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Pencil-animation software July 22, 2009

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I was asked this week to locate some software for students to use that would enable them to create animations easily.  I have been playing with Synfig for the last couple of weeks and it is more like an open source variant of Flash in its interface rather than the kind of animation tool I was really looking for.  I have been playing with it because a client has asked me to work out how to use it so that I can introduce it to their staff.  This tool, however is not appropriate for students to use, well not year 6 students anyway.

After a lengthy consultation with a teacher from the Supertanker, who had outlined what she hoped to produce with her students,  I went off to the Internet in search of something altogether more pure in an animation sense and easy to use for students.  What I have found is a cracker of an open source program called Pencil.  The beauty of this program is that it has tried very hard to be a traditional animators desk, very few tools, a colour palette and a layers area are the only distractions or complications from the main drawing area.

It took me about 5 minutes to master the basic controls of this program, something that I like in a program.  With this kind of program  it will be the users creativity that determines the success or otherwise of the outcome and not the overly complex requirements of a program that masks quality output.

What is more, this program comes into its own if you have a tablet, drawing freehand with a mouse is always tricky.  The students in question do not have access to tablets, but every class does have a Smart Board in it, enabling the students to draw very accurately with their fingers, thus producing some excellent results very quickly.  A great tool and one that I would urge you to investigate.  There are a couple of tutorials on You Tube,  I will create some too and post them, however the program is so easy to use, a tutorial is almost superfluous to requirements.

I have demonstrated this program to several teachers since and I can see that this program will quickly go viral,  so remember where you heard about it first!


Open Source Source June 27, 2009

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I have been approached by an author in the US who is writing a book on bartering, the book title is The ABCs of Barter and Trade Exchanges by Trish A. Truitt. The book is due for publication at the end of July at the earliest. They will also have a web site which is due to go live soon the link is: http://www.ABCsOfBarter.com The reason for the contact is that she wants to reference one of my tutorials on You Tube in her publication, I have of course said yes. The tutorial that she is interested in is my Open Office tutorial, which is just an introduction to the program. I figured that a tutorial was not really necessary as most users of the Internet would already be familiar with a myriad of word processing programmes. However Trish thought that the style was clear and concise enough to warrant a mention in her book.

We have been chatting for a while now and it was clear that she did not want to reference a You Tube link in her book. I suggested that I create a wiki and embed the video there. The result is that I have now created an open source wiki for all of my Open Source software tutorials. It is a repository of tutorials organised by application and will continue to grow in the weeks and months ahead. Indeed today I will be sitting down and re-creating the ‘addons’ tutorial that I have already created and will also create a series of Calc tutorials for inclusion on this specific Open Source wiki.

The address is: http://opensourcesource.wikispaces.com

See what can be done with free stuff! November 8, 2008

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Face of the new Dutch 5 Euro coin

I have just read the following article from one of my tech feeds.  This wonderful design was primarily made from Python software, one of the major engines of Blender and in addtion, The Gimp and Inkscape featured strongly as the creative tools required to produce this winning design.  This coin is now in production and you can see how the artist developed his ideas on his blog.  A win for Open Source software I would say. Total cost of investment to the artist? $0.  0 in any currency is a whole lot of nothing!  So what does this mean for education?  It means that there is a lot out there that can be used to create stunning opportunities for learning, for developing thinking skills and on a limited budget. Software that costs nothing but allows the individual to be as creative as this, has to be the way forward for schools.  So what are you waiting for? Get downloading, installing and enabling your students to be creative, problem solve, think and be engaged.  All for the princely sum of $0.

Obverse of new coin

Obverse of new coin

Acer Aspire One September 15, 2008

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I was loaned another UMPC today, this time it is an Acer Aspire One and Gerrard from Connect was the man who dropped it off.  Gerrard gave me a demonstration of the Linux version last week.  As with the ASUS Eeepc it came bundled with a load of open source goodies.  However, today I have the Windows variant and in this bundle there is a scarcity of programmes.  Office is loaded, but I am not sure if this would be an additional purchase cost on the unit if I were to purchase one, knowing Windows I would expect so.

I only have the machine for 24 hours so I will not have long to play with it.  My first impressions are very favourable.  This model has a more shiny and up market look to it when compared to the Asus.  For me the biggest plus is the larger keyboard.  For that fact alone I prefer it as an option over the Asus.  The Acer weighs in at 10g under 1kg so it is a lightweight bundle and would be ideal at conferences.  The touchpad mouse buttons takes a little getting used to, but overall the whole layout of the keyboard is just great for adult sized fingers.

The Aspire has three usb slots, a vga out port, two SD card slots, Lan port, web cam and wireless 80211 b/g.  Interestingly the Windows version of Aspire comes with the larger of the two solid state offerings, unlike the Asus version and has 1Gb of RAM.  If all that matters to you is the look, then the shell is very cool and is available in four colours.

I will be asking the same class that evaluated the Eeepc for me to evaluate this one tomorrow and will feedback here on what they have to say about it.  I am sure that they will be knocked out by it.  The big question is, would I purchase several of these for a class instead of a laptop or a workstation?  I am tempted to say yes, but would want to play with one for a little longer and install some other programmes to evaluate performance before I committed.

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It is all coming together… May 29, 2008

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I was on the phone today to the guys at Novell, letting them know of our open source plans, they were very keen to hear more and we discussed options for “…getting the word on the streets.” We are pushing ahead. After I put the phone down I ordered 22 HP small form factor workstations. 5 of these will go into our new library and will represent the first of our true open source machines in school. Our library software AccessIT is based on an open source database and so the OPAC machines will be swapped over to the new system one at at a time and then the two issues machines will follow. The remaining machines are all destined for our ICT suite and will be dual booted in the first instance. However on the Windows partition I will load up all the open source windows variants that will be on the other Linux partition.

I am hoping to actually link Open Office Writer to the MS word icon and see if anyone notices the difference! I will simply package the new software as the latest update and see who squeals. I suspect that not many will. The biggest issue will be the actual swap from a Windows interface to the SUSE desktop environment and getting these Windows users to stop thinking like a Windows user to get things to work.

Today we got our first server built with SUSE server 10, early days yet and it has no function on the domain other than to be a Linux machine! We have also dual booted another couple of legacy laptops without any bother. We would have done one of the AP’s machines, but she was out on a course. She will be our first advocate in the field to run with our dual boot platforms.

Today has also been good for other reasons to. I have been hatching a plan to share our wonderful gully online for a while now. You can see it from Google Earth and in this video I made last year to let the students at Woodford know where we are in the world. It is my intention and has been for a long time to get a wireless gimbaled web cam set up at a bird feeding station somewhere in the gully so that we can share our wonderful resource online. I will stream live to the web and record the feed of Tuis feeding or whatever aspect we decide to record. The live stuff will be played via Mogulus and the recorded stuff will be played while we are offline and asleep, again via Mogulus so that the Northern hemisphere and other time zones can share in our bounty. Today I hope to have convinced one of the teachers on the supertanker to design a G+T course to create feed stations to attract the birds to the camera and in addition to investigate the potential to create a solar panel array to keep the camera charged all the times without the need for cables everywhere.

Finally today marked the start of this year’s robotics challenge. The students are excited and I am raring to go. This years challenge is designed to be a display at the art exhibition at the end of term three. The students have to build a standard NXT out of the box robot and then design an arm that can carry a whiteboard marker pen. The pen has to be able to be lifted and dropped so that they can control where the pen makes contact with the drawing surface. They will then have to write a program or programmes that create art, watch this space as I upload videos of their progress. Thursday afternoons have never been such fun, that is since the robotics programme on Friday mornings last year!

Linux breathes new life into old machines April 14, 2008

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On Friday we finally embarked on our Linux project. The trials and tribulations thrown at us on the Supertanker this last term have contunually pushed back this initiative. We are increasingly of the opinion that XP is becoming more and more flakey, with patches seemingly undoing previous fixes and causing no end of strife, especially as we have older versions of Windows Server and ISA software, however this is not the reason for us exploring this Linux avenue, but the seeming instability of MS patching has certainly re-doubled our resolve to seek stability. The age of our computer stock means that the MS preferred option of Server 2008 and Vista workstations is not a solution for us. Therefore with the school all in the hall for assembly we sat down with a P4 laptop and started to make it a dual boot platform. Interestingly we were also re-building a Dell workstation at the same time, we had to completely re-install Windows XP SP2 and patch it. The XP CD and the Suse Linux desktop 10 DVD were insterted into their respective drives at 2:00pm.

The laptop had already had its hard drive partitioned into two drives and so it was a fairly easy install for us. The trickiest part was decyphering, for the first time, the different file format and pathing options that Linux requires in order to get Linux to land on the right part of the drive and not ruin the XP install. We solved our decision by looking at disk sectors. Once we had confrimed that we wanted to format the appropriate sector into the reiser format, the rest was a breeze. Not only does the OS load from the DVD but a whole range of open source software including Open Office, The Gimp, Inkscape, Firefox, Evolution E-mail, Helix Banshee music player and a huge list of other really interesting looking programmes that I have yet to fully explore.

The interesting thing is that by 3:05 we had successfully installed, re-booted into both XP and Linux on the laptop and were exploring the programme options of Linux and the Dell next door was still grinding through installing all the post XP SP2 patches, security updates and rollups that it will require in order for it to run in any kind of secure fashion, but there was not a hint of anything useful yet installed, like The Gimp et al; Or even Office.

So why the interest in Linux? Well the reasons are many and varied. Principally with Suse desktop 10 we have an entire suite of programmes that promises stability, fast boot up times, short logon times and crucially for us on our legacy machines, a small foot print on small drives. Linux is tight, the full install required 2Gb of hard disk space. This fact alone will enable us to breath life into our older machines. The software can run on old 486 machines, if so, we will have a modern OS with a raft of open source programmes suited to our needs, running on machines that XP has long since killed due to the huge resource presence that it needs in order to just run the OS let alone any programmes. Oh and the Ministry deal just struck with Novell means that we can use it at no cost. A win win for us!

Now that we have proved the concept, all new machines that come into school will be dual booted. We now need to solve the dual platform domain issues, the remote desktop compatibility issues, the mail issues etc etc, but the future is bright for our old machines. We will gradually wean the staff off of Office and move them to Open Office so that they get used to the open source look. Our students are already using Inkscape with aplomb, they will take to it like a duck to water.

On a final note. Are any of you out there Linux users who have already solved some of the dual platform/domain issues? If you have, please share!

Oh, and by the way, the Dell was still updating and installing the patches when I left work at 4:35, we left it to it…

Ministry discovers Blender February 22, 2008

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I have just spent the last few days at the Learning @ Schools conference in Rotorua.  This was the first conference that our cluster has attended, it was also the first at which I presented.  It is now official I have been bitten by the presenting bug and wish now that I had submitted several proposals to present, still there is Ulearn later this year.  The conference itself was the usual mix of trade displays, keynotes and breakout sessions.

My presentation was not without its angst ridden moments, not the least because the wireless internet connection to the centre on Wednesday was flakey in the extreme!  It transpires that Rotorua was experiencing connectivity issues and so the wireless within the conference venue was not at fault.  My entire presentation was based around a practical session for the attendees using the Internet, so in the two hours prior to my presentation I desperately cached all my web pages.  I did this to ensure that in the worst case scenario they would at least have something to look at.  As it turned out the Internet connections settled just after we got under way and all was fine  until the dying moments when my machine froze, but we had covered what I wanted to and my audience left very happy.   Now as I have already said, I want more!

On the Tuesday of the conference I had a really good conversation with Douglas Harre from the Ministry.  We talked about our satellite connection at school and how that is working out.  We also talked about my plans for implementing open source software on the supertanker, he seemed to be really interested in our plans.  He explained to me how the agreement with Linux, that the Ministry has brokered, works for schools and as I understand it, the cost to schools will be nil in licencing terms.

Open sources seems to me to be a perfect solution for schools, there is now a perfect opportunity to break away from the stranglehold and rhetoric of the big two,(well very big one and 5% other with a rabid fan base), especially as all operating systems now work on the Intel chip set.  Genuine choice for schools is now here and all this fuss over the look and feel of  expensive plastic casings that come with “free software” or the cheaper plastic bricks with a less than perfect operating system will be relegated to the irrelevant.  I will be experimenting with implementing SUSE Linux on some of our legacy machines in the coming months to see how the older machines cope with Linux or to be more exact see how Linux copes with them.

We already use open source software in school,  Open Office, Inkscape and The Gimp for example.  As part of this exchange Douglas asked me if I had heard of a Blender before.  I was delighted to be able to tell him that I have been using Blender for four years, Blender is a really cool program and one that I have used with children as young as year 5, although it has to be said that they found it difficult!  The software for learning site is trumpeting this new discovery.  If any educator out there needs some tutorials on how to use this really cool open source 3-D animation program, just ask, I am willing to help.  Maybe the Ministry would like me to do this for them?  Any offers?  Any requests?

New Year, New Momentum February 7, 2008

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The summer is far from over, but the shore leave has ended, the crew are back on board and the supertanker is sailing again.  Conditions on board are hot and the incessant throb we hear is not  emanating from the engines, rather it is our brains  getting back into gear once again!

I have resisted posting throughout the summer, the lure of inducing melanoma was stronger than the desire to irradiate myself in front of my monitor!  Either way the doctors win!  Refreshed, revitalised and raring to go 2008 starts.

So what does 2008 hold in store for the crew on the supertanker?   As ever my brain fizzes with ideas, plans and experimentation.  2008 marks the start of our cluster and as one of the facilitators it promises to be a learning and workload roller coaster that I am really looking forward to.  Pam Hook is one of our facilitators too and has just posted this post that wrestles with some of the sustainability issues that we in our cluster will have to grapple with in the coming years.  I am still cogitating over what Pam says to make any comment either here or on her blog, suffice it to say that you should all read it too.

Some of the projects, ideas and experimentation that I wish to dive headlong into this year are:

  • Developing a TV studio on the cheap
  • Facilitate the ICT skills integration/learning for our cluster SustainED Maungarei Kaitiakitanga
  • Enhance ICTtv as a resource for teachers and students – let me know if you have any requests
  • Stream  live footage of the flora and fauna of our gully
  • Presenting at conferences – this will be a new departure for me, one that I have wanted to do for a long time, but have never found the ‘in.’  I will be breaking my duck at the learning@school conference in Rotorua later this month.  I am presenting at breakout 3.  So come along if you are interested in setting up a blog for your class.  Trouble is if you are a blogger, you are already doing this… I could be preaching to the converted, or an empty room!
  • Further enhancing my collaboration with Helen Hardie at Woodford Junior Schools in Plymouth.  Our blog and our collaborative community of learners has been well received by OfStEd in the UK.
  • Helen and I have put a proposal together present our work at a conference, but have yet to hear if we have been successful, I will know March 9th
  • Continue to route out all those really cool web2.0 utilities that are out there and integrate them into blogs and classroom pedagogy
  • Continue to champion the cause of open source software – Did you know that for $9.95 Dick Smith Electronics are now selling DVDs of all the variants of the Linux operating system for all the variants of legacy and new machines that you have.  Imagine that, licensing your school for a tenner?  I have my pet theories about learning, ICT and the Internet (to be discussed later)

I had better stop there, this is starting to look like a list of targets…  Needless to say there will be more ideas that occur to me throughout the year and indeed I have pointed out to me.

2oo8?  Bring it on!

Where will the supertanker be heading by December?  Predictions anyone?