Programmers are People too


With social media, it’s so easy to be critical with a perceived sense of anonymity.  So often, you see people just chuck crap without really thinking it through or wondering about the consequences or how the target of their ire might receive the message.

A common target in our digital world is programmers or the company that they program for.

A long time ago, and in a web far away, I had written a number of pieces of software.  They were called Doors and ran on major Bulletin Board System like PCBoard or Wildcat!  If you’re long of memory, you may recall “Bay Street Bulls” or “Pyramid of Cheops” or any of the others.  I think there were probably 12 or 13 of them in the height of production.  They were written to have fun and all of them had a social, competitive aspect to them and many BBS operators used them as a way to garner users.  They’d be tested and retested on my own BBS and a friend’s in Windsor before they were released to the world.  The last thing that I wanted was to release something with a bug or a problem with the code.

Every now and again, a hiccup would happen or I would add a new feature to the program and new versions had to be distributed.  It’s a process that all software developers go through.

Like virtually everyone who has a tablet these days, I use it to play games where the interactions are another way to stay in contact with family, friends, and potential acquaintances.  We live in a very volatile software world and there always are updates available.  It’s just part of the fun of staying on top of things.

Recently, I upgraded (or rather auto-upgraded) to a game that I play with my daughter.  It’s called “What’s the Phrase” and distributed by Zynga.  Recently, it updated itself.  But, when it came to making my next move, I received a message indicating that their server was busy and to try later.  No problem…I tried later and the server was still busy.  After a while, it was pretty obvious to me that there was a problem with the code.

And, in fact, there was.  Within a few days, there was an announcement that a version 1.20 was released and fixed an issue with a busy server.  I upgraded to have life continue on.  But, another problem appeared.  It kept crashing on startup on my iPad.  Now, the thing about Apple products, and I’m sure that you know, is that their claim to fame is that it “just works”.  Sadly, there’s little to be done to debug problems when the software doesn’t work.  No blue screens or error codes.  Just unhappiness.

So, I did what is common practice. 

  • I tried again. No success.
  • I checked to make sure that there was plenty of free space.  No success.
  • I forced quit the app and started again.  No success.
  • I deleted the app and reinstalled.  No success.

I started to poke around and found that there was a Facebook group with over 500,000 users.  Surely, if there was a problem that wasn’t limited to me, there would be others reporting it.  And, there were a few.  And, more than a few were nasty about it.  Very nasty.

I had run out of ideas myself so I sent a message indicating that I was having a problem and almost immediately got a message back from Jon who offered to help.  Now, I don’t know Jon – he could be a programmer, or a support person, or just a player of the game willing to help.  Either way, if he’s got a solution, he’s my current best friend.

He took some time and walked me through the above steps and I followed along thinking I may have missed something but I hadn’t.  There was no solution in sight.

We parted and I figured that was it.

In the next day or so, he asked if I wouldn’t mind Skyping to work through this.  What the hey…  I’m getting nowhere myself.  It turned out that the Skype call was from a name I didn’t recognize.  It was an engineer from Zynga located in Toronto.  We reviewed things and I could tell that there was skepticism on their end.  This came to an end quickly.  I held my iPad up to my web camera and showed my steps.  I could feel the disbelief on the other end but they said that they would take it under advisement.

A little bit of progress and I was impressed that the two of them gave that amount of time to me.  In the meantime, I’m now getting warnings that I’ll soon be forfeiting a game to my daughter if I don’t make a move.  We Petersons are a competitive lot so you don’t know how tough that message was to take!

On cue, Jon was back and wanted an email address for contact.  I got back to him and got a link to an older version of the program to download and use until a fix was forthcoming.  Did I mention that I’m getting this special attention out of potentially 500,000 others?  (and probably way more…)

That got me back into the game and life went on.  Then, just this week, I get another contact from Jon indicating that a version 1.21 would be released this weekend and to stay in touch should I have further problems.  As soon as I found that update, I grabbed it and voila, the issue was fixed and I’m now firing on all cylinders.

I didn’t ask but I wonder if those people who were so nasty with their comments had received the same immediate high level of support.  It never hurts to be nice and I’m so glad that I was with these gentlemen.  They reciprocated and supported their product with an absolutely high degree of concern and professionalism.  My hat’s off to them. 

I’m not sure that there’s a lesson in this or not.  But, I’d like to think that being kind never hurts.  Programmers and companies don’t deliberately release software that’s going to cause grief to the end user.  Like everyone, they want to be successful.  Is it too much to ask that they be contacted politely?

Doctor, it hurts when I do that


It’s been an interesting week in blogging.  I need to follow that advice.

I thought it was just me that noticed and that I had damage control kick in.  But, once again, I was wrong.

The first inclination that other noticed was a message from @DavidFifeVP asking me where the message went and could I send the link to him again.  Then, last night at dinner, my daughter asked “Has your blog been screwy this week?”  I read your posts and it seems like I get an announcement that a new one is up but I can’t get to it.

Both of them are right.

Last weekend, I had given a presentation using Google Slides so it was only appropriate that I use Google Chrome as the browser to deliver things.  No problem there, and it worked like a champ.

I’m not one to turn my computer off so it just went to sleep and when I got home, opened the lid and away I went. 

As per my normal routine, I started a new blog post in ScribeFire and posted it to WordPress for publication the next morning at 5:00am like I normally do.  After it was posted, Brian Aspinall had sent me a link that I wanted to include so I logged into WordPress on the web and made the change and saved it.  I happened to glance at the screen where normally, you’d find a “Scheduled” button and saw “Updated” instead.  That was bizarre.  Maybe there was a change and I didn’t get the memo.  My next step is then normally to preview and proofread and then I noticed that the title of the post had changed to one that I had used in the past “It’s the Little Things”.  Now, that’s tres bizarre.

I flipped over to Hootsuite to see that the post had been announced to the world.  Wow.  Next step was to undelete the Twitter message and then I needed to also go to Facebook and delete the announcement there because the robots had done their work faithfully!  I updated the title of the post and made sure to change the date and time to the next day and updated.  Darned if the same thing didn’t happen again.  Now I’m starting to wonder about my sanity.  I do what every sane person does.  Repeat the process and click harder.  Same thing.

I open Firefox and repeat the process – do you know how hard it is to type with your fingers crossed – and everything worked well.  It’s all scheduled to go as planned.  Sadly, those who subscribe to my blog probably got a couple of bogus notifications of a new post.  I’m here to say I’m sorry.

The next day, I did my posting routine like normal and happened to be at my Windows computer with Chrome open and I noticed a spelling mistake.  I fixed it and republished and holy deja vue.  Fortunately, I had my Firefox backup scheme thought through and fixed things.

So, what does a good computing citizen do now?  Of course, I retrace my steps.  What had happened since the last time that I didn’t have a problem?

Actually, it turned out a few things.  Chrome updates itself automatically as it does with its extensions.  So, it could be there.  But then, I’d also had been doing my diligence with the HeartBleed situation.  I had gone and changed the passwords as I was notified by LastPass, including LastPass itself.  Check this, trace that, have another coffee, try this, it was like trying to find something in the dark.  Oh, and I had bought a new mouse and installed a new driver under Windows.

The good news was that Firefox needed updating on my Macintosh and the beta channel is now shipping with the new user interface. 

But, I’m no clearer to figuring out this particular puzzle.  Because it was replicated on both Macintosh and Window using exactly the same tools, I have a feeling that it may well be an issue with a tool or program that I’ve installed and that time will allow for an upgrade. 

It’s not the end of the world but I thought that I owed you who where the unfortunate recipients of bad notices an explanation.

And, just a heads up…I upgraded to Ubuntu 14.04LTS yesterday so look out!

A Thimble Full of HTML


In the beginning, there was Notepad…

Everyone just had to have a personal webpage – it was the upcoming thing to have.  So, I bought a book about HTML, roughed out what my first webpage would look like and then began the process of creating a webpage.  It took a long time and when I was done, I had a crappy looking webpage.  It was OK because most everyone else had a crappy looking webpage.

So, it was off to find other alternatives.  At the time, Netscape Composer did a nice enough job and my personal webpage started to look better!  In fact, we used Netscape Composer for the Women in Technology program and the grade 7/8 students did a pretty decent job composing their own.  Later on, the Ministry of Education licensed the Macromedia Suite of web tools and moved along to the Adobe Suite.  With a lot of practise, it was relatively easy to create a decent enough webpage and website.  The nice part was that the graphical user interface took learning most of the HTML out of the process.

Now, most people use a wiki program like PBWorks, WordPress or Google Sites to develop their online presence.  They do an exceptional job of writing the HTML in the background as you compose/edit in the foreground.  If you wish, there is always a tab or link to let you lift the hood and look at the code underneath.  Most people probably don’t.  After all, it requires a knowledge of HTML and most people don’t know the code.

It’s a contentious issue for those who teach web design in a computer science classroom.  Some camps are OK with graphic developers, other camps insist that students learn to write using HTML.  It’s much like the discussion about whether or not students should memorize the multiplication tables.

I would suggest that, no matter where you stand, there is a middle ground.  There is a need to at least having a passing interest in HTML code and how it drives your content.  This blog, I would offer as Exhibit A, is one of them.

On Friday, I show off some of the best that Ontario Edubloggers have to offer.  The post will have three or four blogs and a long time ago, I used to use 6 = signs to separate one from the other.  It looked like this ======.

One day, I stepped back and thought … that looks really ugly especially when HTML supports a divider that would go from the left side of the screen to the right.  You don’t need to count the number of characters – it just works.  All that you have to do is insert the horizontal rule into the page at the right spot.  Problem is that the WordPress editor and the Scribefire editor which I use almost exclusively don’t have a little button to click and insert the code.

Instead, you have to switch from editing visually to editing the code.  It’s just a click away.  When you do it the first time, you’re immersed in at least a bit of HTML.  You then need toidentify the exact spot in the page where to insert the code and then key


to make it happen.


When it works, it works well.  Or, you might want to insert a code generated by an external program.  For example, a Twitter message.  When you ask Twitter for the raw code, you get something like this.

Tweet

Kind of cryptic if you don’t understand HTML.

So, back to that middle ground.  What’s the best way to teach this?

“Best” is in the eye of the teacher and her professional judgement.  But, I would suggest taking a look at Mozilla’s Thimble.

Unlike traditional web development environments where you have to throw out the visual to get to the code or throw out the code to get to the visual, Thimble gives you the best of both worlds.

I know it’s a little small in the blog post but open the image and you’ll see it regular size.

On the left, you have an editing environment.  Computer Science teachers should be immediately drawn to the colours used to show various components of the code.  Using Thimble is easy.  Just type your code in the left panel and the results appear instantly on the right.  Talk about your immediate feedback.

This old coder had a whale of a time playing with Thimble, wishing that I had an excellent tool like this when I was writing my first webpages.  It would definitely have helped flatten the learning curve.

If you’re looking for a tool to teach HTML, I’d recommend having a good look at this and kicking the tires on it.  It think you’ll like what you see.

My Memories of Windows XP


Microsoft has stopped support for Windows XP.  It’s an event that we have seen coming for some time.  Folks connecting their computers to the internet really need to do something just to ensure that they remain safe while browsing.  No more security updates will be coming your way.

I still have a computer that runs Windows XP.  Well, actually it would run Windows XP if I put the hard drive back in it.  I pulled the hard drive when I got my Windows 7 laptop and transferred files via cable.

2014-04-08 13.02.50

Right now, the box is relegated to being a platform for the power supply for the laptop that replaced it and my DataShield power filtering device.  I suppose if I was inclined, I could open the DVD or the CD-ROM player and use it as a the proverbial coffee holder.  For now though, it does work nicely as an end table.

I know that many people will be so happy to see Windows XP gone.  It has been a bear to support lately and a prime target for malware writers.  I don’t think that I ever ended up with any installed but that machine has been history for at least four years after I purchased the Windows 7 box.  I needed the power to be able to do the rendering and other things that the old Pentium 2 machine would take over night to do.  But years ago, I thought I’d reached utopia just in the fact that I could do what I could do with it.

Windows has had an interesting adventure in development.  I looked at this diagram to refresh my memory as I began to write this post.  I’m amazed at the versions of Windows that I had used over the years either at home or at work.  I must own at least a part Microsoft.  1.0, 3.0, 3.1, 3.11, 95, 98, CE 2.0, ME, NT 3.51, 2000, Pocket PC 2000, XP, Server 2003, Vista, and lastly 7.  Lots of numbers there!  I would think, like most people, I used Windows XP for the longest period of time.

It was a nice crossover  point between the “old” versions of Windows whose claim to fame was the refinement of the Graphic User Interface and the newer versions of Windows which are so functional for high work, coupled with the power processors that we have at relatively affordable prices.

For me, the tinkerer, Windows XP was the first operating system that I really tinkered with.  First thing I did was change the default colours – my mother told me that you should never have blue and green together!  I switched to the silver toolbars and felt quite proud to be able to stand out in a crowd.  Of course, Windows XP allowed for the custom wallpapers and, if you took Microsoft’s advice, you could disable the fancy UI making your computer look like Windows 2000 and supposedly run much faster.  I never really noticed any difference.  We didn’t have tools like the Windows Experience then.

Then, there was the Blue Screen of Death.  People would complain and laugh about it.  I always figured I was lucky.  It seldom happened to me and, when it did, it generally was because of something stupid I had done with extra pieces of hardware improperly configured or inserted.

Programs were more fun to use with this new interface.  The basic install actually came with a number of applications that would get you through most needs.  It had a great game of Blackjack!  Wordpad could get you through many word processing tasks.  Connect an external modem via a serial cable and you could dial up and get internet connected.  It’s interesting to even think that I could even get satisfaction from some of the very early web applications and browsers.  Even though Windows XP is actually only 12, that’s 84 in dog years and probably a good analogy for how far we’ve come in OS sophistication.

It was the box above that I first dual booted Windows XP and Linux.  I learned a great deal from both operating systems.  There were lots of hacks available to get you to make your computer completely yours.  And, you’d always make sure that you had the original install CD to erase the damage that comes from being too bold.  The concept of an installation partition was years to come.

In the schools, the IT Department loved Windows XP.  They could take a good installation and cripple all the good stuff so that students were protected from themselves.  Imagine a computer with no command prompt.  Tools were at their disposal for fast deployment of system images once they got the “perfect locked down computer”.

Windows XP was a programmer and hacker’s dream operating system.  At the time, it seemed like there was nothing that couldn’t be done.

There will still be people that hang on to theirs.  Over 12 years, so many facets of our society have been built on Windows XP and the software that runs on it.  Even yesterday, I was in town doing some business and the person I was working with had stock blue/green Windows XP.  When I asked her if the company was going to upgrade, the response was why?  This does everything that I need.  I suspect that, despite all the warnings from Microsoft, that there will be lots of people that feel the same way.  For them, there’s plenty of advice.

It won’t happen here.  I’d have to find somewhere to put the things that adorn the top of my desktop computer, open it up, insert my hard drive hoping that I get the connectors right, then find a monitor and wait forever for it to boot and then hope like crazy that I remember the password to the limited or the admin account so that I could get in.

Because of that, I probably will never do so.  I’ll just use something else and fondly reflect back on Windows XP and how much I learned from that operating system.  12 years?  It seems like just yesterday.

Postscript – Apparently, there are options available if you’re not ready to drop XP - Canadian government paying Microsoft $306,625 for XP support

Five to Keep


It’s hard to think but there was a time when a web browser didn’t have tabs.  You could browse a single website and that was about it.  It made using a lot of the up and coming Web 2.0 activities a bit of a challenge since you could only do one thing at a time.  Fortunately, browsers evolved to the point where you could have multiple websites open.  It was possible at that point to open one tab with one website and another with another website and move content from one to the other.  Copy/paste or export/import were valuable skills. And if your basic browser didn’t have the desired function, you could extend its functionality with add-ons or extensions.  That single feature moved me years ago to make Firefox my default browser.  Of course, all of this is ancient history in the digital timeline given the modern browsers that we all enjoy.

In particular, working with a document in Google Docs was a big example of this for me.  I would often start with something in one tab, develop it, and then bring it into my document in another tab.  Doing so made you feel so cutting edge!

Now things have changed.  Recently Google upped the game by adding add-ons for use right in your open document.  This is an incredibly valuable feature.  With the right add-on, there’s no need to even move to another tab – you stay right in your document, create your content and then use the add-on as needed.

As you might expect, people were right out of the blocks writing posts about the “Top 10 Add-ons” for Google Docs and essentially picked some of the best for a post.  (Go ahead – Google it)  I started poking around adding, removing, based upon what I could see myself using and/or recommending to others.  At the end of the testing, I settled with five that I feel really comfortable with now.

To install, it’s as simple as selecting Add-ons menu and then “Get add-ons”.

The option to “Manage add-ons” as you would expect lets you have control over what’s installed and to delete the ones that you don’t want anymore.

Adding opens a menu of what’s available.  

My first visit was overwhelming.  I need this; I need this; I need that….

So many options.  As you add one, you have to give permissions for the add-on to access your Google information.  It’s worth noting every time you give any application access to your account.  Check to see if you’re comfortable with the permissions that you’re granting.

As I explored, I just knew that I had to keep things under control.  Which ones to keep?

From my perspective, here are my keepers.  I know that I’ll use them often.  Each of the add-ons make a “call home” and then opens on the right side of the screen.  No more tabs or windows browsing.  I’m really liking the functionality at my fingertips.  Just like extensions for the browser itself, extensions to the documents just extend the functionality and increase my productivity.

Here’s the calculator.  So often, I end up doing calculations when working in a document.  This tool now makes one instantly available.

At this point, here are the five that I have decided to keep.

  • Calculator
  • EasyBib Bibliography Creator
  • Lucidchart Diagrams
  • openclipart
  • Thesaurus

Other add-ons can be added on a whim.

I’m excited about this addition to Google Docs functionality.  These five definitely are keepers from my perspective.  I’ll keep checking the menu and looking for more exciting tools.  First to write an RPN Calculator wins my heart!

I’m interested in hearing from you.  What add-ons have you found to be keepers?

Why I Haven’t Downloaded Office for iPad…


…although at 12 million downloads, I appear to be definitely in the minority.  One of the reasons why this blog is “Off the Record” is that I give myself the right to change my mind.  If you’d like to convince me, go ahead.

I’ve never really been a big user of Office on any platform.  My needs are meagre, I would guess, and so never needed a copy to put me over the top.  I work interchangeably on Windows, Macintosh, and Ubuntu.  It’s important to me that I can exchange among the platforms and, probably the tipping point for me was installing my very first version of Ubuntu.  It came with OpenOffice and I never looked back.  It was all that I ever needed, at the time, and the LibreOffice fork of the product stays on top of everything.

The only time I strayed away was to investigate Kingsoft‘s office suite.  I liked what I saw and will admit to having a copy installed on my computer in addition to LibreOffice.

So, back to the iPad version of Office…

I’ll admit that I was tempted.  In fact, I might even go as high as $1.99 to have that functionality!  When I found out it was free, I thought…wow!

I’ll admit that I had a hard time finding it in the iTunes store.  I was looking in the store for Office but couldn’t find it.  After poking around, I finally realized that Word, Excel, and Powerpoint were separate downloads.  And, at 259MB for Word alone, that’s quite a download.

But the description stopped me in my pursuit.  The download only lets you read for free…you need to have an Office 365 annual subscription to get full functionality.  That’s something that I don’t have and not likely to get in the near future.  According to the website, the subscription for Office home is $99.99 and $79.99.  That’s quite a bit of money to be paying for annually.  Perhaps there are 12 million others that find that valuable.  Not me.

There are alternatives though.

Increasingly, my documents are stored in Google Drive.  As it turns out, Google has a Drive application that does the job nicely.  Edits and saves are done right on the document as it’s stored in Drive.

For the local use, I’ve always had a copy of QuickOffice on my iPad.  It has the functionality to fully edit documents stored locally or in Google Drive.  That’s always been the application that I go to in order to get the job done.  Price – free.

But recently, I was looking for something on the Kingsoft website.  I had missed it completely and so was pleasantly surprised to see that there was an iOS version in addition to all of their other products.  What was really interesting was the cloud support.

And the price was free as well.  Plus, it only is 100MB to get all three pieces of office functionality.  Check out this recent article from Cnet about Kingsoft. “Kingsoft Office 3.2 for iOS: Better than Microsoft Office?

As I work with the sort of documents that I use, I find that both QuickOffice and Kingsoft Office do it all.  The price is certainly right for the classroom as well.  And, if all that you need is word processing, don’t forget Scrawlar.

So, at this point, I will pass on downloading Office for iPad and buying the Office 365 license.  It’s your turn now – convince me that I’m wrong.

68% of Statistics are Worthless


I’ve always wanted to say that.  But, if they make you think, it’s probably all worthwhile.

The title of this article caught my attention, no, grabbed my attention when I read it.

IE easily beats Chrome, Firefox, Safari in malware detection

That’s quite a statement to make.  It certainly goes against what I would have thought so I dove into the article immediately.  It cites research from NSS Labs. I’ll confess – my nerdy inner person loves stuff like this.  In the computer (or actually any classroom), it makes for fascinating discussion.  There’s just so much content available on the internet that we’ve just become used to clicking and running.  And yet, social engineering has become more sophisticated in its tactics to entice you to click that link in the first place.

The overall results are displayed in chart form.

From the results, Internet Explorer clearly stands out.  There undoubtedly are web browsers there that you may not recognize but you might want to poke around and take a look at them.

In fact, Internet Explorer stands so far out, you can’t help but want to read the rest of the report.

The report is definitely not written at a level for all grades. However, for older students, they should be able to understand the concepts and relate it to their own activities on the web and through the use of social media.  How do they know when they’ve been attacked by social malware?  Should they rely on their browser to keep them safe?  Should they install extensions like Web of Trust to beef up their protection?  Should they always click on links from email sent to them?  Does this reinforce the importance of operating system and browsers updates?  Are they comfortable with just taking the first browser that they see and heading off to the web?  In a school with shared devices, can one student affect another?

The final paragraph puts this into perspective and gives the reader the common sense call to action.  The best protection is education and knowing how to recognize the would-be attacker’s actions as they come along.

The 2048 Game


And now for something completely different…

I’m posting this on the weekend because it just wouldn’t be fair to get you started on something and then have to go to work.  The game is based on multiples of 2 – I wish that I could say that you could use this to teach binary numbers or something but that wouldn’t be right.

I put this game in the category of Flappy Bird.  Simple, easy to get started, easy to play, and it will have you addicted.  Can you hit 2048?  I started with the web version and was hooked.  Poking around reveals that there are many copies as well as portable versions.  The original is located here and can be played on your portable device so it really isn’t necessary to download a mobile version.

2048

As the instructions say, just move the tiles with the arrow keys on your keyboard (or swipe on the web), merge the tiles, and try to generate the highest score.  Can you hit 2048?

As I started to poke around, it’s not without its controversy.  The original author attributes the design to the game THREES.  iOS Android

The authors of THREES share their thoughts in a blog post and their comments to those who they claim have ripped off their original concept.

It is there that I do see room for classroom discussion.  Where does original work end and rip off begin?  Are we better off with only one variation of a theme?  THREES…2048…1024…Numberwang 2048.  What about WordPerfect…Word…Pages…LibreOffice?

It’s a great discussion to have – provided you can put this addictive game down long enough to have it!

The code is open source and you can download to make your own or add to the project.

In the meantime, I’ve hit 256 but I have a plan…

Fixing the Broken


If the snow ever goes away, there’s quite a bit of maintenance that needs to be done around here.  Things that get broken over time just scream for maintenance.  If you leave it alone, it just goes from bad to worse.  Once it hits worse, then it’s next to useless.

Now, I could be talking about the branches from the trees out back or I could be talking about websites.  Let’s focus on websites.  (You know how to pick up broken branches…)

The impetus for this post came from a conversation with a friend of mine.  He was looking for something on a big website and couldn’t find it.  He did, however, find a broken link.  Between the two of us, we started digging and found all kinds of broken links.  In fact, it was a school district website with teacher webpages that were created by a facility that the school district decided that they wouldn’t use any longer.  But, the links remain just appearing to be dry rot needing to be pruned and cleaned up.

It happens all the time.  You know that.  You create a webpage or a directory of the “Best things to do this” and it’s terrific the moment that you publish it.  All the links work and you point people to that page.  They use it and send their friends who send their friends.  Then, a link will get broken.  The visitor to YOUR webpage gets frustrated because there’s just nothing worse or frustrating than a “Page not found” error.  We get used to one or two odd ones but a big collection?  Surely, some maintenance is in order.

There are a couple of ways to fix this – you could get a cup of coffee and warm up your clicking finger and go to it.  Or, a technique that I used to use when I managed a bunch of directories was to encourage people to report errors.

That works well when I had access to do the updates.  Now that I don’t have, I have no idea how it’s maintained.

But that can be a slow, painful process.  Surely, in this day of automation, there’s a better way.

Of course, there is.

I use a wonderful program called Xenu Link Sleuth.  It’s so simple to use.  Once installed on your computer, run the program, and provide the URL to Xenu and say go!

Xenu then faithfully does its best to check every link from the URL you submitted on down.  It’s comforting to watch the green URLs go by.  See a red one and you know that you’ve got some work to do.

Xenu runs great under Windows or using Wine in Ubuntu.

Got a Macintosh?

Then, you probably want to check out Integrity.

It’s the same concept.  Give a starting URL and a shove to get started and let Integrity do its thing.

Could you imagine a web where everyone’s responsible for their webpages and checks them periodically?  No more links that go nowhere?

Wouldn’t that be nice?

A Brainstorming Tool


A few years ago, I did an evaluation of mind mapping/brain storming tools.  There weren’t too many products on the market at the time.  If you’ve been a computer user for a while, I’m sure that you could even name them.  We actually had a committee chosen to do the task – there were some members who were language arts teachers and had been using graphic organizers for years and then a couple of computery types like me who knew the value of mind mapping because we had used these.

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Photo Credit: Marcin Wichary via Compfight cc

We had a great deal of fun evaluating the products although it was a challenge at times.  Essentially, they all did the same thing, the same way.  But, we did finally get one that we liked and went forward with it.

Now, that was a few years ago.

Fast forward to today.

If you head into your favourite app store, you’ll see that there are all kinds of products available to download.  Some are standalone applications and others run inside your browser.  Attempts to distinguish one from the other have been made largely in the graphic design of the product and the documents that they create.  But if you, as a friend of mine once said, peel back the skin of the onion, they all pretty much work the same way.  Essentially, not much has changed over the years.

Recently, there were a number of references to a new product that filled my reading.  The product was called Stormboard and it claimed to be different.  That was enough to get me to take an in depth look at.  I like what I see.

The thinking and design was a little different from what I’d used in the past.  I was encumbered by a knowledge of flowcharting templates where one box leads to another and there are lines connecting items.  Instead, I had to start thinking of how communication central works around here.  Walk into our kitchen and there will be sticky notes everywhere.  My wife is the queen of the sticky note.  Look around and there are reminders, instructions, orders, phone numbers, etc. everywhere.

Stormboard works like that…and more.

Storm

To kick the tires, I thought that I’d pull together some of the planning for the BringITTogether conference, November 5-7.

From the top left corner, I have a choice of things to drag out to the work area.  They all look like sticky notes so I was right at home!  Each note could be just a sticky or I could include an image, a video, document, or sketch my own.  As you drag them around the board, it’s hypnotic to watch them wiggle.  Each note has properties where you can change the colour or even a feature that I think would be very helpful – you can take sticky from one brainstorm and plop it into another.  Now, why would you want to do that?

Stormboards are multi-user.  The free version allows you to have up to five collaborators on any document.  So, a teacher, for example could divide a class into a number of small groups and then drop instructions into each of the groups without too much effort.  In face, the multi-user features really separate Stormboard from what I’ve been currently using.  Yes, you can have multiple users but there’s more.  Add the users and put your ideas on the board.  Users can then vote in favour or against a concept.  Each sticky also allows for team members to comment rather than change the original sticky.  Who’s doing the work?  Check out the activity button on the top right for a history of activity.  And, of course, what would a multi-user document creator be without a chat feature.  Think beyond the traditional classroom – think online learning or students collaborating on a project from home.  Chat and monitoring activity keeps everyone up to date.

Not every Stormboard needs to start as a blank canvas.

A group of starter templates come with the product.

Templates

 

Templates

So, there’s no need to start from scratch!

When you’re done…a nice feature is the ability to repurpose or summarize your efforts.

reports

Check out the different ways to use your or your group’s efforts.

This certainly takes the concept of a report or summary to the next level.

If you’re looking for a web based brain storming solution, make sure that you give this one a long look.  It may just change your whole mindset about how brainstorming works.