The computer decides

Sometimes, it’s tough to make a decision so why not let your computer do it for you?

And here’s just the tool for it.  It’s called WheelDecide.

The default wheel when you visit the site helps you decide what to choose for dinner!

There’s a nice collection of offerings to play with, including the results from a Magic Eight Ball. 

Or, create your own.  In an election, for example, when the three parties were too close to call, maybe the computer has the insight.

Dang, this thing is good.  I only had to try three times to get the result correct.

Will it work on an iPad.  Yes, you’re covered there.

Think of all the times when you use a spinner for math, probability, or just decision making.  This web tool can easily replace it.

Give it a try.


I sure didn’t go looking for this expression but when I found it, it fit and was used perfectly.

I use an advertising blocker in my Browser.  My current choice is uBlock Origin. There are lots of them available and I’ve tried a few of them.  I’m fascinated with how they work.  When you have a slow internet connection like I do, it’s a real time saver.  Without it in place, you can actually see the browser start/stop as advertisements pop into place. 

I was actually doing some research when I found the term.  I had reached a web page where there was a banner that said something to the effect “It looks like you’re using an Ad Blocker – please consider whitelisting this site”.  I will admit to whitelisting some of my favourite sites because I know that it may be the only form of income that they have, I value the service that they provide and the writers that provide the content.  This research did lead to some interesting reading.  One of the articles, in particular, talked about the increasing aggressiveness of some advertising and it used the term “obnoxious” to describe it.  I thought it was an interesting choice of words at the time but, after this morning, I totally agree.

I was checking my Twitter feed and there was a news story that was of particular interest.  I was reading on my iPad.  Of course, Twitter is only good for 140 characters and a link.  I clicked the link in my Twittelator app and the in-app browser partially loaded the newspaper app and then it crashed.  So, I did what any rational person would do – I loaded it again, expecting different results.  Nope.  Crash.  So, I loaded the website directly in the newly released Firefox browser.  It took forever to load.  Forever is probably not accurate but in the digital world, I think we all know what I mean.  In among the few stories that appeared, there was advertising after advertising.  They just kept coming.  Eventually, they stopped and I started to scroll to find the story.  The browser struggled trying just to scroll down the page.  The advertisements seemed like my browser was full of slideshows.  Then, a pop over advertisement appeared in the middle of the page and it kept scrolling down the page with me.  There was a teeny little red X in the corner which is the universal sign for closing the window.  Either it didn’t work or I have fat fingers because I tried it a few times but kept clicking on the advertisement under it.  I finally scrolled to a spot where there wasn’t an advertisement and the X just didn’t work.  I finally gave up.  Absolutely obnoxious.

In my browser folder (I collect browsers), there was a copy of the Adblock Browser.  I loaded it and went to the website and it displayed like a charm.  I was curious and so really did spend the time to view the site in both browsers.  By my estimates with my ruler and my wife’s quizzical looks, 45% of the screen was devoted to advertising.  It would have been more except I didn’t know how best to factor in the pop over advertisement so I left it out.  Wow!  Then, I decided to give Firefox another chance and went to the site using the privacy mode.  It seemed to do a bit better job although I now noticed that the same advertising appeared three times on the opening page when I scrolled down.  Then, Firefox crashed.

By now, I was on a mission so I visited the website in my desktop browser and uBlock Origin indicated that it had blocked 26 requests.  Is that obnoxious or what?

In part of my original research, there was a great deal of concern expressed by content providers about ad blocking software and the financial effect that they will have on the industry.  As we know, some ad blocking software will accept payment from some advertisers to allow the content to go through.  The articles indicated that this is only the beginning as advertisers start to consider their options. 

I understand and probably wouldn’t be using blocking software except the sheer volume of advertisements on some sites, the tracking cookies that they provide, and how some of the advertising can take longer to load than the story that you’re trying to read.  So, at least for the time being, this software will be kept in place here.  But, like all things technical, you know what the industry will get caught up and we’ll be looking at something new in the future.

Pipesapp – not just the news

When I was at the Bring IT Together conference last week, I got a ping from an unknown (at the time) source …

I get unsolicited messages all the time and typically ignore them.  If fact, I just blocked an account yesterday that was trying to get me to buy something.  I like to have control over what I do and try to make informed decisions.

But, this message had me hooked at the use of the reference to the Zite app.  Until it was acquired by Flipboard, it had been my go-to reader in the morning. Plus, this long time user of Unix and Yahoo! Pipes was just intrigued by the name.  So, I downloaded it to give it a shot.  I’ll freely admit to being a news junky and had no shame in adding it to my folder of “News Apps” on my iPad.  There’s lots in there.

In addition to having an appreciation for different applications developed by talented programmers, this genre fascinates me.  Even if I tell two applications what my likes and preferences are, they often manage to find stories for me that come from different sources and are completely different.  In my mind, that makes it so important to have more than one source if you’re looking for the good stuff.  Plus the Pipesapp icon was the same colour as the Zite app icon so the two of them sit nicely side by each in the folder.

Out of the box, Pipesapp was not unlike so many other applications.  When I told it that I was looking for education stories, I got flooded with stories from the US.  They are interesting, to some extent, but I’m more interested in Canadian – particular Ontario – stories and that will hopefully come as the application learns what I’m reading and what I’m not reading.  There are other assumptions too – once I allowed it to know my location and that I like sports, I get all kinds of Toronto Maple Leafs stories.  Given my location, it would actually make sense to send me Detroit Red Wings stories but if truth be told, I’m forcing it to send me Montreal Canadiens stories.  Over time, it should learn and will get me right.

So, I launch the application and begin to add pipes to it so that it can get me what I’m looking for.

Sadly, finding the top stories and those related to it are all too easy for any news reading application given the events from yesterday.

You’ll see the pipes that I’ve added along the left side of the screen under the “Top Stories”.  Reading is as simple as selecting a pipe from the left and then the story of interest on the right.  Once you select the story though, the game changes from so many other news reading applications.

A long, long time ago in Grade 10 I had difficulties reading and understanding the content.  In today’s schools, there probably would be a program or assistance for me.  But in those days, there was only one solution and it included a red pen and lots of Xs.  I remember the exact moment when things changed for me.  I was in a book store in Goderich and saw and bought a book titled “How to Read”.  Or, at least that’s what I thought it was titled.  It might be better titled (or maybe it was ) “How to Speed Read”.  I wish that I still had that book but sadly don’t.  Anyway, I took it home and devoured it hoping that it would make me a better reader.

And I think it did.

I don’t think anyone would have predicted the huge amount of information that we would be bombarded with these days.  But I learned the technique of identifying key words, expressions, sentences, and ignoring the fluff that so often pads articles.  Education – you are the worst with all the babble that’s added so that you can meet your quote of 1000 words before an article can be published.  Rant off.

What blew me away is that the Pipesapp will do its own version of the speed reading technique for you automatically for many, not all, stories.  If you look to the left, you’ll see a summary of the article that they call “Quick News”.  It’s like the story has already been summarized for you.  I’d love to know how the technology behind that works.  It’s not 100% but the machine learning that’s involved is pretty impressive.  Now to get my attention to read an article, I’m first hooked by the title and then reeled in by the quick summary.  To the right, you’ll have the option to read the whole story.  The best part?  None of the advertising that you’d expect to see embedded in articles.  If you’re missing it, there’s an option at the bottom of the screen to see the story on the original site.  And, of course, there’s the suggestion to read related articles to help you expand your thinking beyond the original article.

Using the iPad’s hook to services, I can share the story to Twitter for others to read and have it automatically dumped into my Diigo account for later review.  I can also send it to the Flipboard document I call “Readings” so that I can bring it back there as well.  I’m a big fan of automation and Pipesapp fits nicely into my workflow.

There’s another feature that I’m not sure that I’ll use but who knows?  I could see this going over nicely in the classroom.

The application gamifies your reading.

As a new user and still poking around refining things, I’m definitely a Noob.  But as they say – the more you read, the more you know.  I’d be hesitant to point students to Pipeball.  Just sayin’.

I’ll admit to a slow introduction to Pipesapp installed just a week ago.  It’s different from other applications that I’ve used and so my reading was affected by my learning how the application works.  I also tend to read while on my computer or my Android phone, neither of which is supported at this time.  But, when I get moments with my iPad, it works like a champ.  I just have to use it enough so that it knows what my preferences are.

If you’re interested in downloading and giving it a test, it’s a free download from the iTunes store here.

More learning – Evernote

I’m continuing on with the learning fallout from the Bring IT, Together conference.

Those that we in attendance for Steve Dotto’s presentation will recall that he gave us a free gift – a subscription to his online course for Evernote.

I’ve used a lot of notetaking applications over the years.  Every time there’s something “new” or this is a “game changer”, I do give it a shot to see if it will change my game.  The problem is that my game is pretty simple.  I just want a notetaking application that takes notes.  Is that too much to ask?  Lately, though, I find that it’s handy to have an application that listens and takes notes.  If you’re a dog walker, you can probably appreciate that your mind tends to wander, or as I call it, get creative, and it would be nice to remember what you’re thinking.

On my watch, I have Keep, Evernote, and OneNote so I have a variety of ways to record notes.  I’ll toss blogging ideas into Keep and the other things into Evernote.  It’s nice to know that I have OneNote as a backup if needed.  The nice thing about an audio input is that you truly work them all the same way.  With a cloud-based solution, it’s just so nice to be able to log into the application on a computer and follow up on the actions.

What sold me on Evernote?

It was one of those applications that comes along that you try and say, ok, that’s neat.  But, it was Danika Tipping’s presentation “Making it Easy with Evernote” that convinced me that this was worthwhile investigating further.  At this link, you’ll find a link to her webinar and the presentation in Slideshare.

In the big scheme of things, my use still pales when compared to her ideas. 

I’ve even played around with IFTTT integration to capture relevant social media events in my absence.  That gets big in a hurry!

For me, it’s still mainly a great place to store all my conference notes, meeting notes, to-do lists, etc.  When I dig through what I capture, I’m always amazed at what’s there and I wonder how many ideas I’ve forgotten over the years without a good digital notetaking assistant.

Yet, I still have that voice in the back of my head that reminds me that I could be doing so much more with it.  So, I’m hoping that Mr. Dotto’s course will serve as the kick in the pants that I need.  I like the fact that it emails a lesson a day and you just save the lesson into your own Evernote space.  That way, the learning or refreshing can happen at any time.

If you were at the Bring IT, Together conference, consider taking advantage of this offer.

The learning continues here – BeetleBlocks

Always be learning – I think it’s a great motto for survival in this day and age.

So, I’m working through my list of things to learn more about from the recently concluded Bring IT, Together conference.

I thought I knew of all the block programming languages.  After all, I’ve worked my way through Alfred Thompson’s big list.

But I picked up on a new language during Sylvia Martinez’ keynote address.  It’s called BeetleBlocks.  It’s another language that builds on the promise of the original Logo concept.  Among all the things that you can do is drive an object around the screen.  You start, as typical, with a blank screen.

What’s new with this picture?

All of the other tools that I have worked with previously have had an X and Y plane.  Notice in this case, there’s also a Z.  Yep, we’re now talking programming in three dimensions.

If you’ve used Scratch (or similar languages), you already have a valuable set of skills.  Now, just extend them!

I dragged a few blocks out onto the desktop and started poking around.  I was excited now. 

What can people who know what they’re doing do?  Fortunately, the resource comes with plenty of examples and I’m speed learning by going through the examples provided and modifying them to see what happens.

If you’re a Scratch programmer, you’re right at home.

Since the results are in three dimensions, it only makes sense that you can provide different views for the results.  In particular, the wireframe really showed me what was happening.

This project, currently in Alpha stage, and only supported on the Google Chrome platform (although it seemed to work fine in Firefox) is a very worthy addition to your set of tools for programming. 

It seems to be the logical next step for students who are proficient in Scratch programming and are looking for more inspiration. 

I hope that the product continues to mature and, who knows?  We may be talking about this as the Hour of Code approaches.


Your perspective

This has big overtones to understanding line of sight, angles, and I suspect how some magic tricks work.

It’s a mathematics game for kids from PBS called “Point out the view“.

It’s an easy concept and yet has the potential to teach so much.  Plus, in a collaborative environment, a great opportunity for productive discussion, hypothesis generating, and problem solving.

Very simply, you’re one of the characters positioned around a collection of blocks in the middle of a room.

The camera angle is high and on an angle to make it look oh so easy.

But, your job is to position yourself at floor level and indicate what you see from your character’s point of view.  You answer by ticking off squares in the grid in the bottom right corner.  Think it’s easy?  Give it a shot and see how you score.

Could you replicate the experiment real time in class with your own blocks?

Sugar and problem solving

So, how does one work off the sugar from Hallowe’en?

How about with a good puzzle to solve?

Put your brain and fingers into full gear to solve one of the world’s great problems – the Rubik’s Cube.

I had one of those frustrating things years ago.  I wasted much too much time trying to solve it and eventually did – but not without some help, I’ll admit.

Now, the Rubik’s Cube is available for play learning as a Chrome Experiment here.  Technical reading for the HTML5 and CSS3 is available here.

Google has taken advantage of the popularity of the game in a number of its famous doodles.

But for our little outing, we need to work with the interactive version.  In other words, solving the puzzle in your browser.  Here are the keyboard shortcuts to commit to memory or you can just use your mouse.

I found it didn’t make any difference for me.  Tough in real life, it’s unbelievably challenging in the browser.

But what the heck.  It was fun for a while anyway.

And, for the hotshots out there, once you’ve mastered it, perhaps you’d be interested in creating your own experiments and sharing it back.  The code for creating your own can be downloaded.

Good luck.