Open Thinkering


Tag: tablet

Systems Thinking, reference management, and Open Badges

Searching for term 'Systems thinking' in Paperpile on a BOOX Note Air 2

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m a fox (as opposed to a hedgehog). My natural tendency, therefore, is to create new things which reference old things. I’m making an exception here, and starting a new Systems Thinking category on this blog instead of an entirely new publication. Here’s the RSS feed for it.

This will mainly feature intellectual outputs from my upcoming MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice through the Open University. That begins on November 1st, so now I’m fully registered and have access to stuff, I’m getting myself prepared on Fridays.

It’s been 12 years since I finished my Ed.D. and the world has changed in many and various ways since then. One thing that I was pretty average at doing while working on my doctoral thesis was document and reference management, so I wanted to ensure that I was on top of that from the start.

The Open University’s Library website has some guidance on this, but I wanted to ask my network what they thought. The answer came back overwhelmingly in favour of Zotero. However, that’s not what I’m leaning towards and I thought I’d better explain why.

The iPad came out in 2011 and really helped me in the final stages of my thesis. I used to use the Papers app, which was pretty great. These days, being more aware of my migraine triggers, I use an e-ink Android tablet: a BOOX Note Air 2. At times when I can’t bear to look at a laptop screen or regular tablet like an iPad, I can still use that.

So, while I originally thought I wanted a completely web-based workflow, I actually need something that has an Android app that works well on tablets. I think I’ve found that in the shape of Paperpile, which is neither free nor open source. However, when it comes to my studies which I’m going to fit around my work and family life, I just need things that work. The Zotero app, for example, that I tried, was last updated by a hobbiest developer two years ago.

Annoyingly, the OU uses Microsoft 365 for email, calendar, and to-dos, but I’ll have to live with that. To keep things separate and all in one place, I’m using Microsoft To Do (which used to be Wunderlist before it was acquired). On my list of things to get done next week are to complete two free OpenLearn short courses:

These are both ‘badged open courses’ using Open Badges. It’s good to know that something I first got involved with in the year that I’ve finished my thesis is now an everyday part of the Higher Education landscape!

(Interestingly, just as I finished this post, I got an email from Navigatr announcing that OpenLearn’s badges will be available on their platform)

Want a tablet? Choose your vendor lock-in.

Ever wondered why Mozilla’s Firefox web browser exists? It’s because about 10 years ago Microsoft had sewn-up about 90% of the market and was creating vendor lock-in through anti-competitive practices. You can read about this in the History of the Mozilla Project. Happily, Mozilla were successful and now there’s at least two high-quality alternatives to Microsoft Internet Explorer – which itself has become more aligned with web standards. It’s a win for everyone who uses the web.

The next battleground is mobile. Although Google’s Android mobile Operating System (OS) is billed as ‘open’, for example, it’s not really developed in the usual Open Source way: the source code tends to be released long after each iteration of the OS. Apple, meanwhile, maintains a notoriously closed ecosystem with a stringent procedure for inclusion in their App Store. They also control how you can get things on and off iOS devices in order to make money from the iTunes store.

Amazon, meanwhile, is a fairly new to the mobile device game. They’ve taken Android and significantly modified it – including defaulting to their own app store. They’ve slashed the price of the Kindle Fire 2 (with, cleverly, ‘special offers and sponsored screensavers’) for Black Friday* making it a loss-leader. They’re betting on making the money back through Kindle book purchases, Amazon Prime subscriptions, and Lovefilm streaming.

So even though we may have multiple vendors it’s essentially similar problem to the Internet Explorer issue ten years ago. You may get shiny new ways to consume things that the vendor is selling you, but it’s not a great situation, overall.

You want a tablet? For Christmas 2012 that means you’re going to need to choose your vendor lock-in.

Thankfully, all this is set to change in 2013. Why? Two reasons. First, Mozilla are working on Firefox OS built entirely of standards-based web technologies. Secondly, Ubuntu Linux is being developed for mobile devices like the Nexus 7 and (even more excitingly) you’ll soon be able to run an entire desktop OS from your docked smartphone.

My conclusion? Buy a tablet if you have to, but be aware that real choice is around the corner…

(this was an attempt to write my version of the NSFW (but excellent) post by Terence Eden)

*The cynical nature of this marketing ploy is bad enough when tied to American Thanksgiving. It’s even worse when standing alone in the UK context.

Image CC BY-SA tribehut

A few brief thoughts on the Google Nexus 7. [REVIEW]

Google Nexus 7

I don’t know about you, but it’s the things I expect to be awesome with which I end up being most disappointed. Unrealistic expectations, I suppose.

A case in point would be the Asus Eee Pad Transformer that I bought last October ostensibly as my ‘conference device’. On paper, it’s got everything you would ever want: hi-res touchscreen, gargantuan battery life, relatively lightweight, lots of ports. But it didn’t quite cut it for me. I can’t quite explain why.

I’ve already bought its replacement, a Google Nexus 7. I was very tempted to buy another iPad (our family already has one, used mostly by our five year-old son for his blog) but former JISC colleague Zak Mensah showed me his Nexus 7 when we met up recently. I’d heard nothing but good things about it online, but was sceptical.

(It’s funny how I didn’t need a tablet device a couple of years ago whereas now I feel like I require something to read things from my Pocket account, etc.)

So I’ve had my Nexus 7 for about about three weeks now. I wish it had a rear-facing camera for sharing photos and videos on  Path. I wish it had 3G, or at least the ability to tether to ad-hoc networks like my phone. But other than that, I’ve no complaints. The screen is fantastic. And it’s fast. Really fast. Like, haven’t-yet-experienced-any-lag fast. Android apps make sense on it. And it was fairly cheap – the 16GB version is £199.

We’re in a post-technical specifications era, I reckon. Seriously, the toss I could not give as to which processor and how much memory this thing has. So long as it’s quick enough, can store enough of my stuff, and is ‘open’ enough for me, that’s fine. I’m interested in what I can do with it.

I’ve been using my Nexus 7 mainly for the following:

  • Email – it’s great for a heads-up on stuff or to fire off quick replies
  • Social networking – Twitter and Google+
  • Reading – usually the Pocket, Zite, Feedly and Kindle apps
  • Listening – audiobooks through Audible and music via, and Spotify
  • PlayingFootball Manager 2012 (need I say more?), Minecraft  – and a few others
  • Messing about – the camera icon isn’t present by default, but you can activate it (complete with big nose / small eyes / other effects!)

In future I’ll be using additional apps on it such as Evernote and Astrid, but it’s still early days. The Nexus 7 is so small and light that it’s a no-brainer to take it with me almost everywhere I go. Android feels like a viable platform – which has made me re-think sticking with my Maemo-powered Nokia N9 mobile phone. To be honest, it could be going the way of my Eee Pad Transformer before long…

So overall, I’m pleasantly surprised with my Google Nexus 7. I had fairly middling expectations from it and it’s far surpassed them. It’s not perfect, but it’s meant that most days I don’t bother borrowing the family iPad!

And finally, given that some people will inevitably ask me about their use in schools, I think these kind of devices make much more sense than iPads for the classroom. Why? They use an operating system that isn’t device-specific. They’re cheaper. They don’t take up as much of the desk or other surface. And they’re less shiny.

Have YOU got a Google Nexus 7? I’d love to hear your thoughts.