Saturday, December 31, 2011

#Free Books Worth Reading - Sword and Sorcery #Fantasy

Get it at no cost - 

You get what you pay for, right? It's one of those truisms that I've found to be wrong on various occasions. Allow me to share one more with you.

Since I have to support the Barnes and Noble Nook, Amazon Kindle, iPad/iPodTouch, Aluratek eReaders, I often find myself looking for free content to share with folks. Of course, I'd explored SmashWords and other sites, downloading hundreds of books available at no cost.

One of the sources that I overlooked, though, was Barnes and Noble, as well as Amazon, as a source of free books. A short time ago, I wrote about one trilogy by J.R. Lallo. Here's the relevant section:
 Joseph Lallo's The Book of Deacon (which is an engaging tale that had me reading from the moment I downloaded it from Smashwords for free, although it's also a free title you can get via Amazon for your Kindle) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (available through for free).
Lallo's The Book of Deacon (BTW, catch Joseph Lallo on Twitter at @jrlallo and Facebook) is obviously a teaser, the first in a series. You get the first one free but pay for the other two at wonderfully low prices. Based on what I've read so far, only about 40 pages, I've already decided to invest in the other two books!
Problem with any series, though, is they tend to fizzle out. Thank goodness, a new series I've stumbled upon doesn' just gets better!

When I came upon a sword and sorcery series by Jonathan Mueller, I didn't think it would be all that great as a result of the cover art. Wow, what a surprise! I started reading the Demonsouled series, and, as Mueller warmed to the subject (the first book is rough-hewn, but stick with it since it gets action-packed quick), I found myself enthralled. 
Full dark fell by the time they reached the inn. It had changed little from what Mazael remembered. A high wall of sharpened wooden logs surrounded the rambling stone building, and torches burned in scones atop the wooden palisade, casting a circle of light around the wall. A pair of crossbow-armed mercenaries stood guard before the crude gate.
Mazael could have killed them both before they reacted.
He reined up instead. “Ho, the inn!”
Read more here.  
Now, if you're an avid reader like me, you'll appreciate quality fiction running almost 800 pages for less than $3 per book. It takes me back to my childhood when I'd haunt the local Guthrie's Book Store near my favorite Chinese restaurant at the time, Lung Fung (wow, over 30 years ago).

The author--@moellerjonathan--is accessible via Twitter, and I'm grateful for his occasional missives announcing that the 4th book in the series is on its way (due in February, 2012). Be sure to acquire these tomes detailing the life and times of Sir Mazael Cravenlock!
  1. Demonsouled - Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Smashwords (no cost)
  2. Soul of Serpents - Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Smashwords
  3. Soul of Tyrants - Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Smashwords
  4. Soul of Dragons - Due out in February, 2012. Read preview courtesy of J. Moeller.
If you like David Gemmel and other similar sword and sorcery authors, Moeller's work will engage you! Soul of Tyrants--the one I'm reading now--has certainly been action-packed! I can't wait to read more and it's been rare to find myself feeling that way!

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#Android Apps on My Phone 2012 (Updated 1/2/12)

Samsung Galaxy blows Motorola Cliq out of the water ;-)

Two days ago, grateful that the AT&T merger with T-Mobile had been de-railed (yay!!), I renewed my mobile phone contract, abandoning my Motorola Cliq for the Samsung Galaxy, a wonderful phone that easily plays video, audio, has ample storage, and, well, blows my Motorola Cliq out of the water.

Since I haven't updated my list of favorite apps in awhile--it was fruitless to do so on the Cliq since the phone just couldn't handle it--I thought I'd revisit my original list of Android Apps.

You can check the original list here, and here's my new list of currently "Great" (I notice I used that word quite a bit below) installed, no cost apps for 2012...what do you have installed on your's?

Update 01/1/2012: I've added recommendations from Scott Laleman and Rusty Meyners! Those are highlighted! Check 'em out!

Communication/Social Networking
  1. GO SMS Pro - This is my new preferred SMS message application. Works great and is preferred over old favorites (Handcent and ChompSMS). Combine it with SMS Backup+ to backup all your text messages to Gmail.
  2. GoogleTranslate - Speak into your phone and have another language come out...nifty!
  3. Social Networking
    1. Buffer - Want to tweet at work but worried your boss is tracking the time of your tweets? Use this app to tweet/share info to, scheduling when items appear via Twitter. Nice!
    2. Facebook - Facebook access....
    3. Google+ - Let's you access G+...what else?
    4. Plurka - A plurker? This is the best app.
    5. Twitter - I tried most of the Twitter apps (e.g. Hootsuite, Tweetcast, Tweetdeck) and kept coming back to simple Twitter app.
  4. Opera Mini - Great, fast browser.
  5. Skype - VOIP application...pretty obvious.
  6. TouchDown (Android 2.0) (Pro License) - Looking for MS Exchange ActiveSync support so you can check your work email? This is the only program that will get the job done.

Cloud Storage
  • Dropbox (SugarSync is great, too)

  1. B&N Nook - An eReader for your Nook books, but also will read ePub books you sideload into the MyDocuments folder on your phone...that eliminates the need for FBReader.
  2. FBReader - If you're reading ePub documents, as well as others, FBReader is the program for you. It also gives you access to online libraries of free ePub books, and is well worth the download.
Fitness and Food
  1. MyFitnessPal - Love this app that helps you track how much you eat per day (calories-exercise).
  2. Push Ups - Want to get up to a daily count of push-ups? This will help you get there!
  3. Squats
  4. UrbanSpoon - Helps you find restaurants to eat at!
Planning to try out a few others on this list but haven't had time yet.

Image Capture/Editing/Annotation

  1. RetroCamera - Apply vintage effects to photos you take. Thanks to Scott Laleman for this recommendation! He writes: "Check out the following posts for examples: and "
  2. Skitch - Great image annotation tool.

Media (Audio/Video)
  1. Flixster's Movies - Find out what the movie times are at the local theatre...this app looks them up based on your location.
  2. Netflix - Watch Netflix videos on your phone...nifty!
  3. Pandora - Stream music
  4. tinyPlayer - A great no frills audio player...point it at a directory on your phone and it starts working.
  5. Tone Picker - Lets you select any audio file as a notification, ringtone sound
  6. TuneIn Radio - Listen to any radio station, anywhere.

  1. Astrid To-Do List/task-manager - Enables you to modify to-do/task lists via the web and those sync to your phone.
  2. Evernote - Great note-taking, audio note-taking app.
  3. GoogleDocs for Android - View/edit GDocs on the go.
  4. gUnit Converter - Convert from one form of measurement (kilos, miles, kilometers) to another.
  • History Eraser - Wipe out browser cache, search history, and other stuff with this.
  • KeePassDroid - Access your KeepassX files with this on your Android phone. Must have for security on the go.
Widgets or Helpful Android Apps
  1. ApnSwitch - Turns off your 3G to conserve battery
  2. Barcode Scanner - Scan in those QR Codes!
  3. Battery Defender - Shows you your battery status and works actively to save "juice." To be honest, I'm surprised at how well this app does its job! Fantastic!
  4. ClockworkMod Tether is a completely free wired tether app for unrooted Android phones.
  5. Easy Uninstaller - batch uninstall--more than one at a time--of apps.
  6. OI File Manager -  free open source File Manager (e.g. Files is also available on your phone).
  7. OI Flashlight - no frills flashlight. 
  8. ShareMyApps - Let's you create a backup list of installed Apps on your phone so you can share with others...that's how I made this list!
  9. Where's My Droid? - Helps you find your phone when it's on silent and you don't know where it is.
  10. WiFi File Explorer - Stream content off your phone via your comptuer (e.g. listen to music, access files on your phone from your computer without a cable)
  11. Wifi Mode Widget - Turn WiFi on or off, although it's superfluous given that you can just do this via the Notifications bar. Still, some may prefer to use this widget instead of the other approach.
Recommendations from Rusty Meyners:

  1. WiFi Analyzer has been the most valuable techie tool for me and co-workers.
  2. Google Goggles, if you haven't tried it, besides scanning codes also attempts to identify images.
  3. eduPort distinuishes itself among Khan Academy apps in that it conveniently caches videos for offline use AND accesses numerous other video collections such as TED Talks.
  4. C:Geo for geocaching is open source and last I checked is considered superior to the $10 "official" app.
  5. Remote RDP Lite is best free remote desktop client I've found for Windows RDP.
  6. Remote VNC w/Ad for VNC client - haven't used much but assume it a good choice because same developer as Remote RDP Lite.
  7. Sky Drive Browser - yea, this is at least 3rd choice for cloud repository but 25 (T W E N T Y - F I V E) GIGS speaks for itself.
  8. Amazon Appstore along with something like My Daily Free Amazon App for daily notification of the free app for that day, since the Appstore has no way to sort or search for it. Soon enough this will get you free access to the $15 premium office suites such as:
  9. Office Suite Pro seems (but haven't compared lately) to have best Google Docs integration AND editing tools though..
  10. Docs to Go also has good GDocs integration (also Dropbox & Boxnet) and editing tools look effective, if less intuitively accessible.
  11. Quickoffice Pro beats them all for cloud integration with about every repository out there including Evernote but not SkyDrive.
  12. - - - Also - Even if you don't install it, once you "Save" a free App of the Day, you have free access to it anytime later on any device.
  13. HeyTell for push-to-talk or walkie-talkie style voice messaging.
  14. Viewer for on-the-fly remote desktop support. If you haven't tried this free web-based service, you should. Maybe not unique but simple interface and easiest to remember.
  15. WordPress
  16. TCEA 2012
  17. avast Mobile Security is brand new and I'm currently trying it but Lookout Mobile Security has been the established favorite.

Apps that Cost Money

  1. App Protector Pro ($1.50) - Protect any app...privacy protection.
  2. CameraWiFi LiveStream ($.99) - Stream video over the web from your phone.
  3. CamScanner Pro - Scan documents using your phone.
  4. EasyTether - Connect your computer to your phone for Internet access in a pinch! This is worth the investment.
  5. Swarm Torrent Client ($4.99) - Need to download something but can't because torrent downloads--even legitimate ones--are blocked on the network you're using (e.g. work)? Use this and get the torrent download via your phone.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bare Learning

Image Excerpt from Source:

Having just begun my journey to get "healthier," I found Doug Noon's (Borderland) account of his preparing for a marathon, and his subsequent comparison to commercialization of curriculum powerful and moving. I started reading about his getting ready to run a marathon and finished with a different realization altogether.
Tests, in and of themselves, don’t call people to their best efforts. Real teaching has to begin with the intentions of the learner, not the teacher, and certainly not the administrator or the policy maker. The more I work in the shadow of the standards movement, the less I want to listen to anyone but the kids, themselves, for guidance about what they really need to learn. What good is an education if, in the bargain, we all lose sight of who and what we really are? (Source: Hitting the Wall, Doug Noon, Borderlands)

If we had a back to basics movement, would that include getting back to what kids think they need to learn?

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Stalled on Launch - An Unbalanced Force

In previous blog entries, I mused about the realizations that low-hanging fruit--such as building a PLN, blogging, social bookmarking, wikifying your learning--aren't enough to change an organization. An object at rest, goes the Law, tends to stay at rest, unless acted upon by an unbalanced force, right? 

Would you agree that most schools are "at rest" in terms of remaining within the firm embrace of the status quo? That status quo involves people doing what they are told, following an agreed upon set of standards and curriculum. It would be unreasonable to change that...some would say only the unbalanced, crazy people would urge technology integration into this picture of static imperfection.

For example, if you want to spend instructional time to do blogging and collaborative document editing/creation activities, connect with K-12 and/or adult learners through social media, you have to set aside the following:
  1. The push to better implement standardized curriculum.
  2. Constant measurement of what teachers are doing to ensure they are teaching the curriculum.
  3. Measurement of how close students are achieving the curriculum objectives.
  4. The stigma that time spent on anything that detracts from items 1-3 is superfluous waste of time, effort and resources.

Achieving escape velocity--moving beyond the status quo--has to be more than just replacing what you've been doing. The divide between what edtech-powered educators (the unbalanced force) would do and what the ignorant educators--those that have their nose to the grindstone doing what the federal and state government curriculum documents require for successful assessment--continues to widen, a fact Doug Johnson highlights:
I'm always struck by the disconnect between what I encounter at any tech conference and what seems to be happening in the rest of mainstream education. The big themes this year at "It's Personal" were implementing cloud-computing to facilitate collaborative learning, using technology to encourage creativity, establishing a BYOD program to improve access to classroom technology and taking advantage of the inherent engagement that technology contributes to the learning process. The big (tech) themes in mainstream education seem to be using technology for testing, for data mining, and for remediation/programmed instruction/intervention. It's the "learning how to problem-solve" vs. "how to get the right answer on the test" philosophies: the first at the conference, the second in practice.
The reality, of course, is that what's pushed on edtech blogs is just that--a fanciful tale of change, an inconvenient narrative that challenges the story we are being told to believe in K-12 public schools. Controlling the public narrative of schools, crafting it, is critical, integral to our success. Regrettably, there's too much money flowing out of schools--a.k.a. cash cow.

Not sure you believe? Take a look at how many external programs your District has invested in and who brought them in. Often, these "proven" programs involve implementing curriculum and practices developed external to schools but that take precedence over the work of individual teachers or teacher collectives. The EdTech movement has its own version of the probably already have accepted a set of beliefs that perpetuates the status quo, even while believing you're being revolutionary or subversive.

For example, if you believe the iPad--which provides instant-on access to mobile technology-based learning opportunities in a beautiful package--is the solution, you've bought into Apple's vision of education, which involves every student carrying their device. The same might be said of Google and their Chromebook. In its time, the Palm handheld was the device to have and put in children's hands. Is this how precious taxpayer funds should be spent? As a taxpayer in my school district, did I really want to see $$$ that should be spent on students flowing OUT of the District to a technology vendor?

Or, take a step back....
On November 13, 2011, Ali Carr-Chellman (@aac3 on Twitter) shared an important and courageous message at TEDxPSU. Her 13.5 minute message was titled, “A Closer Look at Cyber Charter Schools.” Among other things, Ali challenges us to question the growing nexus between non-profit “cyber charter schools” and for-profit curriculum companies. As we continue hear different voices with different agendas champion both charter schools as well as online educational options, Ali’s message is vital...The purchase of commercial curriculum resources by schools isn’t anything new, but the “gold rush” which Ali describes for cyber schools and online curriculum IS. The questions she raises about public funds, public schools, and the ways limited tax dollars are (in some cases) now supporting single-curriculum vendor cyber charter schools are challenging. 
(Source: The Dangerous Nexus of Cyber-Charter Schools & For-Profit Curriculum Companies, Wes Fryer,
Everyone is in the make your own version of what reality is in schools, especially bloggers. The main difference if you follow the money, it doesn't necessarily lead back to education bloggers (except for the businesses that have successfully jumped into blogging). That's part of the problem, isn't it? There is no absolute truth or vision of what constitutes "the public good"'s all relative to who's making money. 

Looking forward, I have lots of questions floating around in my mind. How can public schools serve "the public good?" Is the public good something that we can achieve by pushing technology into schools and getting tech to serve as a catalyst for change?

In the past, I was fond of quotes like this one which represented a version of the school story I was comfortable with:
Ask not what computers can do with students, but rather, what students can do with computers.
For me, this made sense. Students using the technology to create, to do stuff. But this vision falls short in a time when the desire isn't for students to just create and do by themselves. In truth, for many edubloggers, the vision is for them to create and do with others. For traditional schools, it's simply to achieve curriculum objectives better, and teachers continue to be highly problematic dispensers of information simply because their thinking gets in the way of their "automaticity."

We could revise my favorite quote to read in this way:
Ask not how technology can assess students, but rather, how learners can learn independent of formal schooling.
Ask not what schools can do with students, but rather, what students with tech-based networks can learn without schools.
After all, isn't that what building a PLN is all about? Being able to learn outside the organization without formal approval? 

There are many unbalanced forces in play. What forces would you apply to achieve escape velocity and launch your campus?

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Doug Johnson's "The Classroom Teacher's Survival Guide to Technology"

Pre-Order this Title - Due Out end of February, 2012
Check out Doug "Blue Skunk" Johnson's new book and pre-order it! Please note that I received an advanced peek at the manuscript.
A comprehensive guide for integrating educational technology in the K-12 classroomThis is a must-have resource for all K-12 teachers and administrators who want to really make the best use of available technologies. Written by Doug Johnson, an expert in educational technology, The Classroom Teacher's Technology Survival Guide is replete with practical tips teachers can easily use to engage their students and make their classrooms places where both students and teachers will enjoy learning.
  • Covers the most up-to-date technologies and how they can best be used in the classroom
  • Includes advice on upgrading time-tested educational strategies using technology
  • Talks about managing "disruptive technologies" in the classroom
  • Includes a wealth of illustrative examples, helpful suggestions, and practical tips
This timely book provides a commonsense approach to choosing and using educational technology to enhance learning.

Here are some items I wrote as "ADVANCE PRAISE" for Doug's The Classroom Teacher's Survival Guide to Technology...I had fun writing these one morning after reading the book. May the Blue Skunk forgive me...yellow-highlighted items are the ones I particularly enjoyed! 


"Wondering whether new, emerging technologies will drown you in a mudslide of confusion? Don't despair, Doug Johnson's embrace of technology will remind you of grandpa's hug of a 5-year old clad in mud and leaves - warmly conditional, and life-saving."

"Read Doug Johnson yet? If you haven't, this book ensures you will find a balanced approach to implementing powerful technologies in your classroom."

"The practical suggestions offered in this book provide insightful and essential resources for blending technology into your every day classroom work."

"Re-title this book--The Book of Wisdom: A balanced guide to classroom technology integration by folksy, easy to read, veteran educator, Doug Johnson."

"Disruptive technologies, productivity tools, cloud computing--the 21st Century is rife with acronyms and gordian knots. With insight as keen as a butter knife, Doug Johnson tucks understanding into classroom corners like icing a mudpie on a summer afternoon."

"Disruptive technologies, productivity tools, cloud computing--the 21st Century is rife with acronyms and gordian knots. Doug Johnson's keen insight cuts through the essence of what classroom teachers--and their principals--need to know to make learning happen."

"A veteran educator, speaker, parent and grandparent, Doug Johnson brings years of experience in growing and learning to topics and teachers grasping for meaning, like pink lady's slippers reaching for the sun after the snow."

"A very helpful book to keep up with the rapidly diversifying technology-based education tools available to schools and classroom teachers."

"A fastidiously researched text, a must-read for pre-service teachers hoping to make sense of schools, technology and the linchpin role they play as nurturers of the morning--our children's teachers. Start your journey towards the dawn now by buying this book!"

"I dwelt in sorrow in the dark and grey, then Doug Johnson's book lit up the sky like a comet falling fey. My spirits uplifted, I rose to grasp the fallen light and began to set things right."

"I heartily endorse this Survival Guide, replete with Doug Johnson's wisdom and experience. I strongly recommend it to all who have run afoul of Maxwell's Demon as they sought to enliven their classroom with new, hot technologies."

"I heartily endorse this Survival Guide, replete with Doug Johnson's wisdom and experience. I strongly recommend it to all who have run afoul of technology as they sought to make learning POP! with hot, engaging, alluring technologies."

"A delightfully insightful book guaranteed to bring smiles to your face as you learn how to marshal new technologies for use with your students."

"Technologies that personally empower you, writes Doug Johnson, are the ones to share with your students. This book will help you find those passionate uses of technology; it certainly stoked my fires!"

"This book looks beyond traditional approaches to technology in the classroom, to the essence of what really enhances learning in K-12 learners and their teachers. A must read in these tough times of arid spirits and limited imagination."

"I found the Survival Guide to be really informative and entertaining. By reading this book, teachers will learn how to be better teachers who use technology."

"This book offers educators a practical guide to dissolving misconceptions about the use of technology in teaching and learning situations."

"Are you a doubting Thomas about technology's use in schools today? Doug Johnson's no-nonsense approach will make you wonder why you didn't keep asking 'Why?' to 'Why not?' and move beyond your doubt. I know I did!"

Note: I wrote all the advance praise for Doug's book on a lark. Thanks to Doug for being a good sport about it!

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Hunter-Gatherers - Metaphor for Surviving a Mobile Education

In considering the Top 5 Trends in EdTech, I found this particular perspective engaging - The Rise of Mobile and the Return of Neolithic-Style Hunter gatherers.

It makes some fascinating points, featured briefly here but worth clicking through to read the rest:
  • Partake of All Screens, Loyal to None
  • Every Hunter for Himself
  • The Relentless Toolmakers
  • The Earth is Flat
  • Freedom over Security
  • Gathering of the Tribes
  • The Improvisation of the Hunt
You can guess at the thrust of the article through this brief listing of section titles, so I encourage you to read the original.

Simply, what are the implications for school IT departments?

In a word? Extinction. Still, what fun!

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