Category: software

A feature I didn’t know I needed …

… until this morning, that is.

I turned on my computer and booted it into Linux Mint to do some work and the Update Manager reported that there were a number of updates.  This isn’t a new thing.  I always apply the updates and then go about using the application.  Generally, life goes one and the promise that the developer has “fixed some bugs or tweaked something to give better performance”.  Quite frankly, I just go along with the claims; I don’t spend hours testing them out.  I just figure things get better.

One of the updates was to the Opera Browser.  So, I let the Update Manager do its thing while I did something else.  When it reported that life was good (i.e. everything installed), I opened Opera.  A new tab opened which doesn’t always happen but that’s OK.  It shared that there were some updates.  The cryptocurrency issue was still at the top but I decided to do a quick scroll anyway in case there’s something really different.

And there was.

About half way down, I saw this.


Those reading this blog know that I would have to stop in my tracks and try it.  I literally sucked in my breath.  This is amazing.

I can’t think of the number of times that I’ll be in the middle of reading a long, scrollable article and then wonder who the author was.  Or some key point at the beginning.

My technique is usually to grab my mouse and roll the cursor to the top.  Or do the same thing with my trackpad.  Of, if I’m connected to this external keyboard and using Windows or Linux, just tap the Home button.  For the Macintosh, Home has a different meaning.

Regardless, I’ll admit there are times when I lose track of what I was doing.  It’s like walking into a room and then forgetting why I was going there in the first place!  But now, I can just tap the tab to go to the top and then tap again to return to exactly where I was.  This was built just for me.  I just didn’t know that I needed this feature until I got it!

Add this to the list of amazing things that Opera has added – cryptocurrency protection, Turbo Mode, free VPN, in-browser adblocking, sidebar, …

For me, this is big.  What about you?  How long before other browsers copy this feature?



OK, guess what I did yesterday?

Yes, I did walk the dog but also did some computer stuff.

This computer has been around for a while.  When I bought it, it was running Windows 7 and was good.  However, I was bitten by all the hype of Windows 10, I upgraded in place and liked it.

For a while anyway.

Then, like every Windows computer that I’ve ever owned and worked on, it became slower and slower and slower.  In fact, it got to the point where it was so slow that I was tempted to recycle it.  But, I didn’t.  Instead, I created a second partition on the hard drive and installed Ubuntu.  Then, I got rid of Ubuntu and installed Linux Mint.

In effect, I had two operating systems on this computer – Windows 10 and Linux Mint.  Windows was slow and painful.  Mint was fast and so enjoyable.  Without it, I might have just limped along with Windows, but I switched.  Everything was there.  Every now and again, I would boot into Windows just so that it could update and hopefully do something that would fix things.  It never did.

So, yesterday, I decided to “Dynamite” it.  Or, at least the Windows 10 equivalent – Resetting the PC.

There were two options and I opted for the seemingly easiest way – delete all the applications and settings but keep my files.  It seemed to go well.  As with Windows installations, it rebooted a couple of times and I learned that I needed to be within keyboard distance since Grub starts first and gives the option to boot into Mint or Windows, the default being Mint.  I had to override the default.  Not a biggy, and a couple of hours later, I had a refreshed version of Windows.

I decided that I would take the high road and not go whole hog and install a million applications like I had before.  After all, I’m probably the one who shot myself in the foot.

Then it starts

The very first website that I go to wouldn’t work because it required Google Chrome.  OK, I’ll indulge and install one program.  After all, you can’t have too many browsers.  I’ll probably get around to installing Firefox and Opera too.  Yeah, it’s starting.

I forced myself to work in the default Microsoft environment for the most part.  And, for the most part, I was pretty happy with the way things went.  The hard drive light keeps flashing but it’s not something new – I only have 4GB of memory so there might be a bunch of swapping happening.  However, the computer itself isn’t running hot with the fan blasting.  That’s a good thing.

I was going to conclude this blog post on a happy note.  I still hope that I can but, and I suspect it’s going to be a big but, I started the computer to see this message.

I’ll admit to being surprised.  Windows was good enough to preserve my files for me during the reset; I would have thought that it would have remembered that I had activated it when the big push to upgrade came along.  I guess it didn’t.

So, I guess my big project for today is to figure out how to get Windows to recognize that it is a legitimate version.  I shouldn’t have to go into the store, as suggested, and purchase another key.

I know that Mint is smiling noting the proximity of the message to the Recycle Bin.  I hope that it doesn’t come down to that.  I love this computer and it even came engraved with my name on it.

30 years and counting

OK, if this doesn’t make you feel old, then I don’t know what will.  In a world where there are applications that appear on your favourite app service daily and then quickly lose their functionality and favour with you comes this …

A certain millennial turned 30 this week: Welcome to middle age, Microsoft Excel

30 years!  Doesn’t that speak to longevity!  More importantly, I think it’s important to know that it speaks to functionality.  It’s not an app like we think of in the current context – tap here and something happens.  It’s an environment where the design and functionality is defined by the user.  YOU create the actions that you want Excel to do.  (and if you’re connected enough, download and use someone else’s creation)

But Excel wasn’t my first spreadsheet.

Back in my TRS-80 days, I bought VisiCalc.  Wow, I did pay a lot for it.  It was so functional and filled the need I had at the time – finding some way NOT to write a program on my own for a specific purpose.  The biggest purpose I had at the time was to have an electronic markbook for all my classes.  A spreadsheet was like a dream come true.  I even wrote an article for the magazine 80Micro about how to do it.  We needed to evangelize about the need to get away from that old red teacher book with the spiral rings and the amber pages for recording numbers.  Eventually, you had to do something with those numbers and that took place towards the end of a term.  With a spreadsheet, I had the ability to see how a student or class was doing immediately.  We used it to keep score during Computer Science competitions and teams knew exactly how they were doing!

In the classroom, we used it as another way to take control of that box and make it do our bidding.  We learned the commands, we wrote the scripts, we tested the big selling point for a spreadsheet “What if”.  It was a small step from implementing an algorithm in a spreadsheet to implementing algorithms in a programming language.  But the best part was the “What if”.  You could play with it for hours and there was something special about entering a number in a cell and see the entire screen change as formulae were applied.

As I think about it, I’ve used a lot of spreadsheet programs over the years.

  • VisiCalc
  • Lotus 1-2-3
  • EasyCalc
  • Excel
  • OpenOffice Calc / LibreOffice Calc / NeoOffice Calc / StarOffice Calc
  • Google Sheets
  • Sheets
  • AppleWorks Spreadsheet / ClarisWorks Spreadsheet
  • Microsoft Works Spreadsheet
  • Quattro Pro
  • O365 Sheets

And there might be more.

The one thing that is so impressive is that it wasn’t a huge learning curve to move from one to the other.  Talk about your generic and transferable skills.

I’ve always thought that spreadsheet skills is just one of those things that everyone should have.  They apply to so many things from marks in the classroom to budgeting to doing your books to doing income taxes to modeling various things.  And, they do allow you to create interesting graphics or infographics of your own.

For us, as the end user, each upgrade and iteration of the spreadsheet concept increases the functionality of it.  Excel, along with many other 30 year old programs, really illustrate the growth and functionality available to the home computer user and of course to business.  There’s nothing this geeky person enjoys more that surfing menus to see what else a program can do.

I wonder what spreadsheets will look like 30 years from now?  If nothing else, people will still have to calculate their taxes!

What’s your history with spreadsheets?  Where do you see the future?  Did I miss any spreadsheet programs in my walk through calculation lane?

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

This edition of the post is just a bit special.  It comes from my hotel room in Niagara Falls on Day 2 of the conference.  Day 1 was unique for This Week in Ontario Edublogs.  Stephen Hurley and I had invited five of our regular blogsters to a live discussion of their blogs at the Minds on Media event.  Technologically, it didn’t go perfectly.  From a human point of view, it was far beyond my expectations.  I felt that the people we invited were very confident, proud of their blog and very true to the message that they delivered.

Why a Tech Conference Might Just Be The Best Place To Fail!

So, right off the top, here’s a description of what happened from Stephen Hurley.  During our show, he discovered that we weren’t broadcasting live but hoped that there might be a recording anyway when he got home.

Sadly, there wasn’t.  Here’s a description as to what he thinks went wrong.

Best quote in the comments came from Aaron Puley

I actually just retweeted a tweet of a school sign that said something along the lines of “if you’re not failing, you’re not trying” (or something along that lines).

The best thing as I blogged yesterday was that all of the planning gave us a big picture look at things and we hope that we get the opportunity to try the concept out again soon.

My #VisibleLearning Around Pedagogical Documentation

First up on the show was Aviva Dunsiger.  She was also running a station of her own at Minds on Media devoted to blogging and messaging with social media.  What she does has become second nature for her and the families of her students.

You never know when a blog post might come from Aviva, but one thing that you can count on is a flurry of activity from her at night as she documents the learning that happened that day in her classroom.  Many examples are included in her post.  Like this one…

Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 6.46.27 AM

I like how she’s challenging herself to consider the time spent on the class blog versus the time she wants to blog professionally.  Is there a working compromise?

Success and the Field Trip

We were delighted that Eva Thompson could attend the conference and agreed to be on the show.  It was very late when she got the confirmation that she could go but that’s OK.  The important thing was that she was there.

In her post, she talks about a 20 hour field trip from Sarnia to Chatham to Ripley’s Aquarium to the CN Tower and Canada’s Wonderland and back.  Phew!  I get tired just thinking about it.  If you’ve ever taken a group of students on a bus, you’ve got to have a great deal of empathy.

Eva asks how to judge success.

She offers a great selection of criteria that she considers in deciding if it’s going to be a success along with some personal reflections.  I’ll admit; there were a few ideas there that I hadn’t considered.

The writing that makes her blog so unique comes through loudly and clearly.

Stephen and I met one of our goals – we got Eva Thompson on the radio.

#Hyperdocs …. or, like, just a OneNote

A while back, on a Sunday post, I had asked Whatever happened to … webquests?  At the time, the internet was young, access was spotty, computers were limited, and people really were truly just learning how to search.

The idea behind the Webquest was to use information and not necessarily find it.  It was one of those uniquely pedagogical ideas courtesy of Bernie Dodge.  Then, Webquests kind of faded from our teaching and learning conscience.

Recently, though, the premise has resurfaced in something known as a Hyperdoc and Google using people are going nuts about it.  Cal Armstrong read one of the fansites about it and realize that there wasn’t anything Google-y about it.  True! Heck, we used wikis and websites for our original Webquests.

Cal writes about an alternative in this post and it comes as no surprise that he offers a OneNote alternative.  After all, the document is just a launching point to resources.

But, and this is a big but, there are two real advantages of using OneNote.

  • You can still do it without internet access
  • Since students can’t see each other’s private sections, they don’t know if you’ve modified the reading level for some students – can customize for various students

These are two huge reasons to engage with this platform.  It doesn’t have to be all or nothing and one size fits all.  If your school is using Microsoft products instead of Google, you should be all over this.  If not, you might want to give it a shot anyway.

In the post, Cal shares a link to a document that he created in OneNote.

Get Outside and Play!

I love this post from Ramona Meharg.  Not only because she’s a country girl and proud of it but because she reaches to a very important concept.

It’s particularly relevant when you consider that she’ll be doing a presentation on the Internet of Things at the conference.  Technology is not the answer to everything.

The Thames Valley District School Board is foresighted enough to have outdoor learning centres and Ramona describes an outing to Jaffa.  She sees it as very important for city kids to realize that there’s another world and these visits lead to great exploration opportunities.

There are awesome pictures and a story to go along with them.  By itself, that makes the read worthwhile.

You have to check out the picture of the beetle!

I’m glad that I had the chance to talk with Ramona.  Until now, I had just taken a guess as to how to pronounce her last name!  My only regret was not asking about why she uniquely formats her posts the way she does.  Maybe today or tomorrow.

Show me the math!

And, finally, Jim Cash takes us on a coding trip.  It comes as no surprise, I hope, that I would want to invite a coding blogger to the event.

Jim describes an activity that he uses with students to draw geometric figures on the screen.  I congratulated him on not doing the square example that you see so often.  Students need to know that there are angles other than 90 degrees.

If we stopped there, there really isn’t anything that distinguishes this post from so many of the others that you might have seen with drawing using Scratch.

But, Jim takes it over the top from there.

He describes about how he talks to the student about the program and, in particular, the mathematics involved.  In Jim’s class, just drawing something doesn’t mean being done.  The student needs to be able to describe what she’s done.

It doesn’t stop there.

Students are then moved to their blog where they write a post about their activity.

“I’m going to write my blog post now,” Marie said. She knew that was always part of the process and a reflective blog post was a requirement not only for consolidation but also for later reflection during a future time when this experience could be used, transferred, incorporated, remixed, and so forth.

If you’re using Scratch in the classroom, read this post and see how you can raise the bar with your own teaching.  You’ll be glad you did.

If you weren’t in the audience at Minds on Media or, even if you were, please click through and drop off a comment to these wonderful bloggers.  They accepted the challenge and all did a marvelous job.

If you’re a blogger yourself, put yourself in their shoes.  They’re sitting in the “hot seat” – on one screen is an image of our questions; on the other screen there’s their actual blog post and we’re asking/talking about their thinking in front of a group of their peers.

My thanks to them for taking the risk and being part of this.  I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I hope that they did too.

Still giftless

When I learned about Doodler, I thought I would give my lack of artistic gift another shot.  I mean, when you see someone who indeed as the gift, they make it look so easy.

If only I could…

And it seems to easy too.

Doodler picks an image from Flickr and all that you have to do is draw it.  The rules are pretty straight forward; you’re on a timer.  Two minutes is all that you have.

So, I grabbed my tablet and stylus and decided to see what I could do.


The only problem (well at least one of them) is that my car seems to have a flat tire.

As you can see, those who have the gift have nothing to worry about.

But, Doodler isn’t the only drawing experiment to play with when you back off the URL and get more.  Webchemy plays with symmetry and is more my speed.


It’s a great deal of fun.

Even for those of us who don’t have the gift.

Is set and forget good?

I think we all would like to think that we set up a computer, set up services, set up this and that, and we’re good for time immemorial.

That might work if you were in total control of everything.  But, if this world of computer updates and services that we use changing, I’m convinced that’s not a good approach.

So, I do and recommend to others that they check their settings and see just what it is that you’re allowing to be shared – and with whom.

It will take a few minutes but it’s a good summer cleanup / checkup activity.

There are three biggies for me.

  1.  Google.
    Screenshot 2017-07-25 at 09.22.40
    It’s not just for search anymore.  You watch videos, manage documents, buy things, search for things, share things, use social media, log into other services using your Google account.  Just what are you sharing with the world?
    Log into your Google account and then follow the link above and double check.  You may be surprised at just how much information is available and how you’re sharing it.
  2. Facebook.
    Screenshot 2017-07-25 at 09.17.47Of course, all of the above applies to Facebook as well.  But, there’s a little more since Facebook is all about the sharing of information and, often, very personal information.  In addition to working your way down the list, pay special attention to the Privacy section and see just who is able to see your content.
  3. Twitter.
    Screenshot 2017-07-25 at 09.21.06You know, for 140 characters, there are certainly all kinds of settings that can be tweaked to make sure that you’re getting the most from the experience.  Most of these settings should be familiar now once you’re checked your Google and Facebook settings.  An important one to check is “Apps”.  Just how many applications and services have you given access to your Twitter account to?  You might be surprised.  Revoking the ones that you’re currently not using is a good idea.

Do you feel safer and more confident about your online presence now?  Of course, these three are just the biggies.  If you have a Bing, Yahoo!, Zoho, or more accounts, it’s worth checking out to make sure that it’s all good on your end.  Things do change since you set up your original account.

It’s just a nice rainy day activity.

Put it in your calendar as a recurring event.

Learning about voice

This should definitely be in the running for Exhibit A when you get into the argument that the computer adds more to the learning environment than just a textbook.

The topic is science and how does your body generate sounds.

Now, back in the day, I remember how I learned about this.  There was this picture in the textbook and we were given handouts and were told to label the various parts.

That was pretty much it.

What if you could simulate things?  Well, you can with the Pink Trombone.

Screenshot 2017-06-11 at 08.42.09

This is so cool.

Grab your mouse or you finger and explore the various parts of your inner mouth.  Well, maybe not your mouth but a really good simulation.