Thoughts on the Surface Pro 2 After 8 Months

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Updated 7/21/14

Steven Brown, in a 15 July 2014 comment, asked, “Curious to hear how it went after 8 months –- any updates?” His question refers to my October 2013 article, Why the Surface Pro 2 Will Be a Game Changer in the Tablet World Series, and the follow-up in November, The Surface Pro 2 Will Be the Death of Notebooks.

Steven, thanks for the question. Microsoft’s recent offering of SP3 means that the SP2 is no longer a viable purchase option — except for those interested in picking up a bargain. Used, they’re currently going on eBay for about half the original price. However, the differences between the 2 and the 3 are small enough to justify this article update.

For me, the critical variable is weight. The quarter pound difference is negligible. To put this in perspective, it’s the difference between my first-gen iPad and the SP2. They’re both equally heavy — or light, depending on your perspective. The SP3 screen size is touted as a breakthrough, but the 1.4″ difference isn’t that impressive considering the bulk that it adds to the overall size. By desktop and notebook standards, it’s still far too small for serious work for prolonged periods.

The 2160 x 1440 resolution seems enormous compared to the SP2′s 1080 x 1920, but it’s negligible considering the pixels per inch, which is 216 vs. 208. The SP2′s resolution is excellent. I’m using it right now, with the power cover, to write this article. I have it connected to a 32″ 1080P monitor via the SP2′s proprietary HDMI adaptor, and the clarity is equal to my desktop’s.

My SP2 came with 8GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and the 1.9GHz Intel Core i5 with Intel HD Graphics 4400, so, in terms of power, it rivals my desktop. It’s actually quicker from power up to app use or web browsing.

Battery life is also considered a deal breaker, but the SP3′s approximately 2 hour improvement over the SP2′s roughly 6 hours is less dramatic when the power cover is factored in.

There are other differences, but not enough for me to abandon the SP2.

In purchasing technology, I factor rapid obsolescence into my decision. I pull the trigger when features reach a level that I value at a price that is reasonable. I assume that upgrades will follow so I use my own needs as a gauge for value and try not to be swayed by new or improved features that aren’t important for me. This way, I guard against upgrade-itis.

For me, the SP2′s primary value is as a tablet. As I said in my earlier article, its birth meant the death knell of the notebook. Adding a keyboard gives you a notebook, but a notebook can’t become a tablet. It’s as simple as that.

Up until recently, a tablet was distinct from a Windows PC. It could do a lot of things that a PC could, but it could not match the PC’s productivity. I loved the tablet’s portability, which allowed me to do single function tasks such as email and web browsing away from my desktop while lounging or lying down. However, I couldn’t do serious course management, composing, layout, photo editing, video production, or web research. These I did on my desktop.

But the SP2 changed all that. I could finally do all of it on a tablet for brief periods or in a pinch — or for hours when attached to a large external monitor.

After eight months, I’m still amazed that the Microsoft engineers are able to squeeze nearly all the power of a desktop PC into a tablet not much heavier than the original iPad.

When I first started working with the SP2, I automatically tried to set it up like a  PC by plugging an extender into the single USB port to add a mouse and an external hard drive. These proved messy and cumbersome, especially when I also had an HDMI cable  going to an external monitor and the charging unit plugged in. Quickly, I realized that the SP2 is best at its simplest. Forget the mouse and the external hard drive. The touchscreen, especially with the pen, is intuitive.

The 512GB storage is plenty. There’s also cloud storage, but I don’t use it much. For file transfers, the built-in microSDXC card reader is very efficient. Memory cards with 32GB capacity are available.

There’s still a lot of room for improvement in future iterations of the SP. Weight, definitely, needs to approach or surpass the gold standard of one pound; battery life, 10 hours. Dual HDMI external monitor capability is a must for serious productivity. A glaring obstacle in the evolution of tablets is input. The external keyboard is a funky holdover from the 19th century. Onscreen keyboards are unimaginative and inefficient. The pen is cool, but still quite primitive. The next major step is voice input, but the technology is in its infancy.

As users discover the power and flexibility of Windows tablets, the demand should create competition, drive the supply up, and drive prices down. In the process, notebooks and desktops will go the way of CRT monitors.

Martian Rhapsody: Chapter 2 – Rocks

[Note: See chapter 1, Landing. Also see Harry's Mars One: Exciting Adventure or Hoax?, especially the long-running, extended discussion at the end of the article. See his other Mars related articles in his list of publications. Chapter 2 is being published as submitted, without editing by ETCJ. -Editor]

Martian Rhapsody
by Harry E. Keller, PhD


The four hopeful settlers stare open-eyed at the vista that confronts them. Mars stares back, red-faced and malevolent. They discern nothing friendly or helpful in that stare. Some might see indifference, but they’d be wrong. If ever mankind faced evil, it is here in this impossibly alien and lifeless environment.

Even the dark, sharp-edged rocks strewn across the landscape with apparent reckless abandon seem infused with baleful intent, waiting patiently for countless eons for these soft Earthlings, waiting to cut them and trip them. The surface between the rocks is red, not the red of a poppy or even an Earth sunset, but an intense red that fills the land with emanations of harm. Despite the extreme thinness of the atmosphere, the strangely close horizon does not immediately and sharply turn to the black of space as on the Moon. The red dust of Mars hangs in the sparse air and softens the horizon just enough to give the appearance of red sand reaching up, an almost living thing.

As if sensing the planet’s personality, Chun speaks up, “We have to get that module back so we’re at full strength.”

“You bet!” responds Dawit excitedly, pumping his fist. He is undaunted by the landscape or the problem of the errant module.

“Sure,” says Aleka, “but first we have to put our habitat together.”

“Sorry,” says Chun as she moves into position.

“We all feel the same. All right, we’ve practiced this plenty of times,” says Aleka.

“Seems like thousands,” responds Dawit with a gesture none of the others can see because he’s inside.

“We don’t have all that long before our suits have to be recharged,” warns Balu.

“Right. Let’s rotate and connect,” says Aleka.

“Good thing that missing module connects at the end,” comments Chun.

“The rovers have done a nice job of clearing the site and putting the modules in place,” says Balu.

“I cannot wait to get a plan for the missing module,” comments Dawit over their intercom. Everything is an exciting adventure for Dawit.

Continue reading

Geography? T3G…ESRI in Education

VicSutton80By Vic Sutton

While at a recent workshop at the Redlands, CA, headquarters of the Environmental Science Research Institute (ESRI), I heard the most concise definition of geography yet: “What where? Why there? Why care?”

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My wife, Bonnie Bracey Sutton, had been accepted for a week-long workshop in ESRI’s T3G Institute. I traveled with her, thinking I was heading for a holiday in Southern California – maybe visit the beach and chill out in wine country.

No such luck. As soon as he saw me, Charlie Fitzpatrick said, “I’ll get you a badge.”

Charlie Fitzpatrick is the K-12 education manager at ESRI. Before joining ESRI in 1992, Charlie taught social studies in grades 7-12 for 15 years.

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“T3G” is ESRI’s acronym for “teachers teaching teachers GIS.” So the goal of the workshop was to give a group of some 90 educators the knowledge and hands-on skills to be able to teach other colleagues how to use geographic information system information in their work.

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Jack Dangermond is the founder and head of ESRI. He is a very modest man, despite his success in building ESRI into an international company with some 3,000 employees around the world.

He spent half an hour with the T3G participants, outlining his vision of what ESRI could do for education and fielding questions.

Dangermond recently hit the headlines for his pledge, in a meeting with President Obama, to provide a free copy of ESRI’s ArcGIS mapping software to every public school in the United States.

At market prices, that is a deal worth one billion dollars.

ESRI’s big annual event is its User Conference, usually held in July in San Diego, CA. Side by side with this event, the ESRI Education Conference brings together educators to look at how GIS and GPS can be used in the classroom.

But back to Redlands. Armed with small GPS devices, we practised mapping points on ESRI’s beautiful campus, using Collector software to record the latitude and longitude of a number of easily-identified objects – rocks, trees, cars and so forth.

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The following day, we set out on a field trip to do the same mapping exercize in a number of Redlands streets – mapping houses, trees, street lights, electric poles and fire hydrants. All this information was beamed into the cloud to be loaded into a pre-programmed ESRI map.

We used a number of devices, including BYOD.

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Why map things?

We were given two practical exercises: mapping points in Florida where Burmese pythons had been spotted and mapping resources that were needed to deal with the “Derecho” thunderstorms that hit the state of Virginia in June 2012 – locations of schools, hospitals, fire stations, and intersections between roads and rivers that were likely to have been flooded.

So to recall: “What where? Why there? Why care?” There are so many other good uses for GIS and GPS in education. The challenge is to get educators motivated to explore them, to organize the professional development that can make them feel confident using them in the classroom, and then of course to have administrators and school boards recognize the importance of this work for students.

Additional resource: The ConnectED initiative and Esri

What Does Cyberlearning Mean to You? Cyberlearning Summit 2014

By Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Associate Editor

(Note: See Vic Sutton’s report on this conference. -Editor)

Teachers working in classrooms need ideas and frameworks and support for initiatives beyond the ideas that have been classified as regular education. Sometimes funding is a problem. Powerful partners get you permission to do wonderful things in the classroom.

My first involvement with a network of powerful people, learning ideas and new technologies was with Cilt. You can tell that it was some time ago. We called STEM, SMET. Here is a look at what we started with:

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We investigated, learned, shared and promoted ideas. Concord has wonderful free resources to share, and here is a summary:

The Center for Innovative Learning Technologies (CILT) was founded in October 1997 with a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to stimulate the development and study of important, technology-enabled solutions to critical problems in K-14 science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET) learning. Four “theme teams” focused the efforts in areas of highest promise. CILT events, often workshops organized by theme, provided a collaborative forum in which people in the learning science community met to assess the progress of the field, define research agendas, and initiate new collaborations. Many of these collaborations form seed grants funded by CILT. In addition to these successful CILT programs, CILT has generated many resources for the learning science community, including tools, publications, and NetCourses.

In this day and time, people sometimes do not think that meeting people and sharing in conferences is necessary. But the leaders of Cyberinfrastructure have better ideas. They do a conference and put the ideas online. You have a choice. There are pieces of brilliant ideas, presentations and demonstrations, and even poster sessions for you online.

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There have been two sharings of ideas from a new network of synergy. One of the conferences was held two years ago, the latest is here.

Consider me spoiled. I like talking with the people who created the initiatives and who have new ideas to put forth. It was also nice to meet old friends. It was a great learning experience. And I can access it online. It’s the best of both worlds.

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Recap of the Summit

The 2014 Cyberlearning Summit (see the program) featured 14 keynote talks, research posters, technology demonstrations, panels, collaborative sessions, a webcast, twitter discussion, hashtag bingo, and cybercitizen reporting of demos and posters through video. See a short report on the Summit by Jeremy Roschelle, Director of CIRCL.

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Cyberlearning Summit 2014: A Quick Recap

VicSutton80By Vic Sutton

[Note: See Bonnie Bracey Sutton's report. -Editor]

There is reportedly a wealth of research being conducted unto cyberlearning, but there are no clear views about how to translate research results into action in the community context, in particular for schools or informal education.

This emerged from the recent Cyberlearning Summit held in Madison, Wisconsin, on 9-10 June 2014, which brought together some 200 participants — mostly academics, plus some educators, industry representatives and grant makers — to highlight “advances in the design of technology-mediated learning environments, how people learn with technology, and how to use cyberlearning technologies to effectively shed light on learning.”

Bonnie's photos

There was no discussion about quite what cyberlearning is, but it appears to be a fancy name for on-line learning.

The meeting was organized by the Center for Innovative Research in Cyberlearning (CIRCL), funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and featured a number of eminently qualified speakers.

Yasmin Kafai, from the University of Pennsylvania, reminded participants of the remark by the late Steve Jobs that “everybody in this country should learn to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think.”  Continue reading

Review: ‘The New Digital Age’ by Schmidt & Cohen

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

Review: Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business, Knopf, 2013.

The authors visited thirty-five countries and examined the Internet’s impact in each. The new digital age has a significant impact with both positive and potentially negative outcomes. They discuss both possibilities. They focus on the new level of connectivity that the digital world brings to individuals and nations.


In perspective, connectivity in mankind has always been the yeast that has led to social and collective growth. In early man, the spoken word allowed groups to share sensory experiences and form collective societies. About five thousand years ago, the written word allowed mankind to share experiences across geography and time. Knowledge could be passed from one generation to another and transferred across geographic boundaries. The printing press increased our ways of storing and retrieving experience and documenting the ways man governed himself. Knowledge was stored and retrieved in libraries.

The digital world allows us, with handheld technologies, to have the world at our fingertips. It impacts every aspect of life. It creates and uses large databases; it can infringe on security and privacy as well as enhance the quality of our lives.

Schmidt and Cohen believe the new digital world gives us a greater degree of connectivity with all people around the world. One example of this is, on an Internet program, I have a team of members who are Russian, Japanese and German. We all enter the Internet in our own language, but we read the messages in our own language. The system translates for each user so that the information is in our own language. In effect this means a greater almost instant connectivity for all people around the world.

The authors also examine the new opportunities for cyber terrorism. They suggest how we might regulate and protect ourselves from those who use these systems to disrupt society. They speculate on who might become terrorists and how we can avoid them. They also believe that the technologies will move on their own to reduce the problem of terrorism. Apple’s recent announcement seems to be an example of this.

Just as the printing press impacted every aspect of society, the new digital technologies will influence all aspects of society, especially education, business, government, and science. It is a book everyone should read but especially teachers if we are to take advantage of the new digital technologies.

Mars One Seals TV Deal with Endemol

In a press release this evening, Bas Lansdorp, Co-founder and CEO of Mars One, announced an international partnership with multi-award winning producer Darlow Smithson Productions (DSP, an Endemol company) to follow and screen the selection and training of Mars One astronauts.

DSP will be the exclusive worldwide production partner for the Mars One astronaut selection and training program, which will see 705 candidates, shortlisted from over 200,000 who applied, undergo the assessment processes. The candidates, from all walks of life, will be tested as part of a training program run by a panel comprised of scientists, adventurers and astronauts.

With the astronaut selection process already underway, the first installments of DSP’s production are expected to begin broadcasting around the world in early 2015. Further details will be announced.

In order to qualify for the mission, the candidates must demonstrate that they have acquired the knowledge and skills as well as the high levels of psychological and physical performance needed for the longest distance voyage in human history.

DSP will document the aspiring pioneers’ journeys every step of the way in the lead up to the mission, which will see the winners become the first to make the 300 million-mile, one way trip to establish permanent human life on the red planet.

DSP has a long established reputation for producing world class television programs and theatrical documentaries for UK, US and international broadcasters. It is part of Endemol, a world leading content creator with a global network of operations in over 30 countries including the USA, the UK, Spain, Italy, France, Germany and the Netherlands, as well as Latin America, India, Israel, South Africa and Australia. Endemol is headquartered in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Iain Riddick, DSP’s Head of Special Projects and Digital Media, said, “It is a great privilege for DSP to be chosen to exclusively follow the incredible journeys of those who will make humankind’s first footprint on Mars. This has to be the world’s toughest job interview for what is without question a world-first opportunity and the human stories that emerge will captivate and inspire generations across the globe.”

“Bringing the story of our incredibly brave aspiring Martians to the world now officially begins with what we feel is a perfect partnership,” said Bas Lansdorp. “Our team felt all along that we needed a partner whose strength lies in factual storytelling to an international audience. DSP will provide that to Mars One, while allowing our selection committee to maintain control of the applicant selection process. This really is a perfect fit for both of us!”

Mars One is a not-for-profit foundation that plans to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. It has developed a mission plan, built upon existing technologies available from aerospace suppliers worldwide. Several of these suppliers are already under contract to Mars One, including Lockheed Martin and Paragon Space Development. Work on the first unmanned mission, scheduled for launch in 2018, has already started.

Mars One plans to land the first crew on Mars by 2025. The ambitious schedule is possible because the crews departing to Mars go there to stay. Instead of trying to bring crews back to Earth, Mars One plans to send additional crews every two years, establishing the first human settlement outside of the Earth. Mars One will select and train crews of astronauts. The search for astronauts began in April 2013. More than 200,000 applied for this first call for future Mars inhabitants.

Note from the editor: See ETCJ Science Education Editor Harry Keller‘s article, “Mars One: Exciting Adventure or Hoax?” It was published a little over a year ago, but the discussion, appended to the article, has been ongoing, lively, controversial, and informative. For other related articles, see Harry’s list of ETCJ publications.


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