Thursday, August 31, 2006

Resources for Dyslexic Students

Here is one of the best list of resources I've seen for software designed for dyslexic students. This is not my field, so anyone with experiences with these products is encouraged to leave a personal review in the comments section.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Web Form Creator

So you've designed a great web site for your school but don't have the programming experience to create a form for registration, enquires, or one of the other many tasks that a web form could facilitate. The Web Form Factory web site generates the PHP code -- the most common language with which to build forms on the web -- based on your criteria. This site gets you past this barrier. It's open source, so you can take a look and see how it works.

Just remember that if you build a form using PHP or any other language that interacts with your server that you do need to be aware of any security warnings related to bugs in the language. Fortunately, this site should generate well-written code and thus should be more secure than what you would do as a novice.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Google Applications for Educators

Google just announced that they are offering a free hosted suite of applications for businesses. They even allow the business to use its domain name. At present, the "suite" is basically the calendar and email program, but their word processor, Writely, will be added soon.

Google is also reaching out to schools. While I'm not sure their system would be usable for k-12 students, it might be fine for a small university. It could also be useful for the staff of a k-12 school. Obviously, one does need to have reliable and fast Internet access to use such a system. And it is clearly not a replacement for Microsoft's Office suite by an imagination at this point. But, if your school is looking for fairly simple features and is very cost sensitive, this Google solution could be what you're looking for.


Boot and Nuke: Disk Eraser

DBAN's "Boot and Nuke" disk eraser is a convenient way to completely erase a hard drive or other storage medium.

You create a diskette, boot from the diskette, and then select the storage device you want to erase. There are a number of settings that can be used depending on how paranoid you are. If you're erasing truly sensitive information, it does not hurt to be very paranoid.

This program is open source and free to use. There are a number of other programs that do this type of work, but this looks to be one of the more convenient ones out there.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Flexible e-Books

I'm a big fan of eBooks. The only thing that is really holding eBooks back is the display. The attempts to make standard PDAs into eBooks have all failed. The screen resolution and form-factors were just not equal to that of a printed book. The newer eBook displays, however, have reproduced the size and resolution of the printed page, but they too have issues with form factors. The new LG display is now flexible. This form factor allows the user to hold the device in much the same way a person would hold a magazine. It's only a matter of time until these devices replace the huge load of text books now being strapped to little kids' backs.

Information on the device.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

ICT & Modern Foreign Languages: Using podcasts in the classroom

One of my visitors has a great blog on how to use podcasts for foreign language instruction. It also has great posts on podcasting in general. I especially like the description of how he got into podcasting. It's good information for anyone looking to do the same thing.

I also liked his observations on how to use a cell phone for school work. In NYC, the public schools ban cell phones. Needlessness to say, the parents are up in arms about that decision. Cell phones have become the only way for parents to know where their kids are between school's end and the time they get home.


This Site has Moved to the New Version of Blogger

I just moved this blog to Blogger's new platform. It was a fairly simple move and Blogger does allow one to backup the old site in case there is a desire to move back. I was surprised that the move over did not automatically care over my links. I thought it would given that a section of external links is something that the old Blogger has be default.

The good news is that some of the features I had to custom code in the template are now easy to do with a few clicks. The additional feature I like the most is the ability to apply labels. I have to work a bit on getting the right combination of labels. For example, do I use the Open Source tag every time I use the Linux tag? I think by now everyone knows that Linux is Open Source. I have many postings on items that are Open Source and may not be known as such. Do I use laptop batteries as a tag when I have laptop? I'm sure everything will work out after I see the natural patterns develop.

One unintended consequence of the new system is that using the new labels gives the system the impression the entire posting is new and thus should be kicked out as a new RSS item. So, for those of you subscribing via RSS, my apologies for the flood. There may be a few more days with re-postings as I complete the labelling process. I believe the labels will add a lot of value to the site. While many of the postings are fairly topical, most are useful many months latter. The labels make it easy to find postings that would otherwise go unnoticed in the blog archives.

Let me know what you think.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Laptop Batteries

With the recent recall by Dell, the treatment of batteries come to mind. Here are some good guidelines for how to treat a computer laptop battery. The New York Times has also provided some good information on care for batteries and offers some possible solutions. Normally, I don't find the NY Times leading the way with useful technical information, but this article is worth the trouble to register.

Some of the guidelines, such as keep laptops out of high heat and don't leave computers constantly charging are real concerns for mobile laptop carts. While the computer lab may be air conditioned, the cart could be left in a heated classroom for long periods of time. The most important thing to remember is that a battery is a serious piece of hardware. The only thing that makes it safe is a multi-level safety system. We now know what happens when that fails.


Friday, August 18, 2006

Podcasting for the School

The Modern Foreign Languages Environment web site has a number of interesting ways to use technology to help with the learning of a foreign language. One of the more interesting areas is that of podcasting. They give some very good advice about the how's and why's of podcasting for the school.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Outliner for the Mac

OmniOutliner looks to be an excellent outlining and organizational tool. If you are getting ready for the start of classes, this may be just what you are looking for.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Use the new Blogger for internal School Blogs

Blogger, the firm that provides the service for this blog, has just announced a new version of their system which makes it usable for an internal school blog.

In addition to a number of nice usability upgrades, Blogger is making it possible to limit access to the blog. So, for example, you could make it so that only teachers or students can access your site. Adding allowed viewers is as easy as uploading the email addresses for everyone you want to be allowed in. Certainly worth a look.

The new features are for new accounts, for now. People with current accounts have to wait for the features to be rolled out.

Making a private blog

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Google's Pitch to Educators

We all know that Google invents a new product every few days. Many of the products don't go anywhere. While it may be a very long time before Google's efforts to best Microsoft's Office suite comes to fruition, they do make a fairly solid case for how students can use their software. Here is what they have to say. If your school has good bandwidth but little money for applications, you may want to seriously consider this route.


Monday, August 14, 2006

CCleaner for Windows Untidiness

Windows is a sloppy program. It leaves debris all over the place. Some of those files are related to program activity and other files are left-overs from programs you no longer use. The result is that many users are forced to reinstall their computers every so often. The Windows operating system has something of a half-life. Every six months or so, the system ends up being about half as fast and reliable as it was at the previous six month mark. After a few years, the system becomes unusable. Many people go out to buy a new computer with the assumption that their old hardware no longer works. Most often, the problem is all the garbage Windows makes. CCleaner is a free program that can lengthen the amount of time it takes Windows to reach its half-life. While I have not used CCleaner, I have used programs such as Clean Sweep. Clean Sweep use to be an independant program but it now appears to be given away by Microsoft. Here is Microsoft's page about Clean Sweep.


Friday, August 11, 2006

Password Safe & PasswordMaker

It's no secret that the greatest weakness for most security systems is the user's password. The dilemma is that creating passwords for all the different sites one visits is difficult. Actually, remembering the passwords is more the problem. Password Safe helps solve this problem by securely saving your passwords. This is a free program, so it could be used by your school at no expense. Another system I like is PasswordMaker. It does much the same thing and it has an online version.

This one step can dramatically increase your security to a degree that very few other actions can.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

iRows Online Spreadsheet

iRows is one of several online spreadsheet programs. I have not done enough looking around to see if this one is the best one, but it looks very useful for the average student. It's free and it can be shared -- so it can be used for group projects and for teacher access.


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Review of nex OS X

Apple's newest OS, Leopard, will soon be here. Here is one of the first good reviews of the new OS. August is the month for planning for the upcoming school year. This review may help you decided on how to plan your Mac upgrades. The new backup system looks like a great feature. Unfortunately, there isn't much on how well this new OS works in a Windows environment. That has been a problem.


Gizmo Review

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Croquet: Building Virtual Worlds

Yesterday we explored Squeak. Croquet is a new system built using Squeak. To say it is mind-blowing would be an understatement. It allows for communication and interaction that few other systems come close to providing. The creators of Croquet had as a mission the goal of creating a truly modern operating system. They would see all the current operating systems has improvements on old models. Croquet is based on the idea that interaction and collaboration are the two new realities around which an operation system should be designed.

Here is what they have to say:

In its simplest form, Croquet is a complete development and delivery platform that enables people to carry out highly collaborative work. It is a highly scalable architecture that can be used to develop powerful simulations, and multi-user online spaces. Through Croquet-derived 3D environments, users can enjoy shared telepresence, shared authorship of complex spaces and their contents, and shared access to a wide range of network-deliverable information resources.
Better yet, visit the Croquet web site.


Monday, August 07, 2006

Squeak Media Authoring Tool

Squeak is an open source educational programming environment. "Squeak's main purpose was to provide a playful and empowering arena for kids to learn important ideas." For those of you that remember Logo, it has some of that feeling to it, but it is oriented around multimedia. This software could be extremely useful for math and science projects. It also looks to be an excellent means to teach a programming language.


Examples of what Squeak can do (PDF). Here is the Squeakland web site.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Book Crossings

This social networking site is an interesting concept about how a book can travel from person to person. Have you every wondered who the other people are who read the book you just checked out? All you see is the the long list of return dates. Book Crossing is a site where readers can tag their books, share or "release" them so that others can read the book. Because of the tag, the next person can update the history of the book and then send it on.

While this is a fun site for adults, this could be a tremendous project for high school students. If anyone uses Book Crossing for a school, please let me know. I would suspect that kids would read many more books just so that they participate. It could also be a good summer activity using the school's summer recommended reading list.


Book Crossings

Thursday, August 03, 2006

External Hard Disk Enclosure

There are many ways to store data externally. In a school there are many good reasons to use external storage. For one, the student may take it from computer to computer. Another advantage is that the school can lock up the devices in a secured area at night. What makes the WiebeTech enclosure special is that it is built for rough use and for fast connection speeds.

These units would be excellent for a multimedia lab, storing sensitive information, and for backups. Just remember to use encryption if you are storing sensitive information. These devices are portable.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Problems with Popular Antivirus software

One of my favorite blogs, Bruce Schneier, points out that virus writers are constructing their newer viruses to avoid the most popular antivirus programs. If that becomes a significant trend, moving to a lesser known product may actually provide more security.

One of my favorite free systems is ClamAV . It is a great system for a Linux server. It runs on Windows but it does not have real-time scanning. It does have real-time scanning in some versions of Linux. Why real-time scanning is needed for a Linux desktop is not clear to me. There are very few viruses targeted at Linux computers. ClamAV is a great solution for an email server.


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Building Linux Terminal Servers with Edubuntu

The FreeSoftware Magazine just came out with an issue that explores how to set up a Linux terminal server system for a school using the popular Edubuntu Linux distribution. This system is one that I have covered in the past. I have experimented with the system and found it fairly easy to install. Unfortunately, it did not like my old computers's built-in video cards.

FreeSoftware has done an excellent job describing the benefits and process for installation. Worth taking a look if you have old computers that need to get used in some productive manner.


FreeSoftware article on Linux-based thin clients