Month: March 2011

Do Books in the House Make Smarter Kids?

Patrick James over at GOOD found an old post on Salon and commented on it: Do Books in the House Make Smarter Kids?

Here’s Laura Miller’s post at Salon: Book owners have smarter kids.

While I’m not sure I see how being exposed to books can make one smarter, exposure to books can certainly make one more literate, worldly, comfortable with print material and seemingly if not actually educated (different from smarter).

If you happen to be comfortable in bookstores or libraries — if you’ve been to them many times before and know what to expect, what you want and where to find it, or if you know whom and how to ask and feel entitled to bother the staff with your questions — it can be difficult to appreciate how intimidating these institutions of print culture can seem to someone who has little or no acquaintance with them.

This is very true and as someone with a reading disability I can tell you that the thought of walking into a library and not understanding the card catalog and having to ask for help kept me out of libraries. However, once card catalogs went electronic and I could use them on my own I started to use libraries more. I still had a hard time reading, but at least I could find what I then struggled to read.

I think there’s also a class issue built into this that is self-perpetuating: people with education have books, TV, computers, and lots of ways of dealing with information in the house for kids to use. People with less education might have fewer tools available relying more on TV than books.

At the end of his comment Patrick asks:

I wonder how electronic books and iPads would factor in to a future study like this. Does being surrounded, physically, by walls with shelves of books play any role in shaping a child’s perspective? Or is it simply the access to literature that’s important?

One needs both: the physical World Book to thumb through and an iPad with an electronic version along with wikipedia. It’s a matter of familiarity: if one is familiar with books, how they work and how to use them then they’re one more tool for finding things out and when the iPad doesn’t cough up what one wants one can go to the book shelf, or, the iBook shelf.

Dan Malloy, Connecticut Governor, Opens Up About Dyslexia Troubles

Dan Malloy, Connecticut Governor, Opens Up About Dyslexia Troubles

“I have to tell you, I’ll be right up front about it: I’m the governor of the state of Connecticut and I can’t write anything well,” Malloy told the rapt students. “This is who we are. I can’t write things. I’m embarrassed all the time about that, particularly if people don’t know that about me.”

I knew there was a reason I voted for him (other than that he’s a Democrat).

You go Dan!

MacBook Pro SSD sleep issue

As some of you know, almost a year ago I did an SSD upgrade on a MacBook Pro. And, if you’ve been following along, you know that I recently purchased a new MacBook Pro with Apple-supplied SSD.

I have two machines sitting here, one with an OWC SSD that I put in myself, one with an SSD that came from Apple.

On the older machine I had issues with sleep: the screen goes to sleep but the next phase of sleep where the motherboard, hard disk and radios go to sleep would not kick in unless I actively chose sleep from the Apple menu or closed the lid (screen). If I walk away from the machine, lid up the LED light by the latch is on but does not pulse. Close the lid, it pulses.

Pulsing = sleep.

On the brand new machine with Apple-supplied SSD the exact same thing happens: the machine does not go into deep sleep on its own without me doing one of many things to force it: Apple menu, power button, etc.

This makes sense, there is no spinning hard disk to spin down. One thing many considering SSD or talking about MacBook Airs don’t seem to realize is that an SSD (as opposed to the soldered on flash memory of a MacBook Air) is mimicking a hard disk: it’s in the same packaging and is a replacement for a hard disk in a computer. So, until the system knows the difference, there might be issues like this.

However, there are other things that get turned off when a machine goes to sleep and you can test this yourself if you have a wireless (bluetooth) mouse.

Leave the lid up but use the Apple menu to put the machine to sleep. Move a bluetooth mouse and the machine doesn’t wake up. This means the bluetooth radio is turned off. Same with wifi: deep sleep turns the radio off. Wake the machine up by hitting the keyboard and the wifi menu (the bars) may actually search for the network. You know the machine was sleeping if this happens.

On either of my machines: the old MacBook Pro with OWC SSD or new MacBook Pro with Apple-supplied SSD if the machine is left on its own, lid up, moving a bluetooth (magic) mouse will wake the screen up and the wifi menu is all lit up, it never turned off.

So, in case you’re thinking that it’s only third party SSD upgrades that are messing with the out of the box sleep modes on MacBook Pros, it’s not, Apple’s SSDs are doing it too.

And, “real” sleep is meaningful in that it turns the computer’s radios off and in so doing saves battery life.

I’m going to be calling AppleCare next week, less to complain, more to find out of they’re aware of this and what they’re doing about it. My guess is Lion will fix this although if enough people report about it maybe it will be fixed in a Snow Leopard update.

Anyone out there with a new MacBook Air who cares to comment I’d love to hear from you. The next time I’m in an Apple store I’ll test a MacBook Air to see about this, it’s an easy experiment to do.

This is definitely not a deal breaker on SSDs and it supports attempting to save money with SSD suppliers other than Apple. But, those using machines with SSDs and possibly MacBook Airs with soldered on flash memory, make sure your machine is really sleeping when you think its sleeping.

Inkling

Inkling signs with major publishers to bring 100 textbooks to iPad by 2012, no actual ink

I was talking with some friends the other day about their use of the iPad and they brought up an app/company called Inkling which I’d never heard of.

This company seems to get it completely: it’s not just a matter of putting digitized textbooks in the iBooks store or on Kindle, it’s about attempting to transform them to take better advantage of the iPad’s capabilities: multi-touch interface, networkability, and more.

I don’t know if Inkling will be the one to eliminate those enormous book bags students carry around or the considerably expense of college textbooks but there is certainly a great opportunity in this space and Inkling seems to be on the right track.

MacBook Air as primary computer

Truly, it is made of unicorns

The Air is leaps and bounds faster than my Pro, despite having a less powerful processor and graphics card. The speed gains must therefore come from the SSD drive. All computers (especially Macs) feel fast when they’re fresh out of the box. Over the months things start to slow down though, so it’ll be interesting to see if that happens with SSD.

Note to Jon Hicks: I had my last SSD equipped MacBook Pro for close to a year and it never slowed down. I doubt your Air will slow down at all. Enjoy.

SSD may be a bridge between hard disks and some other format for packaging flash memory. Frankly, I didn’t know the MacBook Air had a “traditional” SSD, I thought its flash memory was soldered on directly but either way solid state is the future.

The story of the making of the movie All the President’s Men

Washington Monument

This is a fantastic piece in Vanity Fair by Michael Feeney Callan about how Robert Redford, Alan J. Pakula, and others made this still incredibly good movie. It’s still one of my favorite political thrillers. What’s great about this piece is that it illustrates just how tough it is to get a movie made, it took Redford’s push over many years to get it done.

All the President’s Men at Wikipedia
All the President’s Men at IMDB
All the President’s Men at Rotten Tomatoes
All the President’s Men at Netflix

New MacBook Pro with SSD

I just bought a new 15″ MacBook Pro with 2.0GHz i7 quad-core processor, 8GB memory, 512GB SSD, Hi-Res Antiglare (matte) screen. I didn’t want to buy it but my granddaughter forced me to. (wink)

Backstory
As some of you know I upgraded my 3 year old 2.5GHz MacBook Pro with the addition of an OWC 240GB SSD in December. It was the best upgrade I’ve ever done on any computer and to this day it has worked flawlessly.

In our house we subscribe to the “trickle down” rule when buying new computer hardware: I get the new computer, Anne (my wife) gets my old computer and if anyone “under” her needs her computer, they get it.

However, I’ve been so happy with my SSD-equipped computer that I was in no rush to get a new one and given that Apple didn’t upgrade the new 2011 MacBook Pro with as many solid state features of the new MacBook Air models as I wanted, I was hoping to wait for the next generation.

My granddaughter Erin’s ancient trickled-down iBook started to fail and my stepdaughter Bonnie’s old MacBook isn’t doing all that well so instead of push trickle down we decided to do “pull trickle down” with me getting a new computer, Anne getting my SSD-equipped MacBook Pro, Bonnie getting Anne’s unibody MacBook (a great computer, like a 13″ MBP sans Firewire) so that Erin could get Bonnie’s 13″ MacBook. I’ll take back Erin’s old iBook and recycle it with Apple.

What to get
There are two models of 15″ MacBook Pro with a small processor speed and graphics card speed and memory difference between them. I tend to buy the higher end of any particular model so it will last longer so I ordered the top end 15″ MacBook Pro with the “low res” standard glossy screen, 8GB of memory and a 500GB 7200 RPM hard disk. I knew I’d miss the SSD but figured the rest of the machine would be so fast that I’d miss it less than on older hardware.

The machine came, I set it up, migrated my stuff over and I knew I’d made a mistake within the first two hours of using it.

I’ve never been a fan of glossy screens but I also have a hard time seeing the smaller text on the glossy or matte HD screen. I thought given that I use a glossy screen on both iPhone and iPad I could get used to it. For an hour all I could focus on was my reflection in the screen. Not good.

Two things happened: the fan came on because of this now known graphics card hardware issue (fixed with the 10.6.7 system update) and no matter how fast the new MacBook Pros are with a fast hard disk, they’re not as fast as my old machine with an SSD in booting, running almost any application, and moving around in the system. In short, I really missed the SSD.

I swore that I would not get a machine with a glossy screen and a hard disk again if I could help it. I thought I’d sworn that before but Apple hasn’t made getting a solid state MacBook Pro very accessible or affordable and I have problems reading the high resolution matte screen.

One option I had with this machine was to replace the hard disk with an SSD myself as I’d done on my older machine. Had I not wanted a matte screen I might have considered this but I had to unload the machine to get a new screen. And, frankly, I feel odd about spending all this money and then doing my own upgrade. Ideally I wish Apple had folded more solid state options into these new MacBook Pros, but, they didn’t so there you have it. In the end SSD is still an expensive proposition, from Apple or from a third party like OWC.

So, I called Apple, told them what I’d decided and true to form they were amazing on the phone, saying they understood my indecision and that they’d send a pre-paid fedEx label and all I had to do was box it up and return it for a full refund. They cancelled the AppleCare and that was that. To be safe, I erased the hard disk and reinstalled the system on the new machine before boxing it.

What to get, part 2
In the process of buying the wrong machine I’d learned two things:

1. I wanted to get a matte screen although was concerned about readability of text on the higher resolution screen that would make text and all screen elements smaller. This is why I took a chance on the glossy screen. I knew from prior experience that changing screen resolution to something lower res for easier readability might adversely affect anti-aliasing making things not only tough to read but ugly. My feeling was that I needed to be able to read the screen in its native resolution.

2. I wanted to get an Apple-supplied SSD if possible.

I decided to make a visit to a local Apple store to see about the screen, which I did and in the process found that the 17″ MacBook Pro with matte HD screen was readable at its native resolution although tougher but that it had a lower resolution setting that didn’t kill the anti-aliasing on text.

The 15″ MacBook Pro was also readable at its native resolution although again, like the 17″ screen elements and text were smaller and a bit tougher to read.

However, the matte screens on both models were beautiful.

In the end, what tipped me toward going with the higher resolution matte screen was the fact that in a browser (Safari) and in each of the applications I use to deal with text I could easily bump text size up a bit to make things easier to read and if this would solve the readability issue then having more screen real estate would actually be a good thing in that I’d be able to see more of a web page or a document.

The 17″ model, while attractive with its large screen just seemed a bit too much like a cafeteria tray and while I now use an iPad on planes and wasn’t worried about size there, in the end I settled on the 15″ model because it’s a size I’ve had for many years and I’m comfortable with it.

As far as I can tell, Apple doesn’t stock SSD-equipped MacBook Pros in their retail stores so there’s no way to test one before buying. Using the 13″ MacBook Air is the closest you can come in a store to feeling what an SSD feels like to use. I highly recommend doing this for anyone who hasn’t. It will change the way you think about computing.

The two SSDs I was considering were the 256GB and the 512GB. The 250GB is what I had in my old machine and while I hadn’t quite outgrown it yet no doubt I’d have the drive more than 3/4 full in a year or so and even on an SSD things slow down as a storage device gets close to full. OS X needs some scratch space to do various tasks.

The 512GB SSD put the higher end MacBook Pro over my budget so in the end, I decided to go with the lower end 2.0GHz i7 15″ model with 8GB of memory and the 512GB SSD and matte HD screen.

I ordered it, it came today and I’ve migrated my information onto it which went very quickly from one SSD to another.

There have been a few bumps today as I dealt with a bluetooth mouse, mobile me, reconnecting apps to the new App Store and my iTunes account but those got ironed out and I seem to be up and running.

The 10.6.7 update must have solved the graphics processor hang/fan problem because this machine hasn’t hung at all and the fan hasn’t come on once. The machine is dead silent and cool as a cucumber.

And, most important, it’s as fast or faster than my old machine with its OWC SSD. The SSD in this new machine is labeled: APPLE SSD TS512C. I don’t know if anyone can discern brand from that, I’m thinking maybe Intel but I have no idea really.

I’ve not tested sleep yet but the machine boots almost instantaneously, applications run and quit instantaneously and web pages, even complex ones load as fast as I’ve ever seen them load on any computer. In short, this new machine is a dream and I have absolutely no reservations about having bought it.

I’ve also prepared my old computer for my wife, erasing the SSD and migrating her files onto it and have prepared her MacBook for my step daughter. This entire process went very smoothly thanks to a few external hard disk drives and SuperDuper.

I can now say with little doubt that an SSD rather than a hard disk (HD) is the single most important upgrade for an older computer or hardware decision when putting together a new computer. Many people focus on processor speed or how much memory the graphics co-processor has and these are no doubt important but the addition of an SSD will make everyday computing as silent and fast as a MacBook Air.

Solid state is the future, and if you can swing stepping into the future now you will not regret it.

Maine laptop in schools program ten years later

Would a Laptop for Every Student Help? In Maine It Certainly Did

One of the many reasons Angus King and others in Maine chose Macs was the more mature “universal access” features on Macs. What Maine did with laptops remains one of the best implementations of computers in schools to date.

Given that writing is a large component of what these laptops are used for and a high percentage of students learn to touch type, iPads probably won’t be folded into the mix any time soon.

Photojournalist Daniel Beltra

Daniel Beltra

I just finished reading Raffi Khatchadourian’s disturbing piece The Gulf War in The New Yorker and the front illustration is a spectacular aerial shot of a ship floating on the large BP Gulf oil spill taken by photojournalist Daniel Beltra.

Beltra’s site doesn’t allow me to link to that particular photograph but you can find it in his Gulf Oil Spill gallery (0100506_oil_spill_1024.tif).

He has galleries on Patagonia, Indonesia, the Amazon and more. Spectacular work.

Tips and Advice for Students, Teachers, and Parents

Note: This list was compiled in 1990 by me and originally posted in 1995 on LD Resources. The ideas still make good sense and may be even more useful in our TV and smartphone obsessed world. With thanks to the now defunct Whole Earth Catalog, CoEvolution Quarterly, and The Whole Earth Review.

Students

Pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students. Pull everything out of yourself. Work hard. Then work harder.

Success isn’t how far you got, but the distance you traveled from where you started.

Learn by trial and error, and don’t avoid the errors. Consider everything an experiment.

Learning doesn’t happen in class, it happens when you get home and look at the wall. Don’t forget to make time for looking at walls.

Be self-disciplined.

Be a self-advocate.

Learn from your mistakes. There is no win and no fail, there’s only honest effort.

Assume that others are always doing their best.

Work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things. Worrying about work doesn’t get it done, it only makes getting started harder.

Get good at something other than school-related work (like skateboarding or cooking).

Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes. Continue reading