A Request to Pocket App

Pocket is a gorgeous app, available in almost all mobile platforms and the web. It helps you to save online reading for later offline reading. You can tag the articles and have a little organization around it. With simple and elegant controls, it provides clutter free reading pleasure. It also can remember where you left off individual articles. If you haven’t used it, please check it out. Trust me, you would love it.

Pocket Hits

Once every few days, Pocket automatically curates a set of articles, which match my reading interests and sends as an email newsletter. They call it “Pocket Hits”. For me this news letter content is almost always right on target. I love to read right out of my inbox. It’s as if the algorithm can read my mind. Under each article, there is a link to save it to your Pocket account. (see picture.) Usually the newsletter contains 10 article links, for which you have to click 10 times to save them all. But it is worth the effort. Since the articles are saved for offline reading, it is perfect for subway reading, when you are completely disconnected from the web.

But …..

Wouldn’t it make sense to add an extra link like “Save all to Pocket” ? What do you say, Pocket team?

 

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Two Tools for Teaching Children to Code

Why should we teach our children to code?

  • Because it gives them the ability to see what’s going on under the hood.
  • Because it sharpens their logical reasoning.
  • Because it empowers them to create instead of consume.
  • Because they may just like it and someday they might want to make a living out of coding.
  • Because it makes them “cool” among their peers.
  • Because it helps them to work better with computer professionals even if they chose a different line of specialization.
  • Because it is pure fun. Coding gives them instant gratification. Working code can show them magic unfolding in front of their eyes.

I am sure I wasn’t persuasive enough but please give it a try. There are tons of resources out there online to help you choose the right toolkit. It will be a true gift to your children.

To begin with here are a couple of links to checkout. Scratch from MIT is really easy and fun for young kids of age 5-8. App Inventor (created by Google and later donated to MIT) lets you create real Android apps using some of the event driven programming concepts. It is appropriate for ages 9-15. A child who can do Legos can do coding as well with either of these tools. Both are great tools for teaching.

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Rights to be forgotten

Our status updates and pictures live on servers. Where do they go to die?

Early this year, an EU court asked Google and other search engines to institute a facility to request to be forgotten and Google complied without dispute. That decision may conflict with our right to know but I save that topic for another day. Today I am not talking about that but about something related.

This year, two of my friends on Facebook passed away. Their Facebook profiles are still alive. I fear that someday a strange Facebook algorithm would pull out an old memory from their profiles and present it on my timeline. I am not sure if they had a will written on how they wanted to settle their belongings and real estate but I am sure they didn’t have means to prepare a cyber will.

This is something Facebook, Google and other service providers who trade in cloud/social networking services in exchange for our privacy, could do. As consumers who are willing to barter details of our private lives, we have a right to be forgotten after we are gone from this world. We should be able to decide how long a post, a picture or a profile should live.

What we blather often dissipate in thin air. Our books, letters and paper documents get faded, eaten by termites or get recycled. The status updates on the other hand, are God-like. Invincible, pervasive and deathless. They live limitless lives through server farms, get cloned for backups, mined for profits and surveillance and sold out for unknown ransoms without our knowledge. Your words and pictures are not yours anymore, once they bid farewell from your keyboard.

Unfortunately, true privacy is not a viable option anymore. Internet has changed the way we live our lives. Completely.

So, as customers, citizens, and most of all, as humans, who desire to live honorable and precious lives, we demand the right to be forgotten for the content we post on the web.

Our status updates too, need a time and place to die.

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Gifted and Talented

The school district in my town runs a prorgam called G&T for  elementary school students. Every year, a handful of kids get selected using some secret assessment criteria, with very limited parent insight.

For starters, G&T stands for Gifted and Talented program. I believe it does more harm than good for students and hence should be redesigned.

  1. Not so obvious, but the Gifted and Talented program is not very enriching for the children who get selected. Attaching a “Gifted” label is giving a false feedback to the children, who are attending those programs. When you start attaching labels such as innate (genetic) giftedness, kids could possibly grow a blind eye towards the importance of hard work. Studies after studies have found that educators and parents should be promoting hard work (“Well done Meena, you must have worked hard on that!”) instead of innate giftedness (“Wow! you did this! You are really smart, Johny!”). For example, Dweck and Mueller’s study found out that praising for hardwork encouraged fifth graders to persist longer and achieve better test results than the kids, who were praised for innate qualities such as smartness. (Those who are interested, here is an article for you – The Trouble with Bright Kids.)
  2. Obviously, G&T program is not so helpful for the students, who are not admitted to the program. At best, Gifted and Talented is a misnomer with some destructive qualities. Antonym for Gifted and Talented is Ungifted and Untalented, to figure which out, kids don’t have to be truly Gifted and Talented. For potentially benefiting a handful of children, we are jeopardizing the self esteem of the vast majority of others. The easiest but significant change the schools can make is to rename this program something else along the lines of, “Competitive Education Program”. But not Gifted and Talented – please.
  3. Moreover, Gifted and Talented is a statistically inaccurate description. In any given society, the number of “gifted” individuals is far and few. In a normally distributed dataset, you can’t expect to have 10-15% of the population displaying true giftedness. (What is true giftedness, anyway.)

Schools, teachers and educators should not be in the business of labeling and classifying their students. Instead, they should get busy building passion and perseverance in students right from their early stages of development.

It is October and the weather turns colder. It is also the time of the year, we have school board elections. This is something that the new board can consider changing as a first step.

Elementary School America is in a competition frenzy. Unfortunately for now, in a wrong headed fashion.

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What should Windows do

Well, the title of the post should have been “What should Microsoft do”, but right now I am not interested in talking about Microsoft Office or XBox or Bing. For our discussion, I prefer to treat “Windows” as a stand-alone organization.

In all those places I have worked, I was required to use Windows desktops. At home, we own a couple of devices running different flavors of Windows. I am not planning to decommission Windows anytime soon from my life. As a long time Windows customer – albeit a reluctant one at times – I am worried about its future.

The announcement of new Windows (Windows 10) created a reasonable amount of social media buzz and somewhat lukewarm expectations from (once) software giant. The twitter crowd started joke-streaming the popular elementary school humor of “7 ate 9″.

The release schedule is going to be late 2015 – TBD. To Be Decided is the problem that Microsoft lately has. Looking around we can see that the industry has shifted to rolling out major versions of software at least once every year. Customers became more savvy of nuances of the feature set that their favorite OS vendor brings in. Millions of people started watching Apple / Google / Samsung launch events.

Traditionally Windows adopted a refresh frequency of 2-3 years. It made sense in the past because Microsoft enjoyed a universal monopoly on PC operating systems and the smallest denomination of personal computing available to customers were desktops and laptops.  That beautiful candyland doesn’t exist anymore. Mobile has become ubiquitous. Apple and Google now dominate the lion’s share of that market while Microsoft was marginalized to be a bystander. Microsoft has tried to change its strategy – quickly dumped the well designed XP/Windows 7 products and embraced the metro-style tablo-desktop-sundae-OS called Windows 8. I can’t think of a product that was hated by more number of its fanbase than Windows 8. And it took 3 years for Microsoft to release it.

With the new leadership at its helm, Microsoft announced its next version of OS last month. The new version of Windows, which is expected to clean up after Windows 8, would come out shortly – well, in 2015, TBD to be precise!

What Windows should do is to commit for shorter cycles of OS iterations, that rejuvenate the market every once in a while. If a version fails to capture the imagination of its customer base, let it fail quickly and recover from that failure faster. Windows 8 came out in October 2012. It should not take 3 years for a software behemoth to recover from a failure as staggering as that of Windows 8. (Did you say, Windows 8.1? That doesn’t count..).

The first and foremost action Windows should do is to reduce their refresh frequency. Now more than ever, we need Windows in the market place.

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