Friday, April 28, 2006

Sony eBook Device

eBooks may be the next big technological revolution in the school. The publishing firms screwed up the first time they introduced eBook devices by making them replacements for hardback fiction novels. The idea that textbooks might be the perfect market apparently did not occur to them. The new eBook devices, such as Sony's new device, are easier to read and use less energy. I think these units would be particularly good for the university and high school markets. They probably would not withstand the handling by younger children.

The holy grail for eBook devices is some plastic sheet form. Digital ink works well in a standard hard-shell form factor, but it should not be too long before devices can be rolled up and stuck into a coat pocket. The intelligence for the unit would be in some chip located in one corner of the plastic sheet or perhaps it would be a kind of binder. Hold on to your hats when this takes place.

SonyStyle USA - PRS-500

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Netgear SPH101 Skype Wi-Fi Phone

Amazon has just started selling Skype phones that work directly off Wi-Fi. No need for a computer. This can be very useful for schools that require telephones but either don't have telephones in the classrooms or don't know where the staff might be at any given time. This unit allows the staff to be anywhere in reach of a Wi-Fi access point -- including Starbucks -- and be contacted. Calls are free and encrypted for privacy. No worries about students listening in. Voice quality should be excellent within the school's network. Calls to real telephones can be accomplished via Skype's Skype Out service. This service does require some payment.

The price of these units will certainly come down as vendors ramp up production. This system can also be used by PDA's with wireless access capabilities. So, if you already have PDAs for some other purpose, they could be the least expensive route to a mobile internal telephone system.

T Netgear SPH101 Skype Wi-Fi Phone: Electronics: " Netgear SPH101 Skype Wi-Fi Phone: Electronics"

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Video Editing Help

The Bella Catapult helps digitize video content with a number of intelligent options. This could be very useful for a school newspaper or a science department.

The product is scheduled to come out later in the year.

Video Editing Help

Monday, April 24, 2006

Creating Web Page Templates

In the "old days" it was easy to create a web page. Just add text and some paragraph tags. It wasn't that much more difficult in the age of table-based design. All the code was in the page and could be copied over. Stylesheet-based web pages are not so easy for the average person to figure out. Below is a site that gives all the commands for any normal web site. This site can save you many hours of grief and assure cross-browser functionality.


Little Boxes: "Workarounds for CSS browser issues."

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Audio speed up

One interesting use of technology is to increase the speed of audio recordings. It turns out that the human voice can be sped up quite a bit without any significant loss of comprehension. This fact can be very useful for blind students and for distance-learning courses.


Review - Technology - New York Times: "Audio speed up"

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Google Cheat Sheet

It's no secret that Google is the single most useful tool on the Internet for finding information. Yet, most people don't know that the simple Google search box can do much more than simply search for key words. There is of course the advanced search page, but much of what can be done there can be done with modified searches. For example, one can restrict a search to a specific web site by putting in the domain name after "site:". If you know a specific item is on a given site, this modified search will vastly improve your search time.

Schools are starting to teach online research skills. The cheat sheet -- below -- is something that should be included with any package of materials.


Google Help : Cheat Sheet

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Off-site Backup Devices

When disaster strikes, even your normal backup systems may be destroyed. Thief, fire, water damage, lighting, and a host of other causes can destroy your data and any backups you may have. That is why an off-site backup media is essential.

The traditional method is the backup tape. The problem is that there are many types of tape and tape drives. So, if your school has a fire and the tape device is destroyed, getting another device may not be easy. The device shown here is a USB hard drive. Just plug it in and it works anywhere. What I like about this particular device is that is "shock proof." While dropping it on the floor might not be a great idea, there should be no problem tossing it into a briefcase or purse.


PX-SP08U Product Page: "Plextor America: The leader in reliable CD, DVD and digital video solutions"

Monday, April 17, 2006

Education Podcast Network

Podcasting is the key to low-cost audio broadcasting. The first wave of online broadcasting was streaming. Streaming required streaming servers, such as Microsoft's media server. It also ate up a great deal of bandwidth because a certain level of bandwidth was required to maintain an acceptable level of audio quality. The advantage of podcasting is that the user downloads an audio file in the background. Bandwidth is not so much an issues because the file can download at any rate that allows the file to be successfully transferred. Because the file is played from the user's hard drive and not from the Internet, the quality can be high and played at any time the user wants.

Naturally, podcasts are not the solution to everything. They don't work for real-time events. They are also not great if you want to maintain control over the content. One of the advantages of streaming is that it is easier to protect the content. The content can send a command to the user's player disallowing the storage of the content. Of course, this does not prevent someone from plugging in a tape player to the ear jack on the computer's sound card.

So, where can podcasts work? A school radio would be great. News for alumni and other interested groups in your school's activities. Placing lectures online for students who missed a class, might be very helpful. Even if the student was in the class, the ability to hear the class again might be very useful.

What is required to create a podcast? Not much. Many MP3 players can record from a microphone directly to an MP3 file. Plug the MP3 player to the computer and copy the file to your computer. You can then upload the file to web site or blog. This process may only take a few minutes. You can have the class lecture online before the students get home.

This is a rich area to explore. I'll many more postings on podcasting in the near future.


Education Podcast Network -- The Landmark Project

Friday, April 14, 2006

Sun Ray 2 Virtual Display Client

Virtual terminals are great solutions in a number of educational situations. Their small size and silent operation makes them very well suited for many special situations. They also have the advantage of being very difficult to tamper with and not very attractive as a device worth stealing.

Some rooms have horrible electrical service and may not be able to support a few dozen PCs. Some work spaces may be so limited that there is simply not enough room for a normal sized PC.

Of course, these terminal require a server of some type to function -- i.e. the reason they are not very attractive to thieves. Windows terminal server is one solution but there are Linux-based educationally-oriented servers. Take a look at my posting on LTSP. If power and space is not an issue, a regular PC may still be best given that the cost is not that much greater and it gives you the flexibility to keep operating when your server is unavailable.


Sun Ray 2 Virtual Display Client: "Sun Ray 2 Virtual Display Client Overview"

Thursday, April 13, 2006

PortKnocking Security

One of the problems with firewalls is that they are great a protecting ports that you don't want to use, but must leave open ports that you do want to use. While one can configure a firewall to only allow specific external IP addresses to come in, this solution does not work when your external users are on temporary address, such as DSL, Cable, or dial-up, or are traveling. It's also a pain in the neck if you have significant numbers of people requiring special configuration.

Portknocking is a system where the firewall appears to be closed but will open to an external address that sends the right series of packets. It is very much like having a secret knock so that the little window in the door will open. Portknocking does not grant the user access to the systems; rather, it just gets the firewall out of the picture. The user still needs to login into the application behind the firewall.

Portknocking needs to be used on a computer-based firewall because it requires computer code to be installed. Firewall appliances will not allow this to be done. There is also the issue of running applications from the user. The user would need to run some special program to open the connection before starting the application. Otherwise, the application will find the firewall still blocking the port.

For now, this system is probably best for system administrators and other technically sophisticated users. I hope to see this system in much wider use as people discover its advantages. Plus, it does not hurt that it's free.


PORTKNOCKING - A system for stealthy authentication across closed ports. : ABOUT : summary: "Port knocking is a stealthy network authentication system that uses closed ports to carry out identification of trusted users. The system permits manipulation of firewall rules from a remote host across closed ports through encrypted channels."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Webaroo - Off-line Web Viewing

Here is an interesting product that is designed for the road warrior, but could be very useful in the educational environment. They package up big chunks of the Internet for download. This allows users to surf the web without actually being on the Internet. This could useful for classrooms where there is not connection to the Internet. The access speed will clearly be faster coming off a hard drive than off the Internet. Plus, the content is probably going to be fairly clean of offensive sites. Of course, you may want to check on this fact given that these canned versions of the Internet will not be subject to your school's Internet filtering system.

While the file size to be downloaded is quite large, you only have to do it one time. You can then copy that image to as many computers are you want to use.


Webaroo - Webaroo Home: "Off-line viewing of web sites."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Microsoft Takes Aim at Google with Scholarly Search Engine

It's not very often that you see 100+ billion dollar companies fighting over the academic market. The up side is that high school and university students will be able to access many more primary resources for their papers and reports. The bad side is that plagiarism has just gotten a little easier.


Microsoft Takes Aim at Google with Scholarly Search Engine: "A blogger says the company will unveil a new academic search feature to compete with Google Scholar."

Free Books:

There are a number of locations for free books. Manybooks takes books from a number of sources and puts them into formats that a number of devices can use.

First of all, let's not get hung up on the issue of eBooks. eBooks would have been a good idea if the publishers had realized that the medium was best suited for textbooks -- instead of replacements for first edition fiction. eBook readers have had a number of significant problems. They can be heavy and awkward. Their expense definitely makes them something you would not want to drop in the bath tub or take to the beach.

What people often overlook with eBooks is that it allows you to have books available to your class at a moment's notice. If you want to assign a section out of A Tale of Two Cities to a class or 30 students, you can do so without concern if they can find the book. And you don't have to have an eBook reader. A regular computer usually works or you can print out the parts you want to use without having to break the spine of your book.

There are a number of eBook formats. eBook formats are actually interesting for class writing projects and other lengthy writing projects because they are specifically designed for books. The web is great for skimming information but it is not very good for reading a book.

T - Free eBooks for your PDA: "Thousands of free ebooks, pre-formatted for reading on your PDA - eReader, PDF, Plucker, iSilo, Doc, or zTXT eBooks for your Palm, Pocket PC, Zaurus or Rocketbook!"

Monday, April 10, 2006

Mesh Networking for the Campus

Mesh networking is great solution for campus with cabling problems and no line of sight for traditional wireless solutions. Many rural campuses have buildings spread out over long distances, separated by hills and other obstacles, and don't have some local DSL provider that can connect all the buildings. Even if DSL or cable is available, the top speeds will not approach those required for seamless file sharing.

Mesh networking creates a mini version of the Internet, but without wires. The traditional wireless network is a hub-and-spoke model. The access point is connected to the wired network and all the wireless mobile units connect to the nearest access point. Mesh networking goes one step further by allowing all the access points, and even the mobile devices, to create connections between them. This means that a network can be expanded for miles beyond the last connection to the wired network. One just keeps adding wireless access points. The size of the network can keep growing as long as no single access point is overwhelmed by all the traffic it has to handle.

Below is a link to an article on mesh networks for the office.


Mesh Moves Into the Wireless Office - Computerworld: "Wireless mesh networking products are emerging that ease installation but must overcome throughput limitations and interoperability problems."

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Xen Virtual Server

Xen is one of several methods for creating a virtual machine. A virtual machine is where software or hardware creates what appears to be a computer within a real computer. Noramally this is done so that a computer can have multiple computers running on it. This is very useful when one is experimenting with software and does not want one system to blow up the entire computer. Or in this case, the entire virtual computer will blow up and the other virtual servers will run unaffected.

Xen works by creating a very low-level interface for virtual computers. Each virtual computer believes it is talking to the computer's hardware when it is actually talking to Xen. This allows for performance close to that of running directly on the hardware. Some virtual servers can run slowly because they have more levels to go through.

Xen is free and is fairly easy to setup. It is a great system to have if you have a school computer lab with students wanting to build servers or do low-level programming.

I will discuss other virtual servers in future posts. It's a technology that helps in a large number of situations.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

Scroogle Scraper

Scroogle Scraper:

"This is an interesting search engine that provides the Google search without having all of your search information recorded. This site acts as a proxy server between you and Google. The value you get is that your identity is not recorded by Google because Google sees the request coming in from Scroogle. As an educator, one of the aspects I noticed was that it does not offer images. Even with Google's safe filter on, searches for terms such as "Britney Spears" will offer images that children should not be exposed to. Images are less easy to avoid now that many terms produce a listing at the top of the page that offers to show images. Another nice item: no advertisements. The main downside I saw was that there is not ability to turn on the safe search. Type in "sex" and you'll get all the rubbish of the Internet."

Friday, April 07, 2006

Windows on the Mac: Good or Bad?

At first glance it may appear that having a Mac computer that can run Windows is a waste of time. Why install Windows when there is a better operating system on the computer? There is also the fact that one has to reboot the computer to switch between operating systems.

Here are some things to consider.

Good points:

  • Some schools may require Windows to be installed. Of course, they may not require you to use it. In other words, these dual units could allow you to bring in an otherwise forbidden computer.
  • Some programs may only run on Windows. For example, your school may have a computer class that uses a programming tool only found on Windows. So, if you have a class lab with one of these classes, it does not mean you cannot have a Mac lab for all the other periods of the school day. Up to now, you would have been stuck
  • Dual units may be a good way to allow Windows people to experience the Mac world while holding on to the knowledge that they can always see XP again. If you believe XP is better, it could be a way to introduce XP to a Mac user -- good luck on that.
Bad points:

  • Two operating systems cost more than one.
  • Anyone wanting to use Windows programs and Mac programs at the same time will be disappointed.
  • It clearly makes your units more complex. You have to update two operating systems and not just one.

Beginner's guide to podcasts and podcasting

Beginner's guide to podcasts and podcasting:

Here is an excellent beginner's guide to podcasting. Podcasting is the audio form of blogging. I like to think of it as canned radio. It is a great technology for a school wanting to run a school radio station because it does not require expensive equipment, it does need an antenna, it's range is as great as that of the Internet's, and because it is not real-time, an adult can check the contents.