Friday, December 29, 2006

Scribus: Open Source Publishing

Most people get stuck buying an operating system they did not want because some program they had to have was only on that platform. Desktop publishing is one of those pieces of software that can determine the computer and operating system one purchases. Scribus is an open source desktop publishing application that works on all the major operating systems. It also claims to be lighter on the hardware requirements. Of course, it is less feature rich at this point in its development but that should not be an issue for a school computer lab or school newspaper.

People frequently claim that students need to learn on the systems used in the public. I find that this is often a unwarranted requirement because it's the task and procedures that are important. The menus and shortcuts are always changing even within a single product. Take MS Word, for example. Compare Word 2000 with the new Word 2007. Not much being transferred between those two versions. So, unless you are teaching graphic arts to soon-to-be professionals, make your decision on other factors.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Creat PDF on the Cheap

Adobe's PDF is a wonderful tool for accurately transmitting electronic documents. Adobe's Acrobat program is a good tool for creating PDF documents but it is quite expensive. PDFcreator is a free tool that works in Windows to create PDF documents. If you just need to read PDF documents, use Adobe's free Acrobat Reader. They just came out with a new version with a number of valuable additions.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Teaching Markets to Students

Betocracy is a predictive market system. By "buy and selling" shares -- no money involved -- various alternative outcomes can be weighted. So, for example, if you wanted to predict the outcome of the next three basketball games, students could trade shares such that the own shares in the alternative they believe is most likely. Naturally, the more popular picks are the most valuable/expensive. This is a great system for learning about markets and economies. The system is in beta, but that does not stop you from testing it out now.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Search Engine for Kids

Quintura for Kids is one of more interesting search engines I've seen for kids. Most of the other search engines for kids are based on the application of strong filtering and some content reorganization. Quintura uses an associated search feature that I think kids will really like. You put your cursor over a word and associated words appear. Hard to describe in words -- go there and take a look.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

AmberJack site tour

AmberJack is an open source project that allows you to create a guided tour of a web site. Essentially it is a series of screen snapshots with comments. This site is very useful for helping students learn a new site and for helping parents figure out your school's site.


Monday, December 18, 2006

University Podcasts

Open Culture has a list of university podcasts. While the list is not exhaustive, it certainly provides great examples on how to create a podcast. Certainly some good holiday listening.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Make Linux look like Windows XP

Here is a review of a version of Linux which is designed to look like Windows XP. While the newest versions of Linux look great, the cold reality of school life is that some people won't accept any form of change. Providing a version of Linux that does not appear to change things can help. Naturally, there will still be many differences, but hopefully your users will only find out about them after they fall in love with Linux.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Fixing your photographs

Schools work with a lot of photographs. There are the school newspaper and year book, but students working on project in the computer lab also want to insert photos. This blog gives some great advice on how to fix photos with fairly common techniques.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Wikia: Having your own Wikipedia

Wikia is a project created by the same people who created Wikipedia. Basically, this site gives you the same type system they use for Wikipedia on a system that gives you all the storage space you want. All of this is for free. Here is a good news story on the new site.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Linux BIOS

The BIOS is the first operating system a computer user sees. While you may run Windows or OS X, you also run a BIOS. The majority of the time, no one ever changes the BIOS no matter how many times the operating system may change. The LinuxBIOS project replaces the operating system on the BIOS chip with one of its own design. Why should you do this? For one, it loads Linux in about three seconds. This is actually a very important factor if you have to restart your Linux computer for any reason. Another nice factor is that it allows you to use some services, such as redirecting the console to the serial ports. Rack mounted servers usually have this in their BIOS settings, but a converted old PC will most likely not have this feature. So for no money you can squeeze more services and performance out of your old hardware.

Of course, make sure your hardware is supported before installing and have a copy of your old BIOS just in case you want to go back.


Friday, December 08, 2006

Podcasting 101

Make magazine has a number of useful links for educators wishing to create a podcast or to find good educational podcasts. Check out the Podcasting 101 link. It's an excellent place to obtain further information.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Video conferencing for multiple locations

Paltalk is offering video conferencing for groups up to ten people. In reality, you're not going to have more people unless you have a 50 inch screen.

This is a great solution if you want to have multiple classes work together from remote locations.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Academic Search Engines and Sources

Marcus Zillman, one of my favorite bloggers, has published a list of academic search engines and sources. This is one of the best resources I've seen on this topic. You should print this out and put in a place that your staff can easily find.


Monday, December 04, 2006

Finding your next school Wiki

While we know that Wikipedia is the best known wiki in the world, that does not mean it's going to be suitable for your next wiki project for your school. The good news is that there are many types of wikis available -- many of them for free. WikiMatrix helps you to determine which wiki is best for your purposes. Even if you don't plan on using a wiki any time soon, this site can help you to understand what wikis are.


Friday, December 01, 2006

Getting money for your school projectsD

Donors Choose is a very interesting site dedicated to matching people with small amounts of money with small school projects. If you cannot get a big grant for your next school project, this site may be a good way to get part of it funded.


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Ideas for Web Site Design

flixr has an interesting site devoted to examples of good web site designs. Since you probably won't have enough money for a designer for your next school web site, this is good place to see what you want.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Citing Google Books

The Chronicle has a good article on how to reference information found on Google books. This information can also be applied to all forms of online materials. This is an increasingly more common issue -- and most reference books don't provide information on the subject because the need is a recent one.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Zemble Text Messaging System

Zemble is a social networking site that uses text messaging for communications. This system could be quite useful for a school. It could be used to send out notices about school events and announcements of snow days.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Wikipedia CD-ROM for Schools

A selection of educational articles found on Wikipedia can now be obtained on a CD-ROM. This article describes the project that put together the CD-ROM and provides a link to downloading it.

This prepared CD-ROM is great for schools with a need for an online encyclopedia. Because the articles are selected by volunteers, you can be sure that the articles are truly educational and of good quality. This is a real benefit for younger students.

Another benefit of having a CD-ROM is that it can be used locally. Searching off a CD-ROM or from a local hard drive is going to be much faster than it would the same search over an Internet connection. You can also make copies to send home with students. The CD-ROM is free of charge. All you need to do is to down load it and burn it to a CD-ROM.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Foiling Keyloggers

A research group at Microsoft has come up with a simple method for defeating keystroke loggers. A keystroke logger is a software program or hardware device that captures all the keystrokes typed on the computer. The resulting collection of letters can then provide a hacker with your user name and password. It does not matter if you use encryption because the keystrokes are only encrypted after they have been received by the application you are using. The keystroke logging program captures the letters before they are encrypted. In the case of the hardware devices, they capture the characters before they even reach the computer. These devices often attach to the end of the keyboard cable just before it plugs into the computer.

This new method requires that you open up a second application, such as Notepad, and type in some characters in it between typing in characters in the password field. So, if your password is "safeenough" you would type "safe" in the password field and then type "dfafioiueeffda" into Notepad. After entering these extra characters into Notepad, return to the password field and complete the password. The application gets the correct password and yet any keystroke logger will see "safedfafioiueeffdaenough" as your password. Obviously, if you do this process a couple of times while entering the password, the effect will be even better.

You should use this security process anytime you are at an untrusted computer. And, of course, this system assumes that your password is being encrypted before it leaves your computer. You should always see the lock symbol on the browser anytime you're entering passwords or other sensitive information.

Remember, it's not just passwords you need to protect. If you have to type in anything else that needs protecting, such as social security numbers, use this system. Of course, if you can avoid untrusted computers, that would be great but often we do not have a choice.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Windows Fundamental for Legacy PCs

One of the killers of old equipment is the newer and more bloated operating systems. While hardware gets cycled out of most places every four years or so, the hardware is probably good for eight to ten years. Naturally, keyboards and mouse systems will die before then, but he basic components on the PC will be alive long after you wished that they weren't.

Microsoft has a little-known -- at least I have not heard of it until recently -- version of XP that is designed for older hardware. Only people who have the Microsoft Assurance Program. Usually, this means corporations but school districts may have it too. The operating system is designed to be a platform for the Microsoft remote desktop client. You will not be getting a fully functional Windows XP system. For older hardware, that ship has sailed. But if you have a boat load of older systems, getting this skinny version of XP along with a Windows terminal server could be a good option.

I also like the fact that this system improves your security situation. First, it allows you to run an OS that is being patched. Older systems often come with unsupported operating systems. This new OS puts you back into a supported environment. The second thing that improves security is the limited amount of functionality. Your students are going to have a more difficult time screwing around with computers with this limited OS simply because there is less they can do. With computer security, less is more.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Homemade Telephone System

Schools were not built to provide access for telephones. Installing a telephone system can be an expensive proposition. Given that most teachers have cell phones, why not use them? Most people have calling plans that make local calls free. Using cell phones also means that your staff can be reached regardless of their location -- even outside the building.

The main problem with cell phones as an alternative telephone system is reception. A system that requires a teacher to find a window to stand next to is not going to work. This is where having a cell phone signal repeater comes in handy. It takes a signal from the outside of the building and transmits it to the inside of the building.

The repeater has the ability to support multiple antennae cables. This allows you to wire up different floors or sections of a building using just one repeater. One downside is that if you want to support multiple cell phone vendors, you may require more than one repeater. Each repeater is configured for a specific frequency range. So, for example, T-mobile and Verizon may use different frequencies. If so, you would need a unit for each. Fortunately, they both can use the same internal cables to transmit their signals.

Oh, and one more thing: this system will make it easier for your students to use their cell phones too. The repeater does not have the ability to recognize specific cell phones.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Creating a cheap server

Here are some great instructions for how to create a low-end Linux sever for under $80. The hardware is $50 and the shipping is $30. Now, because you have a school, you may have a stack of donated computers to figure out. Let's face it, a donation can be a mixed blessing. You risk the wrath of the donor if you toss out the equipment or you end up invest so much time in fixing and maintaining the computer that a new computer would have been less expensive. Using an old computer as a Linux server makes a lot of sense. Linux runs great on low-end equipment. You don't have to use the old keyboard, mouse and monitor. These parts are probably broken, anyway.

The instructions above provide for a fairly general purpose server. If you just want a firewall or email server, you can use even older computers. In the case of the firewall, you don't even need the hard drive.

If you don't have donated computers, you may go to a recycling center (see this posting) or purchase from one of the online resellers (see this posting). And, don't forget that these old units can also be used for terminal server clients.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Reverse Dictionary

There is a wide selection of online dictionaries but OneLook is the first "reverse dictionary" I've come across. It's great for situations where you know what the word means but you cannot remember the actual word. This could be useful for students and for your own work. It also works nicely as a type of thesaurus. It also has the ability to check the definitions of words you find in multiple online dictionaries.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Keeping the little kids safe on the Internet

Middle school students and older may be actively looking for naughty content on the Internet, but most younger students simply stumble on it. While filters can help, they are not perfect. In Google, for example, one can still see the image icons for sites that one may not be able to visit. Even with the Google safety filter turned on, a great number of questionable images can appear.
The search engine goes a few steps beyond Google's safe search to make sure the content is acceptable for children. And, there are no images. The chance of accidentally hitting a bad site is greatly reduced. Combine this with a halfway decent filter and your school should be reasonably protected.

One more thing: you're not giving up Google to use They search Google and Yahoo! to obtain the search results. They just clean up the results list first.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Control your server closet on the cheap

As your server closet gets more crowded with more and more servers, switches, routers and firewalls, the ability to monitor them becomes an increasingly difficult task. I started using KVM switches (Keyboard/Video/Mouse) to control my servers, but as the number of servers increased, I found that the tangle of thick KVM cables became a real bother. The back of my servers is already a web of Ethernet and power cables. The KVM cables made things a lot worse and in some cases would knock loose a power cable and bring down a server.

An alternative method for controlling equipment is via serial connections. Most networking devices come with some sort of serial port. In some cases the port looks like an Ethernet port and is often labelled "console" and in other cases the serial port looks like the typical serial port on the back of your computer. What many people may not know is that most servers have the ability to be controlled via the serial port. There are limitations, such as no mouse control and no graphical interface, but these are not limitations for servers controlled via the command line. While Windows can be controlled via the command line, most people don't do so.

Even if your computer does not have the ability to redirect your video and keyboard output to the serial port, Linux and Unix have utilities that make this possible. So what are the advantages? Price is a big one. KVM switches, especially ones that can be remotely administered, can be expensive. The PortMaster box shown above is under $200. You will not find a KVM device that can monitor 30 units for anything close to this price. Another advantage is cable management. Instead of a three-part KVM cable, you're only running a serial cable. And, with special connectors, you can run an Ethernet between devices and plug it into a serial port adapter. This means that your equipment can be hundreds of feet away.

The one downside to the PortMaster box is that it does not come with an encrypted access port. This means that you need to use either a modem to connect directly to the unit or connect securely to one of your computers via SSH and then telnet over your internal network to the box. That's not a big constraint, but it's one you need to be aware of.

As I get more experience with this unit I post on my experiences.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Where to find free academic podcasts

A company called Productive Strategies has created a page with a number of freely available academic podcasts. I'm a big fan of podcasting. I think they are a great advance over radio. That a listen and see what all the excitement is about.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Online Book Summaries

LitSum is the best collection of book summaries I've seen. This site could help students to know if they want to read a particular book. It also good to know what's out there in case a student tries to pass off one of these summaries as their book report. Using online information is one of the problems the Internet has brought to the classroom. It's not that cheating was not going on before, but it is certainly easier now.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Who says graphic design cannot be open source?

Blender, when combined with programs such as GIMP, Ink Scape and NVU make for a fairly complete design setup. Blender is a three-D design tool. GIMP is like Photoshop while Ink Scape is like Illustrator. NVU is a web design tool, like Dreamweaver. I've used GIMP and found it to be quite usable. Some of the features are beyond me, but then so are many of the features in Photoshop.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Real-time Web Collaboration

Thinkature is web based collaborative brainstorming space. It's like having a whiteboard for a project group meeting. This could be a useful tool for students attempting to put together projects. It also can be used to teach concept mapping and brainstorming skills. There are other systems like this one, but this is one of the best I've seen that is offered for free.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Free Online Backup Site You Already Own

In July I posted on Microsoft's new FolderShare program. FolderShare allows you to synchronize data from one computer directory to one or more other computers.

One of the nice features of this system is that it takes advantage of the fact that most computers have more than enough storage space. There is no reason to pay some firm to store data online when your home computer is sitting there with lots of extra space and an always-on broadband connection.

Since July I've been using FolderShare and have found that it works well for simple file sharing. FolderShare pretty limited when compared to true backup systems. It can only handle ten libraries or packages of data. This may not sound too restrictive until you find out that it cannot share an entire drive letter. So, if your data is all under drive D, you cannot make a share out of drive D. You must go into the sub-directories and share them separately -- and be under ten. This is possible for small organizations and for individuals. Of course, one could set up multiple FolderShare accounts, but that might become too complex.

One great use of FolderShare is as a method for backing up laptop data. Install FolderShare on a laptop and then invite your home or office to share the data. Whenever the laptop is online FolderShare will make sure any new files will be transferred.

I suspect that FolderShare's features will improve in the near future. Google will most likely come out with some file storage system that will force everyone else in the market to respond. BTW, you need to be extra careful of the computers you backup to. I would recommend encrypting the directories you store your data. You don't want the data to be accidentally exposed. And, as you might expect, FolderShare is only for Windows.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Measure your bandwidth helps you to know how much bandwidth your connection has. This can be very important information if you are having connection problems. While the problem may be with a specific site it could be some line issue. The line could have problems or someone down the hall is downloading a multi-gig movie file. One of the things I like about Speedtest is that it can keep a history of your bandwidth tests. Seeing a pattern might help you to figure out what is going on.

If you're like me and have an international audience for your web servers, being able to know the effective bandwidth to various parts of the world is very useful. It's the only way to measure the experience your overseas users are having. This is critical if your distance-learning program has students in multiple countries.

I've been using various speed tests for many years and this one is by far the best I've used. Highly recommend.


Monday, November 06, 2006

New Google Earth

Google has released an updated version of their Google Earth site. The new version has all the features that use to be in the paid for version.

The site is great. The images are good and the ability to change the angle is surprisingly effective -- especially given that we know the satellite only took its shots from one angle.

With the elections coming up, the political maps are particularly timely for social studies classes.

There is a lot here. Give it a try and try stop using it. It's addictive.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Free File Converter

It is not as common as it once was, but every so often a student comes in with a file created at home in a format that your applications cannot read. I use to have a collection of file conversion utilities to handle these situations, but today I don't have any easily at hand. Zamzar is an online tool which takes any file up to 100 megs in size and turns it one of many other possible formats. Unfortunately, it does not handle my Real video files, but it gets most common formats.

Zamzar can probably be of most use with multimedia files. Unless you are creating all your content, you're probably going to be working with multiple formats. It's a real pain in the neck to have a sound track for your video only to find that it's an invalid format.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Using Dirt-cheap Computers

Here is one of several locations where one can get older model computers. Like car prices, old equipment loses value fast. This particular Dell GX150 is being sold for $47. The cost of shipping will come close to the price of purchase.

These units can be useful for schools for a variety of reasons. For terminal clients, these devices are fine. The dedicated terminal clients cost several times more and don't offer significantly more benefits other than small physical size.

Another good use for these old units is to replace a broken computer in a old computer lab. You don't want to get a brand new computer because all the students will fight for the new computer. Getting a unit like the ones you already have makes life simpler.

And, if you use these computers with Linux, these boxes can make great servers.

In an earlier posting I mentioned donated computers. What buying these old computers provide is a bit more control over what you are receiving. Plus, a donation may include a variety of hardware and there are great advantages to having standard hardware.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Language Resource

Language Guide provides a fair amount of information for beginners in learning a foreign language. The languages include Spanish, Chinese, French, German Arabic, and a number of others.


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Thumbstacks Online Presentations

Thumbstacks is like a simplified version of Power Point. The main difference is that the application is entirely online and you can easily share it with others via the Internet.

This system is great for students who want to continue working on a project from home or from a computer in school that is not setup with Power Point. It's also great for schools that use Linux. While Open Office has a presentation tool, it may not be a good choice for students who want to work from home -- parents may not want to install the massive Open Office suite for a few presentations.

One issue I saw with Thumbstack is that it does not appear to important and export to Power Point or to any other formats. They say they are available anywhere there is an Internet connection, but what if you loose the connection? It would be nice to have a copy on the hard drive.


Monday, October 30, 2006

National Geographic map making site

I was one of the many thousands of kids who collected the National Geographic maps. Well, National Geographic has gone one step further to offer a web site that allows you to create a wide variety of maps. The maps can be of any place and show almost any type of information. This site is invaluable for anyone preparing a presentation or creating a school project. If nothing else, take a look to just play around with various combinations of maps. It's a lot of fun.

Friday, October 27, 2006

JumpCut for Film Editing

This is a potentially interesting web for schools that want to do some basic film editing and don't have multimedia capable computers. Of course, if you have such computers, this site is probably not worth the effort. That's because to uploading of raw materials will take a very long time. It's easier to connect a video camera to the computer and use the editing software to determine which segments to extract. Unless you're a video genius, you probably have about 15% usable content on any given tape.

JumpCut also allows you to post your video files, but that is not in itself a big deal these days.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Academic Portal

The Academic Portal is a wiki that provides lists of academically-oriented blogs. While one can argue that searching via Google or using tag searches in Technorati would achieve the same results, there is always something to be gained from seeing information presented in an alternative form.

If you have an educational blog, you have nothing to loose by listing it under the appropriate category.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Math World

Wolfram has launch an extensive math resource center. The site is particularly useful for college and advanced high school students. At least that is how it looks from my survey of the site. In anyone knows how well the site matches up to high school requirements, please put in a comment. To my uninformed eye, it looks very usable.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Firefox 2.0 Released

Firefox 2.0, the long-anticipated update to the 1.5 series has come. While it's not as big an improvement as the the previous major release, it does have a number of great new features. It has better tab-browsing control and a resume feature. If you open the same three or four windows at the start of each day, this feature can save you a lot of time. And it's not in the IE 7 browser. I did find a small bug with the history window, but I'm not sure if that was due to a bad install or a real problem. As usual, test out a major new release before moving it into general use.

Is Firefox more secure than IE 7? That' s a common question. IE 7 is much better than IE 6. IE 7 can be as secure as Firefox if you put all Internet sites into the highly secure mode and only put the sites you know to be safe into the trusted mode. But most people don't know about this feature. Out of the box, so to speak, Firefox is safer because is does not use the dangerous active scripting system and because fewer hackers target Firefox. The key to online security, as always, is the user's intelligence.


Monday, October 23, 2006

100 most popular freeware/shareware programs

SnapFiles is a web site that offers what it considers the most popular freeware and shareware software programs. Naturally, I like free when possible, but there are many times where shareware makes sense. I've found that A/V freeware programs are usually not as easy to use and it's worth paying a few bucks. Shareware tends to be less expensive than the standard commercial applications. It's also more likely that you'll have a support line to call than you would with a freeware program. Take a look at both lists. You'll certainly be amazed at the diversity of applications and you may one day save a lot of money.


Thursday, October 19, 2006


WebSnapr is a free web service will will create a graphical thumbnail of any web page you want. While this can be done via screen prints and other screen capture applications, it takes a little knowledge to get what you want. Often, for example, the browser bars/menus and even other areas of the desktop are captured. This system knows you just want the web page.

This system could be useful for building a simple web page for students too young to read. So, instead of writing "Scholastic web site," you have an image of the home page.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Information Literacy

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article reporting that a recent study of high school and college students indicates that this group may not be as adept at interpreting information found on the Internet with the same degree of proficiency as they are at using the Internet. Old people are often amazed with the ease of which students operate technology. What we may not be noticing is that the tools for understanding the information on the Internet is not always picked up along the way.

Information from the Internet requires all the same critical thinking processes as does any other source of information, but it also brings a few new twists. For example, it is difficult to pretend to be a major publisher in a bookstore, but it's very easy to do online. The ability to assess the authenticity of a source is more difficult online because there aren't the traditional gatekeepers. Of course, once you know that you should check, Google makes it fairly easy to uncover the true identify of a source.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Building your own web site

So you want your own web site. There are essentially two ways to obtain a site: build your own server or get one on a hosting site. The siteKreator is one of the more interesting site creation places. It includes web 2.0 features. The DIYwebserver is information from fellow geeks providing step-by-step instructions on how to build your own server. If you have bandwidth at your school, there isn't anything holding you back. Web servers require very little hardware to make them function. You may be able to use an otherwise rejected computer. This is a very good solution for an internal web site, BTW.


Monday, October 16, 2006

Chicago Manual of Style

Good writing newer goes out of style. In fact, students are writing a lot more than students did ten years ago because of all the blogging and instant messaging. Of course, one can argue that the writing in these forms is not very good, but at least students understand the importance of writing. Ten years ago a student might have thought that the telephone had replaced the need for written communication, but I'm sure that far few students would now make that claim.

The Chicago Manual of Style is the bible for correct writing. There are few parts of the online system, but you'll have to pay if you want to use the full system. This may be a good investment for the school library's computer.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Zotero: A research tool for online information

Zotero is a FireFox free extension that allows you to bookmark and reference information you find on the Internet. One of the nice characteristics is that it automatically creates reference citations for online resources. This tool may help your students to bring a bit of sanity to their research.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Google Teacher Academy

Google has recently announced a new program to create "Google Certified Teachers." The first training program will be Nov 7th at Google's headquarters. There will probably be many more in the future. They also have a new web site that provides information on how K-12 educators can best use Google's programs. I'm always amazed on the diversity of offerings Google has to offer. While each product may not be the best of its type, the collection of services -- and the low costs -- make them attractive to the educator on a budget.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Is everyone out to get you?

The BBC is doing a series on computer security that use standard Windows XP installations to see how long it would take for hackers to attempt a break in. Not long, it seems. The BBC's experience is not unlike what I've read from security reports -- just a bit more readable by the general public.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Free Geek Recylced Computers

Free Geek is a non-profit organization that accepts old computer equipment, rebuilds it -- as needed -- with a Linux-based system, and then sells or donates the equipment to needy schools and non-profits.

If you don't need a computer, you should still check out these guys as a place to donate equipment cost to. There are some expenses involved, but wouldn't you rather have your equipment going to worthy new homes rather than to a rural community in China already poisoned by the toxic debris of melted down circuit boards?
In case you were wondering, these old computers will function pretty well using Linux. Linux does not have the same hardware demands as Windows. Plus, you can always use these units as terminal server clients.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Worldmapper offers a number of online maps of the world that offer interesting perspectives on how our world would look if certain issues, rather than boarders, counted the most. Could be useful in social studies classes.


Friday, October 06, 2006

Browsercam for testing web site designs

A firm called Browsercam offers a service which will capture images of how a web page looks like via a wide assortment of browser and operating system combinations. If you have a wide range of browsers coming to your web site, this service is the best way to find out what they are seeing. While they do have fees for this service, it certainly is worth the price when compared to the possible embarrassment of having your visitors find the problem.

Of course, you can create virtual computers with different operating systems and multiple browsers if you want to perform the same task. You'll save some money but it will cost you in time spent.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

OPTE Internet Maps

The Internet is not always easy to describe. The OPTE Project has done a great job making maps of the Internet. The images are free to use as long as they are attributed.

Making TrueCrypt Easier

I have covered TrueCrypt before as an open source utility to encrypt sensitive data. While TrueCrypt is not difficult to use, this script makes it easier. If you have a need to protect data, give TrueCrypt a try.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Web 2.0 Sites for Educators

Here is a very impressive list of web 2.0 sites designed for schools. Many of these sites you may have heard of, but others are just getting started. Take a look. I will be surprised if you don't find at least one site you can use.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Speeding up Windows XP

O'Reilly publishers have released a chapter from one of their books on Windows XP. This chapter discusses how to increase the performance of XP. Windows XP can perform within a very wide range of performance levels depending on which options are selected. In fact, many of the great time consumers may be programs you never heard of. If nothing else, reading this chapter will help you to better understand what XP is doing.


Friday, September 29, 2006

New Google RSS Reader

Google has just released a new version of its RSS Reader. The feel is a lot more comfortable. The previous version feel a bit awkward in places. It also has a number of key commands for fast processing. If you were on the fence concerning this service, now is the time to take another look. Now, if they could just update the Google Notebook system in the same way.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Turn Photos into Posters

Here is a service which takes a digital photo and allows you to create a poster along with some text of your choosing. Getting photos blown up to large size is nothing new, but it's a nice addition to have the option of adding text. So, a poster saying "Go Tigers!" or "Student of the Month" can be easily and professionally produced. This could also be used by students for science projects and similar projects which require the combination of images and text. There is no reason the image could not be a graph or other non-pictorial image.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Hacking XP

Here is an example of one way to break into Windows XP. The step-by-step tutorial shows how to become the system administrator for a Windows XP guest user -- this is called user escalation. This is the type of information students can readily find. In fact, I found on one site a complete list of all the hacks favored by students. While that list is probably out of date, the motive is certainly current.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sony Reader

Gizmodo is reporting that the new Sony ebook reader will be coming to market in October priced at approximately $300.

While I'm sure this not going to be the final form factor for ebook devices, this Sony device is good enough to make some applications feasible. For example, certain textbooks would do well on these readers. If a book already costs $100 plus, having a $300 reader for a bunch of textbooks could make economic sense and it would greatly reduce the weight students would have to haul around. I'm waiting to see textbook publishers start to include update options so that the textbook can be updated over time.

Another nice feature with the device is that it accepts RSS feeds and standard file formats. This make an entire world of content available that the first generation ebook readers restricted. This is a very wise decision on Sony's part. The market killed the first generation devices -- apparently Sony learned from this experience.


Monday, September 25, 2006

Podcasting to the Cell Phone

Podcasting to cell phone users is one of the last great frontiers. In addition to making every cell phone a stand-in for a MP3 player, it can push content out in near real time. This makes the system useful for announcements and any other form of information that cannot wait for the user to synchronize with the RSS feeds.

So, for example, this system could be used to distribute all types of school-based information to students, parents and staff. The school radio station could be extended by such a system. The opportunities are endless.


Friday, September 22, 2006

Encrypting Web-base Email with Freenigma

Freenigma is offering a free browser add on which encrypts the contents of a message sent between web mail accounts. It's still pretty crude as a product. There is no IE support and people using non-web-mail accounts cannot use it. Of course, you don't have to encrypt every message. Apparently, these two issues are being worked on by Freenigma.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Photo Mapper

Trippermap is a great combination of global mapping and flixr images. Just imagine the interesting social studies projects or reports on school field trips one could do.