Category Archives: Uncategorized

Social Media and our Relationships

Last summer, my mother died from an aggressive type of brain cancer. When I think back on what happened, I definitely see how digital/social media weighed in to our family’s journey through her illness and passing. My siblings used text messaging and Facebook to stay in regular contact, and to plan our visits to her while she was receiving treatments out of state. Extended relatives and friends contacted us through social media to hear about her status. My mother sometimes used Facebook during her illness, and it was sometimes evident how her cognitive functions were declining, even on social media.

This and other experiences have made me reflect on how social media weighs in to someone’s passing. I’ve actually been thinking about this for a long time. I think the first time this issue of social media and life’s end came to my attention was in news reports of a soldier being killed overseas in combat and his wife learned about it first through social media instead of the usual formal notification from the military. Someone in the know couldn’t wait for the formal notification, and broke the news themselves.

Then the same sort of thing happened to me. A while ago, I learned that my uncle had died on Facebook before anyone in my family could formally notify me. A well meaning friend offered condolences to my aunt before the family had a chance to notify everyone, and I saw it. A few hours later, my father called with the news.

My wife was also profoundly affected when her dear friend suddenly passed away. The surviving spouse without warning took down my wife’s friends Facebook page, and along with it all of the photos and memories that the two friends had shared there. Fortunately, a year or so later, the spouse reopened her memorialized page so those who had been locked out could have a chance to visit whenever they like. But the shock of being suddenly locked out was a hard surprise to take at the time.

Of course, death isn’t the only time that social media comes into play in our relationships. There are wonderful positive experiences worth mentioning too. Reconnecting with long lost classmates, friends, and former co-workers makes social media a powerful tool to have. People use social sites to find new love, even finding a mate online is a popular thing to do.

But again, the dark side of social media can show up in these uses as well. Perhaps there is a reason you haven’t connected with your classmate these past decades, and social media is reminding you of why. Maybe you used an online tool to find a new love interest, only to have that tool used against you for the break up. Or worse still, it seems that ghosting is a thing in the 21st century, where there isn’t even a breakup, just a disappearance, never to hear from that person again. This ghosting happens in love and in work. People take a job offer, then quit coming, or don’t even show up for the first day.

How have our relationships with others been affected by social media? If you think about it, everyone using social media has personal experience with this. It seems to be here to stay, so we need to think through the best way to approach things.

Personally, I try to keep in mind that there is a real flesh-and-blood person on the other end of that online connection. I often ask my students if our online self should be viewed as an extension of our self. I think perhaps it should be, as the hurts we feel online are just as real as hurts that happen in the face to face world. But, as Sherry Turkle points out, our online connections are missing part of the feedback loop of the face to face world. Digital communication is tone deaf, and if we do something hurtful, either intentionally or unintentionally, we can totally miss it.

Whenever possible, if it is a difficult conversation, I recommend having a face to face conversation about it. It is harder to miss the  verbal cues and body language of the other person if we are in the same room together talking. I think we are getting into habits of mediating our difficult conversations though, and I’m just as guilty as anyone. I think I’ll just send this difficult news as an e-mail instead of telephoning or going to see them in person. We have to be aware that this is setting up a situation for missed feedback and ever harder feelings than what might be had we used a non-digital conversation.

You can’t ever go wrong with the golden rule that says to treat others as we would wish to be treated. If we always keep that one in mind, things will almost certainly go better than if we just fire off because we are angry and it made us feel better in the moment. The work of living a digital life well lived is difficult, but worth it, I think.

Questioning Twitter

This week, I’ve introduced the five key questions of media literacy to our online #digme406 class and asked them to use these questions to think about the Social Media platforms they use. The five key questions of media literacy are:

  1. Who created this message?
  2. What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
  3. How might different people understand this message differently from me?
  4. What lifestyles, values and points of view are represented in; or omitted from, this message?
  5. Why is this message being sent?

I think these questions apply not only to “media messages”, but media platforms as well. The software applications that we use are also constructed and contain biases of the creator, just as any other form of media.

For an example, I will work through an analysis of Twitter here.

  1. Who created Twitter? 
    • The founders of Twitter are Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone,  and Evan Williams. There is controversy surrounding the founding of Twitter (Carlson, 2011). From what I can tell, Jack Dorsey was the engineer who thought of the concept and Noah Glass was its champion at the original parent company Odeo. Some say that CEO Evan Williams snookered the Odeo investors by convincing them that Twitter was heading nowhere and buying back their shares from them. The stock has since increased in value over 1,000 times.
  2. What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
    • Twitter’s original appeal was that it was compatible with phone SMS or text messaging. It was succinct, limited to 140 characters. Many people found this brevity invigorating. Get to the point! Do it with style! As with most social media applications, if you have an app installed on your phone, it will alert you when someone sends you a message or something else interesting is happening. Simplicity rules the day here.
  3. How might different people understand this message differently from me?
    • Twitter has been an invaluable tool to me over the years. While others were sharing photos of their lunches, some of my best Internet friends and I  held Twitter “chats” discussing a variety of topics related to teaching and learning. I have built a world-wide network of contacts who share my interest in improving the experience of school for students. Some people think it is mainly for fun, and I use it that way too. I also see it as a way to connect with people who know more about things I would like to learn about. I think it can be used to build a professional learning network. Some people see it as a tool for spreading propaganda and hate. Some people see it as a good way to be attacked by online trolls, or to mess up and lose your job, so to them it is dangerous territory. It is actually all of these things. But driving on highways in cars is also dangerous, but it gets us where we need to go. I see Twitter like that as well. Learn how to do it effectively and safely.
  4. What lifestyles, values and points of view are represented in; or omitted from, this message?
    • Let’s begin with the omitted points of view. I think a big POV (point of view) omitted from any social media platform is the POV that rejects the need for always-on communication. I don’t personally carry a smart phone. I use technology enough as it is, to not need to carry a mobile computer in my pocket sending me constant alerts. I want downtime to recuperate from the fast paced digital life. This habit and attitude runs contrary to the end goal of social media; the goal of gaining my attention. These technologies are purposely built to entertain and engage us, to distract us away from other things we might spend our time on.
    • A represented point of view is one that recognizes the human need for connection, and this technology meets this need. It also acknowledges the fast-paced, busy lives we lead. It expects that most users of Twitter will be mobile users.
  5. Why is this message being sent?
    • The ultimate purpose of building a service like Twitter is for it to earn a profit. This profit comes from advertisers who pay to access the millions of people who give their eyeballs and attention to the Twitter application. (The way that attention is gained is described back in question #2.)
    • Another purpose that a service like Twitter is created is to enhance and improve the lives of its users. I think many designers and engineers do what they do with this aim in mind. However, sometimes I think the first goal, earning a profit, sometimes directly competes with the second goal of improving lives.

 

References

Carlson, N. (2011). Real History of Twitter. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/how-twitter-was-founded-2011-4

 

Definition of Social Media

This week in my #digme406 class, we are exploring definitions of Social Media. According to Kaplan & Haenlein (2009) Social Media is

“… a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content.”

In other words, it is a digital media form that simplifies online publishing for average users. Web 2.0 as opposed to the original World Wide Web (version 1.0) does not require particularly extensive technology skills. To publish commentary on a web page in Web 1.0, you needed to know HTML and you needed to obtain hosting, among other things. To publish commentary in a Web 2.0 environment, you need to be able to sign up for an account on a service that simplifies everything.

Myspace and Facebook were created around the same time in the early 2000’s. Facebook won out, largely due to its simplified and uniform interface. Both services were free, but Myspace was highly customizable and more akin to Web 1.0. Facebook was easy to use for everyone, so it won out and became the giant social media service it is today.

Other social media platforms have since come along , challenging Facebook directly, or carving out a special niche of their own. There has long been a trend in the technology world for big, successful organizations to gobble up and integrate smaller competitors. For example Facebook now owns Instagram and Microsoft owns Skype, along with a couple of hundred others.

For everything there is a season, and Social Media orgs are no different. Young people have moved away from Facebook and into greener pastures, although plenty still are using it. Time will tell which technologies will be around for the long haul and which will go the way of the dodo. But one thing is certain—it is hard to beat technologies that are simple and easy to use.

Reference
Kaplan, A.M. & Haenlein, M. (2009). Users of the world unite! The challenges and opportunities of social media. Business Horizons, 53(1). Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bushor.2009.09.003

Coding Success in C#

I’ve been working on a web application for an agri-technology company here in Kansas. I’ve been away from web application development for a long time, and this project has been built using .NET. I’ve never made a web application in .NET.

I’ve made some desktop applications in C# using .NET and Visual Studio, which made me think I could assist with this project. But, I’ve never dove into an existing project like this and tried to make useful modifications to it. So this is another first for me.

Today I built a piece of code that I think will be useful for solving one of the problems on my to-do list. It is a console app that reads a specialized JSON file, a GeoJSON actually, and converts it to a CSV file. When I started looking at solving this issue, I thought it would be a matter of reading a JSON text file, parsing it, and re-writing it out in the new CSV format. Well, it’s a lot more complicated than it sounds.

I wound up using a couple of data structures in C# I was familiar with, a List and a DataTable. I suspect if I was smarter, or found the right example, I might have been able to do it with only one of these. But alas, I have been hacking away at this issue for some time now. Anyway, for now it goes from .GeoJSON -> List -> DataTable -> CSV. I thought I could go directly to the DataTable, but because GeoJSON is JSON data within JSON, my attempt to skip the List caused a problem.

It’s a lot of shuffling of data, not very elegant, but it works. Now I’m going to see if I can optimize things a bit, and integrate it into the bigger application.

Teachers As Learners

I think one of my frustrations as a student was with teachers who’ve forgotten what it is like to be a novice learning something new. I have to wonder how many teachers ever intentionally put themselves in the learner seat?

I’ve long felt that it is important to do this regularly so I never forget what it is like to be a student learning something new for the first time. One of the things I like about where I work, K-State Polytechnic, is that we value and emphasize industry experience with our faculty. Everyone who teaches in a technology field here has some industry experience to bring to bear in the classroom.

I think far too many teachers have spent their entire lives in school, never having experienced other contexts for working and learning. That doesn’t fly in computing. You wind up obsolete in a hurry if you aren’t always learning something new. This summer I am learning about ASP.NET. A few years ago I had the opportunity to do some applications programming using MS Visual Studio and .NET framework, but didn’t do anything significant with the web side of things.

I recently took on a new consulting work project that involves updating an existing web application. Let me tell you, this is some of the most challenging learning I’ve ever done. Trying to understand the logic of software that someone else has built well enough that you can make useful changes to it is tricky and takes a lot of time. I’ve spent over a month just trying to get the source code I was supplied to compile and run.

I was finally able to get that to happen this week! At long last, I have a system that runs locally and I can tinker with it without disturbing the actual production system that this business relies on for its livelihood. Wouldn’t you know it—less than a day after I got things working for the first time, I started getting compile errors again. It made no sense. All I had been doing was looking through source code. I hadn’t changed or saved anything (or so I thought).

It took several hours, but finally this evening I figured out how to make the error go away and I am back in business again

I suppose one thing that I’m learning in all of this is basic humility. Computers tend to keep you humble if you work long enough with them. They are constantly changing and evolving. And they aren’t very smart. One small accidental change can upset your whole program.

But over time, you start trusting in your ability to solve problems and to persist through adversity. I suppose if there is one skill I would like to model for my students it is that—you can do it if you stick to it and don’t give up.

If there is one piece of advice I can give other teachers is to regularly put yourself out of your comfort zone and take on some challenging learning. That will help build empathy with your students who don’t seem to be learning quickly enough, or working hard enough or really anything that isn’t working out as planned. Learning is tough business and it is hard to remember that when you are always teaching something that you’ve learned long ago.

 

Industry Experience Helps in the Classroom

One thing that I think is really important about the school where I work, K-State Polytechnic, is the fact that we value industry experience for the faculty. In fact, having industry experience is often one of the required criteria when hiring a new faculty member.

I think sometimes teachers have forgotten what it is like to be a student or a non-expert. I also think that some teachers have no real experience outside of an academic environment. They’ve spent their whole lives in school, either as a student or later as a teacher.

Industry experience is one way that we at K-State Polytechnic address both of these concerns. Before you can teach in one of our specialty areas like computing or aviation, you have to have had some work experience in the field of that particular area. You are also encouraged and expected to keep that knowledge fresh, which puts you squarely in the world of the lifelong learner.

Before I worked as a college professor, before I even went to college, I worked as a professional in the field of computing. I joined the US Navy right after high school where I was trained to repair and operate the automated computer systems that control the weapons of my country’s fighting warships. I had two years of computer and electronics training followed by four years of sea service in the fleet.

After getting out of the Navy, I returned home to Kansas where I found a job working as a graphic designer in a screen printing shop. I was able to secure that position, because my ship was one of the first in the fleet to install an “off-the-shelf” civilian local area network of PCs and Macintosh computers. At that time, there was no Navy specialty training for office information technology, so anyone with an interest in building and supporting a computer network could assist with that effort, so I did. There I learned about computer networking and about making computer graphics, two skills I still use today as a professor.

I had no knowledge of screenprinting when I took that job, but was able to demonstrate in my interview that I was very comfortable using a computer and its graphics programs. So I worked for several years making designs for what was essentially an advertising specialty company that made custom imprinted apparel. I created the artwork and prepared the screens for printing but other workers did the garment printing. I did a little bit of the printing early on so I would understand the process, but really I didn’t actually print enough to develop real expertise. But I learned the basics and have always kept it back of my mind.

We did a final project in one of my digital media courses with screen printing. In a future post, I will outline the process we used.

Exposing the image on the screen emulsion  Flooding the screen with ink

 

 

 

 

Early Childhood Education

This The Atlantic post about the New PreSchool Education has me rehashing some old concerns. I remember when I was worried about how much “seat time” Kindergarteners were expected to complete when my own kids were that age. Now it seems it is being pushed into Pre-K. It’s lunacy. It is time for parents to push back. It doesn’t work. Of course I want kids to be learning in school, but let’s balance academics with just experiencing and learning about the world. Let kids romp and play. Play is so important to a child’s development, but it is hardly even encouraged at school anymore. I think that’s sad.

My Most Recent Facebook Fail

 

Some Playboy Playmate

My annoyance with Facebook continues to grow. Quite a few years ago people were getting frustrated with the fact that Facebook loosened default privacy settings without warning. This was well documented by Matt McKeon’s Evolution of Facebook Privacy graphic back in 2010. It showed how restrictions were relaxed between 2005 and 2010, without any notice to user. Facebook regularly changes its terms of service, and users opt in by continuing to use the service. Many people started leaving the service even back then, but most people stayed, and even more people joined.

I understood even back then that Facebook’s true customers are the companies that purchase data sets and advertising, not the end users who utilize the platform to communicate with each other. This is a simple part of media literacy.

Anyway, I recently received a friend request from the beautiful woman in the picture above. When this happens and I don’t happen to know the beautiful woman, I always am skeptical. So before I clicked the “heck yeah!” button, I did an image search on Google with her profile image. Did you know you can do that? Just go to https://images.google.com and upload an image you want Google to search for. Anyway, I did with this image above and found thousands of copies of this image. It didn’t take me long to learn the actual woman pictured is a former Playboy model.

The name didn’t match the name on the profile of the friend request. Instead of simply ignoring the request like I normally do, I reported it to Facebook as a spam account. A few days later I received a reply that my report couldn’t be verified!

Umm, Facebook. I took the time to look into it for you. I told you what the problem was. You ignored me. I am very weary of your tone-deaf attitude on privacy and security. Even when your long-time members are doing the work you should be doing, you shoot it down!

Now you are spending millions of dollars on television advertisements telling us how you are getting it right? Lame.

Facebook, I use you. But I no longer love you, and that’s not likely to ever change. I’d love to replace you, but so far I haven’t found the thing that can take your place. Give me time.

 

Ready Player One – Movie Review

The Stacks
The Stacks

This weekend my son, his friend and I went to see Ready Player One. Now my son and I have been anticipating this movie ever since they announced the book would be made into a movie. I first read the book as a part of the K-State Book Network (KSBN) common read program, in which a book is selected by committee and read university wide by incoming freshmen. Ready Player One was the book chosen for 2013, and our campus where I work in Salina had a lot of activities related to the book. So I passed it on to my son who read it around age 12 and he loved it. The book does contain some harsh language and themes, so parents looking for a book for kids to read be advised about that.

However, the movie felt like it cleaned a lot of that up as compared to the book. It is still PG-13, and there are a few questionable moments for really small kids, but nothing more than in any other Steven Spielberg show you might have seen.

The Clan
The Clan

We’ve been anxiously waiting for this movie to come out, and we finally got to go see it last weekend. One thing to consider when you are a fan of a given book and heading to see a film based on a book is that books and films are two different forms of media. Both forms have strengths and shortcomings, so it is unfair to directly compare the two. My friend, K-State Librarian and KSBN guru Tara Coleman says:

I think you have to judge movie adaptations of books on a different scale. - Tara Coleman

So I kept an open mind at the film, and tried to see it without nit-picking too much that this detail or that was left out of the picture. I think it helps when you approach it using that mindset.

I do think it is fair to expect the film to keep with the spirit of the book and not change the overall story in that light. The main ideas need to be preserved, and I think that the Ready Player One film succeeds in this regard. Also, I appreciate that some large plot details were changed, in that it allowed me to see a new story unfold without knowing exactly what to expect next. I won’t spoil the film for you in disclosing any of them here, other than to let you know that you can expect a few surprises that are fulfilling and enjoyable. I found myself laughing out loud at some of them, and at the end I wanted to cheer and applaud. I wonder if attendees at larger screenings that actually happened?

I’m not a film critic, and I don’t get really hung up on details that the pros might. I just expect to be entertained with a good story when I see a movie. I am so tired of attending films that have weak stories, I am to the point where I’m very skeptical and very choosy about what I will pay money to go see or not see.

I came away from this one feeling satisfied, even rewarded. The thing moves along nicely. Typically, in many if not most films I can sense when I’m getting bored and things aren’t moving along as quickly as they should. Often times it is because they are showing me details that I really don’t care that much about. (I’m looking at you War for the Planet of the Apes and The Last Jedi ). If I notice myself getting bored and feeling the “willing suspension of disbelief” dissipating, there’s a good chance I won’t feel good about recommending the show to my friends. That was never really the case with Ready Player One.

Some of the battle scenes, some of the CGI stuff I felt were a bit overdone. But I feel that way about a lot of the comic book based movies that are being made. In fact, the trailers that I saw before seeing the movie all felt that way, so I was a little leery going in. But I’m willing to forgive a bit of that so long as the story is reasonably good, and in this case it was.

Wade & Halliday
Wade & Halliday

Overall, it was a good story, reasonably faithful to the spirit of the book, presented some new ideas and surprises, and I walked out of it feeling satisfied. I give it two thumbs up. It is one movie of a very small list that I might actually consider watching again.

Tin Can Titans Audio Book

Book cover of Tin Can Titans

I resubscribed to Audible audio book service and have been listening to books during my hour long commute to and from work. Last week I finished Tin Can Titans by John Wukovits.

The book captured my imagination immediately by introducing the scene of American ships entering into Tokyo Bay just before the Japanese surrender in WWII. I spent two years aboard the US Navy destroyer USS Cochrane (DDG-21), that was forward deployed at the Yokosuka naval base in Tokyo Bay. The hills around that  base and city were pockmarked with tunnels and caves that had been dug during WWII and sealed up after the war. After that hitch, I spent two more years aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63) so I’ve always been a Pacific fleet guy and interested in things that happened there in WWII. Here is part of the book’s opening:

Admiral William F. Halsey had not been this satisfied since before the war. As he looked across the waters of Tokyo Bay on August 29, 1945, from the bridge of his flagship, the USS Missouri–the battleship nicknamed “Mighty Mo”–a conglomeration of battleships and cruisers steamed behind in a long line stretching to the horizon…

Halsey might justifiably place his Missouri in the first spot, giving his battleship the honor of taking the victorious United States into Tokyo Bay as conquering heroes come to lay claim on a defeated foe. He instead handed that honor to a trio of destroyers, O’Bannon (DD-450), Nicholas (DD-449), and Taylor (DD-468), smaller vessels dwarfed in size by “Mighty Mo,” which followed them in line.

I could tell this would be my kind of book. Destroyers and Mighty Mo. I smiled at the thought. This introduction had three things I knew, destroyers, Tokyo Bay, and the battleship Missouri. Here is a photo of me recently shared on social media by a shipmate on the USS Missouri (BB-63)

Genereux at quarters
Genereux at morning quarters on the Mighty Mo. Photo credit – Zane Watts

I frequently wondered about the war and the history of what happened. As I walked around the Yokosuka base and the decks of the Missouri, it was hard not to wonder about all of the history that had happened right there where I stood.

I read a couple of history books back then, but little about the role of destroyers in winning WWII. One book I do remember reading back then was called Retaking the Philippinesso I was familiar with MacArthur’s campaign in that country. I spent a lot of time time at Subic Bay and used that book to learn more about the last stand at Corregidor and the Bataan Death March, as well as MacArthur’s return to Leyte Gulf.

Tin Can Titans was especially fascinating to me given the places I have seen and been. Of course I had heard of Guadalcanal, but never had full appreciation of the importance of winning there. According to Tin Can Titans, Guadalcanal was the key to turning the tide of the war. Lose Guadalcanal and chances were good that the entire Pacific could be lost, including Australia. Destroyers played a vital role in securing that victory.

As a tin can sailor myself, I understood the role of these ships as one of expendibility. We were there to be on the front lines, to run picket keeping the enemy far from more important assets like carriers and such. On a tin can, you can hear the ocean sloshing against the hull right where you sleep.  More than once, I imagined how little it would take for something to come right through that bulkhead and have ocean come pouring in on us as we slept.

The Tin Can Titans book does a nice job of explaining what it was like for the destroyer men of WWII. They spent many long hours in battle. Sometimes having no rest from the previous engagement before the fighting resumed. It wasn’t overly difficult to sink these ships. Some were struck by gunfire or devastated by kamikazes.

I was moved by the fact that the Fletcher-class destroyers lead the way into Tokyo bay at the conclusion of the war. I think Halsey made a right choice in doing that. Many of these ships had been heavily damaged or sunk, and they all were the work horses of the fleet, taking it on the chin to protect the bigger “more valuable” capital ships.

If you enjoy WWII history, particularly Pacific war history or naval history, you will really enjoy Tin Can Titans.