Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What is Arduino?

I've come across the Arduino in several of the blogs and websites I frequent. The makers of the Arduino (based in Italy), describe it as:

"an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software...Arduino can sense the environment by receiving input from a variety of sensors and can affect its surroundings by controlling lights, motors, and other actuators."

Intrigued? You can buy an assembled Arduino for as little as $30 and the various buttons, sensors, and LEDs that make your Arduino come to life can also be had for very little money. I finally purchased an Arduino kit from www.adafruit.com. I've spent the last week playing around with my Arduino, learning how to wire LEDs, buttons, and sensors to the Arduino, and programming it to respond to various stimuli. The Arduino site also has a thriving community of users, many of whom were VERY obliging in helping me work through any obstacles I encountered as I played with the Arduino.

So far I have created 2 Arduino-based items: a globe that looks a lot like a crystal ball and a button that resets my home-made Flash Lost Countdown site. I have posted videos of both below. Enjoy.

The Arduino definitely has a lot of potential to be used as a learning tool. Between its low cost, flexibility, and easy to learn programming environment, I can see it being implemented from middle school level and up.

More as it develops...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

2008 Greatest Hits...

Where did the time go? As the year draws to close, it seems only appropriate to look back at the year that was 2008 and ahead to the potential of 2009. What follows is a list of the accomplishments (tech related, at least) that I am most proud of from the last year.

  1. Flash Jeopardy Review Game -Of everything on the list, this has definitely garnered the most attention. By far. This program has gone from a personal goal of mine, to a buggy program posted online for anyone interested, to its current status of over 4,000 user created games and counting. The response to this game has been amazing! Keep that feedback coming!

  2. Who Wants to be a Millionaire Flash Game - Building off of the success of the Jeopardy game, I thought I would try my hand at a similarly customizable Flash version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Although it isn't quite as "group friendly" as the Jeopardy game, I am pretty proud of the way the game came out. It makes a nice way for teachers (or anyone for that matter) to make a review game, then share the link with students to allow them to review on their own.

  3. 2008 Mock Election -My first Mock Election (2004) was a huge success. We invited all of the students in my K-8 school to come and vote for the next President. In 2008, we had another pair of Presidential candidates. However, this time around, we had a lot of new technology to help the process. Students who came to vote this year were treated to a touch-screen voting machine. When the day was done and the smoke had cleared, the machines immediately gave us our winner. This is not a political blog, so I will spare you, the reader, and commentary, but I can tell you the students predicted the national winner this time. As we voted, we used the Textmarks service to submit votes by class, and the results were updated live in the www.mockelection.us website throughout the day. We even made the front page of the Star-Ledger!

  4. Lost Counter - This one was something of a personal obsession. This page has been my php training camp. I learned how to do so many things while getting this to work the way I wanted it to. A php script keeps track of the time that the clock is set to end. When you access the page, a flash file pulls the end time from php and subtracts it from the current time. If the end time has not been reached, it will display the time left. If the time remaining is less than 4 minutes, users can send a text message (again through Textmarks) to the site. Within 5 seconds, the timer is reset.

  5. GPS Phone Tracker -This was created for a course I was taking. I purchased a GPS phone from Mologogo. I was able to tweak the phone so that it will send my position to a Microsoft Live Satellite Map (only when the phone is on).

  6. Random Fact Desk -This is a Flash file I made for use in my classroom. It displays random facts and tivia in my handwriting. Useful if we are taking a quiz, so students who finish early have something to read.

  7. ClassroomUpdate.com -- My super simple teacher website platform has been a big hit at my school. This year I hope to offer the service to other schools.

  8. Joining the Cult of Mac -I finally broke down and bought a Mac last January. It seemed a crime for me to continue to completely overlook and ignore Mac hardware and software. After a year of getting to know the Mac OS and what it can do, I can't believe I waited this long. The machine is great, the operating system is very smooth, and the people at the Mac store are probably the most efficient and friendly bunch I have ever met.
    **Plus now I can really laugh at those Mac vs. PC commercials.**
I've learned a lot this year. The exciting this is that every time I learn something new, I have 5 more questions about how I can take it further. There are so many things I cannot wait to learn and try in and out of the classroom in the year ahead.

It would be great to hear your reflections from the past year.
What are you most proud of from the past year?
What was the most exciting technology of 2008?
What do you think will make the biggest splash in educational technology for the year ahead?

Monday, November 24, 2008

New Flash Review Game!

After great success with the online Flash Jeopardy game, there is now a new member of the Flash Review family! It's amazing what you can do with Flash, php, and 5 hours to kill waiting for parent-teacher conferences to start.

The newest Flash review game is called Flash Board Game. The game itself plays pretty much like any standard board game:

  1. You can play with up to 6 teams. Each team has a different brightly colored dot as their "virtual gamepiece." These dots are drag and drop to allow movement around the board via a SmartBoard or just a standard mouse.
  2. There is also a spinner in the center of the board. Each turn begins by spinning the spinner (by clicking on it) to see if the question will be worth an advance of 1,2,3, or 4 squares.
  3. After spinning the spinner, the player clicks on whatever square they would be moving to next. (ie. if you spin a 2, you would click 2 squares in front of you). A question will appear. Answering the question correctly allows the team to move forward the number of spaces revealed by the spinner.
  4. There are also Chance squares, marked with question marks. Landing on these squares reveals either a reward or penalty, such as moving ahead or back, losing or gaining a turn, etc.
  5. The first team to reach the end wins the game.
As always, I look forward to hearing from anyone who uses this game in their classroom or elsewhere. It is of course free and available for PC and Mac users.

Best of all, if you have created game files for the Jeopardy Review Game, they will also work in the Flash Board Game. (just make sure they have 25 questions, or some squares will show up blank).

Have fun!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wordle Word Map...

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.
How much is it worth when the picture itself includes a thousand words? The sheer math of it all boggles the mind.

I recently stumbled across a free website called Wordle. The Wordle site lets a user submit any text or RSS feed to the site. The site then uses some Java to generate a word cloud based on the content that has been submitted. The end result is a word cloud where each word is given a font size based on the number of times that word shows up in the text.

It can be a great way to get a feel for the overall message of a document or web feed without reading the entire text. Submitting the RSS feed for this blog reveals the word cloud below:
**Click the image for a larger view**

As you can see, my site content focuses heavily on the phrases: teachers, website, review, games, etc.

It can be interesting to enter the text of well known documents such as the Declaration of Independence or speeches from politicians to see which words jump at you from the cloud.

Give it a try!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bringing Tech to the Mock Election...

4 years ago I was a new teacher looking to make my mark in a new school. Being that it was an election year, a school-wide Mock Election seemed to fit the bill. We built a double stall voting booth and invited the entire school population (over 400 students K-8) to come and choose between George Bush and John Kerry. The day was quite a success.

4 years later, it was assumed that I would naturally host another Mock Election. It seemed to me to be a great opportunity to flex my tech muscle with some of the new tricks I've learned in the past 4 years.

This year's Mock Election featured the following upgrades:
  1. Touch Screen Voting via 2 booths, one with an 8" touch screen from eBay and another with a touch screen scavenged from a store kiosk.
  2. Live Updates via the Web: on www.mockelection.us. Throughout the day, we submitted results as each class voted. Each submission would update the total number of votes, as well as updating the totals for each class and an "Electoral Map" based on the number of students in each class.
  3. Vote submission via Cell Phone: Using the free Textmarks service and a little bit of php wizardry, I was able to send a text message to submit the votes for each class as they left. This allowed us to instantly update the Mock Election Website in a room with no internet access.
Overall, the day was a great success. The lines moved quickly, every vote was counted, and the website made it possible for classes to follow the progress throughout the day. I won't get into the outcome of the vote (this is not a politics blog, there are plenty of those already), but it was a very revealing landslide.

I can only imagine what we will do in 2012.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Super Easy Teacher Websites...

ClassroomUpdate.comI have been experimenting with a platform that would allow school districts to easily get all of their teachers online posting homework and class announcements.

The idea to do this came to me after 4 years of watching my own district attempt several different approaches to getting our teachers online.  We tried everything from uploading MS Word files on a weekly basis (awkard and inconvenient for all involved) to giving teachers their own FTP accounts to let them update their own sites on their own (we might as well have tried to split the atom).

My coding skill finally caught up with my goals for an easy to use teacher website.  Thus ClassroomUpdate was born.  Every teacher has a username and a password to log in to their Control Panel.  The control panel is simply a web form that allows a user to enter homework assignments, announcements, links, and to update their contact info.  It could not be easier and allows you to maintain a website in seconds per day.

I am wondering if any of my loyal readers (both of you) would be interested in a free site on ClassroomUpdate to help me bug test it.  As far as I know, it works flawlessly, but a dozen real users may find things that I miss.

If you are interested, you can create a page at: http://www.classroomupdate.com/newpage.php
I have taken the liberty of putting in the admin password so you can create your page.  Anyone who creates a page can keep it indefinitely.  In the meantime, please let me know what you think and if anything is not working properly or could be improved.

The readers of this blog have been extremely helpful and supportive with the Jeopardy Review Game, and I do appreciate it.  Thank you in advance to those who help me with this.  (And it isn't entirely altruistic, you are getting a 100% free website!)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Play Flash Jeopardy Online (finally)

I've gotten a lot of great feedback from the online community about my Flash Jeopardy Review game.  I've even received more than a few requests about upcoming features.  The most common request is the ability to play created games online.  This would be useful in schools where aggressive content filters do not allow the game client to be downloaded.  It would also serve as a way for teachers to allow students to play the review games as a study tool from home.

After a great deal of thought on how to accomplish this functionality, I finally sat down yesterday and coded until I could code no more.  I think users will be happy with the results.

When you create a new Jeopardy game, the confirmation screen will now give you two links: 1 is the link to download the game file to play offline.  This works exactly as it has since the beginning.  However, you are also given a link to click (or cut and paste into your own website).  This link will allow you to play (and/or test) your new game immediately online without the need to download the Jeopardy.exe offline player.

All newly created games are still added to the game library, including a link to play them online.

I have also added a Google Search to allow users to search the game library.

Next Up: The ability to edit previously created games, the ability to embed games in another site.

If you have not yet tried my Jeopardy Review Game, I encourage you to try it.  It is 100% customizable to your content and makes a great review game to prepare for tests and quizzes.  Paired with an LCD Projector and a SmartBoard, it makes a great teaching tool.

If you have other suggestions and or feedback, I encourage you to comment here or email me direct.  I always appreciate hearing how and where my Jeopardy game is being used!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Does your school use a homework site?

I am painfully aware that I have not posted to this blog in quite some time. It isn't because I've lost interest in educational technology. In fact, quite the opposite is true. I've been working on, focusing on, consumed by several programs of my own.

One of the programs involves an easier way to allow teachers to post homework and announcements to the school district's website.

As I move forward, I thought I would reach out to my limited readership with a few questions.

  1. Does your school district require teachers to post homework assignments online?
  2. If so, how is it done? Paid service, free service?
  3. What is the general response from teachers in schools where this is required?

I know I don't have a huge legion of readers to this blog (chances are you found your way here looking for Flash Jeopardy), but I am cautiously optimistic that a few people from around the country (world?) will take a moment to respond to this discussion.

Thanks to anyone who does!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Broadcast Your Software Use...

It seems to be a growing urge of many people to broadcast their every move and thought, no matter how mundane, mediocre, or uninspiring. Twitter seems to have built a successful business model on this (I use it too).

I recently came across a site, however, that allows you to broadcast a different side of yourself that might be revealing in a different way. Wakoopa.com allows you to broadcast a list of the software you use. So that means if you are only using that $2,000 dollar laptop to play Solitaire, using Wakoopa will let the secret out to everyone.

Users of Wakoopa can put widgets on their blogs or websites showing their most frequently used software, recently used software, and newly used software.
Software trackingSoftware trackingSoftware tracking

Sure, this might be useful to you if only out of the egotistical, yet altruistic sense that you use the most cutting edge software and must perform the public service of sharing your program choices with the wide world. However, it is the ability to see what other people are using that makes this web service really shine.

When you visit Wakoopa.com, you will immediately see a scrolling section on the homepage. The scroll displays programs being used by all Wakoopa at that time (see movie below). The useful part of this is that as you hover over a program icon, you will see the name of the program. If you click the icon, you are directed to a page that tells you what that program is for. It is a great way to find out about programs people are using that you might not be aware of. You can also see crawls of other users and your own programs.

Wakoopa will also make recommendations to you based on the software you use. Essentially, the recommendations are alternative programs to those that you are using. Again, this can be a great way to learn more about what is available. Maybe there is a free or open source alternative to a pricey program you are using. If no one knows you are using that program, how would you know? Wakoopa can tell you.

I am very impressed with this software after using it for only a few hours. I think it is a fairly new idea and think that it could definitely bear fruit for software users.

Friday, June 27, 2008

GPS Tracking Device...

Another tech goal I can cross off of my list for 2008....

I read about a site called Mologogo in Popular Science last year. They hacked a Boost Mobile phone to allow you to broadcast your GPS position to a Google Map. Naturally I had to try it. And I did. I had a page set up that would automatically load my most recent position via the cell phone. For a while I was happy with this. Then I saw the stunning satellite imagery of Microsoft Virtual Earth. All of a sudden the pictures from my Google Map didn't look quite as impressive. I looked for a way to set up the phone to transmit location info to Virtual Earth, but I couldn't figure it out. At least not yet.

Fast forward many months and many hours learning php code later, I am singing a different tune. I finally figured out how to set up the Boost phone to transmit to my own script, when then loads the coordinates into a Microsoft Live Map. The results are both stunning and creepy. Now you can track me as if you were in a low-flying hot air balloon.

Click here for the full size page...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

I just made my own Twitter...

If you are reading this blog, chances are pretty good you are not a hermit living in a cave somewhere. That means odds are you have heard of Twitter. Twitter is the super-hyped web service that allows you to post short messages that anyone else can read to see what you are up to. I'm still trying to understand the hype, seeing how I thought we have been doing this with away messages for at least 10 years. However, I do like the fact that you can update this information by phone. I have always been thrilled with being able to affect things from a distance. The idea of being able to update a webpage from anywhere I have a cell signal blows my mind. I can 100 miles from my computer and still post a message to my class website.

I experimented with Twitter here and there over the past few months. Like many such services, Twitter offers code to post widgets on any website that will show your status. My problem was that they only had 2 or 3 different options for the widget, none of which were particularly attractive to me. I felt there had to be a way to make my own widget and display a message sent via text message on a cell phone. After several failed attempts, I finally found a way to do this without Twitter. Twitter could drop off the face of the net tomorrow, and my page would still work.

You can test it out below. Here's how:
**Click here to open the test page in a new window**

  1. Send a text message to 41411. It is a site called Textmarks.com.
  2. The first word of the text must be edutech
  3. After that you can type your own message (edutech Here is my message.)
  4. Refresh this page.
  5. Read your message below.
Email me if you want this on your site. There are a few things you need to know. If a lot of people want it, I will post more detailed instructions.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Custom Split Flap Flash Code for Websites!

Click here to make your own split flap message!

My own personal Flash Vision Quest continues. I have been playing with the Flashvars parameter to embed variables in the html code that you use to embed Flash on a webpage. In the past, I had used separate files to hold all of my variables, which Flash would then import values from. Now I figured out how to use php to make a page that would write the code for me complete with variables!

My first experiment was with the split-flap message you see above. If you like it, you can make one of your own. You will be given html code that you can embed on any web page, including Myspace, blogs, etc.

Stay tuned...more to come!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Make a Custom Font....

Are you tired of using pens and pencils all the time to write letters and little notes to people? Why not make a font that looks like your own handwriting and liberate yourself from pesky ink and graphite based writing utensils? I stumbled across a site called "Fontifier" that will let you do just that.

The process is simple.

  1. Visit Fontifier.com
  2. Print a full page copy of their font template (shown at right).
  3. You complete the template by writing in all 26 letters in uppercase and lowercase, numbers 0-9, and all punctuation.
  4. Scan the template.
  5. Upload the completed template.
  6. If you want to keep your font, it will cost you $9. You can pay via Paypal and you get to keep the font forever. I felt it was $9 well spent.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Flash Jeopardy Game Update....

I've been getting some nice feedback from all over on the Flash Jeopardy game I posted a few days back. I've added a few features based on your feedback.

--You can now set the values for each question, instead of the automatic 100,200,300,400, and 500 point defaults.

--I created a Mac version of the game. The Mac version is able to use the same text files for games that makes the PC version work. Pretty nice.

If you haven't had a chance to play around with the game yet, you can use the sample below to give it a test run.

The game name file is: sample

Everything you need to start running your own game of Classroom Jeopardy for the PC or the Mac is available here.

Please keep the feedback coming!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Make Your Own Screen Saver...

Bored with your screen saver?

If you are an Adobe (or Macromedia) Flash aficionado, www.creamshavers.com can help you go beyond that boring starfield or those endless winding 3d pipes. With nothing but a Flash file, you can now quickly and easily make your own screensavers that can be installed on any Windows machine.

Simply visit the Creamshavers site, upload your Flash (.swf) file, and the site does the rest. Within seconds, you are given a download link for the .exe file to install on your computer. Once installed, it will show up in your control panel with the rest of your screen savers. I have made several screen savers in this way and can attest to the fact that they contain no watermarks, ads, popups, or spyware like many other so-called "free screensavers."

Of course I created a sample screensaver. And it should come as little to no shock to anyone who knows me that my sample screensaver is Lost inspired. I took the Lost Countdown Clock from Season 2 and used a little basic Actionscript to create a Lost Clock screensaver. Feel free to download it and install it on every computer in your office for that authentic "Lost" feel.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Flash Jeopardy Game...

If you use an LCD Projector in the classroom, or better yet a SmartBoard, I have just finished work on a review game that makes setting up and using Jeopardy reviews simple and fun. I have used the blank Jeopardy Powerpoint template in the past and always found it to be a bit dull. I have felt for the past couple years that there had to be a better way to do this in Flash and make it more customizable and easy to create new games to use, rather than changing 50-60 slides in the Powerpoint version. I finally sat down this past week and was able to make a fully customizable Flash Jeopardy game. What you are seeing is a realization of one man's dream to change the "Jeopardy Review Game" game.

The Jeopardy Review game has 2 parts. The first part is a Flash form (shown to the right with the gray background) that allows you to create 5 categories of questions. Each category can have up to 5 questions each. The nice thing about it is that you do not need to fill in every field, the ones you leave blank will not be programmed into the actual review game.

Once you enter all of the questions, you click "Create Game" and the web page will create a simple text file that can be saved into a folder on your computer. This text file contains the variables that will tell the Flash Jeopardy file your category names, questions, and answers. You can create multiple text files for multiple reviews. They can all be saved into the same folder with separate filenames.

After you have created a game file, you can run the Flash Jeopardy file. The file will ask you to type the name of the game text file (for example: worldwarone) so it can load your game info into the Jeopardy game. From there you are ready to play!

The game itself is pretty self-explanatory. All of your questions are loaded into the template. When a user clicks on a square, they are taken to the page for that question. The game also automatically keeps track of the score for up to 5 teams.

If you want to try this for yourself with your own questions, a more complete set of instructions can be found here. This page will guide you through the easy steps of creating and playing a new game.

If you want to try this online, click this link. Enter the word "sample" as the filename when the page asks.

I created this program in the hopes that others would find it to be a quick and easy way to create review games with no programming knowledge required. If you use this and you have feedback or suggestions for improvement, please leave comments. I welcome any constructive criticism.

P.S. If you create games that others might like to use, please send me the text files for them. Maybe I can create a game library of all different subjects.

I have created a Mac version of the jeopardy game. It works exactly the same as the PC version. You can still use the game file creation tool using the link above. Let me know how it works out for the Mac users!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Flash Renaissance...

I am ashamed that it has been over a month since I last posted anything to this blog. The good news is that my lack of time to post has been due to the fact that I have had something of a reawakening with Adobe Flash. I have been using Flash now for almost 5 years to create everything from web sites to interactive review games for my students. While the games have been well received and were popular among students, the one feature that has alluded me for the past few years is a solid high score component. All I want is a simple table showing the top scores for each of the review games I create. Doesn't sound so hard, does it?

Unfortunately, every time I have tried to follow tutorials online to create a high score table, it never seems to work for one reason or another. I even went as far as to buy a commercial Flash component to plug into my games (it turned out to be a company in Germany that does not seem to exist, so that one didn't work out either).

In the end, it turned out that the old "if you want something done right, do it yourself" adage held true. With some Flash wizardry, a sprinkle of php, and a great deal of trial and error, I was able to create a working high score component that can now be plugged into just about any Flash creation. I can happily check off another thing on my technology wish list.

I have 2 working examples of the high score list in action. The first is a simple guessing game (I call it the Mental Telepathy Assessment Test). Users have 10 attempts to guess the symbol that will appear on a card. There are 5 to choose from. After your 10 guesses, you are given the opportunity to submit your score for the high score list.
Give it a try at this link:Mental Telepathy Assessment Test

The second is inspired by the Lost Countdown Timer from Season 2 (if you aren't familiar with it, shame on you, it is/was one of the greatest plot devices I've ever seen in a show). The counter counts down from 108 minutes using a split flap display. In the final 4 minutes, someone must enter "the numbers" before time runs out. The flash file works the same way. Flash keeps track of how many consecutive resets a single user has completed and enters their name into the high score list. Great fun if you are a Lost fan.
Try that one here: www.savethehatch.com

The next step will be to begin creating new class reviews that incorporate the new high score capabilities. Should be nice motivation for students to hit the review games in hopes of seeing their names topping the charts. More on this as it develops....

Friday, March 28, 2008

Geotag your digital photos with GPS coordinates...

I always blog about all these gadgets and gizmos that I wish I had. Today, for a change, I am going to talk about a new item that I have actually had the opportunity to try. I recently read an article about a little GPS device that will let you tag your digital photos with GPS coordinates. Then when you upload them to Picasa, Flickr, or wherever you post your pictures online, they will be placed on a map exactly where you took them. I saw this on eBay earlier in the week and couldn't resist.

The process is pretty simple. The ATP Photo Finder comes ready to work right out of the box. If your digital camera uses SD cards (most do), then you are more than halfway there. Follow these steps to start tagging your photos based on where you took them:

  1. Turn on the GPS Photo Finder. The display will tell you that it is finding a satellite lock. this took 3-5 minutes for me.
  2. After the satellites are located, you must change the time on your digital camera to match the satellite time. This is how the Photo Finder will match your location to the time your photos were taken.
  3. Leave the Photo Finder on and near you as you take your pictures.
  4. When you have finished, the camera card is inserted into the Photo Finder. The photo finder will automatically tag each photo based on your GPS location at the time the photo was taken.
  5. When you upload the photos to Google Picasa, they will show up on the map where they were taken (video example from my pictures below).
Although the idea is a clever one, I don't think this device is quite ready for prime time. I took 6 pictures during my test run this afternoon. Of the 6, 3 of them didn't really put the pictures right where I took them. One was off by about 100 feet (forgivable) and 2 were off by a good quarter mile (weak). Considering the fact that Picasa lets you drag and drop your pictures onto a map with the same end result, it probably isn't worth spending the extra money just yet. When they start including GPS chips inside digital cameras (they already have) at a reasonable price (not yet), then the fun of automatically tagging your pictures with latitude and longitude will be realized.

In the meantime, I have a GPS Photo Finder for sale on eBay. It was only used once. Any takers?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Resurrect lost web pages with Google Cache...

Have you ever gone searching for web page that you have accessed in the past, only to find that it has moved or been deleted from the server? Annoying, isn't it?

My school recently changed the company we use to host our website. In theory, all of the files had been backed up and moved via FTP to the new host. The move was supposed to be entirely transparent to users of the site. Of course, anyone who has ever experienced a move knows that no matter how careful you are, there are always a couple of things that seem to get misplaced en route. Unfortunately, my entire directory was among the things that seem to have been "left behind." Go figure.

The only thing worse than learning that every web page you have created in the past 4 years is missing is learning it in the middle of the day when you try to access a page that is required for a classroom activity. Ooops. The moment had the potential for catastrophe.

Luckily a combination of quick thinking and Google's cache feature were sufficient to save the day. I was able to find Google's cached version of my missing page, save it as a web page, then upload the file to my personal web server (where my classroom pages will reside from now on), and business continued as usual. I think we lost about 4 minutes of class time.

Here are some screenshots detailing the fateful event:

  1. I discovered the page was MIA.

  2. I entered the address of the missing page into Google:
  3. I clicked "Cached" to view the last time Google crawled and saved the page./
  4. I was able to see and save the page that had been saved by Google about 1 week before.
    Thus, the tech person's life was spared.
If you are ever in a similar jam, I suggest you try it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Free Mosaic Maker Software...

I've been looking for a free Mosaic making software for a long time. If you aren't familiar with it, it is the software that lets you make a large photo that is actually made up of 100s of other photos. I posted a few examples below. Each example shows the original photo and the mosaic(if you click on the mosaic, you can see the larger version to make out the individual tiles).

I really like the fact that you actually download the software to use on your computer. I have found a few sites that offer this service in the past. This requires you to upload your pictures to an external site, then wait for a long time as your mosaic is processed. I once had to wait 2 days for a mosaic that I made on a website! This program lets you choose a folder full of pictures to use as tiles, choose the picture you want to end up with at the end, set some options, then go. I was also pleasantly surprise at how quickly it processed. The whole process for each of the pictures below took about 2 minutes.

There are some very cool potential classroom posters in the works in the near future....

Monday, March 10, 2008

Green Screen on a Budget...

I may have created the cheapest special effects green screen of all time. We are about to do a project in which my 8th grade students will create Presidential Campaign Commercials (of the "I approve this message" variety). I thought it might be very clever and cool to try to tape in front of a green screen and edit in custom backgrounds for the videos. I did a little online homework and found that Adobe Premiere Elements 2, which I already had from a couple years ago, can do chroma keying. The results ended up being quite impressive, considering the budget. I have posted a sample video at the bottom of this post. Here is a basic shopping list if you want to try to recreate this effect on your own:

  1. Two 3' x 9' pieces of green fabric from Walmart - $15.00
  2. One Digital Camera - $75 (more or less depending on specs)
  3. Adobe Premiere Elements 2 - $20 and up on eBay
  4. Stock Footage - Free on www.freestockfootage.com

Friday, February 29, 2008

Google Calendar + Text Messaging = No more surprise appointments!

I haven't come across any earth-shattering tools or software this week, so today's post will be a nice productivity tip recommendation.

And here it is:

Start using Google Calendar with Mobile Updates.

The Google Calendar itself is quite nice. There really isn't much to explain here that isn't common to any other successful online web calendar. You can quickly and easily add events. You can share your events with other people if you choose. Multiple users can edit one calendar. The real bonus for me is the fact that you can set your calendar to email you and/or send you a text message to remind you of upcoming events. It is very convenient.

I usually have my events set to email me 24 hours before the event and text me 1-3 hours before. This has done wonders for helping me always act like I didn't forget that meeting or that it was my week to bring in milk for the coffee club.

Like most of the Google family of products, it is free and plays nicely with your Gmail address, if you have one. (If not, what are you waiting for?)

Google Calendar

Thursday, February 21, 2008

3d Scanner from Nextengine looks amazing!

I use Gmail. It is great. But that is not what this post is about. This post is about a product from one of the links Gmail serves up based on the topics of your emails. (I remember people being so concerned that Google's software would scan your email to match you with relevant ads. I have actually found some pretty great sites and products that way)

I clicked on an ad recently about a 3d scanner. It is manufactured by a company in California called NextEngine. For $2,500, you can get this scanner which can scan anything smaller than 11 inches wide and 13 inches high. From there you have a 3d picture on your computer suitable for editing or 3d printing.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Then a video is worth 30,000 words per second. Here is some footage from Youtube of the 3d scanner in action. There are more flash demos at the NextEngine site (www.nextengine.com).

You could do some amazing things in schools with such an easy to use scanner. It boggles the mind. If you then coupled it with a 3d scanner ($5,000 and up), you could really create an amazing 3d Design/Prototyping/Engineering class.

Enjoy. (If my dream of owning this ever comes true, I will certainly post here)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Free Remote PC Access...

Do you ever get home and realize you left something on your computer? It happens to the best of us. By now most people are familiar with Remote Access software. GotomyPC.com has made the phrase fairly ubiquitous. But who wants to pay $20 per month to access your PC? Many of us don't have that extra money to shell out, especially if you would only use it a few times a month or less.

A few months ago I stumbled across a website called Logmein that offers 100% free access to as many remote PCs as you need! I am always skeptical about free services such as this, but I have been pleasantly surprised by how easy and effective it is. In fact, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that it has saved me more than a few times when I forget something on a computer that is many miles away from me.

The process is easy.

  1. Sign up for a free account.
  2. Install the software on every computer you need to access remotely. (Only takes a few minutes and only needs to be done once)
  3. Once you have installed Logmein on your remote computers, they will show up on your "My Computers" list every time you log in. You can see which computers are online and which ones are not. (You cannot access a computer that is not turned on and online)
  4. Click on any computer you need to access. You will be connected in a matter of seconds.
  5. Once you are connected, you can access the contents of your remote computer by clicking the Remote icon.
  6. From there you have full access to the contents of the remote computer. You can view the remote computer in Full Screen, you can cut and paste between machines, you can even print documents from the remote computer.
One of the most common scenarios for me in which I thank my lucky stars I have Logmein is when I realize I forget something on another computer. I log onto the remote computer, open my Gmail account from that computer, and send myself the missing file as an attachment. Within a few seconds, it is waiting for me on my home computer. It is as good as being 2 places at once.

I highly recommend it. It just might save your day.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Microsoft Live Maps put Google to shame...

In the same week that had me questioning my life-long preference of PC over Mac, I have just stumbled across a new technology (new to me at least) that again has me stopping to reevaluate all that I once held dear.

Here it is: Microsoft's Virtual Earth/Live Search Maps blows Google Earth/Maps out of the water.

There, I said it. Now the healing can begin.

I always thought Google Earth would be the last satellite imagery software I would ever buy download. The pictures in Google Earth seemed so clear to me. The ability to zoom down so close to buildings so amazing.

Then today I decided to give Microsoft's Virtual Earth a look just for giggles in a few free minutes I found unexpectedly. It was amazing! The pictures are so much more clear!

The quality of the pictures and the ability to clearly zoom a little bit deeper than Google Earth/Maps would have been enough to convince me that Virtual Earth deserved a second look.
Then I hit the "Bird's Eye View" feature.

Oh snap!

You can view any location from all 4 sides from a height of 25 yards!

Here is a screenshot from Google Maps:

And here is the same location in Bird's Eye View from Virtual Earth/Live Search:

Incredible. First PC's let me down and now Google is bested. I am Lost.

Click here when you are ready to give it a try for yourself.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Add another point for the Mac...

In another shocking development that threatens everything I once believed in, I had a second occurrence this weekend of something that I desperately needed to do, but could not get to work on my PC. And once again, it was my new Macbook to the rescue, solving the problem by simply working the way it is supposed to, something the PC just would not do.

The first example was a few days ago in my hotel room when I desperately needed to connect to the Internet to put some finishing touches on a presentation I was to give in less than 24 hours. The Mac was able to connect time and time again when the PC kept dropping the wireless connection.

That was just the beginning!

Yesterday was another crucial example of the PC letting me down. My wife and I were staying in a different hotel as she was taking a graduate course in the building. After her class, we tried to watch the 6th and final disc of Lost, Season 3. The disc refused to load on the PC. It played immediately on the Mac.

What is going on here? After years of avoiding Macs and calling them an inferior product, my trusty PC has been bested by a Mac twice in one week?! What else could go wrong? My whole belief system is beginning to shake...

Friday, February 1, 2008

Techspo Presentation a Success!

After many weeks of preparation, Techspo and our Moodle presentation have come and gone. And I must say, I think our presentation was a success. We had a pretty full room and there weren't many empty seats by the end. All told, I would guess there were about 50 people in attendance. One of my fears in the hours, days, and weeks leading up to the event was that no one would come and we would be giving our presentation to the guests that came from our own district. That would have been a very sad presentation indeed!

Luckily that did not happen and we had a very interested and enthusiastic crowd. Based on the questions during and after the presentation, I fully anticipate Moodle will be gaining some new users and most likely some new proponents.

I am debating starting a new blog centered entirely around the Moodle software, sample Moodle activities, add-ons, and suggestions for new "Moodlers." More on that as/if it develops.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

On the eve of Techspo....

It is about 11:20 on Wednesday. I am sitting in my room at the Days Inn in Atlantic City taking full advantage of the free wireless. (I am still reeling from the shock that my 1 week old Mac is able to connect while the PC is having unusual IP issues)

Tomorrow I will be attending the Techspo Educational Technology Conference for the 4th time. I look forward to this conference every year as it is the one professional experience I can count on to actually yield results that I can use. I discovered the SmartBoard and my Personal Response Remote system here and I am looking forward to seeing what is new for 2008.

This is also a landmark year as I will be making a presentation on Friday. I will be talking about the Moodle software package that I use to manage my online classroom.

More on Techspo soon! Stay tuned...

Friday, January 25, 2008

Sidestep content filters and download Youtube videos with Miro Media Player...

How many times have you found something great on Youtube that would be great to show in the classroom, knowing in your heart that they will never see the inside of your school due to restrictive filters?

In the past I have posted about sites such as Keepvid.com that allow you to download Flash Video (flv) files directly from Youtube. While these sites are still nice to keep in your emergency repertoire, I have recently moved to a much more effective solution: the Open Source Media Player Miro.

This nifty little program allows you to search Youtube, Google Video, and several other popular video streaming sites. If you find a video you can use, you can download the flv file to your computer with a single click.

From there you can easily drop the flv onto a memory stick to bring to school to show your students.

Very nice!