Beautiful weather


I was so taken by the news app from Yahoo! that I talked about yesterday that I poked around to see what else they had to offer.  And, in doing so, I found another that quickly made its way to my phone.

Until now, I had used the standard weather app that came installed and then I installed another one just to get a second opinion!  Both were pretty plain and just provided the weather and the forecast.

Sure enough, there’s a weather app.  But, I’ll tell you right now, it’s the most beautiful weather application that I’ve seen.  I think the promotion on the landing page says it best “Don’t just check the weather – see it. Only Yahoo Weather brings you Flickr photos of your location and current conditions, backed by the most accurate forecasts.

It delivers on that promise.

Last nights massive thunderstorm has passed but when I checked the app, there was realistic 3D water running down the screen.  Amazingly, it was a balmy 8 degrees when I checked it first thing this morning.  We’ll have to enjoy today because things are going to go back to normal soon.

Of course, like all weather apps, you can check to see how the other side lives.  If I’m going away, I always like to have the weather set for the destination.  How are my friends in San Diego making out in the plans for the CSTA Conference this summer?

Not too shabby.  But, the app goes beyond that.  How about a visual of the weather patterns?

It looks like all the bad weather has headed east.  I know the dog will be happy.

There’s another interesting feature had I scrolled down a little further but it made no sense doing so in the early morning hours but you can see sunset and sunrise times along with a little graph showing where the sun is. 

I’m really happy that I stumbled on this pair of apps from Yahoo!  They’ve been a fresh shot in the arm for my phone.  The hamburger menu on the weather application indicates that there are more available.  I may just go and play around and see.

A news digest


One of the neat things about going to the dentist (at least our dentist) is that he has a computer screen at each station to divert your attention from his job.  On the screen every time I go there is the landing page for yahoo.ca.  It’s not necessarily everyone’s landing page but it’s a good one for this purpose because, as a portal to information, there’s always a great deal to read.

With the demise of Zite, I’m always on the lookout for a replacement news reader.  The Yahoo! page is OK on portable but I got to thinking that there might be something better.  So, I started poking around and there is.  It’s called Yahoo News Digest.  It’s perfect for portable where you don’t always have time to read and scroll through long involved stories.  It’s a perfect summary of things that you might want to know and a great dog walking companion!

Delivered in the morning and the evening, I’m finding that it’s an interesting place to start reading.  There’s no digging or deep scrolling through various levels or categories.  Typically, there are around 10 top stories treated in a nicely appealing visual fashion.  The related stories and researched background for each story makes it very interesting and a worthwhile application to get started.  A little story wheel at the bottom lets you know how many of the stories you’ve clicked through to read.

Want more than 10 stories and related articles? – just click on the read more button …

You never miss a chance to read a digest because it shows up on the phone screen as a notification when your latest issue is ready.

I think that the format is perfect for portable.  It truly isn’t just a regular website repurposed for a smaller screen.  It’s a completely different approach.

To date, it’s been a great addition to my readings collections.  From an education perspective, it gives a real reason to writing topic summaries.

What’s old is new again


My friend Jim gave me a heads up to an upcoming event for those interested in learning to code.

Write Your First Line of Code” (Facebook link)

It looked interesting – coding for absolute beginners.  It’s also an opportunity to show off the Hackforge location.

As I was poking around, I located one of the organizers/supporters of the Hackforge, Parallel 42 Systems.  What really caught my eye about this company was the development of an application to help explore Windsor and Essex County.  It’s a free download from the Apple App Store.  So, I snagged a copy and started looking around.

By tapping on various parts of the screen, you can locate restaurants, wineries, and all kinds of points of interest.  My furry walking company was intrigued by the inclusion of walking trails so, of course, we had to check it out and mark things for future outings.  We could see the Chrysler Greenway, Petite Cote, Holiday Beach, etc.  but the good news was that there were some new locations that we’ll have to explore ourselves.

It was an interesting tour of the county.  You could zoom in and out and do a virtual exploration.  The application is very nicely done and other counties and cities would be wise to develop something similar to help promote themselves.  I’m sure that they could contact this company and they’d be happy to get involved.  We only noticed two things – the Provincial Highway 18 has been given to the county and is now county road 20 and the King’s Navy Yard where we check out the river on our walks was missing.  But, I suppose that’s probably a matter of logistics – there would be so much green covering if all the parks were included.

As I was interacting with this, I knew exactly how it was created.  There’s a base map and layers were placed on top depending upon the interaction from the user.

Then it hit me.  I’d done this before.  In fact, a lot of people in my old district had done it before – in a Hyperstudio workshop.

I had used the concept as a way of introducing multimedia production to teachers within the district.  It also was a way to work with new tools.  From the Plant Department, I had collected floor plans to every school.  During the workshop, teachers would go through the 8.5×11 documents to find their school and scan the document to their workspace.  Once in Hyperstudio, this was loaded as the base for their project.  On top, we would add clickable hotspots for each classroom and assigned a button action to each hotspots.  So, if you clicked on Mr. Peterson’s classroom, you’d go to another card in the stack with his picture, bio, and information about classes he taught.  After the workshop, teachers would go back to school and continue to work on it, with students now in charge, and add digital pictures of the whole school along with documentation.  The resulting project could be exported as a Flash application and put on the school website.

This application was based the same concept.  It was developed with more contemporary tools and the target was iOS devices. Unfortunately, there’s no Android version.

Now, the reality is that this exploration application has access to a huge database of information.  Just clicking on restaurants, for example, displays a menu where you can further refine the search.  It’s rich in content and information and testament to the fact that you can really develop something valuable given the time, people power, and data that the end user desires.

So, kudos to the folks at Parallel 42 for the development of this application and for the throw back memory for me.

My back is covered


We all know that we should floss.  It’s a good preventative action for your teeth and gums.  It’s just that it’s good for you and your hygienist/dentist recommends it.  So, if you’re like me, you grudgingly do it.  They’re just looking out for you.

I had another case of someone looking out for me this morning.  It was Mozilla and the Firefox browser.  I opened my browser and got a WARNING, WARNING, WARNING.  (OK, emphasis is mine) 

But the last thing you need in the morning is something to go wrong with your computer when your first coffee hasn’t kicked in.

Add-ons are my best friend.  I can’t imagine a browsing experience without them.  Actually, I can – I’ve used Microsoft’s Edge…

Of all the add-ons, who is the guilty party?  It turns out to be one of the most important to me and my failing memory – LastPass.  It saves my passwords so my mind doesn’t have to.  What would I do?  This could be serious.  Not only does it save passwords, but I use it to generate supposedly tough to crack passwords when I go to a new site and need one generated.

I did what every irrational person would do in this case.  I quit Firefox and reloaded it.  Same results.  What do they say about doing the same thing over again and expecting different results? 

Next step was a little more rational.  Maybe there was something wrong with the add-on.  Into the hamburger menu I go and deleted it and install a new copy from the Firefox add-on collection.  Of course, Firefox wants to restart before I can use it.  I do it, and I’m back in business.  I’m happy.

Now to do what I should have done in the first place – check the LastPass support site to see what’s going on.  There indeed was an issue with Firefox 43 and a quick explanation tells the reader to do what I did.  Not my first step, but the second one!

Now, it’s time to dig a little deeper into this add-on signing and it’s off to the Firefox site for details.

It’s a good read and one that I would suggest be done with students.  There’s lots to chew on with this. 

Does your browser have your back?

In praise of lotteries


I’ve always wanted to be quotable. 

With all the furor about the Powerball lottery in the United States this past week, I have the perfect opportunity.

So, here goes:

“You can’t be functionally literate in the 21st century until you understand the mathematics and probability behind your chances of winning the lottery and be able to write a computer program to simulate your chances of winning.”

I know; it doesn’t work for me either but feel free to quote me anyway.

All the “lottery in the news” is perfect if you teach coding. 

In the news, you’ll see reports about how the probability of getting hit three times in a rowboat on Lake Erie is not as high as your chances of winning the lottery.  We just accept it as fact because some speaking head on the television said it.  They must be smart, right?  Then you realize that they’re just reading some other person’s words on their teleprompter.  Those people did their research on the internet probably from some university research project involving huge databases and probability.

But teaching about this is one of the fun moments as a computer science teacher.  I can still hear the complaints – “Siiiirrr, this isn’t math class”.

Yet, in some languages where a random number is actually a number with 7 decimal places and found between 0 and 1, a great deal of mathematics was needed to first of all explain how the computer generated that number and then was forced to do some computations to generate an integer (or as too many students would say “interger”) between 1 and the desired high end.  You might end up with a statement like this:

roll := int(rnd(0)*6)+1

The sheer beauty of the logic and mathematics behind that isn’t always appreciated.

Modern languages make it easy.  You just have a statement like:

roll = math.GetRandomNumber(6)

It was so much more elegant when the statement was cryptic. But the end result was a random number.  Or is it?  Time for a discussion about pseudo-random numbers.

This past week, a few of us computery sciencey people were having fun with the concept in a Facebook discussion.  We convinced Alfred Thompson to do something in his secondary school classes and, as a good social media person, he buckled under the pressure and did it.  And, of course blogged about it. “Lottery Inspired Projects“.

Now, doing something like this typically isn’t done cold turkey.  Like anything you build on a concept.  I actually enjoyed doing this sort of thing with students.  We would start with something simple like flipping a coin a number of times and might end up with a program like you see below in Small Basic.

Simple enough, right?

Next step and, while the above would be developed as a class, the task would be to modify the program to simulate the roll of a six-sided die.  And, of course, one die isn’t enough for most games so we’d then modify the new program to have two dice.  Inevitably, we’d sit back and wonder – just how fair is the computer in doing this?  We’d actually do a hands-on activity after I visited the mathematics department to borrow their class sets of dice.  We’d roll the dice and tally the results to get an idea of what combinations were more likely.  Then, a little plotting on graph paper was in order to get a visual of what it might look like.  Then, back to the computers to write a program that would generate the graph.  By now, there wasn’t a disengaged student in the house.  My Dungeons and Dragons gang were then off on a tangent because there are more things in and out of this world than six-sided dice.

Next, on to the biggy.  The lottery. 

When I mention that this was a big step, I would inevitably get one of those “D’uh sir.  It’s just like a dice with 69 sides”. 

Oh, your teachable moments!

Flipping a coin or rolling a die is pretty easy stuff.  After all, who cares if you get two heads in a row or if you roll three fours in a roll.

It’s a whole different game when you play the lottery.  Once a ball has been chosen, it gets put into a rack and photographed for the television viewing audience.  You never see the operator pick it up and put it back into the tumbling ball cage.  It’s a concept called “Sampling Without Replacement”.  The concept led to a couple of interesting things.

  1. What’s the difference between “Sampling Without Replacement” and “Sampling With Replacement”?  The difference between flipping a coin and simulating a lottery is the absolutely perfect way to teach the concepts
  2. Now the biggy – how would you ever write a program that simulates “Sampling Without Replacement”?

At this point in time, the relatively simple concept of flipping a coin is just a fond memory.  We’re now into some pretty sophisticated computational thinking for Grade 11 secondary school students.  To their credit, I can remember classes that wanted me to just stop.  They would take it from there. I always kept a cupboard of computer magazines and some students had remembered typing a game from the magazine into the computer.  And, good games always have a random concept to them. 

Noise was never an issue in the classroom.  As long as the talk was on topic, things were good.  I was big on brainstorming or, as one student called it, “thinking out loud”.  I wish I had access to one of today’s phone apps that monitor sounds.  In the beginning, it would be loud but once they got onto something, it died.  I’d love to map that to determine whether they were focused on a solution once they found it or if they didn’t want to share their work with others. 

I can remember original solutions that involved less than elegant solutions involving arrays, lists, multiple variables, … Given enough time, most solutions actually worked.  It was fun watching the students work in groups on the project, hiding their work from classmates, and then showing off their logic at the end.

Next steps?  Dealing cards was always fun.  Now you have numbers, letters, and suits.  The fun never ends!

Where would we have been without a lottery as a model?

Just being nice


It was a nice click bait title for an article “Canadians more upbeat than US neighbours, at least on Twitter“.  I thought it was a little bizarre because I’d never noticed it in my online circles.  But, they’re typically Computer Science and other educator types and they’re the best of the best. Now that’s not to say that we don’t have a private moment every now and again as we try to meet with the mind of the computer…

But the results from this study didn’t go unnoticed. There was lots of pickup on the concept!

In the news:

The polite Canadian is no stereotype. Tweets prove this (Huffington Post)

Study shows Canadians are more polite than Americans on Twitter (Global News)

Canadians really are nicer than Americans…on Twitter (MetroNews Canada)

Finally! Science proves that Canadians are way more polite than Americans (Vox)

 

As a Canadian, it was one of those feel good reads.  But then again, if we are more upbeat, it should be!

After all, the litmus test around here is to not say anything online that you wouldn’t say to your grandmother.  In the original article, some of the words are blurred.  That’s nice.

But, if you really want to see them, you can head over to the interactive engine itself which is online. 

Seeing the words unblurred really doesn’t add any more to the story so don’t dwell on that.  Instead, take a look at the pull down menu of words on the left.

Negative numbers indicate that the term is more likely to be used by Canadians.  Positive numbers, by Americans.  Hey…

To the right, you’ll see the terms plotted on the part of Ontario and the United States that surround the southern Great Lakes. 

It was interesting to play around with some of the words.  Quite frankly, there are some words there that I’m not the least bit interested in knowing where they came from and/or who sent them. 

The parameters of the study are interesting.  Generic words were removed and only Twitter messages that had a geo-tag were indexed to be searched and plotted.  To that end, it doesn’t necessarily include everyone.  I think I have geotagging turned off on any device that I use even though I still see a dot over my house on the map.  Reading the story and playing around with the tool was the motivation that I had to check out the settings on my Twitter account.  Have you checked yours lately?

OK, go ahead and play with the tool.  You know you want to.

If you have any additional awesome thoughts, I’d be very interested in hearing them.

News360


If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I’m suffering from Zite withdrawal.  I really enjoy the half hour or so before the dog gets up in the morning to do my own reading so I want to make sure that I’m finding the best stories.  I know that Zite was acquired by Flipboard and, certainly, Flipboard is the first place that I start reading.  I have many categories (it would be embarrassing to give the exact numbers) defined and yet, I still think there’s something missing.

I equate it to getting the best results from internet searching.  There are times when your favourite search engine is bang on with the results.  But then there are times when you know there are better answers.  So often, turning to another search engine or another tool yields what you want.

It’s so bizarre since they all have the same raw materials in front of them.

And yet, it’s the algorithm behind them that helps percolate the results to the top.  It’s like various newspapers that have their own editorial bent to them.  The interpretation can differ.  This differing can open new insights but it can still be frustrating.

So, I do have a good quantity of news searching resources bookmarked and at my fingertips.

Into the mix, seriously now, is News360.

And, I almost missed it.

It came pre-installed on my Windows 10 tablet.  The tablet also came with a year’s worth of Office 365 and my first glimpse made me think that it was part of that package.

In retrospect, I guess I should pay more attention.

So, like so many applications or web resources (News360 is both), I went about adding the categories that are of interest to me.  Just adding the categories doesn’t necessarily do it.  They need to be refined.

The standard thumbs up, thumbs down and bookmarking features are there.

And, of course, what good is a learning environment if you can’t share what you’re reading?

Now, I just have to teach the program to find what I want.  A typical challenge is to encourage a news application that I want Ontario/Canadian content where it’s available.  You’ll see from the big image above that I’ve asking for Windsor, Canada as a category.  At present, almost all the stories are from Detroit.  Hopefully, that gets better over time.

It’s tough to explain why when the reasons are negative.  It’s not that the stories are bad; they’re just not appropriate for the category.

Selection_508I’ve used News360 for a while now and quite like what I see, for the most part.  It’s fast, responsive and seems to yield good results.  With time, I hope that it gets better at finding the types of stories that I’m most interested in.

After all, that’s the true test for resource like this.