Didn’t do the reading? With Digital Textbooks, Your Professor Can Prove It

Good and bad
And easier to carry around

I’m of two minds about the creation of digital textbooks. On the one hand, they are cheaper to produce and therefor cheaper for the student. Also, they have a lot of extra capabilities, such as the ability to copy/paste or reference easily for papers and assignments.

But on the darker side, they do give the publisher quite a bit of power. DRM can force textbooks to “expire” (I’ve dealt with this myself), so you can’t reference it years later if you want, and they’re usually completely unportable, in the sense that they don’t work in any reader but the publisher’s reader.

Now there’s a third thing: classroom control. I’ll admit that I didn’t always do every bit of required reading for courses, but I was pretty good about it, maybe even better than most. However, the idea that a professor can see which pages I’ve looked at and what I’ve highlighted, without me sharing it explicitly is a little disconcerting.

From ArsTechnica:

There exists a textbook that will report back to your professors about whether you’ve been reading it, according to a report Tuesday from the New York Times. A startup named CourseSmart now offers an education package to schools that allows professors to, among other things, monitor what their students read in course textbooks as well as passages they highlight.

CourseSmart acts as a provider of digital textbooks working with publishers like McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and John Wiley and Sons. The NY Times describes books in use at Texas A&M University, which present an “engagement index” to professors that can be used to evaluate students’ performance in class.

Read More…

Bitcoins Aren’t New, But They Sure Are Interesting

bitcoins
A new currency?

Despite the fact that they’ve seemed to come out of nowhere, bitcoins are an idea that have been around for a bit. I remember hearing about them some time ago, but only recently have I seen them gain any real popularity. Now that they’re trading at over $200 a coin, it’s not hard to see why.

The latest issue of Ubuntu User (Issue 15), if you can get your hands on it, does a great job of explaining what bitcoins are and why they’re suddenly all the rage. If you’re looking for something a little quicker, there’s a 3 minute video that can give you a crash course [here]. Think of the possibilities of an anonymous (mostly) digital currency with no borders, and you’re on the right track. The methods of creating, securing and building an economy around bitcoins are fascinating.

If you already know what bitcoins are and how they work, and thought of mining for them yourself (I certainly have) then check out TechCrunch’s article How To Mine Bitcoins.

However, be careful if you want to go all gun-ho on this newish digital currency. Some economists have pointed out that this may in fact be a bubble. It definitely looks and acts like one, but whether it will deflate slowly or pop remains to be seen.

It may do neither, and we will see a new standardized currency arise for the digital age. Any way it turns out, it’s an interesting thing to watch.

-CJ Julius

My Life After Google Reader

Google Reader on PC
Farewell, Old Friend

I’ve used Google Reader for quite a while, probably five years or so. I wasn’t an early adopter, but the service had definitely become the cornerstone of how I interact with news from around the internet. It allowed me to take all of the different websites that I enjoyed and pull them into one feed, organized that feed and then share what I found interesting. It was a solid platform.

But it’s going away. As of July 1st, 2013, Google Reader will shut down and we’ll all be left to find another service to organized our RSS feeds.

I decided to start a few weeks ago, looking at other newsreaders that would offer a similar experience, or maybe even one better. I needed four things from my new software:

  1. It needed to work on Linux PC, iOS and Android, as I use all three OS types on a daily basis.
  2. It needed to be able to organize my feeds into groups that I had become familiar with over the years of using Google. This includes being able to save something for reading later.
  3. It needed to have integration into various sharing apps. Specifically, I needed to be able to get to Twitter, Linkedin and Buffer if possible. Maybe even WordPress if I could at all manage it.
  4. It needed to sync my reading lists over all of these platforms and preferably pull my data from Google.

    Feedly on Firefox in Linux
    Feedly on Firefox in Linux (Ubuntu 12.04)

It seemed like a fairly standard list, but I was not very optimistic. This is a tall order from a free (or cheap) newsreader, especially number 4 above.

I’ll cut to the chase here, since I’m sure that my step-by-step decision process is less than enthralling. I tried multiple different online readers, even the MSN one, and found them all pretty lacking. Some were good at organizing, but just had an iOS app or only worked on the computer. Others, Pulse for example, looked slick but didn’t offer much in the way of sharing options. I then came across this article on TechCrunch (via my news feeds on Google Reader, ironically) talking about a new relaunch of a piece of newsreader software called Feedly.

Feedly on iOS
Feedly on iOS (iPhone 4)

I’d heard of Feedly before, but I’d never investigated it beyond a few screenshots. Besides, I already had a newsreader that worked pretty darn well. After some reading I found that it was indeed the software I was looking for. It claimed to do all the things I wanted and then some.

So, I installed the app on all of my devices, synced them with my Google Reader account. All of my data came over flawlessly and I’ll admit it looked great. The sharing options were there with Buffer and Twitter integrated in already*. With minimal work on my part I was grabbing, commenting and sharing like a pro again.

As of this writing I’ve only been using a Feedly for about a day and a half, but I’m liking it (dare I say it?) more than Google Reader. There are a few bugs, and some configuration options that I wish were there, but it’s rare that I go out looking for a piece of software and find one that matches what I needed so perfectly. If you’re one of the immigrants from Google Reader and you need a news reader, I recommend Feedly extremely highly.

Feedly Android
Feedly on Android (Galaxy Note 10.1)

Ratings:
PC version: 4/5
iOS version: 5/5
Android version: 4/5

*Buffer does not seem to show up on my Android device. I don’t know if they have yet to implement it or if it’s a configuration thing. Probably the former as Android apps tend to lag a bit behind the iOS ones.

-CJ Julius

How 3D Printing Actually Works

3D Printing, while a relatively new technology, does have a lot of exciting applications. These first few steps into designing relatively simple things are neat in and of themselves. I can’t wait until 3D Printing matures. The possibilities are endless.

The video is a little disappointing though. It doesn’t really add much to the article, but it’s still cool to watch.

-CJ Julius

From Mashable:

Now that 3D printing — the process of making three-dimensional solid objects from digital designs — is available and affordable to individual consumers, it’s piqued a lot of interest across the tech space in the past few years.

From scale models, gifts and clothing to prosthetic limbs, hearing aids and the prospect of 3D-printed homes, the possibilities seem endless.

The concept of 3D printing is by no means new, however. Chuck Hull invented and patented stereolithography (also known as solid imaging) in the mid-1980s, when he founded 3D Systems, Inc. Since then, advances in the technology have been (and continue to be) made, including the size of the printers themselves, the materials they can use and more.

But how do 3D printers actually work? How can something that looks like our household printer or office photocopier create complex, solid objects in a matter of hours?

Read More: How 3D Printing Actually Works.