2015 week 31 in review

Work

It was a tough week – 7 high-profile layoffs over in IT. One of them was my partner for the Blackboard-D2L migration. The project would have failed miserably without her guidance from the IT side. She’ll be missed by many. Four of the layoffs were IT Partners – the team I was in for 3 years back when I did my tour of duty in IT. I know a lot of people, myself included, who were shocked by many of the names on the list.

The summer learning-technologies-and-spaces research project is really coming along nicely. We have to student research assistants working with the team for the summer, interviewing instructors, students and staff about how they use technologies and spaces, and what their needs are. Some really great stuff coming out of the project, and I can’t wait to release the findings at the end of the summer!

Read

Other

Not much time to get out for a ride this week – The Boy™ commuted with my on the train because he was in a golf camp all week. But, that gave me a chance to carry in the big/heavy 10mm lens on my DSLR to try to shoot the new building…

Taylor Institute Morning Construction

2015 week 30 in review

Work

Prepping for the big upgrade of our LMS from Desire2Learn 10.3 to D2L Brightspace 10.5. Lots of testing to do, to make sure stuff we’ve integrated still works. I think it’ll go pretty smoothly, but there are a lot of moving pieces, and without a service owner in IT, we’re having to make some decisions on the fly. Good times. On track to be upgraded on August 24, with our test server being updated in the next week so we can begin intensive testing (we’ve had access to it in our Test2 environment, but have had… issues… with authentication, so haven’t been able to do much real testing. hoping to ramp that up this week…)

Made some great progress on getting the Learning Technologies Coaches program going. Still too early to share details – but soon…

Read

Other

I decided to stop waiting for my bad foot to magically get better, and just start riding again. Feels good. Rode to work one day this week, and am planning to do much more of that. Also, got out on the highway to ride out to Cochrane and back for an easy ride.

Oh. We also added a family member.

meet bella

Tyler Hellard on the state of journalism

Columnists, Gawker, ViralNova, porn and websites profiling other websites prove that the Internet was a wonderful thing and we absolutely broke the shit out of it. Well done, team!
So what’s the point? A lot of this stuff isn’t thought provoking, it’s rage provoking. Which, I suppose, makes it traffic/pick-up provoking, too. Newspapers are supposed to be for the benefit of public discourse, so it kills me that pageviews could be keeping these assholes in work. I love hate-reading as much as anyone (my entire Saturday is built around reading Wente’s column), but that doesn’t mean I think this stuff is good for society or that I’m not willing to go without. We don’t need these generic “person has opinions on all the things” columnists in our newspapers anymore. That’s what the Internet is for. Burn it down.

Source: Pop Loser No. 42: Go Take a Flying Fuck at the Moon

The saga of the XYZPrinting Davinci All-In-One 3D Printer

I was asked what we needed to buy for instructors to explore integrating technology into their courses. Although we have many 3D printers on campus, I wanted one set up in the Educational Development Unit so that instructors could come and experiment with it in a safe place on neutral territory. I also wanted to expose people to an emerging technology so they would be able to incorporate it into their evolving understanding of literacy and of the types of things that are now possible. Simply having a 3D printer in the Unit would help even through simple exposure and osmosis. And, once people start to try things, there would be opportunities for cross-pollination and discussion beyond the simple technology. I also wanted to try something that wasn’t just replicating what was being done elsewhere on campus – we have some absolutely fantastic Maker spaces provided by our libraries, and several departments and faculties provide labs for student project development.

So I went looking for an option that was novel, inexpensive, and provocative. I wound up recommending the XYZPrinting Davinci All In One 1.0 – at about $800, it’s far cheaper than the Makerbot family. Reviews suggested the build quality was comparable with Makerbot-class devices, for a fraction of the cost. And the AIO includes a 3D scanner. That sealed the deal. A single device that is inexpensive, prints well, and includes a high resolution laser 3D scanner? Done.

After unboxing the printer, we set it up in our slowly-emerging Faculty Design Studio – a room in the EDU where instructors will have access to new technologies such as the 3D printer, Oculus VR, Wacom Cintiq tablet/screen, document camera, object scanning camera, etc…

The Good

It’s a big box – about the size of a microwave oven – but is really solidly assembled. The printing surface is glass, and is heated, so it’s relatively easy to remove printed objects without having to wrap the surface with a layer of masking tape or similar. And when you (gently) chip away the printed object, the glass provides a solid surface.

the printing surface

The software works on Windows or Mac, so I installed it on the Mac Pro in the studio, and plugged the printer into the USB hub. It was ready to print. The first print job was a simple cartoonish dinosaur model, downloaded from the XYZPrinting gallery. Worked like a charm. Next up, we tried some more complicated models, including a full model of a heart, a scaled-up tartigrade, and some small test pieces. Then, it was time to try out the laser scanner.

first print job

Nancy volunteered one of her Donny Darko bunny figures to be the guinea pig. I assured her the laser scanning was non-destructive, and that she’d get the little guy back, with a new friend, if everything worked out. Scanning only took a couple of minutes, and we could watch the figure as it rotated on the turntable, glowing under the lasers. Very cool. But, the first scan didn’t work out – the little guy was a touch too reflective. So I adjusted the scanner sensitivity and tried again. Success! I’ve now printed 2 copies of the bunny – they’re not perfect clones, but basic details are there. I need to try scanning at high resolution and printing at highest quality…

lasers!

replicating Frank the Bunny

replicated bunny

We’re printing with PLA filament – it’s biodegradable and relatively less toxic than the ABS plastic filaments – meaning we can print in the office without needing special ventilation or worrying about slowly poisoning people. And it smells vaguely pleasant as it prints. But, the PLA filament is stiff and brittle after printing, so it’s not a highly durable product. Great for prototypes and for making more-durable copies of fragile objects – which is exactly what I want to do with it. I’m hoping how to get high quality scans of delicate structures, and then try feeding it biological samples such as insects or fossils that might be too delicate to handle in class, and print out scaled-up models that can be handled by students to learn about the specimens without destroying the specimens. This part is tricker than I’d initially though, as the scanner can be fooled by the complex structures. I’m using a Hula Girl figurine I picked up in Hawaii a few years ago – guessing that the grass skirt would be a decent proxy for insect wings. I’ve tried a couple of times, without much luck. I’ll keep trying.

The Bad

Shortly after the second print job, the extruder stopped extruding. We checked for jams, and it seemed clear. Next, we checked calibration (the manual says the printing bed has been pre-calibrated in the factory, and shouldn’t need adjustment, but we figured it’d be good to at least test the calibration). The measurements came in waaaaaay off. So, we needed to calibrate the printing bed. It has to be absolutely level, within a narrow range of tolerated distance from the top of the printing area. The problem is, the 3 measuring points that are used to measure calibration don’t correspond to the 3 screws that you turn to adjust the height of the printing surface. This made every adjustment an exercise in mental planar geometry. “If this corner needs to go up, that means I have to turn the screw over here up (or down?) by a bit (or a lot?)” Try it out. Remeasure. Curse, when it’s completely wrong. Repeat. A lot. We spent a collective 2 or 3 days just calibrating the printing surface, before we got it back into the tolerated range. Not fun. 

Then, the first time we tried to print afterward, nothing would extrude. Our theory was that filament had melted and pooled (and then cooled) inside the printing head. That would be rather difficult to fix. I reached out to XYZPrinting support to see if they had any tips, and they sent a link to a YouTube video showing the process. I rolled up my sleeves and gave it a shot. And after an hour or so of grumbling because pieces didn’t seem to want to come apart, or go back together, as needed – it worked. I removed 2 bits of filament that must have snapped off, gave the pieces a good scrub, and slapped it all together. Back in business.

If I accounted for the hours of staff members troubleshooting and adjusting the printer, it would cost much more than the initial $800 for the printer itself. I’m optimistic that this kind of futzing becomes less needed and more routine as we get used to the printer.

Conclusion

When it’s working, the printer really is impressive, and offers some pretty serious bang:buck ratio. But, it can be really finnicky, and may take some time to get t back online if/when things go wrong. But, now that I’m more familiar with how all of the bits fit together, I think troubleshooting will be much faster next time(s). If I had to buy a new printer, I’d probably buy the AIO again – it’s just so much less expensive, and does a decent job (when it’s working).

printer back online

2015 week 29 in review

Work

We are working on finalizing the RFP for installing the audiovisual and collaboration technology in the new Taylor Institute building. That process is coming along nicely – but during this week’s meeting, IT needed to get on-site to see how the server/equipment racks in the mezzanine area would be arranged. I was able to tag along for a site visit. Wow. The interior isn’t quite finished yet, but it’s going to be an incredible space to work in. More details on that ASAP, but I took some photos like a tourist as we went through the building.

Read

Other

I’m trying to switch to an iPad as primary mobile device1, rather than using my Macbook Air. I picked up a really nice (and cheap!) keyboard/case for it, and it definitely feels like a super-small laptop. I’m finding I can do most of what I need to do on it. With the physical keyboard, the on-screen keyboard disappears, so apps have much more real estate for actually writing stuff. It feels like a Surface, but with better software (although inconsistent – not all apps seem to grok physical keyboard controls – arrows don’t work in Reeder for navigating through posts, etc…). Still working on finding a stylus for iPad that comes close to the pen on Surface. Closest I’ve found is the Wacom Bamboo Finepoint, but not all apps support it.

Ironically/frustratingly, I couldn’t write this blog post on it, because copy/paste from web pages seems to work differently, so I couldn’t copy the links for the Read section from my Readinator utility without having to manually add in each hyperlink. Nope. For now, back to the MBA for this post. And man, does this thing feel like a battleship now. Crazy. Now, back to the iPad…

  1. partly in response to Brian, who is going through some hoops trying to convince an iPad to try to be a device of content creation as part of the awesome-looking-from-afar Agora project at UdG []

2015 week 28 in review

Work

Mostly uneventful, but lots of things going on simultaneously. Still working on the Learning Technologies Coaches plan, and am writing job profiles for some new positions. We had an EDU post-conference debrief, to share what we learned at Infocomm/Brightspace Fusion/STLHE, and I’m still thinking about Welby Altidor’s closing keynote at Fusion1 – some really interesting ideas about collaboration and creativity, and I’m hoping to bake some of that into the formal structure of the EDU and of my group through carefully writing and revising all of our job profiles (including the new ones).

I’m a co-PI on a project that was awarded a 2015 Teaching and Learning Grant, so we can look at developing an online Instructional Skills Workshop and using what we learn through that process to help others adapt their courses for successful online delivery.

Read

Other

We spent some time downtown today2, and we relaxed in the Good Earth Cafe across from Brookfield. It wasn’t until we left that I realized we had been sitting in the ground floor of the Lougheed Building, where my dad had his insurance agency in the 1970s and early 80s. There was a push to tear the building down a few years ago, but it survived, thanks to the historic nature of the building, and of the Grand Theatre. They literally don’t make buildings like this anymore.

  1. I REALLY hope they put that keynote online, as well as Steven Johnson’s – some really interesting ideas in there, and it would be a shame to not be able to share them with the broader community []
  2. I had to pick up my shoes from Fluevog’s only store in the city, after taking them back 3 times this year to have the soles repaired. hopefully this time it sticks. []

my photo publishing workflow

Alec asked how people manage and publish photos, which got me thinking about how I do it. I use a mix of old school offline management via Aperture on my home laptop as the central hub (which makes me nervous now that Aperture  is Dead App Walking). I publish photos first to my own website, and then republish to other platforms automatically. If the third party stuff goes away (or I decide they’re evil enough to cut ties with), I lose nothing.

PhotoPublishingWorkflow

SSL certificate updated

The SSL certificate I’d been using for this site had been about to expire, so I tried yanking it so I could replace it with something powered by Let’s Encrypt (which is backed by the EFF, Mozilla, Automattic, etc…). But, Let’s Encrypt doesn’t launch until the fall, so the timing wasn’t right. In the meantime, some browsers were throwing fits as some of the parts of my site were still trying to load via secure HTTPS connections, while others weren’t. Chaos and hilarity ensued. darcynormandotnetsslSo, I just threw some money at the problem to get a shiny new certificate from SSL2Buy to get the site back on the air. I’d been trying to set up a free certificate through StartSSL, but that just didn’t work (and Firefox still freaked out with the free certificate).

SSL really needs to be easier if it’s going to be used by more folks – especially important, since Firefox is trying to deprecate non-secure HTTP.

Si sabes contar tu cuento en la red, encontrará su audiencia.