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Mozilla add on – Ubiquity August 28, 2008

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Mozilla launched an add on to their latest browser on Tuesday 26 August, it is called Ubiquity.  I have downloaded it and have installed it.  Be warned that it is the alpha 0.1 version so it is not complete.  There are tutorials that show you how to use it and what the general concept of the tool is.   I have been experimenting with it and am quite excited about it.  What it is trying to do is enable the user to put human commands into search terms and Ubiquity works out what you want.  At the moment the list of applications that can be integrated and mashed with it are limited, but that will only change with time, this is after all their alpaha 0.1 release!  So this news comes to you hot off of the press thanks to my RSS feeds in Netvibes.

Ubiquity is an open source utility that enables and encourages the user to create their own scripts.  What has got me excited is the potential for students to search and to use their web browsers (Mozilla of course) more effectively.  Ubiquity will create contacts, search contacts, embed maps and all manner of other cool things for the user while they are still searching the net.  Therefore there will be a more rational/human element to searching and with greater integration of ideas less time flipping between applications etc.

Well worth a look.  Newsflash alpha 0.2 is now released…

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Just so as you know, it was me August 10, 2008

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I was out and about in Judges Bay today and a car not unlike the one above, I think that it was a VW Polo, drove past.  It was a Google Streets survey car.  So when the Auckland Google Streets images are released and you happen to be using the tool on the Judges Bay section, it was me standing by a red car in Judges Bay Road with my back to Dove-Myer Robinson Park and my face all fuzzed out for privacy!

I commented on Allanah’s blog last week that I am looking forward to creating virtual ‘Amazing Journeys‘ with this tool when the Auckland streets are finally released, now I will be in one of them.  I suspect that the car was out surveying today because of the fine weather and the quiet streets.  So if you happen to see a car with an odd looking aerial sticking out of the top of it over the coming weeks and months it will most likely be a Goolgle Streets survey car.  It is not hard to miss it has Google Streets on the side as an additional clue!

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Scratching at programming August 8, 2008

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I have just been reading through my latest copy of New Scientist and I came across the following article. (Unfortunately you will only be able to read the start of the article unless you subscribe.) New Scientist 2 August, 2008 No2667 pp26-27 if you want to get to your local library to read it.

The article is about Scratch and how popular it has become in Europe and the US, 300 000 downloads since its launch in May 2007.  The program was showcased at Ulearn07, unfortunately I did not attend that session, but one of the teachers on the Supertanker raved about it and had it installed in her class.  Unfortunately that teacher has left now, but the article has spurred me on to look at it further.

One of the great things about Scratch, according to the article, is its modular approach rather like Lego bricks.  I have been thinking about that today and that approach is why I think other programmes such as Lego Mindsotrms and Mark Overmars’ Gamemaker are also so successful.  Students do not have to get their hands dirty with programming and coding  in order to get a result.  For me my perennial favorite is that other MIT stable horse from the 80’s Logo.  Logo is not as popular as the others these days it seems because of the coding element, although I still love it.

Gamemaker and Scratch are both free and that makes them a valuable resource for collaborative projects.  The New Scientist article highlights the trading in blocks of Scratch code that students from different locations enter into as part of their own collaborative projects.  John Rowe the headteacher of St Mary’s School in the UK who has been using Scratch heavily commented on the benefits of Scratch collaboration this way.

“Having an audience for their output is really important because it provides context and engagement.  Once you have got that half of your job as a teacher is done.”

Isn’t that the case for anything that we do in the class?  Programmes like those mentioned above should be widely used in the general class environment, I believe, and should not be seen by teachers and students alike as the preserve of geeky boys.  The quality and depth of thinking and problem solving that I see each week in my robotics class is argument enough as far as I am concerned to make Scratch, Gamemaker and Lego Mindstorms core elements of every classroom curriculum.

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Distributed storage August 8, 2008

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I was reading the following post from Wesley Fryers blog recently.  The blog was about mini computers and as I am trialling the eeepc 900 at the moment it was interesting to see a range of other products that are out there that are not currently available in New Zealand.  If they are I have not seen them.   Wesley also mentioned a free remote storage and back up service offered by Mozy.

The remote storage aspect of his post in particular  caught my eye.  I have mentioned in a recent post about oodesk that distributed storage, on-line programmes and even OS in the case of oodesk will increasingly become the norm.

Mozy offers 2GB of free encrypted storage for non-commercial users and offers unlimited storage for $4.95US per month.  What is involved is a test of your Internet connection speed and the install of a little program that enables you to select and upload your chosen files to the remote storage server.  It appears that initial upload of your files is done whilst your computer is idle so this is an ideal task to be done overnight.  I have already started to upload my precious graphics files and photos, having said that my initial selection put me something like 1000% over my current allocation of space, so perhaps I had better purchase some more space!

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Homegrown showcase of ICT initiatives August 6, 2008

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I found an e-mail in my inbox on Monday from Rochelle Jensen from the University of Waikato.  she had stumbled accross the Tohatoha blog that Helen and I have been collaborating on.  She wanted to include it on her wiki.  This wiki is a place where all kinds of innovative ICT practice has been shared by New Zealand teachers not to mention some international initiatives that Rochelle has put up there too.  You can visit her blog and her wiki of collected resources via these links.  Check them out, there are some neat ideas.

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Olympic venue flypast. August 4, 2008

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I have created a short video using Google Earth, illustrating the kinds of ideas that I have discussed in previous posts.  This video has been created to illustrate to junior students on the Supertanker exactly where in the world the Olympics will be taking place from Friday.  I went further and created a flypast of the Olympic venue buildings that have been created and in Google Sketchup  and placed into Google Earth.  I could have added additional information like the names of the buildings and could have juxtaposed it with other buildings in Beijing that have been created in Sketchup.  You will note too that I turned on terrain so that the horizon is not uniformly flat!

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ASUS Eeepc 900 August 3, 2008

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Eeepc at home

Last Friday evening I was given an ASUS Eeepc 900 to play with for a couple of weeks.  My task is to evaluate it and write a review for Interface Magazine.  I have been playing with it all weekend and will take it into school over the next few days and get some students to evaluate it too.  My initial reaction is that it is a well made and thought out product that has huge educational potential.

My biggest challenge so far has been to wrestle it away from my own children.  We are not exactly short of computers at home, we cover the bases with three Windows Xp machines, two Macs, three pda’s (one Palm and two HP’s) and a Linux SUSE desktop 10 machine.  With only four of us at home it is not the fact that my family have to fight to get Internet access that has caused the interest, nor is it the novelty of a computer at home!  However this machine has caught their imagination and that will warrant further investigation as to why.  The version that I have is the open source version (of course!).  I have found some interesting links on the Eeepc on the net and I share a couple with you below.

I particularly love this next video….  It appeals to my sense of humour and my desire to burst the OS hype bubble!  They are just plastic and silicone guys, what matters is the Internet and your access to it.