Could an iPad be useful in Sales and Youth Leader work?

I’ve long thought an iPad was basically just a big, expensive toy. I’m writing this Blog with my Macbook Pro. It’s an awesome piece of kit, very powerful, and I do video editing, programming, all sorts on it. During the day though I work on a Thinkpad. This is naturally a bag of nails. It’s slow, hardly ever works with projectors (and when it does only after a reboot!). A lot of the time in meetings though it’s useful to take notes separately – you can’t very well write down information and questions on the same screen you’re projecting from.

I have copious amounts of paper notes, drawings, web page and desktop screen mock ups, all held in paper in an A4 business wallet I keep with me all the time. I’ve thought lately that it may be useful to manage this electronically. I’ve also thought that keeping work slidedecks and screencam video recordings would be useful too. There’s a few things I do in business and in my spare time as a youth leader that would be useful to manage. Would an iPad help me do this??? Let’s have a close look and see.

Work functions (highest priority at top):-

  1. Doodling, mockups of web apps and desktop apps (Currently paper)
  2. Note taking and management (I use Evernote on my Mac)
  3. To give presentations
  4. To share past solutions via screenshots, presentations or screencam recordings
  5. Access to Sugar CRM to record meeting notes or preview opportunity information

Youth Leader functions:-

  1. Share teaching collateral – different map types, rucksack packing diagrams, principles of flight information
  2. Managing eD of E information online
  3. Present slides – Child welfare, role of a cadet NCO, continuity drill sequence, …
  4. Collect data for approval forms for later upload – cadet names etc, track who has paid or handed in paperwork

What software is available?

Penultimate – £0.69p – iPad

Penultimate is a simple note taking app where you can keep and manage multiple notebooks. You can use a stylus to write, and also doodle pictures with different pens and colours. What makes it particularly attractive to me is that you can sync it with Evernote. This is a powerful cloud storage system so you can share and synchronise notes across several machines, and access them on the web when you are away. It also supports Dropbox which some people may find useful, but which I think pales in comparison with SugarSync’s fantastic features. This would be a great solution for general note taking and doodling, but not so much for screen mock ups or other ordered diagrams.

Evernote – Basic version Free. Premium version $5/month or $45 for the year – iPad, iPhone, Android, Mac, PC, Web

I’ve been using this for years for simple notes, but only just re-evaluated what you can do with it this weekend when looking at apps for this blog entry. There are some great uses out there. I didn’t realise until now, but you can share entire workbooks. This enables you to add your lesson material in to the workbook and share with your students and their parents instantly. I can see this being particularly useful for kids with learning difficulties, or kids that would like to understand the subject deeper than you have time for in class. Check out what this American teacher advises for teaching or this education information page from Evernote. I must say I think the PDF and image only file attachments are potentially poor – what if you do actually want to share a word doc so your students can edit it? Other than that this looks good. You can also use the Web Clipper extension to grab a whole web page, an article within it, or the page url and save this as a note to read or edit later.

Sugarsync – Free for 50GB – iPad, iPhone, Android, Mac, PC, Web

This is a great service I use for work a lot. Many financial services companies have paranoid firewalls installed. This service is great because you can share folders for read only or read/write access with anyone. You can password protect them too. Handy to send large files, share web application install files and licenses. The fab thing is you can get apps for your mac, pc and phone/tablet that will auto sync the files in certain folders to all your devices (or just a select few). On first inspection the sharing options suck a bit because they require a free account for people to read the files. You soon realise this is a bonus because the sharers can themselves download a sugarsync client and because they’re subscribed to your shared folder, they’ll automatically download all files when they change, or when you add new files. Fantastic for kids getting the latest lesson plans – they just have to go online and it’s all magically there.

iMockups – £4.99p – iPad

If you’ve ever wanted to sketch out iPhone, iPad or web application ideas without being stuck with the time consuming nature of pixel perfect mock ups, then this app is for you. It allows you to quickly create low fidelity mockups that allow you to convey function and flow over exact form and style. I’m not usually a fan of wireframe apps – why create a throw away mock up if you have to rebuild the thing anyway? Also, a lot of web design companies will mock things up in photoshop that may look cool, but is actually unnecessarily complex and expensive to implement. This app strikes the balance well. Low fidelity and pre-built ui components mean you’re unlikely to create something that can’t easily be built, whilst still showing a client or colleague the power of the ideas you are pitching.

Omnigraffle – £34.99 – iPad, Mac

Omni produce many products for the mac and they’ve started creating versions specifically for the iPad and iPhone too. Omnigraffle is a mix of visualising tools. It includes freehand wireframing, sketching, and creating charts. The charts feature is very visio like, with the ability to download extra stencils. You can also draw then choose to auto layout via lots of settings. Seems to be a few people who really don’t get on with this app. I presume this is down to the learning curve associated with creating complex diagrams and the price rather than anything fundamentally wrong. Releases do seem to be rather irregular though, and as of writing this they still haven’t released iCloud support or integrations with the likes of dropbox or sugarsync. Still, this may be a solid performer for creating diagrams of all types.

sketchbook pro – £2.99 – iPad (Free cut down version available too)

This is an artist’s drawing tool. Looks particularly fully featured as you’d expect from Autodesk. If you sketch on the go then this powerful app may well be the answer for you.

adobe ideas – £4.99 – iPhone, iPad

This tool is designed to allow you to capture images and annotate and edit them on the go. Interesting idea for designers I’m sure, but a bit pointless for me. Also if you want more than one layer you’ll have to ‘buy’ a layer for £0.69!!! Talk about hidden total cost of ownership. What a cheek.

Notes plus – £5.49 – iPad

This looks like a very clever app. Includes a voice recorder and recognition of drawing basic shapes. Writing with your finger will appear as thin pen rather than thick scrawl. In app purchase of hand writing recognition is an additional £1.49. Includes dropbox sync support too. This app also includes built in web clipping, but this is a manual selection of images or sections of a page which is very powerful. You can also include PDFs in your notes. Evernote integration is also scheduled for a future release.

SugarCRM – Free for existing subscribers – iPad, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Mobile Web, Web

This is a great tool for recording sales, marketing and general opportunity information. The Mobile Web version should be accessible on all SugarCRM licenses just by pointing your browser at your companies SugarCRM URL. Not sure how fully features the mobile or mobile web ones are – for me I’d like to be able to list and update contacts to an account/opportunity, and add meeting notes for an opportunity too.

gotomeeting / webex / facetime / fuze meeting hd

These apps are all about participating in online meetings. This may be very useful if I were someone sitting on a call, but as I’m often the one presenting I’ll need to do this from my work laptop with the software solution I sell installed on it too. Cool feature for my customers to use though!

WordPress – Free – iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, Blackberry, Windoze phone 7, Nokia, webOS, Web

OK so not strictly work related but a useful thing to do none the less! This little free app will certainly allow you to post on the go. Interface looks very basic compared to web composing. Also looks like you’ll have to know HTML tabs to do things like bolding text and lists. Not a great feature there at all. It seems that users report a few bugs and niggles too. Still, if you have to create posts on the go this will do the job.

Roambi – Free – iPad, iPhone

This is a very interesting idea. The principle here is that you sign up for a free Roambi online account and publish various internal data sets to it. You can then use a mobile device Roambi app to visualise that data. It’s a very powerful BI visualisation tool which allow you to also embed reports and graphs within keynote and powerpoint presentations on your device. Downside is data has to be from CSV, Excel or No use for me really as we use SugarCRM, but still a good app worth looking at if you need to visualise data.

Analytics HD – £4.99 – iPad

Comprehensive programme to view Google Analytics data on your iPad. Potentially useful if you manage a lot of sites and need to keep an eye on them. Of course if you needed to then change the site you’d be screwed with an iPad, but still…

keynote – pages – numbers – £10 each

For the life of me I can’t think why you’d purchase these separately for the iPad. Keynote has a great Export to PDF that can even export the result of each individual transition as a new slide. Sure you don’t get the animation, but having sat in presentations where the animations were utterly distracting this may well be a plus! I use all of these on my Macbook Pro all the time. They’re fab apps and much easier and quicker to use than Libreoffice. I wouldn’t use the iPad for creating documents like these though. They by definition take time and require all the features of the full products. You’ll have to get your Macbook Pro out to finish creating the documents anyway, so why would you ever use these apps?

outlook/gmail integration – built in to Mail on iPad

This comes as standard, along with yahoo and hotmail support. Unfortunately my corporate mail server is behind a fortinet ssl vpn. IPSEC is built in to the iPad, but not SSL VPN. I’d have to use the manufacturers own app by the looks of it, and these seem to be generally quite poor. I’d be happy to be wrong, but with no great detail in the app store on the SSL VPN tools openness how would a potential business user ever know?

Instapaper – £2.99 – iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

This is an interesting idea. It’s a cloud based services that gives you a ‘Read Later’ bookmark. When you’re on a page to read later, click this bookmark and it’ll grab the important text and graphics from the page and save them in the coud. The app on your iPad/iPhone then sync’s the copies to your device so you can read offline. The reading format is not a simple copy of the web page but instead a grab of the content of the article you’re reading. This gives a readable and clutter free reading experience. It’s worth noting that the Evernote web clipper does the same. Here is a link to the Evernote firefox extension.

In summary

I don’t think I’ll be getting an iPad anytime soon. I can’t justify over £400 for a platform that delivers less than my existing Macbook Pro now. If the concept of file storage in the cloud was built in – but not using an expensive iCloud account, but SugarSync instead, then I may consider it. Even then I can’t see myself creating content on the device other than a few jotted notes and sketches. It’d be a bit of an expensive notepad for me. Probably more environmentally friendly to use paper for 8 years than an iPad for that period of time too.

Having said that I’m happy to be proven wrong. If you have used an iPad successfully for a similar range of tasks as the above then please let me know!


Oxford unsuccessful in attracting leading student Elly Nowell

Magdalen college, Oxford today received a rejection letter from a prospective student who, on reflection, decided that Magdalen college did not quite reach her standards!

Seriously it’s well worth a read. Highly amusing rejection letter. Go have a luck if you fancy a laugh.

“Being a successful student should depend on the student, not on whether or not a couple of academics have deemed you to shine in a twenty minute interview.” #EllyNowell #Oxbridge

BBC News Website “Magdalen Oxford gets rejection letter from student”

16 year old fights for Religious Freedom in school

Just read about this amazing story. A young lady aged 16 took her school to court after failing to convince the local school board to remove a banner entitled ‘School Prayer’ from their gym.

Really worth a read.

Secular Conservatism

This is a term I’ve coined to try and place a stake in the ground within Conservative party ranks. When people think Conservative several images are conjured in the mind… some none too flattering! Preservation of a national identity, keeping our Union together, opposition to outside forces and influences on domestic policy, maintenance of tradition. Over the years there has also been a strong undercurrent of religion too. Tony Blair famously didn’t do God when it came to politics. No such squeamishness exists on the Conservative benches in Parliament.

Thankfully this being the UK we are still a long way from the neo-con obsession with pushing religious ideals within most main stream policies. Weirdly this understatedness seems to have led to a complacency within the Press and the popular psyche. Even though we regularly hear criticism of the Church of England we in the UK seem to refrain from criticising religious influence within policy when it does arise. Whether this is because many people wish to maintain the status quo of the British Establishment, of which the Church of England is undoubtedly a part, or they just don’t care is up for debate. Undoubtedly though political parties of all stripes do seem vulnerable to being influenced by religious groups and their concerns. Perhaps this is because they just shout loudest?

I would describe myself as a Secular liberal Conservative, and Atheist. I believe in an open liberal (note the lowercase) democratic society. After years of too-ing and fro-ing I see my own outlook as being broadly in line with that of the Conservative Party too. Smaller Government, local solutions, lower taxes where possible, strong defence and a strong economy with free and fair trade at its heart. I also believe in a separation of Church and State, and preventing religious indoctination, and not giving any one religion’s adherents any special favours or privilige over another ones, so I am a Secularist. I also happen to be an Atheist too.

I say ‘also happen to be’ because there seems to be a common misconception that to be a Secularist you are also an Atheist, and believe everyone else should be an Atheist, and all religion should be removed from the world. I couldn’t disagree more with this characterisation. When I was a school council rep aged 15 I campaigned to prevent our school from foisting religious services at morning assemblies on to its students. This was successful with several months passing before one RE teacher – who just happened to be an ordained vicar – left prayer books out on chairs for our arrival and started a religious assembly. The teachers who brought everyone to assembly and would normally site on their forms’ rows were all at the back, as far away from the service as possible. The students didn’t know they didn’t have to be there. I stood up and walked out mid assembly, causing a smirk from the RE teacher who considered herself somehow victorious, and visible concern from the teachers who thought I was about to blow a gasket.

Prior to this though as I say we in the school council succeeded in getting the headteacher from holding off on religious assemblies. You cannot accomplish something like this on your own. Thankfully one of my friends happened to agree with my position that no one should be forced or coerced in to taking part in religious assemblies. He agreed with this secular principle – we each have the right to choose our religion, and to choose to take part in collective worship or not. It just so happened he was not an Atheist. He was a member of the New Life Church. We talked this through together and through debate at a school council meeting, with the headteacher taking part, we managed to convince an overwhelming majority of the school council reps to vote for a ban on enforced religious assemblies. It was a clear victory and opened my eyes to others’ ability to understand and agree with a secular argument – even if they were not an Atheist suffering from such discrimination themselves.

My friend also happened to be a staunch Conservative. Amusingly at the time I was quite the pro-Blairite (I was 15 remember, young and foolish!). He’d probably get quite the kick out of me having ‘turned’ or grown up in to a Conservative. My personal Secular Conservatism leads me to conclude that informing students of their rights, and enshrining them in law is a good idea. Currently schools in the UK are required by law to have an assembly incorporating collective worship of a Christian character. Quite how Jewish and Muslim schools get on I don’t know. Although many schools and teachers ignore these rules, many do not. I think this is wrong. The push for religious academies is wrong. Parents faking religion to get their children in to good religious schools is wrong. It leads to segregation, privilige for the few over the many, mistrust, and as we’ve seen in Ulster and Scotland, religious violence.

To be clear as a Secularist I do not advocate the destruction of religion, or pushing it underground and out of public display. I want to live in a society where we are free to talk about our own beliefs without being shouted down as proselytising. I want all young Atheists, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Muslims and everyone to have an understanding of each others’ faith. I want to allow Catholic children to go to Catholic school and take part in Catholic mass. What I don’t want is for children to continue to be brought up thinking they must take part in enforced group worship, or intelligent design taught in science classes rather than RE where it belongs.  I don’t want public policy written so that money flows to religious groups with loud voices rather than where it is needed, just so some politician can have an easier life.

A Secular Conservative believes there is a place for a strong Church of England, a place for religious schools, a part for religion to play in the community. What a Secular Conservative does not believe is forcing any religious agenda, including that of no religion, on to people.

Computing at School

Today Michael Gove announced that from this coming September schools in England would be able to teach IT and Computing however they liked. I’m personally hoping that there will finally be Computer Science taught in the classroom, not pointless and uninteresting IT. You don’t need 5 years at school to learn how to use a Word Processor or Spreadsheet, yet that’s what IT education has consisted of in England since I was at school in 1992-1997.

I was lucky in that our Design & Technology classes included an aspect of control programming – plugged in to small drawing robots or lights and a ‘fake’ railroad crossing. Still, I taught myself most of those languages – no one was teaching, or capable of teaching, the fundamentals of the theory of computation. This is why Universities don’t require a Computing A level – most aren’t particularly useful.

I’ve been told about the Computing at School (CAS) scheme. This aims to build local grassroots groups in communities in the UK taking in teachers, business and university’s in order to develop and share local ideas and resources on how to teach Computing in schools. Every term each ‘Hub’ has a meeting, with more regular virtual meetings possible too, to discuss ideas and share experiences.

It’s a great idea, although my nearest group is 80 miles away! I feel a few phone calls coming along. If anyone fancies creating a group in the Eastern Peak / Derby / Sheffield kind of area, let me know. In the meantime, check out that site.

I heard Gove’s announcement on Radio 4 whilst driving to work. Made me wonder if any ‘visual programming’ tools were up to a decent standard. Prior to today the best one I’ve found is the Automator built in to Mac OS X. Thankfully MIT have created a programme called Scratch. This enables quick visual programming and has it’s own vibrant ecosystem or developers and shared projects. You can download, re-use, merge and enhance existing Scratch apps to do new things. It’s a great idea.

Also found the group Apps for Good. Sounds like an interesting idea, but a bit focused on mobile apps which are somewhat more complex to create. I like the idea of students with a bunch of tablets working on drag/drop components, sending them to a shared application library space, and integrating them in to full on pieces of software. Rapid Application Development (RAD) as it should be.