Friday, April 22, 2011

Macbook Air vs Macbook Pro

I recently had the opportunity to test out a 13" Macbook Air (1.86 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2 GB RAM).  I specifically wanted to compare it to my 15" Macbook Pro (2.53 GHz Intel Core i5 processor with 4 GB RAM).  I'm sure you can read more technical comparisons on the web.  I thought I would provide my feedback as an administrator in the educational setting.  

With the solid state drive (flash drive like a USB stick for those non-techies), I found it was superfast to copy files to the MBAir. The solid state hard drives and associated benefits are the future of laptops.  The screen is really sharp and crisp (which also shows in the specs).  Overall, although it was less workspace, the smaller screen size wasn't a big deal unless I was trying to work in one window and reference another window at the same time.  It was not a big drop to go from 15" to 13".  I also found the trackpad more sensitive and responsive than my current MBPro which may just be due to a newer model.

The laptop is amazingly light and lives up to its "Air" title.  At the same time, it felt solid and wasn't flimsy despite its thin body.  It had 2 USB ports, the same as my MBPro and I really liked having them on each side.  In some ways, this was more convenient than having them both on the left.  The hitch for some users is that you may have to plug more things in like a USB to ethernet line adapter or a disc drive when needed.  I also applaud Apple for keeping the SD card slot in the 13" MBAir model.  This is a big plus for me.

The boot up time at around 15 seconds was roughly 1/3 of the time needed for the MBPro to startup.  I found video imported into iMovie slightly faster on the MBAir, probably due to the higher write speeds on the solid state drive.  Exporting and rendering the movie took 3 times as long on the MBAir (31 minutes as opposed to 9 minutes on the MBPro).  I concluded that it came down to processing power.  The MBAir just takes a lot longer to render.  You should plan on doing it overnight or over lunch for bigger projects.  I also found iMovie sluggish for longer movie creation (7 minute movie).  This may be remedied with more RAM.  I had no issues at all with a short 3 minute edit I worked on.  iMovie was the only program that I found sluggish, even with only 2 GB RAM and running multiple programs.  Garageband performed well under these same conditions.

As I tested the MBAir over approximately 2 weeks, I will note that I did not have some of my usual programs running in the background since I didn't transfer everything over.  For example, I didn't run iTunes or my task list manager in the background.  Although the computer performed well for most tasks, I would likely advocate for 4 GB RAM for my own daily use as I think it would help the multimedia and number of programs I use.

I have to say the new MBAir was very impressive.  Like many gadgets, it has a niche--mobility.  If you want mobility and a strong all around laptop, I was very impressed.  If you are doing a lot of multimedia and rendering of projects that take higher CPU processing, you may want to consider sticking with the MBPro for right now.  

The biggest missing component from the MBAir is the i3 processor.  The newest MBPro models utilize the i5 or i7 processors which are quite high performers.  The potential addition of the i3 processor in the MBAir in future models may make it even more attractive and I wish they had added it to this one.  The other two small perks that MBAir misses is the backlit keyboard and ambient light sensor to adjust screen brightness automatically.  These are hardly big omissions but aspects of the MBPro I do like.  

If you have questions about my experience, post them in the comments and I'll do my best to respond.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Valuing What is Valuable

In this post, I'll diverge from my usual topics of education, technology, and leadership.  I took a couple hours to join some other administrators in going to a local foundation that ministers to the mentally and physically disabled.  It is supported by municipal funds and the foundation includes something like 7 different facilities including a K-12 school, dormitory, factory where they make circuit boards, and a printing business.

These circuit boards go into GPS screens and other small devices.

Seong Se Rehabilitation School has all kinds of disabilities from mental to severe physical impairments.  Their facilities are built for the many wheelchairs in the facility.  The kids have smiles on their faces as they learn English, math, computers, etc. and attempt what are very difficult physical coordination tasks for some.  The vision of those that run that foundation is to raise the view of the disabled in Korea. As a result, they run a first class facility that does an excellent job educating these children to accomplish a level of functionality some might not have dreamed possible.

As I walked around and watched both the adults that were working and the kids in school, I had to stop and reflect on what I (and we) value in life.  In our fast-paced, busy world, it is easy to become transactional.  We give something and expect something in return.  Sadly, we often apply this concept unconsciously even in our most altruistic moments.  Even in helping the poor or the disabled, we want them to contribute to society.  What does that mean?

Does it mean they can take care of themselves?  Does it mean they can provide some work or labor for others?  Or is the goal to make sure they don't drain tax dollars as adults?  Are we benevolent yet transactional at times?  If we expect this kind of return in life, I fear we will be disappointed at many levels (and I'm not just talking about by people with disabilities).  The smiles and lives of these people contribute greatly.  For some it will not be a economic contribution nor a measurable gift.  However, they offer us an opportunity to give of ourselves and get nothing back.  To give freely without reservation or expectation of return.  They can remind us of the value of human life.  They remind us of our humanity - that life isn't a series of transactions.

We need foundations like this to keep us from losing perspective.  We need to teach our children in our schools this principle as well.  We have to remember what is truly valuable.  We need to take advantage of the opportunity to give gifts of our time, energy, and love.  Perhaps I didn't depart from my usual topics as much as I thought when I first started this post...

Then the righteous will answer him, 'For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
-Matthew 25:37-40 (Bible)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fighting Back the Chaos

Today's world is full of information overload.  Perhaps it would be accurate to say application overload in some cases.  As we move from device to device or application to application, maintaining some semblance of organization is critical.  Yes, critical.  I'm not an organization freak as those around me will attest, but having some idea of how to organize information and resources is important.  We constantly run across websites we want to refer back to later.  We identify resources that are useful to share with others.  We also access certain information from different browsers or applications.  For example, I have about 3 different applications for twitter just on my laptop which I use interchangeably.  Then we move from our laptops to our iPhones to iPads etc.

CC Information Overload by Jorge Franganillo (Flickr)

We are not always on the same device so how do we make the "cloud" (internet based applications and storage of resources) work for us?  If we do not have a plan, chaos will take over and we will just miss out on resources buried in an overwhelming pile of stuff.  We need to help students with this skill too. I'll outline some of my own personal strategy to fight back the chaos.

I am always surprised how many people don't use bookmarks (see my previous post for more on bookmarking).  I have all my common sites in my toolbar.  This makes them easy to access anywhere.  I use Xmarks to sync all my bookmarks across all my devices.  This also makes them accessible by logging into the Xmarks site when on a public computer.  Although Xmarks can do other things like sync passwords and such, I use it solely for syncing bookmarks across devices and browsers.  It has an install plugin for almost any browser on any platform.  I have upgraded to the premium and find it worth every penny but a free version is available.

I also use Dropbox.  Lots of different applications allow you to use Dropbox to access information across devices (see more info here).  I find this is a valuable tool for having files and information easily synced across multiple devices.  It also makes a backup always available in case a device is lost or stolen.

I like Instapaper for reading articles later.

For example, I typically check my twitter network on my phone which regularly gives me useful links and information.  I have several methods to deal with this information.
  1. I have created a free account with Instapaper.  I have added this bookmark applet to my toolbar on my browser which allows me to just click on "Read Later" and it is saved to my account.  Instapaper can be accessed on my iPhone or laptop easily.  It tracks what I have read and I just archive after I have finished.  I always know what articles are yet to be read.  
  2. I often just skim my Twitter and don't do extensive reading.  So I email myself a tweet at my gmail account.  I have setup a filter that automatically removes it from the inbox and labels it so I can review it later.  Filters are powerful and often underused email feature.  This also makes it easy to search tweets I want to find later.
  3. I can use my Diigo account to bookmark certain links right in my phone.
  4. Xmarks makes a lot of this simply because it syncs my bookmark applet for Diigo and Instapaper across browsers and my phone.
Lastly, I also highly recommend RSS feeds.  I use Google Reader to keep up with blogs that I follow.  It is easy and accessible on my phone or laptop.  

How do you keep your life organized between browsers, applications, and devices?  Do you have other recommendations to share?

Friday, April 1, 2011


I am always surprised how few people use bookmarks and I believe we need to be more proactive in teaching students to use this effectively. I use 2 tools to meet my bookmarking needs.

First, I use my local laptop to bookmark items that are private to me.  That might range from financial institutions to travel resources.  These are things that I save for my own personal reference.  I do use Xmarks to sync bookmarks across browsers and devices (I'll write more about this in my next post).

Secondly, I use Diigo to bookmark a fair amount of material that I want to find later.  It seems the bookmarks on my computer are more static and ones I use over and over.  The ones on Diigo are usually things I want to reference and search out later.  The other aspect of Diigo is the social bookmarking aspect. Although I can choose what is public and private, most of my bookmarks are public.  I have created several lists where I just add links.  I am pretty diligent about tagging so I can effectively search for these resources later.  Adding links to Diigo is easy on both my iPhone and my laptop.  It is also my way to share some of what I find for those that want to follow the list.

I have the following Diigo lists to which I actively add links as I come across them:

  • 21C Libraries: I place links to how libraries are changing and adapting to a 21st century context here.  This is a relatively new list for me.
  • 21st Century Schools & Education: This is a broad category that relates to a lot of topics that I write about on my blog.  It is probably my most active list.  I like to bookmark good articles and such I find here.  I don't necessary agree with everything I bookmark, but it allows me to archive stuff in one place.
  • Cool Tools: This is just for software and applications I find that seem neat.  Some are for me to look up later and pursue further reviews.  These aren't always ones I would recommend.  It is like a brainstorming space or a post-it note to check out later.
  • Japan Earthquake Links:  I created this one to compile some resources I found and that might benefit students on the recend natural disaster.
  • Leadership: I like to post general leadership links here.
Diigo has some other cool features like posting highlights and sticky notes onto websites.  Some teachers find this valuable to help students as they are reading and research information.  I personally don't use that as it isn't my purpose.  It might be useful for some classroom teachers, particularly in conducting some webquests.

Do you use bookmarks?  Do you use different apps to accomplish your goals?  Feel free to share your ideas in the comments.