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Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Convergence of Home and Computing: Classifications and Instruction



Computer Science this year is going to be phenomenal I have a great class, great computers, a great new textbook, and some really neat things that I planned over the summer.

But, I need your help!

We are getting ready to discuss computer categories. I agree with the textbook on every aspect EXCEPT on the category "Gaming Consoles." I and others have been talking about the convergence of computing and entertainment for some time and that is certainly here right now. Tivo, Media Stations, upgraded cable boxes, and hybrid gaming stations are proof of that. Notice that televisions are now called "monitors." Gaming consoles is a subcategory of a larger one, but what?


Here are the classifications of computing devices from my college-level computer science textbooks. (They mention them, the graphic is mine that I created for teaching purposes.) The items in red were added by me.

The Convergence of Home and Computing
I have questions about these categories spurred on by the convergence of home and computing. I've seen a washing machine that is no longer called a washing machine but it is called a "clothing processor." Eventually, this "processor" will note the color of fabrics, the type of fabrics, and the homogeneity of what you are putting in the machine. You then hit a button and it determines how it will wash.

It reminds me of when copiers were renamed document processors. When the word "processor" goes on the end of a word, it often means that a processor has gone into the machine a/k/a computer.

There have been sporadic efforts to automate the home, some are successful and others are not. Amazing things are happening with home monitoring and alarm systems. I've seen doorbell web cams mounted at back doors. They are triggered by the doorbell. When the doorbell goes off, the web cam cranks up and connects with the office computer of the home owner. The home owner can then converse with the person and remotely open their door if necessary. No more waiting for Larry the Cable guy, you can connect via web cam and let him in with your mouse.

Similar connections are occurring with lighting, sprinklers, and just about anything that a person wants to automate. The cooking and cleaning experience are the giants in waiting. The Roomba and Scooba are the first evidences of the amazing market for such bots. At some point we will interface with all of our devices from oven to fridge to coffeepot to vacuum via outlook or other calendaring service. We will schedule their behavior much like we schedule other appointments in our calendar.

So, with this convergence very evident in my mind -- what is their classification? I am tending to think that personal computing is going to become a classification of the past as devices become more ubiquitous across all areas of our life. I have to wonder if the category should be "consumer product device." This would include the automobiles with gps and Internet Access. It would include automated devices of all kinds that meet a specific consumer needs.

How about RFID devices?


I still wonder how RFID devices would be classified. These are Radio Frequency Identifying Devices. My husband has been talking about them a lot because they are the cutting edge in manufacturing.

RFID's can use any wireless network including standard wi-fi or GPS networks depending upon the device.

These devices can either be passive or active (including a chip). They can be pinged by a wifi network and respond a lot like radar used by a submarine. When the sub finds something the signal comes back to the radar sources. They can also have intelligence in them.

My husband sees them used by the military to track equipment and their location at any point. They are being put in Pets to allow their instant location if they run away.

Right now in manufacturing, they are being used as "premium asset tracking" devices and cost around 50 cents - $1.00 a piece. The Magic number, my husband says, is a nickel. When these devices cost a nickel, there are plans to put them in consumer items.

For example, you would have an RF ID in your wallet that would transmit your identity and information. As you loaded your grocery cart in the store, each item would have its own RFID. You would casually walk out the door with your cart as wireless devices and networks ping your cart to ring up all of the items and ping your wallet to charge your account for the items that you purchased.

The washing machine that detects clothing that I blogged about earlier.

"DNP (Dai Nippon Printing) has developed a washing machine that reads RFID tags attached to clothes and recommends suitable washing programs. " from RFID in Japan.



Although the RFID system has components of the classification of computing, these active devices are really computing devices! Are they just considered peripheral devices?

Why do I care?

Some people would say, why do I care. This is higher level stuff and "pie in the sky."

Well, I am a teacher. I am also inquisitive and want to lead my students in THINKING about technology. They have got to learn how to think. That means, before class, I not only do preplanning but a lot of pre-pondering.

I've just got to know! Technology has been my life since I first typed "cload" on my Dad's TRS-80 when I was eight. Its emergence and evolution has been my hobby. But there are even more important reasons that my high school students should be able to consider such issues.

Computing is evolving? Is education evolving?

Computing is evolving. It is becoming a commodity like the bricks used to build a house or the nails used to hold up a wall. Over the next ten years they will become ubiquitously applied to all areas of our lives. Are we developing students who can function and analyze in this world? Are we teaching them the ethics of technology?

With such ubiquitous access we have a lot to think about.

The first Brain Hack in History

This March a mini blip in computing occurred when scientists implanted a microchip on the brain of a slug. They then controlled its movements through the microchip. This monumental moment represents the first time in history that I am aware of that a biologic was "hacked." When Matrix-like brain downloads become reality (don't tune me out, there is research in this area) will our students know that "just because you can doesn't mean you should?"

Most experts say that neurological - microchip connections are decades off. This means that the students in high school NOW will probably be those on the cusp of this innovation in 20-30 years. Many of us will be in nursing homes with these kids deciding how to care for us. The initial deployments of this technology are planned to be medical innovations.

In today's environment, our government officials have done a painfully poor job of keeping up with cyber criminals.

Without the creation of a new set of innovative youngsters, we are going to continue to struggle with ethical computing efforts.

Unfortunately a small subset of computer illiterate intelligentsia are driven to create some more clones of themselves. Without computing and technology taking a more prominent place in the college preparatory high school programs across America and the world, we will face more significant problems of our own making. Myspace predators are only the beginning.

What do we do?

It is vital to teach Information literacy, intuitive learning, ethics of technology, effective Internet citizenship, and effective Internet safety mechanisms to the current generation of children at all levels. It is more important than ever.

What do you think?

So, what do you think -- look at the chart. Where the question mark is -- what do you think should encompass these new home devices? Is there already a classification that I'm not aware of? Have you seen any other classifications of computing devices that you think would encompass these new devices?

I've added the items in red to the chart where I think they belong. They were left out, in my opinion.

I am always stunned at the breadth and amazing skill sets of those attracted to my blog. I am indeed fortunate to be in the bloglines of some amazing visionaries.

So, as I teach Monday, what do you think? How should I classify these emerging technologies because we WILL discuss them.

I have a noble calling. I am a teacher.

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