New Project

I am starting to work on a new research project that I will tie in with my 2017 presentation at the HVAC Excellence conference in Orlando, FL. The title of the presentation is, “Instructional Technology: The good and the evil.” Almost six years ago I gave my first presentation on instructional technology and at that time I believed what we were seeing was the next best thing to the invention of toast. It was new, it was exciting, and the thought of students happy in a classroom, the happy instructor wandering through mentoring them, using individualized education was a dream.

Well, over the last six years I have lived instruction technology as a classroom instructor, as a department chair, as an administrator. I have seen to positives, the negatives, and some of the struggles of adoption. In order to quantify my conference talk I am working on a small research project. I hope to answer one primary question:

  • Does 1:1 Instructional Technology add educational value in the post-secondary vocational classroom?
    • If yes, how? If not, why?
    • If different for a specific set of students, why and how?

I would really like to have feedback from instructors and students that have worked in a 1:1 technology environment. I want to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly of these experiences.


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Happy New Year 2016!

I would like to wish all my friends and family a very Happy and safe New Years 2016! I post this early because we are a global community and some of my friends are about to turn the calendar over and bid goodbye to 2015 in a few hours. I hope your 2016 is a good one.  I have several hopes for the upcoming year.

I hope that somehow the powers that be in our government realize that we need to take care of those at home before we spend trillions being the worlds policemen. I wish that we somehow learn to live together in peace. I hope that I do not have to turn on the news to hear about another mass shooting or terrorism attack someplace. I have hope that this year religion is not used as a tool for discrimination, and I have hope that somehow our society finds a way to avoid racism, in any form. I wish that our educational leaders would stop bowing to the pressures from big corporations and just teach our young people. I have hope that we stop loosing our best teachers because they can no longer deal with the stress of not being allowed to actually teach and mentor. I also wish that we would wake up and realize, on a global basis, that the environment matters. Everyone needs to play a role in making sure this planet is inhabitable for the future generations. Somehow if we can do the above the world will be a better place.

On a more local level, I sincerely hope that we can make it through 2016 without the forced closing of anymore racing. Too many of my friends are involved with these wonderful dogs to let this sport slip away. I hope that the legislator decides to hold the tracks accountable for injuries while racing and we can somehow keep the dogs running.

I do not believe in New Years resolutions as they are meant to be broken. I also believe strongly that you can set goals, try to achieve those goals but sometimes life throws curveballs into those goals and you have to be able to change things. Some goals are within your control, some are partially within your control, and some are totally out of your control. The trick is being smart enough to figure out what you can actually accomplish.

So, for 2016 I have the following goals:

  1. Remain hospital stay free for the year. With the exception of some routine testing I do not want to end up in-patient or emergency room visit anytime during 2016. I have been feeling really good in the last part of 2015 and want that to continue.
  1. Run the Gasparilla half-marathon in February and then find a marathon to train for in the Fall. Perhaps the Disney Marathon will be a good goal. Try to do a few local 5K races in the middle.
  1. Try to begin to develop a network of local friends/acquaintances. It’s been two years since we moved down here and I still don’t feel like I know people locally. Life is short, need to get out more.
  1. Try to workout outside as much as possible. The treadmills and indoor workouts are not doing anything for me. It’s time to step it up and adjust to the temperatures.
  1. Time for a change with work. Possibly position, employer, or both. Need to finish work each week and feel rewarded and that I made some sort of difference.
  1. Social media comes second to the in-person aspects of my life. Facebook is great to keep up with people but it also brings a lot of drama into my life. It’s time to eliminate the drama. Develop a schedule to check in in the morning and than again in the evening.
  1. Publish some articles in 2016. I have many papers that could be revised, updated, and published. Perhaps an iBook?

In closing, have a HAPPY NEW YEAR 2016!

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HVAC Excellence Conference, Orlando, FL 2015

It’s always nice to be recognized nationally for a presentation you gave.


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Look back at 2014 and Look forward to 2015

So 2014 is almost over, we are counting down to the New Year and many are looking forward to an evening of festivities. My first wish for the New Year is that everyone be safe and make it to your destinations safely this evening and in the morning. For those in Florida please learn how to drive on the right side of the road, this isn’t the United Kingdom. It is so tempting to look back and have many regrets for 2014, but we can also look at our accomplishments. For me 2014 was a challenging year for me both personally and professionally and I am glad it is over.

On the personal the highlight (if you want to call it that) of 2014 was that my health has been somewhat of a rollercoaster, one that will probably continue into 2015. But, in 2014 we finally figured out what is wrong. 2015 will hopefully bring a solution.  Additionally I was hospitalized twice in 2014 with a few emergency room visits as well. There were some serious scares along the way and many unanswered questions.

2014 also came with some personal victories. We had our 25th anniversary this year that is an accomplishment many people do not achieve. We also celebrated our first year in Florida. Some of the challenge of 2014 included being away from home for close to six months out of the year working in Connecticut.

One of my more significant challenges remains, how to use my doctorate in a way that both generates needed income as well as improves the lives of others. I have to face the reality that my education and opinions may never be valued internally at my current position. It continues to amaze me that people believe outside experts saying the same thing as someone internally but do not acknowledge those internally. So how do I influence adult vocational education from outside my organization? Hopefully 2015 will bring some answers to that.

I had set a number of goals at the end of 2013 for 2014. I was going to write more, I was going to spend time on my blog, I was going to run the Disney Marathon, I was going to compete in a few other races. For some reason or other not many of these goals got done. Not that I purposely ignored them but life issues have a way of getting in the way.

A look back at 2014 professionally brings many accomplishments as well. First, our movement to digital classrooms and course materials at Porter and Chester Institute continued throughout the year. As this was the first full year after the acquisition of YTI Career Institute the year was spent working with the team in Pennsylvania to begin the transition of their material to digital as well. I believe we have done a good job with the transition, but it has not been a year without difficulties as well.

I spent almost six months filling in for an instructor or two in one of our campuses that decided to look for better opportunities elsewhere. This was a significant interruption to the ongoing training surrounding our move to digital books. I was also living out of hotel rooms and flying home every weekend, which meant that a lot of the system stuff that I was supposed to be working on was not getting accomplished. Yes, I believe that it was the right thing to do because it took care of our students but I believe that it did affect the overall quality and speed of our transition to digital.

One really great part of 2014 was that this was the first year that I had zero (0) server failures or database failures. Seriously, this is a major accomplishment. Our infrastructure on the server and hosting side of our instructional technology worked flawlessly. I have had to make several adjustments along the way but I do not have any infrastructure related issues at this time. Additionally the few Learning Management System (LMS) issues that we have had I have been able to work with the Moodle Developers and get resolved quickly.

I was recognized at work for my efforts and long overdue changes were made. I am thankful that I am able to do what I do from Florida and I look forward to enhancing my role in the development of our faculty and instruction.

So, was 2014 a successful year for me? As with anything in life it has it’s positive and negatives. As I look back at 2014 do I have any regrets? Yes. Do I have things I am proud of accomplishing? Yes. Am I glad 2014 is over and 2015 is about to start? Yes.
So, speaking of 2015, what is on the agenda? Starting a New Year should only be positive, so all of my goals are positive in nature.

1. I will take care of myself first and foremost. I am no good to anyone else if I do not take care of my own health and my own well-being. If this means saying, “No” on occasion, so be it. I am going to promote ME with everything I do. I love what I do for a living, but it is ME that is doing it. I know the spirit of things is “there is no “I” in Team, but there is an M and an E. I am an important member of the team and I bring a lot to the table. I am going to look for opportunities to promote MY values and MY vision of education, and create a space for myself.

2. I am currently working on a 90-day weight loss plan. No, not a fad-diet as we know these do not work. I need to get my weight down to 180 and I am trying to do that at 2 pounds a week, which should be doable. I did just complete my first week of calorie counting and I made my 2 pounds.  This plan consists of keeping tabs of my calories and exercise. Nothing fancy, nothing to buy, just a lot of common sense. My goal includes some cardio workouts that burn 1500 calories a day. I am going to achieve this, I have to.

3. I will start and finish the Java refresher course that I have wanted to take. I want to see if I can get my Java certification. This opens the door for some additional opportunities.

4. I am going to make a conscious effort to separate my personal and professional time. That does not mean do anything less, or anything to a lesser degree, but that does mean that my work has to be left in my office when I am done for the day or during my planned time away.

5. Email is a distraction. I am going to reduce the amount of time I spend in email. I will better balance my time on Facebook. I will only pay attention to the positives and I will be avoiding the negatives. I would just eliminate Facebook but there have been so many people that I have become virtual friends with that I would sincerely miss. I need to better balance the issues. I have found out that the discouraging things people post makes me really upset and I need to take a different tract.  I think one of the things this goal brings out is that I need to look at technology as a tool, not as a “have to use” and in that way I can make myself more efficient.

6. I am going to begin to apply for speaking opportunities at conferences this next year. I passed on a few opportunities this last year upon the request of a prior manager, and I will not pass on opportunities in the future.

7. I am going to dust off my dissertation and revisit some of the research that I accomplished. It is now four years since I did my original research and it is time to visit it and see if something has changed.  My research was based on our student population. Has this population changed? Have their feelings towards vocational education? Have their feelings to the classroom and instruction? What has changed? It’s time to look at it again.

8. I am going to look at our move to digital. Is it a success? Is it doing what we wanted it to do? Is it what I had hoped for it to do? What could we have done differently? Are the students really appreciating this change as much as we want to believe they are?

9. I am going to change how I view things in my professional life. I am only going to be concerned about the things I can control. If I cannot control it, affect a positive outcome, or if I know that my contributions are not going to be heard, I am not going to worry about it.

10. I am going to ignore email that really does not need an answer. Move it to the appropriate folder and not reply unless I am specifically asked for feedback.

11. I am going to spend more time with my dogs, they have been dying for attention, and exercise and I have neglected them. In turn this will give me more exercise and outdoor time. I am going to work on re-building my vet fund so that I can participate in LGRA this next year.

12. I am going to get the fence and outside trim of the house painted.

13. I am going to visit the rest of the Florida tracks this next year. There are so many people from Facebook that I want to meet.

14. I am going to spend some time on the beach this year. Hey, everyone accuses me of holding meetings from the beach; I may just do that once just to say I did! Of course I have to skip the daiquiri.

15. I am going to do a training video each month of something important having to do with vocational education. I will aim these videos for our faculty but in the spirit of promoting my skills and myself. I will place these videos and the surrounding material on my blog. I may link these into our LMS, or I may not. The goal is to use the appropriate technology for the appropriate reasons.

16. I am going to try to read a paper book each month, or at least a book loaned to me through our local library.

Not bad, the majority of this list is personal goals but I think they will all help me professionally in the long run. I didn’t meet some of my goals that I set last year so I am trying hard to make them more realistic this year.

Many of us make New Year resolutions (or goals) and the majority of us do not achieve these goals, or fall of the proverbial wagon as the year marches on. Isn’t that the point of this whole thing? To set a road-map for the next year but adjust that map if you can’t meet it.

So everyone, have a safe and Happy New Year and let’s see where we end up 365 days from today!

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Merry Christmas!

Want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and  Happy Holiday! My you all have a chance for some down time and relaxation among family, friends, pets, or some alone time if you desire.

2014 Christmas Card

From my family to yours…

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Conversation about testing

Standard disclaimer: Just some thoughts from a conversation today. My thoughts on this are mine alone.

The conversation:

“We are afraid our students are cheating on tests.”

“How are they cheating”

“They are getting screen captures from the students in the term prior”

“OK, what are they doing with them?”

“They must be memorizing them and the answers prior to the test”

“How many questions are the tests?”

“Between 50 and 100”

“So your students are memorizing the questions, the possible answers, and the answer of a 50-100 question exam?”


“Are the questions and the answers scrambled?”


“So, the students are memorizing the questions, the answers, and the possible answers of a 100 question multiple choice test in which they have no idea of the order of the questions, right?”


“And we are worried about this, why?”

[long silence] “Hadn’t thought about it this way”

Anyone else see where I was going?

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I have no idea what tear-jerker movie I watched on the hallmark channel but my favorite lines of the movie are worth repeating (and I wish I could figure out who to give credit to):

“They say in Africa every morning an antelope wakes up and knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. They say that every morning when a lion wakes up it must run faster than the tastes antelope or it will starve. See, it doesn’t matter who you are but what matters is when you wake up you are running.”

Now I know where my track coach from years back got the line. I never knew.

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What LMS? Why?

This afternoon one of my managers sent me a link to an article to look at regarding a review on a Learning Management System (LMS) that he had heard about.  I love receiving these articles because each one I research I walk away from saying, “OK, that’s nice, nothing new.” After I responded to him, talked with a few people, and thought this over I decided that it is time to write a blog entry on what I look for in an LMS and why. Let’s set the stage.

Over the last six years I have been involved to some extent or another in moving paper based curriculum electronic. The first two and a half years of the process it was done on a “do now and ask forgiveness later” principle. My supervisors at the time knew I was moving to electronic curriculum but they were not ready to deal with it. After that, about three and a half years ago we went to a new management team that understood, accepted, and encouraged the change. Of course, as soon as word got out to the vendors what we were working on every educational vendor came out from the woodwork and wanted our business. This was a very interesting and educational experience that I had known nothing about and was not expecting. It seems there are three main players in the LMS market: Blackboard, Angel, and Moodle. All other systems on the market are built off of these three software packages.

Blackboard and Angel are commercial packages, they are pay to use, and more importantly, pay to use each “model” or each function of the module. User of Blackboard are required to adhere to disk space restrictions, bandwidth restrictions, and every additional function that you wish to use from their library is charged for in some way or another. Angel works along the same lines. Additionally in the basic level of these products, the one a smaller school can afford, the system administrator is not allowed to access the command line, the shell, or the operating system behind the LMS front end. This means that the most simplest maintenance tasks must be performed by the people hosting the platform (Blackboard, or Angel). These companies are able to do this because they somehow were awarded the “trademark” and “Patent” for the online classroom. You will notice that I left Moodle out of this entire conversation, there is a reason.

Moodle is the third basic platform, Moodle stands in a land of it’s own. See, it is an open source platform, in other words it is freely available, the source code is all available, and it will install on anything. Before I say more about the features and functionality let’s address the patent issue. Moodle is exempt from the Blackboard patent battle. In order to not get into a long, expensive, and world-wide court battle Blackboard has a written agreement with Moodle that they will not attempt to enforce the patent against the Moodle project. I say world-wide battle because Moodle is developed in just about all countries by thousands of developers. It would be an impossible idea to enforce patent laws and trademarks against such a large open-source project. In addition Moodle has been developed by people that do not have access to Blackboards “methods” and “intellectual property” which again would make it hard to prove anything in court. So, they have an agreement and I am told it is in writing. So, what is so special about Moodle that makes it great? Really that anything any other platform can do Moodle can do as well. And some things Moodle can do other platforms can’t. It is all a part of the plugin structure for Moodle.

What’s a plugin? A plugin is something that an end user or in this case an administrator can easily add to a software package that will enhance it’s functionality. At this time Moodle 2.6 has 684 plugins available and a number that are in the process of being updated from version 2.5 and 2.4 to 2.6. These plugins are in addition to some of the Moodle core functionality which are standard to all installations. The people who work on my team, our leadership team, and our instructors who may read my blog may be asking, “684 plus things, we don’t have that many available to us.” They would be correct because like many Moodle administrators I do not have everything enabled – more on that later.

In the interest of comparison and education, let’s look at the most recent article that I was sent a link to, it was regarding an LMS platform named Helix and reviewed by Wade Roush in “At Atlius’s Online College, Students Will Learn Through Stories” (April 9, 2012). Roush touts the backbone of the system it’s ability to “structure lessons around real-world scenarios” and to articulate what the student needs to learn and be tested on based on these stories. He quotes Paul Freedman, Atlius’s founder and CEO as saying “that Moodle and all other learning management systems used by online education companies “are based on 1999 technology and do not allow for the level of personalization that you see everywhere on the web today’. (2012)” Surprisingly this statement has allowed Mr. Freedman to round up almost 27 million dollars in capital from investment firms. Sounds great, right? Even more surprisingly he is mentioning a very well supported and open source LMS in his logic.  Well there is a little flawed logic being applied to this.

The first issue is the learning management system is a delivery platform, be it Moodle, Blackboard, Angel, or any of the offshoots doesn’t matter. It delivers the content that it is told to deliver. If I take a course built in Moodle, tell it as a story that gets the students involved, use that story to deliver competencies, test on those competencies as a part of the story, and award badges for completion I have set up Moodle to do exactly what Mr. Freedman has collected 27 Million dollars to do. And, guess what, I can do exactly this at a cost of roughly $400.00 per month in hosting for about 10,000 students scalable to upwards of 250,000 students on the Linux platform. The next part of the “better system” that Mr. Freedman advocates is one of competency based learning combined with story boarding. None of these concepts are new, and yes they will be a wonderful addition to any classroom, but it does not require an investment in a new piece of software.

Competency based learning is about a three to four year old well researched method of teaching and learning. With competency based learning the student is exposed to a concept (competency), the student studies it, works with it, explores it, and when they prove they have mastered it the student can move on. OK, sort of makes sense, doesn’t it? Now, storyboarding is a way of teaching a skill or lesson by framing the lesson within a story that makes sense. This is something that has been done by vocational instructors for decades, and in other cultures for millennia prior to formal education. Back then it involved a story teller sitting around a fire and telling stories about great adventures. In more recent times (recent I mean 300 years ago or so before formal education fixed all of our problems) this involved the apprentice and the master. The apprentice learned by doing and being a part of the story.

One such example of storyboarding would be teaching the students how to diagnose a bad thermostat, you know that thing on the wall that makes the  room colder or warmer? So, I have three ways to teach this skill. First, I can sit all the students in rows in a lecture hall and we can take about an hour of notes on what a thermostat is, how it works, and all the things to check. Second, I can take all the students into a shop environment and I can demonstrate all the functions of a thermostat and demonstrate how to fix it, then test the students on it. Third, I can talk to the students about a service call that I went on while I was in the field, I can demonstrate how I diagnosed the problem and in the process teach the concepts of a thermostat, then I can give the students a scenario to work through that has them practice and in the long run demonstrate that they have learned about a thermostat. Educational research has shown that the final approach works the best, it allows the student to connect their learning to an experience, otherwise known as experiential learning. Nothing new, still exciting, but nothing new.

The next thing that is touted in this article is that students and instructors sometimes value things as live tutoring sessions, whiteboards, flash-cards, discussions, critical thinking, and rubrics. All of these are available in Moodle, and the cost is whatever the hosting and internet access costs.

So, what is available? I am not going to go through all 684 items, but some of the more exciting ones that everyone else is toting as new and the reason to switch to their platforms are:

  • Threaded discussion boards with competency or numeric grading (core functionality)
  • Flash-cards, hangman, and other games (games module)
  • Tutoring (MyLiveChat module for realtime) (internal core function messaging for asynchronous)
  • Whiteboard (10 different modules that provide this functionality)
  • Competency based learning (core functionality of activity completion)
  • Storyboarding (part of the default theme. This is dependent on course design, not software functionality)
  • Workshops (plugin as well as core functionality)
  • Rubric (available as a part of all assignment types)
  • Multiple course formats (both core and plugins )
  • Collaborative editor (collaborative plugin)
  • Team assignments (assignment_team plugin)
  • Online audio recording assignment (assignment_onlineaudio plugin)
  • User polls (internal core functionality and plugin)
  • Survey’s (internal core functionality and also plugins)
  • File handling, storage, video streaming (internal and external based on operating system).

This short list is just a tip of the iceberg. Additionally since Moodle is open source and extremely well documented if something is missing that you would like to have for your classroom and school you can either learn (preferable) PHP5 or hire a PHP5 developer to create that functionality for you. Let’s say you have a project that takes one year to develop, this approach is still infinitely more cost effective than paying for a closed source LMS.

The challenge with Moodle that those of us who lead an educational effort is to decide on what we should make available and what would overwhelm our instructors with to much at one time. This is why I do not have 684+ modules installed on the LMS and why I do not make all of the internal functions available.

In this post I have picked apart a single review for a single type of LMS, Helix, but every other closed source package has the same limitation, you are paying for someone else to provide you with their view of what learning should be like. You do not have the freedom to innovate, you do not have the freedom to change, you do not have the freedom to say “this isn’t working lets change our approach” without migrating to a new vendor. With Moodle if you want to change your course structure, if you want to change your approach, you can do so while continuing to provide un-interrupted services to your students. The open source package is the one that gives you the most flexibility, the most innovation, and the greatest freedom for your students.

So, what do I look at in an LMS? Easy, does it provide a greater level of freedom, innovation, dependability, and affordability as Moodle? If the answer is “yes”, than there is something to look at. If the answer is “no” than I walk away feeling good about where we are at.

Mr. Freedman has a great concept. A non-traditional approach to learning that involves experiential learning, competency driven, and story telling. My problem with this approach is that it is not new, it has been used for millennia, and in our digital world it is not the software that drives this, it is how the software and courses are configured and setup.

(The opinions expressed in this post are mine alone and in no way the opinions of my employer and was written on my own time.)

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Happy 2014!

As we welcome in the New Year it is traditional to set some goals and some resolutions for the next year. Some have suggested that they no longer participate in this “corny” tradition and feel it is not worth their time. I feel very differently. The new year brings us a new start, it allows us to have finished a cycle of life and start a new cycle. I believe that in order to be successful you have to have goals.

For the first time ever my goals are more personal in nature than professional as I am very happy with what I have achieved professionally. Though we all have small frustrations I am happy, well taken care of, and I do feel appreciated at my job. So, what about my personal goals? Well,  my personal happiness and well being is going to be at the forefront during this next year. So, without further ado here they are:

1. At least 5 days a week I will run a minimum of 3.0 miles. Once a week I will run 6. This is to make sure I never again end up in the hospital because of not taking care of myself.

2. Over the course of next year I am going to read one book for fun each month. This can be a classic or a new book. I need to do this because for the last few years all I have been reading have been technical or academic material. I used to love to read, this is not always the case recently.

3. I will make one blog entry each week on this site. This blog entry may contain thoughts about things in my personal life, accomplishments, plans, or thoughts about issues that have come up during the course of my work.

4. I will speak at a minimum of 3 conferences this next year. Two are already scheduled, one at FETC in January and the other at the HVACR Excellence Conference in April. Need to find one more.

5. I am going to sneak a combination of personal and professional goal in here. I will take the HVAC licensing exam here in Florida so that I can do HVACR work. This is important from a personal perspective because it is nice to always have a backup plan. This is my backup plan.

6. I am going to participate as much as humanly possible in NOTRA and LGRA racing this next year with my dogs. I will do it for them, because it is fun for them. When it stops being fun for them it will no longer happen.

7. I will begin to work on a book. It is time to take my dissertation research and change it into something that can be shared. I will probably publish in iBooks (or in some electronic format) but I will publish something.

Sort of an odd number, I guess I will find more over the course of the next few months but this is a great place to start. If I can do all of these than I think I will be able to look back at the end of this next year and be able to say I have had a very successful year.

Visit back and see how I am doing, and please everyone have a great and safe New Year!

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Fielding Summer National Session 2012

Just left the Fielding Graduate University’s school of Educational Leadership and Change Summer 2012 session this morning. I can’t even begin to describe what I got out of it. Not only with some answered questions but also with some new questions still to answer.

We had some wonderful discussions on technology, some one education, and some on both technology and education. I am walking away with some thoughts I need to explore with my management team at Porter and Chester Institute, as well as some additional research that needs to be done.

Also I spent a lot of time observing how various students and faculty use their technology. iPads seem to have outnumbered the laptops at this session, but it seems not to be split across all schools. Some of the schools seem to still be heavy users of the paper and pencil for note-taking. Hmmmmm….

The other thing that make me take notice was watching people open up their laptop bag, remove the ipad, then the stand, then the keyboard, and then the stylus. Congratulations, they just built a laptop. Wouldn’t it have been easier just to bring the laptop? Makes me wonder if we are using technology for a purpose or just using technology to be cool. What  are your thoughts?

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