Sunday, September 16, 2007

The old kilogram just ain't what she used to be

The standard kilogram near Paris is losing mass. Either that or the best copies are gaining mass.

Thanks to Darren for the link.

Attention Keynote-using physics teachers!

I've made my Keynote presentations available via my iDisk's Public folder. Here's how to access them:

1. From the Finder's Go menu, select iDisk > Other User's Public iDisk.

2. When prompted, type in my Member Name: phyzman.

If all goes well, my folder will show up on your desktop. Within, you'll find folders corresponding to the various units I teach. The Keynote files are in those folders.

These are essentially the same presentations that are available via my website, but in Keynote format. you'll need iWork 06 or better to run and/or edit them.

A number of teachers asked for access to these files, and it seemed the iDisk Public folder was the best way to make them available. Note that these files can only (as far as I know) be accessed from a Mac. Which is OK, because Keynote is a Mac-only application.

Let me know if you encounter any technical glitches and I will endeavor to rectify.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

It happened

It was really just a matter of time. It happens to a lot of teachers. I'm not the first and I won't be the last. But at Back-to-School Night this past week, I got official word.

I am now teaching the child of one of my former students. I am officially an old campus fixture at Rio Americano.

One of our chemistry teachers and one of our social studies teachers were students of mine. Those are no big deal. A matter of a few years is all that kind of thing takes.

But teaching the child of a former student takes some time to develop. Roughly twenty years, give or take a few. So as I begin my twenty-second year at Rio, I suppose I was--if anything--overdue.

Oh well, getting old is the best thing that can happen to you. Which reminds me I have a birthday coming up in less than a month. D-oh!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Bringing new computers to life

It may be that the implementation and maintenance of classroom computers is a major production for every teacher fortunate enough to have them. If so, it's a thin gossamer thread by which educational technology hangs. Students in my classes have access to classroom computers only because

1. I see significant value in what computers can do for students in my classroom.
2. I was able to prepare a successful proposal for a portion of my school's Digital High School grant, and there was DHS grant money to spend toward the purchase of computers, software, and sensors.
3. I was willing to donate the time, talent, and energy required to transform the computers and software from boxes and discs to computers that students could use to sample and analyze data from sensors, prepare and print spreadsheets, etc. as well as to assemble the charging cart for the computers. All of these activities happened "off the clock."
4. There was support from my district for a wireless computing pilot program back when Apple introduced Airport.
5. My students handle and use computers appropriately in my classroom.

Take away any one of those factors and we're back to a 1970s-style classroom. Or in my case, a 1990s-style classroom. Though I used classroom computers in my high school physics class at Grand Rapids Creston High School in 1981, it wasn't until 2001 that students were able to use computers in my classroom, less than 100 miles from Silicon Valley. And it wasn't me keeping computers out of my classroom!

As the years since 2001 came and went, the classroom computers settled into their role in instruction. We used them where they added value. We didn't use them everywhere simply to use them. But neither did they gather dust. A few years ago, the batteries began failing to hold a significant charge, and the replacements were a nontrivial expense (10 x $100). But the school came through and we thus extended the useful life of the machines.

By 2006, the usefulness of computers built in 2000 had diminished critically. These computers were built to run Apple's OS 9, an operating system Steve Jobs conducted a funeral for in 2002. Though they might have been able to boot in OS X, their CPUs, busses, and memories were not built for it, and they would have struggled in performance and battery life.

So I prepared a proposal for their replacement with their contemporary equivalents, and the school was able to fund the proposal. But the process of preparing these machines for student use--simply to maintain the functionality we had in 2001--was again nontrivial.

The Airport pilot has been abandoned in favor of a new wireless protocol. But the corresponding hardware has yet to be installed at the school. Though it was originally slated for installation over the summer, it is now planned but not scheduled. Fortunately, a network-savvy parent was able to get a new Airport Extreme to pipe the internets to my new laptops. The fiddling and fussing he went through to make it happen was nontrivial, but he succeeded where I had failed in my own laborious attempts.

But other matters had to be attended to. The sensor software had to be loaded and registered to each computer. Each installation required a seven-digit serial number and two 25-digit alpha-numeric security keys. Configuration files I developed for specific labs had to be transferred from the old computers, titles modified for use by OS X, and correctly placed in the correct subfolder of the application support section of each computer's root directory library. Student accounts had to be configured so that commonly-used applications would be easy to find (on the dock) and storage folders for student work were in place before students needed to use them. On each computer. And each computer needed to be configured to print to our networked printer.

I also installed a set of physics simulations on the new computers that simply would not have run on the old ones. On each computer.

Sadly, there are simulations on the old computers that simply won't run on the new ones. They're going to be hard to give up.

So far I've spent many weekend and evening hours to get the new computers student-ready. Their maiden voyages happened this week and so far, so good.

But I imagine places where all the ducks don't line up in a row. Do they simply go without? Are there schools with better support for classroom computers, or is it all a patchwork of individual teacher projects?

Seems awfully late (2007) for things to be this fragile.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

What a week for Appalachian State

Sometimes when you're under pressure, ranked in the top five in a national competition, you melt in the heat of the spotlight. Even when asked to perform a simple task. No one knows that better than Lauren Caitlin Upton, Miss Teen South Carolina. Her on-stage, on-screen, impromptu response to a question in the Miss Teen USA competition has gone viral on YouTube.

She has since had ample opportunity to explain herself to the media throngs eager to give her the chance. She seems nice enough. And drawing a blank could happen to anyone. Then again, she did put herself in that situation. Among the outlets that gave her a second chance was NBC's Today Show.

It was on that clip that I learned she was on her way to college. At Appalachian State. The same school that went to the Big House in Ann Arbor and pulled off the biggest upset in NCAA football history. The Wolverines were ranked fifth in the nation. And they were asked to complete the seemingly simple task of defeating a Division I-AA school from North Carolina in a tune-up match.

What a week for Appalachian State.

The only thing that eased the pain for Michigan fans was the stinger that the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets sunk deep into the flesh of Notre Dame's Fighting Irish.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Best. Commercial. Ever.

And it never aired on TV, as far as I know. It's the best Rube Goldberg machine I've even seen, though better ones may be out there. (Pyromaniacs will certainly prefer this one.)

According to the lore (not all of it verified), the 2-minute sequence cost over $6E+6, was months in the making, required the dismantling of two of the six hand-built Honda Accords, and the first 605 takes didn't "just work." But enough of my jibber-jabber. Watch the Honda Cog ad.

"Simple," you say. The battle scenes from Lord of the Rings made better use of CGI. No doubt. The punch line is that there was no CGI or trick photography used in thise sequence. It all happened pretty much as you see it. has a pretty thorough page detailing the backstory. London's Daily Telegraph has an in-depth story. There's even a The Making of Honda Cog video companion to the ad.

At two minutes, it's too expensive to run on TV. Honda seems to have hoped for viral distribution. I'm happy to join the party (if a wee bit late). Any big corporation that wants my services as a shameless shill can have them free of charge if they produce an ad as good as this one. Maybe something with magnets.

I've added it to my Web Video page, but I do not--as yet--have a corresponding lesson presentation or worksheet for it.

Thanks to NCNAAPT Webmaster, Tim Erickson, for turning me on to this groovy vid. It's over four years old, but I would have missed it completely without Tim's link on the NCNAAPT page.