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Monday, January 31, 2011

'Superman' is Clearly Un-Canadian

President Barack Obama greets members of the cast at the White House.
Seeing Waiting for Superman
is like watching a World Vision commercial on television. You feel so much for the kids. Your heart melts when you hear their honesty and see their potential. You wonder if little Daisy will ever realize her dreams. And you have no doubt that they and their parents are struggling against great odds.

Are you moved to compassion? Absolutely.

But you have no doubt that their reality, their battle, takes place in a very different culture, in a foreign country.

You marvel at the level of seeming dysfunction in the system. Can it really be that bad? And you try to reassure yourself that this is not now, and can never be, representative of American education as a whole.

Mostly, you sympathize with American teachers, whose morale and reputation is being so dramatically dragged down by a movement this movie continues to feed. Because for all of Superman's purported truth and lies, only teachers and teacher unions, it seems, are to blame.

After the final credits, you realize that our education system bears about as much resemblance to that of our U.S. colleagues as our health care system bears to theirs. And you feel a certain guilty security in knowing that even though Canada's public schools aren't perfect, they certainly aren't broken.

Like watching that World Vision ad, you're touched and grateful, and glad to snap back into your own world, where you have never had to live the reality - nor bear the blame for the caricature - of Superman.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ditch your iPhone Calendar for Something Better

If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, I'm here to tell you there's a much better calendar app to use than the one that comes with it.

In fact, Calvetica puts the default calendar to shame with its elegance, common-sense navigation and ease of use.

The first thing you notice about Calvetica is that aesthetically it's light-years ahead of other calendar apps. Not clumsy like the app Steve gives you, yet not too dressy.

And the developers have a sense of humour. Its four original themes - including "romantic grey" and "knife fight pink" - have been trimmed back to two offerings, red and black.

In month view, there are dots in the days with entries. But each dot represents an different entry, unlike a single dot representing a day's worth of events as in the native iPhone app.

You can switch between the full day, just your working day, or a very handy collapsed view of your entries for a particular day.

In all of the day views, the current one is always highlighted in red. The others are grey. There's never any confusion about whether you're in "today" or not.

But what I like most of all about Calvetica is that you can enter a new event right in the hour slot for that day - and set the time to five minute increments - without having to flip a single ugly tumbler up or down. This simple feature is worth the $2.99 the developers are asking.

But there is a lot more. You are not limited to two alerts per event - add as many as you want with the common-sense interface. If you flip your orientation sideways, you'll even get a great overview of your week, or the week of the day you've been viewing depending on your settings.

In fact, there are loads of settings to customize. And Calvetica will sync with MobileMe, Google Calendars, and you guessed it, Steve's app. Don't get any ideas about syncing to more than one, though. Apple doesn't want anyone by-passing MobileMe to keep their iDevices in harmony.

I've lived with Calvetica for two-weeks now and have turned the page on the standard-issue calendar. My advice? Pay the three bucks for Calvetica, play with it, work in it. It won't be long before you'll fire your default calendar, too.

Pics above were done on the iPad so I wouldn't mess up my real entries for today. Borders are not as heavy on the iPhone.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Kindle, Kobo, iBooks - A Tale of Three iPad Ebook Readers - Part 1, The Canadian Competitor

This is the first of a three-part review of the most popular ebook readers for the iPad. Rather than give an exhaustive blow-by-blow comparison of the Kindle, Kobo and iBooks apps, I've opted to describe the features I come in contact with daily.

Kobo Reader for iPad
If you've ever played with a Kobo ebook reader at a Chapters or Indigo store, you can appreciate the crisp, clear display and the fact that this Canadian competitor is trying its best to divert your gaze from the Amazon Kindle and other contenders for the e-reader throne.

It's hard, though, not to walk away from that experience without making a mental note of the Kobo's sluggish page changes and the big, dorky, navigation button.

But Kobo for the iPad is different.

Best Features
The Kobo app is colorful, functional - the most attractive of the three ebook readers. And it lets you control the look not only of your pages, but your bookmarks, and even your bookshelf.

The addition of a sepia wash like in the Kindle or iBooks app would be nice. But the rest of the esthetics are so good you can forgive the developers for the oversight.

The Kobo book store's presentation is much more eye-catching than Amazon's, even though the selection is naturally more limited. The app features the smartest table of contents presentation around. Unlike the Kindle app's postage stamp content and bookmarks list, the Kobo takes you to an entire contents page that incorporates all of your bookmarks and notes right beside each chapter heading. That feature alone means the Kobo trumps the Kindle for navigation.

Even though no one beats the Kindle for ebook selection, Kobo kills in terms of Canadian content. If you jump to Recommended Reading, you'll find over 50 lists including these:
  • The Globe 100 for 2010
  • Globe and Mail Bestsellers
  • Quill & Quire's Books of the Year
  • Heather's Picks
  • Made in Canada
  • Canada Reads
  • Hockey Night in Canada
  • You Can't Get These on Kindle
  • Can't Get it From iBooks
The biggest opportunity and liability with the Kobo lies with the debut of its new Reading Life social features. Content is always an opportunity to build community, and these new social features let you see the most popular bookmarks of other readers, tweet quotations and what you're reading to your Twitter followers and give similar updates to your Facebook friends.

It's collecting badges for things like starting and finishing books, bookmarking, making notes and even reading books during lunch hour or bed time that seems rather juvenile. Some of the badges are designed to get you to try new features. The shareable notifications for each of these seem a tad breathless, but can be turned off.

As with hard copy books, there is little point in reading them unless you mark them up. Kobo offers you one color of highlight, blue. Kindle for the iPad gives you only yellow. But iBooks offers a full five colors - handy when you're highlighting information for different purposes.

Kobo also doesn't have a search feature like the one on the Kindle app. This must be addressed in a future iteration.

The Bottom Line
Even with its drawbacks, the Kobo app makes the reading experience so pleasant and friendly that its shortcomings can easily be tolerated. The look and aesthetics are second to none - and who says you can't read on multiple platforms anyway?

The Kobo may not ever be at the top of the heap, but for ease of use, attractiveness, access to Canadian content, and delivering a really pleasant reading experience, it's definitely worth the download.