Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Droid Eris

Like many others, I have been captivated by Verizon's onslaught of commercials promising a new era of phones that will make us forget how jealous VZ subscribers have been of the iPhone. The phone in question is the Droid, manufactured by Motorola and powered by the Android operating system from Google. The more I read about the Motorola Droid in the weeks leading up to its launch, the more intrigued I became.

When the day came (November 6th), I went to the Verizon store and took a look at this heralded device. After several trips to the store to play around with the Droid, I am pleased to say that I am now the proud owner of an Android powered smart-phone...but not the one we've all seen plastered on TV. I ended up with the Droid's little brother: the Droid Eris (shown at right). The Droid Eris runs Android 1.5, where the Droid runs 2.0. It has a slightly smaller screen at 3.2 inches to the Droid's 3.7. The Droid Eris is also slightly slower, though I haven't felt it lagging yet. Despite the fact that every person wearing a Verizon shirt desperately seemed to want to convince me that the Droid is the superior choice to the Droid Eris, I just didn't fall in love with the bigger Droid the way the commercials had prepared me to.

After spending most of the day with the Droid Eris, I can safely say it is the greatest mobile device I have ever owned! It is very fast, the Internet loads well, and I am connected to my email, Facebook, Twitter, and every other possible electronic information pathway I am involved with. There is also an impressive number of free "apps" available in the Android Market for immediate download.

All in all, it seems like Verizon made the right choice partnering up with Google on this one. I am excited to get to know this phone better and even more excited to see what else Google comes up with as Android matures.

So glad I waited and resisted the many times I was tempted to jump ship to AT&T for the iPhone.

Droid does.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Live Visitor Tracking on your site...

Do you run a website? If so, you are probably like me and are semi-obsessed with wondering if and how many people are visiting your site. There are plenty of free services that will track the number of hits you receive, where they come from, how long they stay on your site, what color shirt they were wearing, and various other metrics. I'm not going to compete with them.

What I have done, however, is develop a very simple flash widget that you can put on any page of your website (or all pages) to allow you and your users to get a live view of how many people are on the site at any given time.

The widget comes in 2 flavors: visible and invisible. The visible version looks just like the one to the right. The invisible version is not seen by your users, but allows you to track your site from a control panel page.

Like my other tools, this one is totally free and I invite you to use it on your site. Have fun!

Here's the link: Live Visitor Tracker

Get my own counter!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Free Stock Market Simulation Game...

I have always been thrilled by Stock Market Simulation Games. I love the idea of investing a virtual lump sum in a market based on real stock prices and watching your investment grow (or not).

I have tried several times in the past to use Stock Market simulations with my classes, with mixed success. The students are almost always very enthusiastic about the idea of having hundreds of thousands of dollars to invest. Many of the students really throw themselves into researching stocks online, on CNBC, or anywhere else they can get a hot tip.
I've even gotten a few of the other teachers in the building in on the action, buying and selling stocks right alongside the students.

The enthusiasm for the simulations was never the challenge. Finding a site that was easy to use and setup was. After several years of using sites that left many students baffled and frustrated, I finally decided something had to be done differently. Luckily, my programming skill is finally starting to catch up to my imagination.

I've created my own Stock Market Game written entirely in php. It pulls real stock prices (delayed 15 minutes) from Google Finance, and allows students to buy and sell stocks at the real prices. The site keeps tracks of every transaction and ranks players throughout the day as stock values change.

I would like to make this game available to other teachers, just as I have the online jeopardy review game and some of my other classroom creations. I am currently in the testing stage, but I can iron out the kinks more quickly and effectively if I have a pool of people testing the software. My students have been using it for a few days with no major issues, but it is always good to run your own creations past other sets of eyes.

If you want to participate, each of your students (or small teams if you prefer) will have a virtual $100,000 and a Trading Password. Students can buy and sell from any publicly traded stock. Stocks trade at real prices via slightly delayed quotes that come from Google Finance. Students can trade from any online computer (works from phones too, I tried).

Email me at if you are interested. I can get your class up and trading in a day or 2.

I hope to hear back from some people!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Very clever use of Google Docs...

I wish I could take credit for this one. But let's be real, most of the best ideas in teaching were copied from somewhere else and modified for classroom use. In this case, the stolen idea came from a link I noticed one of the blogs. They have a document that charts layoffs in the tech industry. It turns out it is nothing more than a spreadsheet created in Google Docs. The document automatically updates every 5 minutes. This means any changes the staff makes to this document are available to their readers within minutes.

We used this tool in class today to help students with a research project they were working on. I noticed that many students throughout the day were asking for help finding information. Rather than finding the same information multiple times, I created a Google Spreadsheet with a list of links and posted the url on my class website. It ended up working out really well, with students later in the day being able to benefit from links I found and saved in the morning!

If you would like to recreate this, simply:

  1. Create a document within Google.
  2. Click Share --> Publish as a Web Page --> Publish Now
  3. Then simply copy and paste the link to your website, blog, Twitter, etc.
  4. Your page is now available to the world!
Thanks again, Google. Nice work. All hail.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Wakeup Call for Online Service Users...

Ma.gnolia is down. If that means nothing to you, please keep reading.

"Ma.gnolia is a free, public service for saving links to websites. Most users rely on it as a bookmarking storage service, or a place to save links that they may want to revisit later. Links can be saved privately or shared publicly, so that they can be browsed by other users looking for new destinations. Many people prefer to use bookmark sharing services like Ma.gnolia rather than saving bookmarks locally — the main advantage being that while your browser's bookmarks are stored on your machine, you can access bookmarks you share on the web from any computer with an internet connection." (Description from's Blog, Epicenter)

Still don't care? Here's why you should. Magnolia is just one example of a web-based service many of us use to organize parts of our digital life. And if you are anything like me, your digital life represents a sizable chunk of your professional and personal life. If a major site like Magnolia can suffer a data meltdown such as this, it is not beyond the realm of belief to think that others might as well.

In an average day, it is not unusual for me to:
  1. Email documents, presentations, project files, etc. to myself in Gmail so I have access to them at home and work.
  2. Upload large files to my Skydrive account so I can download them from another location or share them with others.
  3. Upload pictures to Picasa to keep and share with others.
  4. Upload videos to Youtube.
  5. Work on shared documents via Google Docs.
  6. Post information to this blog.
This is not a complete list, but you get the idea. On any given day, if I were to visit one of the sites listed above and learn that all of my data had been lost, the ramifications would be unthinkable. In the past few years, as companies like Google and Microsoft are literally giving away gigabytes of storage space for free, I have moved away from transferring files with USB drives in favor of storing massing amounts of data online. This latest tragedy for Magnolia makes me wonder if I shouldn't take a step back and reevaluate the way I store and manage my digital data.

Imagine if these sites lost their data all of a sudden:
  • MySpace/Facebook
  • Tinyurl -- imagine the effect it would have in Twitter, where tinyurls are the link sharing method of choice!
  • Flickr
What about you? Where are you storing your digital life? It might be time to reevaluate some bad habits. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Share Your Screen for Free with YuuGuu... or...Reach out and Help Someone

It seems most of my posts lately have been about things that I have been creating. Today I am stepping down off my high horse and talking about a program called Yuuguu. Yuuguu is a free remote desktop and screen sharing tool.

I rediscovered Yuuguu today after several attempts to help a Flash Jeopardy user by email were unsuccessful. I decided it would be infinitely easier to show and tell rather than just tell. While pondering the best way to do that, a little voice in the back of my head shouted, "Hey remember that Yuuguu program? I seem to remember being able to use that program to share your screen with anyone, even if they do not have a Yuuguu screenname!" As it turns out, that voice was exactly right.

When you sign into Yuuguu, which is available for the PC, Mac, and even Linux, you are able to generate a link and temporary pin number that will allow a person or people of your choice to see your screen. Once they are connected, you can walk them through whatever it is you are trying to explain by doing it on your screen.

What if your user has a question about something you are doing on your screen? They have a little chat interface built into the session. They can message you and you can message them. I spent a couple minutes this evening with a user who needed some help with the proper way to save a game file from the Jeopardy Flash game. I fired up Yuuguu, and sent her the url and pin number to see my screen. Within minutes, I had shown her the proper way to solve her issue and we could both get on with our nights.

If you need a quick way to illustrate something for anyone, I highly recommend YuuGuu. It is extremely effective and best of all, 100% free.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Moving Day and some new tools to share...

If you have been a fan of my Flash Jeopardy, Flash Millionaire, or Flash Boardgame programs, you may have noticed that they were residing on a server that was not particularly well named for the programs I had been posting on it. After a little research and a lot of soul-searching, I packed up the virtual moving van and transferred everything to a new, more appropriately named domain.

You can now find all of my Flash Review Games at

But wait, there's more...

I have some new additions to the site as well. I have created tools that will allow you to quickly and easily create printable seating charts, generate groups, and generate names from your class randomly.

After several requests, I have also updated the Jeopardy review game so that you can embed urls for images in the questions slides.

Even though the domain name has changed, everything on the site is just as free as it ever was. Consider it my donation to the universe.

As always, I welcome feedback and questions from my readers as they try out these new tools at the new site. I hope you find the new tools useful.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Teacher Websites Required?

A colleague and I will giving a presentation on our school's Teacher website solution at the end of January in Atlantic City. I wanted to have some information about other schools and how/if they handle posting information online.

It would be great to have some feedback from my readers.

Here is what I would like to know:

  1. Do you post assignments, announcements, etc. online for students and parents?
    Why/Why not?

  2. Does your school district require teachers to post information online?
    If yes, what system does your school use and what has the general reaction from the staff been?

  3. What is your opinion on teacher/classroom websites?
    ie. They are positive/necessary because...

  4. Any other comments are welcome!

I appreciate any responses you have time to contribute! Feel free to pass this along to teachers you may know from other schools as well.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2009: Looking ahead...

What would New Year's be without resolutions? Life is so much more fulfilling when you have a set of goals that you are working toward. Without a clear and worthy destination, the ride can be pretty dull.

Here is a brief list of some of my personal technocentric aspirations for 2009:

  1. Blog more -- There were too many times this year when I allowed a month or more to pass by without adding anything to this blog. What a shame. There is always something interesting going on in or near my classroom. I plan to make more of an effort to chronicle my thoughts, opinions, and experiences with the technology around me this year. I have made some great connections through this space, hopefully 2009 will bring even more.

  2. Keep Learning -- For me, 2008 was the year of php. This powerful and free programming language has been at the center of almost every major project I undertook this year (Mock Election, Flash Jeopardy, etc, etc). In the months ahead, I hope to continue to learn more efficient ways to use php to add spice to my creations.

    I've been meaning to learn some MySQL database programming for a long time. I must have 3 different beginner's books sitting on my shelf to help me do it. In 2009, I hope to set aside some time to learn and experiment with what MySQL can do. I think that it will mesh nicely with what I have learned of php.

  3. Embrace Arduino -- I am very excited about learning more about the Arduino (see my earlier post about the Arduino) The more I read about it, the more excited I get. I already have ideas for half a dozen different devices that could potentially be created. Look for updates throughout 2009 as I experiment with this powerful piece of equipment. If you see no updates, know that I am softly weeping somewhere because my Arduino dreams have gone unfulfilled. :)

  4. Inspire Others -- I am an early adopter and a huge proponent of technology of all types, both in my personal life and in the eductional setting. This year I hope to continue to lead by example and help others to overcome fears and misconceptions about technology so that they can begin to embrace and experiment with new skills and tools in the new year.
This list is by no means all-inclusive. Most of my goals seem to mushroom into other inter-related goals. I predict this year will be no different.

What are you tech/educational goals for the year ahead?