PowerPot – An English lesson for e-lab technicians

Imagine that you’re on a camping trip out in the wild, far away from buildings with power sockets. You can’t connect any equipment to the power supply. Your mobile phone needs recharging. Luckily, you and your friends have invented a device that will let you recharge it. What technology is it based on? What spare parts do you carry with you?

Guess what, such a device has been invented. Watch this video, and answer:

  1. What technology is it based on?
  2. What components is it made of?
  3. How does it work?
  4. What devices does it provide power for?
  5. What problems did the inventors have to overcome?
  6. Which users and what markets do the inventors want to reach?
  7. Is there more than one model? What for?
  8. Kickstarter is a crowd-funding platform. Did this invention get funding? Check the website.
  9. Find out at least one more fact about this invention by googling ‘PowerPot’.
  10. Would you buy one? Why or why not?

Read along in the transcript and do language exercises in the pdf worksheet after the break below:

Continue reading PowerPot – An English lesson for e-lab technicians

Designed by Apple in California ad

In my English classes today at Metadesign, we watched and critiqued Apple’s Designed by Apple in California TV ad . This ad, which I stumbled on in Fast Company’s CoDesign blog, has bombed with consumers.

The participants gave this feedback:

  • It’s all emotion, they could be advertising anything, which is a turn-off to the more critical viewer, who doesn’t want to be manipulated.t
  • the (old) man’s voice-over evokes paternal, moralistic wisdom, preaching to us, telling us how we should feel; this will only appeal to those who are already, or want to be, true believers
  • You can’t even tell which handheld device is being advertized, as the Apple logo is generally hidden.
  • They’re focusing on the experience, and have crowded out the cutting edge technology that made that experience possible.
  • It’s almost too inclusive, multicultural, young and old – very un-hip to those who want to be a class apart
  • It’s in slow-motion – no change in dynamic, and dark, with Chinese chimes – one of my students said it reminded her of a Chinese funeral

TV ad text:

This is it
This is what matters
The experience of a product
How will it make someone feel?
Will it make life better?
Does this deserve to exist?
We spend a lot of time on a few great things
Until every idea we touch
Enhances each life it touches
You may rarely look at it
But you’ll always feel it.
This is our signature
And it means everything

Mark Wilson in his CoDesign blogpost, In 20 Years, We’re All Going To Realize This Apple Ad Is Nuts, says that the key line “This is it. This is what matters. The experience of a product” should read “…The experience of a person,” because “the experience of a product will never be what matters to a great designer. It’s always been about the experience of a person using that product.” He criticizes the way the ad focuses on people engaging with the product, and says the ad “consecrates” how “people actively turn away from life to engage with their technology”.

I understand that in principle, but don’t agree with the practical application of that maxim. Apple is a technology company. Full stop. The gadgets are still lovely, even if Samsung and the rest are stealing and fast catching up and will perhaps beat Apple in sales one day. But can they beat Apple at design (unless Apple loses its edge) ? To me, a straightforward celebration of intrinsically interesting design and craftsmanship is still the more appealing proposition. Do we really want to see people enjoying gadgets? Especially if seeing them enjoy it is not always a pretty sight? No, come on, geek masters, just show us the damn thing in all its glory.

Launched on the same occasion, the excellent Designed by Apple – Intention ad focuses on design and craftsmanship. Atta boy. It contains the great lines:

If everyone is busy making everything
How can anyone perfect anything?
We start to confuse convenience with joy
Abundance with choice
Designing something requires focus
The first thing we ask is
What do we want people to feel?
Delight. Surprise. Love. Connection.
Then we begin to craft around our intention
It takes time
There are a thousand no’s for every yes
We simplify. We perfect. We start over
Until everything we touch enhances each life it touches
Only then do we sign our work
Designed by Apple in California

Remembering to remember

I often struggle to remember the names of my students, especially in large classes. Like most people, using my visual and spacial memory helps. Classes with fixed seating arrangements are out because you want students to mix partners. Attendance lists are frowned upon at the institution I am currently working for.  This had me in a bind.

So Khushi suggested something that I have in fact done: Students formed study groups, made name tags, and I took a photograph of each group holding up their tags. Looking through the pictures I now see myself walking around the room that day to where they were sitting that lesson. Finally, names are starting to stick.

Josua Foer summarizes the technique of the Memory Palace, arguably the best way to memorize individual, unconnected items in sequence by connecting and associating them with 3-D navigation through an imagined scene. He mentions that ancient orators used this topographical technique to learn their speeches by heart, and points to the connection between “topic” (and topic sentence) and “topos”, or place.

The entire art of memorizing is to make items meaningfully connected. But more still, as Foer says about the techniques of the Memory Palace, “They work because they make you work. They force a kind of depth of processing, a kind of mindfulness, that most of us don’t normally walk around exercising. There are no shortcuts.”

Finally, he points out the essential importance of memory,  namely that our lives are the sum of our memories. So we need to process deeply. We must remember to remember.

What psychologists are saying about how technology affects us

Speaking about “The Secret Powers of Time”, Stanford professor emeritus Philip Zimbardo (famous for the Stanford Prison Experiment) explains how various perspectives of time – past, present and future – influence our actions and relationships. There are six main orientation time zones:

  • Past: Past positive (nostalgic), or past negative (regretful)
  • Present: hedonistic (seeking pleasure, knowledge), or fatalistic (“It doesn’t pay to plan”)
  • Future: resist temptation for future benefit, or geared to reward after death (both build on trust or expectation)

Catholic nations are more present and past oriented, while Protestant nations are more future orientated.

He says we are going through a time revolution. Children are naturally and essentially hedonistic and present-oriented. What schools around the globe do is to give them a past or future orientation (depending on the predominant culture). Now computer games are increasingly keeping children in their present-hedonistic state, rewiring their brains, so they will be bored in the analogue classroom. Games are indeed addictive, and “all addictions are addictions of present hedonism.” School and education is all about delaying gratification, but present oriented kids will not relate the messages to themselves and their future. I hear echos of my father talking about “instant gratification” as a key element of hedonistic pop culture back when I was a teen in the 1970s.

Philip Zimbardo (2008): The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life. Free Press.


Sherry Turkle, professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, writes that mobile devices are becoming the vehicle for intimate relationships, as robots take on responsibilities previously born by friends and family. The instantaneous, engineered response is in fact allowing us to flee from conversation, which takes effort in terms of time and patience, and hence requires us to build those essential skills.

“Most of all, we need to remember — in between texts and e-mails and Facebook posts — to listen to one another, even to the boring bits, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate and stutter and go silent, that we reveal ourselves to one another.”
Sherry Turkle: The Flight From Conversation, NYT April 21, 2012

Sherry Turkle (2011): Alone Together. Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Basic Books.

OK Go: This Too Shall Pass

The new OK Go video doesn’t have them dancing. Instead, it’s all a fantastic machine of falling dominoes and rolling marbles and levers moving handles to open latches, tipping seesaws that release springs to shoot balls into the air that, falling, trigger further chain reactions, like water running through tubes and pouring into vessels that in turn drop to tug on strings that draw back curtains…. Is any human power at all going into the machine after that initial push? Do you like any specific parts of the machine especially? I love the final shot (hehehe). Thanks Christian (via Kai Müller/stylespion.de). 3.279.913 views at posting.

You know you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down
And you can’t keep draggin’ that dead weight around
If there ain’t all that much to lug around
Better run like hell when you hit the ground
When the morning comes
You can’t stop these kids from dancin’
Why would you want to?
Especially when you’re already gettin’ yours
‘Cause if your mind don’t move and your knees don’t bend
Well don’t go blamin’ the kids again.
When the morning comes
Let it go, this too shall pass
(You know you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down)
(No, you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down)

Directed by James Frost, OK Go and Syyn Labs. Produced by Shirley Moyers. The official video for the recorded version of “This Too Shall Pass” off of the album “Of the Blue Colour of the Sky”. The video was filmed in a two story warehouse, in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA. The “machine” was designed and built by the band, along with members of Syyn Labs over the course of several months.

PS: Sorry, editing in the making of:

extra viral song video of the week – englisch lernen mit liedern

The iThing

I broke my vow not to hang out on Twitter. Well, I had a fun conversation about the iTablet iThing Apple is unveiling today, asking what people thought it should be called. I thought iPad would work. Andy H thought they should go with iLash, or iShadow, iBrow, or iDrofoil. The iDrofoil? a waterproof version? No, said Ken W: “surely waterproof version is iWash, isn’t it? Maybe Apple will produce s’thing really ugly for a change & call it iSore.” Not a chance. Andy: “Or the iChing (or given the amount of money that company makes, the iKerching)” and “Or given the enthusiasm/fundamentalism that many users show, the iDolatry would seem most fitting”. True. Debbie C said iWant, Petra P mentioned iCandy and I thought iBuy now, iPay later, maybe. Aimee R said iPad made her think of PMS. Meanwhile Phil H was busily adding little “i”s in front of every word. And I was finishing the most depressing exercise I’ve ever written. Thank heaven we have Twitter.