A brief “the new iPad” review

As an official iPad expert and now owner of the iPad 3 the new iPad, I thought I would offer a brief review.  Even though the iPad has existed for just over two years, I have already owned four of them. I bought the first iPad when he came out in March 2010. The following year, I bought the iPad 2 for my birthday in March 2011. That turned out to not a great idea because EMU ended up more or less permanently loaning me one because of a grant program I’m involved in.  Long story. Anyway, all at one point in time I actually have three iPads.  I mention all this because this is the main reason I have the new iPad in the first place:  I sold my first two iPads to finance the new iPad, and since I didn’t sell the one I got from EMU I still have a spare.

There are lots of good places to look on the web for various reviews of the new iPad.  Of the ones I’ve seen, I think this one at the site Macgasm makes the most sense— go check it out, including the pictures and their answers to the question “should I get a new iPad?” For me,the new iPad feels a little bit more zippy in in launching applications and the like, and the cameras are significantly better. Other than that, it mostly comes down to the so-called retina display.  It is impressive, but to be completely honest, I’m not sure it really is that much more noticeably better than the previous iPad. Maybe I haven’t use the new iPad enough, or maybe I’m just having better memories of the previous iPad, but it seems like reading on the new iPad is pretty much the same as the old iPad. Though it is better.  This side-by-side comparison pictures in that Macgasm article are pretty accurate in my experience.

The other feature with the new iPad that is interesting is the ability to dictate text.  In fact, I wrote a draft of this post by first dictating it into my iPad.  I was hoping to report that this is a great tool, potentially useful for academic types trying to take fieldnotes, for example.  Unfortunately, I think it is kind of buggy. I don’t know why, but my cell phone with Siri seems to take better dictation.  I suspect that this dictation software will get better though, and it might have to do with how I am using it too.

So, is it worth it?  If you don’t have an iPad at all, sure, absolutely, and unless you’re on a tight budget, spring for the new iPad instead of the more modestly priced iPad2.  If you have the first iPad and you’re starting to feel like you want some of the features that only came with the iPad2 and now the new iPad (a better display, cameras, iMovie, a few other apps, etc.), sure, get the new one.  Though if you are still using your original iPad do do some basic computing stuff, read, play a few rounds of Angry Birds, etc, then probably not.  And if you happen to have a couple extra iPads laying around that are easily sold, then the new one is probably worth it too.


CCCCs in St. Louis: Review/Recap

My semester has been complicated, mostly by a search that is still not completed, some teaching challenges, and some department poly-ticks I won’t be describing in any great detail.  So in a lot of ways, the CCCCs this year was more of a distraction than an event for me, and it was a rapid and somewhat unusual distraction at that.

Sure, I saw some okay panels.  I thought the talk of the ghost(s) of Jim Berlin was interesting if only because he is now at this point a fainting (okay, fading, but I will keep that) memory for most of the upcoming scholars in the field.  I enjoyed seeing some of EMU’s graduate students presenting about Writing Center/WAC stuff because they were some of EMU’s graduate students.  I liked the panel on Latour I went to okay– certainly better than some of my colleagues– and it made me think that I really need to read some more Latour.  Actually, that in general is a take-away for this year’s CCCCs for me:  I really need to read more.  Like a lot more. A LOT more.  And while it was very cool to see Richard Lanham speak and when I could understand him he was great, he was so bad with the microphone that I’d guess that I only heard about a third of what he had to say.

My own presentation and my fellow speakers on the were okay.  It was a bit of an exercise of “which one of these things is not like the other” because my co-presenters were speaking about hypertext fiction and digital poetry.  They were both pretty young and new and there weren’t a lot of words exchanged between us, which was unfortunate.  On the plus-side there were more people there than have seen the YouTube version of my video so far (as of the time I’m posting this, it’s 26), and there was some good discussion. So that too was okay.

And the more important non-presentation aspects of the conference were okay to good, too.  I had some nice lunches and meet-ups with old colleagues, current ones, friends, and potential ones; I had a lovely dinner with old friends after the very excellent Bedford-St.Martin’s party at City Museum; had a lovely luncheon post-Lanham with a variety of folks and good friends John and Karen (who I’ll see again tomorrow, in theory); and I had quite the night on the town with Steve B. and then joined by John D. and Derek.

So while I had some good encounters and such and St. Louis was quite frankly a lot better than I thought it was going to be, it still falls for me into the okay category, and I think there might be two reasons for that.  First, for reasons that are more complicated than it is worth to try to explain here, I traveled and stayed by myself.  Now, that worked out better than expected because of an unexpected airplane voucher (let’s just say for now that after I get money back from EMU for my expenses, I expect to turn a profit on this thing) and I very much enjoyed my free internets in the otherwise dumpy hotel the Mayfair, but missed the camaraderie of my usual traveling and rooming companions.  Second, I wasn’t really there quite long enough.  I think it would have been a little better had I been there a little earlier– Wednesday night instead of Thursday morning– and/or a little later.

Maybe I’ll stay longer next year.  Actually, next year could be really interesting with the Las Vegas locale.  Annette and Will are thinking of joining me, but they would probably not come out until the end/the weekend part of the trip, which might then make the CCCCs 2013 a combination of family time preceded by a middle-aged and dramatically more tame version of The Hangover with my usual traveling companions.  We’ll see.

CCCCs in St. Louis: Preview

Here’s a link to the Google Sites page I’ve set up for my CCCCs in St. Louis talk, Amateur Auteurs:  The Problems of Teaching and Assessing Multimedia in Writing Classes Amateur Auteurs: The Challenge of Producing and Publishing Multimedia Scholarship in Writing Studies.”  I’m setting it up on a Google Sites page mostly because I am curious to play around with the Google Analytics tracking stuff on this.  I’ll keep folks posted.

I am sure more is going to be coming soon, but for the time-being, I need to go pack and do a few other things to get ready for my trip.  It’s sort of a “surgical strike” this year at the CCCCs:  in Thursday and home by early afternoon Saturday.  It’s also unusual in that I’m not sharing a room with anyone purely for scheduling reasons.  My usual traveling companions left for the conference much earlier than I had planned, and all that meant I needed to make my own plans.  It’ll be nice to have that luxury though, I am sure.


Boldly (or foolishly) going where I haven’t gone before: HTML5

I’m teaching Writing for the World Wide Web right now, a course I’ve taught about once (sometimes twice) a year since I developed it back around 1999/2000.  There’s always been a coding component to the course, and despite the changes in web publishing that have taken place over the last decade or so, I still firmly believe students in this writing course should have to get in there with HTML and CSS, even with things like wordpress and social networks where coding is really unnecessary.

When I first learned and started teaching this stuff back in the mid-1990s, you could make analogies between making web pages and the early days of printing:  that is, the first printers made the books, wrote the books (or printed previously written books like the Bible), and sold the books, all pretty much out of the same shop.  Back in the day, working in “web publishing” meant you wrote copy and you wrote code, and you probably did some other computer server stuff too.  I don’t think that’s as true anymore, at least based on what I see in ads and what students out on the job market tell me.

That said, I think a “working knowledge” of HTML and CSS is still pretty important even for that tech/pro writer who is only going to be writing copy that goes into a CMS or that someone else codes/deals with.  I had a student a few years ago in this class who had (still does, actually) a “real job” as a tech writer and she told me that after my class, she was able to have completely different and more productive conversations with the person who actually deals with the company’s web site.  So even if this student doesn’t do a whole lot more with HTML and CSS herself, I feel like my mission has been accomplished.

Now, I’ve always had a bit of a “learning along with my students” approach to code.  One of my first publications was “Teachers Learning (Not Teaching) HTML With Students: An Experimental Lesson Plan for Introducing Web Authoring Into Writing Classes.” The title is basically what it’s about:  instead of “teaching” coding to students– which suggests and/or requires a certain level of expertise that is above and beyond the students’ knowledge– why not try to learn how to do HTML along with students?  I called this an “experimental lesson plan” because back then, I really did know more about HTML coding than the vast majority of my students.  But I kind of put myself in this position of learning along with my students when I first started messing with CSS.  In fact, I was a “leader” in a workshop on CSS (along with people who knew what they were doing, Bill Hart-Davidson and Steve Benninghoff) where I knew nothing about CSS, and it was a good year or two of teaching Writing for the WWW after that before I finally got a working knowledge of CSS under my belt.  Anyway, all this is to say that I have had plenty of these “let’s learn this together” kinds of experiences in this and other classes, and generally, I think it works out.

So with that in mind, I decided to give this HTML5 thing a whirl in my class, even though I knew nothing about it before the term began.  We’re using Head First HTML5 Programming, which builds off of the book Head First HTML with CSS and XHTML.  I like the approach that Eric Freeman and Elisabeth Robson take in explaining HTML and CSS in that book and it seems like they do a pretty decent job of picking out the highlights of what’s most important to understand and what you need to know.  So I am willing to trust them when it comes to them explaining the basics of HTML5.  And this brings me to a disturbing realization that is settling in as I try to learn with/teach my students this:  I’m not sure I understand HTML5, and I’m not convinced I ever will.

I’ve always thought it was kind of silly when people claimed that HTML and CSS were “programming languages” because, well, they’re not– or, without going too deeply into the definition of “programming” (let alone “language”), HTML is just not that complicated, and CSS is only just a little more complicated.  It certainly is not learning a new language. In contrast, HTML5 is essentially javascript, and that my friends, that is a computer language, and thus there is a reason why this book is called HTML Programming.

I am barely ahead of my students in the book as I write this post (and no, I didn’t read the book before I assigned it, something I do all the time, believe it or not), and I have two reactions so far.  First, this is waaaaay over my head, though since many of my students are better at and more practiced in mathematical equations than me (the last math class I took was in 1984, and I learned the other day that my high school freshmen-level son has now eclipsed my math skills based on his coursework), they might have a better handle on this.  We’ll see.  Second, I am not yet convinced that this is something that needs to be in a class about writing for the web, for while I think a working knowledge of HTML and CSS is pretty important for understanding how content online works and it is definitely a “writerly” activity, it seems to me that HTML5 so far is so much more programming-oriented.  From what I’ve learned so far, I don’t think I need to know HTML5 to successfully write web-based content in the same way I don’t need to know how my transmission works to drive my car.

Mind you, it’s interesting, much in the same way that it might be interesting to take a class in transmission repair.  I’m just not sure it’s necessary for me and my students to know, and I don’t think I’ve ever put myself so far out there on teaching “learning” something along with my students.

A late start to birthmonth/link round-up

It’s been a pretty busy and confusing couple of weeks around here for me. Besides some work stuff I’m not going to go into in any detail right now (and this even showed up on twitter), I also have been kind of thrown off by Will’s winter break followed by our winter break, both of which weren’t really “breaks” because it was just work work work.  Plus I made the mistake of assigning some HTML5 projects in Writing for the World Wide Web— a mistake because I don’t really know anything about HTML5.

Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here and I’ve got lots of links that have been piling up, so I thought I’d blog about those a bit tonight.  So in no particular order:

8 tools to make your web site for free  Mostly graphic editing things, but pretty nice list.

The top 10 ways to create digital magazines A nice list of resources here.  It’s kind of interesting:  about a year ago, I got involved in a mobile computing initiative here at EMU that has kinda floundered a bit.  My proposal/interest in this as to learn more about software for producing documents (books, magazines, etc.) that are intended to be read on the iPad.  A year ago, I didn’t know a whole lot about the options.  But now, besides these choices, I’m working on converting my  failed textbook project into an iPad book with iBooks Author.  I’m looking forward to investigating these software options, too.  It’s interesting what a year makes in iPad-land.

Top 10 pro tips and tools for budding web developers and designers.  A lot of “top” whatever numbers in this update.  I like this one if for no other reason one of the tips is get educated.

100 Mac Apps to Rule Them All.  Sure, you don’t need most of these, but it’s a cool list.

The QWERTY Effect:  How Typing May Shape the Meaning of Words.  Nice article, really a good one for 354, Critical Digital Literacies.

From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg.  Actually, this is a review of this book by a blogger at e4innovation.com

Ebooks:  The Giant Disruption.  Nice article about the pros and not so much of eBooks.  This is another topic I can see figuring into 354 the next time I teach it, and maybe 516, too.