Category Archives: Internet

thoughts on tablets and schools

I often find my mind wanders while on the trails and I start doing mental exercises.  The other day on the trail I suddenly found myself thinking about using electronics with public school kids.

Given that a school district would want to do this, how would it work?  What would schools want out of these devices and how would it be organized?

School districts have long wanted to switch over to digital media,  The One laptop per child (OLPC) initiative was popular in the last decade but really didn’t go anywhere mainly due to costs.

Might tablets provide a better answer?  The newest Android operating systems have revolutionized the mobile computing world, and the cost of tablet components have made cheap models easily available.  In addition the cloud computing concept has opened up vast territories of cheap and accessible online storage that for the most part lays unused.

Firstly all the textbook writers would provide digital formats of the student’s texts available either on SD cards or through cloud connections.  This would reduce text printing costs, allow for regional customization (so California students don’t have to learn what Texas students learn), and alleviate childhood back problems from carrying heavy bags.  Students could never claim that they left their texts at home or at school.  At the beginning of the year students could upload new texts and continue on without having to check out new books.

Homework could be digitally done and checked automatically in some cases.  Quizzes could be coded in and students receive instant feedback on their progress, as could their parents.  Alerts could be set up to be texted or emailed to parents if a student begins to slip.  parent conferences could be skyped saving travel costs and making appointments easier to keep.

Access to the internet.  Apart from learning activities this could help whole families get access to online resources that they would normally not have.  A study credit program would allow a student to use the unit for personal use only after their homework was marked as completed.


Challenges and possible solutions

Cost – Obviously.  a 9″ or 10″ tablet with a simple camera/microphone set up and 16GB of memory would probably run about $300.  Even with the school district helping to offset the costs, it would be daunting for lower income families.  Consider however that such a tablet could be used for 4 to 6 years and hold mutliple textbooks over time.

Theft – Whether from a local bully or professional thieves, it is a possibility.  Apart from physical markers on the case, a program could be included that would render the unit inert if tampered with or if reported stolen.

internet cost – obviously this program would require wireless broadband access, not just at home but in schools.  This would probably need government subsidies for lower income families. Internet providers might consider what they could do with economies of scales from suddenly having much larger customer bases.  It would also incentivize the construction of a more robust national internet network.


Anyways some random thoughts to expand upon at a later date.



The penny, the postage stamp, and other useless things that just might save the world

Convenience.  I hate it.  Well not really.  I will make use of the latest and greatest gadget, idea, or service to make my life easier.  But I also realize that these conveniences have a dual edge that can cut both ways.

Take online banking for example.  Convenient, fast, and relatively safe.  Most businesses and utilities will accept online payments and will even automatically deduct the fees from your accounts without you even needing to think about it.

The scary truth however is that our accounts (whether you use online services or not) are not that safe.  Major retailers have had card readers hacked, major online companies and even banks suffer through waves of attacks from thieves that probably aren’t located on the same continent.  Our safety lies only in numbers and in not standing out as a potential victim.

So how does this all tie into the inconvenient and analog penny?  So hated that some want to do away with it.  Nothing directly, but as a symbol of a bygone system it is powerful.

A tangible representation of your wealth expressed in metal.  No longer made entirely of copper as that metal is too precious to waste on a mere one cent piece.  Perhaps that says something more about inflation than it does about the coin itself, but we will save that discussion for another time.

Once upon a time you had to strap on a weapon, fashion a bandana into a mask, walk in and look your victim in the eye and drag off a heavy sack of loot with the local gendarmes in pursuit.  Now you can order a latte, while playing online games as your bank account gets fatter and someone’s account gets slimmer.

So should we run to the bank and get out all our money in pennies?  No of course not.  But neither should we discard the penny either.  Think about it.  Your savings, your paycheck, it’s all a line of numbers in some bank.  All those hours of hard work, all that scrimping, saving, and self discipline are now a string of code that can be easily erased or altered.  How insane is that?   All I can tell you is good luck, keep your head down, and think.

Similarly some folks are pleased as punch with emails and texts, and tweets and would like to get rid of letters altogether or at least curtail mail delivery.  Again the reasoning is sound as far as that goes.  I myself cannot work without email.  It’s basically all I do day in and day out.  One simple contract with a foreign client could probably would take weeks if not months to finalize by regular postal mail.  So why not just get rid of all letters and make the postal service just deliver packages?

Again, a letter is a tangible thing.  The thought that someone far away once held this very paper, that they took the time not to type and delete and retype but very carefully and physically record their thoughts in ink, that makes it special.

These inconveniences make life real.  They are not random 1’s and 0’s that can be altered on a whim.  Long after the hard drives are erased, and the last digital record gets scrapped these will remain.