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why I need an iPad

I’ve been asked, and not unreasonably, why I think I need a device that I haven’t even held in my hands yet. Apart from the initial “Because it’s an iPad!” answer, which isn’t really very satisfying, I’ve been thinking about why I do feel I need an iPad, sight unseen. The reasons here are the result of conversations with a lot of different people, too many to name. If you recognize something you said to me in this post, thank you. See? I was listening.

I need an iPad because the iPad redefines portable computing.
It’s just possible that the laptop has too much overhead, and that we simply never noticed before. If I want to go sit on the back porch and read email, I have to unmount a couple of hard drives, turn on monitor mirroring, unplug my USB headset, and carry the laptop outside. That used to be fine because it was better than lugging a tower and monitor out there. But it turns out there’s another level of portability, almost satisfied by devices like the iPhone — but not quite. The screen and keyboard on the iPhone are too small for anything but really short emails. Forget document review or authoring — it’s really just too painful.

I want something bigger than the iPhone but smaller than the laptop, and I want to be able to pick it up in one hand and carry it outside — or pull it out on an airplane, even if the person in front of me leans back; or on a bus; or in the waiting room at the doctor’s office; or… you get the idea. I need an iPad so that I can overcome “the phone’s screen is too small” or “the laptop is too bulky,” which is true even though there’s no way I would have admitted either until there was a better solution. I need an iPad so that I can really work anytime, anywhere.

I need an iPad because I read and I write, and books are changing.
In this post, Books in the Age of the iPad, Craig Mod addresses the point that print is dying. He says that’s okay, though, and that having fewer books printed will result in higher quality of printed material overall. He also says:

“In printed books, the two-page spread was our canvas. It’s easy to think similarly about the iPad. Let’s not. The canvas of the iPad must be considered in a way that acknowledge the physical boundaries of the device, while also embracing the effective limitlessness of space just beyond those edges.

“We’re going to see new forms of storytelling emerge from this canvas. This is an opportunity to redefine modes of conversation between reader and content. And that’s one hell of an opportunity if making content is your thing.”

I think that’s just brilliant. “Let’s not.” Let’s invent formats that really work on this kind of device, and no other. Making content *is* my thing, or a big part of my thing, and I agree that devices like the iPad are going to change the way writers communicate with readers. I need an iPad so that I can imagine the possibilities for those new forms of storytelling — and so I can help invent them.

I need an iPad so I can use more of my skills in more places.
One of the things I do is visual facilitation (drawing on giant wall charts with big markers while a group discusses something). There are varying levels of portability: Sometimes I can just bring paper, tape, and pens, and tape the charts right to the walls or whiteboards. NMC has a nice set of portable walls for rooms where I can’t do that. But some rooms are just too small for the portable walls and also don’t have a place to tape the paper. I’ve also been in situations where the event was at a restaurant or other odd venue, where it’s just not appropriate or possible to set up the charts. And I’ve been in situations where the need for visual facilitation arises spontaneously, and I don’t have markers or paper or tape.

The iPad, and devices like it, may make it possible to do impromptu visual facilitation on the go. As Fred Lakin* points out in this post on graphic recording, it will depend on the resolution of the software, but if it does turn out to be possible, I could have an always-available set of “markers” and “paper” that I could use anywhere. It could be projected on a screen if one is handy, and the visual record would already be digital when I was done (I always spend time digitizing and cleaning up chart photos after meetings). I need an iPad so I can experiment with digital visual recording and, hopefully, help influence the state of the art.

I want an iPad so I can play games with it.
Okay, this may not be a need — although that could be arguable too, play being as important to learning as it is — but I really want to find out what kind of games we develop for devices like the iPad. Tim Bajarin says in a post on

“There is some real innovation happening in the games space, as well. I downloaded the iPad version of Scrabble and found that it could be played with iPhones and iPod touches through the Bluetooth feature. You place the iPad down on the table between yourself and a group of friends. The iPad serves as the board, and everyone around the table uses their iPhones and iPod touches to create words, which magically show up on the iPad in the center.”

Okay, that rocks. What else can we do with this device? It reminds me of the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer from Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age (warning: link contains spoilers). This is a device — in Diamond Age, it looked and functioned like a book — that “contains” nearly all the information you could need to know, and lets you access it when you need it — the ultimate just-in-time learning device. I want an iPad so I can play games, watch movies, learn things, and be curious, in addition to reading and working, whenever and wherever I want.

But none of those is the main reason I need an iPad.
The main reason is the same reason I needed to build a web page in 1994 when a friend told me to. (I thought he was nuts, but I did it anyway. It changed my life.) It’s the same reason I needed a Second Life avatar in 2006 and a Twitter account in 2007. I had no idea what they might be good for, but there was a sense that they would turn into something.

The main reason I needed all of those, and the main reason that I need an iPad, is because I don’t know what the best reason is. No one does. But with some things, you can sense that there is a “there” there. You can sense that this train is going places, and that those are places you want to be.

The main reason I need an iPad is simply to discover why people need iPads. Or, if I’m really, really lucky, to help invent why people need iPads.

*Small update: The blog author formerly known as [the author who, despite my best efforts, I can only identify as Visual Raccoon] has been identified. Sorry, Fred!

Urgent EVOKE: Agent Ninmah is Born

This week, I became an agent in a global network of social innovators.

Urgent EVOKE: A Crash Course in Saving the World opened on March 3, 2010. It’s a game, a learning experience, a training simulation, and a journey all in one. It was designed and is directed by Jane McGonigal for the World Bank Institute. For more on the game’s background, see this WIRED article or watch the video interview with Jane McGonigal below:

The Hook
EVOKE has been open two days and already has more than 7,500 members. The game will last 10 weeks, concluding on May 12, 2010, with a new quest unlocked each week. The hook or premise for the game is that players are members of the EVOKE network and have been called to respond — or will be called, in 10 years; the game moves back and forth through time fluidly — to an urgent food crisis in Tokyo. The story is presented in graphic novel form on the main page of site and also plays out in a 90-second trailer:

EVOKE trailer (a new online game) from Alchemy on Vimeo.

The Game
Each week, players get a new mission and a new quest, with three objectives (learn, act, and imagine). This week’s quest was very personal. On the surface, the first mission was to answer the standard “introduce yourself” question that many social networks include. But the format and the questions made me want to really think about what to say, and more crucially, made me want to see what other people wrote about themselves. The quest objectives are categorized as learn, act, and imagine; the “learn” one was to read an outside blog post (the hits for that page must be off the charts) that collected insights about social change, pick one of the insights, and respond to it. The “act” objective was to pick a hero to shadow, write about who they are and why you chose them, and then either follow their blog or Twitter stream, read their research or writings, and/or reach out and tell them you chose them as your hero. The “imagine” one was to write about where you would be in 10 years when the call came from EVOKE.

Players can either remain within the scenario — that is, choose heroes and actions that are consistent with the Tokyo food shortage theme — or make their own path, which is what I did. I’m interested in changing the world through gaming and play, especially in education. So I picked Jane McGonigal as my hero, and imagined myself volunteering in schools to help the kids construct and play games, and help the teachers work them into the curriculum. The important thing is that the quest made me think about the kinds of change I really can effect.

my EVOKE profile

Game Design
The game is essentially a challenge-based learning project, deployed on an enormous scale, where participants can pick their own problems. The game provides a framework, but it’s up to us as players to figure out what we want to learn, how to go about it, where to do research, and so on. The only incentives, unless you are going for one of the World Bank Institute grants, are your own motivation to learn and the comments and points awarded by other players or by the game shepherds.

The first quest was designed to push players past their comfort zones, but only a tiny bit. The questions about who we are were personal, but it was up to us how much to say. The suggestion to reach out to a hero of our choosing was brilliant — for some, that requires a great deal of courage. (My hero hasn’t answered yet, but I can only imagine how busy she is, with upwards of 7,500 people suddenly playing her game!)

Technical Aspects
The game platform is essentially a Ning network with some additions. I could even use my existing Ning ID to log on — yay! no new passwords! — and it had my photo in place already. Players can add blog posts, images, videos, and links very easily. It’s easy to find other players and easy to interact with them.

Participating in the game gets you points in different powers (collaboration, creativity, local insight, knowledge share, and so on). You can award power points to others when you look at their posts (“evidence” in the game). There are also game shepherds; originally, they were supposed to review every piece of evidence and approve each one if it satisfied the quest, but they have recently announced that we’ll be able to do that for ourselves beginning next week. The Leaderboard shows the top point earners and is sortable by power, so you can see who has the most collaboration chops, for instance.

There are active discussions and I’ve found that lots of people are willing to comment on others’ posts. The game also has a Twitter stream and makes it very easy to tweet your progress, which I don’t because I’m sure all my followers could care less.

I’m very interested to see what happens as time goes on. I imagine that some participation will fall off after a while, and I’m curious to see who sticks it out to the end.

I met a nice tank last night

First, a little vocabulary lesson; if you play MMOGs, you can skip this bit. By “tank” I am not referring to a heavily armored vehicle, except in the metaphorical sense. In World of Warcraft and similar games, the tank is the best-armored person in the group. His or her job is to engage and hold the attention of the big bad monster and stand there getting hit while the rest of the party kills the creature (or heals the tank, in the case of a healer). A party is usually composed of a tank, a healer, and three DPS (damage per second) classes. World of Warcraft has a new system that randomly matches up parties. Tanks and healers are in high demand, as there are more DPS players than either of those. Okay, now you’re caught up.

The relative scarcity of tanks and healers in this new system means that they can often afford to be jerks, and unfortunately many are. Something about the combination of being in demand, being anonymous, and in some cases being good at playing the game tends to bring out the worst in some people. I’ve known tanks and healers to quit a group, leaving the other players waiting around for a replacement, because they didn’t like the gear other players were wearing, or the way they talked in chat, or the method they used to move through the dungeon. Some of the ones that don’t quit feel that it’s okay to insult the other players, tell them how to play their toons, or just be generally rude. This behavior isn’t limited to tanks and healers; DPS classes are very easy to replace, though, and tend not to get away with it as much.

And of course not all tanks and healers act like jerks just because they can. I’d say the majority just quietly do the dungeon, and if they are annoyed, they keep it to themselves. The runs usually end in about 20 minutes anyway. But recently I actually met a nice one, which was rare enough that it caught my attention. This person was helpful without being pushy or rude, and when someone in the party made an error, he or she (the toon was female, but I don’t know about the player) was very forgiving and actually tried to make the person feel better. It got me thinking about behavior in a largely anonymous virtual space, especially where there is a different value placed on different players not because of their personal ability to play the game well, but because of the abilities of the class they are playing (tank, healer, or DPS).

It’s not really possible to find out who a player is, unless they have connected their character name with their RL identity elsewhere on the web (as I have by naming some of my toons here on my blog). A player’s identity within the game is persistent — that is, your character always has the same name in the game, short of paying for a name change, which is not common. But you can’t generally find out who someone really is. With the new dungeon system, it’s possible to be in a group with players that you will never encounter again, because the new system pulls people together from different servers, and you can only communicate with people on your own server (outside of random groups like these). You’d have to set up a new character on that player’s server in order to talk to them, and you may never get grouped randomly with that same person again. So the level of anonymity is really high.

The goals of the people in these random dungeon groups are related to moving as quickly as possible through the dungeon and moving on. You get rewards for completing them, and there are penalties for ditching a group in the middle, so there is an incentive to stay even if there are unpleasant people in the party. Most of the groups operate in near or total silence, without text chat (voice chat isn’t really a viable option and no one ever uses it in random groups). Yet there are still a few people who feel compelled to be insulting. It’s interesting to me that in the midst of what must be a cooperative activity — even the best tank or healer isn’t going to be able to solo these instances — some people are still willing to be rude. I’m curious about the characteristics these folks have in common; are they all young, and just don’t know any better? Are they all very good players, or do they all perceive themselves to be good? Is it a personality trait, and they’d be just as annoying if they weren’t anonymous, and were labeled with RL names or were in a face-to-face group? Mostly one gender or the other? Just like having a captive audience?

And in such a system, what personal characteristics make someone behave as well as the tank I met? There’s no special reward for being helpful. It’s easier to just keep quiet. What makes someone go out of their way to be nice to someone they may never run into again? Lucky for me, this tank plays on my server, and is now added to my friends list. But that’s not a “reward” from his or her point of view (especially if s/he doesn’t feel the same about grouping with me!). What makes people be nice in an anonymous environment?

visiting Adobe

I have to start this off with a little disclaimer: I’m an Adobe fan-girl from way back. I mean way back. Like before Photoshop had layers. Adobe’s apps are robust, capable, flexible, and not buggy. I’m proud of the work I’ve done with them, and like Kathy Sierra says, to turn users into passionate fans, help them not suck. Adobe does that for me. Now that you know that, feel free to skip the rest of this post with a superior feeling that I obviously can’t be objective, if you like. Or, read on to find out about a fan-girl’s visit to the mother ship.

illustration of a dragon

I used Illustrator to not suck when I drew this

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon at Adobe with NMC CEO Larry Johnson. We talked with folks from Adobe’s higher education division, and we saw some really, really cool stuff. One thing that I loved is Adobe Rome (see the video demo of Rome from MAX 2009 last October). Rome is going to be a fantastic tool for K12 mediamaking and collaboration, I think. It makes it easy to pull together different kinds of media along with text and drawings, and then to output the project in different ways. I really want my son to play with it, because I’m curious about how the tool will feel to a young person. It looked very intuitive to me, but then I’ve been using Photoshop and Illustrator longer than my son’s been alive, so it’s hard to say how a new, inexperienced user would see it. The demo just blew me away because of what could be done with it in schools, if the Big 3 Issues are properly addressed (what does it cost? can I make the kids’ work private? do I need to install and maintain it?). I have high hopes.

We also saw some of the new features coming up in CS5, but I’m not sure which ones have already been revealed so I’ll just say this: Wow. I am so excited about what I saw. Photoshop in particular has some new powerful features that I look forward to playing with, and there are some other treats coming out as well. Keep an eye out for CS5 and Rome!

thoughts on the changing role of the teacher

There’s a different way to teach, one that involves mentoring and guiding and not lecturing, a way that’s both harder and easier than the ways it’s often done now.

This is a concept that has been recurring in my research over the past few years, getting a little clearer each time but still not quite in focus for me. The role of the teacher, in some places, is changing. A whole set of factors are contributing to the change, including ready access to experts and source material through the great communications medium of the Internet; open content; electronic, searchable, taggable resources that make it easier to draw (and keep track of) connections between things; and a growing recognition of the fact that not only is it often better for students to participate in constructing their own understanding, it’s actually possible to facilitate that process on a classroom-sized scale.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Bossanostra

I keep returning to this theme while working on NMC projects, and I have been realizing that the projects that include some reflection on it are the ones that resonate with me the most. Last year, we did a project with Apple to investigate how challenge-based learning would work in high schools (we wrote a paper about what we found out). The approach places the responsibility for developing and carrying out a learning plan into the hands of the students, with the teacher there to guide and assist but not to simply deliver instruction. It’s so much closer to what I always imagined teaching would be, or could be, and I find it very exciting.

The 2010 Horizon Report returns to this theme, too, both in the topics (open content and electronic books in particular) and in the trends and challenges noted by the Advisory Board. Classrooms are changing. Students are changing. The role of the academy is changing. It’s very easy to say that different equals bad, and that the anecdotal inability of today’s students to sit still and receive instruction is a symptom of the moral decay of our great society, but I don’t believe that’s true. I think, instead, that we stand at the edge of an opportunity to transform education into something that truly addresses the interests and the strengths of each student, rather than measuring each against an abstract ideal. I don’t know what it looks like. I know it’s more challenging to work individually with 25 or 30 different kids, or 60 or 120 different undergrads, to help them figure out interesting ways to learn what you want them to know instead of presenting material to them as a group and expecting them to master it. But I also feel so strongly that it’s the right way to go, because learning should be more than something that’s fed to you in school. It’s part of what makes us human and it goes on all throughout our lives, and it’s not right that so many students just can’t wait for it to be over so they can get on with other things.

I think we’re poised on the brink of figuring this out — how to really do it well, I mean. I think technology has a lot to do with it, not for its own sake but because of what it enables students to do. We’re still working out how to provide access, manage workflow, protect students’ privacy while opening opportunities to reach out to peers and experts around the world; we don’t yet understand how to assign, supervise, and evaluate the unusual kinds of work that contribute to individual learning; and there are many other obstacles, or puzzles, to get around or solve. Still, I think we’re on the way there, and it’s inspiring and exciting.

my security guard is a lava-breathing puppy

cute little lava-breather

I’m a collector. Some are “official,” organized collections (stamps, for instance), but many are de facto collections that occurred when I got one of something and discovered there were more of them, or just started gathering things without really organizing or exploring them in great detail (my coin collection falls into this category). I just like to group similar things together, I think. Naturally, I collect in World of Warcraft, too. One of my collections in WoW is of non-combat pets, which are small, often playful or cute animals that are sometimes modeled after larger, meaner ones. They follow you around but they can’t fight (unlike hunter pets, which can). Of the 126 non-combat pets that I can possibly acquire (there are more, but some are unobtainable for various reasons), I now have 84. You can see them on my Warcraftpets profile for Narila, my pet-collecting main character.

aww, he wants a lava biscuit!

My latest acquisition is the Corehound Pup, a quasi-Cerberus-looking two-headed lava-breathing puppy modeled after the once-fearsome Corehounds that guard the Molten Core. Since MC is level 60 content and everyone who is anyone is now level 80, Corehounds aren’t quite so scary anymore. It’s an animated pet, so it plays with a bone or chases its tail while I’m standing around. I got it yesterday by attaching the Blizzard authenticator to my account, which I was happy to learn came in a handy and free iPhone app. Now, when I log in to World of Warcraft, in addition to my password I enter a randomly-generated code with a 20-second shelf life that I read off my phone. It makes the account harder to hack. Plus I got the Corehound Pup, so it’s a deal all around as far as I’m concerned.
Cute, isn’t he?

Narila, the pup, and my fighting pet, Warborn

into the fray

This is not a rant about men. It’s not even a rant about men who rant about women. It’s a rant about one particular blog post, and I don’t really plan to draw any generalizations about either gender from it. In fact, in general I admire and respect the work of the author of the particular post I’m on about. Except in this case, where I just flat-out can’t admire it, let alone agree with it. You guessed it: I’m leaping into the fray that has followed Clay Shirky’s recent post, A rant about women.

Many, many other commentaries precede mine; apart from the 400+ comments on that post itself, a host of other bloggers have responded. To name but a few, danah boyd’s response promotes diversity — learning to accept, value, and seek out people who think and act differently from you — over assimilation; Meredith Farkas’ post makes the point that if one has to be a jerk to get ahead, maybe the system’s borked; while Tom Coates argues very eloquently that we, as a society, should not encourage lying, arrogance, or aggression. There are many more, some of which agree with Mr. Shirky’s views and some of which don’t, gently or otherwise.

Mr. Shirky’s post makes me mad. It’s patronizing. I don’t need to act more like him to get what I want. I’ve worked for people, both men and women, who were perfectly able and willing to see my talents because they were good at seeing talent. I’ve also worked for people who weren’t, and I found that they generally didn’t appreciate the talents of my male colleagues, either, even the loud ones. I’m certainly not saying that discrimination doesn’t happen or that there are no cases where only the squeaky wheel gets greased, because I’ve been in those situations too. But I wouldn’t be comfortable saying I am good at something I’m not good at in order to get a job that I wouldn’t know how to do. I’d hate it. I don’t want to be there. I have no problem saying “… not good at yet” or “I haven’t done that, but I’ve looked into it and I can learn how,” because those things are true. On the other hand, I know women who would lie about their abilities in a heartbeat to get a job they wanted, and who would thrive in jobs where they had to learn it all on the fly; likewise, I know men who wouldn’t, and men who would. Looking at the world and saying “You’re not like me and you’re a woman, and he is like me and he’s a man, therefore women have a problem and should act more like men” is a narrow, binary view, and frankly I expected better. Actions are based on more than just gender, and there are many ways to be happy and successful.

There are some particular statements in the post that especially irritate and offend. For instance, Mr. Shirky says, in reference to a draft letter of recommendation written by a male student in which the student overstated his own abilities: “And I’ve grown increasingly worried that most of the women in the department, past or present, simply couldn’t write a letter like that.”

I’m sorry. Couldn’t? As in, we don’t have access to the same language, or our writing skills aren’t up to the task? Nope, I don’t buy it. “Couldn’t” and “wouldn’t” are not the same thing. Mr. Shirky describes an inability, a gender-based inability, for a woman to extravagantly toot her own horn. Granted, women have historically been taught not to do that, both explicitly and subtly, but it doesn’t mean we can’t do it. If you want to take issue with the cultural setting that teaches us not to boast, please do. You’d be in good company, and it’s a very strong influencer. But women certainly can speak well of themselves, and many do, and not everyone has to be an asshole to make herself sound good. In fact, the woman colleague that Mr. Shirky describes who sent her work to a reporter doesn’t appear to have done anything like what I’d call the behavior of a “self-aggrandizing jerk.” She just pointed to her work and said, “Hey, I’m good at what I do and this is interesting stuff.” There’s nothing inherently male about that.

Mr. Shirky also says that “…until women have role models who are willing to risk incarceration to get ahead, they’ll miss out on channelling smaller amounts of self-promoting con artistry to get what they want, and if they can’t do that, they’ll get less of what they want than they want.” That’s a little like saying I get less food at dinner because I eat with a fork instead of shoving food into my mouth with both hands. It may be true, but I don’t really want to eat that way, or sit with people who do. The fork-users are more pleasant company and it’s easier to carry on a conversation with them. I just don’t see myself choosing my role models from liars, jerks, and prison inmates. It’s possible to be outspoken and confident and still not be abrasive. Although, as danah boyd points out, it’s more difficult for women to do that than for men because we are surrounded by a culture that teaches all of us — women and men — that an outspoken woman is automatically abrasive.

If I look beyond the patronizing tone of the post, I can see that there is a premise there that I can identify with. It is difficult for me to speak out, especially to disagree with someone like Clay Shirky. As I am drafting this post, reasons not to publish it keep occurring to me: I didn’t see the original post soon enough, and now everyone has already weighed in. Who cares what I have to say — this is all just my own opinion, not research, and I’m not a famous author or even a well-known blogger. And all the points that I might make have already been made, somewhere. I don’t know where these thoughts come from; I don’t lack self-confidence in general. Maybe they are gender-related, though I suspect I know more than a few men who think those same things, or who did when they first started to blog. Maybe it goes away with practice.

But really, everyone hasn’t weighed in, if I feel I have something to say and I haven’t yet said it. As for “who cares what I have to say,” the answer to that arises almost as soon as I voice the question: I do. This is my blog, for me. If you are still reading this post, thanks for the investment of your time, but I didn’t write it for you. And even if someone else has already made the points I want to make, there’s still room on the vast, giant thing that is the Internet to store a more few bytes of data. Is it hard to post this? Yes, sure it’s hard. Is it risky? Sure. I’m openly and publicly disagreeing with a well-known writer and speaker. And OH MY GOD, I just realized don’t have ANY BALLS! What can I be thinking?

But having these thoughts doesn’t put me at a disadvantage, as long as I still hit that publish button and get my voice out there. And I don’t have to behave like a jerk to say what I want to say. I’m not going to act more like the men Mr. Shirky describes. I’m not going to choose them for my role models; nor am I going to seek out female role models who emulate them. Instead, I choose to focus my efforts on developing my own voice, in my own way. It’s entirely possible to be both courteous and self-promoting, to both be truthful and toot your own horn. I’m going to support practices that move us closer to a model of the workplace where it’s expected that people aren’t jerks and don’t lie about what they can do. Where people in power actually look at people’s work and don’t just listen to the loudest voice.

Actually, many of my role models did go to jail, but not for being con artists. Thousands of women have been arrested, and in some parts of the world are still arrested, for trying to change the way society views and treats us. Fortunately, in this day and age, we can blog instead.

confessions of a morning twitter lurker

I really don’t like getting up early. I used to; I can remember the hushed, private feeling of being the only one awake in the early dawn, watching the world change with the arrival of the day. I remember being filled with peace, and with wonder about what the day would hold. That was ages ago. Nowadays, when I wake up, I’m just grumpy and befuddled.

So I rely on rituals to get me through the sleepy part of the morning, until I’m really awake and the momentum of the day takes over. One of these is Morning Twitter Lurking. Right after the alarm goes off — and I actually set it 15 minutes early to accommodate this ritual — I grab my iPhone, turn down the brightness (because I can no longer focus on the screen in the dark if I don’t), open Tweetie, and read.

from this morning's Lurk

First there are my Australian and British colleagues to catch up on. What did they do while I was sleeping? Others around the world are there too. Then it’s my US buddies who couldn’t fall asleep, and then those that get up really early for travel or because they live in rural Vermont, where it’s 3 hours later anyway and they have to make bread and feed chickens (you know who you are). Then the tweets follow the sun westward and I share in discoveries made over morning coffee, events from the commute to work, and interesting tidbits that appeared in daily RSS readers.
I never post during these 15 minutes; I just lurk. For one thing, I’m still pretty much asleep, utterly uncaffeinated, and squinting at the screen with one eye. I’m not going to be able to type anything coherent, let alone interesting. But I do mark some tweets as favorites so I can follow them up later — links to articles and blog posts, mostly, or ones I want to respond to once I’ve got a keyboard and a steaming cup of tea in front of me.
When my 15 minutes are up, I get up and do morning things. I start the day thinking of my friends and colleagues, reflecting on some of the posts or articles I did follow up on already, and starting to plan my day. So, thanks, Twitter world. Thanks for letting me share in your mornings as I gear up for facing my own.
PS – the screenshot does show tweets from this morning’s Lurk, but I didn’t take it until later. Some good ideas happen at awkward times.

one from the cutting room floor

It’s one of my favorite times of year: the last few days before the official release of the 2010 Horizon Report. The writing is done, the excitement is building (okay, that’s probably mostly happening in my head), and I have actually seen it in layout. The cover’s lovely this year, by the way. You have to wait a little longer to see it, though: it won’t be released until January 19.

I’ve spent a lot of time now with the six topics in the report, but I haven’t forgotten that those six came from a list of twelve, and those twelve, from a list of (this year) 111 different possible topics. One of the topics that made the short list (the list of 12) but not the final cut is location-based services:

Location-based services provide content that is dynamically customized according to the user’s location. These services are commonly delivered to mobile devices, but can also be accessed from other portable computers, handhelds, or any Internet-capable device. Current common applications for location-based services include advertising, news, social networking, and similar services. (2010 Horizon Report: Short List)

My iPhone is loaded with location-based services. I have one whole screen devoted to apps I use when I travel, to give me local information about whatever city I happen to be in. Admittedly, I can’t use most of them at home, since I don’t live near a major urban center, but they’re extremely helpful when I travel.

A sampling of some of my favorites, in no particular order:

  • Where – Indicates where to find cheap gas, Starbucks coffee, or the thing I use it for the most: drugstores that carry Nyquil and saline solution, two things I seem to run out of while in strange cities.

  • WikiMe – Shows wikipedia articles related to wherever you happen to be. Useful for those spare moments when you want to know something, anything, about wherever you find yourself.

  • Come Here – Send your coordinates and a map to another mobile user so they can find you. Very helpful when most of your group has already walked to the bar down the street and the last few folks text you from the hotel asking where you went. (Look this one up in the App Store; the website is not really functional.)

  • Layar – Launch the app and pick from a list of layers, such as World Peaks (mountains near you), H1N1 flu shot locations, In & Out Burger locations, and so on. Layar overlays the information on the image from your camera’s screen, showing the name of and distance to nearby features. One tap gets you a Google map from here to there.

  • Foursquare – Foursquare’s fun, though maybe not as fun as it could be; I have to agree with some of the criticisms that have been voiced about its bizarre reward system and limited applicability outside of large urban areas. I mostly check in from airports. The idea has potential, though. Essentially, you and your network of friends “check in” from different locations, earning points for doing so. Some merchants offer incentives for people who check in repeatedly from their location, which is an interesting idea because it combines the game with real-life things that people do anyway, like going to bookstores or coffee shops (or airports, I suppose).

Personally, I love the kinds of services and games that are possible with location-awareness on my phone. It’s very empowering to have a BART map that knows not only where all the stations and lines are, but where I am in relation to them: I suffer from public transit anxiety and am always certain I will miss my stop and wind up lost. iBART goes a long way toward reassuring me that I’m on the right track, so to speak. I don’t have a lot of occasion to use BART, since I don’t actually live in San Francisco, but it has come in handy once or twice.

Although it didn’t make the cut for the 2010 report, location-based services *did* make it into two editions in 2009 — the Australia-New Zealand Edition (as Location-Based Learning) and the Economic Development Edition. Interestingly, it appeared on a nearer horizon in the Economic Development edition (mid-term; it’s on the far-term horizon for Australia-New Zealand). It’s much easier to find commercial applications than educational ones at this stage. There are several schools that are experimenting with ways to use location-based services for fieldwork and campus information, and a few that are developing augmented-reality games that have location-based aspects to them.

Based on the amount of development that’s going into apps like these, location-based services are going to be big in the coming year. TechCrunch’s Ten Technologies That Will Rock 2010 lists geo as an essential ingredient for killer apps, and I think they’re right. I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

getting ready for the holidays… and sleep

The presents aren’t wrapped. Some of them aren’t even finished (yup, it’s a hand-made gift year). The decorations are up, at least, so that’s something, and I put a smattering of holiday cards in the mail this morning. I haven’t got the grocery shopping squared away for Christmas dinner, I have no planning horizon beyond tomorrow evening when my mom arrives, and I feel wholly unprepared.

Except for the Sleep Plan. I’m going to sleep, and oh, it’s going to be nice. I have even prepared a handy chart to hang on my door in case there is any confusion in the house about whether I want to be up for breakfast or anything. I playtested it with my nine-year-old, and he agrees that it’s pretty airtight:

wake-up chart

handy chart for deciding whether to wake me or not

Any questions? See you in January — I’m hibernating!