Huggy Wuggy – come on man!

I’ve seen this news story a few times this week and thought I’d weigh in. These are articles and videos about a video horror game known as Poppy Playtime. It is developed by MOB games, you can get it on Steam and it’s pretty popular right now. The gist of the game is that you are trapped in a toy factory and the toy Poppy is hunting you. You need to solve puzzles to escape. There is tension, poorly lit rooms, eerie music and noises and, of course, jump scares. Check out the trailer below.

There’s not a lot of blood or gore and I don’t think there is any real language either, but parents.com is sounding an alarm. They are saying that it . . . is . . . scary for children.

A horror game, designed to scare the player, may be scary for children. Hmmm.

Why do I care?

I think parents should know what games their kids are playing and decide if it is appropriate for them or not, but articles like this is plain old fear mongering. We’ve seen this before with Slenderman, Five Nights at Freddy’s and many, many more.

With a little bit of research (watching some YouTubers play the game) parents will know if it is appropriate for their kids or not.

The bottom line is do your own research and sit down and talk with your children or students about this game and see what they say. One thing I can be sure of, is that this game will not be the downfall of humanity or even the education system.

Just stop it please

I saw this article on BBC and it made me a little angry – not going to lie. The title is How hologram tech may soon replace video calls. This article is posted on the BBC a reputable news site that is pretty respected around the world. This article was published in their business section.

The tech itself is pretty impressive. A person sits or stands in front of a camera with a white back drop and their image is beamed (with nearly no lag) to a 7 foot tall rectangular box anywhere in the world that shows the person in 3D. It looks good – check out their YouTube video below.

It’s neat right? So why am I angry with this article? Well it presumes that this technology may very well replace video calls. What a load of crap (sorry for the harsh language). This technology will never make it into mainstream businesses, homes and certainly not schools.

I am perturbed because it feels like the BBC is trying to get you excited about an idea that is not feasible (at least right now). They sound more like a commercial for Portl than an actual news report. They are more wowed with what it can do as opposed to what problems can it solve.

Sketchy

On top of all of that this company is pretty sketchy. When you head to the Portl website (https://www.portlhologram.com) and start to poke around you see some weird things. Like a new product called the M by Portl (https://www.portlhologram.com/m). They have a very nice video you can watch below.

What looks sketchy is the “Reservation” screen. check out the screenshot below.

  • You pay $100 to reserve one.
  • No timeline of when (if) it will arrive.
  • No mention or estimate of the final price.
  • No real tech specs (HDMI? USB-C?)
  • No tech computer requirements given.
  • Camera requirements?
  • What are the speakers used?
  • Privacy policy concerning their digital assistant?

So, your $100 gets you a spot in line and . . . ?

But hey, this company was highlighted on a reputable news source so we should trust that they are on the up and up.

Credit where credit is due

I am not saying this is vaporware. I know they made the Portl Epic (the big 7 foot tall booth). It works, it is pretty cool, but it does cost about $60,000 for the Epic and who knows how much for the M (if it ever ships or even ships with all those features). They did make it but it’ll never sell and certainly not to schools and certainly won’t be for everyone to use everyday.

My real problem

These articles present this vision of the future with emerging technology today, but they don’t talk about the feasibility of it. Why does it cost so much now? What will it take for the price to come down? Who else or how many other people are working on this type of technology (not something similar)? There is no questioning, no probing, just reporting what the company says. As a person who hears a fair number of sales pitches, this article feels like that and I don’t appreciate it from my news sources.

I was super excited with Magic Leap and everyone slurped up their sales pitch without even being allowed to see or try their project. Then when they did get to try it out it failed to even come close to the hype that was generated around it. This is the same thing and I just wish that

Sorry for the rant – I am just tired of good news sources either getting duped by dubious companies or simply pushing their dubious products on their readers.

Surface SE repairability

There has been a lot of back slapping and congratulations being passed out to Microsoft over this video. Yes, it is good that they have made a device that can be repaired by just about anyone with a screw driver and parts on hand. It looks pretty easy to do as well. This is what I expected but I still have concerns and questions.

Parts

Where do you get them? Right now I bet the only company making these parts is Microsoft. This isn’t great. When there is no competition for certain parts, the people that actually sell said parts can sell them for whatever they want. Here are my predictions of what these parts will sell for (I hope I’m wrong by the way):

  • Keyboard & trackpad – $120 USD
  • Screen with lid – $120
  • Battery – $80

I’m not going to go further than that. Remember that Microsoft is going to sell this starting at $250. If the prices are even close to this, then repairing should be an after thought for schools that purchase them, or maybe a device is good for one repair and then call it quits. It would be easier just to buy a new device altogether if that is the case.

Separate parts?

In the video you see the technician remove the keyboard. Can you also separate the trackpad away from the keyboard? That would be very good for repairs. A trackpad is a lot cheaper if you can purchase just that part as opposed to replacing the entire keyboard assembly along with the trackpad. This is also true the other way too. Maybe the trackpad works wonderfully and you only need a new keyboard – can you purchase just that part?

Then there is the screen. Do you have to purchase the entire lid to replace the screen? The difference in price here can be pretty significant. A screen for a device like this should cost around $50 (give or take where you buy it from and the demand on the market). If you have to put the entire lid to replace the screen, then you are also replacing the following components:

  • Webcam
  • Microphone
  • Lid
  • Coaxial cables for the WiFi antenna

This stuff starts to add up and a school could easily be looking at $100+ for that part.

Bah Humbug!

I know I sound like Ebenezer Scrooge a week before Christmas, but these are concerns I have. I want the Surface SE to work, I do. Right now I think Chromebooks dominate without much competition out there, but I am afraid that Microsoft will inadvertently shoot themselves in the foot by making the parts unnecessarily expensive and difficult to get. Time will tell and despite the tone of this article I am optimistic, but I am also keenly aware that companies like money.

Shure MV7 – Not a review

OK, Santa was good to me this year. I received a new boom arm and a new microphone. The boom arm is the Røde PSA+ and it is pretty sweet. The microphone though is what is really special. I;m not going to review it here because 1) I’m not a sound engineer and 2) there are literally tens of reviews out there for this product. I know tens doesn’t sound like a lot, but trust me – it is a bunch and it’ll give you a good idea if you want it for yourself. I’m here just to talk about the decision behind this mic.

What was I working with before?

Well let’s go waaaaaay back to the first episodes. Omar and I were huddled around a MacBook and were recording with its internal mic. It sounded like garbage.

Then I upgraded to a Blue Yeti. This is a USB microphone and it sounds pretty good.

One of the most beloved USB mics out there

Yeah this thing was great! It was especially great for voice overs and it was OK for podcasting. My wife got it for me as a gift and it cost just over $100 USD. The problems with the Yeti is that it picks up everything (air conditioner, people talking nearby, etc.) Lots of background noise made it into our shows. It also has a desk stand which is super convenient, but again, when someone bumps the desk or table, you hear that pretty clearly. Another issue is that it is a USB mic, what this means is I could only plug it into a computer and you can really

Then I “upgraded” to the Behringer xm1800s. Sounds fancy? Not really. This microphone is only sold in a 3 pack and costs a whopping $39 USD for all three, the carrying case, and the mic holders. It’s something you may find in a shady karaoke bar.

Cheap but sound pretty good for the price.

So why did I buy them? Well I had this bad boy and needed an XLR mic to plug it into.

You want a tank? This is a tank.

The Zoom H6 is a beast – I’ve raved about this thing here and there. This made podcasting remotely pretty easy – no need for a laptop and it was battery powered making it even more portable than ever before. Then I carry around those Behringers and picked up some cheap desktop mic stands and Bob’s your Uncle. I was set to go.

I used this set up for a good 6 years and it sounded way better than the Yeti. Here everyone had their own mic and everyone therefore sounded much better than crowding around a USB mic.

I finally replaced the Zoom H6 for the Zoom P4. It was cheaper, had soundpads and built in mix/minus which lets people on Zoom calls hear you and through your mic and your computer sounds as well. Overall it is better suited for what I wanted.

Ohhhh – what a nice piece of kit for podcasters

Shure MV7

So what does this bring to my set up that I didn’t have before? Well, this mic is both an XLR microphone and a USB microphone. That may not seem too special but it actually is pretty cool. When I podcast at home I use the Podtrak and plug it in via USB, but if I need to do a voiceover, I can toss this thing in my bag and use any computer I want. My iMac at school a spare laptop, it doesn’t matter.

I like the ability to be able to switch easily between XLR and USB. This allows me to work pretty much anywhere. Even when at home, if I need to do a voice over for a tutorial, all I have to do is plug the Shure into my computer and I’m off and recording. No need for a mixer, audio interface (which the Podtrak can totally do by the way) or any other go between like I needed with my Behringers. I just plug and go – its great!

Ami I set?

Yeah, probably. I still have the Behringers in case of in person group recordings or if students at my school need them, the Podtrak is great and I love the new mic and boom arm. I really can’t think of what to upgrade now. The mic stand, microphone and Podtrak are all built supremely well so they should last for a while. I think I am good to go for the next 7-10 years.

Laptop recommendations? Check with your school-not a blog

The Verge has run this article twice this year and they just republished it with slightly different recommendations. So, I’ve written (now my third time) a quick articlethat you should ask your school, not just trust a blog (hey-this is a blog) to which laptop/device is appropriate for your child. The school will have recommendations that will support their curriculum.

What’s my problem?

If you notice the circled part of the article – it is a disclaimer that states that The Verge may get earn a commission if you click one of their links and purchase the product. That’s how that works. That is also how sites like the New York Times Wirecutter and Commercial Reports help to generate revenue.

I like The Verge and their content and those writers need to get paid and advertising and affiliate links help keep the lights on and those people employed. I like that.

The author (Monica Chen) early on does recommend that this is a jumping off point not the end all be all list.

So why would you title your article “What’s the best student laptop? We asked students

It seems as though the answer is just a mouse scroll away.

The list itself

I also have issues with the list itself. I won’t dive deeply here. I will just make two points.

The recommendations for Elementary students has a Kindle Fire tablet for school. This is a bad idea.

First off, it does not have any Google apps. That means no YouTube, no Google Classroom, no Google Drive, Docs, Slides, Sheets – you get the picture. There is a work around to get that on there, but how many parents are going to take that time when they can just purchase an iPad or Chromebook (two options that are on the list).

What this tablet does have is a great holiday price point, lots of videos that can be consumed. It is primarily a device for entertainment and is usually a big seller around the holidays.

The next is the list for middle school, high school and college students. Check them out below. The order is not all that important.

Do you see a MacBook Air anywhere on the list? Here is a link to The Verge review of the latest MacBook Air where Dieter Bohn proclaims:

And the fact that it starts at $900 USD – why wouldn’t you put it on the list?

Reminder – ask your school

Just a reminder out there people – ask your school. They will have recommendations and then go try them out yourself. One good thing about devices these days are the choices. There are a ton of choices and at a lot of different price point. You are sure to find something that matches your budget and your child’s needs.

Microsoft Surface SE – I like it but have questions

This has been coming down the pipe for a long time. It has long been known that Google Chromebooks are the go-to student devices for most schools (especially if they are running Google Workspace). I wrote a two part series that you can read here and here about it back in 2018. Interesting about those articles is that there is a lot of student feedback in there which is something you don’t normally see.

How did we get here?

Apple’s answer was creating a low priced iPad and while they are nice to have in a learning environment, if pushed comes to shove a laptop would be better. It is just more productive. Microsoft offered the Microsoft Surface Go. The problem is that it was running full on Windows but didn’t (still doesn’t) seem to have the power under the hood to actually pull that off in a convincing fashion. On top of that – it’s pretty pricey too.

When Microsoft made their new Edge browser on Chromium (what Chrome OS on Chromebooks is built on) many people felt that this would end up with a Microsoft Edge Chromebook like competitor. We kind of got it. This new Surface SE device runs a special version of Windows 11, so it isn’t running a version of Edge that runs the whole show.

So what is it?

It’s a $250 (USD) laptop that only schools can purchase to deploy to their students. Here is a picture of what it looks like.

It looks very much like a $250 Chromebook. Here are the highlights:

  • 11.6″ display that has a resolution of 1366 x 768 (no touchscreen)
  • Intel Celeron N4020 or N4120 processor (like in a lot of Chromebooks)
  • 64/128 GB of storage (something you do not see on Chromebooks at this price point)
  • USB-C, USB-A, headphone jack, Power adapter connection
  • Bluetooth
  • Windows SE and Microsoft Office for Education

When you purchase it you can have it auto-enrolled in your deployment program to make it very easy to get it up and running with students. This will also allow you to remotely manage it as well (push out/remove apps, extensions, bookmarks, etc.)

I’ve never managed Windows devices in a school, but it I would bet dollars for donuts that it is pretty similar to Apple or Chromebooks with what you can do with them (which is a lot).

Windows 11 SE

The SE probably stands for Student Edition though it doesn’t say that on its website. Like Chrome OS it is a cloud operating system. For Chromebooks this means that it needs to be online in order to do most things (browse the web, open Google Docs, etc.) That is probably the case here.

Though it looks like it will have a standalone Microsoft Office Suite installed, so as long as the document is also stored on the device, students should be able to work on them.

Unlike other versions of Windows, this version has no app store and students cannot install apps of their choice. They have to be pushed out it looks like. There might be a future update where students will have access to an app store that is populated with only school approved apps (Chrome OS has this option), but it is unclear right now.

You can only have two windows open at a time side by side. Regular windows will let you have Windows all over the place. This is probably a good decision, especially with an 11.6″ screen. As expected, students cannot create other accounts on here – this is very typical.

Windows 11 SE is also pretty stripped down, so a lot of features or programs that you will find in regular Windows will be absent. This, again, is probably a good thing. It will help keep students focused and without all those other programs taking up space, hopefully Windows 11 runs a lot more efficiently.What I like?

There is a lot to like here

If you are in a school district that runs Microsoft Office for Education, then this is what you’ve been waiting for. This is definitely a Chromebook alternative. It’s cheap, it’s managed by the school or district, it gets kids connected with just the apps they need and it’s repairable.

According The Verge, you should be able to easily get inside and repair screen, keyboard, battery, mother board (I am also assuming you could replace the trackpad too). This is huge for schools. It will allow them to do this repair work themselves and not have to outsource it. We’ve been using Chromebooks here for 4 years and we have never had to send a Chromebook out for repair. We either fix it or we replace it (the latter happens very rarely).

I like the storage options. Chromebooks at that price point you are usually getting only 32GB of storage – here you get 64. That is nice.

I also like that it is a Surface device. If you’ve ever used a Surface device, you know how well built they are. My Surface Book lasted me a good 5-6 years and I bequeathed it to my dear mother and so it is still going strong! I doubt these will last that long, but for 4 years – I bet they’ll last that long pretty consistently.

Questions I have

I still have questions about this whole venture though. Though it is very repairable, how easy will it be to get parts? This is a Microsoft device after all so will you have to go through them to purchase these parts? Chromebooks are great – you can get parts all over the place. No screens available at Stores A, B or C? No problem, let’s look at stores D, E and F. Also, since you can buy these parts from so many different vendors, the price of the parts is reasonable. You’re not going to find a $200 screen replacement for a Samsung, HP, Dell or Lenovo Chromebook. Though if you can only get the parts from Microsoft, you may have to pay more. We will see.

I wonder about Windows 11 SE – how well will it run? My guess is that it will run just fine out of the box and since schools will control what is installed and what updates are pushed out, I expect this thing to run . . . fine. I don’t expect it to be a blazing fast iPad but I do expect it to chug through its jobs consistently without too much of an issue.

A big question is what happens with these devices when a school is done with them? What we do with our Chromebooks is to de-provision them and then give them to the families. This means, that it is reset to factory settings, it removes all restrictions. It basically becomes another, regular old Chromebook you would buy.

With this – I don’t know. I think it can only run Windows 11 SE. This means no Microsoft Store. If it is deprovisioned, does it get Windows 11 Home? That would be sweet, but if not can it be used outside of a school environment? If not, this seems like a waste – even at the $250 price point.

Conclusion

If you are not a Microsoft school, then obviously don’t use this thing. I mean – why would you? If you are however – you owe it to yourself and your students to look at this as an IT option. We will know more later this year and certainly next school year when schools start deploying these bad boys in the thousands. Until then I’ll keep my ear to the ground and try report back what I hear.

What do you think of the Surface SE? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Life with a desktop

Yes – that is an official Hot Bench coffee mug.

This year the technology department decided to ditch our laptops in lieu of a an iMac. That’s right we got rid of those super convenient computers that we can tuck under our arm and take nearly anywhere. So why did we do this? What was the motivation behind such a portable convenience to tie us to our desks? Well read on for the answers and leave some comments below.

Computer cycles

At our school an employee receives a new computer every four years whether they want one or not. We then take those older laptops and use them to slowly replace laptops on carts or we give them to our teaching assistants to use.

We also keep a few on hand for loaners in case someone forgets their computer or in case a speaker needs one. Overall it works pretty well and if we ever find ourself with a surplus we either donate them to local schools or within our school community.

Summer of ’21

This was the time when we had to hand in our laptops and look for a replacement. We could have gone with the 13″ MacBook Air with the M1 chip, but one of my colleagues said “Why don’t we get iMacs instead?” I couldn’t tell if she was half joking or half serious.

At any rate, the next few weeks as we looked around the idea grew on us as a department. Why not? What would be giving up? What would we be gaining? So we started talking seriously about switching from a laptop to a desktop. Here is how that played out.

What we gain

The most obvious gain is the screen real estate. Going from a 13″ laptop to a 24″ desktop is no small jump. I can fit two full websites side-by-side on one screen.

No, I am not writing about sports I just needed two websites to show off 🙂

That is pretty great, especially when researching or working in multiple databases. This may seem like a small quality of life improvement, but it speeds up my workflow tremendously.

The next big gain is that this desktop has an ethernet port. That means I can plug into our school’s LAN and have uninterrupted Internet access and the fastest speeds that our school offers. Sometimes when there are a lot of people visiting the school, the WiFi in my office can bog down a little. This fixes that problem. Also, system updates that used to take 40 minutes now are essentially 30% or more faster because the download is so much speedier. Lots to like there.

What we lose

Portability – this is the obvious one. We need to meet with other teachers or staff members and having a laptop can be helpful to compare calendars, pull up agendas, open up databases or other systems. That is helpful, but worry not dear reader – we have a solution. We either use one of the older replacement MacBook Airs we have or we use our own laptop (which is what I do).

You also lose the ability to work anywhere in the school. Having a laptop means I could work in the conference room, outside in the pavilion, in a hallway. The choice was mine and having a desktop means I have to give that up. I guess I could unplug the iMac and tote it around, but realistically if I need to do that then I should have just chosen a laptop.

What’s the same?

I do most serious work in my office. That is work where I am writing out strategic plans, proposals and working within various databases or systems. That work I do in my office, even with a laptop. So having the desktop doesn’t change that aspect.

I am already used to toting my laptop to and from school so no big deal. Most of my work is in the cloud so there is very, very little that I can do on my desktop that I cannot do on my personal laptop. I also don’t mind doing schoolwork on my personal laptop. I know there are others who like to keep their personal and professional lives as separate as possible and I do like to have that separation. You can achieve this with multiple accounts on the laptop, so there is that solution.

So far so good

It’s been over three months and I have to say those gains or far outweighing the losses right now. I think we’ve made a good choice. I really love the larger screen. It frees up more space on my desk and I can find that I work more efficiently. I did have a monitor that I hooked up my laptop up to and I have kept it. The two 24″ screens make a very spacious digital working environment.

What do you think? If you were offered the choice of a desktop or a laptop which would you choose and why? Leave those comments below!

Soul Machines – A demo

www.soulmachines.com

There is a new company name Soul Machines. They make artificial intelligent digital people that are intended to be an active workforce for the metaverse. Whether you think the metaverse is the actual future, just a buzz word or complete nonsense is for another post or podcast. What interests me is whether Soul Machines can actually make a persona that can be genuinely helpful to others.

I got my introduction to Soul Machines in an article written by Alexis On on The Verge titled “This Company is Making Digital Humans to Serve the Metaverse” In the article Alexis is interviewing co-founder Greg Cross. Cross steails that they are targeting healthcare and education. They are not looking to replace those people but to work alongside. I guess to handle very low level questions.

I also imagine that Soul Machines will work with specific companies to program their digital assistants with specific knowledge of that specific company. They have a video below of what could be.

On their website you can talk to Viola, so why not. How smart is their AI? I made some rules first:

  1. Ask general knowledge questions that it should “know”
  2. Ask follow up contextual questions – for example: Who is the President of the USA? Where does he live?
  3. If it cannot answer a question I will move on
  4. I will speak slowly and clearly

You can see my “interview” at the top of the post. Basically the digital person is not very smart or all that helpful. It was programmed to bull information from YouTube, Wolfram Alpha and a few other sources, but I was surprised about how often Viola misheard me or was not able to answer very basic facts.

Conclusion

AI has a looooong way to go. As for used for basic information it could be helpful but I fear it will cause more frustration when it mishears or misunderstands the question. I cannot imagine a school district using Soul Machines as supplemental tutors or a way for students to get extra help or extra practice while at home or even at school.

Students just need too much contextual information such as a silent head nod or subtle gesture from an adult or peer to reassure them or let them know if they’re on the right track or not. The learning curve is just too high for everyone involved. What I mean about that is that students will have to learn how to interact with the Digital Person, teachers will have to learn what a Digital Person can and cannot do so when they instruct students and families to use it as a resource they know that something will be achieved. Schools and districts will need to know what realistic gains can be achieved rolling this out as a wide scale project.

As it stands now – this nothing more than a research project that offers little value to schools or districts. Be skeptical if Soul Machines or other companies come knocking on your door. Make sure they erase all doubts and shadows of doubts about what they are offering and what you can achieve with it before moving forward.

Technology is exciting and it is easy to get caught up in the hype and buzz words, so be careful and keep your students’ best interest in mind.

WordPress + Anchor.fm = It’s a little broken

When I heard about this in March of 2021 I thought that this was too good to be true? How could this partnership last? here is are two services that want you to consumer content on their websites/apps. How are they willing to split their revenue? Well it looks like it’s starting to fall apart a little bit.

What should happen?

Well here is how this was working. You would write your post on WordPress.com and then publish it. You had to publish it for Anchor.fm to see it, so once it was published you would log into your Anchor account and click on Episodes at the top.

If there were new episodes to be converted they would show up in the list.

Continue reading “WordPress + Anchor.fm = It’s a little broken”

iPad Mini, Surface Pro 8, Surface Go 3 and Surface Studio Laptop – Are they good buys?

Recently Apple and Microsoft held events and unveiled some new products. Looking through my educator glasses I thought I’d write about them and try to evaluate if they are good for schools. When I say that, I mean, are they good to buy a whole bunch and give them to teachers, staff and/or students. So let’s dive in.

iPad Mini

No. There you go. The iPad Mini looks great. It probably has good battery life, the screen looks bright and the build quality is solid. In the past the iPad Mini was the “cheap” iPad, so schools bought them and teachers/students liked them. The landscape has now changed. Now schools can buy an iPad Mini for $449 (education discount) but the “cheap” iPad is $309 (education discount).

Continue reading “iPad Mini, Surface Pro 8, Surface Go 3 and Surface Studio Laptop – Are they good buys?”