, boring.  

 

Never heard a cute girl compliment a guy on his choice of a Camry over say, a Corvette or Jeep.  Camrys (and I've owned one) communicate something different.  They say, "I'm safe," or "I'm refined" or even "I'm vanilla".

 

So I got bored and studied how I could tweak my experience.  I learned that you can do something called "jailbreaking" which enables your iPhone to do amazing tricks and exciting actions.  Sure, I told myself, it voids the warranty but what's the worse that could happen?  

 

My iPhone froze up, that's what.

 

So I switched it back to its original mode. Until I missed the jailbroken features and re-jailbroke it two days later.  I loved the fact that I could send a text from the lock screen or configure my screen exactly the way that I wanted.

 

Freedom was mine.  That is, of course, until Apple updated the OS and the jailbreak window was closed. Never again would an iPhone user be able to modify, tweak and customize his experience within the Camry walls of Apple.  

 

Like a curious traveler, I considered my options.  I could stay with my iPhone.  After all, don't all of the cool kids have them?  Or, I could venture out and begin again within the parameters of a new platform.  

 

The new Blackberry wasn't out yet.  Windows Phone seemed destined to fail within a year's time. I was left with Android, a platform that I had previously bemoaned as clunky and cheap.

 

Until I actually tried one for a period of time.  My brother has a Google Nexus 4 and really liked it so I decided to give it a try.  Here are my results:

 

WHAT I LIKE

Google Play Store: While the Apple App Store probably has a better quality of apps, nearly every app that I used to run on my iPhone is available on Android.  Nozbe, Dropbox, Evernote, etc.  Better yet, the experience of buying an app via the Android App Store is much better, allowing you to purchase something online which is later downloaded to your phone.  Smooth and easy.  Do I miss a few apps that are only available on my iPhone?  Sure but not that much and I've been able to find replacement apps that work just as well.

 

Software: I can't fully communicate how nice it is to have the freedom to change whatever I want about how I use my phone.  Different lock screen?  Yup. Change the way your apps behave?  Sure.  Modify how your phone allocates battery power?  No problem.  Have apps work together seamlessly so that you can get more done on the fly?  Absolutely.  Android, in my opinion, has caught up to Apple's iOS platform, at least in terms of how the OS works.  I love it.

 

Google Simplicity: When I used an iPhone, I would sync my calendar app (and I've tried just about all of them) with Google Calendar.  Unfortunately, try as I might, I would end up with multiple events repeating themselves. There's nothing more stupid than four events on your calendar that say "Budget Meeting", all showing up at the same time.  With my Android phone, the sync power to Google products (like Calendar) is totally clean.  Only one Budget Meeting event will show up which  keeps my schedule clean and doesn't frustrate me in the middle of a day.

 

WHAT I MISS

The hardware of an Apple product is tough to rival.  The HTC One is probably a worthy competitor but the other top-flight units have a way to go.  My Google Nexus 4 is not particularly noteworthy when it comes to hardware.  The camera is average as best.  The buttons are pedestrian.  No LTE is a bummer.  Many of the Twitter apps for Android have a long way to go.  

 

HOW ANDROID BOOSTS MY PRODUCTIVITY

Any gadget should help you get things done.  Sure, each is fun in its own way but if it doesn't help you to do your work, it could be fodder for the paperweight drawer.  For me, Android is lots of fun.  As someone who likes to tweak and customize my experience, it's perfect.  I'm willing to make some hardware compromises in order to get more done.  Android is less of an experience of in-app/out-of-app productivity and more of doing what you need to do while using multiple apps.  I feel as if I'm using a more full-bodied computer and it's doing what I want it to do instead of what the company tells me that I should do with it.  

 

That's a gadget that I look forward to using today and for months to come.  

 

Question: How is your smartphone a help/hindrance to your productivity?

 

Photo courtesy of AC

What a Smartphone Taught me About Faith

Sometimes you own things and sometimes they own you.

I was at a mini retreat on Sunday and a friend, Chip, was constantly checking his iPhone.  I figured that his lovely wife, Aida, would have kicked him under the table but she apparently has gotten used to his 24/7 online status. Either that or he's setting up a new gadget to his liking.

Having recently switched from an iPhone to an Android smartphone, I've been deep in that same mode.  Tweaking, checking and getting the new phone do what I want it to do... I've gotten a kick or two from my wife along the way.

I switched away from an iPhone after having jailbroken my previous iPhone 5 (translation: "jailbreak" = a geeky move you can do on your iPhone to allow for cool features).  Wanting more flexibility and personalization, Android was the perfect option. Everything I loved about a jailbroken iPhone, I can now do on my Google Nexus 4 and more.  It took me a while to give myself permission to switch.  After all, aren't all of the cool kids using iPhones?

Then I read about another iPhone guru who switched to Android.   If he could do it, I could too.

Faith is sort of like this as well.  It's got to be your own.  If you were to take an All Star Saints photo of this century, it would probably include Mother Theresa, Padre Pio and Maximilian Kolbe.  We have tons to learn from them and we ought to familiarize ourselves with their lifestyle and Gospel message.  All three were amazing.

But at the end of the day, your faith is yours and not Mother Theresa's.  After all, you can do things that she could not.  God has special plans for you that He did not apply to Maximilian Kolbe, amazing as that may sound.  

So when it all comes down to it, whether you are an iPhone or an Android user, make it your own.  Just like your faith and walk with God.  Get into it.  Enjoy the ride because no other person has the exact same experience.

Challenge: Pray today for the grace of knowing how exactly your relationship with God is different from that of others.

Photo courtesy of FDP

Stop it Already

My brother worked for a start-up and would work a full day's work, then come home for dinner and then head back to work.  It was tough.  Thankfully it was only temporary.

This makes sense for a season of life but you can't do it for the long haul.  Parents know what this is like as small children drain you one moment and then make you laugh the next.  College students also can relate as their bodies become accustomed to staying up late in order to get all of their work done.  Push and pull.

But what if you weren't in one of those seasons of life?  What if you just wanted to cut the crap and stop all of the busyness?

As posted recently by LifeHack, there are times when you just need to quit being so busy.  Quoting Jared Latigo from the post:

We have to be intentional about the time we set aside to read. To watch TV. To check email. And everything else. We can very quickly fill our time with stuff if we’re not intentional about what we do.

 How intentional are you with your schedule?  Do you find that social media adds or detracts from your busyness?

Photo courtesy of FDP

Could Siri Manage Your Team for You?

Have you ever wandered into the grocery store and stopped, scratched your head and wondered what you needed in the first place? 

Or, in a workplace scenario, have you ever been in a meeting and forgotten exactly what you wanted to talk about with the person on the other side of the table?

The problem isn't your brain or the store or the pad of paper in front of you.

The problem may lie in your ability to keep lists and then activate their content at the right time.  After all, an idea may show up at the most random of times and escape you at precisely the moment when you need it most. 

In this post, I'll be showing you how to use Apple's Reminders app and Siri work together to make your lists work for you.  When your lists are on high octane and working well, your team will benefit all the more.

Here is where I posit an almost heretical thought: could Siri actually manage your team for you? Could an app do your work for you?  Let’s find out.

Here are the steps involved: 

1. If you haven't already, set up Reminders on your Mac or iOS device.  This is easy and can be done by pulling up Reminders and creating some lists that will be easy to remember when you are on the go.  

2. Set up a few, can't forget lists.  In your personal life, this could be Grocery Store or even Walmart.  For work, I recommend lists named after the person you manage.  If you manage Barbara, create a list called Barbara.  If you have someone report to you that has a super-difficult name, you may want to give him a code name as Siri can have difficulty with tough names.  As Craig mentioned in a recent post, this list naming can become a game (which isn't a bad thing for your productivity).

3. Try it out on the go.  You can watch my demo here using the iPhone as my input device.

 

4. Now test it out with a person that you manage.  This is where the magic happens.  Rather than try to remember what you wanted to talk about with Barbara, let your list in Reminders do the work for you.  As I showed in the demo, my next team meeting regarding Saturday’s event has a reminder that I might have otherwise forgotten to mention while at the meeting.

I use Siri and Reminders every day.  My team has no idea that I use both applications to keep organized and that's part of the fun.  When technology makes you look smarter than you are, I’m all for it.

Back to my wild idea: could Siri manage your team for you?  Probably not.  There is no substitute for honest to goodness human interaction and deep down, we all know that teamwork isn’t built on an app, no matter how smooth it may be.  

Siri along with Reminders does a great job of keeping you on task and putting your ideas in front of you when you need them most.  As a manager of people, that’s another thing…

How are you using Siri in order to get things done?

Photo courtesy of AMDG

 

How One Little Button Reduces Friction in Your Work

This is a post that Merlin Mann would hate. In the so-called age of post productivity where tools don't mean as much as conquering meaningful work, I just can't help but notice the importance of something very tiny.

The input button on your iOS task manager.

That little plus thingee or inbox dodad that we sort of take for granted in our iOS apps. The deal is this: it actually matters more than you think and here's why: anything that helps you reduce friction will translate into greater productivity.  If you want to input an idea very quickly, the button you press could make a big difference. 

So let's take a look at a number of popular productivity apps and their iOS (and iPhone specifically) home pages.

Here we go!

Nozbe: you'll notice that the input button is nicely placed to the bottom right of the screen.  What Nozbe also allows is the three-stack button to its left which allows you to create a context or project as well just from the click of a button.  My only complaint is that it doesn't really stand out from the other buttons.  Grade: A-

The Hit List: while The Hit List isn't as intuitive as Nozbe or Omnifocus in terms of what's under the hood, the input button is nicely placed and overly large, to the top right of the screen.  Still, it could stand out just a bit more.  Grade: A-

OmniFocus: the Ferrari of task managers has a different approach, offering an inbox instead of a plus sign. Those come as you go deeper into the application.  I'd like to see the inbox either larger or a different color.  Right now, it's sort of plane-Jane.  The location is fine but it's just boring to look at.  Grade: C+

Producteev: in my mind, the input button in Producteev is simply genius.  It's large, placed in the center and really fun to use.  All of the other developers should use Producteev for a week to see how much fun this input button is.  Grade: A+

Remember the Milk: I like the layout of RTM's iOS home screen.  It's clean and looks very nice.  My only complaint is that it's all the way to the left.  Grade: B

ToodleDo: While ToodleDo may not be as sexy as Producteev or as robust as Nozbe or OmniFocus, the input button is rectangular and to the top right.  It feels great to use- simple as that.  Grade: A

Conclusion: while this post may seem a bit over the top (I mean seriously, who else compares the input buttons in such detail?), it shows that details matter.  If you feel good using a tool to get things done, you're more likely to use it again and most importantly, you will do more meaningful work.

Which application have you used and which feature do you enjoy the most?