The Rogers Communications outage and the need for offline functionality

Image by IO-Images from Pixabay

I recently published a piece about the lessons we should learn from the Rogers Communications outage. The way I see it, the outage underscored two facts

  1. We are incredibly dependent on the Internet. 
  2. The importance of preserving offline functionality

Offline functionality means having devices that are functional without an Internet connection.

What I took away from this outage (I wasn’t affected thankfully) is that offline functionality in my devices is critical.

I’m from a generation (maybe even the last generation), that remembers when personal computers were primarily offline devices. It’s not my intent to scold younger folks, nor am I suggesting that I was born during a better time. It’s just a fact that most home computers from the 1990s – which were generally shared by all family members – were offline most of the time. As a result, our sImage by IO-Images from Pixabayoftware was designed with offline use in mind. Budgeting, word processing, and gaming were all done offline.

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Intel in the news

ARC discrete GPUs. Image courtesy of Intel.

Intel has been in the news thanks to the release of its new i9 desktop processor (dubbed the ‘fastest’ CPU in the world) and its new ARD discrete mobile GPUs. Intel’s i9 CPU is what we’re used to; more watts. What’s most interesting is that Intel is targeting gaming enthusiasts (and possibly esports professionals) in its marketing. That’s a curious move considering how niche that audience is.

The ARC GPUs are arguably more interesting because they represent a significant advancement in mobile graphics. Anyone running a recent Windows laptop with Intel’s Iris integrated graphics have fared well. ARC show some considerable performance gains in games and professional applications. So far, Intel has only rolled out ARC 3 – with the 350M and 370M chips. The story was originally reported by Chaim Gartenberg from The Verge.

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A passwordless future

Authentication diagram fro the FIDO Alliance.
Image courtesy of the FIDO Alliance

The FIDO Alliance recently published a white paper about its plan to replace passwords. Coverage about this paper from Wired and The Register is excellent, and the white paper itself provides some interesting solutions for eliminating the need for passwords. FIDO proposes using secondary Bluetooth enabled devices to transmit cryptographic keys locally, without data being shared over the Internet. Such an implementation would be phishing-resistant, but is its adoption realistic?

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The Steam Deck

Steam Deck
Image courtesy of Valve

Earlier this month, Valve opened pre-orders for its new Steam Deck, a handheld gaming PC built on AMD’s Zen 2APU. This handheld PC runs a Linux-based operating system called Steam OS (v. 3.0). The Steam Deck allows users to play ‘many’ of their Steam game library portably. Tech Radardescribed the Steam Deck as “one of the most eagerly anticipated product launches in recent times, with Valve trying its hand at making a handheld console.”

But the Steam Deck is more than a gaming device. It’s a new PC form factor – what I call the ‘mobile desktop’ – and showcases recent advancements in mobile computing.

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Apple Peek Performance Event: M1 Ultra and Mac Studio biggest highlights

Apple’s Peek Performance event has come and gone. Other blogs will discuss the minutia of the event, so I won’t attempt that here. Instead, I’m going to focus on the highlights – mostly Apple Silicon.

M1 Ultra

M1 Ultra specs overview slide from Apple
M1 Ultra overview: Image courtesy of Apple

As not to bury the lead, the star of the event was the new M1 Ultra chip. This is a professional-class desktop chip that builds on the M1 Max available in the current crop of MacBook Pros. M1 Ultra is essentially two M1 Max chips fused together using a new “Ultra Fusion” process. M1 Ultra provides for 2.5 TB/s interprocessor bandwidth, 800 GB/s of memory bandwidth, has 114 billion transistors, has up to 128 Gb of unified memory, includes a 20 core CPU, and includes a 64 core GPU. Most of Apple’s chips have a combination of high performance and efficiency cores. The Ultra is no different, but the balance has shifted. M1 Ultra has 16 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores because this is made for desktops using AC power.

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Presentation: Higher education trends that will outlast the pandemic – McGraw hill

Image from McGraw Hill

My colleague Kris Hans and I recently concluded an invited presentation for McGraw Hill publishing. We discussed higher education trends that will outlast the pandemic. We discuss hybrid learning, online teaching/learning exposure, lifelong learning and open education, higher education costs, micro-credentials, and the growth of the EdTech industry.

A recording of the presentation can be found on the McGraw Hill website.

A big thank you to the 140+ individuals who took the time to attend this event. We got some fantastic questions from audience members. A blog post summarizing some of the presentation highlights will be forthcoming.

2021 MacBook Pro: Classic features with a new engine

Apple’s ‘Unleashed’ event happened on Oct 18th, and the company finally revealed their updated MacBook Pro laptops running on Apple Silicon. Today, The reviews are starting to trickle out. For a full breakdown of everything Apple announced (including updates to HomePod mini, Apple Music, and AirPods 3), I would encourage you to head over to Jason Snell and Dan Moren’s blog Six Colors for the whole scoop. If you want a deep dive video, I’d head over to Rene Richtie’s YouTube channel

In this article, I want to focus on the MacBooks – particularly on the new designs, Apple’s mea culpa on ports, the next-gen Apple Silicon, and what this update might foreshadow for the Mac moving forward. Having watched the announcement and read some of these early reviews, I wanted to provide my takeaways. The MacBook Pro is truly a pro machine, and nobody benefits more from their power than creative professionals. But what about enthusiasts or “semi-pro” users? I only dabble in video, audio, and photo editing, and programming is just a hobby for me. Semi-pro is the best I can hope for right now. What MacBook Pro features will benefit Mac enthusiasts and which features are overkill? In this post, I will highlight what I think are the most practical features for these folks, while also discussing the broader implications of this update.

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Op-Ed: Open educational resources would make post-secondary costs more affordable

assorted books on wooden table

The following article was published in the Edmonton Journal by myself, Chaten Jessel (University of Calgary) and Michael McNally (University of Alberta) highlighting the benefits of provincial government funding for open educational resources in Alberta. OER are highlighted as a strategy for the Alberta 2030 post-secondary plan. We argue that the current conservative government could easily resurrect the OER pilot project, which was initiated by the previous conservative government in 2014, and put aside a small annual grant to fund resource development in the province.

Article link: https://edmontonjournal.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-open-educational-resources-would-make-post-secondary-costs-more-affordable

In 2014, the Alberta government funded the provincial OER initiative — a pilot project designed to promote OER in the province. This program was eventually ended, but the Alberta OER archive is still available. Open textbook adoptions were projected to save students $5.5 million over five years.

The government could make meaningful progress on open education in Alberta over the next 18 months. Here are three steps the government could take.

– Reinstate the Alberta OER initiative by providing a modest annual grant: The money could be used to fund OER projects throughout the province. The majority of the funds should be distributed as small grants, to fund educators who want to develop OER materials for their classes. The remaining funds could be used to track student savings and prevent duplication by encouraging co-ordination and co-operation across the province.

– Recruit educators to volunteer on the Alberta OER initiative: The previous initiative comprised many volunteers from the post-secondary sector, and there are many skilled people across the province who would be willing to administer the grant and plan OER related events.

– Develop partnerships with other provinces: There are numerous OER initiatives going on in provinces like B.C., Ontario, and in Atlantic Canada. Through establishing partnerships, Alberta could benefit from the knowledge, expertise, and already made OER that other groups have.

Boostrapping an education technology podcast

Photo by Jukka Aalho on Unsplash

In July, 2020 my colleague Kris Hans and I launched the EdTech Examined podcast. Almost one year and 25 episodes later, we’ve had some amazing conversations and we’ve have had the privilege to speak to educators and innovators in EdTech. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate the opportunity to interview people on our podcast, and we look forward to ramping it up over the next year.

In April, Kris and I had the pleasure of delivering a presentation about our podcasting journey at the 2021 Mount Royal University Faculty Association Retreat. I want to extend a thank you to all those who attended our session and to those who’ve been encouraging us along the way.

I’ve written a follow up article on Medium, outlining how we got started and three takeaways we’ve learned along the way. We hope this will be useful if you decide to create your own podcast.

Medium Article: “Bootstrapping and Education Technology Podcast”

The professional vs the amateur

CC image by Alan O’Rourke from Flickr

I get a lot of questions about productivity from my students and colleagues. I suppose by being relatively well read on the subject of productivity, and by being “perceived” as productive, I have brought this on myself. I could easily channel the advice of Cal Newport or David Allen, but I want to discuss a less regimented and more philosophical approach to doing work.

One of my favourite books is Steven Pressfield’s Do the Work which provides a template for how to battle “Resistance.” Pressfield argues that there is an internal force – a part of our ego which he describes as the dragon – that is holding us back from doing creative work. He is very clear that Resistance is an internal force, not an external one. The dragon represents our fear of failure and our sense of self-doubt. The more we give in to our anxieties, the stronger the dragon becomes. Each time a writer, a painter, a scholar, a scientist, or a musician sits down to work on their craft, their inner knight does battle with this dragon of Resistance. It’s a battle that’s fought every day.

Pressfield discussing how to overcome Resistance

The metaphor of Resistance has always stuck with me because it’s true. I love to write. I love to play the guitar. I love to lift weights. I love to do chores (believe it or not). But I procrastinate like nobody’s business because there’s a voice in my head constantly pushing feelings of fear, guilt, or excuses.

Pressfield’s book has had such an impact on me that I started reading through his other titles about writing. The War of Art, which is probably his most famous book on artistic productivity, covers much of the same ground. While Do the Work provides a battle plan for each creative session, The War of Art takes a step back and outlines not only the internal struggles that artists face but also how to conduct oneself professionally as an artist.

Pressfield makes a hard distinction between the professional and the amateur. But, the distinction is not based on financial success. He identifies several aspects of the professional. The following list includes many, but not all, of the “professional” qualities.

• The professional shows up to work every day no matter what (in sickness or health).

• The professional stays on the job all day. He helps the customer, answers the phone, and puts in the time required. It’s his duty.

• The professional is in it for the long-term. Professionals understand that there will be good days and bad days, but they keep on trucking regardless.

• The professional is patient. They understand that success takes time. This is similar to David Goggins’ theory that life requires “reps.”

• The professional seeks order. I love this one. Professionals make sure their house is in order (literally and metaphorically) so they have a proper work environment for the day. My Dad, who was a writer, used this strategy. The floor is swept and vacuumed. The bathrooms are clean. The dishes are done. Your workspace is organized. This habit makes a world of difference.

• The professional doesn’t make excuses. They own up to their mistakes and they strive to learn from each experience. The day of full of hills and valleys. When something goes wrong a professional sees it as his/her responsibility to correct the situation.

• The professional is prepared. Whether it’s getting up early to work out before you hit the books (like Pressfield does), cultivating a pre-work coffee-making ritual, or planning your weekly tasks every Sunday afternoon, professionals have a system that sets them up to succeed.

• The professional doesn’t show off. They are humble in their successes and resilient in their failures. Because professionals are in it for the long-term, they take only take a couple of minutes to be proud of their accomplishments and then start working on the next project.

• The professional reinvents himself. Pressfield worked in advertising and was a screenwriter before he was a novelist. Artistic endeavours, even within the same general field, can lead to different paths. Professionals are willing to take risks and reinvent themselves in the face of success or failure.

The amateur, not surprisingly, is characterized as having the opposite traits. Amateurs don’t treat their work with the same respect. They don’t show up to the “job” every day no matter what. Instead, they make excuses about why they didn’t get to it. Pressfield sums up the difference beautifully by describing how professionals and amateurs are connected to their work. A professional’s ego isn’t tied to the work. This is important because the professional realizes that any given work is just one expression, one example, of what they’re capable of. The amateur, in contrast, is too emotionally tied to each work. Failure leads to depression and success leads to euphoria.

Pressfield describes how Hollywood screenwriters insulate themselves from this amateurish nature by creating a corporation of one. By self incorporating, you can wear two hats. There’s you the individual and you the professional. Your professional self has separate credit cards for business expenses, separate stationery for notes, a separate workspace, etc. You hire your professional self out to “get the job done.” This professional persona keeps on plugging away regardless of a work’s success or failure. The professional self is bullet proof. In other words, the professional treats the art like a 9-5 job. There is no task or contract below the professional; this is the person you call when you need to sell your skills.

Furthermore, Pressfield also says that becoming a professional is a decision. It can just be made. As long as you act like a professional, as described by the points above, then you are a professional. Financial success might never come, but that doesn’t matter because you walk the walk.

The lessons that Pressfield outlines are incredibly practical and widely applicable. They are not that different from what I’ve told students for many years. Treat your studies like a 9-5 job. Learn from failures. Keep plugging away at the work. Much of the advice in The War of Art is geared toward writers, but I think it holds for anybody doing a challenging task – bodybuilders included.

The War of Art isn’t new. This title was published in 2002. But, the advice is as true then as it is today. When I think back to the 5000-word papers I wrote for university political science and history classes, I can recall the ups and downs during each session. I remember working on a paper on the second floor of the university library during one particularly cold November. I had my Mac laptop in front of me with a mile-high stack of books on each side. Everything was crammed into the small brown wood veneer cubby I was inhabiting. I must have sat in that chair for six hours. And, during those six hours I lived several lifetimes. I experience joy, loss, resentment, exhaustion, and exhilaration. I remember experiencing that session over and over again throughout my university career. Each paper I had to write was an epic battle between my inner knight and the dragon of Resistance. Every day I showed up like a professional and got my work done.

It’s a cliche to point out that we live in an “age of distraction,” but it’s true. Focus and gratitude are in very short supply in today’s society. I get a question from all my students: “How do I get started?” This could apply to any project they’re working on – whether it’s a paper, presentation, or lab report. I always give them the same answer: “Start now.” Saying you’ll start later isn’t going to cut it. Sit down and get right into it. If you can suffer through the first two or three minutes, you’ll be on your way to battling Resistance that day and acting like a professional.