Pokémon Go—the best thing since sliced bread (or Tinder)

By now you’ve undoubtedly heard about Pokémon Go, the ridiculously popular new phone app based on the Pokémon franchise. In the relatively new development space of augmented reality it blends fantasy characters with the real world. It uses your phone’s GPS and superimposes Pokémon[1] on a map, like this:

Near CIT

This is a screenshot taken outside my office, standing next to I-94 at Woodward.

It was released last week and is now more popular than Tinder, and is rapidly catching up with active users of Twitter. Since I’ve only just begun playing I can’t report a great deal about what it does (there are various kinds of critters that you can ‘capture’, and there are ‘gyms’ where you can have fights (the platform-like object in the image above is a gym at the church across the street from the main C&IT building at Woodward and 94), and I’m told there’s one near the Science and Engineering Library. In addition there are ‘Pokespots’ all over campus, including one inside UGL.

Here is an excellent, if a little snarky, introduction to the whole thing.

The social fall-out from Pokémon Go has been quite astonishing. There are stories of folks making friends through the app (which is perhaps why it’s surpassed Tinder 🙂 ), and a few cases of accidents of various types. Apparently, in the space of a week some folks have started playing a NSFW[2] version. There was originally a security issue because the first version of the app was able to access all your Gmail contacts if you had an iPhone, but an update has assigned appropriate security levels.

There is going to be a Pokémon Go event here in the Cultural Center on Friday.

So it really seems to be ‘a thing’, and probably worth learning more about. I haven’t yet had a chance to wander around looking for Pokespots yet, but probably will. Don’t forget to be very careful if you are walking around holding your phone. There are two dangers:

  1.  Apple Picking
  2. Immovable objects

In the end, have fun. And let me know what you think. Is this the greatest thing since Twitter? Or a flash in the pan?

[1]  Since I’m a linguist you’re gonna get some linguistic commentary here too. Like several other words borrowed from Japanese (emoji, for example), purists insist that the plural is unmarked (that is, that you don’t add an ‘s’). This is analogous to those who insist that ‘data’ is plural and that the correct plurals are ‘stadia’, ‘podia’ and ‘octopi’. Or perhaps it’s analogous to the animals that have what we call ‘zero plurals’, like ‘sheep’ or ‘deer’.

[2] ‘Not safe for work’. You can probably figure out why, given that the game uses your phone’s camera, which can take selfies.

Replace Pipeline with Academica in your Bookmarks, soon

Pipeline is about to be replaced with a totally new, social-media-oriented website/portal called Academica. It is device-agnostic, which means it works with all computers, all tablets and most smartphones (something people have been requesting for almost as long as there have been smartphones).

It’s also smart itself. It remembers the tasks within the system that you use most, and bubbles them up to the front page so that most common tasks are always one click away. For example, if you’re a faculty member it will put Download Classlists and TravelWayne up front and center, but if you have to approve timesheets that link will be right there as well. In general most tasks should be no more than one, or at most two clicks away.

It also comes with a built-in messaging system that is similar in features to Twitter. It allows you to use hashtags (#hashtag) and mentions (@GeoffNathan). There will be streams associated with a number of common topics of discussion, as well as streams for departments and one for each class being taught.

Academica is still being developed (technically it’s in beta), but you’re welcome to try it right now. Just go to academica.wayne.edu and log in as usual. You will have the option to switch to exclusive use of Academica (instead of Pipeline), but there is always a button available to switch back to the old Pipeline interface if you need to.
Since it’s still under development, C&IT is looking for feedback, which you can send by writing to academica@wayne.edu, or by going to http://computing.wayne.edu/academicafeedback .

The official roll-out will be some time in the fall, but feel free to play with it now. Who knows, you may never want to switch back to Pipeline. Academica and Pipeline will both be available at first, but Pipeline will be shut down in the 2014-2015 academic year when we are confident that Academica can support all of our campus needs.

Here’s a preview of what the interface looks like, showing only the links part:

Academica Links Section

Maybe our students aren’t so savvy after all

And maybe we aren’t either.

An article in this week’s Chronicle suggests that we’re on shaky grounds if we assume our students know tons about how the Internet works and what that means for their (and our) future.

A couple of faculty  at Northwestern (Eszter Hargittai and Brayden King) teach a course called ‘Managing your Online Reputation’, where they encourage students to find out what the Internet knows about them and think about what it’s advertising to the world.

Their idea is that students should be encouraged not only not to post videos of stupid things they might have done, but also to think about posting (tweeting, instagramming, tumblr-ing) positive views about their skills, attainments, knowledge and capabilities in a way that the usual searches will turn up not only nothing bad, but rather some good stuff.

The course was based partly on research by one of the faculty (Hargittai) that showed that, contrary to what many of us believe, many students today know less about online life than most of us. For example,

about one-third of the survey respondents could not identify the correct description of the ‘bcc’ email function. More than one-quarter said they had not adjusted the privacy settings or content of social-media profiles for job-seeking purposes.

My experience has been that I have a few students who are really tech-savvy, a few who have no idea what they are doing, and the rest somewhere in between. And, of course,  being tech savvy is a moving target. I’ve been doing email since 1990, so I certainly understand how that works. But I only joined Instagram about a month ago, and Tumblr  a few weeks earlier than that, mostly to follow a nephew who’s traveling around the world and documenting it on Tumblr.

On the third hand, I actually understand what the Heartbleed vulnerability is exploiting (and I even understand what that last sentence means…).

Anyway, some food for thought.

And, for a contrary view, try this. And for an even more contrary view on brand-building, there’s this.


You can watch your students read their textbooks

For those of us who keep up with privacy issues in education, here’s an interesting story in the Times. There’s an app that keeps track of students’ reading habits with certain electronic textbooks, and sends a report to the faculty member. It pays attention to whether they have taken notes (within the app, of course, not on paper) and how long the text was open (in the electronic reader).

This has raised some questions about privacy, and some folks have been invoking Big Brother (who, as you may recall, paid attention to whether you were doing your physical exercises vigorously enough).

The company who puts this app out claims that nobody has complained about the privacy issues involved. And then, there are the validity questions (like what about the folks who take notes on paper, or in their word processor).

Here’s the article (usual warning about external links, especially the Times…)


Bruce Schneier says 1984 is already here

Bruce Schneier is a well-known security guru. He started out as a specialist in computer-based encryption, wrote a book for non-computer scientists about how public-key encryption worked, then became interested in the whole notion of security, both computer-based and physical, and finally, has just published a book on how society manages bad actors–in fact, how it defines them in the first place. I’ve met him a few times (he gave a talk here a few years ago) and I’m going to write a review of his latest book here in a few weeks.

But last week he had a scary article (CNN website) about how we’re already living in the surveillance state depicted in Orwell’s 1984  that I think everyone should read, so I’m (kinda) retweeting it


As always, any thoughts would be appreciated.



Online education is sad and lonely. Say what?

Thursday’s New York Times had an article about how online courses only attract lonely geeks who have no social lives. Or something. Perhaps I exaggerate a little.
Anyway, the libertarian blog Hit and Run skewers the article, and so do the comments.
Warning–there is very little control over the language in comments on the Reason blog and it may contain language that is not safe for work or the sensible of spirit.

Hit and Run

The iPad in the Classroom—Is that like the elephant in the room?

Like many of my colleagues I have a puzzle to solve. A number of my students (but fewer than 50% this semester) bring laptops to class. Some are large old-fashioned machines, others are tiny netbooks and MacBook Airs. I don’t think anyone has a tablet at the moment, but I wouldn’t swear to it. Since some of them may read this blog, I’ll leave it to them to comment, either publicly or off-line.
Now I’m a prototypical ‘sage on the stage’(1), so all I see are the backs of these machines. The other students can see the screens, to some extent (depends on where they’re sitting). So far, my response to this situation is to ignore it, mostly. Occasionally I’ll ask someone to look something up. Somewhat more frequently, someone will take it upon themselves to look something up, and tell the class. This seems to me to be a good thing.
On the other hand, they may be updating their Facebook status. Or tweeting plans for a date after class (I teach 6-9 PM). Or tweeting about the speech error I just made. Or worse (I know I have characteristic behaviors—tics if you like—that my students are aware of). So what should I do?
And furthermore, if they’re tweeting, and friending (or updating…) are they listening to me? Are they engaging with me or with the material?
Do I care? After all, if not, they’re the ones who will suffer. Or so I could tell myself.
Recently there have been two articles talking about this–a research paper by someone at U of M and a long article, followed by some longer interactive discussion, on the online Chronicle. Take a look at them, and let me know what you think–you can use the ‘Comments’ section.




(1) That’s the derogatory label used by advocates of various new, interactive styles of ‘live’ teaching to describe the traditional lecture style that I and many of my colleagues use—I stand at the front of the class, pace up and down, write stuff on a (physical) blackboard and occasionally display web pages, YouTube videos and such.

PS. Thanks to Joe Sawasky for the pointer to the articles.

What can (and has) gone wrong on Facebook–and how to fix it

If you missed Matt Ivester’s webinar Monday, you can still watch it. And you really should. Although it was directed ‘officially’ towards undergraduate students, it had much of value for anyone who uses any kind of social networking (and even for those who don’t–one of his points is that you never know what’s ‘out there’). It was filled with suggestions about how to take control of your online reputation. One of his points is that nowadays employers and other evaluators are using online search tools and finding things you might not even know about.

Links to the live presentation, Ivester’s powerpoint slides and other materials can be found here: