Do not disrupt: thoughts on invisible technology

I’ve just come back from a two-week holiday in Slovenia. It was my first time there and I highly recommend a visit – we were based at Lake Bled but had the benefit of a hire car for four days midway through the fortnight which allowed us to tackle the Vršič Pass (and get lost on a one mile “easy” walk as advertised by our error-strewn Sunflower walking guide), take in the sights of Ljubljana’s Old Town (although I’m sad I didn’t have enough time to get to Metelkovo mestro as taunting snippets of its graffiti were in every guide book, calendar and even merchandise. Take a look at the video embedded in Piran Cafe’s Ljubljana Graffiti Tour if you are wondering what I’m on about) and have our plans to drive to Lipica and Trieste thwarted by thunderstorms. We struck lucky by staying at one of the most kid friendly hotels I’ve ever experienced, the Hotel Savica, and as a result every single member of the family returned home in great spirits (despite 7 different modes of transport between our hotel and house!).

Here’s a great on-board video of the Vršič Pass to give you an idea of how twisty-turny the route is. I loved it (and drove most of it in 1st  and 2nd gear).

Of course I took the old iPod Touch 2G with me. I still love its portability and even though it is showing its age now (stuck on/off button, can’t upgrade past 4.2.1 iOS) it was a godsend during the holiday for route planning, weather forecasts, translation, news and social media. My PLN were fantastic in suggesting things to see and do while in Slovenia (thanks Freda O’Byrne and @shirlpj) and I was able to keep up with some great education conversations and thoughts. I’d signed up to Doug Belshaw‘s Things I’ve Learned This Week newsletter just before the end of the Scottish school term (I used to love reading his short blog posts on this topic and thought he had simply stopped doing them) and some of the links and ideas he mentioned are now in a nice little “to investigate” list in my iOS Notes app. The iPod also allowed me to keep up to date with the Computing At School group posts which continues to inform my planning for the 2012-13 session and simultaneously marvel at the great work that has been done to reintroduce or refresh Computing Science concepts in the UK and Ireland. I lurk there a lot but intend to get more involved as I get further along the road with a few developments (my Raspberry Pi being one of them!).

Slovenia had a fantastic free wifi network: from hotels, bars, airports and museums let me connect quickly without registration and the bandwidth seemed very generous. The most striking moments of high tech connectivity for me were: being able to access fast broadband at a rustic restaurant in Trenta (a tiny village beyond the aforementioned Vršič Pass) and the FREE public wifi available at Ljubljana airport as we checked in for our return flight. Those responsible for digital infrastructure in the UK could do well to take inspiration from their Slovenian counterparts. It was hassle-free, reliable and meant I could get on with my holiday rather than battling with settings, email confirmations, logins, etc.

Although I used Twitter on a daily basis while on holiday, Facebook was a different matter. Their mobile app, almost universally accepted as being pants, has been long erased from the iPod Touch. I did update my status whilst on holiday to let family and friends know how the holiday was going, but made use of Selective Tweets to cross-post from Twitter to Facebook through use of a ‘#fb’ hashtag. This workflow is simple and reliable and saves me a whole heap of app crashes and mood swings.

Although the percentage of Slovenia’s population who have internet access is much lower than that of the UK, they seem to have the right idea about how it should, or rather should not, disrupt normal everyday life. Because access was simplified, I felt that I used my device more effectively to enhance my holiday experience. I didn’t have to spend an hour after breakfast surfing for information and alienating my family, instead looking for information, news or communications on the go when it was needed. I do realise this is what most people with 3G connections can do already, but they pay through the nose for it.

At my previous school I battled to make use of the wifi network to utilise a class set of iPod Touches. The connection authorisation process was so unwieldy that in the end I was forced to take some staff members out of school to the local library to train them. I understand the desire to lock down access to files and personal information on the school network but when the primary use would be to access the internet I feel it should be as open as possible. The traffic would still be going through the school’s filtering system and logs would still be held on the server so the activity of each device can still be monitored. From a learner’s point of view access is most important and, like the staff who were new to mobile devices and wifi at my previous school, difficulties in this area will reduce their confidence in the technology. However if they can focus on extracting or curating information without disruption…

On the journey home I thought a lot about my own workflows and how they can be refined as I begin my new role as PT of ICT for Learning at my current school. I’ll go into this in the detail it deserves in a future blog post.

Keeping it simple to keep your sanity

I’m writing this blog post using the Notes app in my iPod. Last week I spent a few hours with WordPress’ Quick Post and lost the entire blog entry when I attempted to add an image. Usually I use the full Post function which allows saving of drafts as you go but I wanted to create a quick blog post (always good intentions but it rarely happens) and get back to other matters. Live and learn I suppose but at the time I was not best pleased! So until I find a better and more reliable way of composing blog posts (again!) it’s back to using a word processor and copy & paste.

There are a couple of things on my mind today. How best to compose blogs safely is one and the other is how to protect your data when technology fails completely.

For example, my iPod battery is beginning to fail after two years of heavy use and as a result I’ve lost a lot of data due to unexpected shutdowns and the factory restore. Its always the same, you think you’ve covered all the apps and transferred the important files and then you start the restore process and realise you missed an app like iFile (which stores all of my PDFs and office documents). Some are saved because they have to be uploaded from a desktop / laptop but most were downloaded using the inbuilt browser. Ach. Sometimes working offline in the ‘dead time’ between home and work isn’t a great idea.

So as I wait to see if I can get the battery replaced on my itouch 2g I’m keeping the digital content stored on it to a minimum. Even after it is fixed I want to ensure I don’t lose work in progress as easily again, so what are my options? I’m going to try using the Notes app to store blog posts in progress then email them out to my GMail account before logging into wordpress. If this works I might try the post-by-email option. Either way, I intend to keep a back up stage in my workflow and make it as simple as possible.

And what about files I’ve downloaded onto the iPod? Cloud services like GoogleDocs, Dropbox, Box.net are fine as they are quickly uploaded to a data farm somewhere else but they need wifi connectivity to operate. This will be an option with work in the future but at the moment cannot be considered especially because of these sites being blocked at work. There is free public access a few hundred metres away at the local library which while slow might provide a chance to backup or transfer.

Another alternative is to use Tumblr to record web links. The great thing is I can email links to my Tumblr blog at work. The only downside (except work access to view these links) is that post by email adds in the school disclaimer and I can’t see a way of preventing this from appearing in the post at the moment. Also, files have to be hosted elsewhere so this is not practical as an all-in-one solution. However I am a fan of Tumblr and feel it is slightly easier to post content quickly than, say, Posterous.

So in summary keeping it simple but safe is the best way to protect your data and sanity when using devices which require Wifi to transfer files. I need to keep that at the forefront of my mind when working and learning using my mobile device in 2012.