The Magnifying Glass You Have With You

When you are out and about, have you ever wished you had a magnifying glass available to read small print, remove a splinter, etc? One of my hobbies is genealogical research which often requires reading documents written with poor handwriting or the unfamiliar penmanship styles of previous time periods.These documents are more easily decipherable if you can magnify them. Good news! If you have an i-Phone, you have a potential magnifier in your pocket!  You do not need an app to use your phone as a magnifier since this is already available in iOS as an accessibility feature.  All you need to do is activate it in settings, and the iPhone will use the camera to make it work as a magnifying glass. Unfortunately, I do not know if a similar feature is available on Android devices.

To activate the magnifier, open SETTINGS, choose the GENERAL option.and then open ACCESSIBILITY.  Click on MAGNIIFIER and turn on this feature.  When you want to activate the magnifier on a pre-iPhone X model, click the HOME button three times.  On the iPhone X, activation occurs on three clicks of the SIDE button.

Have you found other generally useful features in the accessibility menu?  If so, I would love to learn about them.

My iPad Love Affair

When Steve Jobs took the stage on January 27, 2010 announcing the “revolutionary” iPad, I thought why in the world would I need a supersized iPod Touch?  Of course, I Vector-iPad_thumbdidn’t… but, got mine the very first day.  It was indeed a magical device which quickly made me wonder how I had lived my life without one.  I have upgraded several times since that day.  I carry a retina mini with me everywhere and have an iPad Air 2.  I use them primarily as information consumption devices for reading, web surfing and video, but do use them for some productivity activities such as note taking, spreadsheet calculations, managing class Moodle sites, editing pdfs and minor writing when on the go.  I must say I do love my iPads!

For a long time, there were rumors that Apple was going to produce a large screen iPad.  I wondered why would I want a steroidal iPad to tote around?  I have a mini because I don’t want to pack around the standard size iPad.  This was one Apple i-device that I did not even consider pre-ordering before it launched.

I teach several courses that are either predominantly or completely online offerings; all have significant writing components, and the students in these classes turn in their work as pdf documents.  During the grading process, I want to be able to scribble comments, corrections, make little drawings, etc on the documents for returning to the students. This is especially important because the students in an online class are often unable to come to my office to discuss their work with me.  I can edit pdf documents on a computer by inserting comment boxes and highlighting the writing, but it never is as clear and efficient as being able to mark up the work with a pen.  My workflow in the past has been to print each pdf, mark it up, scan it and return it to the student by email or some other method.  This has killed many a tree and resulted in carting around a messenger bag crammed full of paper.  So the problem to be solved is how to effectively give feedback to students while saving trees (important to someone like me who teaches environmental courses.)

The solution?  An iPad Pro coupled with the Apple pencil!  The pencil is the game changer here, but, unfortunately, it only works with the Pro and not other iPads. With ipadpro_pencil-hand-printthe pencil, I can write on the screen just like writing on paper (truly you can!)  It is legible, at least as legible as my handwriting is.  I can change up colors of “ink” which when combined with highlighting and striking out words does exactly what I would do with paper documents.  When I am done, I can upload the corrected documents to the students via my Moodle shell.  No trees have been killed, only some electrons rearranged!

Here is my workflow:  I download the student pdf documents into a Dropbox folder and open them in PDFpen for IOS from Smile Software.  I append a pdf of the scoring rubric to the end of each document (sometimes I already have done this using PDFpen Pro on my Mac) and then proceed to annotate them with the pencil.  After syncing with Dropbox, I upload the graded documents into the Moodle shell for students to pick up.  Can I say this is magical?

The iPad Pro is a monster.  It is big.  It is heavy, and it is certainly expensive.  You are not going to put this thing in your pocket, and you get tired when trying to hold it up in portrait mode.   Actually, it probably isn’t much different in weight than an original iPad, but it is much more unwieldy.  It is fine to use on a desk or table, and the screen real estate does have its advantages.  With the ability to split the screen between two apps in IOS 9, you can work with two documents side by side which can be very useful.  You can see an entire written page very nicely in portrait mode.  I hope Apple will make pencil use available on the next iteration of the iPad Air as that would be a great form-function pair.

I can foresee some additional productivity use cases for the iPad Pro.  Although I have never envisioned using an iPad as a computer replacement because I need to work with software that is not available on a tablet, I do foresee being able to leave my 15″ Macbook Pro home while traveling when I don’t need access to such applications.  The screen size is great for word processing, and Microsoft has done a nice job with the Office apps for the iPad (assuming you have an Office 365 subscription). I am sure I will find other uses that take advantage of the pencil and sweet screen.

If you think you might have a use for this device, go to an Apple Store and play with one using the pencil before you buy it.  This is not going to be something everyone, or even many people, are going to need.  I didn’t want one, but it solves a big deal problem in my life so I have to say I have rekindled my love affair with the iPad!


IPads Are Now Available for Purchase at an Educational Discount

apple_logoApple has long given educational discounts for the purchase of Mac computers, but until now, iPads were only available at full price.  While you can get up to $200 off on a computer, the discounts on iPads are a modest $20-30 … but every little bit helps!  For example, a new 16 GB Wi-Fi iPad Air costs $469, a discount of $30.  A 16 GB iPad mini with retina display is $379, a savings of $20, while the mini without the retina display is $279.  A 16 GB Wi-Fi iPad with retina display (the iPad “4”) is $379.  Too bad I got a new 128 GB iPad Air without the discount a couple of weeks ago!  According to Apple’s website,  college students, students accepted to college, parents buying for college students, faculty, staff and homeschool teachers for all grade levels are eligible for this educational pricing.  If you don’t already have an iPad or wish to upgrade an older model, this might be a good time to make the purchase.compare_ipads_icon

If you are not eligible for an educational discount but are looking for a bargain, you might check out Apple’s Refurbished Store.  All products sold there are certified by Apple and carry a one year warranty just like a new product.  All refurbished models have a new battery and outer shell.  What is available varies daily.  For example as I write this,  a 16 GB Wi-Fi  iPad Air is $414 while a non-retina mini (16 GB, Wi-Fi) can be purchased for $249.



Is there a Way to Run iOS Apps on an Android Device?

One problem with mobile devices is that they are limited to running apps coded for either the Apple XNU kernel or Android Linux kernel.  You cannot download an app from the Apple App Store and run it on an Android device and vice-versa…or is there a way?

A group of Columbia University PhD. students have developed a software solution called Cider that allows Android devices to run both Android and iOS apps on the same device without invoking a virtual machine.  Here is a video showing a demonstration of the application:

This is pretty cool!  At this point the software is only a research project and isn’t able to use things like the device’s camera, GPS signal, cellular radio, etc so some applications do not have full functionality.  The students are continuing to work on the project so maybe a more full featured version will become publicly available some time in the future.  This would be totally awesome for those of us in education  because it would allow us to be freed from reliance on a single platform.

Snakable – a Solution to Broken Charging Cables?

Does this look familiar?  All of our mobile electronic devices come with USB charging cables which inevitably break just below the connector due to the strain often resulting broken_cablefrom plugging them into awkward-to-reach electrical plugs and by rolling them up for transport.  You can add electrical tape to cover the bare wires as a short term solution, but eventually the wires will break with use, and you will need to buy a new cable.  There are lots of cheap cables on the market, but if you have an Apple lightning cable you really need to make sure it is certified (MFI) if you want to ensure that it works properly and that can cost you $15 or more.  Ideally, what we need are cables that don’t break in the first place.

The Snakable cable may be the solution to this problem.  snakableIntegrated into this cable are several free-moving, ball bearing-like joints on both sides of the cable at each connector that restrict the cable from bending beyond its safe bending radius relieving strain where the cable enters the connector.   Snakable is a Kickstarter project so it is not yet available for purchase but has reached its $28.0000 goal and is due to be funded May 28, 2014 with expected product delivery in August.  The Snakable will be available in both lightning for iOS devices and micro USB for all other devices.  The snakable21.2 m cable is advertised as being constructed of a heavy-duty cable with an anti-tangling coating.  The cable will sell for $30, which while not inexpensive, is less than buying multiple replacement cables for your devices.  You can still get in on the backer deal until May 24 at $20 per cable.  The cable will come in black, white, red, orange and green.  Do remember that when you pledge to a Kickerstarter project, you are providing seed development money with the possibility that the product may never make it through the production stage.

I’ve never backed a Kickstarter project, but I might just give this one a shot going for a red cable since I travel a lot and have to replace cables all too often.