Saturday, May 16, 2009

Wolfram Alpha thoughts

I have spent quite a bit of time with Wolfram Alpha today. It is going to be interesting to introduce this to teachers and students. The user really needs to think about the appropriate time to choose this tool for information.

I suggest you spend a bit of time on the examples page. As you click through the examples, there is a description of the type of search that can be conducted in the search box based on the topic you have chosen. This is a great way to help users to learn the most appropriate use of the tool and the proper syntax for searches.

I have discovered a couple of really cool features about Wolfram Alpha. First, at least on the Mac side, in both Firefox and Safari, a student can simply drag any of the information boxes off of the WA site and the item winds up as a GIF on their computer desktop. It can easily be inserted in a project. (Even all the tables wind up being GIFS!) The student can then add the citation information needed for the GIF they are using.

Secondly, all of the source information (both Web-based and print) consulted for that topic is included as a link at the bottom of the results page to both allow for further research and for determining the reliability and credibility of the results. I so love this!!!

Friday, May 01, 2009

Twitter is not for email

During the past month or so, I have realized people are beginning to use Twitter as their main form of communication. I am a regular Twitter user and follower, but do not keep it open on my desktop all day. I use it how it is intended to be used-- to post quick items of interest or respond with a short message to someone seeking help on a topic. And I think carefully before I answer, to determine whether the response is only useful for the questioner (and DM the answer) or if others might also benefit from the answer (and reply with the @questioner). I try not to clutter up the list with responses that are meaningless to most others. That is part of the Twetiquette (Twitter etiquette).

(Addendum: I was not implying above that people should not post "meaningless" (read "fun") items to Twitter. What I was referring to is the practice of replying to a post via an @username on the list when the actual answer only makes sense to the person who asked the question. It often does not make sense when one sees only an answer.)

I am starting to receive some of the reference questions I receive regularly from educators via Twitter. The direct messages from Twitter show up in my email inbox, and I then have to go open my Twitter client, locate the DM, and respond to the questioner.

It is easy to ask a question in 140 characters, but not so easy to answer with anything meaningful in that number of characters. So, I wind up DM'ing three or four separate messages to the questioner, including having to shorten a URL or two in the Twitter messages.

Twitter is not the place for that kind of communication, in my opinion. If you have a question that you want answered which you know will require me to search the Web and do some research, please don't send it via Twitter.

I am easy enough to find on the Web, and, if you don't have it, here is my email address:

I am always glad to help, but not always in 140-character bursts!