Swurl, get your act together!

I really, really want Swurl to be something useful. For those who do not know what Swurl is,  is a lifestreaming app that does a beautiful job of displaying all of your internet activity in one place. The timeline view of Swurl is facinating, it really does a great job of visually representing your online life in a pretty calendar. I find myself taking pictures and uploading them, just to make my Swurl look prettier. Not only does Swurl do a good job of displaying your life, but it also discovers your friends in other social networks and keeps a list of them for you to view their activity… zero work is needed on your part.

So what is the problem?

Swurl doesn’t give you a way to take things out of Swurl. Yes there is an RSS feed… but any lifestreaming app has that. What makes Swurl brilliant is not its ability  to aggregate your life… it is Swurl’s ability to make it visually stunning. Swurl provides no mechanism for taking that great visual feast and putting it in your own space. I guess their intension is for you to turn your Swurl into your primary web presence… but for those with established blogs (which is something that is highly likely for their primary audience of early adopters) the idea is laughable. 

I think that in order for Swurl to not get lost in the infinity that is the Internet it needs to provide a way for users to bring their beautful Swurl content into their own spaces, through embed code, or badges… or anything that works really.

Until that day comes though I guess I will have to be happy with links and being the only person who ever really sees my Swurl.

My Swurl: http://andremalan.swurl.com/timeline
swurl.JPG

My essential Facebook Applications:

Here is a list of some of my favorite Facebook Apps:

FriendFeed: Allows me to publish my life stream on my Facebook profile

Boost: Boost is a Firefox add on that allows you to change the look and feel of Facebook. Adds a bunch of cool functionality like “download whole album” and showing full size images when you mouse over them.

Nexus: Creates a graph of your network. Really interesting to see how you are connected to other people and how connected they are to your friends.

FBcal: Generates an iCal file of your upcoming Facebook events and/or upcoming birthdays. Seeing as my Google Calendar plans my life, I don’t know how I’ve lived without this application for so long!

Getting the creepy out of Facebook

Facebook ModelThis was supposed to be a long and intense post, blending many different discussions that I’ve had over the past week, but I don’t have time and since I just got my new WordPress site, I need to write! (I’ll get the rest of it up some other time).

Here is the Jist of it:

I have spoken to so many people who tell me that “Facebook is creepy”. One of the biggest taboos here is to say “oh, I saw it on your mini-feed”. People get all weirded out as if they didn’t know that one of the key reasons of Facebook’s success is the fact that it is so good at distributing your information to those who know you.
Jocelyn and Ciara... Ballas
Jocelyn and Ciara (my resident Facebook experts) were lamenting that fact with me and we came up with the idea that maybe the problem is just the language that has evolved around Facebook. We put information on Facebook for people to see. We have complete control over who can see that information. It’s like creating a poster about yourself. It isn’t creepy looking at someone’s poster. Jocelyn and Ciara came up with some alternative names. They suggested something like “exploring” or “learning”. I think of it as “researching your personal social network”. Someone reading your profile is a good thing… it helps them to know you better. Someone reading your wall-to-wall with someone else is also a good thing. It’s flattering. Someone cares enough to read about you. If there is something that you don’t want people to read about you… you shouldn’t publish it and if you have to tell somebody something private… that’s what private messages are for.

WordPress – my love, my hate,

WordPress and I have a love-hate relationship. I love WordPress for the fact that to do simple things, it is incredible simple to use. I hate it for the fact that to do less simple things it baulks. It screams “SSH into the server and play with my core php files biutch!”.

I guess I should provide some background on why WordPress and I have any relationship at all. At the moment I am developing a blogging platform for UBC to replace weblogs.elearning.ubc.ca. This project will hopefully allow bloggers at UBC to connect with each other and inspire the creation of some rich academic and personal content. We are trying to do this all with WordPress.

At this year’s Northern Voice Conference Jim Groom (a true expert on WordPress who’s blog and creation have helped me solve so many problems with my own blogs) is thinking of hosting a WordPress anonymous session that welcomes all WordPress lovers as well as “haterz”. I am neither, but I have started dreaming about WordPress so I guess I should really attend.

I do have one big complaint about WordPress that I need to get off of my chest now (and will probably continue to rant about at NorthernVoice):

I’m bitterly upset over the fact that WordPress trusts nobody! Without heavy plugins and hacking you just can’t do anything fun… no matter who you are. Admin has no ability to upload theme files and page templates. I know that security is an issue (especially in WPMU) but I just wish there was a simple way for an admin to say: “Ok, WordPress… I trust this user and his blog, why don’t you go ahead and let him use a tiny little embed tag…?”I know that there are probably plugins or hacks to do that… but they are not easy to find. Assigning “superuser” roles that don’t strip you of any advanced coding or limit you to pre-installed themes and templates would be such a great addition to wordpress… and would probably convert many of the “haterz” out there. I mean think about it… with that kind of functionality… who needs Movable Type?

Do Learning Tecnologies make a difference?

So, after a term of study and using all of the technologies that I have been speaking about… it’s time for the moment of truth, time to ask the question: “did they make a difference at all?”

My grades say no. According to my grades, I’m almost exactly in the same place that I was a before I got involved in LEAP and experimenting with learning technologies. However, I don’t think my grades tell the whole story. One has to remember that in addition to the fact that my courses were a lot harder this term, I am also a Residence Advisor, which seriously reduced the amount of time I that have to study. In fact, my grades staying the same speaks volumes about the tools that I have been using. I have used different technologies and techniques to make my learning more efficient and organized… and me keeping my A average is proof of that.

As for what was the most useful… here is a small synopsis of some of the things that I felt helped me most:

  • Google Calendar:

    Due to all of my involvement outside of school, I would never have been able to survive without this. Google Calendar is super easy to use and maintain. I can plan my days and weeks, look back at what I have done and coordinate with other people in my team. Google Calendar takes paper agendas, chews them up and spits them out… it really, really does.

  • Quizlet

    I raved about quizlet earlier… but using quizlet for exams blew my mind. There were literally pages on some of my exams which I just flew through… all the time saying to myself “Thank God for quizlet!” Quizlet is easy to use, collaborative… and above all… just a little bit fun. Of course flashcards can’t be used for all subjects, but for those in which it can be used… you would be a fool to not use quizlet.

  • Microsoft Office OneNote:

    This was indispensable this year. It does such a good job of keeping all your notes in one place and eliminating the need to print out pages and pages of course notes. It would make your life almost paperless if you have a tablet pc, but even if you don’t have one… there is no better way to organize you school life.

Those were the “super useful” technologies. I used others like electronic mindmapping, but I feel like those still need a lot of work before the concept can revolutionize the way one studies. As far as mind mapping goes… next year I plan to just put up massive sheets of poster paper around my room and map in my courses as they go. Electronic mindmaps just don’t have the dynamic interface yet that would make them revolutionary.

So there we go, experiment over for now. School is done so I have eight months to find a whole new set of tools to help me get through it all again in September. I am on coop now at the Office of Learning Technology, so even though I can’t really test them… I can still write about the great technologies that I will be finding/building in my work.

Quizlet Rocks!

Quizlet is an online flashcard program that allows one to input matching data and test yourself. After using it to study for my Chemistry midterm I fell in love. The reason? It makes remembering long lists (like the names of chemicals in my case) much more enjoyable than anything else that I have ever tried.

Sure, there are probably better ways to ensure that you learn the data for life than flashcards. However, when you find yourself as a student in the situation where you have to learn a long list that you are really not going to need for life, then flashcards can really help.

Some of the benefits that I found from Quizlet are as follows:

  • You have to type the answers in, this means that unlike flashcards you get a better sense of the spelling, as well as better interaction with each word pair.
  • It records the percentage of times you get things right, allowing you to see immediately if you are improving or not.
  • It keeps a continuous record of the words that you missed the most.
  • quizlet%20most%20missed%20words.jpg

  • You can combine sets of cards. So for instance if you have to study 3 different sets of material for midterms and then all of it for the exam, you can create one set before each midterm and then combine them at the end to make one massive deck of cards.
  • quizlet%20stuff%20to%20do.jpg

  • Quizlet is collaborative so other people in your class can help to create decks of flashcards.
  • You can discuss the data with others in quizlet.
  • You can be tested on either the word or the definition.
  • You can be quizzed in more than one way, there is a match the card game, a test mode (including fill in the blanks, multiple choice and match the columns).
  • quizlet%20question%20types.jpg

All in all Quizlet makes the traditional flashcard redundant. No more shuffling, no more trying to make sure all the cards are the right way up, no more wondering if you actually know the things, Quizlet takes care of all of that for you.

So, you think you know your basic chemistry? Try out the set I made for my midterm…

http://quizlet.com/embed/scatter/68366/

Get Teched Up!

My presentation on academic tech tools went as well as could be expected. About 15 out of the 100 people invited showed up (which is apparently really good for an academic program in residence). I got mixed reactions, there were some bored looks but then there were also those who saw things like google docs and Netvibes with wide eyed amazement. I also saw some of them setting up accounts, so at least they are giving it a go.

Below is the flyer that I handed out and that I’ve had a few requests for from people who weren’t there:

Get Teched up:

There are some things that I left off like del.ico.us…but I’m keeping that in my arsenal for later on in the year when I start getting questions on how to do research.

Midterms are coming up soon, so stay tuned to hear how some of the tools that I have been testing are working out.

Updates on my world of Tech:

My ridiculously large workload says I shouldn’t be blogging right now… but I’m sticking it to the man!

Update 1: Podcasting

I failed miserably, I really just wasn’t interested in listening to lectures again and thus just didn’t remember to record lectures. Also I felt uncomfortable sitting in the front. It’s funny how that is actually… it seems that the third row in any lecture theatre is dynamite!

Update 2: Google Calendar

Right, on this one I succeeded. Not only has it become essential in my life… but I have converted some other people around me! Being able to layer calendars on and off is amazing. I still need to work on making my use of Google Calendar efficient (there is an art to creating the right amount of calendars and dealing with stuff like deadlines) but for now, my life has been changed. Once I have all the kinks in my system worked out I will post some handy tips for Google Calendar users.

Update 3: Netvibes wins!

Yes that’s right… I’ve chosen Netvibes… and I’m not looking back. Why is that? Firstly they have fixed many of the issues that I had with them, like not allowing me to access my Live Hotmail. As of yesterday they completely upgraded their widgets and widget browsing. It is so much easier and all my widgets just look better. Plus they have a new Google Calendar module which works amazingly! Well done Netvibes, you are my winner!
netvibesWins.jpg

Update 4: I’m giving a “get Teched up” presentation

It is on Wednesday at 8PM in the 1st floor lounge of Sherwood Lett in Vanier. If you want to come check it out please do. One of the best things to come out of this is that I will be able to monitor my success because I will be presenting to people in my house and can thus actually track how “Teched up” they become. Exciting times!

Cheers,

Andre.

The RSS aggregators are fighting over me!

netvibesvspageflakes.jpg

Well no, they aren’t really fighting over me, I guess they are fighting over the world, but still they are making it very hard for me to organize me life. But let me start at the beginning.

After starting with iGoogle, I moved on to Netvibes and loved it. Then one day after reading a post by Novak I tried pageflakes… and loved it even more. I switched… well… half switched… and have been milling around in the middle ever since.

Here are a few of the reasons I can’t decide between the two of them (in the form of what I love/hate about one which automatically implies the opposite for the other:

  1. I love the “change layout” option of Pageflakes
  2. I love the little falling snowflakes in Pageflakes!
  3. I love that you can just embed a Javascript version of a Pageflakes “flake”
  4. I love the huge amount of options that Pageflakes gives for displaying a feed
  5. I hate how I can’t read my hotmail in Netvibes
  6. I love the way you add modules/widgets in Pageflakes
  7. I love that you can share a single page in pageflakes
  • I love/hate Pageflake’s RSS reader mode
  1. I love that Netvibes lets you change the feed location within the module
  2. I love that you will be able to keep and share an entire alternate universe in Netvibes
  3. I love the greater range of OPM modules in Netvibes, like Rugby World Cup 2007 and Facebook
  4. I hate the way you add basic feeds in Pageflakes
  5. I hate how the default in Pageflakes is “summery view” and “read in original site”
  6. I hate how Pageflakes takes longer to load
  7. I love the fact that clicking on the title of a feed takes you to that site

Great! My list ends up being completely even! What do I do?

For now I think I’ll switch back to Netvibes (seeing that the Rugby world cup is my priority)… but I’m still up in the air and waiting for a truly compelling argument one way or the other. I long for the day when I can just choose one and just forget completely about the other!

Update:
I just figured out how to share a whole page in Netvibes. Now Netvibes is really winning!

The Plan:

Ok, so first day of class is done. I’ve seen all of my professors, had a bit of a hint of how class is going to work and taken some time to figure out how I am going to manage it all.

So here goes, my grand master plan for tackling all of my courses:

Microsoft Office OneNote:

To organize everything and take notes. Its ability to keep information fluid, yet organized should be invaluable for all of my classes.

Mind Mapping:

I’ve toyed with using online mind mapping applications, but FreeMind is the best package that I can get for free. Plus the ability to copy and paste from OneNote will make connecting the things that I take notes on a breeze. I know there are varied results on the effectiveness of mindmaps… but lets give them a whirl and see where I get. This should at least be essential for Statistics where many of the things that you do is looking at the same problem in a different way and figuring out how those ways fit together is incredibly important.

Podcasting:

I’m going to record one of my Computer Science Lectures to test podcasting lectures. I’m still not convinces that re-listening to a lecture is the best way to spend your study time (a lot is said in a typical lecture that really doesn’t need to be memorized). I’m also thinking of recording myself reading my notes so that I have short 10 minute snippets to listen to whilst walking from A to B on this huge campus.

Time Management:

As I said in the previous post, I’m going with Google calendar, using the layers for my timetable, due dates for assignments, Residence Advising in and out nights etc.

Flashcards:

For all those times when there is a long list of things and they just need to be drilled into my head. I’m going to go with Quizlet, it’s collaborative and super easy to use. The added feature of creating neat little tests is a nice bonus.

Collaborative Projects:

Zoho Wikis and documents (very soon Zoho docs will work on and offline… pure awesomeness!) For Programming Projects I’m thinking of using Gliffy, just because of their ability to do UML diagrams.

Well that’s a start, we will see how these work for keeping my schoolwork together for the next few weeks. If they don’t work… I try something else.

Cheers,
Andre