A cipher widget

Another widget from code.org takes you on the route to encrypting messages.  If you’re going to send a message, you need to do something a little sophisticated than what we did in elementary school which, if I recall, was as simple as moving each character in the message one ahead.  So, DOUG becomes EPVH.  Then, you’d pass the note along to a friend who would roll the characters back one to get the original message.  And, you’d also have rules like what to do when you use a Z or punctuation mark.

You’d be hard pressed to decrypt my message of the day.  “FBFVXGYXCFWOHAWKCEHINF”, I’ll bet.  But if you use the Vigenere Cipher Widget, it’s a piece of cake.

You need to provide a couple of things.

  • your message
  • your secret key

Then, let the widget do its thing.  

Using your secret key, it will take the original message and code it for you.

When you press the play button to make the magic happen, you can see the widget at work as it determines how to encrypt your message.  

Of course, the process can work in reverse as you take your encrypted message and decrypt it.  

Falling from this could be a great discussion about how you do banking and make online purchases safely.  Or even something as simple as sending an encrypted message to someone that they would later decrypt and read.  Of course, you don’t send the key and the text in the same message.

The best thing to happen?

After poking around for a little while, the inspired Computer Science student will want to write a routine of their own.  That always puts activities like this over the top.

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.

Ziglar Quotes

I got on a bit of a roll because of a few things.

Saturday, a number of us on the Bring IT, Together Conference committee met in London to evaluate the sessions submitted for inclusion in the conference.  There were so many great proposals, including a couple that talked about how to make better presentations instead of the regular “Death by Powerpoint” ones.  (One of their terms, not mine.  Any tool can be used to bore your audience)

Another thing was the quite interesting collection of quotations from Wititude that I used as the basis for yesterday’s post.  There are some great things there and the current format for creating memes with a graphic and a quote are featured there nicely.

Then, this morning, I read this story “Top 51 Motivational Quotes From Zig Ziglar“.  Now, I’m not sure these are the absolutely top 51 but they’re all good and I can see using them in a number of scenarios.

Including as a slide in a presentation.  Just because I hadn’t done anything in Canva for a while, I thought that I’d turn a couple of the quotes into a slide.

First this one…

and then this one.

The proposals that have been accepted for the conference are going to be awesome.  The first round of invitations should be sent out shortly.  If you’re in that last list (or just have to do a presentation or would like to enhance something that you’re creating), you might want to consider the quote meme.  It can be very powerful and attractive.

Now, if I could only come up with something pithy to say, I might just end up being quoted.

In the meantime, check out the 51 quotes in the link above.  I’m sure you’re find a use for some of them.  And, if you can’t find any there, go to the top of the site to see quotes from many others.

Sketching with Snapstouch

The news this week is full of stories about the successful adoption of the Chromebooks in education.

Chromebooks are about to take over and Apple and Microsoft should be worried

Of course, we saw stories like this with the introduction of the iPad.  It was successful at first but the pricing has forced school districts to look around and see if there are alternatives.  Alternatives with keyboards…

It makes for some interesting thinking.  Do you buy the higher priced devices that can do everything and last for a long time?  Or, do you buy the lesser priced device that can do many things but will have a shorter life.  I can clearly see both sides.  One of the fun and time consuming things of buying a new computer is setting it up just the way that you want it.  One of the appealing things about doing this more frequently is being able to upgrade to a device with more power and features sooner.

Is there not some combination of both that would be the best possible solution?  A friend of my reflected on the increasing ability (and price) of computers and how, at times, there’s far more than needed.  His comment – “It’s like giving phasers to cavemen”.

Based on the story above, there were some interesting conversations – it’s exciting to think that school districts are able to purchase more equipment.  And yet, as it was noted, for the power user, there will be things that can’t be done.  In this case, it was photo editing.  Long time Photoshop or Gimp users will know that you’ll lose that ability on a Chromebook.  Yet, the price is so appealing for other things.

The answer, as it can be to so many things these days, is to look online to see if there isn’t some web based application that can at least partially ease the burden.  If I was managing a class set or district set of Chromebooks, I’d be looking for web based solutions that support the functionality of the device.  One of the tools that I would most certainly bookmark would be Snapstouch.

I decided to put it to the test yesterday.  I think I could dig into my Photoshop skillset and do the above transformations.  Could Snapstouch do it for me?

As it would happen, there was a tug boat headed north on the Detroit River yesterday and I took a picture.

I put Snapstouch through its paces.  It works quite easily.  Just locate the picture that you want, upload it, wait a few minutes while the magic happens and then walk away with your image.





Black and White

Not bad, if I do say so myself. 

Of course, you don’t have the whole suite of tools that you would with Photoshop or Gimp.  But, if the goal is to apply some effects quickly, this fits the bill.

If you’re a Chromebook user or support users using Chromebook, I’d bookmark and pass this utility along.

In the meantime, if you really are a power user, it’s still comforting to know that you can still buy that higher powered computer to get the full, familiar functionality that you’ve come to love and enjoy.

Whatever happened to …

… Logo?

And, I don’t mean the Instagram logo that seems to be the topic of conversation this weekend.  I mean Logo as in the programming language.

In terms of timelines, I was late to the game with this one.  It never was an option at university or at the Faculty of Education.  In fact, it wasn’t until the Unisys Icon showed up in the school that I had my first kick at it.  I’m the type of person that likes to poke around and investigate and Logo was one of the topics of my investigation.  It actually was a great deal of fun.  You loaded the program and essentially got this blank screen with a triangle on it.  At the bottom, you could type commands and make the triangle do things.

As I came to know, that triangle wasn’t a triangle.  It was a turtle!

The Logo (as you may know, there are various implementations of it; I don’t know which one this was) that came with the Icon computer came with a huge manual.  I skipped over the introductory part and got right into the coding.  I still remember my first Logo program.  I told the turtle to draw a box on the screen.

It looked a bit like this, if memory serves me correctly.

It wasn’t long before my lunch time computer crew was sitting in the lab with me and we all were learning to code in Logo together.  Design after design flew from our fingertips.  Of course, it wasn’t “real programming” – that was reserved for the assignments given in class.  This was just fun, trying to design the most intricate things that we could.  It would probably come as no surprise but the students involved were really strong in mathematics and the conversations as constructions were made were delightfully mathematical.  As I started to read and research the design and philosophy of Logo as a language, I realized that we had it all backwards.  It was “real programming” indeed that we were doing.  We were also applying our mathematics knowledge and learning new ways to apply that knowledge.  Imagine if we had had this tool as we were learning the concepts.  We might have had a different appreciation.

I also had an opportunity to program Logo with a “real” turtle connected to my computer at a conference.  Pen Up and Pen Down took on new meaning when you’re programming over a sheet of paper.  There are no second chances.

Had I had access to these computers and this language, my introductory course most certainly would have been considerably different.  Why wasn’t Mindstorms a required reading when I was learning how to teach Computer Science?  Is it a required reading today at Faculties of Education?  Why not?  You see enough people quoting bits and pieces from the book.  Have they even read it?

Like any other formal programming languages, there were constructs and instructions to learn.  I made a few copies of the manual and left them on the tables in the room.  They quickly wore out.  I should have laminated them!  I also recall a few of the students wanting another challenge and tried to write their own version of Logo.  I don’t recall it ever being finished but they did enjoy the ride.  Today, you can find various online implementations of Logo.  The one I used to draw the above image is available here if you want to give it a shot.  No download; code in your browser.  There is a Logo Foundation devoted to continuing the support for the cause.

Today, I suspect that very few students or teachers experience the joy of discovery that we had with Logo.  We had no idea of what Logo was, what we could do, where we were going, what we were going to learn.  But, learn we did. 

Today, things are so much more colourful and so different.  Students might get a chance to learn using Lego Mindstorms or any of the other languages that have been created with developing coders in mind – Hopscotch, Scratch, and so much more.  With the right budget, you might even get a programmable device like Sphero.  There is a renewed sense that programming/coding is good for kids.  The Hour of Code has made it easy to get started.  (My Hour of Code Flipboard is here.)  I would argue that the experience is different.  Whereas my experience was one where we just explored and learned as we played with Logo with no end goal in mind, there are so many lessons and templates just a click away for use in the classroom.  It begs the question about enduring learning after the hour or the project is complete.  Does the experience lead to an increased interest in pursuing more studies in Computer Science or an application of the skills in studies?

How about sharing your thoughts about Logo or the landscape today?

  • Have you ever programmed in Logo or another similar language?  Which one?
  • Have you ever programmed a robot?
  • Is the Hour of Code just a digital worksheet that’s over once the activity is complete?
  • In your experience, is this a launchpad to bigger and better things in Computer Science?

What does the fox say?

It’s one of life’s great mysteries, I guess.  

At the same time, sounds of animals are one of the more interesting and engaging things for the youngest of our learners.  I’ve got one app on my iPad that has stood the test of time through three kids.  It’s called SoundTouch and it can’t come more highly recommended.  There is a Lite version if you’re a little leery about shelling out money right off the bat.

For the little fingers, it has the greatest of interfaces…

Click on a cartoon animal and the screen changes to a random image of it, the iPad speaks its name and the name is displayed on the screen.  It’s guaranteed to keep attention for at least two or three minutes but also guaranteed for repeat visits for another go at it.  Animals aren’t the only categories – you can pick a different category from the bottom of the screen.  The imagery is absolutely first rate.

The only real problem that “we” have is forgetting to tap with a single finger and end up sort of mashing the screen with a palm instead.  Experienced iPad users know that that will generate an app switch to something else.  So, if an errant Twitter message gets sent from my account, you now know why!

If you’re not ready for the app yet, how about turning to Google?  If you have the time and patience, there’s lots of goodness in YouTube.

For immediate satisfaction, just send the search message directly to Google “what does a dog say”?

Turn up your speakers and let it woof, er, rip.

Of course, you’ll want to check out all of the sound collection.

You won’t find the fox though.  It still remains one of life’s great mysteries.

How I celebrated

It’s Computer Science Education Week!  How are you celebrating?

Hopefully, in some way.  The activity that’s getting the most attention is, of course, the Hour of Code.

There are so many good ideas that are available.  As I noted last week, I’ve been collecting resources and tucking them away here.

There’s definitely something for everyone.

I got a little side tracked when I started doing some poking around looking for Crosscountry Canada for yesterday’s post.  The sidetracking came in the form of the list of software titles that Ontario Educators had on the original Icon computers.

In the spirit of Computer Science Education Week, I spend some time reminiscing about the original Logo programming language.  Now, this may not resemble anything that you think of when you think of current Logo languages or the many variations and implementations.  For nostalgia sake, even the initial login brings back memories of times long gone by.

Does today’s educator even know the importance of having a VGA adapter as opposed to an EGA adapter?  Or, how challenged you might be with a Hercules adapter?

Does it even matter today?  We live in a world of more pixels and higher resolution than could have been imagined with the original program?

Those of us who programmed in that environment didn’t need any stinking voice recognition or computer mouse to get the job done.

We were keyboard people.

We knew the importance of understanding what FORWARD 50 or RIGHT 30 meant.

There really wasn’t a standard for Logo.  That’s why you’ll see so many different interpretations as to what the implementation should resemble.

A particularly good one that I poked around with this morning comes from the Turtle Academy.  There’s a pretty decent tutorial if you’ve never experienced Logo before and a playground so that you can mess around.

Logo wasn’t my first programming language.  I often wonder if I’d had started coding with a language that encouraged play and discovery what might have happened.  One thing I’m sure of, at the time I cut my programming teeth, I never dreamed that I would be doing it years later in the Firefox browser with 12 tabs open in Ubuntu connected to the Internet running the code from a remote site that just trusts me.  And then blogging about it?  And people I’ve never met actually reading it?

Today’s beginning programmer has so many good options.  I hope that they get to explore them for at least the Hour but, more importantly, are inspired to make it much more than a cute little one-time activity.