Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ode to the V8 Barcalounger

Today - I got rid of my car. I've had this 1995 Lincoln Mark VIII since 2000. This car is the first (maybe ONLY) high ticket item I purchased sheerly out of love. Not practicality. Not need. In its prime, this car would go 0-60 in 5 seconds. Took hairpin curves practically at speed with no float. Drove like a dream.

I put 100,000 hard miles on that car. Except for the air ride, which would deflate every 60,000 miles, the V8 Barcalounger was reliable, comfortable, and MINE.

Sadly, as with all cars, the V8 Barcalounger started developing.....quirks. Humid and freezing - good luck opening the door. The passenger side sensors didn't always sense that the door was closed. A rattle developed around the right muffler driving around town - making the whole thing sound like a jalopy.

With state inspections coming up and thousands of dollars of repairs due to make it pass - it was time.

I dropped the car off today at the Lake Braddock Secondary School auto shop. A donation. As Mr. P put it - two things will happen. It will get fixed up or torn up. Either way, the students will learn something.

These are the new charges of the V8 Barcalounger. The car is somewhere amongst the sea of blue. They were pretty excited. I could already see some wheels turning when I told them it was theirs. Hopefully, they will tell me what they did with it.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Paper Goalie Man!

So what do you do if you are missing a resource for learning?

Make your own!

Courtesy of A View from the Cheap Seats. Go read the post for the context.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Comic Book Quick References

I've started using Plasq's Comic Life for Mac to develop quick references for some of our applications.

They are getting shockingly good reviews from the end-users, even though I am still working on logic and readability.

I figured I'd share a sample.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Playing with Visuals

Lots of production occurring outside of this blog (hence the silence). One of the non-work items I have been grappling with is creating a format for the food articles I'm writing.

I've got 30 pieces in various stages of unfinished. Since the BeerWineFood.org site is still not fully functional, I have time to polish the articles. Unfortunately, having that much unfinished stuff is taking up more mental space than I would like.

Food writing is an entirely different beast from the stream-of-consciousness free-form blatherings of this blog, the "professionally-designed" deliverables for my job, or the carefully reasoned CYA e-mails I write. I actually care about my semi-colons! (Beau - you warned me about this.)

It's also an interesting exercise in teamwork among friends. As part of the testing for the new site, I published a few articles. The result has been an interesting back-and-forth on features. Two things the Webmaster wants to see:

- A visual of some sort with each post. Makes sense. The site has a LOT of white space.

- A "Read More" header. This means I have to figure out a way to sell an article before they actually read it. Yikes!

I think I have the graphics figured out. Wish I could say the same about the writing.

The webmaster provided some iStockPhotos (he's got a license) as one option. Not so sure I want iStockPhoto in watermark across my pictures. And they are kinda spartan.


My second attempt used Bitstrips with some Creative Commons pictures and Photoshop.

Bitstrips is a cool, if limited, comic generator. Playing with this free tool I learned 2 things.

- I will never be a comic strip writer.
- Building one of these things is more time-consuming than I thought.

Here is a graphic I created for Hong Kong Shrimp (essentially sauteed shrimp with a salt, black pepper and szechuan pepper dip). Notice the Hong Kong Skyline in the background.


I really wanted something that stood out from the standard "picture of my cooking" that many food blogs use. Then I remembered Comic Life - a Mac tool that I've been using to create quick references for some of our applications.

The steps I'm taking to create this graphic:
- Take the picture with my digital camera.
- Upload the picture
- Make any necessary corrections using Photoshop and save as GIF.
- Load the picture into Comic Life and create the caption.
- Save the Comic Life picture as GIF
- Trim the resulting Comic Life picture.

This is a picture of some caramel I made for a cake topping. The background of the site is white, so the image won't look so square in the final article.

Let me know what you think.

Cogitive Dissonance for Safety

Source: Sebastien Maltais, Wikipedia
You know how traffic slows down to look at anything unusual on the side of the road (police activity, cars in unusual positions, some guy trying to change his tire, the South of the Border billboards....)?

Cognitive Edge gives some examples of a town that has used that little piece of psychology to its advantage.

My personal fav - a Spongebob-looking creature waving from the rocks.

Who needs speed bumps?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

An SME Assessment

An example of a question on a quiz I received for conversion into our LMS.

Note: This project is a straight technical conversion. I take no responsibility for the content below.
Which of the OMB Circulars does this training concentrate on primarily?

A. A-133
B. A-21
C. A-121
D. A-110

How many of you said - And I care why?

Admittedly, this is a bit out of context, but unless I am expected to read these circulars (which, apparently, is not an objective of the training ... from what I can suss out), this question will result in students throwing things at the computer.

Another example:
Which role was not included in the training?

a. Primary Investigator
b. Chairs and Deans
c. Senior Management
d. Departmental administrative assistants
e. Office of the Chief Research Officer
f. Grants and Contracts Accounting Services

I don't know about you, but whenever I see a question like that, my first response is to ask - So why didn't you include it in the training?

The way I see it - there is one question to ask when developing the assessment for the training.

What do you want the student to DO.

If your assessment questions don't address that - don't waste their time.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Tool No. 1 - Raptivity

I like the way Raptivity has put together their demo materials.

Real, fully functional tools and templates.
They make it very obvious that there is more (and cooler) stuff available.
The salesfolks leave me alone to play on my own time.

Below is a picture of the selection page within the Demo kit.

The evaluation pack provides parts of the Core Pack parts of one of the Booster Packs. The parts they provide are fully functional - allowing you to test not just how the program works, but also publication.

Below is an interactive activity I built using one of the Raptivity interation options. In this case - I used some material I had lying around as a test.

They have filled the templates with decent content and professional-looking visuals, just replace the text and the sound files and it looks great! The above example used to be a lesson on the structure of the earth.

The key here is that they provide enough information to get you thinking about how you can present your own content. For me - that is incredibly useful as I try to encourage / cajole / bribe my SMEs into moving away from the Click-to-Death model of training.

I'd almost be happier if one of my SMEs went to town with a 15 interaction training that could have been illustrated better than a beautifully instructionally designed linear powerpoint with 100 slides of content.

The trickiest part of using this tool, for me, was remembering that all of the data entry (text etc) had to be done through the fields at the bottom of the screen. I kept wanting to manipulate the items within the interaction window. The only thing you can do there is move them.

Also loved that each of the components were technically sound. I ran into very few problems with the 9 interactions I tried.

Even happier that results publish quickly and work on the first try. They are also reasonably small. For instance - the interaction displayed above is only 196 KB when fully published as SCORM 1.2. Very exciting.

Of course, finding the final published file is a bit of a chore. You have to do a lot of digging through your file structure once you publish the item.

Below is an example of the file structure for the Export Control interaction after publication.

Seeing that the published files were small Flash files, I got the genius idea to plant these into a larger Captivate project. Sadly, that experiment didn't go so well.

Below is what my publish Captivate file looked like after 10 minutes. I'm sure I've missed something during the import.

Despite that setback, a result of a crazy idea more than what it was designed to do, I was pretty impressed with the tool. The prices aren't super crazy expensive (relatively) either - though I know it can quickly go there with enough add-ons.

Raptivity Pricing

I gave the Demo CD to our Desktop Ap Guru to play with. He's impressed by very little. 30 minutes after handing him the CD I heard him mutter "This is pretty cool" over the cubicle wall. The most rousing complement I've heard.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Learning to See

From CBCNews - Evidence that learning outside of your chosen "field" can improve performance within your field.

Generalists everywhere rejoice!

The Importance of Storytelling

Interesting article about how storytelling impacts behaviour.
Courtesy of Yahoo and the Christian Science Monitor.

Tool Requirements

We are starting a new project with our Firewall group (not their real name) this month.

The Firewall group has money.
The Firewall group is interested in gaming.
The leader of the Firewall group is very well connected.
The leader of the Firewall group plans to leverage all of the above to come up with some cool training.


The first request was to find some vendors to talk to.

The leader of the Firewall Group (hereafter referred to as Leader) is more than willing to allow us to leverage the project to provide more tools for development in other topics, not just hers.

And she wants to be flexible to work within the strengths of whatever solution we come up with. She wants to see what is out there and who we can partner with.

So in an attempt to narrow down the vendors, I came up with an initial list of requirements.

• Stand-alone interactivity tool must be available for future development in-house.
• Interactivity tool must be easy for end-user.
• Output of tool must be able to easily publish to SkillPort / SCORM-compliant output.
• Consultancy needs to be available and willing to assist with instructional design and development.

The Leader has worked with consultants before and, in some ways, wants to help us through the experience. We all know that what we want to come up with (as nebulous as it currently is) will require more design and development expertise than any of us currently have.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've taken an initial look at some of the tools and companies that may help us with this project. The next few posts will share my very personal take on what I've found so far.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Transitioning from Office 2003 to 2007

I wonder if software designers underestimate the difficulty a user has when changing a user interface so that it is more "intuitive."

This week, I finally upgraded from Office 2003 (which has used essentially the same interface as most prior versions of Office) to Office 2007.

I like the new version, but it's required a significant amount of re-thinking on my part to get simple things done.

For example - File, Edit, View. This is now the standard navigation menu for practically ALL Windows-based applications. I know that if I click File, I can save and print. If I click Edit, I can cut, copy and paste.

Now I'm faced with this.

Am I the only person that doesn't remember what the icons mean and hates having to wait for the little mouse roll-over to tell me?

And where the heck is Cut, Copy and Paste? Do I have to use right-click (which I am trying to wean myself from since I also have a Mac)? Keystroke commands? Oh...it's under Home. Why "Home"? Did you have a focus group and who was in it? (Sorry - just a touch of former-expert-now-a-newbie aggravation).

Software applications really are an exercise in reading minds. Specifically - reading the intent and logic of the designers and software programmers. The historian in me (when I'm not on deadline trying to finish a project) enjoys the exercise. The instructor in me finds that being able to suss out the intent of the designer makes it easier to explain why and how to perform a task - particularly if the steps don't make much sense on the surface.

In the meantime - I am going to slog through the "aggravation stage" and take notes.