Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

A New Way Of Learning – Video Games In School

New York Launches Public School Curriculum Based on Playing Games

The first American school with a curriculum built around gaming principles, Quest to Learn (aka “Q2L”) may be at the forefront of a learning revolution—and some think the timing is right. New York City education officials hope that the new school can represent the tip of a “transformative” revolution, according to Metropolis.

Games have long played a role in classrooms, but next month marks the launch of the first U.S. public school curriculum based entirely on game-inspired learning. Select sixth graders can look forward to playing video games such as “Little Big Planet” and “Civilization,” as well as non-digital games ranging from role-playing scenarios to board games and card games.

Each of the 20 to 25 children per class will have access to a laptop and, rather than studying individual subjects, will attend four 90-minute periods a day devoted to curriculum “domains” like Codeworlds (a combination of math and English) and the Way Things Work (math and science). Each domain concludes with a two-week test that is called—borrowing from video parlance—a “Boss Level.”

Now folks, when I first read about this (it was brought to my attention by an alert reader) I have to say I had an immediate knee-jerk negative reaction. For one thing, I was jealous — we did not receive grades for playing games when I was in the 6th Grade. (Unless you count dodgeball in P.E.)

And for another thing, I thought about all the hand-wringing and media-generated fear over “video game addiction“, as well as a certain campaign that’s been telling us violent video games are turning our kids into killers. And I laughed at the irony.
(We humans are so full of contradictions, no?)

But as I thought more about it, I could start to see the possibilities of using our new technologies in a way that engages our kids and encourages learning. I have never been a 6th Grade teacher in New York City and I readily admit I have absolutely zero clue (none, zip, nada) as to the challenges they face.

I have absolutely no idea if this “teach-by-play” idea could be just what the doctor ordered, or turn out to be some “dumbing down” farce. At this point it’s an untried experiment. I am reluctant anytime we use kids in experiments – naturally – but on the other side of that coin, I am disgusted by our apparent modern trend of graduating kids who can’t read, or think critically, and who lack basic skills like making change.

Something has to be done, it seems to me: could this be it?

For more on Q2L, click on the “Metropolis” link.
And, here’s Popular Science’s write up: New York Launches Public School Curriculum Based on Playing Games

Related: College Courses on Twitter, ’Guitar Hero’ — Dumb or Smart Trend?

Copyright 2007-9 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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September 17, 2009 Posted by | Gaming, News, tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Digital device + water = oh no!*

Folks, where I live we’re actually having the kind of weather that makes one think about jumping into the pool. This reminded me that the time is right for me to re-publish my How To on what to do when your cellphone or laptop gets wet.

From time to time I do something stupid — like  stub my toe or knock my coffee mug over or blurt out a blaspheme in the general vicinity of women and small children.
On my better days, I sometimes do all three at once.

This Saturday I went swimming, and I had my cell phone in the pocket of my shorts. Like I said, stupid. To my credit, I noticed that sad fact quite quickly. But the damage had been done. The phone had suffered not just a spill, but total immersion–submersion–and it was wet. In my defense, it was over a hundred degrees. In the shade.

It is a simple and a natural fact that electronic devices and water (or coffee) don’t ‘play well together’. It would not in the least be unreasonable to assume that total immersion of an electronic device (such as my phone) would render it, to use a technical term, kaput. Quick action on my part, good fortune, and the fact that I wasn’t using the phone underwater (it was “off”) combined, in this particular case, for a much happier result, and my phone seems to be no worse for its adventure. (The fact that my make and model phone is very low end probably, to my way of thinking, helped a bit too. It has always struck me that the more costly to replace something is, the more delicate and fragile it is. A cosmic law, perhaps?)

Tip of the day: Rescue your drowned device with quick action.
Should you be suddenly struck with a case of bad luck and/or fumble-fingers, and you spill your drink right onto your keyboard, or you find some other creative way to get liquid onto your digital device, all may not be lost. The quicker, and more effectively you do the following, the better your chances of saving your device from the recycler’s heap.

1) The first and most important thing is to turn it off and remove any power source. Shut it down, yank the cord, remove the battery, isolate the dilithium crystals! And do it fast. Some devices, such as those connected to your PC by USB cables, and keyboards, get some voltage through their connecting cable, so also remove any attached cords or cables. Turning it off is not enough. You need to open the cover and remove any batteries. Remember, it is not the moisture which will ruin your device, it’s “short circuits”, and those are an electrical phenomenon.

2) Get as much of the moisture out as quickly as possible. Pick it up and let gravity drain it as much as possible. You should have the battery cover off already, now open up the device as much as possible. If we’re talking about a laptop, remove any PCMCIA cards (PC cards), release and remove the optical drive, and turn it upside down and with a screwdriver remove any access panels — such as the one covering your RAM chips. If your model allows, release the spring-latches and remove the keypad.
If we’re talking about a cellphone or PDA or MP3 player, try “popping” its case with a flat-head screwdriver. If the Web is available on another nearby machine, go online and look at the manufacturer’s instructions for opening the device’s case. Now that it is opened as much as possible, gently blot with a paper towel, or whatever absorbent material is handy.

[Note: If the liquid you spilled is the kind that dries sticky, such as a soda, you have more work to do. If it’s available, use rubbing alcohol (the “purer” the better) and cotton swabs to clean it up as much as you can. If rubbing alcohol is not handy, use water. Yes, water. Distilled if possible.]

Removing the moisture is key: drain and blot what liquid you can see. When that’s done, rest assured that there is still more liquid lurking in your device. Now is when absorption and evaporation become our friend. Since it was a hundred degrees outside, I simply left my phone in the sun for several hours. If sunshine is not an option, you can try using a hairdryer set to low (this will take a while), or if you’re brave (and ready to stand and keep a close eye), place it in a conventional oven set no higher than 150 degrees, for an hour. In the case of a PDA or phone, you can also carry it, wrapped in tissue or a hanky, close to your body in a pocket. Another trick is to place the device in a sealed plastic bag with a handful of uncooked rice. Replace the rice every couple of hours or so.

3) Regardless of the method used, I strongly advise you to not reassemble and power up your device until the following day. Give evaporation/absorption every chance.

If you are lucky, and have lived a “clean life”, your device will power up and function just fine — good luck and how quickly you removed the power being the key contributors to your success. If, however, you power up and your device functions strangely, or not at all, you may be able to isolate and replace the malfunctioning component (if you’re an experienced troubleshooter type). Or you may want to take it in to your friendly neighborhood repair shop and have them do it. Sometimes it is more cost-effective to simply replace the device; your particular situation will vary.

Free link of the day: As my faithful readers know, I am a big proponent of combating the modern plague of adware, spyware, and all sorts of malware. I have posted links for the better free versions of anti-spyware applications in the past. Sometimes though, it pays to invest in a “professional strength” application. The subscription-based anti-spyware application I use is the consistently top-rated Webroot Spy Sweeper. I suggest you try-before-you-buy whenever possible, and to do that with Spy Sweeper, click here.
* update: in the year that has elapsed since this was first posted, I have switched to Spyware Doctor. You can download a trial version of the “Full” edition here, or get the “limited” edition free as part of the Google Pack.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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May 17, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, hardware, how to, PC, tech, troubleshooting, water+laptop | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What your car is saying about you*

The auto manufactures are competing to put the most computer into your car. The merging of digital devices and personal transportation is progressing with alacrity. We know this. The fact that there has been “chips” in our cars for a decade or so is also well known. OnStar™ GPS tracking of our movements has been successfully marketed as a benefit to us, and we pay extra for the privilege. And our car has a microphone, to listen for ‘our calls for help’ (but, only when we push the button… Right??).

I read that the Vehicle Infrastructure Integration Consortium, a government “safety and efficiency” program, (there is a detailed description on Wikipedia, I suggest you scroll down to the paragraph titled “public concerns”) has developed a prototype for an on-board vehicle computer designed to interact with the Internet that will use Linux. (These are the folks who want to put radars in cars, “to detect proximity to the vehicle ahead and automatically apply the brakes to avoid rear-end collisions”) And they want to use the Web so the cars can, “provide a direct link between a vehicle on the road and all vehicles within a defined vicinity. The vehicles would be able to communicate with each other (and the cops), exchanging data on speed, orientation, perhaps even on driver awareness and intent.” This, to “improve traffic flow.”
Hmmm…. Driver intent?!?

Of course, this is being touted as a boon to us dumb citizens. We are told, “this will improve the driving experience” (not to mention, make us safer). How could our car accessing the Web be a benefit? The VII-C says, “by alerting cars about approaching emergency vehicles, collecting data to map weather patterns with high precision, and allowing for ‘over the air’ upgrades of vehicle firmware.”

Hmmm… Let me think about that…
1) Don’t approaching emergency vehicles have flashing lights and loud sirens?
2) Weather??? Like, I’m not going to go where I need to go because there’s a cold front developing..?
3) Automatic updates (aka “patches”)? What does this imply? That there’s concern about viruses and hackers, maybe? (You bet there’s concern!)

Of course the key words here are ‘traffic flow’, and ‘transmit its location’. By publishing its onboard data via the Web, some person in some government office will be able to see where every car is, its speed and direction of travel, and by activating the microphone, will be able to listen to the conversations taking place inside.
Think about that. Frankly, it scares the pants off of me.

I want you readers to know that the government already has this ability to some extent. We are rapidly approaching the point where every car being produced has some type of GPS built into it. They track us through the cellular phone signals (but these are “unreliable”). To “get better gas mileage”, we have all kinds of mini-computers on board that record our speed and braking, and store that info for later perusal — this aids in “accident reconstruction”. But these are not enough. They want more and better tracking technology installed. They don’t want “recorded”, they want “reported”.

Do NOT violate the speed limit in a rental car. The onboard computers will snitch, and when you go to return it, you will be hit with a stiff fine. I kid you not. Joyriding is out, too: excessive acceleration, hard braking, and high lateral G’s are recorded and reported too, even if you never top out above 65. Yes, your car is a snitch. Divorce attorneys and Law Enforcement love the GPS recorder.

Let’s tout the boon to mankind: parents can benefit from these automatic recorders too. Want to know how your kid treated the family car? Where they went? If they braked too hard or accelerated too hard? If they parked at Lover’s Lookout? Just buy an adapter and plug in your laptop. You can play Big Brother and see everything the car did. (I’m still working on how you can send the signal that activates the car’s microphone, and listen in on your kid… That will be a money-maker!)

The miracle of technology is in our cars. We are being told it’s for our benefit and we believe it. OnStar is something we all think is great, and we’re convinced it’s a status symbol (remember when only top-end cars offered it?). Sometimes, I think our desire for security makes us kinda dumb, and I think dummies get what  dummies deserve.

I, for one, don’t want a single recorder, chip, microphone, GPS locator, or transmitter on my person or on my car. It’s nobody’s business where I am, where I’ve been, or… my speed and direction of travel. (Did you miss my article, “It’s time to write your Representative”? Click here.)
They are going to do this, folks, and they’re not giving us citizens much say (“not much” = none).

Tip of the day: Use a soft, lint-free cloth, very slightly dampened with plain water to clean your monitor screen. You do not really need fancy, or expensive products to do this.

Today’s free link: Today I’m putting out the call for your input in this section. Is there a free program or tool that you think is fantastic, but you haven’t seen me post it here? Send me your recommendation — the name, not the link — and I’ll run it through my testing. Those that pass will appear here, with accreditation.

For those of you who aren’t at all bothered by this, and have quite the opposite view; in that you want access to this info (perhaps you are the parents of a beginning driver), devices are available now. If your vehicle is newer and GPS equipped, all you need is a special plug (adapter), if your vehicle [or, the one you’re letting the kid drive] is older, you may want to take a look at this Wall Street Journal article: http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB110911718132361463.html

Folks– there’s only a few days left. Tell me if you prefer this site’s new look by taking this 1-question survey Click Here to take survey

* Original posting– 8/17/07

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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May 14, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, privacy, security, tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments