Cut Off At The Salad Bar: Dave Copeland’s Blog

I’ve been blogging since May 2002 — not one of the first, but well before all the cool kids tried it, made it a craze, then gave up on it. The best way to describe this portion of my writing life is part personal notebook where I test ideas and pieces of drafts I’m working on, part self-promotion, and part random ranting.

 

Frequently addressed topics include journalism, teaching and higher educations, writing, cooking, drinking (or, more specifically, not drinking, running, reading and life in general. Comments are appreciated but monitored before they appear on this site. All views expressed on “Cut Off At The Salad Bar” are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of any of his past, present or future employers.

How Google Drive Makes It Easier To Teach Writing

Posted May 3rd, 2013 in ColdBomb

Making my students switch from MS Word to Google Drive not only eliminated the headache of incompatible versions and big email attachments. It’s made them better writers.

Photo by mrsdkrebs via Creative Commons.

Photo by mrsdkrebs via Creative Commons.

When I started teaching college writing and journalism classes five years ago, the choice was to have students submit assignments the way I had 15 years earlier — as hard copy — or as a Word document.

Neither situation was ideal. Paper, is, well, paper. Word seemed more efficient, but I soon realized different students had different versions of Word and were working on different operating systems.

Far too often I’d give up and have a student submit work by copying from a problematic file and pasting  it into an email. That eliminated Word’s biggest advantage over paper: the ability to insert legible comments in the margins and track changes.

All that changed a year ago when I started requiring students to submit assignments using Google Drive, which was still called Google Docs then.

They were reluctant at first but we quickly ended the problem of lost documents, unreadable attachments and massive files clogging our email. The students didn’t have to buy additional software and, at most, I spent half of class showing them the basics of using the app.

But along the way, we also found an additional, unexpected benefit: It made learning to write easier for many of my students.

Google Drive Makes It Easier To Think With Your Fingers

Like every decent writer, editor or writing instructor I have ever met, I like to “think with my fingers.” That is, show the person what they’re trying to explain by simply banging out a phrase, sentence or paragraph into the documented being reviewed or edited.

The problem in the instructional sense is that that usually means the student looks over the professor’s shoulder as he rips apart the paper.

With Google Drive, we can be sitting on opposite ends of the same table or opposite ends of the continent. They will see my changes in live time and start to see why I’m making the changes. If they don’t like the changes I suggest, they can simply use the “Restore Previous Version” feature. And if they have a question about what I’m doing, they can open a chat box and we can discuss in real time.

Good For Groups

In most of my writing classes, students workshop first drafts. In some classes, they work collaboratively on a writing project (last year, for example, my first-year writing class researched updates to the school’s Wikipedia page). With Word and paper documents, that meant sacrificing valuable class time or having students try to find out of class times when they could all meet.

That is no longer a factor. Google Drive lets students make and respond to comments and editing changes when it works for them, which gives us more in-class time to work on direct instruction.

Making The School Newspaper More Efficient

I also serve as the adviser to the Comment, the student-run newspaper at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts. Up until last year stories were submitted to a central email address as Word, with all the problems I previously mentioned, plus an added layer potential mishaps.

With Word documents being saved on different hard drives, student editors and page designers often ended up working on older versions of a story. In the best case scenarios, editors would have to re-edit a story once they found the most up-to-date version. In the worst case scenario, the wrong version of the story would be published, or different versions of the same story would end up on the site and in the print edition.

After experimenting with Google Drive last year, the paper started using is exclusively for copy this semester. Editors always know they are always working on the most recent version of the story and they can discuss edits with reporters remotely, which has made the paper’s tiny office much less crowded this year.

We got an added boost when Trello, which we also adopted to manage story ideas, announced just before the start of our semester that they students could now attach Google Drive documents directly to the Trello cards they create for each story they’re working on.

Originally published Oct. 2, 2012 on ReadWriteWeb.

Misc. Marathon Writing

Posted May 3rd, 2013 in Writing

Like a lot of other people, I thought I was going to write something about the boston bombers. I haven’t rules it out, but I’m leaning more and more to spending the summer working on something else. That said, I have some drafts I wrote over the past two weeks, stuff I liked or at least felt are worth sharing. Here’s one of them, along with some Marathon-related photos I have taken since April 15….

April15

Everyone who grew up in Boston has a marathon story. This one is mine.

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How To Save A Wet Cellphone

Posted May 3rd, 2013 in ColdBomb

It’s been said the most terrifying moment for any human being is when the toilet overflows, which would make that moment when your cellphone falls in the toilet the second most terrifying moment, in our opinion. Fortunately, a cell phone that falls in the toilet (or the dog’s water bowl, or a puddle, or a fish tank, or a pint glass) is not necessarily a lost cause.

Creative Commons photo by shannonkringen

Creative Commons photo by shannonkringen

Here’s ColdBomb’s step-by-step guide on how you may be able to salvage a water-logged smartphone.

  1. Do not remove a cellphone that is plugged into a wall charger from the water it is submerged in. In this case, call an electrician, as this is a dangerous situation. Otherwise, remove the phone from the water as quicklly as possible.
  2. Act fast. Time is the difference between saving and losing a wet cellphone.
  3. Don’t despair. Even a phone that has been through a cycle in the washing machine or submerged for more than a few seconds can be saved, so it’s worth going through the following steps, even if you think your phone is a lost cause.
  4. Shut off the phone and remove the battery as soon as possible. Short circuits can destroy your phone.
  5. Lay the phone and parts on soft, clean, dry cloths as you remove the battery cover and battery.
  6. Look for a white square or circle in the corner near the battery. If there is a pink or red line on the circle, there has been water damage (this is how your service provider will determine whether or not your warranty is void because of water damage).
  7. Remove the phone’s SIM card. Not all phones have a SIM card, but if yours does, there’s a good chance your contacts and other data will be stored on there. You may be able to save this information even if your phone is destroyed. Most SIM cards are located near the battery slot.
  8. Dry every exposed surface with a soft, clean, dry cloth. Paper towels will work.
  9. Use a vacuum cleaner to try and suck water out of areas you can’t reach with a cloth. A single drop of water can cause corrosion and ruin your phone, so you need to be thorough.
  10. Never, ever use a hair dryer in an effort to dry out your phone.
  11. Store your phone and all of its components with a drying agent overnight. If you have silica gel packets from new clothing or shoes, wrap them and the phone in an airtight, plastic bag and then place the plastic bag in an airtight, plastic container.
  12. If you don’t have silica gel packets, bury the phone in a container or bag of dry rice. Like the silica gel packets, the rice will draw out additional moisture.
  13. Rotate the phone every hour or so. You do not need to wake up every hour, but if you are awake, make sure you change the phone position as it rests in the rice or silica gel packet drying chamber you built.
  14. Test your phone after 24 hours.
  15. If your phone does not work, remove the battery and try using it while plugged into the charger. If it works this way, you need a new battery.
  16. If your phone still does not work, take it to your authorized dealer.

It’s Not Your iPhone: It’s Google Maps

Posted May 3rd, 2013 in ColdBomb

4_Google_Maps_iOS_270x473Google is taking heat from users for its latest iPhone update to its popular Google Maps app. The screen now dims when there is a considerable distance between turns, a feature that Google says it added after fielding customer complaints about the impact of the app on battery life. The screen brightens as you approach your next turn, but many users preferred the old, always-on setting.

The screen will even dim if your charge is below 30% and the phone is plugged in. You can bring it back up by tapping the screen, but that extra motion is dangerous, according to some users. You can’t turn off the feature, and changing your iPhone’s like auto-brightness or sleep will not override the apps default (and only) setting.

“When I’m on a series of back-country roads I really need to see the display all the time without constantly tapping the screen,” one user complained on a Google Groups forum about the change. “When the screen goes dark, I’ve got to take my eyes off the road to tap and restore the backlight. Then when the screen lights up you find yourself focused on the iPhone to verify where you are and when the next turn is coming up.”

We’ve also noticed that the map will often jump to the point on the screen that we touched, which defeats the purpose of checking the map in the first place. In the forum, Abby D – who appears to be a Google employee — explains the change was to help conserve battery life and Version 1.1 of Google Maps for iOS. She said she was going to forward complaints and concerns to the app’s design team.

Google Maps made headway when Apple tried to replace it on the iPhone 5 with its own, flawed map app. We know loads of people who now use Google Maps as their default and, generally, love it. But this new feature is supremely annoying, and we hope a quick fix is in the works.

Time To Check Your Instagram Privacy Settings

Posted May 2nd, 2013 in ColdBomb

photo (4)Instagram, a unit of Facebook, launched “photos of you” Thursday. The new feature will let people tag you in their Instagram photos and, unless you switch the default settings, they will be able to tag you without your permission.

You have until May 16th to “play around with the feature,” which is included in updates of the Instagram app now available for iOS and Android, after which Photos Of You will become visible on your Instagram profile. Once you download the update, you’ll see a new Photos of You section, which will include any photo you have been tagged in.

For a lot of people, that can be uncomfortable. What if you get tagged at the beach on that sick day you took? Or if that photo shows one too many chins? And there are also some more serious concerns, like people who have protection from abuse orders against a stalker or ex-significant other, in which photos can reveal where they are and who they’re with.

Like most Facebook-changes (Facebook acquired Instagram a year ago and, up until now, has mostly left the service untouched), the default setting is to share more information, meaning you will have to change the settings if you want to approve photos you are tagged in before those tags become public (as always, photos will be viewable by the takers’ followers – tagging just makes it easier to find people in those photos).

How To Make Sure You Approve Any Photo You Are Tagged In

After downloading the latest version of Instagram to your Smartphone, you will need to  turn on the option to manually select which photos of you appear on your profile.

You can choose whether photos others add of you appear on your profile automatically or only after you select them. To turn on the option to manually select which photos of you appear on your profile and follow these directions:

Screen Shot 2013-05-02 at 4.18.01 PM

Did FBI Follow Procedure When Analyzing Bombing Suspects’ Text Messages?

Posted May 2nd, 2013 in ColdBomb

Investigators arrested three men Wednesday and charged them with acting as accessories after the fact in the Boston bombing case. Two of the men - Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov – were arrested in the waning hours of the manhunt that netted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger and surviving brother accused of planting bombs that killed three and injured more than 280.

What isn’t clear is how investigators were so quick to figure out that Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov were tied to Tsarnaev. They have been held since April 19 on unrelated immigration violation charges, but were actually arrested before Tsarnaev was taken into custody. A third man, Robel Phillipos, has also been charged. The arrests raise the question of whether or not investigators were able to begin analyzing cellphone communication between Tsarnaev before he was taken into custody.

Dias Kadyrbayev, Azamat Tazhayakov and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Dias Kadyrbayev, Azamat Tazhayakov and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

All three men have been questioned in the past two weeks, and all three are facing charges related to actions they allegedly took after the bombings. Specifically, Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov are accused of removing evidence from Tsarnaev’s dorm room at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and Phillipos is accused of lying to investigators. Following an initial appearance in U.S. federal court Thursday, their attorneys said the men were just as shocked and hurt by the bombings as other residents.

It’s not clear if investigators were able to examine Tsarnaev’s cellphone when he was arrested on February 19, or if the phone may have been recovered earlier, left behind in one of two vehicles Tsarnaev fled from on foot after a shoot out with police that left his older brother, Tamerlan, dead. It’s also possible investigators were able to so quickly tie Tsarnaev to Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov by interviewing UMass-Dartmouth students while the manhunt continued.

What is clear is that text messages will be used to establish the ties between the men, and will be used to show that Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov a) suspected their friend was involved in the bombing and b) acted on that information by removing evidence from his dorm room.

The complaint filed against Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov outlines the text message exchange:

Tsarnaev’s return texts contained ‘lol’ and other things KADYRBAYEV interpreted as jokes…such as ‘you better not text me’ and ‘come to my room and take whatever you want.’

What the complaint does not make clear, however, is the time line and when, as Wired put it, “Kadyrbayev put two and two together.” He and Tazhayakov were in the dorm room between 6 and 7, watching a movie with Tsarnaev’s roommate, but Tsarnaev’s text didn’t come through until a five-minute period starting at 8:43 p.m.

As we previously reported, several students and friends sent Tsarnaev text messages after the FBI released surveillance  photos and videos on April 18 to note his similarity to the bombing suspect. The mistake Kadyrbayev and Tazhayakov was helping their friend instead of calling the FBI tip line.

But there are reasons for concerns. Tsarnaev’s are all but guaranteed to use the fact that he was questioned for 16 hours before being read his Miranda rights in his defense. It remains unclear how the FBI used text messages to track down people with ties to the suspect, and whether or not those efforts followed procedure. With the help of wireless carriers, the FBI has access to some sophisticated smartphone tracking capabilities, but the courts have yet to completely sort out what law enforcement can and cannot do with those tools.

Internet Sales Taxes Are Coming. Here’s What You Need To Know

Posted May 1st, 2013 in ColdBomb

Technically, if you live in any one of 45 states you are supposed to be paying sales taxes on anything you buy online. But up until now, it’s been difficult for states to enforce those rules unless the online retailer has a facility in those states (as an aside, Amazon’s state-by-state negotiations on sales taxes has been more about building facilities across the country so it can offer same-day or almost same-day shipping and less about being a good corporate citizen looking for compromise).

All that, however, is likely to change in short order. The Marketplace Fairness Act is winding its way through Congress and is expected to pass. The law will make it easier for states to collect taxes on online sales, meaning you could be paying anywhere from zero to 10% extra for online purchases that used to be tax free.

By Elembis (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Elembis (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

All-in-all, states stand to gain anywhere between $3 billion and $23 billion in taxes they are currently owed but unable to collect (surprise, surprise: the $3 billion figure for lost tax revenue comes from opponents of the Marketplace Fairness Act and the $23 billion figure comes from – you guessed it – proponents of the bill).

How The Law Would Work

The bill is written to protect big businesses like Amazon and traditional online retailers who have been losing out to Amazon because of the unfair advantage they claim Amazon has. And small businesses – those that have less than $1 million per year in annual revenue – would be exempt from collecting sales taxes from customers in states other than the one they are headquartered in.

So far, the only people complaining loudest are medium-sized businesses: those with more than $1 million in annual sales but not enough size to compete with Amazon and, quite possibly, you, the customer. And, predictably, conservatives see it as just another tax increase (“Less money in the pockets of people, more money for big government,” says the Heritage Foundation).

As written, the federal law would require states to simplify their tax codes and sales taxes for online purchases would be centrally collected, then distributed back to states. For a state like Illinois, that could mean an additional $169 million a year in collected revenue.

It may sound like splitting hairs, but it’s important to note that these are not new taxes: rather, it’s an effort to collect taxes states are already owed. And while no one likes paying more for the things they buy online, it does level the playing field for offline businesses and potentially lessens your overall tax bill if your state uses its new revenue stream to keep other taxes low (see Slate for a perhaps too-optimistic endorsement of the law).

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