Thursday, September 27, 2012

How the iPad Changes Music Forever

Thanks to guest author and composer Pretty Good Pete for this article and the wonderful music!

    I’m not afraid to admit that I looked down upon the Apple iPad when it was released in April 2010. It was probably 9 months after release before I had my first experience with the device. After all, the iPhone and iPod Touch lines had been released several years before, and the iPad just seemed like a larger version of the Touch. As an early adopter of the Touch, I felt no need to “upgrade” from my first-generation Touch to a larger, heavier version. But one single, solitary app changed my opinion in an instant.

    March 2011 brought the release of Garageband for iPad. Several months later, when I finally acquired my first iPad, the first thing I did was download Garageband. After all, $4.99 wasn’t a whole lot of money at the time, so I wouldn’t lose much if the app was useless. It was going to be a toy, something fun to play with when I was bored, something to DO on a “useless” device.

    Instead, what I found was an extremely robust recording program with a wide-enough bank of sounds and effects that let my creativity run wild. After making the obligatory techno tracks using only the touch-screen instruments, I began to play with the guitar effects - you could plug a guitar into the headphone jack, allowing you to record and use Garageband’s built-in amplifiers and effects “pedals”. A cheap adapter allowed me to plug a “controller” keyboard into the dock connector, allowing me to play the synthesizer instruments without having to use the touchscreen (saving battery a bit in the process). I was completely hooked.

    Expanding my horizons, I found apps that allowed the iPad to control the sounds on a Mac laptop, instead of needing an actual physical keyboard. I have synthesizer apps that generate ridiculous sounds a la King Crimson or Pink Floyd. I found apps that allow the touchscreen to be used as an entire instrument, complete with all of the expressions and emotions of the best physical-instrument virtuosos.

    Jim Morrison once said, “I can envision one person with a lot of machines - tapes, electronic setups - singing and speaking, and using a lot of machines.” Who needs a lot of machines when you can have one single machine do anything you want? The future of music exists on a 10-inch screen.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Do you borrow money from your children?

“Hey, Alex. Do you have any cash I could borrow?”

“Maybe. What do you need it for, Mom?”

“I’m going to the museum with Gloria and I need $6 in cash to get in. Do you have some?”

“I guess so. You know, you really should put aside some of your paycheck for entertainment expenses like this. You can’t keep borrowing from me.”

“I know. I’m sorry I have to ask you for money again. If I use a bank machine, I have to pay the fees to take money out.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that one before. When are you going to pay me back?”

“I’ll go to the bank and withdraw some cash tomorrow, OK? For heaven’s sake, I only need to borrow 6 dollars! You’d think I need to borrow the rent money or something.”

My son raised one eyebrow. “It’s not really about the amount, now is it? It’s about your lack of planning and the fact that you keep borrowing money from my piggy bank.”

“I always pay it back, though,” I pointed out.

“But you don’t pay me interest.”

“Do you really want to go there?”

He thought about it for a long moment, then sighed. “I guess not.” He dug in his pocket and carefully counted out six crumpled one-dollar bills. He shoved the five and the twenty back in his pocket as he handed me the ones.

“Thanks, sweetie. I really appreciate the loan.”

He walked away, muttering something under his breath about interest and loans and my frequent borrowing that I totally ignored.

I picked up my phone and dialed Gloria. “I borrowed the $6 from Alex, so I can go to the museum. Would you mind driving? Alex was so grumpy I didn’t want to ask for gas money, too.”

Thursday, September 20, 2012

An Engineering Epic Fail

I think high-end cameras are stupid. I mean your typical Nikons and Canons and such. You know, the pricier ones with the changeable lenses.  SLRs and such. Now, I don't mean the device itself is stupid, or that buying or owning one is stupid... I mean that the design of these cameras is stupid.

Why in the world are we still scrunching our noses up against the back of the camera, often smudging the color display, to squint through the viewfinder? The camera companies figured this out for the little point-and-shoot jobs a long time ago.  I don't think you can even find one with a glass viewfinder anymore. But the big boys still have them.  This wide-body design is a holdover from the days when the roll of film had to spread across the back of the camera lens.  But we don't use film anymore. Today's college graduates have probably never even seen a real film camera. And yet, the nose gets scrunched as we go for that perfect shot.

They figured it out for video cameras. Same technology, better shape. Heck... Keep the old-timey shape... Just extend the viewfinder like they do on video cameras... presto! No nose oil smeared on the LCD display.  Even in the old film days, why didn't they just put the viewfinder on the bottom of the camera instead of the top?  That would have been much better.

Why don't they ever ask me about these kinds of things? They should just check with me first and save themselves a lot of embarrassment.

Thanks to guest blogger Chris Scullion for this amusing article!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Violent Students: What is a Teacher Supposed to Do?

            What would you do if a 16-year-old student became verbally abusive, doused you with a milkshake, and then picked up a chair with the intent to throw it at you? Unfortunately, this is not a random scenario; incidents like this one that happened at a U.K. high school recently are not isolated cases. How are you, as a teacher, supposed to handle a situation like this?

            Robert Cox, a 13-year teaching veteran, made the decision to push the out-of-control boy into a chair and physically restrain him there. A video record of the incident showed that he was attempting to protect himself and other students. He was fired for his efforts. Obviously, Mr. Cox’s reaction was seen by the administration as unacceptable. Instead, he was accused of escalating the incident and provoking the boy, thereby causing the problem.

            So what should you, as a teacher, do in such a situation? Do you simply talk to the student, try to calm him down? Do you back away and give the child time to cool off by himself? Do you threaten the student with disciplinary action? Do you do whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of all students, even if that means physically restraining an out-of-control student?

            Keep in mind that teachers are human beings. Reacting to a physical threat is instinctual. Mr. Cox had already been physically threatened when the student had thrown a milkshake at him, so it was likely that the chair may indeed have been the student’s next projectile. Was his reaction out of proportion to the threat? Perhaps not.

            Of course, each situation is different and much depends on the personality and experience level of the teacher. I have not seen the video of Mr. Cox’s incident, but I have personally witnessed several such cases when I was teaching in the public schools. Occasionally, a teacher involved in an incident will overreact to a perceived threat, but most often the out-of-control student is truly in danger of harming the teacher, other students, or himself.

            I always try to keep my cool in these situations. Sending for help, talking to the student, and keeping other students from coming too close are priorities. The few times I have had to restrain a student before he or she injured me or someone else, I did not react from anger. Perhaps that is the key. If you can keep the situation from becoming a personal battle between teacher and student, you can keep your head and consider your options. You’re the adult; he or she is the child. Use that experience and keep your cool.

            Teaching is a noble, honorable profession. It is difficult to believe that handling volatile situations like this has become fairly commonplace for teachers.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

An Exercise in Futility: Boys versus Girls

“Gosh darn it all to heck!” I slammed my hand down on the desk.

“What is it you’re darning all to heck, dearest?” Chris tried to hide a smile, but didn’t quite succeed. We’ve been married for 29 years, and I know him pretty well.

“I’m trying to apply for this job and the website keeps refusing to save my input and I keep having to start from the beginning. It’s frustrating, darn it all!”

“…to heck. Yeah, I heard that part. Do you want help?”

“I guess. I don’t understand why this darn computer won’t do what I want it to do. Look, when I click here, it lets me enter my data. Then I click here to save, and the program sends me back to the login screen. It happens every darn time!”

“How many times have you tried doing that?” Chris asked, frowning at me.

“Well, I don’t know. A dozen maybe?”

“I see. I’m going to tell you a little story, OK?”


“Just listen. There was recently a study done to see if boys and girls react differently to just this kind of situation. Boy and girl babies were placed in front of monitors and taught that if they pull a rope, the screen would show colorful pictures. Pulling on the rope changed the picture. Got it?”

“Yes,” I answered with a sigh. There was no point trying to hurry him. He’d get to the point sooner or later.

“Then the researchers changed the test. Now when the babies pulled the rope, the pictures would change for a time or two, and then the rope would stop working. It turns out that boy babies would pull the rope once or twice more, figure out that the toy had stopped working, and look around for something else to do. Girl babies, on the other hand, would continue to pull the rope even though nothing ever happened when they did. They would get frustrated and start to cry.”

“What exactly are you trying to say, Christopher?” I narrowed my eyes and glared at him.

“Just pointing out that you’re a girl, darling wife. If it doesn’t work – ever – why would you continue to try?”

“I don’t like you very much right now,” I warned him.

“How about if I solve your problem? What browser are you using?”

“Google Chrome.”

“I see. Maybe this website doesn’t support Chrome. Try switching to Internet Explorer.”

I sighed heavily, closed Chrome, opened Explorer, and easily completed the job application in just a few minutes. “Gosh darn it all to heck!” I mumbled as I turned off the computer.

“Did that work?” Chris called from the living room.

“Did that work?” I parroted, albeit under my breath. “Um…yeah,” I answered.

“No need to thank me,” he laughed.

I rolled my eyes. “Fine, then. I won’t.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Cowboys Beat Giants in First Game of the Season!

I’m sure there were shouts and huzzahs! all over the U.S. last night, except perhaps for some random people in New York and one couple that I know of  in Orlando, Florida. Here in Lawrenceville, GA, there were no shouts. There were no huzzahs! There was stunned silence.

“The game is over?” I asked doubtfully.

“Yup,” Chris answered.

“And the Cowboys won?”

He smiled at me. “Yes, your Cowboys won.”

“That would be the Dallas Cowboys?”

Chris laughed.

“Tony Romo, Demarcus Ware, et al?”

“You watched the game, Vicki.”

“I know, but really. My Dallas Cowboys won? My Dallas Cowboys won!”

It finally sank in. I pulled out my phone.

“You do have bragging rights,” Chris noted. “It was a great game.”

I texted the couple in Orlando: “Dearest Mom and Dad, Romo Rocks! Sorry about Eli and the Giants. NOT!”

I swear I could hear my parents sigh from 400 miles away. We’ve been a divided family since forever. Staunch Giant fans, somehow my parents raised a staunch, nee rabid, Cowboys fan. They wonder where they went wrong. I wonder why they never saw the light. The Cowboys are obviously superior. Last night, my Cowboys proved it.

Woohoo, Cowboys!!

By the way, Demarcus Ware got 2 sacks last night, which is probably enough to convince the child in the NFL ad to become a Cowboys’ fan. Welcome to the club, little man.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Reading is...well...fundamental

I do love to read. Now that I'm in control of my addiction to Mafia Wars, all I want to do with my spare time is read. I have bookshelves packed full of hardcovers and paperbacks, and piles of books littering my desk, chairs, and floor. Unfortunately, those aren't the books I'm reading. I will get to them at some point, at least that's what I tell Chris. But really, I'm hooked on my Kindle.

I have a Kindle, the Kindle app on my iPad and my iPhone, and I am deliriously happy. I can read the same book wherever I happen to be, using whichever device I happen to have. I don't even have to search for my page; all of these pieces of hardware automatically sync with each other and with my computer. I tend to read several books at a time, but with these magical devices, I can carry all of them: the classic I'm determined to read at last (e.g. 1984); a textbook on teaching strategies; and the latest vampire romance.

So you've gathered that I like my Kindle and you're wondering how on earth I can afford the hundreds of books stored on it already. Here's my secret: www.pixelofink.com
Pixel of Ink

Pixel of Ink collects the Kindle books that Amazon is giving away for a limited time, and sends you an e-mail or posts on your FB page, and also posts them on the Pixel of Ink webpage. You can "purchase" any of these books for free from Amazon and have them delivered to your Kindle in seconds. Of course, not all selections may appeal to you, and some of the free books are admittedly better than others. You really don't have anything to lose by checking them out, though.

Next time, I'm going to introduce you to Goodreads. It's a gigantic book club! You'll adore it.

Happy reading, my friends.