Thursday, May 31, 2007

The future of computing

Lots of new toys are going to be hitting the market soon; thanks to, here are several that have crossed my path recently:

  • Palm 's Foleo: So according to the video at this link, this is supposed to be a device that you use with your PDA when the small screen and lack of keyboard are an issue. If that's the case, then why on earth would I buy a PDA to begin with? Just slap all the abilities of the PDA in the Foleo and be done. Now, instead of carrying my laptop, my cell phone, and my PDA I'm carrying four things?? I don't think so.

  • Microsoft Surface: This is interesting. First of all, it seems to be one of the first times that Microsoft has gotten into computer hardware beyond keyboards, mouses, etc. (Don't quote me on that.) And they are using a paradigm that was developed and video released several months ago (alas, cannot find that link, darn it). But there are issues with this: (a) it's so incredibly bad ergonomically speaking to be looking down at a computer like that; (b) no keyboard is shown, so I'm guessing you use a virtual keyboard, which takes some getting used to; and I'm sure there are many more such problems.

I think the paradigm shown on the Microsoft Surface (yes, think Minority Report) is great for people who aren't computer geeks. It's a really nice interactive way to work with concepts, but the horizontal surface makes it more limiting to me. Now, it is reminiscent of the way people would look over photos at a coffee table, so I can see it hearkening back to an earlier time. The interaction with cell phones and credit cards is nice but no credit card can do that now.

The Foleo is just stupid. I can't see a use for it at all. I simply can't. If it's too small to see on your PDA, then just look at it on your laptop. End of story. If taking a laptop around is too difficult, then the Foleo will still be too big.

Give me the Surface, but put it in my kitchen and let me use it for recipes, directions, etc. I start my day in my kitchen. Don't ever hand me a Foleo.

Icky poo

Yes, it's official. Cooties exist:

This may be the first study, though, that reveals an evolutionary basis to shopping preferences. Low-threshold revulsion makes sense, protecting our ancestors from eating rotten or poisonous food or touching animals that had died of infectious disease. The face of disgust--with the nose wrinkled and the eyes squinted as if against some pungent smell, and the tongue often protruding as if spitting something out--tells you a lot. "It was probably," says Fitzsimons, "a pretty good proxy for the germ theory of disease before anyone knew germs existed."


Strong preferences were just what the subjects exhibited. Any food that touched something perceived to be disgusting became immediately less desirable itself, though all of the products were in their original wrapping. The appeal of the food fell even if the two products were merely close together; an inch seemed to be the critical distance.

Notice that the first response regarding this research is to immediately link it to evolution, but not in a way that actually explains why this emotional response developed.

The author talks briefly about the germ theory, as noted in this quote, but the actual thing being tested here is the emotional response to objects.

If we were truly rational creatures, then the proximity of objects to each other would truly make no difference at all. We would acknowledge the wrapping around the foods and realize that no contamination was possible.

But we are not always rational creatures. I would find it to be a better study to develop this into discerning why we are not more rational in our approach to objects. But the focus is instead turned to marketing and improving the chances of redirecting the almighty dollar to one company's product instead of the competitor's.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

To post or not to post

I didn't post for a few days (well, closer to three weeks) because (a) I was extraordinarily busy, (b) I had to do a lot of extra stuff at work, and (c) I had the audacity to take a vacation. Pray forgive me. I hope to start posting again on a regular basis starting this weekend.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

What technology can and cannot do

The New York Times (hat tip: SlashDot) noted that some schools are not going to continue to give laptops to students. Says the Times:

Many of these districts had sought to prepare their students for a technology-driven world and close the so-called digital divide between students who had computers at home and those who did not.

“After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement — none,” said Mark Lawson, the school board president here in Liverpool....

Yet school officials here and in several other places said laptops had been abused by students, did not fit into lesson plans, and showed little, if any, measurable effect on grades and test scores at a time of increased pressure to meet state standards. Districts have dropped laptop programs after resistance from teachers, logistical and technical problems, and escalating maintenance costs.

There is no way that laptops or any technology is going to magically solve the problems in education today--or the problems in the workplace, the home, the church, or in politics.

We seem to think that technology can do all sorts of wonderful things, and it can--when someone designs the technology to do that. The downfall of the program here in Liverpool is that the lesson plans were not updated to reflect the use of technology. Just sitting a student in front of computer without instruction or a plan leads to the disaster shown above. But the same thing happens at work, at church, and at home: dropping a computer in the environment without having a plan for training the people to use it and having a plan for what software to use is a recipe for disaster.

And just installing software to block pornography wasn't enough:

Soon, a room that used to be for the yearbook club became an on-site repair shop for the 80 to 100 machines that broke each month, with a “Laptop Help Desk” sign taped to the door. The school also repeatedly upgraded its online security to block access to sites for pornography, games and instant messaging — which some students said they had used to cheat on tests.

No plan had been put in place to support the technology. It was, in short, a disaster waiting to happen.

The sad part of this is that computers can and should be used in school, but they shouldn't be included in every class. They are tools that have more ability than a typewriter, so just teaching a keyboarding class is not enough. But it's up to each school district to decide what skills students need to have in order to succeed.

In churches and businesses, the focus should be on answering this question: What can the computer help us do to make our focus easier, better, or faster? Some businesses frankly cannot benefit from a computer, or if they do it is simply as a type of high-expense frosting.

Technology cannot replace face-to-face communication (although videoconferencing software can facilitate it). Technology cannot replace teachers (although you can share a teacher via online courses). We know this. So why do we continue to make these assumptions that we can simply drop money on a problem, throw a computer at it, and fix it?

Frankly, I think it's a desire by people to feel like they're doing something. They want to use up their budget money so they won't lose funds next year. They want to look like they are solving problems--without expending the brain power to come up with a complete solution.