Monthly Archives: June 2009

Anyone for tennis tech? It’s about Wimbledon – what else?

I have only vague memories of the McEnroe / Borg final of 1980. By the following year, I was more tuned in. The year after that was when that tournament really started to capture my attention. I started appreciating the statistics as well as the tennis.

The problem was there were very little statistics to be had. There was no Internet. The commentators didn’t have many. Childhood pocket-money didn’t always stretch to expensive hard-back fact books. Newspaper reports were my main source of info.

Move on 25 years and the extent to which things have changed is astounding.

  • A team of tennis experts log every stroke played on every court. These are translated into stats and updated real-time as matches progress. So when you’re sitting in your living room asking yourself how many aces has Andy Roddick’ hit and up pops the stat on the screen.  While you’re wondering how many forehand winners Roger Federer has hit in a match, the stat appears on your screen.
  • It’s not mere presentation of stats. There is analysis too. This comes in the form of Jason Goodall. Every now and again, Jason appears and takes us through an analysis of e.g. a player’s serving choices.  A graphic of where a players first and second serves hit the court is given, the spin and angle achieved and what these mean for an opponent.
  • If you’re not in front of your tv to watch the tennis, not to worry. Watch on-line on the Wimbledon website. Even if you don’t fancy paying the required fee for this, you can still keep up with the real time score-board on the website which displays each point result as it is scored.
  • Mobile seems to be where it’s at for this years Wimbledon. For iPhone owners (unfortunately, a category that does not include me) can avail of an app that gives them real-time scores updates and snatches of video of key points in a match.  The info goes to the users as opposed to having to go to the trouble of visiting the (albeit very informative) site.
  • For those lucky enough to attend the championships, there is the G1 Android mobile facility that allows text messaging on such necessities as where the nearest strawberry vendor is, or the fastest route from Court 2 to Henman Hill.  The technology uses GPS and digital compass technology to pinpoint the users exact position and the direction that user is pointing the camera on their handset.
  • Many of the players have their own websites and blogs. Here’s Anna Ivanovics. There really is nothing like getting the info straight from the source.
  • There was a time when Hawkeye was non-existent in any form. I can remember the more colourful characters of the game having fun with the first manifestation of Hawkeye when it beeped if they hit a serve long. Hawkeye now has moved on to much more sophisticated things. It provides an electronic re-construction of any required shot, its direction and where it lands on the course. Impressive!
  • HD tv allows very impressive visuals – apparently. I can only take someone else’s word for this one.

It’s all hugely impressive and light years away from my early viewing days back in the 1980s. But it is not perfect. There are subjective judgements still involved in some regards. For example, experts can disagree on whether a particular error is forced or unforced. It is a matter of opinion.

The implications all this technology has for training are truly extensive. Amateurs and professionals alike can benefit from watching Andy Roddick’s serve is HD. Professionals can obtain videos of their next-round opponents previous Wimbledon matches complete with a collection of stats, from the percentage of points won on first serve down to how far behind the baseline the opponent like to stand when receiving serve.  Non-players get to study the best the game has to offer (Roger Federer, perhaps) and study what it is about their game that makes them great.

Yes, Wimbledon and technology have come a long way. Yet, it cannot predict this years finalists. Having said that I wonder if someone somewhere has entered copious amounts of data into some type of decision support system to try to make such a prediction. Perhaps, I’m running ahead of myself with this suggestion. Even if I’m not, surely it’s just a matter of time? Whichever, I’m backing Federer this year.

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Update – someone who has an aversion to comments (you know who you are!) tells me that all is atwitter at Wimbledon this year. It’s not only the fans who are tweeting, the players and organisers are happy twits too.

On the subject of Twitter, guess what’s the top tool for learning this year?

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The creativity in science

Recently I attended a creativity in education workshop. One of the activities involved an instinctive-immediate reaction to some photos. One was a trio of young primary school girls, test-tubes at the ready,  engaged in a science experiment. Among my reactions –

  • They look like they are really engaged in this science task
  • They seemed totally relaxed around each other
  • There was no teacher hovering
  • The sketches and visuals on the wall in the background
  • That they were girls doing science and not boys

All of the above were on my list of my reactions. But my initial reaction was wondering where all that disappeared to. This apparently joyful collaborative experimenting with learning tools that is prominent in primary school has disappeared by the time students get to third level. Where has it disappeared to?

We read every day about falling interest in science among secondary school pupils. Despite much effort by various interest groups to stimulate interest in the sciences, students are turning away from it in droves. There is a perception of science being boring and complex. Where has that come from?

The finger of blame can lie in a number of places. The perception of “nerds” is one. Poor career guidance in schools is another. Parents passing the message that it’s almost a badge of honour to know nothing about science doesn’t help. Perception of poorly-paid jobs following graduation helps even less.

All of the above seem valid. However, a significant element in my opinion concerns education as a whole at second level. The emphasis on grades and leaving cert “points” is enough to kill off any enthusiasm youngsters might with them bring from primary school. How can the love for sheer playful experimentation survive this culture of grades grades grades?

The problem is how on earth can we reverse this grades grades grades emphasis and re-embrace love of experimental learning before it’s too late?

The time of it

This week I found myself walking around with a Christmas tree. Yes, Christmas in the middle of June.  I felt uneasily out of time and out of sorts.

It got me thinking about regimental time-bound lifestyles. Why do we have to bow to artificial man-made time enforcements?  Some quick examples –

  • Most workplaces begin and end their workdays at approximately the same times
  • Most workplaces allow lunchtimes over the same narrow time periods
  • Most colleges and schools have their academic calendar starting in September and ending in June
  • Most tv stations chose 9pm for their prime time news slot

The biggest “for” argument is that strict and specific time-slots puts structure on activities and people. Otherwise, we risk living in chaos.  Coordination and execution of activities could become very difficult indeed. Routine would not exist and without it the learning curve for each day would be very high.  In your daily life, how many things do you do in a specific time frame and at a specific time?  The answer might surprise you.

Even with such fixed time structures we need “time management” skills to manage this already structured concept of time. People pay good money to learn how to manage their allocation of time so as not to waste a minute.  Multi-tasking is a valued skill as it allows achievement of more within a given timeframe. Technology allows instant communication, optimising time allowances.

Perhaps we have it wrong. Why are we slaves to time structures we ourselves have put in place? Surely some flexibility would be a good idea. What’s the worst that could happen if tomorrow you changed your typical time management routines for the day? Go on…. try it………

By the way, is anyone wondering about the reason for the Christmas tree in June?

Interesting words

The word “interesting” recently appeared as feedback on work I had completed. But what does the word mean?

A compliment is definatley intended when I myself use the word. My interpretation is that interesting work is thought-provoking, insightful, appealing, and not ordinary.  All in all, I consider it a a positive endorsement.

However, for others the word can be a vague catch-all, or a polite way of saying that the work is not so good. Alternatively, it can be used as a nice synonym for “I really don’t understand this work at all but for various reasons I cant say that”.

Hence, we need context. I’ve decided that the rest of the feedback I received was positive, so I’m taking a glass-half-full perspective.

Other words –

Words, their meaning, and thinking enough about such words is prominent at this time of year when exams galore are being sat and marked.  I’m reminded of the challenges our English language poses for non-native speakers. Even more interesting is how the challenges vary depending on the native tongue of the learner.

An example is the distinction between “few” and “a few” for Chinese students. When native speaker says there are few differences between x and y, they are suggesting that the number of differences are low in number and the number is downplayed. When they say that there are a few differences, they are suggesting that quite a number of differences exist. Even more problematic is that the actual difference in quantity implied between the two terms could actually be very little depending on the context in question.

Even native speakers argue over words that are used in day-to-day communications. An example is the word “affordances”.  For example, “web 2.0 technologies carry many affordances to improve student collaboration” seems straight-forward. It implies to me that the technologies have much to offer the enhancement of student collaboration.

However, what does it really mean?  Does it refer to the ethos of the technologies or their features?  Does it refer so one or some or all qualities (a vague term in and of itself) of web 2.0.  Web 2.0 technologies are of little use to a dial-up internet subscriber, thus can they really be labelled affordances?  Equally, web 2.0 technologies are wasted on those who consider such technology time-consuming or troublesome to use – no affordances there.

Hence, is the statement an example of that terrible faux-pas – the sweeping statement?  Is the term “affordance” just too lose a term and needs to be explained when it is used?

Or, is all this a mere over-interpretation and an example of linguistic banter by people with too much time on their hands?

Tomorrow’s mental exercise – take a sentence that you have just uttered, heard or read, pick a word in it and ask yourself what does it really mean?  Then, consider the extent you got into linguistic knots. Finally, ask yourself if you are a wiser person after the experience.

What did I do when I was cut off

I’ve read interesting accounts of people choosing to abandon technology for a day or a week or a month…. and wondered how I would get on were I to try that. Recently, I was given such an opportunity, and not by choice. I found myself without tv and internet access. How did I manage? 

  • Other media and communication devices were called into service. My next phone bill will be greeted with much trepidation. However, I didn’t turn to the radio.  I must confess never having been a radio person. Listening to the spoken word for an extended period of time without a conversational format just isn’t me. It’s probably the reason why I’ve never taking to podcasting.  I listen for about 30 seconds and then find myself wishing I could have a transcript of the content that I could scan-read before deciding whether or not to read the material fully.
  • Paper newspapers were read.  Broadsheets allow a wide area to scan that a computer screen doesn’t. There is much less offline-equivalent linking and clicking taking place with newspaper reading than with screen reading.  Also, I tend to read the opening paragraph of a newspaper article and then scan the rest of the story, whereas on-line I tend to read the headline then scan-read the contents. The opening paragraph doesn’t seem to carry as much weight.
  • I made an impulse-trip to another country. Oh, the joys of living in a city with an international airport.  I might regret this one when the next credit card bill comes in. Last-minute flights aren’t cheap.  But I had a charming day out.
  • Mental notes of (free) wireless hotspots around the city are unreliable and need to be written down.
  • The housework actually got done.
  • I had a considerable number of blog postings and news items awaiting reading when I logged back in. How many of those will be read?  Is it interesting to read news items several days after they were newsworthy?

Ultimately, I managed fine.  I grew up without technology and know I could live without it – for a limited period of time only, and to a certain extent only.

How cut off was I really?  During my “cut-off” period, I still made use of a phone. That flight could not have been booked without technology. Much computer-based work could (and was) done offline.  I discovered and made ample use of a wireless hotspot 8 mins walk from where I live.  Ultimately, I wasn’t really cut off at all.

To be really cut off I need to ditch everything that is technological. I need to do a Lance Ulanoff. Now, that sounds like hardship!