Category: personal


RX1 ISO 100, F/2

So, I am on day 3 of having a new Sony RX1 full frame camera. I am going to be describing my experiences using this camera over the holidays as I learn the camera’s nuances and enjoy its image quality. I will try and keep each posting fairly short and specific. This first post is specific to initial impressions about the body.

Right out of the box, the RX1 had a very professional feeling heft to it. I knew right away that Sony didn’t cut corners on giving the camera a professional feel. But I quickly also decided that holding this camera is not as easy as my NEX 5N. I can walk around town with a wrist strap on my NEX 5N and the camera dangling from my fingertips. With the RX1, I use a wrist strap as well, but the camera must be consciously grasped at all times. I suspect I would feel much better about walking about and holding the RX1 if I had the RX1’s Thumb Grip, but that smallish piece of metal is priced at $250. For just another $100 I could be buying a new NEX 5N. There is no way in hell I pay $250 for a thumb grip, so I’ll have to be content to work a little harder to hold my RX1 than my NEX 5N.

Before I took any photos, I wanted to set the camera up to meet my needs. On my NEX 5N, there are not many external controls and I often felt constrained having to dig into the menu system. In fact, this is partly why I wanted to upgrade to gain external controls. The RX1 does not disappoint. There are many programmable buttons and I have all of the options I’d want available so that I can access everything I need with 1 button press. I didn’t realize how much I’d appreciate that, but I cannot go back to a camera body . . . and my plan was to keep the 5N for other focal lengths (e.g., fisheye, 50, 55-210) and use the RX1 for my main focal length (35) and most of my shooting. Just playing with the RX1 makes me want to greatly upgrade my other focal lengths, too. I need to figure out quickly if I want to go all in with regard to full frame or whether I just want to upgrade my 5N to the 6 to gain more external controls. Hmmm. But I quickly learned my way around the RX1. I am already using Exposure Compensation more often than I ever considered on my 5N.

Continuing my shooting experiences . . . I was used to flipping up the LCD of my 5N as needed (e.g., shooting a flower down low I could lower my 5N and flip up the LCD to check focus). With the RX1, I am forced to bend way down to see my LCD screen. This is really annoying. I know I can buy an expensive electronic viewfinder, but I gave up viewfinders on my old Nikon D70 and was very content with the LCD that articulated on my NEX 5N. With the RX1, I feel like I am taking a usability step backwards. On the other hand, the resolution of the LCD on the RX1 is incredible. Do you remember the first time you viewed a high definition television after being on standard definition? That’s how I felt when moving from my NEX 5N to the RX1. The screen is simply gorgeous. I feel like I am looking through a window at the subject I am shooting. I played with a Nikon D600 and I thought it made my 5N LCD seem innovative and impressive. Well the RX1 LCD puts the NEX 5N LCD to shame. I just wish Sony would have made the screen adjustable, particularly since the camera does not come with an EVF or VF by default. I am happy to shoot just using the LCD, but the RX1 makes this more difficult than my $350 NEX 5N at times and that’s unfortunate.

Finally, I bought a cheap $7 metal lens hood off of Ebay. I also attached a nice B+W UV clear filter. The filter screws into the lens and recesses a little bit, which is nice. The lens hood screws into the filter just fine as well. I do not notice any vignetting when shooting with this combo. However, if I use the flash then there is some shading on the bottom right portion of my photos so I would have to remove the lens hood when using the flash. I should also note that the lens cap does not fit into the lens hood very well. I can get it so sit in the hood and seem stable, but it doesn’t lock, per se, like it should. I am comfortable with how it does fit. Speaking of the lens hood, it’s really nice. The lens hood is metal and has a nice professional heft to it. Very complimentary to the RX1.

So, that’s my impressions of the RX1 body (click here to buy one on Amazon). A parting shot of my dog . . .

This blog entry is largely for myself so that I can quickly reference the presentations I’ll be doing later this semester and when and where they are. But if you happen to be going to one of these conferences then I hope you stop by and say hello.

Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education 2011 (2 sessions with a colleague)

Challenges and experiences of school districts in lower West Michigan that are implementing 1:1 computing initiatives

ID: 31649
Type: Full Paper Topic: Research & Evaluation
Room: 11
Thu, Mar. 10 4:00 PM-5:00 PM

Andrew Topper, GVSU College of Education, USA
Sean Lancaster, GVSU College of Education, USA

Abstract: This paper explores the implementation of various 1:1 laptop computer initiatives throughout lower West Michigan to determine if patterns exist. These initiatives are funded in times of limited K-12 resources and constitute a serious investment in technology for the schools and districts adopting them. The goals of this study are to understand how and why 1:1 laptop initiatives are being implemented across lower West Michigan, how these initiatives are funded and supported, and expectations or assumptions of stakeholders that are driving adoption of this type of technology. The results suggest that these districts, and those like them, will face many challenges – some financial, some technical, and some procedural – as they work to integrate technology into their classrooms. Common themes or challenges identified from this work include leadership and vision, funding, teacher professional development, evaluation, and measures of non-traditional student achievement.

Evaluating A Ubiquitous Computing Initiative

ID: 31784
Type: Roundtable Topic: Research & Evaluation
Room: 15
Fri, Mar. 11 11:30 AM-12:30 PM

Sean Lancaster, Grand Valley State University, USA
Andrew Topper, Grand Valley State University, USA

Abstract: Ubiquitous computing in the form of laptop and other mobile learning initiatives are becoming more common in schools. This study, currently in progress, explores the implementation of a one-to-one laptop computer initiative in a Midwestern USA public school district. Data from teachers, students, and classroom observations reveals a significantly increased use of technology in teaching and learning along with an increase of lessons that also address educational technology standards and 21st century skills.


Council For Exceptional Children (2 sessions with my wife)


Abstract: This session describes and demonstrates a series of computerized programs designed to provide systematic vocabulary instruction in a fun and engaging way to students with high-incidence disabilities and low achievement. Participants will have an opportunity to interact with the program and discuss results of field tests, which included over 400 students. (14823)

Date/Time: April 26, 2011 / 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Room Number: Chesapeake G
Format: Multiple Presentation
Topic Area: Instructional Design and Strategies
Leaders: Paula Lancaster, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, MI
Presenters: Sean Lancaster, Grand Valley State University


Abstract: Strategic Tutoring is a research-validated instructional tutoring approach in which tutors teach students a learning strategy while assisting them with assignments, thus leading to greater student independence. This session will describe an innovative approach for providing professional development in the model. (14874)

Date/Time: April 27, 2011 / 5:00 PM – 5:45 PM
Room Number: Poster 20
Format: Poster Session
Topic Area: Instructional Design and Strategies
Leaders: Paula Lancaster, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, MI
Presenters: Sean Lancaster, Grand Valley State University

When I started blogging, the whole notion of blogging was really undefined. I capitalized most proper nouns, but rarely capitalized the first letter in a sentence. And, I didn’t capitalize correctly for 2 reasons:
1. I liked E. E. Cummings’ writing style without capitalization to add a bit of uniqueness and pizazz to my style.
2. More importantly, I wanted a way to remind folks that blogging is not formal, it’s not academic writing, and it’s not on par with scholarly writing; far from it, actually. Blogging was informal and writing without capital letters immediately brought a level of informality to my posts.

But, times have changed and so have my motivations. Writing without the capital letters gave me absolutely zero pizazz and made me unique among adults, but not when you include 13 year old kids. Hmmm. And, I no longer feel like I need to make a point with my writing style — more accurately, I don’t think my point was ever made because of it. I still don’t think blogging is on par with typical academic writing, but that doesn’t mean I need to continue skipping the capital letters . . . so I won’t.

I am missing much of Thursday and i had 2 sessions i really wanted to see. dang. but later today and tomorrow i have a full day planned.

• I Can Do What With Moodle? in the Vandenberg B room (4:00 pm- 5:00 pm)

• Evaluating K-12 One-to-One Laptop Initiatives in Lower West Michigan in the Nelson room (8:30 am- 9:30 am) *I am a presenter
• Resources for Assisting in the Transition to Online Learning in the Nelson room (10:00 am-11:00 am)
• Twitter: #Teaching #Learning in the Emerald B room (11:30 am-12:30 pm) *I am a presenter
• Transforming Our Classrooms With a One-to-One Laptop Program in the Grand Gallery B room (1:00 pm- 2:00 pm)

perhaps i’ll see you around at MACUL 2010.

i am a fairly geeky guy (if it wasn’t obvious). but  before i had an iPhone i had never sent a text message. i just couldn’t see the enjoyment in hitting the #2 three times to type the letter C. my phone didn’t get email so it really was just a phone. while that’s great for voice conversations, i had email for something less synchronized and i figured i had my bases covered. well, i upgraded to an iPhone as soon as the price dropped big on the first generation. i didn’t have anyone to text at first, but we soon bought my wife an iPhone as well. that’s when things took off. then, Apple opened the app store, which allowed us to customize our phones like never before. i haven’t gone overboard, but i do have 4 pages of apps added to my iPhone and i frequently delete apps that i find i am not using after trying them for a spell.

last year, we went to Europe for a few months. my wife and i took our iPhones and they were great, but we had to pay a bundle to have audio and also web access while in Europe. last week, we went to Canada and our trip was about hiking and canoeing and exploring the northern shores of Lake Superior (we even saw a bear).

a black bear

a black bear

i decided we’d leave our iPhones turned completely off. this was a back to nature vacation and i didn’t want to be bothered with work and the other nuances of life for a spell. turns out, this was asking quite a lot. i hadn’t realized how ingrained my phone had become into my life. even little things like using it as a watch for the time were missed. i didn’t realize how often i check my email as i would habitually reach for my pocket to grab my iPhone only to find it was not there. each morning, i use my iPhone to check the weather forecast for the day. i like to scan through twitter updates periodically as well. i check the headlines a few times each day. i typically log into my bank to see my credit card activity and then off to check the stock market and a few individual stocks i follow. i am also a bit obsessed with checking currency exchange rates, which is even better to do while vacationing in another country. yet, i had access to none of this. and. it. was. difficult. “honey, where do you want to eat” my wife would ask. “just a minute and i’ll jump on Yelp to see what’s around” — not available. doh!

i didn’t realize how wired i was. it’s just become a part of me. and losing my connectivity felt a bit like the time i had been on broadband for more than a year and then moved to a new house that only had dial-up (summer of 2000). at least with dial-up i still had access, but it was so slow compared to broadband that i’d frequently just wait until i got to the office for any real work. but to drop my iPhone entirely was even more difficult. i love instant access. love it. and, for those of you wondering . . . yes, i really enjoyed our vacation and had a grand time roughing it. i just didn’t anticipate that it would be so difficult to go without being wired for just over a week. that’s a long, long time in these days of everything being instantaneous.

is it bad that we’re becoming so dependent on these technologies?

well i’ve downloaded the wordpress app for my iphone . . . and given my last 3 posts i am starting to wonder whether we might be becomming too connected? is that even possible?

this is my first official post on my new domain site. I never intended for my blog to be on my testing server. when i originally made it, i started it on my testing server and then couldn’t figure out how to move it. my knowledge for this kind of database stuff has improved greatly and i finally decided to shift over to so here we are and hopefully this move is permanent. i finally bring together all of my online worlds (at least the ones that i control).

well i have certainly been enjoying the spring thus far. my kids are 8 and 6 and we are turning into bike riding fools. we’ve also taken a liking to geocaching as i noted last summer here. the more we seek treasures and find them, the more i see educational uses for geocaching. when we started last summer, i was pretty much the guy in charge. i controlled the Garmin 60CSx GPS unit and did all of the precursor work finding which caches we’d hunt, etc. I now allow my kids to use the GPS unit to follow the compass and map built into the unit as well as help plan the route we’ll take on our bikes and once we get off of our bikes. they are learning how to read a map and how to use the map. When we get home, we can transfer the data from the GPS and load it into Google Earth to show others the exact path we covered from home back to home (the GPS drops virtual breadcrumbs ever 30 seconds — that’s the settings we use). yesterday we headed downtown along the river next to my office and found a few caches. here is an example from the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum grounds of how one might be hidden:


the rock that my son’s hand is on was actually covering the cylinder. once the cylinder is opened there is a peanut butter jar inside with the cache. we signed the log book and removed a golf ball and left a little something for the next geocacher to find it. we then carefully placed the rock back over the closed cache and headed off for the next find.

some of the caches can be hidden so cleverly that it can take a long time to find the cache even when you know the exact coordinates. this one above took us about 5 minutes once we arrived. you can’t see it here, but there are small trees and evergreens all around us so i spent much time looking up. there are many rocks larger than the one seen here and my kids scurried around looking to and fro.

i recommend signing up to use the website it’s free; though, you can pay about $30/year for some special search features and an email alert for new caches, etc. i think it’s worth paying just to support the site as it’s quite well done. i like searching for caches using Google maps as shown here from my area:


and then you find one and you can narrow in on it and even have the website send the information directly to your GPS (at least with my Garmin this works):


you can see the difficulty is 3 stars out of 5. look at the photo far above and you can see how this might be difficult to find. sometimes the caches is very easy once you arrive. my kids are getting to the point where we like to look for 3 stars and above for difficulty, but we’ll make exceptions if the terrain is at least 2 stars or so. our favorite caches are the multiple-stage caches. these typically have many steps to find the final treasure. since the steps along the way don’t have a treasure, the hiding places can be much more difficult. for example, last year we did one where the first 4 stages were just giving us the coordinates to potentially find the next coordinates. the creator was able to put these coordinates in creative and hidden places. for example, here was a stage that had the coordinates hidden behind the number 5 on a signpost along a path. the 5 was hanging on by a nail and it was sheer luck that we figured it out (you can barely see the black writing under where the 5 rests):


and another showing the final prize hidden in an ammo box that is stuffed in a cement base from a thrown out pole in an area with a lot of trash and debris. this was hard to find as well because you just don’t think that there’d be a hollow area in the cement base until you roll it over:


anyway, this has quickly become a favorite hobby for my kids and me. i like getting them out on their bikes and getting exercise while also exercising our brains to solve problems, etc. highly recommended.

one of the biggest barriers to technology integration into the classroom by k-12 teachers is the lack of time. i am experiencing it right now myself. i decided to take an overload section of a course and I also took 8 thesis students on top of that. egads!! what was i thinking (or not)? classes are going well, but my free time is dwindling. i used to love adding to my blog because i was spending time reading other blogs and keeping abreast of the happenings in the field, etc. Now my blog seems like a burden. and this is what happens with regard to using technology in the classroom for some teachers. i wish i had answers for this, but i don’t.

i have my students each post stuff to their own blog. i also have them find other ed tech professionals who keep a blog and my students are to read and respond (and maybe even participate in a dialog with these other professionals). this activity goes well, but the physical act of managing 70 students commenting on 70 blogs is extremely time consuming. i have my students use a code name (e.g., tom205) if they want and then they post the URL to their comment and the name they used. so, to manage this i am using now free NetNewWire — one of the most popular RSS readers on any platform even though it only works on a Mac. i had to enter all 70 student blog addresses into my reader. i then have to check each entry to find the link to the blog where they commented. inevitably, some of the students will post their URL wrong where they commented (e.g., and i’ll have to contact them to find out the actual URL. i try to and respond to every single student, particularly if the other ed tech professional does not respond to the comment my student left. while i think this is a valuable assignment and gives my students to hear other voices in the field beside my voice, i also recognize that this is eating up my time. i have 7 discussion groups for my students using phpBB forums. here we are just 6 weeks in and look at the number of posts I’ve had to read thus far and a preview of just a screenshot from one discussion to see how my forum looks:

class_forum.jpg class_disc_preview.jpg

i am approaching 2000 posts and I have very thoughtful students who put much effort into our class discussions. just for the heck of it, i pretended to print just one group discussion on 1 of our two topics this week — it was about open source software. the print preview was 23 pages. keep in mind that i have 7 groups and there were 2 discussion questions. my point is that teaching can get overwhelming and this is true at every level of teaching particularly for teachers who are new to the field and just starting out. so, technology can quickly take a back seat and then these new teachers start forming habits that do not include using technologies and eventually it gets harder and harder to shift these practices to teaching with technology. i wish i had answers for this, but right now i am wearing a life jacket myself. doh.

one key, i think, is to help students realize that technology can save time in the long run even if it takes more time in the short run. sure, we might be struggling to keep our head above water this year, but every little bit we can do to save time in the future is time gained in the future. ooh, i see a new version of WordPress is now available and i am encouraged to update right now. that update might be just what i need to help keep my site that much more secure in te future. off to do it now. ;~)

holy gee whiz, you wouldn’t believe the hosting/server issues i’ve had over the past week+. i am using 4 different hosting services for various domain names i manage. 2 of the 4 hosting services have really failed me this week. first, the domain i have for my courses went down the day before classes started. this included all of my phpBB forum installations. doh. these were on a site using iPowerweb (no link as I don’t want to promote them). to make matters worse, here we are almost a week later and they still haven’t resolved the issue. i talked with various people and tried online chats, email, etc. to no avail. they are working on it. apparently, they moved me to a new server and missed about 60% of my content so everything was broken. i tried to copy stuff over for them, but the mySQL database stuff was all broken. i quickly registered the .net version of my .com site for my classes and set up everything with a new host. really crummy that i had to do this at the last second — the setup time alone took me probably 10 hours that i had already spent on the old and broken site.

but that wasn’t my only issue. this site has been down for nearly a week as well. this site is hosted with bluehost (again, no link). they’ve been pretty good until now, but this outage is far too long. this site hosts my blog, but also some class stuff (e.g., drupal installations for class content). i don’t really have this stuff backed up and i have another week’s worth of material due to my students on Monday. I have been doing it from scratch and i hope to have it ready by Monday but i’ll be working late tonight, tomorrow and Sunday night unless Bluehost can get my site working again (and, if this is posted on Friday night then they got it working and i was able to post this draft — EDIT 2:15 Saturday and it’s working). okay, they have things mostly working again, but my blog has a mySQL table missing and that’s causing an error. apparently, they upgraded PHP and Apache recently and my site has been down since then. so both issues with hosting companies is because of an upgrade. i never upgrade any tools i use during a semester, but i couldn’t stop the hosting companies from upgrading their equipment, etc. crummy that this all hit at once.

the worst thing about iPowerweb is the length of time it takes to get someone on the phone. i had old phones, but i was on the phone for over 1/2 hour without getting a person and my phone died. i ended up ordering new phone set on Amazon with overnight delivery and now i have 17 hours of talk time. watch out tech support, you’re now going to hear from me . . . and i can sit on hold for a long time. doh. i should point out that Bluehost had me talking with tech support in about 5 minutes of holding. that’s world’s and world’s better than iPowerweb. i think i’ll drop iPowerweb ASAP. i just have to figure out how to move a phpBB database from one phpBB installation on one host to another phpBB installation on a different host. if i can do that then iPowerweb will soon be dead to me.

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