SitRep

We’ve finally got snow, here.
Something like 8 inches dropped last night, and now I’ve got to go shovel it off the driveway. Before I do, I thought I’d bust one of these posts out, just to bring things up-to-date. Things I’m working on:
+ Repairing a Konica C35 Automatic camera (who’s light meter isn’t currently working)
+ Installing replacement tweeters in a pair of 1972 KLH Model 30 speakers
+ Installing some custom shelving in my new dining room (this includes painting the hardware, building the shelves, and finishing all the materials)
+ Looking for entryway seating/storage
+ Keeping the newsletter running (just put out #46 this morning)
+ Designing a administrative pouch/portfolio for my EDC needs
+ Getting back to taking pictures more often again
+ Getting back to shooting video more often again
+ I’m also (for the first time in a long time) looking at doing another degree- it’s not like I’ve got lots of time or anything, but it’s something that’s been nagging at me for a bit now, and it might be time to at least entertain the idea of scratching the itch.

There’s a bunch of other back-burner stuff going on, but most of that is longer-term and in the planning stages anyway, so we’ll leave that for now.

It’s Back.

So- it’s time. The newsletter is back.
I sent out a smaller edition of it last week, and that was fine. But it was short, and I’m hoping this week will be the first full-sized edition in a few weeks [edit: nope! still a small one…]. To that end, if you’ve not subscribed, you probably should (the sign up form is over on the left side of this page). I’ve realized that by volume, the vast majority of my writing is *actually* in my newsletters. Sure, they’re composed of a few links a week, but I try to offer some commentary as well as some context for my choices. Remember, what I’m trying to offer is a steady stream of useful and inspiring material that you might not have stumbled on yourself.
Anyway.
If you’ve been following here, you know that I’m “in between” computers at the moment. As a result, I’ve been writing and working on an iPad as my “primary” device- though, I suppose, if you were to do the math by calculating hours of screen time, my iPhone would be my “primary.” Whatever. The iPad I’ve been using used to be in heavy rotation by my kids, but they recently got upgraded devices, so me, not being someone who lets something go to waste, decided to see if I could make use of their old devices. I’m writing this now on an iPad. Not an iPad2, not an iPad Air, an iPad. The first one. OG.
Honestly? Not bad. I’d rather browse the web via my phone anyway, so that’s not much of a hangup. And I’d rather play games or consume media elsewhere, too- so that’s not much of an issue. Indeed, what I use this for is writing and drawing (and, I suppose, to a lesser degree for reading…). I just picked up a docking keyboard (the original Apple deal- which has a much nicer keyboard action that it has any right to…) for something like $6 on eBay. It’s a wickedly nice setup, now- it looks nice where it lives (which is weirdly the kitchen counter), it comes apart easily, and it’s a decent sized screen for me to write on. I managed to research, write, edit, do the graphic work, and send the newsletter entirely from this here ancient device. Not too shabby, eh? And this keyboard? No joke, this thing here. Great key action, lovely dedicated buttons to lock/unlock/home/play/volume/etc, and (this might be the best part) Tab actually works to move from text field to text field on the web. That’s key (sorry).
So. Where to next?
Obviously, my ancient device system isn’t workable for all my projects- I like the iPad on the counter in the kitchen, but it won’t do for heavy lifting tasks (In my world, that’d be photo management and editing, video editing and management, IoT development, and other administrative tasks). Clearly, then, a new computer is in the works. Likely an iMac, likely 27″, likely Retina. Speaking of IoT, that’s further to the front of my mind than ever. I have a garage project in the works for that, and the list of things I’d like to do keeps growing faster than I can manage, so plenty left on that front. Also, a slew of crafting projects (mostly in front of a sewing machine), and some looming house projects (getting the library up and running, for example). Plenty to keep busy.

SitRep

SitRep

• The new headquarters is up and running (thankfully), though I suspect there will continue to be work to do on it pretty much indefinitely- that being the nature of houses, after all. Regardless, we’ve reached functional status.
• My studio space is nearly fully functional as well- the audio gear isn’t set up at all (and there’s a fair bit of storage that needs to be sorted), but I can stand here and type this without any problems.
• It’s a new year, and while I’m not going to rant about “resolutions” or whatever, it’s as good a time as any to reorient yourself to your goals- take a step back and decide what you really want to accomplish in the short, medium, and long terms. Writing it down helps, as it seems to make it more real (and, thus, something work paying attention to).
• Given the sheer volume of work I need to get done at the day job, I’ve been brushing up on the GTD flowcharts- if you’re not familiar, GTD is “Getting Things Done,” and it’s a method of managing time and workflow.
• I’ve been using an iPhone and iPad as primary computing devices for a little while- my “main” computer is quite old, and it’s been pressed into service as a server, so it’s not really a day-to-day option anymore. My phone continues to be very, very good- though I find myself using one of the iPads we have around from time to time when I simply need more screen space to work with. I’m typing this on a full-sized iPad with a bluetooth keyboard via Poster.
• To that end, I’ve been looking to supplement the performance of my server situation by picking up another machine to handle that- though, I’m not entirely sure if that would be an older Mac Mini (which, it seems, hold their value to an alarming degree…), or a NAS-based solution… My first choice in NAS is Synology, but those won’t (nicely) run the software I need. So.
• I’ve been getting more and more interested in implementing the IoT in this new house. That’s the “Internet of Things,” and that usually means adding internet interfaces to… things. Thermostats. Smoke detectors. Locks. Garage Doors. Some of that stuff is commercially available already; more is no doubt coming. That said, there are a couple of problems:
1. Security- sometimes, you find out that the internet-enabled tea kettle has massive security holes in it’s interface. So that’s not great.
2. Privacy- I’m not thrilled by the idea of paying for a service for, say, my IP camera by allowing my data to be used from them. That’s a bit too much for me.
3. Boring. It’s not much fun to just plug things in.
4. I’m… particular about the stuff I use. I have criteria I develop, and those (for whatever reason) are often not the same as the market develops.
So, to that end, I’ve been exploring the Adafruit offerings more, with the hopes that I might be able to build and code the tools I need. The offerings have only become more inexpensive and easier to work with, and my interest has been growing. I’ve picked up a Raspberry Pi Zero already (and if you haven’t, you might consider it…), a Supermechanical Twine (that, right now, mostly is used to remotely monitor the internal temperature of my house), and I’ve a CHIP on the way (in March, I think). The Raspberry Pi will get pressed into service in the garage, I think, and I’m sure more of that sort of stuff will make it into my house.
• I’m going to try to get back to my newsletter too- I’ve had no time to think about education in any meaningful way, and I’ve had no time to mine my sources to find the tidbits I like to send out to people- and, as I’ve said before, I’d rather send nothing than a half-assed product. Regardless, it will come back.

SitRep

Ah, yes. Here we are, again.

I’ve made the move to the new headquarters- it’s still chaos, with boxes and stuff strewn all about, but there’s progress being made. Nearly all the stuff has made it’s way here, and the stuff that hasn’t is scheduled to come soon, so that’s good (insofar as it means I’ll have all the pieces to this particular puzzle- even if the puzzle isn’t finished, so to speak).

I’m behind on the newsletter. There’s just not much time right now to dig through the web to find the nuggets that are worth sharing. Indeed, I’d rather send nothing than send a lame/half-assed edition. These should be back soon.

The (new) house presents a number of projects/problems to solve:

  • I’ve cut the cord on our cable subscriptions- we have high speed internet only. That means I’ve had to do some work to build a system that will allow us to continue to enjoy watching tv with as little trouble as possible. Right now, I’m running a Plex server (which, if you’re unfamiliar with, is totally awesome). That server holds our movies and archived tv shows, and makes them available to any of our devices, regardless of their physical location. So that’s good. I’ve also installed a plugin that allows for watching live tv via the same interface- it uses a ip-enabled set of digital tv tuners. There’s some software in the works to allow that to function as a DVR for network television- so that will solve the time-shift problem, and I’ve begun exploring running Rasplex on some Raspberry Pi Zero’s to turn some old monitors into smart tv’s. That’s a neat prospect, especially given a Pi Zero costs $5. The control of that device is the current sticking point- I’m unwilling to have a keyboard/mouse connected. It needs to be something much more remote-like. Still $5!
  • The internal house network also has taken some work- the house, despite only being a couple of years old, wasn’t wired for data. At all. Sure, they ran hard phone lines and coax all over the place, but no data. The phones lines were even run in old-school four conductor wire- not eight (which is what data needs, really). Stupid. And I loath the prospect of snaking wires, so I’ve picked up a powerline data system- I’m wary, but the reviews are good, and if it works, it solves my problem without me cutting into walls.
  • The house has a number of heating and cooling zones- but it has the oldest kind of thermostats, ever. Remember those round ones that you turn the ring on? Yeah. Those. Totally unacceptable. So I’m looking at moving to smart thermostats (Nest 3.0’s, if you want to be specific about it…) but they’re $250 each, and that’s a pile of loot all together. So I’ll likely do one on the first floor (where we spend a lot of time), and then expand over time as well. I’ve got a Nest Protect around here somewhere too- I should get that installed.
  • Storage in the garage is a horror show. It’s a two car garage, but there’s a ton of my junk in it- and combined with the rider mower we now have, there’s no room for my car. So: much shelving- and it can’t rest on the floor. So wall mounted or ceiling hung- those are my choices. And bike winches. Lots of bike winches.

That’s house stuff. Other projects include:

  • Finishing a tiny backpack for a 2 year old
  • Building a new studio space
  • Video essay progress
  • Rooftop fly rod transport
  • Further car modifications (re: aux lighting)
  • Custom rubber stamp procurement
  • Physical archive project (this will expand over time, but I’ve already created and had made a full archive of all my tweets between 08/18/2012 and 12/09/2015. I’ll need to figure out a way to go back further than that, and this should also expand to video and photos, too).
  • My new computer rig- this is a post-christmas project. Looking like a 27″ Retina iMac of some sort- with lots of storage and whatnot.

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s it for now.

I made something.

I get stuck, sometimes. Creation is hard, and it can feel overwhelming it its scope and depth. Fighting back can be hard, too- because creation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Life’s other pressures don’t abate just because you’ve started a new project.

Lots of folks have fought this- and many have come up with workable strategies. Among those I’ve found (that I like), Oblique Strategies is a favorite. It’s a deck of cards, designed by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, to help musicians stuck in the studio. As much as I like them, they’re not wholly applicable to what I do. Also, Austin Kleon recently posted about how he’s making his own deck (though his, predictably, is made with a Sharpie…).

New thing over at stealstrategies.net #stealstrategies

A photo posted by Austin Kleon (@austinkleon) on

So, today, hungry to be able to create something (as much of my creation-materials are in storage in preparation for my upcoming move…), I lugged my typewriter out of the basement and grabbed the stack of blank cards I use to work on my kids’ game we’re building together.

And to work I went.

Today’s project.

A photo posted by Tim Calvin (@nothingfuture) on

43 Cards later, I have a deck of ideas and prompts. Things to push me in a direction and (hopefully) get me unstuck.

Video Essays

Ah, yes. A subject I’ve been going on about (if you’ve been reading my newsletter). I can’t help it, I suppose- video essays are clearly, I think, the next thing in education. They’re too versatile, too compelling, too multi-modal to be ignored. And, if we’re talking about any modern version of literacy, they’re necessary.

As a result of all this, I’ve been watching a ton of these things. There are lots of them out there, on a wide variety of subject and of a (predictably) wide variety of quality. There doesn’t seem to be any formalized consensus on the form itself (thus far), but there do seem to be a number of “conventions” that have been reached.

  1. Length seems to be in the 5-12 minute range. There have been some longer ones (Everything is a Remix, for example), but those tend to be divided into “chapters.”
  2. Most of the popular videos seem to be about following tropes in culture through multiple media- books, music, film, art, etc…
  3. Voice over is a thing. It’s what provides the bulk of the linking (from example to example), but the best ones let the examples speak, too.
  4. Tight tight tight. Not a wasted second, not an extra anything. Take your time with the examples, fine- but don’t pad it out with anything that’s not tightly related & integrated.
  5. Quality- examples you use have to be high quality- high def video, clear & high res pictures, readable text, clean audio. Your audience will be intolerant of anything else.
  6. Citations. As a favorite teacher of mine once said: Give credit where it is due (thanks, Mrs. Schwartz!). It really is that simple: anything you use that you, yourself, haven’t made? Cite it.
  7. Soundtrack isn’t an afterthought.
  8. Animation breathes life into static material. Paintings, text, and pictures all don’t move on their own, so you need to add that movement. Animated highlighting to text. Ken Burns movements on the images. Animated arrows or circles on static material. Direct your viewers’ attention.

Structurally, these really aren’t that different than a more “traditional” essay- introductions, conclusions, evidence, transitions- all those elements of construction remain conventions here.

I’m working on one of these, myself- it’s a super-duper busy time for me (both at work and at home), and so the progress is… slow. Still: I just shot some footage for a tiny segment yesterday, so I’m not making zero progress. I’d not hold my breath, were I you, however.

SitRep

Here’s what I’m up to:

  • Newsletter #40 goes out this morning. Just a few more and it’ll have been a full year of these. Still not sure why I do it.
  • Getting all the ducks in a row for closing day on the existing house/new house. Renting trucks, getting documents in order, buying cardboard boxes, etc etc etc.
  • Experimental Education video project is ready for the next round of revision. That will (likely) be the last beta before I give it a try in a live setting. After that, I’ll be able to write about this with more details.
  • Car has been (mostly) converted to winter mode. Still waiting on a couple of parts. Suspension is fixed, winter wheels/tires are on. Needs new wipers and the windshield prepped.
  • New phone came. iPhone 6s Plus in grey 64gb. Very like. Currently wrapped in a Magpul field case (grey).
  • I’ve been researching mini metal lathes. That (usually) means a 7″ swing and a bed between 10-16″. It’s a daunting amount of research, but I’ve got some time before this is a real thing.
  • Starting to spec out a new computer for the new house. Looks like an iMac (27?), with a USB3 hard drive array and some other bits and baubles. I’m still working on if I’ll do a second monitor (right away? wait?), and what sort of stands/arms that will require. I’ll likely also use it as a place to consolidate my audio gear, so I’m imagining all that patched in too.

Blowing up on twitter.

Last night, just before getting off the train on the evening commute, I sent out a tweet. It was mildly political and mentioned William Gibson in it- who was the author of the quote I was mentioning. He, in turn, re-tweeted my tweet, and thus began a night of my phone exploding with twitter notifications.

By the morning that’d mostly settled down. Gibson has ~178K followers on twitter, and in the twelve (or so) hours since I sent the original message, that tweet got 92 retweets and 126 favorites. In my world, that’s a lot. When I checked the twitter stats on it, I found that it was seen by just over 20,000 people and “engaged with” by just over 3,000 people. That’s way above any sort of average engagement I get.

So I was curious as how this new-to-me attention would manifest in the rest of my online presence. Would I get subscriptions to my newsletter? Follows on twitter? Would my (this) website see a spike in traffic?

Nope.

Of the 20,000 people who saw the tweet, two followed me. 23 clicked my bio link in twitter (which has this webpage link in it), and of those, 8 actually got here. Zero subscriptions to my newsletter.

So here’s what I’ve learned: twitter is a land unto itself. Things that happen there are largely isolated there- so if you want people to read something, it best be in the tweet. If you provide a link to something- it’s not getting clicked. Your profile isn’t going to be raised anywhere else. Indeed, any single spike on twitter isn’t even going to do much for you on twitter. The engagement you see there is only there, and it’s isolated from the rest of your online presence.

What do I do with this information? I change the way I tweet a bit. It’s less about links to things now- at least, no links without some of the content attached. I’ll stop worrying about trying to use twitter as a device to drive traffic anywhere else- no matter how easy I think I’ve made that. I’ll let twitter just be twitter.

Solving a Problem

So here’s the situation:

Students of all ages are increasingly turning to their mobile device to consume media. And, since part of what I do is deliver content for online learning, this has ramifications for me. Video needs to be optimized. There are a lot of parameters and vectors for this, but it can mostly be boiled down to this:

What is the video trying to accomplish and where will that video be consumed?

So a video that will be seen for 15 seconds at 60 mph on a highway billboard has different design restrictions than something that will be shown during a prime-time advertisement slot. That much should be obvious. But less so is the assumption that all web-based video will be consumed via a screen of some size. This, while (maybe) once was true, the days of our students by default consuming such video on a 20″ screen on a desktop are gone. The best you’re likely to do is a smallish laptop screen, and it’s more and more likely that it’ll be a 5″ phone screen. The question becomes, then, how to best convey video content (in the sense of video lectures and the like) via such little screen real estate.

We can make whatever stipulations we want- We can say that students need to use a “full” sized screen (whatever that means). We can say that things are best consumed on larger screens. But students will do what I do, and use whatever device is at hand. And most of the time, that’s a phone.

I’ve got some ideas in the works that might help with some of this- some methods that might allow greater student choice and better use of the limited screen space a phone has. I’ll be writing about them more in the future here, as it’s something I actually hope to publish and present on. I’m also in the earlier stages of testing some of this- I’m still learning what’s possible and what works/why. There are technical issues to overcome and consider (bandwidth, for example, looks to be an early hurdle), and there are issues of defining best practices and streamlining the workflow into a manageable and scale-able form. Still, the possibilities are enticing.

Anyway. This will be an ongoing thing- I’ll try to keep relatively up to date here with it, but again, I’ll be holding back somewhat, as I need to write a bunch of this up.

SitRep

I’m trying to get back to posting here a bit more often. But, you should know: most of my writing about education stuff is happening over at my newsletter. You should sign up for that (if you haven’t already).

Anyway. What have I been up to?

  • Selling a house. This is not a fun thing to do
  • Buying a house. Also: not a fun thing. Especially under a time constraint
  • Tracking my diet via my Hobonichi Techno
  • Beginning a search for a new winter hat
    • Merino wool (or, alternatively, cashmere…)
    • Minimal labels/branding
    • Long enough to roll the edge
  • Packing packing packing
  • Designing a new computer work station (for said new house)
    • Currently, that’s looking like a quad-monitor setup with more than one computer running them. I’ve got a kickstarter Chip heading my way soon, so that might run one, and the main computer will be running at least two others… still some work to do here. Also, need figure out the storage solution for this whole rig. My data right now is spread across a pile of hard drives, and I need to consolidate.
  • Trying to source an acceptable duck-cloth vest for the cooler weather we’re having. There are a number that would be acceptable, but most of them have price tags I just can’t quite stomach. So I’ll keep looking (and eventually probably just try to make one myself).
  • Lusting over the new Glowforge laser cutter/engraver. It’s a totally reasonable price ($2k), though that’s more than I’d like to spend at this moment (see above: buying house). And the software is the real gem there, too. SUPER EASY. Any k-12 Makerspaces that aren’t buying one of these are missing out. Couple this with a decent 3d printer and there isn’t much you can’t make…
  • I’ve planned out a roof-top solution for carrying a selection of fishing rods. I won’t source the parts until after the move to the new house, but I think it’ll be worth posting about.
  • I’ve got a couple of days until I can order my new cell phone. I won’t post specs here (because I’m still not entirely sure which options I’ll go with), but I’m looking forward to it.
  • I’ve been running Ghosterly on my computers for the last couple of weeks, and I really like it. Sure, it breaks some things- but it lets my old, old computer I’m using surf significantly faster when it’s not loading endless junk. I’m also using Peace on my iPhone (pulled from the app store- natch!) and I can’t tell you how much better it is browsing on my phone with that. I totally understand why Marco pulled the app- the ethics of add blocking are… murky. But still. I understand that people derive earnings from ads- but when those ads degrade the experience as much as they have? Yeah. Time for something to change.
  • Also: as a result of running Ghosterly, I noticed that my site had more trackers/pings/widgets on it than I either realized or found acceptable. I’ve removed a bunch of those, and I apologize in the meantime. That said, I think there were 4 running- last time I went to a major site (cnn = 16, buzzfeed = 13, people = 19) I found the numbers egregious. So I don’t feel too bad about 4.