Forget Lighters. Bring Your Cellphones.

March 5, 2009

Cellphones have traditionally been the bane of concert halls and other performance venues. But the researchers at Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics are challenging that taboo, at least for the performers on the stage.

Ge Wang, an assistant professor of music who previously founded a laptop orchestra at the center, has now organized a Mobile Phone Orchestra (MoPhO) that takes advantage of the iPhone’s multiple built-in technologies to create a powerful performance device.

The idea of the cellphone as a performance device isn’t entirely new: Gil Weinberg and computer programmers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed software that allows cellphone users to create music using a preset group of instruments and determine rhythms and pitches by shaking or tilting the phone.


An iPhone Application–With a Purpose

March 5, 2009

Wait. I didn’t know there were USEFUL applications on the iPhone!? There’s really more out there besides Pacman and Facebook? No way.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the rumors are true.

A new iPhone app, the aptly-titled Hurricane from Kitty Code, LLC is chock-full of hurricane data. Not only do you get up-to-the minute info on tropical storms gone bad, but you can also look at historical information and storm tracks for just about every storm that has been recorded since 1851.

According to users, the list of past storms is phenomenal. You can go through the list of storms all the way back to 1851 to see interesting facts. For instance, most of us know that 2005 was the biggest year ever for tropical storms with a final count of 28, but did you know that 1933 was the previous runner-up with a whopping 21 storms? Now you do!

For more info on this oh-so-useful iPhone app, check out this article from Tuaw, the unofficial Apple log.

The Magic of Hulu

March 5, 2009

I’m guessing you’ve visited–or at least heard of–Hulu, a site that offers TV episodes free of charge. It’s a great site, if I do say so myself. User-friendly, updated frequently, and consumer-focused. When you miss your favorite show, simply log on to Hulu. Problem solved.

Unfortunately, PluggedIn–the “Hulu of Music Videos”–hasn’t found nearly as much success as its model. In fact, the site recently shut down.

PluggedIn differentiated itself from the plethora of other music sites by offering a library of over 11,000 licensed High Definition music videos, presented in a simple and aesthetically pleasing interface that was not unlike Hulu’s. Despite its attractive interface and high quality videos, the site never really took off. This is probably because there are already a number of very well established music communities, like MySpace Music, which have millions of users and many of the same of music videos (although at a lower bitrate). HD quality is a nice perk, but most users simply don’t care enough about it to jump ship and join an entirely new community. And unlike some of these competitors, PluggedIn requires the Move Networks video streaming plugin, which raises the barrier of entry.

So perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here. We as Internet users are more likely to seek out HD quality TV over music videos. Doesn’t seem too far a stretch. Maybe music videos really are about the music after all, and visual quality isn’t so important. Whatever the cause, PluggedIn is no more.

Blu-ray: The ray of the future?

March 5, 2009

I’ll be perfectly honest: I’ve never even seen a blu-ray film. I hear great things, but for some reason these new disks have been unable to overtake DVDs in today’s market. My best guess is a combination of people being afraid to already abandon DVDs (a relatively new format) and the high cost of blu-ray.

Another factor could be the fact that DVDs are now relatively easy to rip. Almost any computer can manage it. Blu-rays, on the other hand, are another story.

Good luck to you, blu-rays. I hope you succeed. It may take years; heck, even decades. But I think you can do it.

Click Yes or No

March 3, 2009

Yes, that title is a reference to the love notes you all know you wrote in gradeschool. But when our kids are finally over the cooties, they may not be passing notes. Instead, they may say just that: click yes or no.

Clickers allow students to respond to questions during class using a wireless, handheld device. Instructors can then immediately view and display the results, often in the form of a poll. The Chronicle recently interviewed Derek Bruff, an assistant director at Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching, who just published Teaching With Classroom Response Systems after interviewing 50 instructors who use clickers. Part of the interview is available in this article from The Wired Campus.

The use of clickers in large lectures fascinates me. As much I as I don’t want to pay the extra money to buy one, I want to try it. I have yet to hear much positive feedback about the use of clickers in classes from my peers. Like many other technology-related changes happening in higher education today, they have certainly been met with some resistance. Some argue they are just another barrier between student and professor interaction. Others, like Bruff, argue clickers can be used to get a better understanding of student comprehension and are even able to aid in answering high-level critical thinking problems.

To me, clickers seem like many other tools in education: their effectiveness depends on the professor directing their use. If the instructor wants collaboration and exchange, I believe clickers can faciliate that. If the teacher wants to cut his time spent grading quizzes, clickers can do that too.

Reality Check

March 3, 2009

Every once in a while we all need a little reality check. A short time ago, Facebook introduced its new terms of service. And people flipped. Well, at least a few concerned users did. I personally closed the notification and continued wasting my life away viewing my friends’ photos.

So perhaps there are a few reality checks here. First, Facebook really is taking over my life. Not a coincidence that I jumped at the chance to blog about the site yet again. And my profile may or may not be open in another tab right now. But hey, we’re all allowed our vices, right?

Second, I will admit I was one of (I’m guessing) many users that didn’t even bother investigating the changes in the terms of service. Probably because I had never read the original ones. I’d be very interested to see some data regarding how many users have perused that oh-so-exciting part of the site. Especially considering most of Facebook’s users are college students.

Third, as Scobleizer argues, those users who did happen to be interested and consequently objected to the new terms need to realize that they have little control over their accounts and the content in those accounts. Facebook can delete your account. It can use information within your profile to personalize the ads displayed on your page. And I’m just going to assume that most of the information I think is private can be accessed by someone somewhere out there.

I’m not sure if my attitude is a good or bad one. I probably should be better informed of these apparently controversial terms of service, especially considering my admitted addiction to that service. But I think it’s a good thing that I’ve known all along that Facebook is far from a personal diary. My profile isn’t mine. It’s Facebook’s.

The Growing Facebook Empire

February 20, 2009

OK, so maybe Facebook isn’t quite an empire yet. But there’s no denying the social networking site is slowly taking over not only the lives of college students everywhere, but its industry as well. Just this week, Facebook launched its first widget for Facebook Connect, its new platform that allows users to authenticate themselves on other websites using their Facebook logins.  The widget (called “Comments Box”) allows site owners to integrate a comments section into their webpage. Unlike normal commenting systems, however, comments left in Comments Box will be relayed back to the users’ Facebook profiles, where the conversation can continue. Helpful integration or the first breach of the enemy’s line? You decide.

You Can’t Hide From YouTube

February 20, 2009

The power of YouTube never ceases to amaze me. We’ve all seen YouTube “stars” emerge since the site’s creation. From the talented to the talentless, from the funny to the tragic. YouTube covers it all…and offers it all to the public. This may have been the last thing on Stephen K. Klasko’s mind this week. Klasko, former senior associate vice president for research in the University of South Florida’s health division, resigned from his position after getting busted on YouTube for helping a man steal a student’s bike. Someone posted security-camera footage to YouTube of the incident, and (as always) the power of YouTube prevailed. So watch your back. You never know when YouTube will turn private to the public and the public against you.

The Power Is Yours

January 27, 2009

This weekend, I was shocked to learn my roommate had never heard of Captain Planet. Captain Planet! Sure, he’s no Batman or Superman, but please tell me you still remember all of the Planeteers throwing their fists into the air to combine their powers to form the one and only environment-protecting superhero. I wish I was watching the show right now.

Regardless of your stance on cartoon heroes, however, you cannot deny the growing power of the green movement. Activists have long been lobbying the government and corporate America to “go green” and consider the environment when making decisions. Now the green movement has finally started to hit home, targeting universities, students, and everyone else in higher education.

A recent conference, Greening the Internet Economy, which was held at the University of California at San Diego, attracted some of the leading voices in green technology from vendors, universities, and government. Most of those in attendance agreed that energy and environment problems have been identified. Now it is time to take action to solve those problems.

From cooling data centers to managing the power settings on personal computers. From encouraging university-wide recycling to shutting off the lights when you leave a room. From the institution to the individual. Every action makes a difference.

As Captain Planet always said: The power is yours.

Collegiate Debate on Second Life

January 27, 2009

Dwight Schrute from NBC’s The Office first introduced me to the virtual world known as Second Life. As tempting as it was to create my own avatar simply to make him fly around town, I never took the plunge into virtual reality. I discovered today, though, that Second Life offers much more than an online playground.

Stephen Llano, the director of debate at St. John’s University in New York, recently announced that the first collegiate debate tournament on Second Life will take place on February 4 at 8 p.m. Eastern Time on the university’s virtual campus. A two-person team from St. Johns will go head-to-head with two students from the University of Vermont. The topic will be whether or not colleges should limit tenure for professors.

While my first reaction to this announcement was that no online exchange could possibly replace the intense environment of live, interactive collegiate debate, Llano and others have made some good arguments for the use of Second Life in academia. First and foremost, he argues it will enable international debate at very low costs, widening the playing fields for schools that can’t afford to travel around the globe. He believes the combination of a voice-chat feature in Second Life and the gestures and animations of the participants’ avatars will provide for solid debate.

I may just have to join Mr. Schrute on Second Life next week to witness this debate for myself.