Blogs at Penn State 2011 Update

I am preparing my closing plenary for the upcoming Educause Mid-Atlantic conference to be held in Baltimore, MD and thought I’d share something I’ve been diving into related to the Blogs at Penn State. My colleague, Brad Kozlek oversees much of what happens with that service and one of the things I ask him to do is to maintain data on the use of the service. He updated our shared google spreadsheet for me today so I could share some of it all at the event later this week.

There are a couple of things I am noticing and am very proud of … one is that the service is really being used and it is being used in so many novel and interesting ways. I’ll try to share some of those during my talk. The other thing we are discovering is that over time it appears that people are becoming more active users … that means they don’t just make a blog and bail. That has important implications — more on that in a future post and at a talk Bart Pursel and I will give at ELI — and those implications include rising GPAs for those who are sticking with writing. Amazing stuff. For now I just thought I’d share the numbers …

My favorite Twitter conversation in days was a result of sharing this …

Long Time

It has been a very long time since I posted to the iPhone blog … lots of stuff has been going on, but I haven’t discovered anything all that new with the iPhone. I have been asked to take part in an Apple UEF working group looking at the iPhone in the higher education space and will be reporting on that as it unfolds. We had our first kickoff meeting last week, but didn’t get into the primary issues with the iPhone. We will, it will just be in a few weeks.

The only other thing to really report is that the iPhone Community Hub is starting to take shape. It can be found at … it is designed to provide a single point of reference to all iPhone related content floating around the PSU web. Right now, most of hte content is being aggregated in from multiple sources, but will eventually contain original content in form of help, getting started, and trouble shooting documents. If you have a Penn State or Friends of PSU account head over and post your comments or thoughts.

Ta-Da List

I blogged about Ta-Da List last week … it was one of the first web apps I had found that had been optimized for the iPhone browser. Next week I am going to try to use it as my calendar replacement. The syncing of Oracle Calendar and iCal is just too time consuming and the one directional syncing isn’t going to cut it.

I’ll report back, but so far I am digging the way the whole thing works. Safari on the iPhone keeps sites open even when you are not using the Internet so I can keep it open at all times. It gives me very quick access to a combination of meeting dates, times, and locations as well as standard to-do list items. The browser only needs to connect to fetch updates or when I mark an item complete. The interface moves completed items to the bottom of the list with a “strike” through them. I will be reporting on how this model works for me.

It has me thinking about a web view of Oracle Calendar that is optimized for the iPhone. Any smart developers out there up for that challenge?

iPhone and IMAP Mail

Prior to the iPhone hit last week I set out to switch to IMAP mail. Before I worked in ITS I was over in the College of IST … for better of for worse (mostly worse) we were all on an Exchange server. There were problems, but I have to say I had missed the mail functionality since coming over a year and a half ago. I missed having an identical view of my mail no matter where I looked at it. I am not a fan of webmail — of any sort, not just PSU’s — I am mail client kind of person, so that’s never been an option for me.

I had settled on dealing with the situation by only ever checking my mail from one machine — not something that is all that feasible given the fact I have a few different machines. When the iPhone pilot became a reality I knew I needed to get off POP and onto IMAP. Hence the switch. I have to say, the PSU IMAP service is rocking! My mail is always in sync, I never get the annoying error messages I was getting before, and I can feel confident that if I am away from my MacBook I can grab email. IMAP at PSU carries a small fee, but it isn’t all that expensive.

IMAP on the iPhone is the only way to go (IMHO) … I like to get mail on the go and have its “state” be identical when I get to the desktop. I only wish I had my MailTags plug-in on the iPhone, but you can’t have everything. At any rate, email on the iPhone is a pleasure and having my mail synced up with my desktop is wonderful. I am checking and sending more and more mail from my iPhone, so having it all work so nicely is very cool. If you are going to go down the iPhone path, I highly recommend switching to IMAP.

iPhone on Two Macs

I didn’t actually try to sync anything, but I did plug my iPhone into my laptop today to charge it and was surprised that it appears as though I can selectively sync content from multiple machines. I’ll have to investigate further, but if that is the case it will make my life a little easier. I keep all my media on my iMac at home and all my contacts and calendars on my MacBook Pro. Right now I am managing all of it by using .Mac to kepp the two machines in sync … that is a step I’d like to eliminate. I will test it more and see what happens.

Managing Media

I am avid iPod user, so I am very familiar with how I can use iTunes to manage media on my iPod and Apple TV (and now, iPhone). I wrote about a lack of advanced feature a while back at one of my other blogs as it related to the Apple TV, but now that I only have 8 GB of space to play with (instead of 80), I’d really like more control. Take for example the fact that I cannot control how many episodes of each TV Show I want …


Some shows I watch over and over when I travel — like old episodes of the Office or Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I’d like to be able to choose exactly which ones I want from my collection. Other things, I want just the most recent unwatched episodes and so on … I guess what I am saying is that Apple should give us a way to really manage our media. How about a little checkbox next to each episode and give me the control over how I want my content moved to my device. Now that they are pushing content to smaller devices like my phone, they’ll need to rethink the paradigm just a little bit.

Little Touches

I am settling into using the iPhone for all sorts of things now. A full day into the experience and I am getting very comfortable with the features and how to navigate the interface — I am discovering the usability is even better than I expected … the thing has Apple’s elegant design touches all over the place.

As an example, I set up my voicemail today and was so surprised at just how easy the whole experience is. I am replacing a Treo 650, so you’d think this thing wouldn’t be all that much better than my old smart phone … well, let’s just say that everything is so much clearer on this phone. On my Treo, just finding how to setup and activate voicemail took me way too much time. With the iPhone, you just touch “voicemail” while in the phone interface to get started. The iPhone actually provides real instructions that let you get started … you type in your password twice and then are able to just record your greeting. Want to review it? No problem … you are able to that with a little slider and standard audio controls. Took seconds.

Voicemail itself is amazing … it has “visual voicemail” so you see the person whose call you missed and are able to listen to them as if you are picking up email — in any order. Each message has its own audio controls as well, so if you miss a number or other important information you can just scrub back and listen. The last feature that is so simple, but so effective is a little button that allows you to re-record your greeting. Seems so trivial, but I have no idea how to do that on my Treo, or on my work phone for that matter. If I am going to be away from my phone for a couple of days, just having the ability to instantly update the away message is a life saver.

The total package of the iPhone is the real deal, but as I discover new things I am amazed at how all the little touches are adding up.

iPhone and .Mac

I am finding my .Mac account has some serious features that are keeping me happy with the syncing going on with my iPhone. I use a MacBook Pro for work … it has my bookmarks, calendars, and contacts dialed in on it. I keep all my media on an iMac in my home office … I haven’t tried syncing between two machines, but the .Mac sync features allows me to easily keep my laptop and desktop in step with one another. I sync the iPhone and my iPod on the iMac, so having a way to easily move the right calendar, contacts, and bookmarks via .Mac is proving very effective.