Tag Archives: IPad

Shut off Your Digital Screens by 9PM

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Your iPad screen might be stopping you from getting a good night’s sleep

Sleep is an essential part of our development and wellbeing. It is important for learning and memory, emotions and behaviours, and our health more generally. Yet the total amount of sleep that children and adolescents are getting is continuing to decrease. Why?

Although there are potentially many reasons behind this trend, it is emerging that screen time – by way of watching television or using computers, mobile phones and other electronic mobile devices – may be having a large and negative impact on children’s sleep.

It has also been suggested that longer screen times may be affecting sleep by reducing the time spent doing other activities – such as exercise – that may be beneficial for sleep and sleep regulation.

Screen time in the hours directly prior to sleep is problematic in a number of ways other than just displacing the bed and sleep times of children and adolescents. The content of the screen time, as well as the light that these devices emit, may also be responsible for poorer sleep.

The content, or what we are actually engaging with on the screen, can be detrimental to sleep. For example, exciting video games, dramatic or scary television shows, or even stimulating phone conversations can engage the brain and lead to the release of hormones such as adrenaline. This can in turn make it more difficult to fall asleep or maintain sleep.

The number of devices and amount of screen time children and adolescents are exposed to is continually increasing. Given these early associations with reduced sleep quality, and the importance of sleep in healthy development and ageing, this is an issue that is not likely to go away any time soon.

Sleep should be made a priority, and we can combat this growing problem in a number of ways.

Tips for getting a better night’s sleep

  1. Limit screen time within the two hours before falling asleep
  2. Remove computers and mobile devices from the bedroom
  3. Use iOS Night Mode (available on iOS 9.3 and later)
  4. Use Flux for Mac
  5. Limit screen time for children under 13 to just two hours per day

Book: Disturbing the Solar System

Disturbing the Solar System

Tour of the solar system with “gravity” as its theme
362 pages, ★★★★

Watching the film”Gravity” at the cinema renewed in me a love of Physics. I downloaded the iPhone game (which is very good!) and then searched for more physics-related books and apps. Two of the best physics iPad apps are Star Walk and Solar Walk. They’re both rated five stars, both cost $2.99 and both are pictured below.

Solar Walk app for iPad (screenshot)
Solar Walk app for iPad (screenshot). Explore the solar system freely in four dimensions.
Star Walk app for iPad (screenshot)
Star Walk app for iPad (screenshot). Point iPad at the sky to see constellations, nebulae, galaxies, supernovae, meteoroids, asteroids, satellites, the ISS, the sun, moon and planets. You can even point it downwards and see the sky ‘above’ the other hemisphere!

Disturbing the Solar System was the book equivalent of these amazing iPad apps. It tours the solar system, including moons and asteroids, and focusses on the collisions and orbits that helped to for the solar system we live in today.

Two interesting observations stood out. First was the story of Titius and Bode’s Law on page 100. Bode’s Law states that the orbital distances of all the planets between (and including) Mercury and Uranus follow a pattern:

a=0.4+0.3 \times 2^m

(where a is the semi-major axis of each planet in astronomical units and m is a positive integer).

Second was the role of the moon in stabilising Earth’s climate. The book explains that without the moon, our planet’s axis would wobble wildly every million years or so resulting in unstable climates that wouldn’t allow sufficient time for adaption by natural selection. Without our moon, the author argues, evolution on Earth would have been thwarted and humans might even have not existed!

Disturbing the Solar System an interesting read and is a perfect companion to the incredible iPad apps that I mentioned earlier. Use them in tandem so you can ‘see’ what you’re reading about. Recommended for anyone interested in the solar system. (For anyone less interested, just get the apps!) ★★★★

Book: China: Land of Dragons and Emperors

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As simple a Chinese history as is possible to write. Needs a revamp.
255 pages, ★★

Chinese history is notoriously complicated. There have been 83 dynasties (maybe 85) and 559 emperors (plus about 8 more “chairmen” since the 1911 revolution—but this is debatable), each with their own cultures, palaces and stories. As a civilisation, China enjoys the longest unbroken history on Earth. For five thousand years, dynasties followed the predictable cycle of “conquer-rise-prosper-decline” due to warfare, patriotism, tyranny and corruption, respectively. Dynasties often ruled simultaneously in different locations, particularly in the first half of China’s 5000-year history. With China’s vast population and its fondness of large governments, the number of influential people in China’s history is unfathomably large for most people. To confuse matters further, many important people and cities had several names, and the historical record was destroyed and re-written several times in the course of China’s 5000-year history.

China’s official history of the last 100 years alone comprises several tomes filled with tiny Chinese characters on wafer-thin bible-paper. To make an abridged version of the last 5000 years especially for children, therefore, is a remarkable feat. Adeline Yen Mah (whose other books I’ve reviewed here) writes beautifully and accurately in a way that captivates. She includes anecdotes to keep children interested, and peppers the book with editorials that keep young people’s moral compasses on track during scenes of violence or promiscuity.

This book lacked sufficient detail to make it interesting for me. Zheng He’s story is a really exciting one, but it was glossed over in just a few pages in this book. Only the Qing and Tang dynasties were written in sufficient detail for me. Despite its brevity, though, all the most important people and events were at least mentioned in this book.

Reading this book on an iPad, I found myself reimagining PDF as a real iBook specifically designed for the iPad. Chinese history is an exciting topic, and iBooks on the iPad lends itself wonderfully to the videos, animations, speeches and 3D relics that could help bring this colourful history to life. The current version, a black-and-white scanned PDF, seems very dated in 2013. This book needs a digital revamp.

China: Land of Dragons and Emperors was definitely less interesting than Watching the Tree for several reasons. As someone who reads almost every remotely-interesting book on the “China” shelf, particularly non-fiction, I already know most of what she’s writing. It’s also aimed at children, and I was reading it on an iPad with all its drawbacks. If only the book could be re-engineered to take full advantage of all the features the iPad can offer, this book would be very special indeed.

I recommend this book for young teenagers (aged 10-16) who already love reading but don’t yet know much about China. Its discontinuous, highly-chaptered structure lends itself well to reading in bed. (For those who already know a lot about China but don’t like reading so much, I recommend 1421 instead.) ★★★

Book: Nelson Chemistry VCE Units 1 & 2

Nelson Chemistry VCE Units 1 & 2

Colourful VCE Chemistry textbook especially good for visual learners
492 pages, ★★★★★

I care a great deal about colour and design. My revision notes always have a colour-scheme that makes sense to me, and I draw colour-coded character maps of the novels that I read (see examples in the “Popular Today” section on the right!). Information makes so much more sense to me in visual form. You can see some of those visualisations on the infographics section of by blog.

That’s one of the reasons I loved this VCE Chemistry textbook. While it doesn’t say so explicitly, it’s noticeably designed for visual learners such as myself.

First, I love the varied yet consistent use of fonts. The main text is set in Garamond on a white background, which makes it easy on the eyes when reading. Titles, tables and questions are set in a tall, rare, old-fashioned sans-serif font on a colourful background, which gives this book its unmistakably unique appearance. Annotations and extra information is set in a neutral sans-serif font (similar to Helvetica) off to the side, usually in colour, and balances the old-fashioned feel of the other two fonts beautifully. The whole book is visually pleasing, which makes me want to spend longer looking at the pages!

I also love the visual summaries at the end of each chapter. (This is where Heinemann—another VCE Chemistry textbook—falls down.) In particular, the visual summary on page 156 explains the properties of metallic bonding clearly and beautifully in one diagram. The diagram made a relatively complicated topic very simple to understand.

Nelson VCE Chemistry 1 & 2 page 156

I hope textbooks become more and more visual. Maybe with the introduction of the iPad in schools, colourful diagrams and interactive animations will become more common in the classroom. I hope so.

I’m also not alone here. Many students I’ve taught in schools are actually averse to reading the main text in a textbook. They don’t even notice the Garamond—they only see the titles and diagrams. While we still need to focus heavily on improving literacy on the one hand, we also need to acknowledge this trend towards more visual ways of presenting information on the other.

As a teacher, I advocate more ‘translation’ activities as discussed on PEELweb.org and as is routinely done with ESL students in IELTS: set students the tasks of translating diagrams into prose and vice-versa. We need to incorporate visual learners in our curricula, for which, this textbook is an excellent starting point. ★★★★★

Book: Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Check out Readmill: a free app for the iPhone and iPad. It’s a light, simple, fast and functional reading app without clunky skeuomorphic clutter. You can instantly download free classics from within the app, and even see annotations made by people you’ve never met (if you want to). Readmill improves on iBooks in every way.

I got the app this morning and read by first book, Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka.

Metamorphosis
Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka sits on my Readmill bookshelf.

Mildly grotesque. No character arc, no narrative. Not much to review.
57 pages.

I imagine that small groups of PhD students and enthusiasts read deep meaning into this book. I, however, see it as pointless.

I can’t give this a rating.

Skim it.

The future of iTunes U

I flirt on the subway. When I’m not flirting, I’m listening to iTunes U lectures, particularly the Introduction to Psychology course from MIT.

The iTunes U iPad app is an education revolution. 500,000 lectures from top universities are now available anywhere, any time, complete with video, audio, books, articles and a global notepad so people can compare notes. Unlike university, you can pause, mix, and choose your courses. There’s more quality teacher time and less idiotic student time. And best of all, the lectures are FREE. Nobody needs to go to university any more.

While contemplating where this movement might be headed, I got very excited. Here’s my vision for iTunes U:

  • Apple TAs mark your essays. I want to be able to submit written assignments and pay to have them graded by approved teaching assistants (TAs). The Apple TAs would be approved by the course organisers at the university, not by Apple; as their background knowledge needs to be specific to the course in question. Each Apple TA will have a profile page (like the pages in the App Store) with sample essay comments, star-ratings and feedback from previous students.
  • Apple TAs earn money. Apple gets 30%, while TAs get 70% of the essay fee. There would be rules (such as 72-hour turnaround; comment guidelines, and recommended prices). I would love to earn money as an Apple TA. This is a logical extension of how millions of developers can now make money via the App Store and the iBooks Store.
  • Apple issues diplomas. These could one day be worth credit in a brick-and-mortar university.
Nobody needs to go to university any more. Long live iTunes U.