Friday, September 28, 2012

Getting Blasted with the Firehose

I find it sort of funny that social media is now old enough that I can term it "back in my day".  For instance, I had a discussion the other day with a student who didn't know what MySpace was.  In one of my computer classes, I discussed the "You Got Mail" sound clip that used to play back in the days of AOL.  It's amazing where social media has taken us.  This upcoming weekend, I am celebrating my 20th class reunion.  I ended up being the default coordinator for the event.  Rather than sending out paper invitations, the class was invited to the festivities using Facebook and Google Apps.  It is amazing where social media has taken us.

I remember a discussion I had during a WETMA event at the ISTE convention this past summer in San Diego,CA.  While waiting at the Hard Rock Cafe for some amazing sliders, chicken wings and southern California's best attempt at Wisconsin brats, I began to talk a little bit with one member of the 30 person posse from the Superior School District.  We were chit chatting about all different types of technology related topics.  At the end of the discussion, she asked me if she could add me on Twitter.  My words stumbled for a second.  My response eventually was simply that I didn't use Twitter.  I uttered the comment that I was a Facebook guy and I just didn't see the use for Twitter.  I am pretty sure that comment made her choke a bit on the bite sized morsel that she just popped into her mouth.  Not use Twitter, and you're a tech coordinator?!?!  Let's just say our conversation ended about as quickly as a pretty girl letting down the geeky guy at the high school dance.  Yeesh! Awkward!

I've struggled with the concept of getting teachers, including myself, to dive into Twitter.  I found it hard enough to get teachers to welcome the concept of saving files in the cloud.  Before this, I saw Twitter as a place where you can update your status much like Facebook.  So, in my mind, why would I spend time updating two sites on what type of pizza I was eating tonight?  I was always looking for that little kick in the pants or that push into the proverbial Twitter pool.  For some reason, that push happened a few days ago. It was a day when I was attempting to livestream the video podcast of WELSTech.  As I was listening, oh yeah, I mean watching the podcast, I was intrigued by Sallie and Martin's guest that day.  His name is Chad Kafka.  Chad is a tech coach at the Franklin School District here in Wisconsin.  He chatted during his interview about a couple of hashtags on Twitter that dealt with up-to-date information on Google Apps.  As an official Google Apps junkie and owner of my own Google pillow prominently displayed in my classroom, my ears perked up.  I have been wanting to become a Google Certified Teacher, but I have yet to send in my Google Teacher Academy Application.  Chad mentioned on the broadcast that folks were tweeting a large amount of the information they were receiving from the Google Teacher Academy, and my ears started ringing.  Winner, winner, chicken dinner!  He had me at "information", so my fingers sprinted to my dormant Twitter account.  So, without further ado, I immediately jumped into what I believed was an ice-cold pool called Twitter. I dove in feet first and found out that the water is not cold, but amazing.  Welcome to Twitter Ted!

I immediately began checking out some of the hashtags that Chad mentioned on the broadcast.  As I dug, I found that there were some amazing professional materials being passed around Twitter.  Thinking of the water analogy I used before, it was as if the technology professional material firehose opened up and I was caught a few feet from the hose.  Wow!  I wish that I would have hours to spend just checking out all of the professional materials being shared between professionals on just the few hashtags I was following.  It was dynamite.  Now, I wondered, how could I watch this information in an easier way than just being on Twitter and hopping between tags.  That is where my free technology item came in.  I searched and I had to look no further than TweetDeck.  Now, I am sure this is not the only program of its kind, but TweetDeck gives you the ability to follow Twitter in one location.  You are able to keep track of your own account's timeline and interactions in columns.  Even cooler, you can create a search column to follow certain pertinent hashtags.  So, I started with the hashtags #appsct and #googlect which linked me into the Google Certified Trainers.  From there, I picked up that many people were posting to #edtech and I added that as well.  Then, I added #welstech and #iste to follow two very good places for tech information.  Like an old-school flip clock, the information started flowing.  This was awesome.  I didn't have to work hard to find the information.  Rather, the information was flowing onto my desktop in record speed.  Where do I even begin?

So, if you are someone who has needed a push off the diving board into the Twitter pool, I will declare to you that the water is fine.  Even if you are not someone who is going to tweet often, you can still use Twitter and TweetDeck as a valuable tool of resource collection, collaboration and learning.  Eventually, you too will be tweeting out the latest finds in your professional life.  Collaboration is huge, especially within our WELS school system.  I don't believe we collaborate enough.  Hopefully, this blog can be another tool for that.

So, consider Twitter.  Now, the next time I am talking to someone at the Hard Rock Cafe about technology, they can enjoy their amazing appetizers and we can continue the conversation via Twitter for years to come.

God bless!


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Do You Hear the Jing-ling in Your Ears

Sometimes in the tech world, you stumble upon things.  This stumble was a rather unique one.  I am, what most would describe, an equal opportunity computer user.  I try to give every operating system and device a chance.  Sometimes in this process, I fall in love with certain parts.  When it comes to a Mac, one thing that I have fallen head over heels for is the style of the keyboards.  I find it easier to type on for some reason.  While some of you might disagree, I don't want to dwell too much on that because it is not the point of me bringing this up.  Seeing as I enjoy typing on this keyboard, I decided that I was going to plug this keyboard into my custom built PC.  At first, I really loved it and saw no drawbacks for using this keyboard.  Then, it happened.  I saw that a certain key was missing from the keyboard.  That certain key was none other than the PRTSCN key.  While many people have no use for this key, I am regularly using the print screen key as I am working.  So, now what was I supposed to do?  I was caught between a rock and a hard place.  Do I unplug this glorious keyboard and head back to a Microsoft keyboard with the legs missing?  Do I grin and bear not having my trustworthy friend?  Ah, and then like a glimmer of hope, it appeared.  Jing.  A magical, free tool that after installation, appears like a small sun at the top of my screen.  I am still in awe, even now nearly two months after installing it.

Jing is another genius product by the Tech Smith Corporation that has brought you useful tools like Snagit and Camtasia.  Oh, and did I mention, Jing is completely free.  Yes, you heard that, free!  Jing is a very quick install but it has long lasting uses.  Built in is an amazing capture tool.  Once you activate the capture tool, you window around the item on your screen that you would like to capture.   Then, Jing gives you the option of capturing a still image or a video.  Now, I am a user of Screenr and have used it exclusively for a while now, but Jing has made a new friend in me.  Like the free version of Screenr, you are limited to a five minute video.  The difference with Screenr is that you can view the videos created at Screenr or embed them into your webpages.  Jing will allow you to save the video to your computer as an .swf file. This is created in an Adobe Flash file format.  The .swf stands for Shockwave, which was originally a company that Adobe purchased and took over.   This file will successfully open in media players like Real Player and Quicktime.  You will not be able to place these videos into a PowerPoint or upload to YouTube without converting the files.  So, buyer beware, or shall I say, free downloader, beware.  As for the screen capture tool for a still image, Jing is awesome.  Once you select the image, you have a bunch of choices.  You can place the image on your clipboard to use in another program.  You can also save the file as a .png which works in most programs.  You can also edit the screen capture right inside of Jing. It is a pretty handy tool.

So, I am happy.  My fingertips are elated to be typing on this Mac keyboard and the rest of me is excited to be working on my PC.  All this happiness thanks to Jing.

Have a great week and keep fighting the good fight of technology.  God bless you in this endeavor!