39 posts categorized "Gadgets"

Another Car2Go story

I love this service.

A lot of people in Seattle are talking about the politics of ride sharing services.

But Car2Go is more like a self-service. Or the loan of hardware, I guess you could say. Because you find a car, passkey yourself in, and drive yourself to where you want to go.

Latest episode of ad hoc transportation delight: I left my downtown office midmorning yesterday, running for my car to make a meeting with a client in Fremont. When I got to the garage, I found I didn't have my keys on me. I started to trudge back to the office, thinking of the alternatives: be a half hour late; call instead of meet in person.

Then I thought of checking on whether a Car2Go buggy might be near. Checking the app, I found one a block away.

I was only 10 minutes late!

Got home the same way, via Car2Go parked outside the building I'd just visited.

Midweek Report

An alternative to MOOCs

Parents I know who are contemplating sending kids to college are freaked out by the spiraling costs.

The kids are freaked out, too.

536689847_fdda237b0f_zIn Seattle, the personal financial anxiety naturally gets mixed in with a knee-jerk faith in technology "disruption" - MOOCs will save us! - but the energy driving talk about alternatives is really personal financial anxiety.

Thanks in part through continuous dialogue with my friend Mark Byrnes, who talks the talk and walks the walk as a tenured professor at a small liberal arts college, I don't think MOOCs are the answer. In terms of Lanier's critique, as applied by Byrnes, MOOCs are an oligarchical perpetuation (intensification) of the star system. They "disrupt" by trivializing the one-on-one interaction between qualified teacher and student and substitute "accountability features" for the complexity of a social relationship. Who wins? The central servers.

But instead of a power-grab by the entrenched and the elite (is it any coincidence that the MOOCs that get venture financing deal only with top-tier schools?), what about an entrepreneurial approach to education? Forget technology. Pretend technology in education is forever frozen in yesterday* Why don't academics who can't get tenure-track jobs at the established colleges group together and form their own schools?

What drives younger parents absolutely crazy are the escalating costs, year after year. I understand that it's not faculty salaries driving those costs. But then that means there should be room for entrepreneurial faculty to form their own schools?

*(By the way, I know academics being trained and getting with PhDs today know how to use computers. I just meant that the point is not technology. It's that teaching doesn't scale by eliminating people.)

Photo: Chris Campbell / Flickr.

Snobby MOOCs

My friend the history professor Mark Byrnes, who has strong feelings about MOOCs, was telling me last night about a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, by Jeffrey Young. Seems that the publication, through a freedom of information act request, obtained a copy of a contract between the University of Michigan and the MOOC startup and venture-financed Coursera.

6a01156e3d83cb970c01901eb4f39f970b-580wiYoung's article parses the contract for clues on how the university and the for-profit venture mean to make money together.

Mark tees off on how various monetization models - including Corsair's right to seek sponsors for classes ("Today's seminar on the Peloponnesian War brought to you by Raytheon") - are not compatabile with the mission of education.

I myself am more interested in the snob factor Young uncovers:

'When I showed the Coursera contract to Trace A. Urdan, an analyst at Wells Fargo Securities who focuses on education-related companies, he found it "ironic" that major universities are embracing online education when they have been dismissive of earlier efforts by for-profit companies like the University of Phoenix.

'"These are two of the most arrogant types of institutions—Silicon Valley companies intersecting with these elite academic programs," he says. "Neither of them considers that anyone else has come to this place before they've arrived. They say, We're here now, so now it's sort of legitimate and for real."'

Reassurance of the privileged nature of associating with Coursera is not just subtext; it is important enough to be recited in the contract.

Exhibit G, pictured above, has more contractual "teeth" than the revenue sharing provisions. The limitation to host within North America only content from universities that are members of the Association of American Universities is the key. According to the AAU site, the association as only 62 members (here is a list of them).

But the contract otherwise looks flimsy. Because a university can walk away on 90 days notice, love, presumably, will have to keep the parties together.


About a week ago, I signed up for the Car2Go service, and yesterday my member card showed up in the mail.

So last night Helen and I took one of the little cars for a ride.

6a01156e3d83cb970c01901e674768970bIt is surprisingly, pleasingly easy to snag a car and be off.

You figure out where they are through an app on your phone. A map pops up, showing you the locations of the nearest available cars. You put your thumb on the one you want to reserve, and then you have 30 minutes to go claim it.

Here's where the card comes in: you swipe it against a reader sitting on the car's dashboard on the driver side - swipe it even though the windshield is between you and the reader - and the system records that you've shown up and unlocks the car.

Inside, there are instructions to toggle through on a touchscreen, but not many. A prior user had left a Starbucks can inside, so I checked a box to say the interior was not in optimum condition.

Then we were off.

The engine doesn't have a lot of pickup, and the drive was sluggish. But high-performance locomotion is not the point, is it. The ride was still fun. Like taking a Vespa out.

6a01156e3d83cb970c01901e67479c970bHaving set out with no particular destination in mind, we dropped by the house of some friends unannounced. "What's the point," they said. "You still have to drive yourself." "True," I replied. "But I can see times and situations where you want your own wheels for a one-way trip."

We'll see!

Short videos from Maker Faire 2013

Another beautiful, sunny day in San Mateo!

I put about a dozen, short videos taken yesterday and today onto a YouTube playlist.

This one (below) is probably the sweetest - a couple interacts across a kind of windmill made of mirrors.

Drone, verb, to attack from the sky without warning

If this tweet doesn't mark the first time the word "drone" has been used as a verb to denote summarial execution by air, well, it's the first time I've noticed such a use.

Also, drone down on tweeted takeoffs of lines from famous novels, in this series of tweets by Teju Cole.

Drone stories

Content specific tablets

Shelf space at a premium, I'm culling books.

Books worth their keep have attributes - design, typography, heft, upholstery - that amplify and supplement the text and signify other things besides, making the work - sewn and bound - more than the same text rendered under a slab of glass.

Content specific tablets

"Here is New York," the spine of which is pictured at right, is a good example.

After 9/11, this classic long essay by EB White, about the uncanny energy of Manhattan after the end of WWII, was republished in paperback in a manner that foregrounded White's admonition that New York City might at any moment be attacked by air.

When you read the book in an edition hard-covered and slip-jacketed in a manufacturing process contemporary to its writing, you yet get the chills at that prophetic turn in the text, tingle at the way White makes a refrain of the warning; but you're also cognizant that White's immediate reference is to Europe, great cities of which lay in ruins from German and Allied bombing.

Next to the White book is "Plan B," my book of sonnets designed with the format and scale of the "Here is New York" first edition in mind.

Every other book pictured has a story and other associations.

It's easier to cull electronic devices, which antiquate quickly. Books designed for specific content seem to have utility measured more in decades.

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