Monday, October 26, 2009

long time, no blog: Energy Project 1

In wanting to follow a linear process for this blog I ran into several hurdles. One could simply be called life. In that, a vision for an energy project was constantly elusive. I live alone, and already have my household energy requirements at a lower limit. I rarely watch TV, use only one to two CFL lamps to light my way through the house in the evening, have always been of the practice of putting on a sweater rather than raising the heat, and when the indoor winter air gets too stuffy I go outside rather than opening a window. In these latter two ways, I suppose I shall never be fully Alaskan and will forever be a New Englander.

Where my energy consumption is perhaps highest is with my vehicles. I have always rotated two vehicles with the season and varying repair needs - a 1996 Subaru Legacy and a 1996 Toyota T100. At the time of manufacture both got adequate mileage for their construction, roughly 18 mpg city to 21 mpg highway. The Subaru was never my preferential vehicle and is now broken down, and the Toyota I always maintained for it's utility.

"But what does it get for mileage?" is a question that often counters the statement "it looks like it will go anywhere."

On a certain level, I have never been concerned about the mileage. The truck was purpose-built to go nearly anywhere, and the access it affords to the backcountry well outweighs savings at the pump. When asked again this weekend, I had to guess at 14-15 mpg city and 17-18 highway. I wonder, what is the actual mileage it sees in its current configuration, and what can I do to improve it?

When earlier in the year I left it for the summer with an acquaintance for some fine-tuning of the steering and suspension, he noticed a light knock while we were driving it around and suggested high octane gas. Most sources state that vehicles were designed for a specific octane and buying higher octane gas is a waste of money.

Further research suggests that mixing a small amount of acetone in the fuel tank may also help the gas vaporize and burn more completely. However, there is a great deal of debate as to what harm it will do to other components of the engine, and at just over 192,000 miles, I'm not sure I want to risk expensive engine components for cents per gallon savings.

But how much economy would a switch in diet at the pump provide? I will investigate the difference between middle and high-octane gas relative to mileage as well as what other standard maintenance procedures provide with the primary focus on fuel alone.

The first task is to determine the truth of the mileage. Using this calculator, I found that with 4.88:1 differential gears and 37" tires, my speedometer and odometer readings are within the realm of true compared to the stock configuration of 4.10:1 gears and 31" tires.

On then, to compile data. In order to complete the study I will buy fuel in increments that I can readily consume from a few gallons to last a few days commuter driving to a tank full for an extended trip. I know relatively how far what portion of a tank will take me and will buy gas "by eyeball" this way to compile a series of calculations. At the end of the study I will perform a routine tuneup consisting of an oil and filter change, spark plugs as well as a fuel system cleaning and compare the mileage afterward with the mileage I find during the study.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Becoming a Technological Anthropologist

Of Anchorage high schools, East High carries the highest enrollment of students. This creates a fundamental problem in meeting the primary goal of the Technology Department, "to see that all students apply technology in as many learning tasks as possible." The budget for meeting the growing technological needs for a student body that large, in an electronic world moving as fast as the 21st century, is simply not sufficient to accomplish the goal. The school's lead technician, Tom Bronga, does an outstanding job of supporting equipment and software for the school. Assisted by a skeleton crew of two other staff, the majority of whose time is spend teaching students of their own, as well as by a handful of rotating student aides, Tom manages to perform memory and software upgrades, maintain a First Class scheduling and utilities server, troubleshoot ASD-issued laptops for all the staff, linux-based learning laptops for an English and history grant, and five computer labs in the building. This leaves little time to implement or train staff to teach using new software, although he still manages to make himself available each and every morning for personalized staff assistance. No one can begrudge him the afternoon skis he takes with the East cross country team, and even then, his recreation is coupled with serving the students at the school.

Learning software at East is limited largely to word processing, spreadsheet and illustration and page design software. Computer labs encourage group use of the software, and many classrooms are outfitted with refurbished machines, which run remarkably well considering the adage "free is a four-letter word that also starts with 'f'." Where these were once top-of-the-line personal computers, by the time they are offered to individual classrooms they fall into the category of donated equipment. As a former IT technician, I can attest that maintaining outdated equipment is just short of an exercise in futility and most days feels as though it is exactly that.

Students at East are fairly technologically savvy, but generally speaking lack the knowledge to operate sophisticated software and the maturity to see technology for much more than its entertainment value. These two hurdles to learning are the greatest that must be crossed by teachers, many of whom migrated into the digital age with the advent of personal home computers in the 1980s. Where we have learned to power the technology that has been set before us, we still grew up in a world where computing was second to human interaction. In this 21st century where computing is seemingly becoming equivalent to or even surpassing human interaction we find ourselves reluctant to dispose of our papered books, ink pens and erasable white boards, and our students have not yet gained an engagement with the subject matter to assist us in developing electronic accessibility to it. Certainly curriculum which crosses the technological boundary has been and continues to be developed, but I find myself wondering as I launch them into a final project to attempt to bring Romeo and Juliet to their blog sites and mp3 players if we will accomplish enough electronic crossover ourselves to save some of our great books from the recycle bin.

Complete Anthro-Tech report here

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Adam Knight
22 February 2009

Listen to the Natives
Mark Prensky


In "Listen to the Natives" Mark Prensky states that educators have transitioned into a 21st Century that is divided between digital natives and digital immigrants. Digital natives include the students of today, born into an internet-ready world, while the immigrants to that world are the adults who still remember a world before broadband services. Digital immigrants are a population that has had to adopt and learn the software and hardware of today's tech as a second language, whereas students today learn that language from the first they develop the fine motor skills to manipulate a mouse. Prensky suggests that in order to keep students engaged with learning we must adapt our educational practices to incorporate more technology, deliver instruction via learning games and offer students the opportunity to learn in a global 24/7 classroom while incorporating the programmable pocket technology that has become a part of the modern student's toolbox. He adds that it is only by collaborating with students that administrators and educators will be able to make the best and most effective use of technology in the classroom.


Saturday, January 31, 2009


When asked to grade digital assignments, the teacher must be careful to not be overly influenced by the quality of the presentation versus the content of it. Students and teachers come to the computer with varying levels of skill, and although it is important to create an appealing presentation, the educator must keep in mind that the questions the student must answer are the crux of the assignment.

School Train is a good example of how content must supercede presentation. The objective stated for School Train was for students to learn and present an understanding of the concept of metaphor, which they did by likening their classroom and school to a train. In grading this I would have to look at whether or not the students conveyed that understanding and look beyond what I found to be irrelevant uses of portraiture and a soundtrack that made me fight to keep from hitting the mute button while I attempted to listen to the actual material the students needed to present - and this coming from one who likes music that will make ears at the Pioneer Home bleed from a quarter mile away.

The piece did do an accurate and creative job of conveying the concept of metaphor by likening classrooms to cars, testing to the effort of towing cargo-laden cars, and tickets to homework. I enjoyed the hints at the patience both schooling and traveling by train require with regard to staying in one's seat a long time. The imagery of students forming a human train in the classroom certainly reinforced their comparisons. I am still at a loss as to the direct relationship that the students attempt to show by citing the typical fuels associated with locomotion - coal, steam, electricity and diesel - and the "face play" seemed to me to be irrelevant filler, but if we are to try to make education fun for all students and allow them their individual expression, I didn't find the latter necessarily detracted from the project.

Fox Becomes a Better Human struck me as an excellent example of digital storytelling, but I had to force myself to remember that the student had access to a knowledge and technology base that the majority of students might not enjoy. At my home school access to green screens and video recorders is not at all a common integration of technology in the classroom. I felt the student did an excellent job of narrating the story and matching her actions to the action of the script. Here again, I noted the content of the presentation over the technology used to present it. If the point of the assignment was to retell the fable of Fox as he learns the value of cooperation and sharing, the student certainly accomplished this. She also did an excellent job of presenting it in a visually pleasing way that did not overwhelm the reader with bells and whistles. The use of technology contributed directly to the overall purpose of the assignment rather
than being simply an alternative medium for presentation as shown by the collage nature of School Train.

Epic 2015 presents both powerful and moderately worrisome implications for the development of the world wide web and its companion technologies. As a society we have come to rely on news being developed by individuals who, although they may not be free from bias, present factual information free of outright personal opinion. Although nuances of the writer's standpoint may well be evidenced by the language he or she uses to report an event, we have for years reserved the OpEd section of the paper for columns made up of unmasked opinion and read disclaimers in the page and screen that the viewpoints of authors, actors and presenters do not represent anyone other than themselves. Epic 2015 projects that the day will come when news is reduced to what anyone decides is news - a fender bender in the East Village,
a sale at Nordstrom's, a sunny day. What is noteworthy in the world is at risk to become lost among the trivia of individual interest of the moment.

Surely there is some balance to be met, particularly in the classroom. Students can make great use of the "interest of self-reporting" as they grow to become critical thinkers. Already, many tote with them daily the trappings of Technology-2015, yet most of them lack the maturity and guidance to make the best use of that technology at this point. It is still, as I encounter it, used for socializing and entertainment more than learning and sharing knowledge. If we take Epic 2015

Do I Belong Here serves as an example of how we can encourage students to begin using their pocket technology in a way which teaches others by way of their own experiences and inspires others to succeed. Our students lead unique lives and encounter questions, which though unique to themselves are common to many. Looking at how they address those questions demonstrates how they learn by their own individual experiences and gives others ideas of how they may answer the questions they may face in their own lives. A project such as this should be easy to accomplish in most classrooms with access to rudimentary technology and software. A slideshow constructed of digital photographs or scans and backed with an audio narrative should be easy for most any student of the wired generation to create with presentation software and does not require a student to be an owner of high end pocket software, thereby minimizing the divide between the haves and have-nots that does still exist even with the prevalence of personal electronics in the schools. I also see how it could serve to help reluctant writers develop their voices by allowing them freedom from the eye that might be critical of their penmanship and spelling and encourage them to believe that their thoughts are indeed worth hearing. as seriously as it is narrated, we bear a great responsibility as teachers to guide our students to become responsible observers and reporters of the world around them.