Monday, August 11, 2008

News Travel Fast!

A few moments ago, the postman delivered the latest TIME magazine to my mailbox. I was quite shocked to see the Olympic flame on the cover. Didn't the Opening Ceremony just take place not too long ago? How did the story get written so quickly and then put into the magazine to be posted to subscribers?
Today is 11 August, a Monday. Yesterday was Sunday. Saturday was 9 August; Singapore's Independence Day, which was a public holiday. So the post office wasn't opened that day. If I received the magazine today, technically it means that the magazine was posted to the post office by Saturday afternoon. But that's not possible because of the holiday. So it would have been posted by Friday afternoon instead. But that's not possible because the Opening Ceremony was held on Friday night? I'm beginning to think that news do travel too fast nowadays...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

International Conference on Teaching and Learning with Technology (iCTLT 2008)

I am at the iCTLT conference at Suntec City today. It's always nice to come to conferences where folks get nice food, goodie bags and brochures, and listen to very intelligent people give speeches. Today's Keynote is by the incredibly funny Sir Ken Robinson. I don't know this at first, but Sir Ken was at a event and I am just listening to it after discovering he was the guy who gave the famous 'Do schools kill creativity?' speech. There seems to be this idea that education today doesn't really meet the needs of students, or that it, in fact, hinders students in their quest for learning, which is deeply ironic. Coincidentally, I've touched upon similar issues here and here.

More on Robinson's speech later. But first, the new Education Minister Dr Eng is the guest of honour and he gives a great speech (much credit surely goes to the speech writers) to unveil the IT MasterPlan 3. This was the first time I am hearing Dr Eng speak, and I think he may be a candidate to be the next PM. He has a pleasant speaking voice, and his mannerism and speaking style uncannily resembles Lee Kuan Yew. Eng's speech is remarkably forward looking. The MOE HQ people really have some good ideas and they seem to understand that technology by itself doesn't make much sense unless it's integrated well with pedagogy, among other things. I'm not sure of the exact nature of MP3, but it seems that the overall plan is really quite progressive.
Picture by eschipul, taken in Feb 2008

Ken Robinson's speech is titled Creativity and Innovation in Teaching and Learning. The following is a summary/liberal paraphrase of what he said. Education is now at a crossroad; it's in sort of a transition but no one really knows what's going to happen in order for it to solve the problems that we now face. There are no precedents, the issues that we face have never been encountered before.

The worrying thing is this: education, nowdays, seems to squander the talents of students. And students may not be able to know or recognise their talents in class, much less their teachers. Robinson relates an interview he had with Paul McCartney of the Beetles. When asked to relate his experiences at music classes in school, McCartney said he hated them. He was considered too lousy for the school choir. Guitarist George Harrison was in the same class. Think about it: the music teacher had half of the Beetles in her class, and she completely missed it! We are terrible at recognising talent, maybe due to the fact that we only recognise certain intelligences and not more. We don't value 'imagination', but imagination is terribly important; it's the only thing that separates us from non-humans. It's the thing that is able to help us cope with the future, with all its uncertainties.

Robinsons' definition of creativity is the ability to come up with original ideas that have value. The next point is highly intriguing to me. He shows this survey where a longitudinal study of kindergarten kids was done to rate their level of 'divergent thinking', an important component of creativity.

From the age of 3 to 5, almost all of the kids were full of curiousity and unafraid to be bold in their attempts at creativity and coming out with new solutions to problems. By the time they get to ages 16 and above, they are 'dumbed down'. At 25, only 2% of the group show the same level of 'genius' they once possessed when they were much, much younger.

Robinson does an audience survey. Rate your level of creativity from 1 to 10, and then rate your intelligence. I rate mine as 4, and 6, respectively. There seems to be be a disconnect between how we view intelligence, and how we view creativity. He thinks that more educational systems should be tweaked so that creativity becomes something that school administrators will want to promote.

Here's a comparison between what is, and what should/might be. We need to change from the usual buzzwords of conformity and standardisation to a more flexible way of thinking. To be more diverse and customizable. More stuff can be found at John Connell's blog.
The next Keynote speaker is Mitchel Resnick whose talk is on 'Sowing the seeds for a more creative society. His team was behind the development of Lego Mindstorms.
He introduces this awesome Mindstorms-esque way of visual programming media elements such as graphics, sounds, and videos. It's called Scratch, and I've never heard of it until now! It's a really deep sandbox that just blows me away.

The picture belows shows some sort of interaction between Scratch and Second Life. Finally, visual programming in SL!
The name 'Scratch' comes from the way musicians sample music from other performers to incorporate into their own work. Rather than call it 'stealing', software like this emphasize collaborative work as the building works can easily be shared freely with others and modified.

Day 2 of the conference is tomorrow...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

BlackRapid R-Strap RS-1

I've always been interested in the way bags/backpacks are designed, especially how they handle heavy loads. Maybe it's due to the fact that after I got sort of totally 'numb/paralysed' in my upper arms after walking 8km with a fullpack when I was in the army and got 2 months medical leave.

In backpacks like those used in backpacking trips, the idea is to transfer the load from the shoulder to your hip (so that the shoulders won't feel much weight.) I have the Osprey Aether 85, and it works perfect. I feel I'm carrying next to nothing even when the pack is almost full. For everyday backpacks, I'm quite surprised that the design of the carrying strap makes a difference as well. I have the Osprey Talon 22, and somehow the engineering magic that goes in the construction of the material of the strap plus the way they are angled over the shoulders really make a difference in how comfortable the whole package feels. I don't feel as comfortable, for example, with Deuter backpacks, which I've used for many years.

For the camera, there is a similar problem. For over 400 years, the usual way a person carries a camera is to sling it around the head and shoulder, resulting in a sore neck and uncomfortable posture. Some manufacturers try to mitigate the problem like padding the strap like OP/TECH's products. However for cameras, there's an additional problem: dangling straps that will get in the way of the cameraman, especially when shooting in the portrait format.

I've recently found a seemingly great alternative called the R-Strap and decided to buy it to try it out. It costs USD44 and the postage to Singapore costs USD10. I ordered it only on 22 July and received it in the mail 7 days later. Very quick!

Strap with the MB-D10 battery pack, which is normally attached to the Nikon D300 that is not shown because I'm using it now to take this picture

You can look at the videos on the website to see how it works. I field tested it two days ago, and it works great! The feeling of 'weightlessness' as compared with the other carrying devices that I have is evident because the camera is slung across the body. (Neck strapping the D300 with a battery pack and long lens is not feasible for any long period of time.) There are no more dangling straps (and the frustration that dangling straps cause is more than what I'm able to describe here), and the camera is able to get out of the way when the shoot's being done. It's shocking how no one has thought of a camera strap design like this before... great stuff!

October 2008 Update(!): If you are in Singapore, the RS-1 is now available from Cathay Photo. It costs SGD71.