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#373045 - 11/09/2020 12:47 Smart Clock?
Dignan
carpal tunnel

Registered: 08/03/2000
Posts: 12251
Loc: Sterling, VA
This week my son started school for the first time, and he's doing distance learning. It...sucks. I'm now playing the role of assistant teacher (and babysitter). Part of the challenge is that there's a ton of different parts of the day and it's very tough for him (and me) to keep track of what we're doing. We have a schedule printed out but that's tough for him too.

Here's my dream product: some sort of display that shows text describing the current activity, probably accompanied by an icon for that activity. Then below that a smaller line showing the next activity and the time it occurs. The device would pull its data from a Google calendar.

So far I've found a few "smart" clocks that MIGHT serve at least part of this objective. The main product in this area seems to be the LaMetric smart clock, which is a favorite of Youtubers who need constant tracking of their subscriber counts and gets almost universally panned in reviews because it works terribly.

I haven't seen many alternatives. Does anyone know of one?
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Matt

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#373046 - 11/09/2020 13:46 Re: Smart Clock? [Re: Dignan]
K447
old hand

Registered: 29/05/2002
Posts: 754
Loc: near Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Can this ‘clock’ be a tablet/smartphone’computer running a full screen browser?

Browser can then run a script to show whatever you want.

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#373047 - 11/09/2020 15:48 Re: Smart Clock? [Re: K447]
Dignan
carpal tunnel

Registered: 08/03/2000
Posts: 12251
Loc: Sterling, VA
Originally Posted By: K447
Can this ‘clock’ be a tablet/smartphone’computer running a full screen browser?

Browser can then run a script to show whatever you want.

That's a possibility. I also have a spare iPhone (I think a 6?) that could serve this purpose... Not sure what to use to program it though...

Basically I need something that shows the time, the current event, and the next event with the time it occurs. And I need it to pull the data from a shared Google Calendar. Any thoughts what I could do for that? I don't really know any coding myself...
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Matt

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#373048 - 11/09/2020 16:06 Re: Smart Clock? [Re: Dignan]
andy
carpal tunnel

Registered: 10/06/1999
Posts: 5862
Loc: Wivenhoe, Essex, UK
There are a couple of magic mirror type projects that do what you want and a whole lot more. I’ve you’ve got an old monitor hanging around you just need that and a raspberry pi.

https://magicmirror.builders/
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#373049 - 11/09/2020 17:26 Re: Smart Clock? [Re: andy]
Dignan
carpal tunnel

Registered: 08/03/2000
Posts: 12251
Loc: Sterling, VA
Originally Posted By: andy
There are a couple of magic mirror type projects that do what you want and a whole lot more. I’ve you’ve got an old monitor hanging around you just need that and a raspberry pi.

https://magicmirror.builders/

Ooo. That's pretty neat. I've never set up a Raspberry Pi before but I could try. I'm trying to find a small monitor (preferably white) to connect it to...

Thanks for the recommendation.
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Matt

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#373050 - 14/09/2020 17:09 Re: Smart Clock? [Re: Dignan]
canuckInOR
carpal tunnel

Registered: 13/02/2002
Posts: 3191
Loc: Portland, OR
So... sidestepping the technology issue for the moment, what does distance education look like at your school? I have a 12 year old, who just started middle school, and a 7 year old, starting grade 2. Distance "education" at end of last year was, IMO, a complete disaster. There was a brief morning meeting with the teacher, a small group session with the teacher twice a week, and then the kids were essentially assigned homework with no guidance or other support, other than what the parents were capable of.

This year, everything has changed, so it feels more like a distributed class room. Our middle schooler has the typical 4 classes per day, where each class is an hour long session with the teacher -- exactly as if they were in school. She has a different zoom link for each of her classes. Our youngest, since he's in elementary school and has a single teacher for the entire day, essentially connects via zoom in the morning, and stays connected the entire day (except for lunch). The teacher gave us a slide deck with the weekly schedule (on page one) and daily schedule, with the days broken up into sections. Some of those daily sections are live, some are independent work, and each of them has a clickable icon. During the independent work, the teacher puts all of the kids in the waiting room, and can connect with kids one-on-one, just like she'd be able to walk around the room and chat individually. For classes like PE and music, those teachers connect to the existing zoom session. At any rate, the teacher is managing the schedule. And so far, all we've had to do as parents, is make sure our youngest one connects (and doesn't switch to playing games while waiting for the teacher to pull him back into the zoom class, if he finishes his independent work early). This is our first day back to school, but it already feels like it's a massive, massive improvement.

So if you haven't done so already, I'd really encourage reaching out to the teacher, to see if they can be part of the solution.

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#373051 - 15/09/2020 01:23 Re: Smart Clock? [Re: Dignan]
Dignan
carpal tunnel

Registered: 08/03/2000
Posts: 12251
Loc: Sterling, VA
Our situation looks more like your younger child. But it's a little different in that I have a Kindergartener so he's attending real school for the first time.

The teachers are really doing everything they can and I think they're doing as well as can be expected, considering. I do think that distance learning is possible, but it's particularly difficult for the youngest kids who don't have any experience with school and are the absolute worst at sitting still for 5 minutes let alone 30 or 90.

I think that's the reason that they've broken the day up into so many sections. There's no way these kids are going to sit through 4 hour long classes.

I just looked at his schedule again, and between full class sessions, smaller group sessions, asynchronous learning (homework), and breaks/lunch, there are literally 17 items on the daily schedule. And they're all different lengths.

Now you can see why I'm looking for this kind of thing. I'm getting a little tired of grabbing that sheet of paper we've printed out every five minutes, and it's hard to keep us on track when I don't remember if the 11th item on the day and the 3rd asynchronous one is 20 minutes long or 25.

Distance learning sucks, but I'm basically doing everything I can to make it not suck. And this is something I'm trying to fix for the both of us, because I need to stay sane just as much as he does!
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Matt

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#373052 - 15/09/2020 01:26 Re: Smart Clock? [Re: canuckInOR]
Dignan
carpal tunnel

Registered: 08/03/2000
Posts: 12251
Loc: Sterling, VA
BTW, what is your school using as an over-arching platform? Our district apparently switched from Google Classroom to something called Schoology this year. It sucks so very much. The design is pure web 2.0, and most of the elements look HTML. There's even freaking tables like I used to make in 2002. And for the entire first week, the primary page that we needed to use - which contained a grid that included every useful link we would need like links to various Google Meets - was filled with broken images so we all had to remember what link was where on the grid.

*sigh*
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Matt

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#373053 - 15/09/2020 01:28 Re: Smart Clock? [Re: Dignan]
Dignan
carpal tunnel

Registered: 08/03/2000
Posts: 12251
Loc: Sterling, VA
Oh, and I almost forgot the lovely moment last week when one kid in my son's class hadn't muted, and his dad was talking to the kid's grandmother and was cursing. Thankfully we were on a break and my son wasn't in the room at the time, but I have to imagine at least one other kid was in front of their computer. I saw the teacher make quite the shocked face before scrambling to mute everyone...
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Matt

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#373054 - 15/09/2020 20:20 Re: Smart Clock? [Re: Dignan]
canuckInOR
carpal tunnel

Registered: 13/02/2002
Posts: 3191
Loc: Portland, OR
Good heavens. It sounds like we have it easy, compared to you guys. 17 items on the schedule? You're going to be spending most of your time changing tasks! That's insanity. Our 2nd grader has 8. Four + lunch + another four. No wonder you're looking for something to help.

Our school district has settled on two different platforms. Elementary students are using something called Seesaw. It's... not terrible, but I wouldn't call it stellar. It's more an app, than a all-encompassing platform. I think it's supposed to integrate with larger platforms like Clever and Schoology. Middle school and above are using Canvas. It's not bad, but I wouldn't put a younger kid in front of it -- it feels more geared towards students who are selecting from a variety of courses, so it feels like our district has done the right thing by keeping it simpler for the younger grades. We haven't had any issues at all with either being broken. In addition to that, teachers appear to be augmenting with google services -- notably drive and youtube -- with links posted on the central app that the kids use. Our district has passed out chromebooks to students in 3rd grade and above, for a few years, now, so they were already heavily steeped in the google ecosystem, so using drive seems natural.

Distance learning as an adult is hard. It takes discipline that children that young don't have, yet. It's possible, but very challenging.

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#373055 - 15/09/2020 21:38 Re: Smart Clock? [Re: Dignan]
jmwking
old hand

Registered: 27/02/2003
Posts: 730
Loc: Washington, DC metro
For a few years now, I've worked part time with special ed kids in our (largish) public system. Last year, I was supporting 3rd and 5th graders (elementary school here). This year, I'm supporting 6-8 (middle school).

Last spring, distance learning was not good. We shifted quickly (about 2 weeks to prepare), and mostly never did live ("synchronous") instruction. We did manage to get chromebooks, hotspots, and lunches to most of those who needed them. The platforms were locked down enough to keep kids out of trouble and robust enough to stay up. (There were some true horror stories last spring in other places.)

This year is very different, albeit in part going from ES to MS. We have 7 classes and a homeroom live, with A and B days of 4 one-hour classes, and Wednesday ordinarily for office hours/extra help. If we miss school on any weekday not named Wednesday (happens a lot), that week's Wednesday is repurposed as the replacement live day.

The system has handed out over 165K chromebooks at this point, including new touch screen ones to all ES kids. The system is centered around Canvas and Google stuff (except classroom which we dropped this year), with Synergy on the back end. We use a lot of Nearpod in our school but I don't know how widespread it is. Our school has rigorously standardized the look and feel of each class in Canvas, so there's not a lot of hunting around for stuff. (My son's HS hasn't standardized so much; trying to find stuff is frustrating him.) We have an online, school-appropriate library that has a kindle-like app their personal phones/tablets.

Three weeks in, it's settling into a recognizable school routine, and kids are generally engaged and behaving. (OK, they are middle-schoolers!) Other than the odd zoom or google outage (those guys are getting stress-tested!), the platforms are working pretty well. From what I can see, our biggest tech problem is poorly deployed wifi in homes.

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#373056 - 15/09/2020 23:46 Re: Smart Clock? [Re: jmwking]
canuckInOR
carpal tunnel

Registered: 13/02/2002
Posts: 3191
Loc: Portland, OR
Originally Posted By: jmwking
Last spring, distance learning was not good. [...]

This year is very different

Your school sounds very much like ours. I'm a little more hands off on the Canvas stuff, as there's an expectation that our 6th grader should be largely self-sufficient, which she is. The lack of standardization among teachers even in the same building, never mind between different schools, was an oft-repeated complaint during the open-house retrospectives the school district held during the summer, so it looks like that's something they've really tried to address.

Quote:
From what I can see, our biggest tech problem is poorly deployed wifi in homes.

I dealt with that issue, last night. The room my daughter was using for school is on the opposite side of the house from our wifi router. She spent 3 of 4 periods in the hallway upstairs, so she could connect properly. I was up until 1:30am last night configuring some old ActionTec routers to act as a MoCA bridge, and putting an AP downstairs for her.

Our 2GHz band is crowded as all get out, and we're in single family dwelling. I should really get a 5 GHz mesh system set up, but since this is working for now...

There's a reason my desktop is wired. smile

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#373057 - 16/09/2020 13:31 Re: Smart Clock? [Re: Dignan]
jmwking
old hand

Registered: 27/02/2003
Posts: 730
Loc: Washington, DC metro
Speaking of wifi, I wrote this for our school and neighborhood lists. I'd like to hear what y'all think of it. I tried to keep it very general so moderately tech savvy people can apply it to their own circumstances. Any suggestions or corrections would be welcome!

----

We all want good wifi these days. Here are some very general thoughts that might help if your Zoom glitches (or if your kids and your neighbor's kids are streaming on two or three devices at the same time like mine).

Wifi runs on two frequencies, 2.4 GHz (channels 1-11) and 5 GHz (channels 36 and above – not to be confused with 5G cellular). Wifi on 5 GHz plays nicely with others. Any traffic - and especially any streaming video or zoom - you can move to the 5 GHz range helps overall performance. A 5 GHz signal fades fairly quickly, though, to the point that it often won't send a usable signal from one end of a home to the other. On the other hand, 2.4 GHz signals push much farther through walls and furniture than 5 GHz - which is useful - but 2.4 GHz also pushes into neighbors' homes, competing for very limited 2.4 GHz bandwidth.

Due to spec limits, 2.4 GHz should be using channels 1, 6, or 11 only. Don't "channel bond" (where it shows "1+5" or some such) in this range for theoretical extra speed; it's not effective when other wifi routers or access points are nearby. (For convenience, I'll refer to routers and access points as just "APs".) Double check your wifi settings to be sure any 2.4 GHz self-selected channels are just 1,6, or 11 and not bonded. 5 GHz has many more channels, and channel bonding is fine and gives a nice speed boost. The closer together the homes (especially townhouse communities and condos/apartments), the more important for everyone to keep 2.4 GHz to just 1, 6, and 11, and to use 5 GHz whenever you can.

If your 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz wifi signals have the same network name/SSID (the current default from Verizon, not sure about Comcast), the computer/device that can use either range will choose the frequency on its own. You can change settings in your AP to give the 5 GHz range a separate name, so you can choose which frequency to use depending on your particular circumstances. Some computers can be set to prefer 5 GHz over 2.4 GHz, an option usually buried away in the network adapter’s advanced settings.

Within your home, you can do a few things to improve performance. Run network cable wherever practical - those things that stay put such as desktops, printers, TVs (and their video streaming devices), and your APs themselves. Some APs have directional antennas, with a stronger signal going in a particular direction or plane. Wifi operates line-of-sight, and everything the signal passes through lessens it - some things more than others. Position APs accounting for the antenna and the existing building - walls, appliances, furniture, mirrors, chimneys, etc. Place APs high in a room when you can. Similarly, if you sit between your device and the AP, you will reduce the signal getting to your device. Finally, adding another AP or using a mesh system almost always helps your coverage, but also crowds the airwaves. Each home has different needs and solutions.

Ideally, wifi is set up in a way that meets our own needs and doesn't make things worse for our neighbors. A nice, free tool to see what channel you’re using as well as all the wifi signals near you, including channels and their utilization, is inSSIDer for Windows. There's also a Mac version in beta that I haven’t tried.

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#373058 - 16/09/2020 15:08 Re: Smart Clock? [Re: jmwking]
K447
old hand

Registered: 29/05/2002
Posts: 754
Loc: near Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Originally Posted By: jmwking
.... I'd like to hear what y'all think of it. I tried to keep it very general so moderately tech savvy people can apply it to their own circumstances. Any suggestions or corrections would be welcome!

----

... 2.4 GHz also pushes into neighbors' homes, competing for very limited 2.4 GHz bandwidth.

Due to spec limits, 2.4 GHz should be using channels 1, 6, or 11 only. Don't "channel bond" ...

... 5 GHz has many more channels, and channel bonding is fine ... important for everyone to keep 2.4 GHz to just 1, 6, and 11, and to use 5 GHz whenever you can. ...
My experience is that on 2.4Ghz band that many access points default to channel 6, with others often camping out on channels 1 and 11. When I do a spectrum scan there will typically be a bunch of Access Points competing against each other on 6, and several others on 11 and/or 1.

This 2015 article illustrates the spectrum contention. *

What generally works well is to choose channels 3/4, or 7/8 for your own network. That straddles the ‘spectrum ‘gaps/shoulders’ between 1 and 6 and between 6 and 11.

I just went through this a couple of days ago, remotely helping a friend who was experiencing wildly varying ‘Speedtest’ results and uneven internet responsiveness. Turns out his neighbors were clustered on 6, 1, and 11. Guess where his own two AP channels were set? Yep, 6 and 1.

Moved the 2.4Ghz channels to 4 and 8, his WiFi speeds went way up and became much more consistent.

Something that is broadly misunderstood is that any time an access point is using channel bonding, that bonding reduces the radio energy (signal strength) on each of the bonded channels by half. So the total amount of radio energy is the same (to comply with FCC/WiFi radiation limits) but it is spread across more frequencies. Which means the signal has less penetrating power, does not reach as far and does not penetrate through structure as well.

My approach is to never use channel bonding. Yes, the maximum possible megabit speed is reduced, but still is a very usable data rate. Without bonding the radio signal has double the power so that channel can reach farther and have a more consistent speed.

On 5Ghz WiFi the same issue with channel bonding occurs, reduced distance and penetration across the bonded spectrum. I typically select 20Mhz wide channels on 5Ghz, sometimes 40Mhz. Since 5Ghz signals are already terrible at reaching through walls, bonding just aggravates the limitation.

In addition, some 5Ghz channels are limited to a much reduced maximum radio energy than other 5Ghz band channels. I forget which channel group(s) has the most radio power, but IIRC some channels are limited to a fraction of the power/reach of others in the 5Ghz range.

5Ghz is also complicated in that some channels are not allowed in some regions, and some channels are required to sense and then back down if they sense radar (military or weather radar) energy on that channel.


* If I can I will often walk around inside and outside the place with the laptop while running WiFi Explorer and watching the spectrum graphs. If I can get a good idea where the competing access points are located and on what channels, I can better plan the WiFi.

Once I have a WiFi plan I may relocate the access points inside the house I am working on to optimize the received signal within that house. For example, if a neighbor is using channel 1, and I need to use channel 4 (since 6 and upwards are even more clogged) I might put the access point on the side of the house farthest away from the neighbor.

When (the people I am trying to help) are nearer their own access point they are also well away from the neighbor’s interfering WiFi signal. So they should get good speeds. If I instead put the access point nearer the neighbor then moving closer to the access point would not provide as much benefit since the interfering signal is also stronger there.


Edited by K447 (16/09/2020 19:28)

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