October 12, 2008

The end of the beginning?

I really enjoyed this course. Congratulations, Amy, on a great curriculum and thanks for all the discoveries you shared.

I enjoyed blogging, use RSS feeds nightly, shared pictures across the web, found some potential uses for Facebooking with clientele, and have even been somewhat convinced that Wikis may not, after all, represent the fall of civilization (although I am adopting more of a 'wait and see' attitude about that...).

Although all of the topics were interesting, there were some real gems here that I'll start to use in both my outreach and academic teaching, one even re-invigorated an older extension project that has lost some momentum. This summer I intend to start using IM to deliver pest update information and support it with web media formatted for smaller, mobile screens. I'd previously considered podcasting lectures from my classes, after this course, I will probably start this this winter. I'm very excited about the potential for video conferencing in distance delivery of programming. But probably my favorite was Google Docs, another technology I had started to use but kind of gotten away from. Now I'm using it all the time and recommending it to anyone who'll stand still long enough!

My fascination with Google Docs stems from my use of a mobile internet device (I'm writing on it now). And this, in my opinion, is where the Internet is really going. We're going to see mobile access of the internet increase exponentially over the upcoming few years. As Extension Educators, we should be ready to adopt and exploit these newer methods of accessing web resources. It's an exciting time; although many of us have only just adjusted to using the web for publication, now we're going to have to adapt our publications for a more rapid and situational access of our published information. This journey is really just starting...

Too cool, Amy. Hope you're going to do it again (or perhaps something related...)

October 9, 2008

Video Killed The Radio Star....

When it runs well, video conferencing is just plain sweet. Occasionally, the bandwidth can narrow to the point where presenters look like the 6 Million Dollar Man running in the credits of that 70's pop culture icon (I used to worry about dating myself, now the gray hair does it for me...) but overall, it still beats the heck out of speakerphones! UMConnect scores a high geek factor rating, which, especially in the context of this course, makes it ubercool. The realtime exchange of audio and video, along with file sharing, reminds me of reading those old Popular Mechanics articles about what the future would be like - hey, we've arrived (but where's my flying car!?)

I have some experience with videoconferencing using older systems (in fact, one of my grad students and I once wrote a paper together sharing desktops with MS NetMeeting, he in St Paul and me in Crookston). But UMConnect is much easier to use and, as Amy's post mentions, much more user friendly. Video conferencing is going to greatly facilitate any distance outreach; in fact, I was part of a discussion regarding distance delivery of outreach courses just the other day and UMConnect may be an ideal tool for our plans. While the technology may not currently be a good fit for large audiences, this will undoubtedly change soon. Only several years ago teleconferencing was the realm of dedicated landlines! With the U.S. moving closer to WIMAX and High Speed Packet Access, we'll actually see video conferencing released from the bonds of network-tethered machines. We're not that far from receiving videoconferencing in the field. Imagine simultaneous, state-wide field schools, scouting clinics, or one-on-one video conferencing Q&A's with our clientele. Hello Popular Mechanics!

In fact, about the only drawback I can see with this technology is that the recipients can now see me. I'm not so certain this is an advantage - in fact, should I host one of these things from my office, the state of my desk will convince recipients the NWROC has just been savaged by a twister! In addition, while I've been told I have a good voice for commentary, I've also been informed that my countenance makes it unlikely MTV will be beating down my door (I'd be lucky if VH-1 came calling!) But perhaps I'm focusing too much on the negative, participants can turn always off the video and only listen. Thank goodness for Freecell!

October 7, 2008

my thmbs hrt...

I've been trying to use Pidgen on my Nokia Internet Tablet to IM with my wife at her office. The Thingee (as I've come to call the Nokia) has a slide out keyboard on which you have to use your thumbs (sorry, "yr thms") I've also tried Twitter from my phone. Both of these attempts have had mixed results. Picture tiny keys and big thumbs (one with a bandaid on it!) - not the best mix, my thumbs are ready to fall off!

The abbreviated spelling is also killing my mind, I like vowels! I suppose when you get used to it, the simplified (read: nonexistent) spelling rules make messaging faster, but for now it seems to take me just as long to figure out the acronyms! I get TTFN, LOL, and even LMAO, but could someone explain "ICBWBIDI" and "ISIT"? I have installed an acronym glossary on my phone but it's taking just as long to check definitions as it is to read the message longhand! What I need is Babelfish for IM messaging, I could type in the English and out would come "I cud typ n d nglsh"... I can't say much for what my mind's ear hears when I read IM-Speak either! It reads like the phonetic script of a mafia hitman in an old movie ('Wat ya want me ta do wit da body, boss?') I get the impression Rocko would have been exceptionally adroit with an IPhone!

Having said all of that, my wife and I both have been known to use our cell phones to text message like crazed court stenographers when in exceptionally long and boring meetings: "bord - wats 4 dinr", "dno - ne ideas", "psta", "ok"... And another 3 minutes of boring meeting successfully vanquished by technology!

I can see this as an ideal medium for classroom teaching and it has some promise for outreach as well. Certainly in my field, texting and IMing have and continue to be used as a method to rapidly inform crop scouts of developing regional problems ("sta in truk, LOCUSTS!"). A number of years ago, we tried to adopt this and were blocked by the lack of digital cell service (needed for texting) in outstate MN. Instead we utilized analogue taped messages and telemarketing software to launch the HeadsUp network. But we are segueing back to text messages again. This upcoming season we will have a number of outgoing pest alerts, prepared and delivered via IM technologies ans supporting webpages formatted for mobile viewing.

But for now I need to go soak my thumbs....

October 3, 2008

Facebook me sometime...

Facebook changed my life! Well, it changed the way I communicated with my niece about her wedding anyway. She coordinated a lot of wedding stuff through her facebook account, including colors for the wedding party (my daughter's the flower girl). When I first asked her about the wedding, she replied, "Facebook me". I was pretty sure she didn't want me to smack her in the head with the dictionary I was holding, so using said volume I quickly looked up "facebook" - wasn't there, darn Webster's! Anyway, it was lengthily explained to me that, as is common in N. American English, the noun had be verbed and I was to immediately go to Facebook and sign up as her friend. So began my limited experience with Social Networking.

Years ago, when the earth was green, dinosaurs ruled the earth and I had yet to return to graduate school, I worked in pharmaceutical sales. No I did not stand on a street corner, I worked for a large drug company and visited lots and lots of doctors and asked them what they liked and didn't like about the company's products. This feedback was analyzed to determine what the company's clientele were interested in. Businesses have been doing this for a long time. Seems to me these Social Networking sites offer us a similar opportunity.

These sorts of utilities have tremendous potential both for internal organization (a nice way to organize our areas of expertise and what we're currently working on and the information we have currently prepared to present) and to assess and get input from our clientele and stakeholders. Our clientele could provide input on what issues they would like to see discussed at upcoming events, or even suggest programming that's needed. One of the biggest concerns of Extension Educators is that we stay responsive and relevant. This could be a mechanism whereby that is easily achieved. Although we have far too many individual clients to make this feasible, it might work very well for representative groups. In my case, I'm thinking of commodity groups, who everyday hear the concerns and needs of their members.

In addition, client profiles for an audience could provide information that would make our programming not just more efficient and responsive but more attractive to our clientele. It can include what venues are preferred, what ancillary services have been most appreciated Yes, I know we all keep this info in our heads, but it's still nice to get the input and maintain a record of client's needs.

I have yet to establish either a Facebook or a MySpace account, but someday, maybe somebody will Facebook me.....

Google Docs Rocs


I've previously mentioned that I am semi-permanently attached to an Internet Tablet. This thing needs WiFi or cell phone to connect. It also has very limited onboard memory. So I welcome any web utility that decreases what memory I have to assign to PIM.

I started using Google Docs a while back and have to admit, had let my enthusiasm and participation wane a bit. But this module of the course has brought me back!! I uploaded my calendar, pushed over a PowerPoint that I later shared with a colleague and even tried to use it to do a class presentation - unsuccessfully, but technical issues can (and will!) be overcome!!

Google docs rocs!

Wikis for Good Instead of Evillll !

Sorry, but Wikipedia is a hot button for me, here comes the rant....

As an instructor of an undergraduate class, I gotta say it - Wikipedia is evil, the beginning of the end of civilization, Apocalypse City, man. Okay, maybe not that bad, but it sure as heck is NOT a trusted information source! You would not believe the sort of stuff I've seen students hand in over the past several years ("But it was on Wikipedia, it MUST be right!")

Wikipedia facilitates input from everyone to help define encyclopedic descriptions / entries; everyone has equal weighting in their say. This is a good thing, right? Complete egalitarianism. Problem is, however much it offends our sensibilities, knowledge is not egalitarian. If it were, universities wouldn't exist. Knowledge comes from education and experience. Am I saying that only the university educated and 'experts' have the right to contribute to the overall collection of knowledge? Don't bother going there, didn't say that, never would. But consider this, are you going to ask someone who's untrained to re-wire your house? Fix the brakes on your car? Remove your appendix? No? Then why trust their description of how to do it on Wikipedia? Bottom line is that not everyone's knowledge on a subject is equal. And an entity setting itself up as a source of knowledge had better take some steps to ensure that it's delivering knowledge, and not opinion.

There's also the issue of potential misuse of Wikipedia. Corporations have changed Wikipedia entries to more favorably reflect on their products, recent presidential campaign workers have begun 'adjusting' the biographies of both their candidates and those of the opposition, etc. Jon Stewart of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, prior to hosting Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, went onto the site and successfully edited several entries (including, I believe, the definition of 'elephant') multiple times over a week before the entry was locked out.

Yes, Wikipedia does some remedial editing and they've more recently taken some steps to fact check, tag multiple editors and assign the source of some edits. But they also set themselves up as a source of knowledge prior to doing any of this. Sorry if I'm considered a killjoy here, but I happen to think that checking the veracity of an item might be something you want to consider BEFORE you put it out for the world to consider as fact...

Does all this mean Wikis are bad? Nope, they're part of the Internet, just electrons, they can't be bad or good. Just means that they have to be prepared, read, and interpreted appropriately (like all of the rest of the technologies we've discussed here). For extension, I can see a multitude of uses for Wikis, both internally and as an outreach tool. In my own field, discussions on pest management would be greatly facilitated if users could refine management schemes/tactics, or build a compendium of MN insect, weed and disease pests, what they've seen, what the symptoms are, what the appropriate control tactics might be.

So, be sure that you use the power wisely, for good instead of evil.....

Insects Need A Spindoctor...

Well, once again I am struck by the poor reception that the most numerous animals on the face of the planet are receiving! After searching all of the podcast sites in the lesson (and some other sources) pretty much the only podcasts I can find on insects have to do with destruction of crops, property, or health. I mean really, less than 10% of all insects are pests (and >85% of all animals ARE insects!). But there we go again with ticks and mosquitoes and encephalitis and West Nile and locusts and.....

I suspect insects need to hire a really good PR guy, someone to control the media spin. Hmmm, wonder who politicians use......

August 25, 2008

a picture is sometimes worth less than a word...

Sometimes a picture, especially one of mine, is not as informative as it should be...
Having said that the digital photo sent by e-mail is a State Specialist's friend! I can't begin to estimate the number of insect problems I've diagnosed remotely via this method.
They also are invaluable in blogs and weekly listserves to point out potential insect symptoms. Check out the photo of soybean aphid molted exoskeletons in the field (or not....)

http://nwroc.umn.edu/ent/photo/cast_mold1.JPG

There are also a number of sites that now take photos from specific locations and overlay them over a larger view of the same location - not sure if this is exactly the same as a mashup, but certainly similar. Check out Imagelinka at:

http://imagelinka.com/v1/main.jsp


August 22, 2008

No news is good news to some...

Last spring I got a Nokia N810, this little gizmo is an Internet Tablet, connects via WiFi, is a little larger than a Palm and has a useable keyboard. I got it originally because I got tired of carting around a laptop when all I seemed to use it for was reading e-mail and VOIP calls home (both of which this little thingee does really well). But I have since discovered a dark side… I now find myself using it more and more to read RSS feeds – The New York Times, the BBC (I go into withdrawal without quality international journalism - okay, I confess, it's the accent!), the CBC (I also go into withdrawal without quality hockey coverage), weather updates, commodity prices, and myriad other feeds (including, now, this course!).
I’ve always been a bit of a news junkie, now my wife has commented that the only time I’m not consulting this little digital appendage is when its batteries have run down (I suspect she is turning it on when I’m not around so I have to recharge more frequently). At any rate, I have started to leave the temptation in the office and now confine my RSS feeds to my home computer...

Bad blog...

Okay, blogging may very well be hip and cool and it is becoming one of the predominant forms of written communication in the digital world. But I suspect the video clip “Blogs in Plain English? doesn’t exactly reflect reality when it portrays everyone as a potential journalist with something to say. At least this hypothesis is definitely not supported by the preponderance of the evidence actually existing in the blogosphere.
Bloggers who confuse the line between truth, opinion, and just plain gossip are common and there is a plethora of misinformation, misinterpretation and outright prevarication. Add to this the concurrent degeneration of quality journalism (not necessarily causally related but certainly correlated) and a global shift from traditional news media to alternate digital sources, like blogs, and the result is a scary picture indeed.
But it is also one that points to the necessity of our presence in this medium. Looking for information on the Internet was once described as looking for gold nuggets in the sewer, they're there but you've really gotta look! After using Technorati to seek and peruse some of the pest management blogs out there, I've come to realize that a few nuggets are probably called for...