Another unique option

The past couple of days has seen me taking a look at a couple of mapping options.  To the list, I’d like to add a third – OpenStreetMap.

It’s considerably different from the other two which are managed by Google and Bing.  OpenStreetMap is created and built by the local community.  

Consequently, the community decides what gets added and, probably is more frequently updated as new locations become available.  Heck, just like Wikipedia, it could be edited by you and/or your students.  Details are available here.

I went back to Lasalle and started poking about.  What I found really intriguing here was the various mapping options available via the overlays.

It was kind of interesting to poke around and look at the cycling trails that have been built into the town’s infrastructure.

As for transportation, you can’t take a look around Essex County without checking out the uniqueness that is the Tunnel Bus from downtown Windsor to downtown Detroit.  It makes for interesting trips to Comerica Park, Ford Field, Cobo Hall, Greektown, and all of the other wonderful things to see in downtown Detroit.

Because the integrity is managed by the community, in theory, a chance in bus routes should be changed almost immediately.

One thing that I really enjoy with all three of the services are how clean the display is.  I think it’s important to recognize that there should be more than one tool in your mapping toolkit.  OpenStreetMap definitely is one to add.

Now and Then

I’m a big fan of Google Maps and, in particular, Street View.  I guess that I might be a very visual type of person because, when I want to go somewhere, I’d like to know a bit more than an address.  I’d like to know what the place looks like too.  That way, I know exactly when I get to my destination.  It’s also handy to check out the neighbourhood and see where the parking is as well.

It’s also intriguing to check out some personal history.

We were having a conversation recently about living in Toronto while going to the Faculty of Education.  I yearned for a look at the house where I stayed.  I still remember the address; after all, I had mail sent there for a year.  Off to Google Maps I went and I entered the address and then I dropped to Street View.  What turned up surprised me.

It was a new house or maybe even a small apartment building.  I certainly didn’t recognize it so I spun Street View around to see if could remember any of the landmarks.  In fact, there were quite a number of new buildings on that street but I distinctly remember the house right next door so I was sure that I was looking in the right spot.  I’m guessing my hosts had sold their house to a developer.

That’s not uncommon.  Ah, too bad I couldn’t have just one more look at the old place.

Not so quickly, Doug.  You can.

Street View has a history of all of the images that were ever taken of a particular spot!  I rolled back the clock and, sure enough, there was the old house.  Great memories of living in the apartment over the garage were the result.

How to do this?

I checked out some places locally that I knew had had some reconstruction and rebuilding.  Sure enough, they had some of the older images.

Just for fun, I checked out the Municipal Building in the town of Lasalle which has had a beautiful facelift in the past few years.  I drive by it regularly so I didn’t even need to know the address.  I just zoomed in and then dropped into Street View and adjusted so that I was close enough.

There’s the rough-ish address that I was at when I looked at the picture.  You’ll see that the Street View image was taken in June 2014.  To the left, though, there’s an icon that I’d describe as a clock with arrows circling it.  Click that.  That’s where the magic lies.

Full screen, you have the current image and a little thumbnail of the image appears in the fly out window.  Check out the bottom of the window for a little scrubber bar.  I slid it back to 2009.

Now, the angle is a bit different or maybe the building was moved a bit in its reconstruction.  You can drag things around and relive what was.

It’s a fantastic way to relive at least some of the ancient history anyway.

How about in your classroom?

    • Have you had a reconstruction of the school that the students could look back at?
    • What about all the places that you lived in when you went to university?  Are they still there?
    • If you work at a new school, what was there before the building was built?
    • How about your old house?  Do you remember that car parked in the driveway?

    The sky’s the limit when you start thinking personal history.

    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.