Monday, April 30, 2007

Reducing your digital foot print

I recently had the opportunity to attend the 2007 GEL conference and listen to Mark Hurst describe the concepts behind his new book, "Bit Literacy." Mark's essential concept is that knowing how to operate a computer application is one form of intelligence and knowing when to use an application is another form of intelligence. His most striking observation is that users are using their email inboxes as all purpose tools -- a task they were not intended for or well suited to perform. He recommends that users process the messages that come in every day and go home with the inbox having been completely emptied. This does not mean that everything in the messages has been done, but rather that the information in the messages have been processed. Processing means that assignments are put in a task list and events are put in a calendar, etc.

At first the concepts seemed too simple for the complex issues of information overload, but after reading his book and trying out some of his concepts -- I'm still working on other areas -- I've become convinced that his ideas workable. They may not be pleasant but I could not come up with a solution to information overload that was less unpleasant.

While I have always been fairly good at handling my email, I have to say that Mark's zero inbox solution is a real help. I know each morning that what's in my inbox needs to be dealt with and when there is no more messages in the inbox, that I'm done. The effect is less stress and greater effectiveness. Just think of how many times you look at old emails in the inbox and have to think what they are and if you need to do something about them. I had not realized what a hidden drain that was until now.

Why am I posting this on a blog dedicated to education? Well, first if makes life more productive and it even reduce the load on your email and file servers. Mark also has some very good recommendations regarding file names and folder structures. If you replace "projects" with "classes" his observations make a lot of sense.

This book is certainly worth a read.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

1 Terabyte Drives

The arrival of the new one-terabyte drives is just one reminder of how fast storage capacity is growing. The one-terabyte limit seems like a significant milestone.

What does this mean? Well, it means server storage can be consolidated and it means that information needs not be moved off to archives or deleted. It also allows you to store videos and other storage hogs on the hard drive.

As this trend continues, we may seen entirely new patterns for backing up data and in what we store on the disks. While this will probably be a good overall change, the sheer size of the data stored will become a burden on other aspects of the computer -- and to our ability to make sense from all the information at our finger tips.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007


I've been testing out Backup4all's professional backup tool. I have to say that it has worked well and provides useful ways to look at stored data. While virtually all backup programs will do a good job of backing up, not all have good interfaces. It's not free, but at $50 for the professional version, it's close enough.


Monday, April 23, 2007

20Q is more than fun and games

2oQ is an online "game" that allows users to answer a series of 20 questions about something they are thinking about. 20Q uses artificial intelligence to figure our what the answer is. As more people uses the system, 20Q learns to be better. The system can even accept a few wrong answers and still figure out the answer. This system is very useful for your students to learn a bit about artificial intelligence and about how regular computers operate.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Google's new presentation application

Google's announcement that they are going to offer a presentation application along the lines of Power Point is of particular interest to schools. The reason I believe this to be the case is because students usually don't require the advanced features of a Microsoft Office. They also don't require Outlook or Access. The applications they need are presentation, word processing, and spreadsheets. They also need a graphic editing and/or paint program. But that's not really in Office, so the comparison is not relevant.

This means that you can have your students use Google Docs for all their school work. Because of the free storage and collaboration features, your work will be reduced significantly. I'll make another posting after I get to play with new application.

And, BTW, Google Spreadsheets now has charts. Students love to create charts.


Friday, April 13, 2007

OLPC Interface

The OLPC program could be a total bust or it could revolutionize the education of children in poorer parts of the world. I like the fact that they are justifying the $100 price based against books and not against other computers. I think you have to show how money that is already present can be redirected. Of course, much of that money is never used or budgeted, but at least it's there in theory.

Anyway, the OLPC people have release screen shots of their system and you can even download the working system to see how it functions. Getting the hardware is another story all together. As far as I know, the general public cannot purchase these units.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Adobe Spry

I recently came across Adobe's labs section of their web site. One of the more interesting projects is called "Spry." Spry is a collection of AJAX type of tools. Web designers can use the collections of computer code to add functionality to their web sites. It does not appear to be difficult to do and I think a computer-savvy bunch of students working on a web site would really like Spry.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Understanding UNIX Processes

IBM has prepared a series of articles on understanding UNIX. One article I particularly liked is the one on understanding UNIX processes. While it is pretty easy to work with multiple applications at the same time in a graphic interface, it is far less intuitive on how to do this in a command line environment.

Being able to control processes can be very useful. For example, you start a very long task, such as searching a huge hard drive, and you want to do something else as the window scrolls by with thousands of lines of results. This can be done. Or, let's say that an application is slowing down your server more than you expected and you want to stop it for a few hours. This can be done, as well. Learning these commands will make your time on a UNIX/Linux server a much more productive one. These commands will also work within OS X given that OS X is a UNIX system.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Debian 4.0 Released

DeskTopLinux has a write-up on the recently released Debian 4.0. Apparently, it's a major upgrade. I've used Debian on a number of servers and have been very impressed. This version has a copy of Astrix phone system installed. This inclusion could make Debian a fast way to test out Astrix.
The release of Debian's newest version is also important because many other distributions of Linux are build using Debian. So expect to see many more upgrades in the near future. Debian is also good about producing CD-ROM images which can be used to run Debian from a CD-ROM for testing purposes. Obviously, one cannot do practical work on a CD-ROM based system, but you can test the look-and-feel of the software.

Another thing you can do with the CD-ROM versions is to run a low-end computer as a firewall. Running the OS from a CD-ROM makes it virtually impossible for a hacker to modify the files. You would still require a hard drive for log files and temporary files. You could use a floppy disk for configuration settings or configure the software before burning the CD-ROM.


Friday, April 06, 2007

Peepel Online Applications

Google is not the only provider with a free set of online applications. Peepel also a free system. It' seems pretty basic in terms of functions but might be a good solution for younger students.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

How Encryption Works

Here is a nice article on how encryption works. I find that many people don't understand the fundamentals of encryption. Given that encryption is in many products, it's important to understand.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Getting up to Speed on Word 2007

The new version of Microsoft Office is a major shift. The addition of a menu ribbon is new to the Windows platform. There is something like it in Word for the Mac, but it's not called the same thing. ComputerWorld has written an article that describes the tricks to learning Word 2007. Normally, I tell people to hold off on new versions of software, but everything I've read indicates the new version of Office is worth looking at sooner rather than later. Do remember that the new file format is not compatible with older versions of Word unless the recipient downloads a free file converter. You can also save in an older version of Word. In any case, you should be testing out the new version on your personal system so that you are ready to roll it out to your users.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Learning Flickr

I thought Flickr was fairly easy to use until I had to tell others that they should use it. I soon got a number of questions about how to use it. I found a nice article that describes how to learn the ropes.

Flickr is a great way to host photos for school newspapers, art/photography classes, school trips, and school reports. With a little money, Flickr offers many more useful features. Give it a try.