Adjusting to a new Macbook Pro

I have been using a Macbook Pro for the last five years and it is probably my favorite computer I have used of all time. It has taken all sorts of abuse (nothing intentional) and it keeps on ticking. Most computers I have used, after three or so years, I am ready to trade them in for something new. Not my Macbook.

However after five years of daily use, the poor thing has seen better days. About two years ago my daughter spilt coffee on the keyboard which partially fried it. I’ve been using an external keyboard ever since. While I was nearing completion of my dissertation my power cord/charger started shorting out, getting hot, and wouldn’t charge the battery. I was in a bind because I couldn’t be without a computer, so I cut the cord open and resoldered it back together. Now the other end is getting frayed too, so the thing is covered with black electrical tape. But the last straw was the battery will no longer take a charge, even with the functional power cord.

The nice thing about this Macbook is that the school I work for originally purchased it, and I’ve requested funds for repairing it. After it is refurbished, it will be quite a nice machine. New keyboard, battery & charger. But we are going to install a Solid State Drive to replace the Hard Disk. I like the idea of repairing things rather than disposing of otherwise perfectly good technology. So I expect we’ll get several more years of use out of it.

But for personal use, I have taken the plunge and purchased a new MacBook Pro. It is similar in specs to what I already had – 13 inch monitor (although the new one has a Retina display), 500 Gb drive (solid state rather than HDD), and several new features. One feature I will miss is the built in optical drive, but I bought an external one for when I need it. The new machine is a little lighter in weight and thinner as well.

The big difference for me is the change in OS-X versions. I’m still finding my way around El Capitan. I hate how you can’t find anything when you get a new computer. Some things are personal preferences, but some of the changes are puzzling. The finder application took a lot of customizations. One of the things I use a lot is the path button to aid in navigating the file system. That was hidden from view until I customized the tool bar to show it.

Overall, though, I love the new machine. It is faster and sleeker than what I had before.

Oh, by the way. The new machine has a messages app. I’ve used that on my iPad, but never on my Mac. I just got some photos from my mother in law in Nebraska. She has an iPad too, and has never sent me any messages before, but she did yesterday and they look great on my Retina screen.

So here’s one of her driveway. They got over a foot of snow. Isn’t that funny how the neighbor left her side of the drive?

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 11.40.11 AM

Vote No On Consolidation

The Kansas Legislature is considering a bill that would force consolidation of small school districts. I am against this plan. Bigger is not better for kids trying to learn. Bigger districts mean longer bus rides and more out of pocket expenses for Kansas families. I think this move will ruin our small rural communities because it will spell the end of our smaller schools.

The community where I lived went through a consolidation a number of years ago. At that time, it was agreed that both towns would maintain an elementary school, and the high school and middle school would be divided between the two towns. However, not long before my kids were of school age, our town’s elementary school was closed after a fierce battle. No one anticipated that event at the initial consolidation, but it happened. And my kids got to experience a bus ride for the better part of an hour as kindergarteners and primary school kids, while the closed school the could have walked to sat empty a couple of blocks away.

My point is, when these plans are proposed, there are always hidden costs that no one considers. And as long as it isn’t my kid that is affected, why not do it? Well, that is short sighted. Here is the e-mail I sent to my legislator:

 

Dear Rep. Concannon,

I am strongly opposed to the bill under consideration for the forced consolidation of school districts. I realize that the present argument says that schools won’t close, only districts will merge for a reduction in administrative costs. I believe if districts consolidate, it will only be a matter of time before closing the smaller schools is a reality. This plan gives too much power to larger population centers over smaller communities. Once our schools are gone, our communities will have no future.

We are now in a digital age where it is possible to live and work from anywhere. It is now possible to reverse the trend of everyone moving away from small towns to seek better opportunities. We are seeing this in Clyde, with young families returning from bigger cities to raise kids. I myself returned to Kansas for the purpose of living a small town rural lifestyle. I could have stayed in California and worked in the technology industry. Instead, I moved back home in hopes of raising my family here.

Consolidation will destroy the very fabric of what makes Kansas Kansas, our small towns and rural communities, just when new possibilities exist. You look at any town that has lost its school, and you will see a town that is dead or dying. Don’t do this to Kansas. Find another way. If saving administrative costs is the goal, I’m sure this can be done without merging school districts. Neighboring districts can possibly share a superintendent. Incentivize these kinds of resource-sharing collaborations, but don’t wreck our schools with this myopic consolidation plan.

We are counting on you.

William E. Genereux, Ph.D.

Holiday Greeting Cards

merryXmas2015

Each year for the past decade I have created custom-made photos for Christmas to send out in Christmas cards. (Well, except for 2013 when my daughter made the picture for that year.) It is interesting to look back through the years, both to see how my kids have grown, and what I was trying to do creatively that year.

This year (the 2015 card seen above) I decided to do something unique that I had not done for this series before. I used Adobe Photoshop to insert my family into humorous vintage photos from the good old days.

What follows is a description of the previous years throughout this series.

2006xmas

 

In 2006, I was making a serious effort to do some studio lighting and make a nice portrait. Well, I don’t have any formal training in studio lighting, and it was more like a DIY effort in studio lighting. I believe I used a homemade soft box and a slave flash that year. My kids were 2 & 4 at the time, and this is one of my favorite photos in the series.

2007xmas

The next year, I tried for a repeat of the previous year. At three years old, my son was less cooperative and refused to sit still for a portrait. I finally gave up and just showed the world what I went through in this effort. I like how this card turned out as well, because my daughter (then in Kindergarten) did the snowman painting for me in watercolor.

2008xmas

We had a white Christmas in 2008, so I showcased that fact this year. Once upon a time, I custom made yard decorations as well. The Grinch in the photograph is one of these homemade decorations. My daughter drew the snowman and Christmas tree clipart shown this year as well.

2009xmas

 

2009 is another of my favorites. That year I went for a more minimalist approach. The bow is my original photograph of a ribbon we had on hand. I like the idea of creating all of the elements used in the picture. I played with the typography more this year than in previous years. I created a subtle 2009 in the background, as well as the 2009 in the upper left. I used Adobe Illustrator to set the type and to do the layout. The ribbon was separated from the background with a clipping path in Illustrator.

The portrait used that year was not made without some effort. You can see some of the rejected photos by clicking the picture below:

 2009rejects

2010xmas

 

By 2010, I was well into my PhD studies, so I was simply using similar concepts from previous years to save time.

2011xmas

2011 was a memorable year because I presented at the COLTT conference in Colorado that year. We took a memorable family vacation in Boulder on that trip. I also took my kids canoeing in Tahlequah, Oklahoma that year, so we showed highlights from those trips.

2012xmas

 

We did a family portrait in 2012.

 

 

 

 

xmas2013

 

 

In 2013, the series almost ended because I didn’t want to take time to do it. My daughter stepped up and made one using photos she made with her iPad using a Smilebox app.

2014xmas

In 2014 my kids had an “ugly sweater” contest at school. They made their own sweaters (with Mom’s help) and it was a perfect subject for a Christmas photo.

 

Twitter Pays Off

I’ve been promoting Twitter to students for several years now. At first, they didn’t see the point. To students, social media was merely for entertainment or staying connected with family and friends.

I’ve used Twitter mostly for building a PLN of educators and creative professionals, although entertainment does weigh in from time to time. I think that students often miss the fact that Twitter can have serious uses.

I think that digital media students need to be aware of the marketing potential of the various forms of social media. Most students don’t miss that this is going on. But perhaps they don’t yet see themselves as needing to acquire skills with promoting themselves and their work through this medium.

If they are stuck in the “family and friends” mindset, they are missing out on the opportunity to interact with various brands on Twitter. One of my students recently won a bunch of merchandise simply by interacting on Twitter :

Twitter is a great way to bring attention to problems you may have as a customer. For example, a few years ago on Valentine’s day, I along with thousands of others received an order of flowers that were damaged by cold weather. But with one tweet, I received a voucher for free replacement flowers.  

There have been other examples. For example, Adobe helped me to straighten out an issue with billing by communication through social media that I had never been able to get resolved through any other means.

Social media is great for consumers. It is great for businesses. And it is wonderful for making professional connections. Until something better comes along, I will continue advising students to get involved in serious uses of social media.

What is a Personal Learning Network or PLN?

For many years now, I have been developing and enjoying the benefits of having a “Personal Learning Network” or PLN. Some of the best teachers I’ve ever seen are out there freely sharing their best stuff on teaching. This normally happens in the form of blogs and through social media. Over the years, I’ve received enormous benefit from my self-directed efforts at professional development in the form of the PLN, although over the past few years things have slowed a great deal for me. As we enter the new year of 2016, I am looking towards renewing my PLN learning with new vigor. In fact, this QUEST group could absolutely be considered a PLN. But I would like others to be aware that there are amazing possibilities out there to be discovered.

For now, I will share two of my favorite resources.

Blogs

My original Techintersect blog includes some of my favorite writings on teaching. I changed to this new Billgx.com Techintersect blog and while it hasn’t had as much love and attention yet, I hope to change that in the coming year.

You don’t need to have a blog to benefit from the blogging phenomenon. You can just visit the blogs of other blogging teachers and begin the conversation there through the comments.

Social Media

I follow a number of educators on social media that I admire. This is an important topic by itself, but to get started I recommend searching for people with similar interests on Twitter. Just go to search.twitter.com and enter terms you are interested in. Once you find someone who seems credible (lots of users, lots of interactions, great ideas) look at who they are following and follow those people as well. Building a PLN on social media is an ongoing process.

Another idea is to connect through social media with educators you already have met in person. For example, I follow a good number of people on Facebook whom I’ve met at the Wakonse Conference on College Teaching.

Well, that’s it for now. These two are great ways to get connected with amazing educators out there that can keep you busy with new ideas for your entire career.

Finally, a question for dear readers – Are any of you doing either of these things? How are you using electronic communications to stay in touch with other educators? Any tips or advice on things that work?

Kinetic Typography

I am working with Adobe After Effects in the motion graphics class. One of the popular uses of this software I’ve seen in putting type into motion – sometimes known as ‘kinetic typography.’ This week I’m looking at examples of this kind of work. I’m using this post to collect the examples so I can refer back to them. Maybe someone else can find them useful as well.

I found a post of 34 ‘Must See’ examples of kinetic typography, so I watched them all. I’m sharing some with comments below:

The Hush Sound – Lion’s Roar by Mig Reyes

We watched this one in class, and it is pretty flawless. The only thing I see that could improve it is doing the entire song. I seem to see a flickering effect, that simulates what you would sometimes see if you watched a movie through a film projector. I also like how things seem to zoom in and out. Everything is not on a 2-D plane, things appear to get closer and farther away as well.

Shine A Light by Bait

This one was amazing. One there are lots of textures and vibrant colors. I really like the simulated 3D effect. There is something like confetti floating around a rotating pyramid in the background. That would take a lot of work to create in AfterEffects. I wonder if some other form of 3D software was used instead?

You Are Not So Smart

This is a great book, and a great piece of kinetic typography. I really like how certain words are emphasized by using a different font or style of type. I also liked how words appear horizontally, but sometimes rotate for emphasis.

Bob


This one strikes me as more of an animation than what we would consider ‘kinetic typeography’ but I include it nevertheless.

Shop Vac

 

 
This one is really fun. Probably my favorite so far! We lead off on a simulated highway scene, with the text moving down the road in perspective. I’m blown away by the use of textures. Everything fits. For example, when the bathroom is mentioned, we see a fuzzy bathroom rug or towel background. I also liked how certain corporate logo motifs were used. The words appear, popping open like bubbles or something. Lots of graphics. Yes, this is my favorite so far.

Karloff

 

Conan

 

This one makes me seasick. And I’m an ex-sailor. Who never got seasick.

Make It Better

 

I like the sound effects in this one. I wonder if I can somehow use sound effects like this in the piece I am planning?

Back to the Future

 

I like this one mainly for its simplicity.

Wouldn’t it be Nice

 

This one uses a lot of cute graphical elements in the classic Beach Boys song.

Ira Glass – Storytelling

I liked Ira’s message more than the typography on this one. While I appreciate simplicity, this one was too simple. I don’t think the type really added anything to the message.

Ok, I think that is enough for now. Now I need to move on to thinking about my own piece I’m planning. More on that soon…

Like a Champion

KC Royals Win the Pennant
KC Royals Win the Pennant

In 1985, I missed the magical baseball season of the Kansas City Royals. I entered the US Navy in June of that year, graduating recruit training in September. There was no television watching in boot camp, even if your baseball team was heading for the World Series. By the time October rolled around, I was still getting my bearings as a new USN sailor in training. I didn’t watch a game that year.

It’s not like we watched a lot of baseball on television growing up anyway. I mostly enjoyed listening secretly to Royals games on my transistor radio after bedtime. I remember having a Royals poster on my wall, way back in the earlier days of the franchise. It had players like Cookie Rojas, Darrell Porter and of course George Brett.

For much of my life, I haven’t really followed Major League Baseball. But several years ago, probably because of a lack of anything good on TV to watch, my wife Wendy got us started watching the Royals games. Not too long after we began following the team, they acquired a pair of rookies called Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. You could tell by watching those two that this team was going to be something special.

Every year they played, they got better and the team got better. Last year they came close, oh so close, losing in the final game of the World Series to the San Francisco Giants. After an incredible season, the Royals will get another chance in the World Series this year. The thing that is most admirable about this team is that they never give up.

I think persistence is a character trait that is becoming less common. We live in a world of instant, easy access. At the click of a button, we can download digital items instantly. Even physical things can be delivered to our door overnight. Sometimes it seems as though we have lost our willingness to delay gratification and to stick to our goals for the long haul.

I know many times my students are inclined to give up when things get too tough. While it is always a temptation, it giving up isn’t how you accomplish great things. Most of the time, anything worth doing is going to take some time and some persistence. That’s why seeing the KC Royals returning to the World Series for the second year running is such a cool thing. It is like they have unfinished business to attend to from coming up short last year. Time will tell if they will be successful, or if they will have to keep on working.

Seeing those young men celebrate their victory last night after working so hard for so long reminded me of my own recent personal victory that I will share with you in another post. But I do wonder how often do we, as parents or teachers of young people, intentionally create achievable situations that can’t be finished without great effort and persistence for our kids?

I have a number of assignments that I give in classes that I teach that can’t be successfully completed in one sitting, such as a video term paper research project or even the pumpkin carving project we will be finishing up next week. These assignments have mile-marker achievements built in, so the students can know they are on track towards finishing a big project that they can look back on with satisfaction knowing they worked hard on something worthwhile.

Persistence is a good thing. It is a required ingredient of being successful. So what are we doing to encourage persistence for our youth in a world that tells us we shouldn’t ever have to wait or endure any obstacles to achieve our dreams?

Woman Without a Phone

This image from the Boston Globe is going viral because one woman in a crowd of onlookers is the only one actually watching and not recording the event.

Grandma No Phone
JOHN BLANDING/GLOBE STAFF

I do this all of the time. Sometimes I regret not having a picture because I only watched. But there are many more times that I did record an event with video or photographs that I don’t even recollect experiencing. I was recording, but I wasn’t there. This woman was there. And now I am there as well, when I choose to be.

This past weekend was a perfect example. I brought a camera along to Emily’s softball tournament. I took some (quite a few, actually) photos. But most of the time, I was watching the game, and not having a care in the world about whether or not I captured a perfect photo.  Because they played multiple games, I was able to both enjoy taking photographs, but also spend most of the time watching my daughter play ball. It was magnificent.

Be intentional people, not mindless in your use of technology. It is a better way to live.

PS – Here are some softball pics. Her team got 3rd place.

softball

Layer Tennis Part 2

A second layer tennis match happened while @DangerRanger11b and I were going at it on the other court.  This one was between @a_merrymary and @fenderbendr1994. @a_merrymary served this picture:

and @fenderbendr1994 returned with this:

then @a_merrymary quickly slammed this one back:

which was responded to with this:

Following a new line of thought was @a_merrymary

to which @fenderbendr1994 dinked this:

and @a_merrymary slammed home this surprise ending:

Well played, you two!

Layers Tennis Match 1

Yesterday, my students and I played a round of “layers” tennis. Originally conceived as “photoshop” tennis, the name was changed to acknowledge that software used to play the game extends beyond Adobe Photoshop, and also I’m sure to keep Adobe, Inc. content by not using one of its trademarked product names. I first heard about the concept from Jim Coudal of Coudal Partners when I heard him speaking about creativity, and he mentioned Layer Tennis being played by professional designers. I’ve always kept the idea around in the back of my mind, and yesterday was the day to bring it out.

My students are doing a digital storytelling course DS106, which incidentally is open to anyone who wants to join. I submitted the Layers Tennis assignment to the DS106 Assignment Bank, and we decided to play a match.

Since there are only three students in the Salina class, I decided to play so we could have two matches going on. Like a game of tennis, one player serves a photograph or image to the other player. Then, the receiving player modifies the image using graphics software like Photoshop, keeping some element(s) from the original. Then the new image is sent back to the first player for further modification. We used Twitter to send the images back and forth, so others could see the game too. In our version of the game, each player made three images each, for a total of six images in the game. Below you can see how our two matches progressed:

The first was myself (@billgx) vs @DangerRanger11b

I served this image I found on Flicker Creative Commons:

DangerRanger11b replied with:

For round two I sent back:

and received back this shot:

At which point, I nearly lost it. I don’t know how to compete with that, I thought. So I gave him a thumbs down.

Undaunted, he put my image on a TV screen with a family enjoying some popcorn:

At which point I became desperate. I didn’t know how to respond. Then I thought about what it might look like if they were looking out the window of a Star Wars ship or something. Then I remembered the asteroid field from the Millennium Falcon. Then I thought the chicken heads would make good asteroids. Then I thought they should be animated. Shoot, I can’t remember how to do animations in Photoshop. But I’ve been doing some After Effects, maybe I can do it in that. Yes, I can make a movie in AE, then import it back into PS to make an animated gif. And this is the result…

chickens

It was the end of a hard fought battle against a worthy opponent. Go to the next post to see the other match.