Lego In Your Browser


I don’t know about you but this news report is disturbing.  From the Toronto Star, “Lego shortage leaves toy stores between a block and a hard place“.

Oh, the humanity!

Fortunately, your browser comes to the rescue.  Check out “Build with Chrome” and be like a kid in a candy Lego store.

You have a whole collection of Lego blocks to choose from – along with colours – 

Just pick them up and drag them to your workspace and click to place.  I’ll admit to a bit of a spacial challenge when I first started because I seemed to be one row away from the perfect placement!  However, you can easily remove a brick and then place it back properly.

And, what would a Google product be without integration across services?

If you’re so inclined, you can log in with your Google account and post your masterpiece to a Google map for the world to enjoy your efforts.

As I write this post, I don’t see any published efforts from Essex County but there are some from our neighbours to the north.

It makes sense – head off to Silicon Valley if you want to see a great deal of early effort with this project.  There is a whole World of Build to allow you to snap in and extend the building.  As you might expect, there are some experiments that may be abandoned but getting the right people together could build something momentous.

There’s a lot of creative people with Lego.  Will you or your students be one more of them?

 

Cats, Eyesight, and Photo Editing


Right up front, I’ll admit it.  

I’m a dog person.  I have no use for cats or cat videos.  

Now, you can’t beat a good dog video…

I once worked with a gentleman in the Program Department who was quite fond of saying “There’s got to be a workshop in there somewhere.”  We’d drive to places together and between the two of us would see the darnedest things and somehow work them into a workshop, not necessarily in the traditional means.

I had that moment last night when I read this report on a research study – “Cat Watch 2014: What’s it like being a cat?“.

Photo Credit: ucumari photography via Compfight cc

This report is one of three and its purpose is to show how cats experience the world around them.  In the article, they explore sight, movement, hearing, and smelling.  

Much as I’m not a cat person, I did find the article extremely interesting and the videos very engaging.  

In a traditional class dealing with animals, certainly there’s a great deal of immediate use.

But, could you use it more?

I’m thinking Gimp or Photoshop or any of the photo editing software that you might have at your disposal, as applied to cat sight.  In the article, they talked about “muted colours”.

A common classroom learning activity is to adjust the colour and the multitude of options.  I remember using these words myself – “make it an old time picture”.  The context makes sense if you’re old enough to remember “old time pictures”.  To today’s digital youth, that might mean an old digital camera versus their latest and greatest smartphone camera. 

What if the context was to edit an image so that this is what a cat sees?  In fact, the sight video asks and demonstrates the answer with its split screen.

Using your editing tools, can you turn “Human vision” into “Cat vision”?  

As I write this post on a cool Saturday morning, I’ll confess to having Gimp open as another application, playing around with it.  It’s not as easy as it might appear.

Yep, there’s at least part of a workshop in there.

Google Forms Really Mature


I’ve been a user of Google Forms forever, it seems.  They’re a great way to collect opinions, quick testing, gathering observations, going paperless, …  Entries come in with a timestamp and you can ask for identifying information or just keep it random.  Things are done at the user keyboard and I think that, properly done, it’s one of the better electronic activities that you can use right in your classroom.

There are a couple of really neat features that you can use to make your work look and act even more professionally.  Google continues to work at their offerings to make them mature and just add additional functionality.

Themes

Of course, there’s nothing better than a great looking form.  But, don’t stick to the boring default – choose a cool theme.  Select “Change Theme” from the menu bar and select from some looks that range from fun to professional looking.

Even the best theme can sometimes use a little tweak!

Within each theme (or the blank default), select the “Customise” option and change to your hearts content!

Once you have the perfect customised theme, you may not want to use it just once.  In fact, you may have a theme that you’d like to use consistently throughout that class or that subject area.  

Copy and apply that perfect theme to your new form!  With a background or header image, you can have a consistent display (or even class messages) that appear every time you use that theme.  Lots of ideas can be incorporated.

Mix It Up (but not too much)

Now, I don’t want to say that I went to school with a bunch of cheaters, but I can remember paper tests that were labelled “Test A” and “Test B” and even duplicated on different coloured paper.  They were distributed such that even if you decided to take a peek at the person beside you the questions, while the same, were in a different order.  That functionality is available for your Google Form.  Of course, you could create two separate forms – but that’s old school!  This is 2014.

Just click the “Shuffle question order” and each visitor to the form will have their questions shuffled.  You’ve got to like that.

While you’re at it – there may be people trying to “game” your form by submitting multiple copies of it.  Supposed you’re doing a little quiz and you don’t want to take the best results for an individual making multiples in the hopes of getting one that’s right!  If they have and are logged into a Google account, check “Only allow one response per person”.

If you’re a Google Forms user, check out these features.  Your forms will look, and work, awesomely.

You’ll look like the professional you are with these features.

A Great RPN Calculator


We were having company for supper last night. 

To make it special for the little ones, we decided to serve Kentucky Friend Chicken.  Now, there hasn’t been a store in Amherstburg in years so guess who got to drive into Windsor to get it?

As I stared at the menus, I remembered the good old days when they served chicken and cole slaw.  Things really have changed.  The menus are huge.  So, I’m standing there doing a little, actually a lot, of mental math to try to determine what the best value would be.  I selected and ordered.  There would be a fifteen minute wait while they cooked the chicken!  I looked at the clock – it wasn’t anywhere near one o’clock, the traditional end of the lunch hour!  How could they be out?  <grin>

Well, we wanted to do it so I decided to order and wait.  To kill some time, I pulled out my phone and started doing some math with the pricing on the menus.  It wasn’t a horrific task; there were math questions all over the place.  What’s the best value?  Is the price of a bowl of cole slaw the same with every order?  What’s the best value for pop that’s available in three sizes? As my kids would point out, these are the reasons I sit alone in public places.

There were so many things to calculate, I soon find that I’m doing the math on the standard calculator that comes on my Android and realize that it wasn’t efficient use of my time.  Then, I clued in.  I was using an algebraic calculator.  I could be much more efficient with an RPN Calculator.  You may recall that I’ve blogged about this before and before.  I thank my university statistics professor for recommending my original HP21 calculator. 

Chicken isn’t cooked so I’m off to the Google Play store to look for an RPN Calculator to download.

It turns out there were a LOT of them.  One in particular caught my eye because it was the spitting image of the HP products that I was so fond of.

 

 

I became really engrossed with this program.  It’s such a nice and faithful copy of the original – even to the LED display that couldn’t be read in bright sunlight!

Other than just using the calculator, the whole experience brought back a few problems from my computer science classroom.  First, you have to teach students just what RPN is and then have them write the code.  The HP 21 had a nice rolling stack of 4 which led right into another sort of topic that you’ll only find in a computer science classroom.  And, the nice thing about writing your own calculator program is that you can add feature after feature, including printing graphs.  Function keys extend the function of any of the buttons.  It’s just a shame that we had to use a mouse to press the buttons at the time.

Sir, your chicken is ready.

Well, the moment has passed but I’ve been inspired to get the application and play with it.  Who says mathematics can’t be fun?

Open Source Whiteboard Software


Recently, I downloaded the Open-Sankore software.  I needed a piece of software to do some drawing and got way, way more than I expected. 

I think that I went well over the top when I read that the software was the same and worked the same on Macintosh, Windows, and Linux.  You don’t see that range of support often.

Upon installation on Linux, I immediately was curious as to support for my Wacom Bamboo tablet.  I wasn’t disappointed. Everything worked as you would expect.  No configuration or extra drivers to install.  It just worked. I wish that I had other equipment to try it on and test their claims of compatibility.

The software is so intuitive.  If you’ve ever used any other type of whiteboard software, you’ll pick this up immediately.

I was impressed trying the application on different computers.  It goes full screen and you wouldn’t know what computer platform you’re working on.  To me, that’s the sort of transparency that we can appreciate.

The tools and tool sets are really obvious.  Pick a tool, pick a colour, and go to it.  Speaking of tools, the toolbar can be moved to the top or bottom of the screen.  They recommend the bottom for whiteboards.

Projects can have multiple pages.  Add a place and title it in the left panel. 

The installation comes with a big collection of resources for creating your multi-media document.

Nothing is proprietary to the software.  If your computer can play it, Open-Sankore can play it.  So, include audio, movies, or graphic images with easy.  Can’t find it in their collection – facility is there to search for it on the internet.

Objects are dragged onto the workspace where resizing, rotating, etc. are all well defined in the frame around the object.

Selection of language was a bit inconsistent. 

The software has its roots based in the French language.  Even though I was able to change the language and restart in English, there were still a few elements that remained in French.  But, I’ll be honest.  The iconage and the display was so graphically intuitive, I didn’t really notice until I started to write this post and give it a thorough test.

I’ve worked with a number of whiteboard software in the past and so there was really no big learning curve digging into this one.  In any classroom, this will be a welcome addition.  It will be really welcomed to a classroom where students bring their own laptops and you’re looking for software like this for presentation, displays, and just plain creativity fun.

A New Start with Education


I had lunch yesterday with Charlie Wright (@cerwright on Twitter).  Charlie is the deputy mayor of Leamington.  Leamington certainly has been in the news in the recent past with the announcement that the 100 year old Heinz facility was being closed.  Reports are that 740 jobs in that industry would be lost.

The recent good news is that the plant will be assumed by Highbury Canco and that it would require 250 people for its operations.

As could be imagined, such a big hit to any community the size of Leamington (~30 000) would have a huge impact on the community.  Not only is the impact felt by those who worked in the plant, a Leamington institution for as long as I can remember, but for the farming community and the retailers throughout the town.

If those jobs are gone, what can you as a community do?

You would hope that education might provide an answer.

Another problem is that Leamington isn’t easily accessible to Windsor or Chatham, the two closest places with educational opportunities with St. Clair College and/or the University of Windsor.  It’s about a 45 minute drive to either location.

You might that a distance education solution would be appropriate but, in this case, it’s not viable.  So, if you can’t get to the mountain, bring the mountain there.

In partnership with St. Clair College, the town has made an educational arrangement that could be very helpful.

St. Clair College will be physically coming to town and offering a diploma program in Business Computing Applications.  The program, composed of 10 courses will be offered in the evenings from 6-9:30 over the course of the year.  Topics include accounting, computing applications, and more.  The logic is to provide a program of marketable skills for a movement into other industries.

Apparently, there is also an interest from existing businesses to upgrade the skills of other employees.

If you check Charlie’s Twitter timeline, you’ll see that he’s been busy going from door to door promoting this offering.

This provides a unique opportunity for those affected to take control over their careers and their learning at this difficult time.

I hope that enough of the residents see this as a solution and take advantage of it.

Data Spoils a Good Walk


I know, not original, Doug.

Golf is a good walk spoiled.- Mark Twain

But, it’s still an appropriate spinoff.

Today’s the day for Apple’s latest, big event.  The internet is alive with stories and speculations about what might be announced.  I’ve been watching, with amusement, the content from the big Apple fanboys and girls.  It goes even so far as to making indications about what they’re going to buy – even before it’s announced???

Anyway, one of the speculated new devices is the iWatch.  So, it just seems appropriate that today is the day to write a blog post about my birthday present.

My daughter demanded that I blog about it so here goes…  For you, Weaze.

Four years ago, we adopted the world’s best pet.  Ever since Jaimie came home, my walking patterns have changed dramatically.  I’ve gone from a nice stroll down the block to three power walks a day.

“I always crash after a good walk”

A while ago, my friend @sadone told me about an app that I could install on my phone that would count the number of steps I take in a day.  So, Noom Walk was installed and, at the end of the day, it was with curiosity that I would check the number of steps made.  I double the count and that’s Jaimie’s score for the day.  Doug’s advice to me was that I should take 10 000 (20 000 dog steps) a day.  It was always a bonus when that happened.

Mid-August was my birthday and the kids all chipped in to buy me a Fitbit Flex.  Essentially, it’s this rubber device that you wear on your wrist and it counts steps and, if you configure it properly, you can have it monitor your sleeping patterns.  There’s no digital display – it has five LEDs that let you know your progress towards your daily goal of steps.  I configured it for 10 000 steps and so each LED lights up at 2 000.  The band syncs with a computer or smartphone via bluetooth.  I started syncing to my laptop but switched to the phone which seems somehow more convenient.

A green one?  Of course.  You were expecting some other colour?

I’m coming up to about a month of wearing it and here are some of my observations…

  • It’s easier to hit 10 000 than on the phone.  I put the Fitbit on in the morning and just leave it on.  The phone is only counting when it’s actually in my pocket and I’m (we’re) moving.
  • I haven’t worn a watch in years.  Even before I had a smartphone, there were clocks everywhere and so never had the need.  Now, all computers and smartphones have easily visible time devices.  And yet, even though it’s been years, I must look at my wrist a dozen times a day to see what time it is.  There’s got to be a long lost brain synapse connection somewhere.  It amuses my wife who is constantly asking what time it is just to see me look at my arm.  Grrr.
  • I don’t monitor my sleep.  When I first got the device, I tried it and just found it annoying.  I know that I’m a light sleeper as it is, but this seems to make my sleep habit worse.  It was concerning to note that I was restless 30 times at night.  I now take the device off for bed.
  • I find it interesting to take my phone and the Fitbit for a morning walk when they both start at zero.  At the end of the walk, they never report the same number of steps.  Weird.
  • It’s 4 200 (8 400) steps to the firehall and back.  It’s 2 100 (4 200) steps around the Navy Yard in town.  It’s 3 200 (6 400) steps if I extend the Navy Yard walk to include going up to Sandwich Street by the Tim Horton’s.  I’m now becoming a fountain of even more useless trivia.
  • You can game it by taking longer or shorter steps. I can now confirm that not all steps are equal.  You knew that.  I have quantitative data.
  • The best episode on Pawn Stars was the step counting one where Corey attached his device to a paint can shaker…
  • My interest in walking data has changed.  With Noom Walk, at the end of the day, I’d check in and see how far I walked.  Now, I’m forever tapping to light up the LEDs to see how close to my goal I am.  I’m not sure I like that – it’s ruining a good walk!  But it does help set a goal.  There is a nice feeling to sync and get the congratulatory message that you’ve achieved your goal.

So there you go, Weaze.  Unlike the tie that hangs in the closet, this present has become part of my life and has made some changes to the way I do things.