Paid in Full

I haven’t seen an actual paper credit card statement for a long time because I’ve banked electronically for years, but I switched banks recently and they just sent me my first credit card statement on this new account.

I was really pleased to see a prominent section on the statement (mandated by government legislation) pointing out just how long this bill will take to pay off if I were only to pay the minimum amount. I think this is a great thing for developing financial literacy, as I’m always shocked at just how little some people know about money, especially credit, and how little they understand its impact.

On my credit card’s closing balance of $1898.20, it tells me that even if I spent nothing more on the card, and just paid the minimum required amount each month until it was paid off, it would take me 18 YEARS 6 MONTHS, and would accrue $4,348.57 in interest!

I hope we are teaching this stuff to kids at school, so they don’t fall into the “free money” thinking that so many adults I know still have.

My grandmother used to say “if you can’t afford to pay cash, you can’t afford it.” I think the more modern equivalent is “if you can’t afford to pay your credit card bill in full each month, you can’t afford it”

And yes, I always pay my credit card bill in full each month!

Update your Search Methods

In 2013 Google released Hummingbird, perhaps the most significant update to their search algorithm since the search engine launched.

From the Search Engine Land blog, here’s how they describe it…

“On September 26, Google announced a new algorithm impacting more than 90 percent of searches worldwide. They called it Hummingbird. Google’s Amit Singhal later said it was perhaps the largest change to the algorithm since he joined the company back in 2001.

Hummingbird allows the Google search engine to better do its job through an improvement in semantic search. As conversational search becomes the norm, Hummingbird lends understanding to the intent and contextual meaning of terms used in a query.”

 In plain English, this means that the conventional wisdom of the way we teach search – identifying important keywords, eliminating unnecessary terms, removing the conversational parts of a question, etc, is no longer quite as critical as it once was.

I’ve heard many teachers tell students “never just type in a question to Google in plain English” but that’s exactly what Hummingbird is designed for. With so many searches now being done via mobile devices using voice, the evolution to plain language questions and semantic queries is the next evolution in Google search.

As a demonstration, here are 50 questions, all done using voice search, to show you just how powerful this new algorithm really is.

Of course, these are mostly simple fact recall style questions, and more sophisticated queries will still benefit from a more sophisticated approach to writing search queries – using good search terms, excluding words or phrases, using search operators like site:, filetype:, etc, as well as making the most of extras like colour filters, date ranges, and so on.

But if you’re still telling students not to write plain language queries because that the advice you’ve you’ve always given them, maybe it’s time to update your advice?

And of course, it highlights why the things we ask students to do these days need to be based on far more than simple fact recall. With most students now carrying around Google in their pockets, the value of “facts” has been completely commoditised. We need to focus on helping them develop knowledge and wisdom, not just facts. Facts are cheap.

Header Photo: J Brew on Flickr

Is it time to drop the Digital?

Do you remember when digital photography appeared on the scene? Real photography buffs snickered about the idea of digital photography ever becoming mainstream… the images were too small, the number of megapixels was ridiculously low, and the images were, well, horrible. It’ll never take off, they said.

Sony MavicaI guess it was about 1995 or so that the school I at which I was teaching managed to get hold of our first digital camera. It was an Apple QuickTake 100 camera. It could hold eight images if you shot them at full quality (640 x 480!) although if you stepped down the resolution to 320 x 240 you could fit a whole 32 images. It was a novelty, and definitely a sign of things to come, but the images were pretty awful. A little after that, I recall I got the the school to buy a Sony Mavica digital camera.  I recall it clearly because I wrote the submission for a grant to buy it, such was the special, novel nature of ‘digital’ photography. The Mavica FD-5 didn’t use film. It used 3.5″ floppy disks! You inserted a floppy, and there was about a 10 second delay after each photo as it wrote the image data to the disk. If a disk filled up, you just popped a new one in and kept shooting. With a box of floppy disks you could just keep shooting! It was awesome.

As time went on, digital photography got better and better. The first digital camera I owned was a Kodak DX3600. It cost me about $800, shot at a whole 1 megapixel, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. In hindsight it wasn’t. It took tiny little images that were largely useless for anything other than viewing on a low res computer screen. But at least it wasn’t that old-fashioned sort of photography that required a trip to a store to get a roll of film developed. How primitive! It was a digital camera, and I was doing digital photography. I’m hip.

Today, I have a camera in my phone that takes pretty awesome photos. My iPad has a camera. My computers have webcams. If I’m feeling a little serious about taking some photos I can use my Nikon D80 DSLR. Digital photography is everywhere.

In fact, digital photography is no longer a novelty. If you want to shoot ‘non-digital’ photography you’ll have trouble buying a camera, trouble buying film, and trouble getting it developed. Digital photography is now just normal.

What’s interesting is that I still hear people referring to ‘digital cameras’ and ‘digital photography’. It’s like we’ve been calling it ‘digital photography’ for so long now that, even when there are no realistic ‘non-digital’ options left, we still call it that.

Surely, by now it’s just a ‘camera’, and it’s ok to just call it ‘photography’?

It happens in other places too. Remember when the first analog mobile phones were around and we eventually started the move to digital mobile phones? For a while we called them ‘digital mobile phones’, until eventually we realised that since ALL phones were digital, we didn’t really need to call them that. We dropped the digital and now just call them mobile phones. (Give it a few more years and I guess we’ll just call them phones, since any phone that isn’t mobile will seem quaint and old-fashioned.)

Digital TV, digital radio, digital video recorders, even digital photo frames. Today, they are really just TV, radio, video recorders and photo frames. It’s 2012. Maybe it’s time to drop the ‘digital’ and accept that digital things are just a part of modern life.

But what about ‘Digital culture’? ‘Digital citizenship’? ‘Digital literacies’? ‘Digital storytelling’? These terms get thrown around in education circles with the same degree of novelty that ‘digital cameras’ had back in the mid 90s.

Am I wrong in thinking that ‘digital culture’ is really just ‘culture’ as practised by people living in the here and now? Isn’t ‘digital storytelling’ just storytelling using the tools of our current age? Unless you avoid all forms of technology, doesn’t being literate just assume that you are literate in digital things as well as analog things? And unless you’re living in a bubble of the past, isn’t ‘digital citizenship’ just ‘citizenship’?

As all these things moved into the digital realm over the last decade or two it may have been useful to note their ‘digital-ness’ as a way of reminding ourselves how they were different to what came before. But we are now 12 years into the 21st century. The Internet has been around for 44 years, the personal computer for over 37 years, and the World Wide Web for nearly 20. At what point will the digital nature of the world we live in stop being a novelty?

I wonder if it’s time to drop the ‘digital’ and start accepting that this is just the new normal.