Analysing writing

If you read my post from yesterday, you would have seen this sentence.

I also remember the big setups for television to start an activity with the knocking over of the first domino and then it cascades into knocking down the rest.  

Those long in education will remember the endless activities of analysing sentence construction.  Quite frankly, I can’t remember the actual rules but do remember that it involved wavy lines, single lines, double lines, parentheses, and braces.  (although we called them round brackets and square brackets)  Then, there were arrows so that you could point various constructs to others.  

It’s all just a blur to me now.  Maybe I should have paid more attention?  

I never dreamed that I’d be so writing so much as I fidgeted in class.  I guess my English teachers were right after all.

Recently, I played around with the FoxType website.

A lot of memories came back!

For example, the site will tear apart a sentence for you showing each of the component parts.

There were lots of memories of the jargon of writing.  Prepositions, adverbs, subject, verbs, pronouns, … I was actually quite surprised and impressed with what I was able to remember.  There were new terms too like “Determiner” that I’d never used before.  However, the diagram above is quite nice in its explanation in context.

That’s not the only feature.  I was curious to see how “Polite” my sentence was.  So, I gave it a shot.

I guess I’m not as polite as I thought I was.  

Or, maybe from a philosophical perspective, a blog isn’t meant to be polite.  At least, doug — off the record doesn’t pretend to be an objective research source.  It’s always written in the first person and always includes my opinions. 

If you’re interested in language and writing, I’ll bet that you enjoy a wander through the website even though some of the features are still in beta.  

It’s free for limited use and then there’s an option to pay what you think it’s worth.  As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and thoughts in YOUR first person are always appreciated.

Reading helper

This is such a great idea; I can’t believe that it hasn’t appeared before.

My morning routine is to make sure that I get up before the dog so that I can do a bit of reading before his needs take over and the rest of the day gets started.

There are all kinds of things to read; some short and to the point, some short and pointless, some long and require some deep thought, and so on.  When you get used to reading short posts, the longer ones become a distractor.  It’s not that I don’t want to read them; it’s just that there might be a better time and place.

But how do you know if it’s going to be long or short?  Traditionally, my method has been to look at the size of the scroll bar as it adjusts to the article’s length.

Yesterday, I stumbled into this Chrome Extension that takes it one step further.  The extension is called Read Time and its goal in life (or at least in your browser) is to estimate how long it’s going to take for you to read the story you’ve just loaded.

After the story loads, the extension pops a tiny square on the screen to give you an idea about how long it’s going to take you to read the article.

Of course, we all read at different speeds so you might enjoy a little reading test to see how you do.

There is a default setting but you can change it with the results of your test.  While in the settings, you might want to adjust position, size, and colour.

It’s very addictive!  Plus, I can see how it’s going to be helpful too.

I’m also seeing another use.  When writing, there’s probably a fine line between what’s too short and what’s too long.  Pop your draught into a browser and you’ve got an instant estimate as to how long it will take the average reader to read your works.  I’ve got to think about that.

In the meantime, it’s almost as interesting as the articles themselves!


Not showtime yet for me

I’ve been asking people if they’d received the Windows Anniversary Update yet.  The most common response was “I think so” but that’s about it.  I would have thought that it would have been a momentous event.  I figure that there would be the massive changes to the Edge web browser if there was.  So, when I booted into Windows, I would look at it and it appeared as though nothing had changed.

I decided to take matters into my own hands and headed off to the Microsoft website to see if I was running the current version of Windows and I wasn’t.  I got the message that I had two options – one was to wait and it would come as a matter of course and number two was to “Click here”.  So, I chose #2.

I can tell you now that there should be no guessing whether or not you have the anniversary update.  Between the time to download, the installation, the three or four reboots, and then setting things up, there’s no question that you’re doing something pretty big.  In fact, it took the better part of a day to get things done here.  Eventually it was and I was off to explore.  I actually quite like Windows 10; I’m glad that I upgraded.  Windows 7 had really gone south on me.  

But, how about Edge?  Since I spend so much time online, having the best web browser is a personal goal.  So, I forced myself to use it for everything that I was doing so that I could get a sense of how it addresses what I do.

Some observations and experiences…

  • Extensions are here!  Yay!  I was tired of using the old Edge and having to have Firefox open as well so that I could get access to the passwords stored for me.  Sadly, at this point, there are only a limited number of extensions available from the Microsoft store.  I grabbed Adblock Plus, Evernote, OneNote, LastPass, and Office Online.  That’s about all that I could see a use for at this time.  There were only a few available anyway  (13 to be exact).  I installed the ones that I wanted and they worked.  I like the fact that I could control whether or not they appeared on the address line.  But, when I closed Edge and loaded it later, I got.

    At least, I learned that I could turn them on and off.

  • Lazy person that I am, I like to pin frequently used tabs so that when the browser opens, they are there.  Edge allows for that but there’s a big BUT for me.  When you follow a link, instead of opening the tab at the end of the pinned tabs like every other browser, it opens it right next to the tab that called it.  It’s a small thing but still interrupted my normal flow of doing things.
  • I like to read and share.  So, this morning, I decided to do all my morning reading in Edge.  In every other browser, when you decide to share a story just read on Flipboard, a popup window appears with the details.  Edge doesn’t play that way.  It decides to split the screen leaving Flipboard in a window on the left and Twitter in a window on the right.  When the message is sent to Twitter, Windows closes the Twitter window and redraws the screen to show where Flipboard left off.  Again, not a biggy, but the time to do this and shake the screen a couple of times is time that I could be reading. 

  • It’s slow and seems to take up a lot of memory.  I recognize that I only have 4GB of RAM on this computer but just a user test against Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Internet Explorer (yes, it’s still on the system) showed that they all worked quicker than Edge.
  • The interface is unlike any other browser with the URL bar not at the top of the screen at the beginning but that just takes getting used to.  Once you visit a site, it goes to the top of the screen like it should.  <grin>  I do like that the opening screen shows a collection of news stories like Opera’s discover feature.  You do have to be careful because there’s advertising hiding in the middle of those stories.
  • I didn’t notice it at the time but I’ll own this own.  Some of the stories that I shared to my timeline didn’t have the URL attached to them, just the story title.  I just got a reminder email that I had screwed up.  That’s my fault; I should have paid more attention but I’ve been doing this for so long, the sharing becomes an automated task.  I should have paid more attention.
  • As mentioned above, Internet Explorer remains on the system.  Presumably this is for compatibility reasons and you can open an Edge session in Internet Explorer.  I never thought I’d be saying this but IE does feel like a mature browser.  Edge still feels like a work in progress.

Now, Windows 10 and Edge browser have improved light years over the original offering but, for my use, Edge isn’t ready to fit into my workflow yet.  I have no doubt that it will get better with time.  

But, for the moment, I’m back to my old faithful browsers.

How about you, reader?  Are you running Windows and have you updated to the Anniversary update?  Am I missing something in my observations?  Do you have any of your own to contribute?  Are there settings that I’m overlooking?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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!