Friday, June 26, 2009

Sugar on a Stick

The MIT Review has an interesting bit of news on the next evolution of the OLPC program. The original operating system, called Sugar, is being modified so that it run from a USB flash device. Because Sugar is build for low-end hardware -- what else does one get for $100? -- the operating system and its bundled educational applications should run great on old hardware your school might have in a back room. Sugar, BTW, is a version of Linux.

Sugar and the applications that come with it have been extensively tested with school kids and are in wide-scale use around the world. You know you cannot upgrade your old system to Windows Vista or to OS X, so you have nothing to lose. There is no installation required. You download on to a USB device and set the PC's bios to boot from the device. Unplug the device and the system will boot from whatever is on the hard drive.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Pigs Fly!

InfoWorld has a very good post on Microsoft's recent security advances. Microsoft has spent billions on security and now it is beginning to show. It's not that security is extremely difficult on its own; rather, it is the combination of security and compatibility with old software and old hardware that is the trick. Apple has been able to switch operating systems and start all over again. DOS application, on the other hand, still run on Windows. Personally, I prefer Apple's model but I can understand why Microsoft felt it had to drag its history into the future.

The posting covers a number of the new techniques that closes the doors on the most common avenues for attacks. Whether we like Windows or not, I think we can all agree that reducing the number of zombie computers slinging spam by the billions is a highly desirable goal.

What does all this mean to you? Basically, the answer to whether Windows is security or not must now be considered seriously and not just addressed by a derisive laugh.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Three Point Lighting

After one jumps into posting videos on YouTube and other on-line services, it's only a matter of time before you start wanting better quality. While a better camera can help, most schools don't have the money to buy high-end equipment.

The most important aspect of video is audio. Unless you are video recording mime or interpretive dance, the audio is important. If you are providing instruction, the audio is critical. We'll cover audio at some later date.

More important than the quality of the camera is lighting. While a high-end camera might be able to correct for common mistakes, it's always better to avoid mistakes in the first place. 3d Rendering has a nice tutorial on how to set up an effective lighting system called "three point lighting." Basically, the idea is to light from the front with a strong light and use a second light at the subject's side so as to create some natural shadows. A back light creates a sense of distance from the back wall. While there are three-point lighting systems on the market, you might be able to get away with less if you have a reliable source of light coming in from a window. You may also be able to cut down on lights if you use a reflecting board to bounce light from where a second light might normally be placed.

The most important thing is to try lots of combinations to see what works best for your environment and subjects. For example, how you would light for a school play would be very different from an one-on-one interview. The concept of three-point lighting is the same but the equipment and angles would differ.

Good luck and have fun!