Once again, I’m well out of date here.

I’ve had a busy year and change! In addition to fighting with multi-month-long health issues, I managed to complete my Master of Information Science at Indiana University in the last class to graduate from its School of Library and Information Science before the merger with the School of Informatics and Computing. I’ve lost over a hundred pounds and gotten a lot healthier, and I’ve accepted a full-time job that keeps me busy doing a lot of talking and traveling. My photo on the front page is now horribly out of date, as is the only before-and-after I have, but I hope to be posting some more information on that in its own blog post. I’ve also switched to a more streamlined design on the site because it was time for something new and updated my resume to reflect my most recent responsibilities, although by no means did I give it an overhaul because I’m not seeking new employment at this time (in fact, I recently found out my position’s funding was extended an extra year, through the end of July 2015, so I won’t be going anywhere for awhile). I also added a Curriculum Vitae page; given that my eventual plan is to get a PhD, it is necessary to maintain a record of presentations and publications with which I can be credited, and thus that list will live here.

I’ve also picked up a new hobby: nail art! In July of 2012 I realized that it was time to think about something I could do to take care of myself as part of an effort to improve my mental health. Since I was beginning to get tired of biting my nails all the time, I decided to use nail art as a way to keep myself from biting them. I haven’t bitten since July and I’ve been painting my nails ever since; they’re still in the recovery phase, however, after 27 years of abuse.

Some Social Media Links:

My Vizualize.me profile is a pretty complete view of my work history since starting my Bachelor of Arts degree in 2004.

You can find other useful links on my My About.me page, including a link to my Facebook page.

Quick disclosure: I discovered about.me via the BzzAgent program, where I had the opportunity to receive some free Business Cards from Moo.com. I opted not to take them up on it at present, preferring to save them a little longer until I have my page looking real sharp, but you can get the same free deal. I have to let you know that I’m required to be honest about how I feel about the About.me system as part of the BzzAgent Terms of Engagement, but I think it’s really neat! It’s a good way to compile if you’re like me and have a metric ton of links you want people to see. Just go to http://about.me to check it out – it’s free, and hey, if nothing else, free business cards.

Image required as part of the BzzAgent reporting protocol, sorry

Demented Pants, you say?

I get a lot of questions about the nick I use online – demented_pants (or some variation thereof depending on username rules on a given site).

It’s a good username because it’s very memorable. Most people laugh, or at least smile, the first time I tell them what it is.

Awhile back, a Redditor with the username breeskeys did an r/Favors thread offering to draw things for people. I commented asking for some simple demented pants, not really expecting a response since there were already a million comments requesting things by the time I found the thread, but she came through with some pretty awesome drawings. The original thread is here, and some of them are quite funny.

So here’s my drawing, with special thanks to breeskeys – these really made me smile. Especially the f7u12 brand lolface overalls.

A Wil Wheaton Quote I like a lot.

While I rode the elevator up to my floor, I looked out at the lobby. It was filled with people in all sorts of beautiful costumes, in groups of 3 and 4, or in large parties of 10 or more. Everyone spoke to each other with animated arm movements, people posed for and took pictures with and of each other, and everyone seemed to be having a great time getting their geek on.

“I’m looking at a con in Germany,” I thought, “but I could really be anywhere in the world, even my own town, and I’d be looking at essentially the same thing. This is how enormous and inclusive our culture is.”

I walked down the hallway and into my room, feeling lucky and proud to be part of this.

— From “Fedcon day two” in Wil Wheaton’s Blog. The entire post is something to read, but I really liked that synopsis of what it’s like being a part of geek culture.

I may have just failed at usability.

I thought I’d come write a blog post reflecting on the semester I’ve just finished. I just went, earlier today, to check my grades (which haven’t been posted yet) on Onestart. Because I’d previously had some issues loading the Student Center that I hadn’t yet resolved, I had to clear my cache and cookies and restart Firefox before I could get in to do that. One of the things I also do as routine maintenance whenever I need to clear my cache and cookies is clear my browsing history as well.

So when I came to log-in to the site, I started by relying on my browsing history to take me to the login page (a link to which does not appear anywhere on the actual site). Nothing was there. I tried a search on the site; nothing. Google was similarly useless to me in finding the login page; I had to dredge through my ACTUAL memory to figure out what the address was. I accomplished that within just a few seconds and arrived here to post about it.

When I excluded the log-in form from my site, I did it as a very conscious choice. I did not wish for anyone other than me to be able to log in to the site. Perhaps that might be discouraging return commenters, but my personal preference is not to have responsibility for even as much information as a standard username and password belonging to the people who comment here. The news has been constantly talking about the PSN breach that occurred recently; I feel that it would be in best conscience to just not have that information on my site. I hope the confirmation process for comments isn’t discouraging people from joining in the discussion.

Now, to make things easier for myself I could include a link to the login somewhere on the page, or I could have a login box placed in a sidebar somewhere for me and me alone. I choose not to employ either of these methods because the inconvenience of remembering where to log in to my WordPress site is far less than it would have to be for it to be worth inconveniencing 99% of the people who use the site.

So I suppose I shall have to rely upon bookmarks from now on. There are worse things that could happen.

In other news, I recently fixed that annoying “extra space between paragraphs” issue with the styling on the site, and everything looks a good deal cleaner now.

R685 – Mobile Experiment Series – Post 3 (The Experience)

Recently in R685 we did a week on mobile learning, or m-learning. As a companion activity to that week, I decided I would limit myself to participating in class only via my smartphone. This is the third of a series of blog posts I’ll be doing on my experiences that week; this post will focus on the experience I had carrying out the experiment. You can view the entirety of the series here.

The Experience

Working entirely with my smart phone for a week was an interesting experience. There were many things that were frustrating, not the least of which were the myriad of ridiculous typographical errors that had made their way into my swype dictionary. I’d used my phone to access reddit on april fool’s day, and a couple of well-intentioned “gifts” from friends and coworkers meant I couldn’t use the letters e or x. I thought up some rather clever ways around those restrictions, but I wrecked the dictionary in the process. Even now, almost a month later, I’m still removing words every other day or so.

swype is also imperfect at figuring out which word I want when there are similar input paths. I frequently had to stop and reenter words, slowing me down considerably. Additionally, I found that my recall on the smart phone is not nearly what it is when I’m reading in other media, which meant that I had to resort to taking notes while I was reading for the first time in my life. In that respect, it actually forced me to develop a new skill as a student.

While I did enjoy the ability to participate in class from just about anywhere at any time, i found that each activity I completed took me much longer than it otherwise might have. This blog post is a good example: it’s taken me as long to write less than 200 words, one paragraph of which was copy-pasted, as some of my thousand-plus word posts I’ve done. I feel like designing for m-learning probably requires a much smaller task granularity if it’s to be done effectively.

I will say that I’m glad I tried this, but I definitely wouldn’t want to try it again. How’s that for a privilege check?

As I mentioned, I’ve written the entirety of this blog post on my smartphone. While I’ve made every effort to correct misspellings when I’ve caught them, I’m sure a few have escaped. Please be gentle with me!

R685 – Final Reflection on Blogging

You can view my blog posts for R685 here.

I tried a lot of new things with my blog this semester because of the requirement that we do some blogging. For one, I posted more frequently than at the end of each semester completed. For another, I wrote my first-ever series of blog posts about something I’m interested in (in this case, the mobile learning experiment I did during that week in class). I have to admit that I procrastinated a lot more on blogging this semester than I would have liked to.

I have a million scraps of paper with ideas for blog posts jotted down on them, but unfortunately I had some personal and health struggles this semester that precluded me from ever have the time to develop these ideas as deeply as they deserved. Even still, this means I have a lot of seed topics for my blog for when I do have the time to get back to it. I procrastinated on commenting for my critical friends, as well, and I plan to catch up on it over the weekend.

I really enjoyed both Annisa and Christina as critical friends. They’re both incredibly intelligent and have a lot of good points. I wish either one of them would have responded to any of my comments I’d left on their blogs because I was really hoping to start a dialogue and each post failed to do so.

I suspect that the lack of comments during most of the semester was partially to blame for my constant procrastination; when I was getting comments, I remembered to keep on schedule and post, but once comments slowed and then disappeared, I started to forget. Then, when Christina was added as a second Critical Friend sometime mid-semester and she began to comment, I saw a brief flurry of activity before I lapsed into silence again.

I tried a number of different things with my blog posts to varying degrees of success. Reflecting on each week’s learning was useful to me during the first part of the semester. I tried for a couple of weeks to also include posts about the weekly tidbits and videos I was consuming, but that fizzled out rather quickly. I also shared the coursework I completed on my blog, motivated primarily because of a post by an IU student in the Learning Sciences department (you can, and should, read it here). McWilliams is one of the few non-entertainment bloggers I read regularly, and this particular blog post was the first one to get me really thinking about how much of an ivory tower higher education really is.

I’m fortunate enough to be an incredible student as well as an intelligent human being, and though many would consider me to have come from a relatively low-class family, I’ve managed to work hard enough that I have a lot of privilege regardless. I am fantastically lucky to be a member of a community of learners as wonderfully knowledgeable as the one at IU, but I don’t feel it’s appropriate to jealously guard my work as if someone else is going to steal it.

Having a blog also gave me a place to vent my constant need to be expansive about everything. I found that the free-form nature of the blogging assignment allowed me to do what worked best for me, and to work out the nature of my thoughts so that I could then rephrase them better in the forum discussions, when I did my blog before I did my discussions for the week.

Because of the kind of student I am, making the format and requirements for the blogs as open-ended as they were meant that I was consistently writing more than I might have if the assignment were “write a two-page reflection on this week’s topics.” I wrote until I didn’t have anything else to say about the topic, and then I published it; it was nice to not have to spend time worrying about saying too much or too little and instead just write what I felt was merited. I understand that this may be an opportunity for less-motivated students to do less work, but it really works for me as a student. The informal nature of posting a blog entry instead of handing in a paper also meant that I spent less time worrying about the mechanics and more time thinking about the content.

At the same time, however, the fact that my blog was not only readable by the entire internet, but being posted to the site I put on my resume, meant that I still had to do some pretty careful thinking about what I was posting. That meant that I had to back up things that I said, much like if I were working on research that I might try and publish in a peer-reviewed journal, except that the publishing process took much less time, and likely I’ll never revise anything I posted. So, at the same time as I was completing a homework assignment, I was experiencing the projected image of an IST scholar, something I’ve never been before, but which I’d like to be one day.

That’s actually a great way to describe my experience with this entire class, actually: I got to try on the identity of an IST student and see whether or not I liked it as much as I thought I would. Luckily, I did. Everything I read was interesting. I learned a lot of new perspectives on a lot of things that I was already familiar with, and I feel like I deepened my understanding of the concepts if I knew of them to begin with. Blogging was a big part of that; having to write about something forces me to think about it and connect ideas in a much more concrete way than just thinking about it requires.

There is much that could be said here about authentic activities and self-directed learning; I could apply a million of the concepts I learned about using blogs as an educational tool, about keeping students motivated to continue by assigning critical friends… there are a lot of lessons I’ve learned. But instead of writing about them, I think I’ll post this to my blog and see if I can get a discussion started about it.

So, there’s that. I’ve just had an entire semester of fun blogging for a class. Ask Me Anything.

R685 – Mobile Experiment Series – Post 2 (The Software)

Recently in R685 we did a week on mobile learning, or m-learning. As a companion activity to that week, I decided I would limit myself to participating in class only via my smartphone. This is the second of a series of blog posts I’ll be doing on my experiences that week; this post will focus on the software (both on the web and on my phone) that I used for this experiment. You can view the entirety of the series here.

Smartphone Applications

I have a Samsung Captivate running Android 2.2 (colloquially known as FroYo), as I mentioned in the last post in this series. Didn’t read that yet? Take a look at the link in the first paragraph of this post, then come back. I’ll wait. It’s fine.

Okay, we’re back.

There were two applications that I used extensively on my phone for this experiment. The first was the built-in email application provided by the Captivate, with which I accessed my IU email account. I used the software for a number of different reasons, including (but not limited to): reading forum replies, accessing lists of readings to choose from, and sending questions via e-mail a couple of times. I had already previously set up my e-mail on my phone, so this required no additional setup for me to accomplish. Those users who do not already have their primary e-mail account set up may have to invest some time in this initially, but it was a nonissue for me.

The first thing I learned in this experiment was that it is INCREDIBLY difficult to keep track of forum discussions when you’re tracking them via e-mail. Since Oncourse does not include the text of the message to which a user is replying in the e-mail notifications it sends, you basically just have to log into the forums if any context at all is required. I found that frustrating, but it was manageable.

Which leads me up to the other piece of software I used for this experiment: Firefox Mobile. Firefox has been my preferred browser, hands down, regardless of platform, for quite a long time now. Newer versions of Firefox, including the Mobile version I used on my phone, have a plug-in called Firefox Sync which allows you to automatically sync your saved passwords, bookmarks, and other such information across devices. I have made use of this to great effect previously, but never did I realize just how much easier Sync makes things until I set it up on my phone at the beginning of this experiment. The primary benefit of Sync was that it allowed me to not have to re-enter my passphrase every time I wanted to log in to Oncourse. Had I had to do that, I probably would not have succeeded at my experiment; my passphrase takes way more work to type in correctly on a tiny touch-screen keyboard.

Another great feature of Firefox Mobile is the ability to open pages in tabs, just like you might on your desktop or laptop computer. In general, over the course of the week, I had at least one reading open at all times, as well as the class forums in another. This allowed me to very quickly and easily switch over to the Forums when I had a concept from the reading I wished to share – useful, considering I still have not managed to figure out how to select and copy text from a web page. This also led me to rephrase concepts at the get-go instead of copying and pasting and then elaborating on them, which some people might say is a benefit.

The final piece of software I used was the built-in Quickoffice application. I used it to open PDFs, and it did an amazing job. One of the readings I had was over a hundred pages and it opened much more quickly than I was expecting, and had no trouble moving between pages at a quick pace.

Web Applications

I only have one web application to report on: the Oncourse forums. In general, I got much the same experience from my smartphone as I did from a desktop computer. However, Firefox had a little trouble with long-form text input; my posts were riddled with typographical errors from a combination of several spelling errors that I hadn’t realized I’d saved to the Swype configuration, and the only way I could remove them was to backspace the entirety of the text I’d typed out between the typo and the end of the text. There was no easy way to move the cursor within the text. This was my biggest frustration.

Another issue: there are a number of wysiwyg editing elements that display when you’re posting to the forums on a full-featured version of the browser. Firefox mobile did not render those elements, for some reason, which left me without any formatting ability – and stripped all the line breaks out of my comments, making them more difficult to read if I was verbose. This led to a number of shorter posts, rather than just a couple of longer ones.

Working with the Oncourse Forums was my biggest source of frustration over the course of the week. As I mentioned earlier, my phone can open and read a hundred-plus page PDF with no trouble at all. Why can’t it handle something simple like posting to a forum? I asked myself that question many, many times during the course of the experiment, and eventually changed the signature on my e-mail client to, “This message sent via semaphore. Please excuse my brevity.”

There was one requirement I did not fulfill, which would have added yet another web application to the list: WordPress. Since I didn’t blog over the course of that week, I owe you guys one! Look for that later in the Mobile Experiment series when I post about my experience. I’ll come back and update this once I’ve got that posted.

Edit/Update: Phew! I just spent a good half an hour writing a grand total of maybe 400 words, plus adding tags and then publishing a post using my smart phone. Given that I spent about the same amount of time to write this post, which was just about at 1000 words before the update, I think there’s a strong case that M-learning is slowing me down.

WordPress was probably the best-handled of any of the web applications I used on my phone. I was able to access full functionality, including adding tags from my “choose from the most used tags” function. I didn’t attempt to use the wysiwyg functions of the editor, but they did show up, which is more than I can say for the Oncourse forums. I managed to find a way to copy and paste the introduction text from the Mobile Experiment Series posts, but it required me editing this blog post, copying the entirety of it (all almost a thousand words), and then using backspace to get rid of the 920 or so I didn’t want. Less than efficient at best. But even with all that, using WordPress was actually pretty easy on my phone; I’m impressed even if it was the teensiest bit annoying at a few points throughout the process.

R685 – Final Project Reflection + link

Busy days for me! I’ve been working like crazy all week to get caught up – since life happened so many, many times over the course of the semester. I’ve been feeling like I’m behind basically the entire semester, but thankfully we didn’t have to turn in our blog reflections until the 25th.

This post is about the project I chose for the R685 final project. I decided to go with a student-suggested option: creating a resource for use with the class. In discussing this with Dr. Bonk, he suggested I create a web site with four to ten video resources per topic.

The link to the site I created is here – check it out!

Behind the cut is my full reflection, which I turned in with this project.

Continue reading

R685 – Mobile Experiment Series – Post 1 (Motivations & Device)

Recently in R685 we did a week on mobile learning, or m-learning. As a companion activity to that week, I decided I would limit myself to participating in class only via my smartphone. This is the first of a series of blog posts I’ll be doing on my experiences that week; this post will focus on my motivations for choosing to do so, and then the device I used. You can view the entirety of the series here. Additionally, since time in the semester is running out, I’ll be skipping the rest of my weekly topical reflections, with the exception of discussing my m-learning experiment and one final post reflecting on the blogging I did this semester. I also plan on sharing the reflection I wrote on my final project.

The Motivations

I understand from my class readings this week that in a lot of areas, mobile phones are people’s only access to the internet. Even though the digital divide is shrinking, the numbers of people worldwide who do not own a desktop or notebook computer is staggering. Given that I come from a relatively privileged background, and have had at least one computer at all times for the last decade, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be constrained by relatively inefficient technology.

Dr. Bonk’s class is set up very well for the online learning format. I have had no real difficulty accessing the readings for a given week, or participating in class synchronous sessions, or the discussions on the class forums in Oncourse either. I had already been participating in a less-constrained form of m-learning all semester; my job provides me with a laptop, a recent-model Macbook Pro, which I used to access the entirety of the class this semester up until I began using my smartphone. I believed that this pre-optimized setup would make my objective easier to accomplish (whereas it would not have been nearly as easy to do an entire week’s worth of homework for my Web Programming class using a smartphone). This meant that I had a set of conditions that were ideal to fostering the success of my experiment, rather than ones that would frustrate me on the first day of attempting it.

Additionally driving my decision to try this experiment was the knowledge that we would not be having a synchronous session in Adobe Connect that week. Though I have a lot of faith in my little smartphone, I shudder to even think about what a nightmare getting Connect to work would be – if it could, in fact, be gotten to work at all. This meant that my restrictions would not prevent me from participating in any major way in the class (something I found important because my grades are important to me; I didn’t want to harm myself with this experiment).

The Device

Also motivating my decision to give the experiment a shot was the fact that I have just recently upgraded my cell phone. Previously I was using the Apple iPhone 3G, which was sufficient as a smartphone, but I have serious doubts as to its ability to handle the sorts of use cases I would be exploring.

The phone to which I upgraded is a Samsung Galaxy S, known in the United States and Canada as the Captivate. You can get a full breakdown of the device’s specs here, but I’ll give you the run-down on some of the basics.

First, this thing is huge. You could just about fit the entire iPhone into the display area on the Captivate. Second, it’s running on the popular Android firmware by Google. Third, it’s about twice as powerful as the first computer I ever got, in 2001, which came with Windows XP. The Captivate boasts 512MB of RAM, an internal 16GB SD card, and an expansion slot that can handle up to an additional 32GB, in micro-SD format. Its processor is one of the more modern mobile processors, the ARM Cortex Hummingbird, at a speed of 1000 mHz. I was using the most recent version of Android, 2.2 (colloquially known as FroYo), though I’m pretty sure anyone using a Captivate with the previous version, 2.1, would be able to duplicate my results using this particular class.

Furthermore, this thing is even more usable than I ever found the iPhone to be. Where the iPhone still reminds me more of a PDA than it does a computer with a touch-screen interface, there’s no mistaking the Captivate for anything less than a full, mobile computer. Having had it for all of maybe two weeks before we got to m-learning, I had already found myself surprised over and over again by the Captivate’s capabilities; it was this fact that convinced me that success with my experiment was possible.

And so, I pushed on. Look for blog posts later talking about the software I used and the experience I had.