Technology

Please Make a Note of It

AT&T is discontinuing its free over-the-phone time service in California and Nevada on Sept. 19. When I was growing up near San Francisco I made a point of setting my watch a great deal more often than was strictly necessary by dialing POP-CORN and listening to—according to this L.A. Times article—the voice of Joanne Daniels. (This was before the days of the World Wide Web, or, in my house at least, the days of VCRs and cable television, so dialing POP-CORN was about the only “high-tech” I had access to.) I also found it somewhat hypnotic to listen to this voice do nothing but tell the time for as long as you wanted to listen. I think I imagined her recording it all in one sitting.

So if you grew up in Northern California, you only have 19 days left to hear Joanne Daniels’s dulcet tones before “the man” silences her: (415) POP-CORN.

Culture
Technology

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Cat’s Eye View

If you’ve ever wondered what your cat, or other people’s cats, do while you’re not around, wonder no more. A German engineer, Juergen Perthold, modified a small digital camera to take pictures at timed intervals and then attached it to his cat’s collar. The result, a pictorial diary of Mr. Lee’s adventures—sitting under cars, staring down other cats, and provoking a snake—can be seen here.

Animals
Technology

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The New Crib Sheet

CNN recently ran a story about students using iPods to cheat on tests. It talks about students who have recorded course material to listen to during their tests, resting their heads on their hands to hide the headphones. Several schools in the U.S. and Canada have subsequently banned all electronic devices from their schools.

Cheating is bad, obviously, but the ways in which classes are too often taught in the U.S. and elsewhere is as much to blame as new technology. When I was in high school, students cheated much more often in the dull classes than in the hard, challenging classes. (And we did it the old-fashioned way—by writing on our hands!) In dull classes, students are expected to be something like an “electronic device” themselves: recording facts and formulas so they can be “played back” during the test. When history, for instance, is taught as a list of facts and dates to be memorized, it’s small wonder that students use their technological knowledge to avoid such tedium.

The best classes I took in high school and college introduced me to ways of thinking—disciplines—more than simply to a body of information. The tests then asked us to apply those disciplines to new subjects, an approach which makes it difficult to cheat. You couldn’t use an iPod very effectively to cheat on an in-class essay test, for instance, or a biology test that asked you to devise an experiment to test a particular hypothesis. Interesting classes are harder to cheat in, and because they’re engaging, fewer students will need or want to cheat in them.

My guess is that many teachers teach boring, “cheatable” classes not just out of laziness but due to state bureaucratic demands for standardized, quantitative ways of comparing school performance. This story in the L.A. Times cites figures showing that fifty-seven percent of California teachers who quit their jobs cited “bureaucratic interference” as a reason for leaving. As long as students are expected to be iPods, some of them will outsource the work to the real thing. The great irony is that students using technology creatively like this (however dishonestly) may often be learning a more valuable skill than they would if they bothered with memorizing a long list of facts.

Education
Technology

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