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.

Free eBooks Revive Classics

January 3, 2010

AxisPortals has always been a bookworm.  She loves the smell of libraries and bookstores (and always did, long before the latter began to be redolent not only of paper and ink but also of lattes and biscotti). She considers books the perfect marker for any occasion, whether of celebration or of mourning. She may someday forgive her mother (also rumored to have cleared the old homestead of an impressive stash of baseball cards) for giving away her carefully preserved collection of favorite childhood tomes, but it isn’t likely.

Kihachiro Kawamoto of Shiba Productions created a set of Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale books with inset lenticular illustrations on their covers, and gorgeously photographed, beautifully detailed scenes within. AxisPortals used to own several of the books (including Sleeping Beauty, Thumbelina, and The Tin Soldier), in this now highly collectible set.

She is not much of a cook, but collects vintage cookbooks, nonetheless, poring over their mysterious measurements (a #5 can apparently translates into about  7 1/3 cups of the ingredient in question),  and approaching their illustrations as an Egyptologist might approach a dig in an ancient tomb.   Could an Egyptian queen’s cursed gems glint any more seductively than those perfectly molded aspics of bygone days?  AxisPortals doubts it.

In short, AxisPortals digs books.  Anyone could rightly accuse her–her webby, technogeeky ways notwithstanding–of being a thoroughgoing bibliophile.

What, then, could be more appealing than the ability to carry, access, read, and annotate hundreds of books all contained in one slim volume like this?

What could be better? Not much!

The Pros and Cons

of eBooks for Bibliophiles

Will eBooks ultimately replace old-fashioned texts?  Maybe, but a true bibliophile will still always love holding a rectangular block of paper, print, and binding.  For the bookish faithful eBooks do involve some drawbacks:

  1. Crispness and, depending on the reader, color of illustrations are sacrificed.
  2. Since most readers display only a single page at a time, one must turn the page twice as often.  Time spent with one’s reader of choice mitigates this effect somewhat, but it can be a bit jarring at first for the long-established and thus unconscious and reflexive act of page-turning to come zooming back into the realm of the conscious and effortful.   Those who typically read quickly might feel slowed uncomfortably down.  The trick is to figure out which page turning gesture (button or screen swipe) yields the fastest turn, and then to stick with that until the motion becomes relatively natural.
  3. An eReader delivers texts, but it can’t deliver books.  An electronic reader will satisfy the voracious reader’s yearning for text, but those who love the heft and history of books will likely see their readers as a way to complement and extend their libraries, not a way to replace them.

Unexpected Gift:

Collecting the Classics

On the other hand, this modern and rapidly evolving technology actually offers the certified (or certifiable) book lover a  perhaps unexpected gift:  the possibility of reviving interest in and readership of the classics. AxisPortals has owned her black leather clad Sony eReader for a very short time–just over a week.   In that time, she has purchased one book (Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia), downloaded several free relatively contemporary books from online bookstores, and grabbed dozens of free classic texts, including:

  1. The Complete Little Women/Little Men Series by Louisa May Alcott
  2. All of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels and stories
  3. Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland:  A Romance of Many Dimensions
  4. Several collections of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories,  along with his first novel, This Side of Paradise.
  5. Two volumes of Robert Frost’s poetry.
  6. A Bible.
  7. Four Charles Dickens novels and one collection of Christmas short stories.
  8. Three of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables novels and one collection of related short stories
  9. P.G. Wodehouse’s My Man Jeeves
  10. The autobiographies of Charles Darwin and Frederick Douglass
  11. A volume of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales
  12. Francis Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess
  13. Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
  14. Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (which I have never read, and never owned, though it is often cited as the greatest novel)
  15. Mark Twain’s The Prince and The Pauper,  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn.

And I’m just getting started.  This eReader has AxisPortals feeling particularly acquisitive.  What’s the allure?  Without a reader, it would be virtually impossible  for any one person of ordinary means to have so many classic texts constantly at her finger tips.  In the world of bound volumes, heartrending choices must be made:  what can I afford, which books are most important to own, how should the limited shelf space be alloted?  Plus, the constant influx of new publications complicates things.  To purchase War and Peace, though one might, alas, never complete it, or to acquire the latest best seller, or complete one’s collection of a favorite author’s works?  Tough choices, all.

Of course, the public library is also an option (and many of them do make eBooks available, as well), but it’s one thing to borrow a book for a week or two, and quite another to own one, which makes it constantly accessible in a way that enables deep literacy.  What did Twain’s Eve say of fire?  “Fire is beautiful; some day it will be useful, I think.”   That is precisely how AxisPortals feels about the ability to tap so readily into to a collection of classics:  it’s warming, it’s beautiful, and it’s useful.    How wonderful it would be, for instance, to make not only a single novel available to a class full of students, but also to make available the many related texts that would help them understand it. And how wonderful for any writer to dip, at will, into such a rich source of models, allusions, and historical connections.

The Sony Reader Store is fully integrated with Google Books (which can, of course, also be accessed on any computer), so that certainly promotes interest in free classics  among those who use the Sony Reader, but there are other sources of free classics, as well, notably  including ePubBooks. Because new books, even in their e-versions, are expensive,  AxisPortals is hopeful that even those who might more naturally gravitate to the latest thriller, romance, or vampire novel (I’m fond of the Charlaine Harris and Kim Harrison versions of vampire worlds) will be tempted to fill their “digital editions” folders with free, literacy enriching classics, as well.

It’s fun and exciting to realize that very latest in eBook technology promises to  revive interest in and readership of the old, the vintage, the classic.

AxisPortals Aphorism:  The future of the book is

intimately tied to its past.

Google Wave: Integrating Multiple Flows

May 29, 2009

AxisPortals Aphorism:  Catch the Wave (if you get my drift).


Twitter Whimsy: Twanalyst.com

April 23, 2009

AxisPortals isn’t a big believer in personality tests, but does have an appreciation for the whimsical and clever, as in the Twitter Profile Analysis tool from twanalyst.com

The statistics are informative, and the analysis light but with a positive educational spin, so this tool is very appealing, and increasingly popular.  If you’re an active Twitterer, why not give it a try?

AxisPortals Aphorism:  When useful information is delivered in an engaging fashion, the line between tools and toys blurs delightfully. 

(Note:  For a counter perspective, see Lois Gray’s recent blog entry on his Twanalyst results.)

Your Health Online: Widgetized

April 17, 2009

Searching for medical information and community support is one part of supporting your health online.  Now, let’s have a look at another aspect of online health:  the health widget.  Fun, convenient, informative, and potentially motivating, health widgets can easily be embedded in web pages or blogs.  Some can also be downloaded to your smart phone or your computer desktop. Health widgets come in many flavors, including those that focus on weight loss, calorie counting, fitness, pregnancy, exercise, meditation, and health news. Here are a few examples:  


Calorie Counter

Calorie Counter


Yoga Pose of the Day

Yoga Pose of the Day


The CDCs Flu IQ quiz widget.

The CDC's "Flu IQ" quiz widget.

There are health widgets to suit every taste and interest.  Try exploring to find the ones that suit you or your online audience the best.  You might also consider developing a widget of your own.

AxisPortals Aphorism:  Exercise and diet regimens can grow dull, and health tips can seem preachy, but it’s always fun to widgetize.


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.)