Saturday, March 28, 2009

tt4t_080 Online face recognition, how many photos of you are online?

It’s Saturday, March 28th, 2009 and welcome to episode 80 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. This week there was news of an interesting new technology to be targeted at Facebook users that will certainly have a huge impact upon the way users of social networks view their online presence in the future.

To listen click on the Play button >

Download MP3

Often new technologies find uses that were originally not considered when the technology was invented. is a case in point and is currently developing its face recognition technology to be used in conjunction with Facebook. Face recognition programs have been around for several years now and the technology is maturing and finding new uses. is now doing small scale alpha testing for its face recognition software called Photo Finder and is partnering with Facebook to analyze the photos of selected alpha testers of Facebook. Photo Finder can automatically “tag” photos with a persons name based upon a facial recognition algorithm and then search through other photos to find similar face matches of that person in other photos. is said to have up to a 90 percent accuracy rating. I discussed this development with some of my students in an undergraduate level class I taught this week and many were concerned about the implications of this technology. I asked my students how many photos they had uploaded to Facebook and the typical answer was in the hundreds! Imagine being able to “train” the Photo Finder application to automatically recognize the face of your friends and then be able to do a photo search on any of your friends, say Susan, and have the search results provide every photo with Susan in it that you have ever uploaded to your Facebook account!

Now consider that Facebook currently has over 1 Billion photos, that’s Billion with a B, uploaded to its service EVERY month! That makes Facebook the largest online photo service on the web.

The online privacy issues are enormous. is working with Facebook so that this technology can have limits placed upon its uses within a Facebook user profile that will be based upon the customized privacy settings in a users Facebook profile. Even with this limitation privacy issues remain unsettled and the potential for abuse exists.

We had a great class discussion about the new face recognition capability that may be coming to Facebook in the near future. It did give some students pause to reflect on all the photographic evidence that currently exists within the average undergraduate Facebook account. Since face recognition cuts across different Facebook accounts a person does not have control over the pictures that appear in their friends Facebook accounts therefore the privacy concerns cannot fully be known.

I have provided three links in the show notes to the website and to articles from TechCrunch and the ReadWriteWeb blogs that provide a more complete overview of the Photo Finder application.

TechCrunch Photo Finder article

ReadWriteWeb article

For the undergraduates that are in our teacher education programs and other professional programs at the college level the future ramifications need to be considered. It is not uncommon for human resource departments to do an online search of a potential employee hire on the Internet and Facebook is often a part of this search because of its popularity on college campuses. We have always cautioned students to be very careful about the digital footprints that they may be leaving online and to exercise good judgment about their online presence.

I believe that privacy must not be abrogated by the individual and that it is reasonable for a person to protect their privacy if they so choose. New face recognition technologies will certainly challenge the level of privacy we have enjoyed in the past.

We live in a dangerous time where technologies are outpacing the law and we must not let technology become our master. The cycle from development to implementation has been shortened to a point where there seems to be no time for a debate, yet debate is needed to work out the consequences this technology may have. We should be selective in utilizing the beneficial aspects while at the same time minimize the negatives. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness must not be compromised by the unintended consequences of new technologies.

We will be facing many life changing technologies over the coming decades and we must be careful to not kneel at the alter of technology but rather be guided by our principles and selective in the types of uses allowed. We may look back at face recognition as being very benign compared to other 21st Century technologies that are on the horizon such as genetic engineering, gene therapy, and even brain scans capable of analyzing ones thoughts. We are at a point in our technological society that we must pay attention to the technological developments around us and have the debate of the good along with the bad and find compromises that in the end honor our humanity.

So the next time you go to upload a photograph of yourself and/or your friends to Facebook, or other online services, take a moment to reflect if face recognition may have any unintended future consequences for you or your friends.

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is a new Web 2.0 service called Yodio and a link is available in the show notes.


Yodio – How it works

Yodio reminds me of a cross between an online version of Photostory and Voicethread. Yodio allows you to upload photos to the web and then do a voice annotation tied to the photo by using your cell phone and then share them with others. This creates a picture slide show with your own voiceover.

Once you have created your Yodio you can send it to others as an email link, embed the Yodio on your blog or webpage, Facebook and/or MySpace account. Your Yodio creation will be hosted on the yodio website.

Yodio is very easy to use and is currently free for the basic account and offers a tiered pricing schedule for additional features. You do have to register your phone number with the Yodio service when you sign-up as this is used to identify you with your account when you call in to make your recordings. Like all Web 2.0 tools be sure to follow your organizations policies and procedures for posting online content that can be shared with others.

That wraps it up for episode 80 of TechTalk4Teachers. Transcripts and show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have questions, comments or suggestions please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

Friday, March 20, 2009

tt4t_079 Book tech, the next generation

It’s Friday, March 20th, 2009 and welcome to episode 79 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. The ITC has recently purchased a Kindle 2 electronic book reader and I have now had some hands-on time with this innovative device. Waiting for a second generation device is generally a good strategy when purchasing any new technology especially if it is groundbreaking.

To listen click on the Play button >

Download MP3

Back on episode 74 I discussed my thoughts regarding this second generation device based upon all that I had read about it. Now I can share with you some of my opinions based upon practical hands-on experience. Some of my original opinions remain unchanged but I was pleasantly surprised about the efficiency of the wireless Whispernet service and the future possibilities this device offers students and educators.

Here are my first impressions of the Kindle 2 after having some experience with it. Keep in mind that the novelty factor has a strong influence on ones view of a new technology. Everything seems better when we first experience something new and there is a bit of a honeymoon period. The Kindle 2 is an expensive device, it currently sells on Amazon for $359 US. The form factor is a little smaller than I expected being the size of an average paperback book. The usable screensize however is about one-half the size of a paperback book and this is a current weakness in my opinion, a larger readable surface would be an improvement. Having said that a redesign of the controls would be necessary as a large portion of the bottom of the Kindle 2 is reserved for a QWERTY style keyboard. Please see the show notes for this episode for a couple of pictures of the device in my office to get an idea of its relative size.

I won’t go into the technical details as there are plenty of online reviews that go into that but rather discuss my first impressions of using the device and the implications this device may have for future educational use.

The first thing that struck me was the small size and the thinness of the device. The device weighs just 10.2 ounces and can hold over 1000 books! That’s the good news, the bad news is that you still have to pay for all of those books if you want an electronic version.

If you already have an Amazon account purchasing a book is extraordinarily easy. In fact it is too easy as you may be tempted to go on a shopping spree and purchase more than you intended because of the ease and convenience. To use the wireless delivery service called Whispernet you must first setup your Amazon account for the one-click shopping service and register your Kindle device. Once you provide your credit card information and configure the one-click service you are ready to buy your first book.

This was the point that I have to admit that I was impressed. After the Kindle 2 was fully charged I purchased my first book using the device. I chose the book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Clayton Christensen, Curtis W. Johnson and Michael B. Horn as my first purchase, this choice only seemed appropriate given the disruption the Kindle is having on the publishing industry. I went to the Shop in the Kindle Store link on the Kindle device and typed in the name of my selected title in the search box using the QWERTY keyboard, the Kindle presented me my chosen title with the BUY button already selected. All I had to do was confirm the purchase and in less than ONE minute I had the full-text of Disrupting Class wirelessly delivered to the Kindle 2 and ready for me to read. Talk about convenient!

The first thing I noticed about the reading experience was that the screen is not white with black text but rather a dingy gray color with black text. From what I have read about usability testing of the device Amazon chose this color combination to reduce eye-strain. This does take a bit of getting used to as I am used to reading off of a backlit LCD computer screen that is much brighter. The other advantage of using the gray colored screen is that you can easily read from the Kindle outside on a sunny day. Anybody that has used a laptop outside can testify that a backlit screen is difficult to read outside.

The second thing that I noticed after reading the first few pages of the e-book is that there is a black flash between every page when you advance the book to the next page. This is a little annoying but you do get used to it, having said that it would obviously be a better experience without the flashing refresh between page turns.

Thirdly, one of the biggest benefits of the Kindle 2 reader is that I can select the text-size for each page that I read. For my older eyes I definitely appreciated having the ability to dynamically change the text-size to suit my preference for a larger text-size. Of course when you use a larger font you can’t get as many words on a page but the next page button refreshes the next page quickly so you can continuously read without interruption.

For me the text-to-speech capability still needs some work as the male and female voices still seem a little robotic as many of the voice inflections are not correct. The Authors Guild has also recently challenged Amazon over the text-to-speech capabilities of the Kindle stating that their publishing contracts do not include the text-to speech option. As a result Amazon has taken away text-to-speech capability for many books that the Authors Guild is contesting. A link is available in the show notes to an article presenting the Authors Guild viewpoint regarding this controversy.

Authors Guild Article on Kindle text-to-speech

There are several educational implications for this technology, in my opinion it is nearly ready for primetime educational use. I say nearly because the relative high price of the device will have to decline before it finds a large educational audience. The potential is definitely there as costs decline in the future. Imagine being able to instantly download updated textbooks on demand. Since the device can hold over one thousand books those back breaking book bags may finally become a thing of the past. There still remains some work as the screen resolution and brightness also needs to improve and color is not currently supported.

For textbook publishers this device threatens existing distribution methods of a long standing industry. College students and parents of a college student know first had the high-costs of hardcopy text books. It is not uncommon for a textbook to cost over $100 each. Delivering a textbook electronically should substantially reduce the costs of a textbook because the cost to produce a hardcopy edition will be eliminated. More importantly the textbook can be more easily updated when it is in electronic form and the cost of distribution approaches zero dollars so more frequent updates should make for more accurate textbooks in the future. As a parent of a college student I can testify that I have spent over $500 for just one semester of textbooks for my daughter. Suddenly the $359 figure may not be as high as I originally thought.

I have not run the figures yet but even at the current $359 price point the Kindle 2 could be comparable in price to hardcopy textbooks IF the electronic editions are substantially discounted. Therein lies the problem for publishers, will they allow for substantial price reductions of electronic editions? Will faculty support electronic editions of textbooks? We will have to stay tuned to see.

My biggest reservation with this technology is that it is currently proprietary and books purchased on Amazon have digital rights management built-in that require a Kindle device to read. I have the feeling of déjà vu all over again as the Kindle appears to be going down the same road as Apple has went with iTunes where purchases on iTunes require an iPod to play back purchased music. That is beginning to change in the music industry as both iTunes and the Zune Marketplace offer non-DRM’d music but it has taken the industry years to get to a non-DRM’d music store. Let’s hope that e-books can avoid the DRM trap that has caused so much strife in the music industry.

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is the K-12 edition of the Horizon Report 2009. Every year the Horizon Report is released that is geared toward higher education and the emerging technologies that are or will soon be impacting higher education over the next five years. The online edition of the K-12 version of this report has recently been released and a link is available in the show notes.

2009 Horizon Report: The K12 Edition

This report is a must read for K12 educators wanting an overview of emerging technologies and their potential impact upon K12 education. The report is broken down into segments discussing technologies that are one year or less away, two to three years out, and four to five years out. The report also discusses five critical challenges education currently faces regarding these emerging technologies.

That wraps it up for episode 79 of TechTalk4Teachers. Transcripts and show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have questions, comments or suggestions please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

tt4t_078 Begin with the end in mind

It’s Saturday, March 14th, 2009 and welcome to episode 78 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. Over the years we have witnessed a plethora of new technologies and the underlying standards that make it all possible. This week I was reminded about the not so long ago “good ole days” when a student was given an assignment to do a video segment for a class project. The means to the end result were not articulated for the project and neither the teacher nor the student knew the processes involved for producing the end product. Unfortunately the student chose a technology that was not the best choice for the assigned project.

To listen click on the Play button >

Download MP3

Since the invention of consumer level video cameras back in the 1980’s taping a video segment is as easy as pushing the record button. In the good ole days of recording to a VHS tape you simply ejected the tape from the video camera and placed it into a VCR player to play it back. VCR’s were a prolific technology and nearly every classroom had access to one and many still do. When the VHS format began to wane as the standard of choice a few years ago several formats evolved and competed to become the new standard. Unfortunately there has not been one standard that has dominated others like the VHS format did for so many years. The result is a mixed bag of different tape formats and file standards that do not always play well together.

Manufacturers compete to promote their standard as THE standard for the industry. If a company can win the standard wars then that company will be in the best position for future profits because everyone else would need to use their standard format.

The new tape and disk-based formats are vast improvements over the previous VHS video cameras of the past. VHS was a huge innovation, before VHS came along film had to be sent off to a photo lab to be developed before it could be viewed. For those of you that are a little older you may remember the 8mm and Super 8 formats from your childhood that were popular before the invention of the VHS video camera. Back then family movie night meant getting out the reel-to-reel player and watching home movies without sound, a lot has changed since my childhood.

So the evolution of video standards for physical tape-based recording has evolved through several different standards over the years, including the famous BetaMax / VHS wars in the 1980’s to more the more recent miniDV tapes, DVD’s, miniDVD disks, and hard disk and flash-based recorders of today.

The evolution from tape-based recording to digital is still underway. Today you can buy cameras that record directly to miniDVD disks and many models now record directly to a hard disk. The most recent trend is flash-based digital storage devices like the popular Flip video cameras that I have talked about on previous episodes of TechTalk4Teachers. This has been a wonderful advancement for teachers that need affordable and easy to use video technology for classroom projects. The technology is still evolving and the disk-based video cameras have not caught up to the high quality levels of tape-based consumer cameras but we are getting closer.

This advancement has not come without a price. Now we have to worry about what file format we want for the final product. Here is just a brief sampling to choose from today: MPEG-1, MPEG-2, .VOB, .WMV, .MOV, .FLV, and .AVI to name just a few. To make matters worse some of these individual formats have different versions and flavors within them that can cause compatibility problems.

Now back to the problem I had earlier this week. We have several different types of video cameras that faculty can use and checkout for projects from the Instructional Technology Center. Each video camera type has its strengths and weaknesses and should be matched for the particular application that it is to be used for. The student wanted an end product of a digitized file that could be watched on a computer for reviewing and easily shared with others. Unfortunately a miniDV tape-based camera was used to record the event and when the student came back to the ITC they did not have an easy way to preview the material short of connecting the miniDV camera directly to a TV for preview. This option meant that the teacher and other students would also need to checkout a miniDV camera and hook it up to a TV to preview the students lesson and pass the one copy of the tape around to others, not very convenient. To make a long story short we needed to convert the video from the miniDV tape format to a computer file that could be shared and viewed easily by others.

To convert the miniDV tape we had to connect the camera to a computer via a firewire cable and digitize the footage. This is a one-to-one process, that is for each minute of footage it requires one minute to digitize. Therefore we had a 40 minute video to convert so we had to wait 40 minutes to digitize the video. Once the video was digitized we imported it into Windows Movie Maker and produced a WMV file as the final product that could easily be viewed on other computers.

It was a bit frustrating going through this entire process but it reminded me of what we use to do all the time just two or three years ago before we switched to the Flip video cameras for use in the ITC. If the student had used a Flip video camera in the first place all we would have had to do was copy the video file from the Flip camera and we would have been finished in about five minutes instead of the 1½ hours that this project conversion took. Perhaps we may have needed to convert the AVI format of the Flip to the more common FLV format but this would have only taken about ten minutes to convert. Now imagine have twenty or thirty students in the class given the same project and I think you can see the problem that this represents. The moral of the story, begin with the end in mind and understand what you are asking for before giving an assignment.

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is a website that will convert a PDF file to a Word document. A link is a available in the show notes.

PDF to Word

PDF is an acronym for Portable Document Format that was originally created by Adobe and has become the defacto standard for displaying documents online. To view a PDF document you need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader plug-in from Adobe. The advantages of a PDF file is that it preserves formatting so that the document displayed on screen looks the way the author intended it to on the web. You may have noticed that if you print off webpages they may look different depending upon the type of computer you use and the type of browser you use. PDF files get around these differences and provide a consistent look. PDF files also cannot be edited without the professional version of Adobe Acrobat Reader that you have to pay for.

The PDFtoWord service is currently free and allows you to upload a PDF file and the service will convert the file to a Word document format and email it back to you in Word format as an attachment. Keep in mind that you do have to upload the PDF file to the service so I would not recommend sharing anything confidential but for common PDF files that you wish you could edit PDFtoWord may be a website you are interested in trying out.

That wraps it up for episode 78 of TechTalk4Teachers. Transcripts and show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have questions, comments or suggestions please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

tt4t_077 Twitter, the end of innocence

It’s Sunday, March 8th, 2009 and welcome to episode 77 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. Last week I talked about Twitter and its recent rise in popularity with American media companies and the US Congress. I think one of the telling signs that a technology has made it into the mainstream is when it becomes lampooned by comedians. Jon Stewart of the popular The Daily Show did a skit called “Twitter Frenzy” on the March 2nd this past week doing exactly that on the Comedy channel. If you did not get a chance to see it you can watch the segment online if you are interested.

To listen click on the Play button >

Download MP3

The US Congress continues the use of Twitter and John McCain made the news cycle this week with his innovative use of Twitter. McCain is using Twitter to push his fight against earmarks by tweeting comments about what he considers wasteful spending in legislation currently making its way through Congress. This is yet another interesting approach of the use of Twitter and proof that the usefulness of Twitter is in the eye of the beholder.

One downfall of technological popularity is that it becomes the target of sorts for others to exploit. Twitter has now reached this level of popularity and as I mentioned on last weeks episode, Twitter has now entered the early majority phase of technological innovation. Twitter now has a bulls-eye painted on the services it provides to others. Because of this popularity the dark-side of human behavior seems to increase and nefarious activities rise.

For me some of this activity is to be expected such as companies leveraging the use of Twitter to gain an online presence to be used for advertising, selling of products, and for customer relations. This is all fine when out in the open, however, a virtual identity has the potential for misrepresentation and exploitation and that is why companies so vigorously defend their reputations whether in the online world or in the real world. Increasingly these two worlds are blurred.

Twitter also offers companies an ability to monitor Twitter feeds for mentions of their company name or the products and services they sell and use this information to their benefit. Tweets are considered public and search engines can be used to filter information based upon specific search terms that some companies are monitoring. As mentioned on last weeks episode of TechTalk4Teachers I now have a new follower of a national woodworking company simply because I used the word woodworking in one of my tweets. This is an innocent enough use by companies that are interested in offering you products and services that you may be interested in. If this is done out in the open and without misrepresentation there is not a problem and Twitter does offer the ability to block someone from following you if you so choose.

Increasingly Twitter is being hit with password stealing and other scams where tweets are being posted that ask a user for their username and password. Some services state that they need your username and password to offer their third-party service with Twitter. Never give out your username and password, this is your only protection against unauthorized access to your account. If you forget your password or need to change your password follow the recommendations given by the particular service that created the account. I have provided a link in the show notes to a phishing scam that has hit Twitter users recently.

Twitter Rank Stealing Passwords?

Phishing Scams with Twitter

This week a tweet that started with 23/female was being propagated on Twitter. If a user clicked on this link their computer had the potential of being compromised and linked to advertisements to inappropriate sites. A link is provided in the show notes with more information about this scam if you think you may have fallen victim to it.

23/Female Webcam Hack

Security experts will also tell you that clicking on URL’s that are shortened by services like TinyURL, ShortURL, Bitly, and other URL shorteners is a bad practice. Because Twitter only allows 140 character postings URL shorteners are very popular to save character spacing in tweets. For example, TinyURL can take a very long URL with 85 characters and shorten it to just 25 characters, this space savings is why URL shorteners are extensively used in tweets. The potential security risk is that a user of Twitter is taking a leap of faith that the shortened URL will be appropriate. The person clicking on the URL has no way to predetermine if it is a valid URL to an appropriate website or not. Many Twitter users use URL shorteners on Twitter including myself so just be aware that they could be abused and to take you to an inappropriate site.

I continue to be an advocate of educators using Twitter for professional use and in developing Personal Learning Networks. Sometimes all we here from technologists is the cheerleading and rarely mentions of potential misuse. It is also why many IT departments sometimes cast a suspicious eye on some Web 2.0 offerings. I raise these issues for new users and for users that may not be technologically savvy that indeed there are risks out there when using online social networks. To date these risks have been offset by the value I find in my PLN.

The above mentioned scams are not unique to Twitter as MySpace, Facebook, and many other social networking services are also fighting online scams on a daily basis. Pointing out these risks is not meant to scare you away from using the tools, to the contrary, this discussion is necessary for identifying social, technical, and security risks as well as developing an awareness of deceptive social engineering practices so they can be prevented. So, here is a dated 1980’s reference for Hill Street Blues fans, “let’s be careful out there”. For those not old enough to remember this reference you can always “Google It”. 

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is to a blog entry at the FreeTech4Teachers site to help teachers find other teachers using Twitter. At my presentation at the East Central Illinois Tech Conference on Personal Learning Networks a couple of weeks ago I mentioned some methods I use for finding other teachers on Twitter. My pick this week provides an overview to help get you quickly started with finding fellow teachers on Twitter.

Seven Ways to Find Teachers on Twitter

I have picked up a few followers that were at my presentation and I would like to thank you if you recently started following me on Twitter and for giving Twitter a try. You have taken the first step in the journey of learning about the many ways that Twitter can help you become a better teacher. The power of Twitter will increase as you build the network of people you follow and as more and more people follow you. A Personal Learning Network requires some time and nurturing to build and I encourage you to give it some time before you render your judgment to its effectiveness. If this is the first time you have listened to this podcast and if you have a Twitter account you can follow me on Twitter @tomgrissom

That wraps it up for episode 77 of TechTalk4Teachers. Transcripts and show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have a comment or suggestion please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.