Doug gets cultured

One of the things that I really like to do anywhere I go is explore.  There’s so much to see if you just take the time to do so.  I don’t know, for sure, if my wife enjoys it but I certainly do.  With Google’s “new” Arts & Culture application, I can extend my exploration into places that I’d never think possible just be being connected.

It’s not that there’s a shortage around here.  Just across the border is the magnificent Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village complex.  So much to see and yet so little time.  And, as we know, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  In Windsor, we have museums and galleries of our own.  I’m certainly not an expert at any level, but I do enjoy looking and resist the urge to touch. 

Given what’s happening in the US political process right now, it’s a interesting to take a look at “Electing Lincoln” from The Henry Ford.

Of course, politics isn’t the only topic in this curation of culture. 

One of my all-time favourite visits was the Harry Houdini museum in Niagara Falls.  Sadly, it’s gone now but artifacts from Houdini live on as a result of a simple search within the application. 

And, it’s not just stuff.  Check out the categories.

Even just poking around, you get the sense that there could be more categories and the use in education just smacks you between the eyes.  You’re only limited by your imagination and desire to inquire.

Check out the details and launch of the app on the official Google Blog.

What really puts it over the top for me is the integration with Google Cardboard and Streetview.  Some of what you’ll have seen may be a one off situation just exploring on your own.  The application brings it all together.

Download the application here.

When you do get your copy, you’ll absolutely want it installed on your device and your classroom devices.  If the time isn’t right for your district’s IT Department, you can always plan to enjoy it on the web here.

A last minute on-call

It was one of those moments you hate as a teacher.  You’re enjoying a break and getting caught up when someone comes up and says “We need you to substitute”.  In this case, one of the proctors was unable to cover a workshop about using Snap! to program the Finch robot.  “Could you do it, Doug?”  Sure, why not.  I’m on the conference committee.  If they can’t count on me, who could they count on?
So, I was off – did the introduction and was heading to the back row and sat by a lady who needed a programming partner.  I was in!
We had a heck of a time, working on her computer, programming the Finch that was connected to it and learned so much.  She was from Minnesota and used the Finch with elementary school students.  I just love to program things.  We worked well.
After an overview of the workshop, we dug in.  Like all the other groups in the room, there was a great deal of productive conversation, estimation, guessing, and determining what curriculum could be covered with the activities that we work on.  It was educational learning at its finest.  Our leader(s) took us on a tour of the Finch and Snap! taking us through three activities and challenges.
Here’s what we did – quick notes taken in Evernote during the workshop and pasted in place below.
Using Snap! To program – block based language
Challenge 1:Lights and Sound
  • Create a pattern using colour and sound in Snap! Level 1
  • Drag and drop interface.  If you’ve done any block programming, there’s little to learn
  • Simple. sequence and the loop to repeat
  • Boards to run over the carpeting – buy them at Home Depot
  • Coloured pens and sheets to plan before programming.  I was impressed that the coloured pens matched exactly the basic colours of the robot.

Challenge 2:  Motion
  • Move Finch in multiple directions
  • Butcher paper to draw patterns
  • Velcro to attach marker to the Finch
  • Move to Snap! Level 2
  • Movement steps are now programmable
  • Colours are programmable by intensity
  • Buzzer has music integration A-G
Challenge 3: Maze
  • Given a maze, program the Finch to move from one to two
  • Move to Snap1 Level 3 – adds even more  commands
  • Tape on bathroom tile
Challenge 4: Sensors
  • Check to see if there’s something in the road and adjust your path to miss it.  Basically, design two paths around the board and determine which to follow
  • Use IF/ELSE block, left obstacle block – had a great conversation with the university student as to exactly how the sensors worked.
  • Embedded IF/ELSE block
That was a terrific workshop of learning.  And, I made a new friend!
Best. On-call.  Ever.

Whatever happened to …

… Altavista?

Peter Beens is taking a course and shared one of the activities from the course with us on Facebook.  The activity was to create some web links.  The example that he shared took a pretty nostalgic look at the web.  One was a link to the Altavista search engine.

Now, there’s something that takes me back.  I hopped over to the Wayback Machine and screen grabbed a picture.

I can remember this vividly.  It was the very best search engine on the web.

You had options too.  You could search the Web and Usenet on December 19, 1996!


That’s pretty old by today’s standards.  I wondered what would happen if I went to the Altavista site today.  I remember that it had been acquired years ago.  So, I went to and it resolved to the Yahoo! search site.  The full history of Altavista is nicely recorded here in Wikipedia.

1996 was a pretty unique and formative time on the web.  There was no “The Google” or other things that we take for granted these days.

In fact, when you launched your browser, it didn’t search by default.  In the case of Internet Explorer, it went to the Microsoft website.  Similarly, Netscape called home on launch.  But, you could set a default webpage for the browsers – tabs?  What are tabs?  So, using all my HTML skills, I had created for my district a Student Reference Portal and our technicians made that the default web page when they did their summer imaging of the computers.  There were links to the frequently used student resources and to a slew of search engines.  In its time, that was important because there were significant differences in the results returned – critical search literacy really was a thing.  It also allowed me to direct link students and teachers to the “Advanced Search” portion of the website to help refine searching skills.

I looked on my hard drive here to see just where students were linked to for searching.  How’s this for a blast from the past?

The version that I have stored here was later in time and so also had links to Google, Bing, MSN, and Yahoo!. 

Of course, these days, your browser comes ready to search.

For example, here’s what I have available in this version of Firefox.

You can’t see it because it’s scrolled off the screen but a popular search engine for me is Diigo so that I can search my own bookmarks.  If you don’t like these, Firefox has this resource of 179 pages of things that could be added as Search Engines.

Search is big business and web browser developers make big money by having their browser listed as the default because some people just don’t bother to change. That drives traffic to the search engine where it generates revenue for them.  Some are obvious like Google being the default for Chrome and Bing for Edge.  But, it’s worth it to look to see what browsers offer as their default.  And, of course, you can change it to your own preference.  Earlier versions of Edge didn’t like that – Windows 10 would generate an error message and then revert to its defaults.  That seems to be fixed now.

I was pleased to see that the search engines listed above still work although I haven’t used most of them lately.   I periodically will use Lycos for general search or for stuff about Canada.

Isn’t search wonderful?  How much do we take for granted that it’s just going to work?

How about your thoughts on this?

  • Did you use the Altavista search engine when it was in its prime?
  • What’s your favourite search engine these days?
  • Do you visit it intentionally or do you let your web browser handle all that for you?
  • Is it important to have your students use more than one search engine?

Whatever happened to …

… Google Reader?

There was a time when I hated to open my reader and see blog posts like this “734 Applications to …”.

That was, until I needed one other than the one I was using!  Then, those posts made sense.

That happened to me with Google Reader.  It was my one place to turn to read new stories and stay on top of what people I respect were blogging about.  It was part of my morning routine.

Then, as noted here in the Official Google Blog…

We launched Google Reader in 2005 in an effort to make it easy for people to discover and keep tabs on their favorite websites. While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader. Users and developers interested in RSS alternatives can export their data, including their subscriptions, with Google Takeout over the course of the next four months.

Then, I appreciated stories like “10 Google Reader Alternatives That Will Ease Your RSS Pain“.  RSS is pure magic.  It’s well worth knowing and understanding how it works.

I think I tried them all (or at least the ones that I could find) and ultimately settled on Feedly.

I also had a bit of a news reading renaissance at the same time.

At my school, we had an awesome teacher-librarian who subscribed to a number of newspapers and I was one of the first to scoop them for  daily reads.  My test was to beat the students taking World Studies who needed a topic to bring to class.  On the weekend, I used to go over to Mac’s Milk and buy the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press and read them from beginning to end.  Reading a limited number of newspapers eventually led to a realization that there was an editorial slant to each and you didn’t necessarily see all of the perspectives on a topic.

As a friend of mine used to say “Same ####, different day”.  That advice takes on importance when you read blogging advice about finding “your niche” and blogging about it.  I disagree with that since it tends to generate the same thing over and over.  How about expanding your horizons?

By accumulating a large number of sources into my Google Reader, I was able to sample a wide variety of topics and perspective and really appreciated them.  So, what to do?  Feedly helped but it did limit things to what I subscribed to.

I’ve used a number of other things.

  • My Alltop – yes, my blog is in there – have to test it, don’t you know. I like how it accumulates the last five posts in a blog
  • Flipboard (although my first choice had been Zite which went away … but Flipboard imported my Google Reader feed nicely)
  • Use the WordPress reader
  • Subscribe via email to blogs that I like to follow
  • Subscribed by email to Stephen Downes’ OLDaily.  I’ve even been honoured by being “zinged” by Stephen.  I’ve modelled This Week in Ontario Edublogs from his style
  • Of course, use the Livebinder to follow Ontario Edubloggers
  • Follow great people on Twitter and Facebook – it’s like having hundreds of news junkies working for me
  • Hit the goldmine when Stephen Downes shared his OPML file one day and now can read from a wider selection
  • Enjoy the Discover feature of news stories in the Opera browser
  • Subscribe to some Diigo news groups

I think that my reading and learning experience has most certainly grown as a result.  The serendipity of some of the sources takes me into areas that I might not have discovered otherwise.

So …

  • How do you get your daily fix of reading / following great blogs / discovering new material?
  • Were you a Google Reader user?  Were you able to replicate the experience?
  • Is there a “best” way to stay on top of things?

Please visit this Padlet and add your idea.  I’d love for it to be an inspiration for a post!

Browser choice

I’ll freely admit this.

I’m a sucker when I read stories like this.


As you can see from my Launcher, I have a few of them installed on this computer.

Somehow, the Ubuntu web browser didn’t make the story.  As well as ….

Like most people of my age and experience, my first web browsing experience might well have been with the Lynx browser.  After all, the web was all about accessing information and text was enough.  A picture within a web page was just a luxury and when you’re connected at 2,400 baud, it was a way to slow down the experience.  How far we’ve come since then.  Mosaic, Netscape, Epiphany, …

Of course, that’s ancient history.  When Internet Explorer and faster internet connections came along, things changed and compatibility with web design became an issue.  I can recall having to have both Internet Explorer and Firefox on the computer so that when I published to the web, the results looked the same regardless of the browser.  Who knew that this was just the beginning?

Now, we have so many good choices.  As you’ll find if you read stories like this, Google’s Chrome browser is emerging as the clear leader.  Internet Explorer is still hanging on because businesses have so much invested in legacy technology that they can’t afford to have their users move to anything else.  Firefox even has an extension that will allow it to work like Internet Explorer.  We sure love our historical software.

It’s a shame because Microsoft’s new browser, Edge, is a much nicer and more modern browsing experience.  As you know, it’s not “done” yet – extensions support will make a huge difference, I suspect.  But, is any Browser ever “done”?

There was a time when I thought that I could write my own browser.  It was in the Lynx days and, after all, the internet is just driven by text characters.  I quickly got over that.  

Every now and again, I’ll download a package from open source repositories just to read some code.  It’s a confirmation that there are so many smarter people than me.  I would be totally lost if I ever thought that I could compile my own customised browser these days.  Hats off to those who are building based upon the Chromium code.  Then, there’s the testing to be done.  Of course, mere mortals can’t do that sort of thing.

The real nerdy thing, for me, happens on Page 3 where the browsers are put to the benchmark testing.  Now, to this end user, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between an Octane rating of 23812 and one of 22840.  But, it does contribute to my own personal learning.  It does make you wonder what the one feature is that Opera lacks that Chrome and Vivaldi have!

First, I’ll do some research just to find the testing suite that is used for the specifications.  Reading about the testing tools and what they measure is fascinating reading.  Admittedly, it falls into the category of “where will you ever use this?”

But, secondly, I like to run some of the tests on my own computer to see how I stack up.  At present, I have Firefox for Macintosh running.  My results are close to the 20913 in the report but not there.  Now, I’m sure that the testers will run their tests on the best of equipment with the browser set for the best optimization.  I’ll bet they don’t have the extensions/addons to the browser that I do!  It really is a confirmation that poor performance is self-inflicted.

All in all, though, it’s great reading and learning.  Keep these stories coming.

How about you?  What’s your browser of choice?  Do you experiment with a number of them or have you adopted your favourite like an old pair of shoes and stick with it.  Or, as I mentioned yesterday, has the browser of choice been determined for you?

I always thought that a browser smackdown at a conference between people who really know their browser would be interesting to see.  At least, I would be in the audience.

Power to the people

I continue to be impressed with the innovative features that Opera adds to its browser.  I think that it’s worth a download and run to check to see if it fits.  If you like the Google Chrome browser, you’ll feel right at home.  Opera uses the Blink engine from the Chromium project and comes with all kinds of goodness added.  In addition to all that, it runs Google Extensions so you’ll be able to have many of the same features plus the Opera specific things.

Earlier, I had written about its ability to block advertising right in the browser.  I wondered if this would set a standard for others to follow.  Great ideas are always appreciated and sometimes implemented by others.  Opera, for example, has had a Turbo mode where web pages are compressed with their server before sending them to you.  The result is a faster browsing experience.  Google Chrome now has the same functionality, if you wish, to have its servers do the same sort of thing.  

A new feature to Opera is one that’s worth a double look.  They call it the “Battery Saver“.  When you think about it, it makes a great deal of sense.  If you have a laptop, and do a lot of web browsing, does your browser have to have your computer running at full speed?

From the Opera website, a graph to show the feature in action.  Of course, we have to be mindful of claims and make sure to understand the language “up to”.  As they say, your mileage may vary.

It’s easy to give a shot.

When enabled, it appears as an icon to the right of your extensions…chances are, if you’re using Opera, you’ve been prompted already to give it a try.

Click it again and you’re in business.

The little slider will let you turn it off and on at will.  

Imagine a world where you’re not searching for an electrical outlet for a power boost.  

Making music but use with caution

I learned the hard way that this concept was a really dumb idea for my classroom.

Really dumb.

In the computer science classroom, you’re always looking for ideas for new problems for students requiring a computer solution.  So, this idea seemed like genius.  I would have the students write a program that would turn the regular keyboard into an organ.  The concept was relatively simple – the students would scan the keyboard and assign a tone to each key.  Those with a music slant quickly became the go-to person in the class as students fine tuned the sounds coming from the computer.

My concept was just to make some music and there was a bunch of technical things that the students had to do by reaching directly out to the hardware of the computer.

I’ll have to admit; they were engaged in the project like I hoped.

I expected “noise/music”.  Where my plan fell apart happened when they all played their masterpieces at the same time.  It didn’t take long to realize that this truly was a bad idea.  And what can you do?  I was the person who assigned the project.  Fortunately, time marched on and their interests turned to other things but I still remember the tunes lingering for a while!  I never played the clown again by asking the music teacher if it wouldn’t be easier to have all the students play the same song.

A group even thought that they would record songs and it had the net result of some pretty fancy planning.  They had to know the notes assigned to the keys and then write them down on paper before entering them via the keyboard, to record, and then playback.

So, all these memories came flooding back when I discovered and played around with Typatone.

At its simplest, just type your text in the open area.  Or you can use the keyboard.  Or you can download the app.  Or you can use the buttons over the keyboard to do some additional things including sharing your masterpiece to social media.  Support and additional ideas can be found on Facebook.

So, give it a shot.  Does your name sound as melodic as mine does?

Are you ready to share the site with a class full of students?