If you find yourself reaching for the mouse to do the same task over and over, it’s probably worth spending a few minutes to see if you can figure out a better way to get the same task done using the keyboard.
I recently started using TextEdit for all of my basic writing tasks. TextEdit is a great little app that comes bundled with OS X. But, one of the things that driving me nuts was having to take my hands off the keyboard, grab the mouse, and hit that tiny little menu in the top bar to insert a bulleted list. I use lists a lot, so this was becoming kind of a pain.
Luckily, OS X has a great way to add shortcuts to menu items that don’t otherwise have them. Go into System Preferences, select Keyboard, and then select Shortcuts. From here, you can set hot keys for a bunch of system functions, but if you click on App Shortcuts, you can define custom shortcuts for apps you use often.
I set ^. (that’s control-period) to insert a bulleted list in TextEdit and ^-1 to insert a ordered list. You can set the shortcuts to anything that pleases you. The trick here is that in the left column, you have to set to the name of the shortcut to the exact text of the menu. In the case of the ordered list, the shortcut didn’t work until I added two spaces between each number and used and ellipsis (option-;) at the end.
Now, I’ve got an easy way to add lists in my TextEdit documents. If you take a look at the screen shot above though, you can see I have a few others defined as well.
First, I’ve got a way to add a bulleted list in Mail. (I told you I use lists a lot.) Notice that I had to use the name of the menu item in Mail, which is different than the menu item in TextEdit.
I also have a shortcut for tagging documents in Finder. Again, this required the ellipsis at the end in order to work.
Rule 1. You can’t tell where a program is going to spend its time. Bottlenecks occur in surprising places, so don’t try to second guess and put in a speed hack until you’ve proven that’s where the bottleneck is.
Rule 2. Measure. Don’t tune for speed until you’ve measured, and even then don’t unless one part of the code overwhelms the rest.
Rule 3. Fancy algorithms are slow when n is small, and n is usually small. Fancy algorithms have big constants. Until you know that n is frequently going to be big, don’t get fancy. (Even if n does get big, use Rule 2 first.)
Rule 4. Fancy algorithms are buggier than simple ones, and they’re much harder to implement. Use simple algorithms as well as simple data structures.
Rule 5. Data dominates. If you’ve chosen the right data structures and organized things well, the algorithms will almost always be self-evident. Data structures, not algorithms, are central to programming.
I’ve always been interested in how to get stuff done. If you’re organized and working towards the things you think are important, you’re probably a happier person for it—and I prefer being happy over the alternatives. In addition, most of our jobs involves working with other people and no one likes to be the person who is constantly dropping the ball—and, trust me, no one likes that person either.
I’ve read pretty much every producitivity self-help book under sun, bought the corresponding expensive software, and tried to implement their “system.”
In my experience, they’re all worth it, but they’re also completely unnecessary. You can probably stay organized and on top of things with the notepad application on your phone and a sheet of copy paper in your back pocket.
Write down everything. In productivity circles, this is called “ubiquitous capture”. Basically, your brain is for thinking, not for storing information. The second something pops into your head, write it down, record a voice memo, sketch a heiroglyph—whatever works for you.
Have an inbox. Make sure you have a place for things that you need to deal with to go and hang out and until you get around to organizing them. Have as many inboxes as your need, but as few as you can get away with.
Keep a list of big amorphous projects. Keep a list of all the projects going on in your life. Look at it every so often to make sure one of your projects isn’t getting moldy in the back of your refrigerator. Some examples: “write the Great American Novel”, “buy a house”, and “finish loose ends on the Henderson account.” These are not things you can just sit down and do, but they are also things you don’t want to fall off your radar. It’s probably fair to split this into long-term and short-term projects for the sake of your self-esteem.
Keep a list of little doable tasks. This list is inspired by the point above. It’s the canonical to-do list we all know and love. It doesn’t matter how you organize this list. You can be as fancy as you’d like. Just make sure you’re not spending more time managing the things on your list than you are—you know—doing them.
Keep an even shorter list of tasks you intend to do today. List out your three most important tasks for the day. Do them. Three is more than enough; don’t try to be a hero.
Do the most odious, dreadful task first. Identify the thing you want to do the least and just get it out of the way. For me, this usually involves the telephone.
Eliminate. Cut down of the amount of stuff you have to manage.
Automate. Cut down of the amount of stuff you have to manage.
Everything should have a place. But, try not to have too many places. I don’t think there is anything wrong with having an “everything box” that you search occasionally when you need something. Evernote is fine, but I just use the file system in Mac OS X.
I actually prefer Google Spreadsheets over Excel. That said, I’m predominately using Excel for Mac OS X, which is horrible. Google Spreadsheets doesn’t have as many esoteric features, but it does have Google Apps Script, which lets you do all sorts of crazy stuff with the other Google Services.
Doctopus is one example of what you can do with Google Apps Script. According to it’s creator, Andrew Stillman, “It’s a way of automating document creation, revision and management, so as a teacher you can spend more time on instruction and less time on the cumbersome administrative tasks that make classrooms so inefficient.”
The Google Drive office apps are free and that’s definitely a big reason they’ve been widely adopted, but I don’t think that’s the only reason they’ve become some popular. Most people in offices and schools don’t pay for Microsoft Office.
Google Drive has incredible sharing functionality. Sure, Office has sharing, but it’s painful. I tried using Office’s sharing features in conjunction with SharePoint and it was unintuitive. In addition, Office’s version of sharing involves checking a document in and out. This means that if your colleague opens a document and then goes to lunch, you’re hosed. It’s a lot like using FileMaker in the late ’90s.
Google’s apps on the other hand offer collaboration. That’s their killer feature and I suspect that on a long enough timeline, it might be enough to chip away at Excel’s walls.
There was a good, brief discussion on Twitter tonight about Microsoft Office. Specifically, the fact that it’s 2014, so why the hell is anyone still using it?
To be clear, I know that a lot of people have to use it in their work environment. But that’s more because their office buys it for them and forces them to. It’s a strong method of lock-in that is seemingly still going strong after all these years.
The reality is that there are now more than enough solid-to-better alternatives for much of what Office offers. And some, like Google Docs and now even the Apple iWork suite, are free.1 And so it seems to me that increasingly, Office persists more out of habit (“I don’t know how to do this without Office”) and misguided fear (“what if I need Office for some reason?”) than necessity.
In an educational context, we might say that whatever makers hope will happen by buying 3-D printers, Arduinos, and Makey-Makeys will not happen just from buying these things. Whatever outcomes we hope for in our students—creativity, innovation, ownership of learning, design thinking, tinkering, the freedom to explore—will not happen because we bought these things. Technology isn’t magic; teachers are magic. Buying new technology is easy. Creating the cultural, policy and political contexts where innovative teaching can thrive is really hard.
Our results were not 100 percent determined by how hard or long we worked—there were also the conditions in which we worked. We had classes with 35-plus students. Some teachers didn’t have their own classrooms. We often didn’t have books. Our students faced every challenge imaginable. We needed smaller class sizes, money for books and materials, money to renovate the crumbling school building. We needed more professional development, more time to collaborate, more support staff. We needed our students to have safe communities, nice homes, and food on their tables. Our students’ parents needed jobs that paid a living wage. We needed the police to stop profiling and imprisoning the young men in our community. We needed the War on Drugs to come to an end. We needed all these problems addressed. Corporate reform of public schools, as Diane Ravitch has tirelessly pointed out, seeks to address exactly none of these problems.
I agree with the above, but I’m not so sure I agree with a point later on in her essay.
Instead of writing letters of recommendation for TFA, I encourage my students to apply to graduate programs in education.
I don’t know if racking up tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt before stepping foot in the classroom is the right approach either.
Harold Levy, former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education:
Schools buy stuff badly. This spells trouble for education technology. Schools will buy the wrong things, at bad prices and for the wrong students. The result: schools will implement edtech more slowly, results will improve minimally if at all, the wrong technology will prosper and money will be diverted from more effective goods and services. If we want to avoid this future, we need to fix the procurement process now before it’s too late.
Similar to Google’s new Web Designer tool, Apple has had something similar for close to a year now. Curiously, though, it’s called iAd Producer and you need a free developer account to even view the page on it.
The potential for cool sensors like iBeacons and the M7 motion processor make the prospect of developing for iOS exciting, but the unlikelihood of making money except using In-App Purchases and the fact that using In-App Purchases paints a big red target on your back, strongly dissuades me from wanting to invest the development time.
In this case, Steve Jobs demonstrated the rubber-banding technology at the launch of the iPhone in January of 2007 and Apple applied for the German patent on the technology after that date. As a result, Apple’s patent was dismissed because of its own prior art.
This is ridiculous for two reasons:
You should not be able to patent a rubber band effect.
Your own prior art should not invalidate the effect you patented just because you showed it off before you patented it.
Schools will now be able to assign apps to users wirelessly while keeping full ownership and control over the app licenses. It’s flexible, too: Apps can be revoked at will and reassigned to other students. (Apple’s new volume purchasing program also supports the purchase of Mac apps and books, so its impact stretches beyond iOS devices.)
I got out of the iPad management business a few months ago, but—if this works—it’s a total game changer and would have made my life an order of magnitude easier. As it stands, it’s probably just going to make my successor look incredibly competent, but that’s life.
Also, bundling Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iMovie, and iPhoto with each new iOS device is great for making it easy for students to create content on their devices. I wish Apple would make these apps available to schools who already purchased their iPads for this school year.
The emerging research communities in educational data mining and learning analytics are developing methods for mining and modeling the increasing amounts of fine-grained data becoming available about learners. In this class, you will learn about these methods, and their strengths and weaknesses for different applications. You will learn how to use each method to answer education research questions and to drive intervention and improvement in educational software and systems. Methods will be covered both at a theoretical level, and in terms of how to apply and execute them using standard software tools. Issues of validity and generalizability will also be covered, towards learning to establish how trustworthy and applicable the results of an analysis are.
This course seems pretty awesome. I might have to break my tradition of signing up for MOOCs and never actually completing them.
That’s ironic, because the point of iBeacons is to help you find things — or, rather, to help your iOS device to find itself. iBeacons is the general name for a set of additions to the Core Location framework that developers can use when designing apps: it isn’t a new piece of hardware, nor a new app, but a capability. Apps can use iBeacons to answer the question “Where am I?” not in terms of a location on a map, like GPS does, but in terms of where the device is relative to another device. Specifically, where it is relative to another device acting as an iBeacon.
Think of an iBeacon as a tiny radio you can put almost anywhere. When your iPhone or other iOS device gets within range (a few dozen feet or so), it detects the iBeacon and can estimate how far away it is. Each iBeacon has its own identifier, too, so if your iPhone is within range of more than one iBeacon, it can tell them apart.
It’s all of the cool sensors in iOS devices that is beginning to attract me to the platform. I think you can do some really cool stuff in the classroom with iBeacons.
[Kim] Bankston is frank: we need more talent, and the girls of this generation need to be a part of it. Showing them that information technology is a cool field—and one not to fear—is key, especially since technology figures significantly into just about every industry.
Jessica has decided not to return to TFA for a second year. She said she was so unsupported that she felt justified reneging on her two-year commitment. “Yes a commitment matters,” she wrote, “but staying isn’t necessarily helpful to your kids or anybody.” Jessica said that after she notified local TFA leadership of her decision, the reaction was severe. “They chewed out my character and made personal allegations,” she said. She was told, she recalls, that she would “personally have to deal with remorse and regret.”
How do we resolve this paradox that college is a sound financial investment, yet an increasing number of students find themselves unable to pay back their loans?
College may still be, on average, a worthwhile investment. But for American higher education, a ‘D’ is still a passing grade.
According to a chart included in the article entitled “Best and Worst Median Salaries Ranked By College Major”, one of the least lucrative investments is early childhood education—and that’s a shame.
When today’s K-12 students enter college and embark in their careers, they will most likely encounter a wide array of game-like elements, such as badge systems. In June, Blackboard Learn, a learning management system for higher education, announced a partnership with Mozilla to support digital badges. In the corporate world, badge systems are also used to increase employee productivity. Mozilla’s Open Badges Backpack serves as a virtual resume to display one’s mastered skills.
I want one of those Github merit badges in the photograph above the article.
A Japanese word meaning “continuous improvement,” kaizen is a main ingredient in Toyota’s business model and a key to its success, the company says. It is an effort to optimize flow and quality by constantly searching for ways to streamline and enhance performance. Put more simply, it is about thinking outside the box and making small changes to generate big results.
I know of another sector that could use healthy dose of kaizen.
That one new feature you added? That sparkly, Techcrunchable, awesome feature? What did it cost your user? If the result of your work consumes someone’s cognitive resources, they can’t use those resources for other things that truly, deeply matter. This is NOT about consuming their time and attention while they’re using your app. This is about draining their ability for logical thinking, problem-solving, and willpower after the clicking/swiping/gesturing is done.
I wonder if many schools have arbitrary policies in place that drain teachers cognitive resources and prevent them for doing great work.
When Arnecia Hawkins enrolled at Arizona State University last fall, she did not realize she was volunteering as a test subject in an experimental reinvention of American higher education. Yet here she was, near the end of her spring semester, learning math from a machine.
Yours truly was asked to speak at the press conference with New York City Department of Education’s Chancellor, Dennis Walcott.
Anika Anand writing for Gotham Schools:
“There’s a lot of tools that have come and gone over the last decade that it felt like they didn’t talk to a teacher,” said Steve Kinney, a middle and high school programming teacher from Scholars Academy in Rockaway Park who served as one of the judges in the competition.
“This is the first time where it’s very explicit that we’re involving teachers in the process and we’re looking for apps that get back to the core of why anyone became a teacher, things that allow them to leverage technology, to work faster and more efficiently so they can focus their time on creating great lessons,” Kinney said.
And so the president goes on television telling us that the big issue of our time is jobs, jobs, jobs — as if the reason to build high-speed rails and fix bridges is to put people back to work. But it seems to me there’s something backwards in that logic. I find myself wondering if we may be accepting a premise that deserves to be questioned.
The notion that you’re trying to control the process and prevent error screws things up. We all know the saying it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. And everyone knows that, but I Think there is a corollary: if everyone is trying to prevent error, it screws things up. It’s better to fix problems than to prevent them. And the natural tendency for managers is to try and prevent error and over plan things.
Just for fun: think about this as if you were the principal of a school.
What we’ve lost, above all, are stopping points, finish lines and boundaries. Technology has blurred them beyond recognition. Wherever we go, our work follows us, on our digital devices, ever insistent and intrusive. It’s like an itch we can’t resist scratching, even though scratching invariably makes it worse.
I always chuckle when people tell me they’re excellent multitaskers.
When we got language, we didn’t just learn how to listen, but how to speak. When we got text, we didn’t just learn how to read, but how to write. Now that we have computers, we’re learning how to use them — but not how to program them.
Technology isn’t going anywhere and it’s a little ridiculous that basic programming skills aren’t a mandatory part of the curriculum—even if we only covered the finer points of working with spreadsheets.
If as few as 20 percent of students finishing an online course is considered a wild success and 10 percent and lower is standard, then it would appear that MOOCs are still more of a hobby than a viable alternative to traditional classroom education.
I wonder, however, if the high drop-out rate for most MOOCs is due to the fact that most of them are free. It doesn’t cost anything to enroll so why not? Then, when life intervenes, there is no cost to drop out.
The problem, [Paul Tough, a journalist and former editor at the New York Times Magazine,] writes, is that academic success is believed to be a product of cognitive skills—the kind of intelligence that gets measured in IQ tests. This view has spawned a vibrant market for brain-building baby toys, and an education-reform movement that sweats over test scores. But new research from a spate of economists, psychologists, neuroscientists and educators has found that the skills that see a student through college and beyond have less to do with smarts than with more ordinary personality traits, like an ability to stay focused and control impulses.
Oddly, there was no author attribution on the page as of this writing. ↩
Last week, we moved back in to our school in Rockaway Beach. This is awesome for a number of reasons (my new commute not being one of them), but I am excited to get back to teaching mobile and web development. Over the next week, I will be putting together a number of Donors Choose campaigns to help us purchase a set of test devices so that students can touch and feel their apps.
The link above will help us get a latest generation iPad. We had about 80 or so iPads stolen during the cleanup process and 30 more destroyed by the flood. I am also putting together a campaign for a pair of Nexus 7 tablets, but the website ate my write-up.
Here is the important part:
Even better: our Board of Directors wants to kick start your project! For the next 7 days, when someone donates to your project and enters the code INSPIRE, we’ll match their donation dollar for dollar.
The Hurricane and the Little Boy Who Saved My Life
I grew up in and around New York City. We’ve had hurricanes in the past. As a child, a tropical weather system meant an amusing evening of watching my father set up pumps in our basement while I spent the evening gawking at the inch or so of water that managed to make it past him despite his best efforts. Our floors were tile and clean-up involved a mop and some towels, at the most.
A little over a year ago, Hurricane Irene made her way toward the City of New York. At the time, we lived in a basement apartment. Despite that, we didn’t think much of the approaching storm. Not wanting to risk dehydration, we purchased a gallon of Poland Spring, a bottle of wine, and some beer. We lit some candles and enjoyed each other’s company. The water survived; the beer and wine did not.
On a Friday afternoon, my principal made an announcement asking us to please make sure that all of our windows were closed securely as there supposed to be a hurricane over the weekend. I obliged and headed home. This was the first I had heard it. Wasn’t a bit late in the season for a hurricane? Sandy? That’s a bit late in the alphabet, don’t you think?
If this was a year ago, we would have stayed put. I would have pulled out the ceremonial mop and towels and headed out to the beach to admire the waves before it started to rain. But, something was different this time around. Six weeks ago, we had a son. Since my son was born, I had been working three jobs and—even when I had a little bit of time off—was burnt out and distant. My wife was discovering the fact that motherhood is truly a full-time job and that her boss was incredibly demanding. At the very least, we would have a little of time to reconnect as a couple if the power went out.
We moved out to Rockaway to start a family. It was both affordable and safe—a rare combination for New York City. My wife had grown up by the ocean and wanted to give our son the same access. We spent our days and nights planning out our future lives together on this beautiful peninsula.
But, as first-time parents, paranoia and anxiety is part of daily life. We decided to heed the warnings. Logan and Wes went off to her mother’s place in Central Jersey and I stayed behind. Climbing into her aunt’s car with an obese cat, a dog with separation anxiety, and a newborn wasn’t her idea of the quiet weekend we had planned. She dropped and smashed her new iPhone in the process and was beginning to resent me for potentially overreacting and shipping her off to New Jersey. Given the information at the time, she was right. No one we knew was leaving and everyone else was treating this like business as usual.
At the last minute before public transportation shut down, I decided that I missed the two of them. Leaving Rockaway was not an easy decision. I battled with the choice for the duration of the trip and almost turned back on several occasions. If a little bit of water creeped in under my poorly-installed door and I was there to mop it up, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But, if I let it sit there for a few days, it might wreck my floor. What about looters? An evacuated neighborhood is a gold mine for someone with questionable ethics and a crowbar. At the time, leaving Rockaway could have been a potentially bad decision for my family.
Gauntlet: dropped. I work for the largest school district in the United States of America. I would love to see a sea change in organizational culture where things like this happen. Imagine the potential of 80,000 teachers hacking away at education.
A decade ago, an economist at Harvard, Ronald Ferguson, wondered what would happen if teachers were evaluated by the people who see them every day—their students. The idea—as simple as it sounds, and as familiar as it is on college campuses—was revolutionary. And the results seemed to be, too: remarkable consistency from grade to grade, and across racial divides. Even among kindergarten students. A growing number of school systems are administering the surveys—and might be able to overcome teacher resistance in order to link results to salaries and promotions.
I actually like this idea—although, I can definitely see the counterarguments. Opponents can—correctly—argue that teachers will spend more time trying to be popular than effective. I’m sure it would be a bureaucratic mess to implement and the unions would never buy in.
In my experience, however, students tend to be fair in their judgement of their teachers. Charismatic, but ineffective, teachers fall from grace quickly. A hard, over-demanding teacher can end up being one of the most widely respected teachers in the building.
While I do wish education was more of a meritocracy—I have a family to feed these days—it’s not a potential link to salaries and promotions that interests me. At the end of the day, your students are your customers and it’s worth getting an honest opinion of their assessment of your teaching—even if that assessment is a sobering one.
I think I might integrate some kind of evaluation system for myself in the near future. I’ll report back on how that works out.
Our school has 10 iPads, and we are thinking of starting to use configurator. All the iPads are in griffin defender cases, and we are thinking of buying a bretford syncing tray, but don't think the ipads will fit in their cases. How do you connect multiple ipads at once? We're going to buy either a macbook pro 13" of a 13" air to run configurator on.
I used a cheap 10-port USB hub for a while that cost me around $12. These days, I have a syncing cart that holds up to 32 iPads that costed significantly more. I can’t say that the cart is much better than the USB hub was.
Just make sure that the hub is powered—or you won’t be able to connect more than one or two iPads. Also, I don’t know if your iPads will fit with their cases on, but you should consider getting a dish drying rack to hold them while you are syncing them.