Thursday, February 04, 2010

Techno tidbits

The first item here is serious -- the others just diverting, but nonetheless interesting.

What's one of the most useful relief supplies brought into Haiti after the earthquake? Tim Lange, admittedly praising his employer's offering, writes

Just two days after the quake, a team from Thomson Reuters Foundation’s AlertNet humanitarian news service touched down in a twin-prop plane at Port-au-Prince’s international airport to set up the first-ever Emergency Information Service (EIS), offering Haitians free, practical SMS messages to help them minimise the disaster’s impact.

Despite countless logistical setbacks, EIS got off the ground in about 48 hours, and since its launch thousands have used the service to report missing persons, shelter problems and food issues.

Landlines and electricity are gone in Port-au-Prince, but even homeless Haitians have cell phones and often can recharge them if existing generators can just be provided with an occasional gallon of gasoline. And text messaging can often function even when other cell phone coverage is weak or spotty, as millions of us know from experience. Good work, AlertNet.

It's cold in Germany this winter. Spiegel photo.

If in danger of getting lost, do it under the eye of a webcam.
Der Spiegel relates this tale.

All he wanted to do was take a few nice pictures of the stunning ice sheet which currently stretches into the sea. In his efforts at photographic posterity, however, he quickly lost his orientation. Before long, with darkness falling, visibility low and nothing but ice and snow all around, the man, who is about 40 years old, no longer knew which direction to walk for the safety of the shore. ...

Help came from an unlikely place. A woman sitting in front of her computer hundreds of kilometers away in the town of Westerwald was taking a look at the frozen beach via one of the many Web cams set up around St. Peter-Ording. In the grainy image on her computer screen, she noticed a shadowy figure on the ice signalling with a flashlight. Immediately, she called the local police station to report the man.

Police were quickly able to locate the man and used car headlights to lead the man to shore.


Uses of the Wikipedia
Many teachers (including the one I live with) decry their students' turn to the online reference as a primary research tool. "The Wikipedia is not a proper source!" I certainly agree it is not a proper sole source, but it often offers a starting point that leads to other, more tried and true, sources.

Therefore I found it fun to find on the Radical Teacher blog an article by Emily Drabinski making the case that there is pedagogical use for the Wikipedia:

With scholarly communication, the final text is presented as authoritative, the drama that contributes to its production all but invisible, especially to a reader new to that discourse community, eg., most of our students.

A [controversial] Wikipedia entry ... can kick off a conversation about the nature of objectivity in other kinds of texts. The revision page is a rich text from which to draw conclusions about the kinds of things that motivate producers of information -- emotional commitments to certain ideologies ..., desire for objectivity (other users reverse vandalism of the page almost as quickly as it is made), unstated biases and prejudices ..., etc. After such a list has been generated, it might be applied to another text deemed authoritative in the classroom, giving students a way in to critical analysis of what can so often seem, in its stark and clean presentation on the page, simply the truth.

Even better, the Wikipedia entry she uses to exemplify this is about playoff football!

Ah, our electronic devices. A Brit comic-journalist experiences the dangers of living without them.

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