Category Archives: application

A Block Graphic Calculator

Calculators have come a long way since the first ones that could add, subtract, multiply, and divide.  Now, for a modest cost, it’s possible to purchase a graphing calculator.  Or, with your computer, you can put a free one in your browser.  i.e. Desmos Graphing Calculator

But there’s another interesting option.

Many classrooms are introducing students to programming using any one of a variety of block programming languages.  It seems to me that a natural progression would be a block graphing calculator.  And, there is one at the Blockly site.

Choose from a toolbox that includes:



and Logic

If your students are familiar with a block programming language, the technique is similar.  Just drag the components out to the workplace, lock them together, add any necessary parameters, and you’re done.

Results are immediately displayed in the graphing window.  Move your cursor over any part of your graph to display the x and y co-ordinates.

The interface is clear and easy to navigate.  I think this is a definite keeper.  It’s positioned as a nice transition between block programming and a full-blown graphic calculator with all of its distracting bells and whistles.

Where in the World?

I love geography guessing / discovery applications.  My latest fascination is GeoGuessr.  

It’s humbling.  It reaffirms how little I know!

Like many in this genre, you’re given a map image and your job is to identify the location.  What could be easier?

Well, I never said I was good…

Although sometimes I do have a clue!

“The World” is a big place and makes for really tough puzzles.  When you scroll down, there are some localized puzzles to solve.  I had a great deal of fun with the “Famous Places” section.

Hunting for Code

At the CSTA Conference, Alfred Thompson sent this Twitter message.

Later, he blogged about his thoughts……My Big Learning at CSTA 2014 Day 1–Not From A Session

Based on his first quote, I headed over to the Code Hunt site and started poking around.  It’s very intriguing.  If you follow the link and end up at the CSTA contest, you’ll find that it’s closed.  If that’s the case, click on “Change Zone” and navigate away.




You have your choice to play in Java or C#. 

The game boils down to this…you’re given a section of code and output table. 



“All” you have to do is look at the code that you’re given and modify it so that the expected result is the same as your result (based upon modifying the code).

It was great fun.  You log in with a Microsoft or Yahoo! ID so that your attempts are captured.  It’s addictive.  I dropped by their booth, talked with the Microsoft folks and got a first hand demo.  In addition to the puzzles that they present (and there are lots of them), teachers can create their own for their class.

How’d I do?  Well, quite frankly, I wasn’t eligible since the instructions indicated that you had to be from one of the 50 states so that put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm at the moment.  There were a lot of really sharp people at the conference so I wouldn’t have stood a chance anyway had I been eligible.

Regardless, if you’re a Computer Science teacher or a programmer in a bit of a challenge for yourself or friends, make sure you check it out.

Three To Try

“Summer’s here and the time is right for’…

…trying out new software.

Whether you’re taking an AQ courrse or just looking for new software or ideas for the fall, you owe it to yourself to take a look at these three great Ontario developed resources.  All have been used here and I can see absolutely great uses for them.

Cube for Teachers

Cube for K-12 Teachers is a repository for teachers that went live in Beta the first of October.  While the opening screen indicates that the resource will ultimately be available to all Canadian teachers, at present registration is limited to Ontario teachers.”

Originally reviewed on this blog here.


“Brian Aspinall’s latest production is called nkwiry.  nkwiry is a very classroom friendly social bookmark curating service.  There are many similar services on the web but they do require some involved account creation and then a bit of work (read explaining grown up sevices to students and the frustration therein) to get started before you can enjoy some success.”

Originally reviewed on this blog here.


“From the fertile mind of Brian Aspinall, comes a collaborative word processor option for those that don’t need the high-end, high-powered options.  He’s called it Scrawlar.  Think of it as a word processor with just the right number of tools.”

Originally reviewed on this blog here


Mistakes to Action

I follow The Daily Post as inspiration/ideas for blogging.  There was one idea that I hung on to because I’m sure that I could have used it as the basis for a post.  This bit of inspiration was called “My Favorite Mistake“.

As I write this, I’m getting ready for the CSTA Conference.  Two great days with Computer Science educators and this mistake memory brought back a memory of my own.

It wasn’t really a mistake; it just should have been!

Here’s my story.  It was years ago.  I sat next to a good friend who was a wizard working with Microsoft Access and publishing it to the web.  He had a database of resources and had written a front end webpage that allowed anyone who visited his website to query the database and get the results.  I was looking over his shoulder and got the gist of it.

His front end was an Active Server Page and I’d never written one seriously.  I had composed a simple one in Dreamweaver just to prove that I could.  He was writing his in Notepad and his rationale was that it was only writing that way that you truly knew how ASP worked.  It made sense to me.

Eventually, we went our separate ways and my learning started to fade. 

At the time, I was heavily into collecting WebQuests and tying their use to the Ontario Curriculum.  It started simply with just a table with a descriptor, grade and expectation, and a link to the WebQuest.  As the collection grew, so did the length of this silly webpage.  Then it dawned on me. 

There’s a better way to do this – put the information into a database and write the code to query it.  After all, I’d seen it in action already.

Creating the database was easy.  I fired up Notepad and started to write the front end that would query it.  It was at this point that I regretted not paying more attention earlier and/or taking notes.  Or, I should take a course in ASP.  Or, at least do a tutorial.

That would require more work than what I wanted at the time.  So, I just kept at it.

I was –> <– this close to having it work just the way I wanted it.  But, for the life of me, I couldn’t get it done.  If you’re a programmer, you know that there comes a time when you get punchy.  I was at that point.  I tried one change that looked goofy, and I expected the worst.  This would be my mistake.  Maybe I could learn something?

Well, you know the point of this post.  I’ll be darned if the doors didn’t open, light shone through, and my WebQuest Locator worked.  Perfectly!  (Not pretty, but that would come later)  I posted everything and asked a few friends to try to break it.  They couldn’t but liked the way that they could get what they wanted.  I was outrageously happy.  I’ll call that my Favourite Mistake!

I did give in and bought a couple of books to work through and try to understand just what I’d done.

How about you programmers out there?  Any mistakes that worked that you’d care to share?

Jaimie Was Here

Numerous times a day, Jaimie and I go for walks.  I swear that he can tell time and knows when his next walk is due.  At least twice a day, we do a walk through the King’s Navy Yard.  There are lots of flowers to look at and we mark the trail on our travels.  Actually, he marks while I pause for a bit.

It was with great interest that I read that Google Maps now allows for multiple points as it maps out a total distance on a map.  I thought – why not mark out our walk?

Off we went to find that our usual walk would be shorter than usual.  It was Sidewalk Sale Days in the downtown and the last thing that we would want to do is take our normal jaunts through the displays.  If you get my drift…

When I got home, I marked out our route on Google Maps.  It was easy to add multiple points – just right click where you want the point and the resulting menu …

… has the option to mark a “Distance to Here”.  I took a shot at mapping out our walk.

It was actually kind of difficult at first since the brick pathways weren’t on the map.  Then, I clued in … switch to Earth View and zoom in!  The path was very clear.

A little back and forth between map displays and I was able to come up with the route and the distances.

But, how accurate was my drawing?

Fortunately, I also had my smartphone with me and the app My Tracks installed.  I asked it to map things for me from beginning to end of our walk.

I had to smile.  According to this, we didn’t walk in straight lines!  It could be an error or more likely could be our little dodges to the bushes and interesting distractions on the way!

When I look back, I was quite impressed with the functionality of Google Maps and the abilities to add markers along the way.  This is a definite keeper.  Imagine drawing maps for walkathons or marathon races or just anything that needs multiple points!

I’d be remiss not to point out a favourite spot along the way…the signature Hostas Garden.  Of respect, we walk by it and not through it!

Have you checked out this new functionality in Google Maps?  How would you use it?

Google’s Smarty Pins

OK, so if you have all the information in the world and all the maps in the world, what more could you do it with beyond driving instructions and all the things that we’ve come to expect from Google Maps?

Why make a trivia game from it.

That’s what’s Google has done with the latest release – Smarty Pins.


Start with a pot pourri of topics or choose from a category…


… and you’re good to know, er, go.

You know how much I enjoy mapping so you can only imagine how much time I wasted, er, invested with this thing.


You’re given a clue and about 1,600 km allowance for being close.  Decode the clue and drop the pin on the spot you’ve understood from the clue.  Seems simple enough, right?  Did I mention that there’s a countdown timer, just to make it interesting?

As with any trivia game, some clues are easy and some are a bit of a challenge.  If you’re ready to forgo your bonus, you can ask for another clue.

I found it taxing my levels of trivia understanding.  As I mentioned above, some were easy and some, well, I just didn’t have a clue.  Even after getting the extra clue.

Through brutal force and a need to find out what happens when you actually win a game, I eventually succeeded.


I am under no illusion that I’ve mastered this.  It’s well bookmarked and sure to be a source of entertainment for a long time to come.

Labelling America

On Canada Day, there was a really nice selection of Canadiana articles to read.  I shared some of them and just enjoyed the rest.  One of the articles that brought a chuckle here was “Here’s What Happens When Americans Try To Label The Country Of Canada“.

Now, I think it’s extremely important to remember the sampling source as you enjoy this.  But it’s still fun to read and feel a bit smug.

But what if the tables were turned?  What happens when Canadians are asked to label US States? 

I was sure that there would be a lot of online quizzes to aid in the research. 

So, I did what any self-respecting digital person would do – I did a Google search and my suspicions were confirmed.  There were all kinds of results.  It makes sense – it would be relatively easy to write and evaluate because the answers would either be right or wrong.

The first one that I got was from Sporcle, and located here.

Now, just a bit of background.  I do recall the mind numbing experience of having to memorize state and province names while in elementary school.  I also recall having to memorize the townships in my county, although if you’re from Huron County, you know that Goderich and Hullett are the only ones that count…

So, I played the quiz and my impressive results are shown below.  I will admit to panicking a bit as I got to 48.  I knew that the last two would be Hawaii and Alaska but they weren’t on the screen.  Then, digital wisdom kicked in – scroll down, dummy.

Here’s my results.

Now, a couple of things about the quiz…

All that you need to know are the names of the states.  The software floats the names into place for you.  That makes it helpful because the New England states are kind of small on the map…  And, you need to know how to spell.  I felt pretty good being able to spell Massachusetts although you could have caught me sounding it out and typing with my fingers crossed.  The quiz has a timer which I always find unnerving but I suppose that just adds to the fun.

So, thanks to my elementary teachers and a lifelong enjoyment of country music, I was able to nail it.  (I don’t think you can easily fudge it).

You have 10 minutes.  Go!

Give it a shot – how did you do?

Canadianize the Internet

So, yesterday was Canada Day.  It was a great day at the Ice Cream Festival at Toddy Jones Park and the events at Fort Malden.  Of course, there were the fireworks over the Detroit River to end the day.  The organizers always do it up nicely for our town.  Our Member of Parliament, Member of Provincial Parliament, and Mayor were all there for the opening ceremonies.  Free flags for everyone and lots of red and white everywhere.

So, quite frankly, with the whole day devoted to festivities, I didn’t have much time to do much learning.

Except for one thing….

There were lots of uncharacteristic shows of nationalisms in blog posts and news articles.  Of course, where the posts allowed for replies, there were some bashing messages but it was too nice a day to spend much time on it.

At the bottom of a message, there was a link to this post – “It’s time to Canadian the Internet“.  It was a lead to a Google Chrome extension that will “fix” web pages so that they generate Canadian spelling for words.  Imagine an internet without “color” that now properly spells it “colour”!

It’s cute and kept me interested for a while.

So, a quick before and after shows how it works…


“But more than simple words and phrases, the Canadianize the internet extension will also replace the Yankee -or words with our more favourable -our endings. Their -er word endings will come back to our -re endings. Honor will become honour. Labor will become labour. And meters will once again be metres.”


“But more than simple words and phrases, the Canadianize the internet extension will also replace the Yankee -or words with our more favourable -our endings. Their -er word endings will come back to our -re endings. Honour will become honour. Labour will become labour. And meters will once again be metres.”

All in good fun, right?

There’s actually a lesson there. 

We’ve all read about the dangers of connecting to open internet access in public places.  Here’s a perfect example of communications being intercepted and replaced without fanfare.  Spelling is just a small example but if that can be done here, what else is possible?

OK, this is getting too deep for a holiday post.  Signing off….

Sidebar Cleanup

After my observations and score yesterday, I decided to start to clean up the layout of this blog.


In particular, I looked at the widgets that I had in the side bar.
Remember that I mused that they shouldn’t be longer than a post?
So, here’s a first run at cleaning things up and my rationale behind removing each.
This was some advertising for the Bring IT Together Conference from last year.  It’s over and is just dead wood on the blog so it’s gone.  The idea was to post it so that people would know who was presenting at the conference, where, and when.  It served its purpose.  There’s a badge for #BIT14 and I’ll leave it there.  (for now)
This widget allowed you to find a month from the past and zip to the posts.  It really is redundant since just above it you’ll find a calendar search.  So, it’s toast.
Nobody but me would ever use the Admin panel so what’s the point?  I’ll just bookmark to the WordPress login page and take it from there.
This is one of those vanity dealies.  You probably don’t care (and shouldn’t) how many readers visit here.  What’s more important is that YOU are here and for that I am thankful.
This was actually a mistake that I made in configuration and never cleaned it up.  It was an easy one to delete.
So, the sidebar is quite a bit shorter without the above widgets.  In my mind, I can give reasons for keeping the rest.  Quite frankly, they’re more for my use than anything else.
What do you think?  Is there more housekeeping to be done?  Or, should I not delete any of the above?

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