iPad Love

August 27, 2010

The criticism I’ve most frequently seen leveled against the iPad is that it is not really a content creation tool. It’s like an overgrown iPhone, but without the actual phone, the complaint goes, and without the camera, either. Don’t, the pundits say, mistake it for a real computer, or for a writing tool that has the power to revolutionize how or where we write, much less how we think about writing.

Well, I beg to differ, as I predicted I would. Here I sit with a brand spanking new iPad balanced on my lap, and here I am using it to write something that I will soon publish.

The WordPress App that will send this entry to my blog was free and took only seconds to download. The image editor (I am using Photogene) that allows me quickly to grab and embed photos wasn’t free, but it was reasonably priced, and it is icing on the cake, anyway, since making a wide range of images available for content creation is as simple as populating the iPad with photos during a routine synch.

Given the relative youth of the iPad, I can’t see any reason at all not to be impressed with both its current value as a flexible content creation tool and its potential to become even more lithe and appealing in this arena as users and developers continue to envision and enact its possibilities.

In under an hour, I’ve written two email replies and composed one brief blog entry–and I am still only the rankest of beginners when it comes to this tool. I foresee much writing to come, and it pleases me no end to envision this writing as flowing from spaces and places in which even the slimmest laptop would be too ungainly.

Oh, yes, you little book-sized path to compositional nirvana. I love you already, and I can’t wait to see how you inspire me to rethink and revitalize my writing world.

AxisPortals Aphorism: The best writing often flows from life’s little nooks and crannies. The iPad fits in them, and that’s what makes it a content creation tool worth watching.

Why iWant an iPad (Naysaying Gurus Notwithstanding)

April 6, 2010

iPadFor days, now, AxisPortals has been bombarded with links to “Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either“) and its ilk.  Hard to say, of course, whether the iPad metaphor will change the world (and I do think of this as largely a metaphorical proposition, because the device proposes filling a technical gap that it must also largely create among those who can’t immediately grasp the yearning for something smaller and lither than a laptop but larger and meatier than an iPhone–something that makes substantial and connected writing, reading, and research possible in currently empty spaces), but whether the tool successfully creates awareness of that rich niche or not, AxisPortals finds both the naysayers’  lack of imagination and their incipient sexism and ageism disheartening.

Yup, sexism and ageism.  It startles me to find myself saying so, but there it is.  Apparently, something about sleek and sealed iProducts brings out the inner Tool Time guy in some male tech gurus.  What?  Nothing to take a screwdriver or a wrench to?  No hood to pop open so that knowing glances and grunts can be directed at the gizmo’s innards?  Well, the thing must be meant for drooling infants and “technophobic, timid, scatterbrained” moms.

Well!  Spoken like someone who hasn’t come within spitting distance of a jacked-in-practically-from-the-womb kid or that kid’s techno-savvy mom in a decade or two.

Look, I love a good crescent wrench as much as anybody.  I did my time as flashlight wielding apprentice to a dad who owned every tool imaginable, knew how and when to use each of them, and could fire up his welding torch when something new needed devising. There’s something that will be forever comforting about running my thumb over the cold braille of “Craftsmen” stamped in metal.  It’s easy to understand and appreciate the sense of vulnerability that descends when there’s no access door to lever open, no wire to pull, no parts to view, name, and scatter.   I get that the more delicate work of rocking an old card gently out of its slot and rocking a new one in is satisfying, as well. At least that involves a tool-yen fulfilling screwdriver or two, plus the chance to hand one’s own kid the screwdriver, thus ensuring that  crucial knowledge such as the difference between a flat blade and a Phillip’s head screwdriver will carry over to another generation.

Sony ReaderMeanwhile, I’m one technophile of a mom who is yearning for an iPad.  While patiently awaiting local availability of the 3G version, I’m already imagining the possibilities.  Much as I love both my Sony Reader and Stanza for the iPhone,  I have a hunch and a hope that the iPad will come closer to realizing the vision of a device that makes lithe and portable interactive reading and writing at length (unlike the telegraphic status updates and text messages that are the iPhone’s area of speedy and easy excellence) a reality, at last.

“It’s just an overgrown iPhone!” sneer the critics, to which I must say, “Yes, exactly and at last!”  In the life of this mom, an iPhone that’s all grown up and ready to venture beyond my pocket and my palm has a definite appeal.  I can envision:
  • The wealth of books I can draw upon while coping with the endless waiting situations that I, like many moms, find myself enduring multiple times most every day.  Since I’m a voracious and relatively speedy reader, the little iPhone that I love has a hard time keeping up with my needs.  A bigger screenful of text that can be flipped a bit less frequently sounds good to me.  My aging eyes will be grateful. Plus, the connectivity of the thing makes me salivate.  If the text touches off a question or a connection, I can chase it right away, and immediately share ideas or reflections with others, or record thoughts for myself.  The Reader can put lots of books in one handy place, but it can’t make research, connection, and commentary quite so immediately available.  When that iPad is finally in my hot little hands, it’s definitely getting a place of honor in the front passenger seat right next to me, where I can reach for it and feed my brain at will when faced with mommy downtime.
  • Homework happiness of the “I don’t know, but let’s find out right now” variety.  How nice not to have to decamp to the computer room every time we want to know the correct spelling of a historical figure’s name, the significance of a certain date or place, or the melody of given song. Sure, we could keep a laptop on the kitchen table, and sometimes we do, but how wonderful to have a wireless device of this size that we can pass back and forth, lean over together, or simply bring along.  Wonder what that bug on the window sill is?  We can pull up pictures and compare right now, and we can have that iPad in our tree house, our tent, or our playroom. Even at my age, I can also imagine the appeal of reading the iPad under the covers.  No flashlight required, but parental awareness advised.
  • Morning news cutting through my sleep as the alarm goes off at 6:30. If something significant or troubling is happening, I can pull up the full news story right then and there.  Snow day fantasies?  The kids can pop onto the bed with me while we check the school closings page together. The vision of connection that’s within easy reach, shareable, and portable is hugely appealing.
  • Literacy resuming its rightful place in the easy daily rhythms of families and individuals.  When I was a kid, our house was chock full of books, papers, and magazines.  Yellow legal pads and writing implements of every stripe were in constant reach.  Reading the Sunday newspapers was practically a day long undertaking.  To me, reading and writing were never activities that required furniture designed expressly for those purposes.  To study, I might flop onto my father’s leather chair, head on the ottoman, legs draped over the back, book or notes held aloft.  To write, I might head out onto our old-fashioned front porch, creating an impromptu desk of the stairs or the ledge.  The iPad is still a new and, for many, prohibitively expensive bit of technology, but it seems to me that it at least holds the potential of moving reading and writing-as the connected and electronic phenomenon they have irreversibly and delightfully become–back into (or newly into, for some) the comfortable fabric of our lives. The iPhone and other smart phones have already edged us toward that reality, but they are simply too small to get us all the way there, whereas even the thinnest laptops are still too workmanlike to achieve it.  I can imagine students touring a museum with iPads or something like them in hand.  I can imagine an iPaddish device on the kitchen counter, making recipes readily available and open to annotation.  I can imagine a doctor and a patient looking at such a device together, while the physician suggests online sources for further reading, or taps into scans and x-rays, or pulls up other key educational information. It may even be that something along the lines of an iPad will make online health records a widespread reality, at last.

Here’s the thing about some of us moms:  even when we can claim reasonable competence with tools, our lives are filled with moments in which the right tool simply isn’t at hand.  Thus, we can achieve repairs with butter knives and staples when need be, we can happily imagine and invent the tools we’d like to have, and we can rapidly adapt to new tools, enthusiastically playing a role in shaping their evolution.  Since we tend to spend quite a good bit of time learning from and with children, a creative imagination is one of our best qualities.

The iPad? AxisPortals can easily imagine the possibilities.  And that’s why iWant one very much, and am eagerly anticipating observing their influence on how we envision the role of technology in our lives.

AxisPortals Aphorism: Not sure what to do with a new techie toy?  Hand it to your mom or your child, stand back, and watch  what happens.  Oh, and don’t worry about the lamp with the faulty switch.  Mom rewired it yesterday.

The Tech Rush: Get Moony Eyed

July 20, 2009

AxisPortals came of age during the moon frenzy.  She read Tom Corbett books, drank bright orange Tang, begged her mother to purchase SpaceFood Sticks (the chocolate version was just barely edible, but the taste wasn’t really the point–it was the idea of the thing that mattered), and could, like most children of that era,  do a perfect imitation of a NASA launch countdown.  “Lift-off” soon became part of the  everyday vocabulary of childhood.

Even the  family cookie jar bore witness to the urgency and romance of the space race.

Over the weekend, the fifteen year old that AxisPortals knows best observed, in passing, that he found Facebook rather dull.  Oh, he said, it had been fun for a little while, but with everyone (and their parents and grandparents) there–and with the endless invitations, applications, and updates–the initial appeal for him had faded considerably.  On the whole, he noted, MySpace, despite its current lack of cool, had been a whole lot more fun.  At least it could be readily tinkered with, and it wasn’t quite so parent heavy.  Somewhere in there, he sighed over the boredom of it all.

AxisPortals wonders what, if anything, in the technological realm today fills us with wonder and excitement?  What makes us want to dance in the moonlight all over again?

Countless  gurus inform us of how we can and should use technology to improve our personal and professional lives, but it’s just as important to tend to what captures our imaginations, what fires us up, what gets us moony and starry-eyed, what makes us want to reach for something more.

AxisPortals Aphorism: In the rush toward technology, don’t miss out on the romantic rush of dancing by light of the moon, or the sweet challenge of reaching for it.

The Small Business: Bridging the Digital Divide II

May 1, 2009

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts

AxisPortals quotes Shakespeare this morning for two reasons.  First,  she loves the Bard of Avon, and does hate to miss an opportunity to work in some of those classic lines.  Second and more importantly, though, it occurs to AxisPortals that all the world’s a multimedia, interactive social network, and that the wise small business will therefore provide its web visitors with plenty of opportunities–plenty of entrances, if you will–to interact with both the site and with the business itself.

So, how to go about making your website not only a static web presence, but an active staging area for forging interactions, relationships, and connections? Here are few quick and simple approaches:

  1. Icons and Badges and Buttons, Oh My!  The major social and business networking platforms all make it very easy to create attractive, clickable connections to your profiles so that visitors can quickly connect to you and interact with you.   FriendFeed, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Plurk, for instance, all provide easy, built-in badge or widget creation tools.  Some of these simply provide links to your social networking profile.  Others actually display your status updates and activities.  Simply customize your page to suit your purposes and the style of your destination page, then copy the code and insert it into your website or blog.  Then, your web visitors can rapidly scan your online network, and can easily connect with you. If you are working with a web designer, ask him or her to work with you to ensure that your website and/or blog include badges that represent your main public social and business networking profiles.
  2. It’s Alive, It’s Alive:  Every website does need some core information that is relatively static (though religiously kept fresh and up to date) and always easy to find.  For instance, you will want to ensure that your contact information and product and service descriptions are stable and easy to access.  However, today’s web is multimedia driven.  That means that your small business website would do well to incorporate not only polished prose but also arresting graphics and absorbing audio and video elements that not only inform and create interest, but also make it easy for users to share your key content with others.    Note, for instance, how effectively the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human Services have leveraged podcasts and videos to disseminate authoritative information about the Influenza A H1N1 virus. Multimedia elements bring your website to life, often quite literally giving it a voice.
  3. Feed Me!  Websites are a lot like teenagers:  they require nearly constant feeding.  Fortunately, the web itself provides abundant sustenance for your business site in the form of newsfeeds.  Select appropriate newsfeeds based on the nature and focus of your business. What kinds of information can you feed to your site that will most interest and best serve your visitors, whether they are current or prospective clients?  Once you identify the relevant feeds, configure RSS widgets to match the style of your site, and embed the feeds in your pages.  Embedded news feed widgets ensure that there are areas of continuously refreshed content on your site.  Embedded podcast widgets are also a good idea, for they not only offer all of the advantages of a feed, but also add another multimedia element to your site.
  4. We Really Have to Talk:  You might also consider adding real-time discussion tools to your site.  If real-time web-based discussion plays a major role in your business plan and you can devote personnel to monitoring your online chat tools, then investigate paid services such as Bold Chat, Volusion’s LiveChat,  or WebsiteAlive.  If you are just beginning to explore the possibilities of real-time web-based discussion, then it might be worthwhile to experiment some of the free or less expensive tools, such as those offered by Meebo and CoffeeCup. Embedding your Skype badge also introduces an element of real-time communication to your site.

AxisPortals Aphorism:  Make your website an active staging area for forging interactions, relationships,  connections, involvement.


Collaboration: A Happy Dance

April 3, 2009

AxisPortals defies anyone to be gloomy while watching any of the entries in this series of videos.


AxisPortals Axiom:  When human beings cooperate, beautiful things can should do happen.

A Study in Online Collaboration: Open Mosaic

April 2, 2009

Open Mosaic makes for an interesting study in the ways of collaboration. Earlier this evening, AxisPortals visited the site to add a tree.  The tree was all branches and leaves.  It wasn’t fruit bearing, and it had no background.

Less than five minutes later, the tree was dotted with apples,  and surrounded by a jaunty teal sky with its very own square yellow sun.  Grass and a hot pink and red flower in full bloom soon followed.  Who knows what’s next?  Before the evening is over, the tree could be part of an entire forest, or it could be entirely gone.

Watching the mosaic evolve reminds AxisPortals that digital collaboration with far flung colleagues often requires a certain je ne sais quoi.  To participate fully in the process, and to enjoy it–and to allow others the freedom to do the same–one must be enthusiastic and willing to chase a vision, but must never be so unyieldingly focused on a single vision that it  disrupts emergence of the always shifting whole.  Yielding gracefully, after all (as gracefully as the digital branches in the mosaic yield to the pixel wielder of the moment) , plays a crucial role in collaboration.  There’s plenty of room for individuality and originality, here, but there’s little room for the fixed or the permanent.

Collaborative Mosaic

AxisPortals Aphorism: Online collaboration isn’t really about thinking outside of the box.  It’s about sharing the sandbox willingly, with good humor, and with grace. (So, wish AxisPortals’ tree good luck, but don’t mourn its passing when it goes–something new is sure to grow there.)

Oh, the Places You’ll leogeo

February 27, 2009

Often,  AxisPortals’ web meanderings lead to interesting, educational, and edifying places.  The leogeo site is definitely one of those places.  Some of the many things to love about it:

  1. It is an incredibly beautiful site.  Indeed, it’s a whole gallery of lovely and intriguing things.  Need to persuade someone that there is such a thing as digital art?  Lead that person here. 
  2. It’s mesmerizing and involving.  It’s quite impossible, for instance, to stop clicking on timebeat.  Yes, it’s a clock, but such a clock!  Plus, we aren’t generally invited to handle the clockworks, as it were, or to listen to their movement quite so fully, so there’s something very satisfying about it.  It’s a bit haunting, that heart beating away our all too fleeting seconds, but the rhythm is meditative and profoundly relaxing as well. 
  3. It’s definitely not text driven.  There is some text, of course, but it sure doesn’t limit itself to behaving in traditional ways.  Plus, it never attempts to explain itself.
  4. It’s a wonderful example of how deeply the ways of the web have influenced our literacy.  Perhaps as little as ten years ago, quite a lot of folks wouldn’t have been able to make heads or tails of this space, but now almost all of us are comfortable enough with mouse and screen to know when and where to click.  So, we can figure out the navigation, and we can interact with the art installations in the gallery with no textual prompting.    Quite a far cry from the “click here” and “click me” days of hypertext, isn’t it?  
  5. It’s a wonderful reminder of one of the little truths of life that AxisPortals holds most dear:  exploration leads to learning.

AxisPortals Aphorism (with thanks to  leogeo):  Most things really are “best viewed with curiosity”