Little annoyances with Windows 8

I've already expressed my displeasure with Windows 8, but the little annoyances just never seem to stop.

One of the only things that I don't mind working full-screen in the new Window 8 way (and I do mean "Window") is the media player. That is until an update. After updating, a message "Sign in" would permanently appear in the top right corner. It could not simply be "canceled" to make it disappear. I had to go through the steps to create an Xbox music account to make the message go away.

I know that I could seek out other media players, but this is exactly the type of stuff Mac users make fun of Windows user about. I just want basic things to work. I don't want to spend time trying to find a media player that doesn't piss me off, or to create an account I'm never going to use just to be able to use the included media player without an annoying message on the screen.

Another annoyance perhaps isn't completely Microsoft's fault (but I'm sure they deserve some of the blame for it) is the broken Intel WiDi in Windows 8. Intel's Wireless Display won't work with the Windows 8 drivers. You actually have to use Windows 7 network drivers to get it to work. It's hard to believe that the driver model changed so drastically between versions 7 and 8 that a manufacturer as big as Intel can't get a feature to work, but clearly that is the case.

I'm not quite done yet. The bluetooth controls for Windows 8 are ridiculous in that they aren't "controls" at all. Double-clicking the bluetooth icon opens up the device panel listing all devices (not just the bluetooth ones). You can click on a bluetooth device in the list, but it doesn't actually do anything other than a press animation. You can't right-click on it to tell Windows to connect to or disconnect from the device, or control the bluetooth options for the device in any way.

Several times I've thought to myself, "Did anybody at Microsoft actually use Windows 8 before releasing it?"

Getting AirPlay to work in the classroom

I've talked about AirPlay in previous posts about wireless display technology. It works great in your home, and Apple really wants you to use it in the classroom. Unfortunately, the AirPlay protocol doesn't work that well on networks designed to support hundreds (or thousands) of wireless devices. Apple has workarounds that may or may not be implemented by your school's or board's IT staff. If not, there are still ways to get things working in your classroom, and maybe even for less money than you think.

Note that the following won't work for everybody, but hopefully it can help some people. This was my poster session topic at CONNECT 2013, and I know that it helped at least a couple of people.

Getting Connected

The first step in solving the AirPlay problem is getting all of your devices on a network that is a little more personal. There are a few options.

Bring your own router

If you can get away with plugging a wireless router into your network, this might be a good way to go.

Tether to a Smartphone

If you have a smartphone that can act as a wireless hotspot, you can use it to connect all of your devices together. If possible, you might want to disable your data connection to avoid an out of control wireless bill. Disabling your data does mean that none of your devices will be able to access the Internet, but AirPlay should work fine.

Internet Connection Sharing

If you already have a computer (Mac or PC) in your classroom that is connected to a wired network, you can take advantage of the Internet Connection Sharing feature built into the operating system.

On a Mac, click the Apple menu, then System Preferences, and look for Sharing. Check the box next to "Internet" and share the connection from your "Built-in Ethernet" to "Airport". Click the Airport button to choose settings for your hotspot.

The built-in feature of Windows involves more steps. Alternatively, just download Virtual Router, a free program that simplifies the entire process on Windows. Also, Windows laptops based on newer Intel Centrino platforms can actually share a wireless connection to other wireless devices.

Once you have your hotspot set up, just connect all of your devices to the hotspot and you shouldn't have any problem getting AirPlay working.

Using what you've already got

You're probably used to using an Apple TV to show videos from your iOS devices, but if you already have a computer connected to a projector it is a pain switching video cables or sources. Well, you don't have to.

Check out AirServer or Reflector. Both programs are available for Mac or PC, and make your computer look like an Apple TV to your iOS devices. There are some great reasons to use these instead of an Apple TV.
  1. You don't have to switch video sources. Your computer is already connected to your projector.
  2. You can display multiple iOS device screens simultaneously. Although the programs support more than 2 devices, things start to get sluggish with 3, and downright choppy with 4 or more (I've had up to 5). Displaying multiple devices is a great way to compare student work from iPads.
  3. They are a LOT cheaper. AirServer is $15 and can be installed on up to 5 computers (although you can't mix and match Windows and Mac from the single $15 purchase). Reflector is $13 per computer, or $55 for 5 computers. Reflector does have an extra feature that lets you record the video from your iOS devices.
I personally chose AirServer. I don't need to record the videos, and it is cheaper. If I decide I want to record the videos I can always use the SMART Screen Recorder (free if you have a SMART Board and SMART Notebook installed).

Conference Adventures - CONNECT 2013 Poster Session

I have never presented at a conference. I guess I still haven't really, but I did lead a poster session at CONNECT 2013. Although there weren't many visitors to my space, it was very interactive and quite rewarding. My session was about using AirPlay in the classroom, something that is rarely as easy as setting up an Apple TV at home. I will cover my own discoveries and solutions in another post, and hopefully it will help others as well.

After describing the problem and walking through the steps for my solution, I was told it addressed the very problem a school had been struggling with for a long time. In fact, it offered up even more than simply getting AirPlay to work from a single iPad.

There were a lot of things to like about CONNECT, but helping a teacher solve an annoying problem felt great.

Conference adventures

CONNECT 2013 was an amazing experience, although it was tiring. I can only imagine what it was like for the folks from the District School Board of Niagara who also had UGC on the weekend before.

Although I will share more about my experiences related to educational technology at the conference, the first thing I want to talk about is shoes. That's right. Shoes.

I knew I would be on my feet a LOT, and that some of the events during the conference would require me to be dressed more formally. I really did not want to wear dress shoes all day, nor did I want to have to carry around and worry about an extra pair of shoes.

I went shopping last week and bought some Clarks' Pickerton black leather slip-on shoes. They are incredibly light, very comfortable, and just formal enough for some daytime meetings and luncheons. That reads a lot like an ad, but considering just how many hours I was on my feet from Sunday to Tuesday, I am amazed that my feet are not killing me today.