Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Search Mash-Ups

In an earlier post, What is a Mash-Up? I linked to a brief video that does a great job of explaining mash-ups. Now I'd like to share with you some examples of search mash-ups. One of Gordon Snyder's favorites is Googlepedia - an add-on for the open source Firefox browser that combines Google search results with a relevant Wikipedia entry. Here's a sample search for the term "encryption:"
Another Wikimindmap, takes a Wikipedia search query and builds a Mindmap from it -
Finally, there are visual search engines such as Quitura and KartOO - screenshots below.

Give these tools a test-drive, I think you and your students will derive great benefits from the ability to visualize your searches.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Twitter, Pownce and Jaiku: The Birth of Micro-blogging

If you haven't used Twitter, Pownce or Jaiku yet, you're probably in the minority. These relatively new social networking sites have exploded - each growing almost exponentially. Here are screenshots of each:

Many are calling these social networks, or micro-blogs. In Twitter and Jaiku you provide information about your thoughts, activities and/or whereabouts. Some users update so often, that it's almost like real-time updates. Pownce works similarly, but allows users to easily share links, files and events. Twitter is still the most popular of the three, but Pownce - by invitation only - seems to be gaining quickly. I'm not sure I understand the attraction of these sites - maybe it's generational, but they're very popular and seem to be addictive.

Here is one interesting and real-world use of Twitter by the Los Angeles Fire Department. Members of the fire department provide real-time updates of LAFD activities and operations. Anyone interested can subscribe or follow this Twitter. Imagine the uses at a college or university - we could provide updates on availability of writing or math labs or even our testing center. We could also provide registration information in real-time, such as number of seats, new sections, cancellations etc. To think of it, you could also use these tools to manage your office hours - in real-time!

Here's a great New York Times article on Pownce and co-founder Kevin Rose. Who's Kevin Rose you ask? Kevin is the 30-year old wunderkind behind hugely successful news/social networking site digg.com. Digg allows user to post links to interesting news or websites and other users to either "digg" or "bury" the article. Stories with the most diggs rise to the top, while others disappear - it's a great way to let the community filter news.

I have a few pownce invites left, email me at mqaissaunee@gmail.com if you'd like one - first come first served.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Did you Jing today?

Jing, available for free at www.jingproject.com, is a new product from TechSmith Corporation launched on Tuesday July 17th. You're probably familiar with TechSmith's other products, Camtasia Studio and SnagIt. Briefly, Jing gives you the screen capture capability of SnagIt, combined with the screencasting of Camtasia, but with a very different approach. Jing - available for Windows XP and Vista and Mac OS X - runs in the background ready to capture and share anything you're doing - a little unobtrusive "sun" as seen here on my Macbook. Jing is a small, sleek little application - not intended to give you the full feature set of either SnagIt or Camtasia. Instead, Jing is about quickly capturing information and sharing it. Images are saved only as .png files (lossless) and videos [limited to 5 minutes] as .swf (flash - present on almost every computer in the world). Jing doesn't require or allow you to do any editing, clean up or production. If you need full-blown editing and production capabilities, you can use SnagIt and Camtasia; Jing is quick and easy no frills screencasting. If you've got something you'd like to share, mouse over the "sun" to see three "sunbursts" - capture, history and more. If you click on capture, you get a pair of crosshairs that you can use to select a region to record. In a corner of the region you'll see controls that allow you to capture images or video.Once you've finished capturing/recording, Jing allows you to preview your recording and either share it, save it or cancel the recording. As you would expect, saving just saves either a .png or .swf file on your local hard drive. Sharing though is something altogether different! When you first use Jing it takes you to screencast.com - TechSmith's hosting service - and has you create a free account. When you click share, your content is automatically uploaded to this hosting service, Jing generates a url and puts it in your clipboard. You can share the video with anyone, by emailing, iming or otherwise sending them the url. You can also grab the html code from screencast.com to embed the video in a blog or website.Imagine the potential uses for this! Students or colleagues ask a question - you record a 5-minute video that answers the question and share it with them immediately.

It's not clear if Jing will be free forever or if they will continue to give out screencast accounts, so try it out while you can. Here's a sample video showing another interesting product Joost - web-based or IPTV - which is by invitation only. Email me if you need a Joost invite!

Jing Demo Keep in mind that this is a video of a video so you may lose some quality, but I encourage you to try out both Jing and Joost [invitation only] - they're really great products.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Slideshare and Slidecasting

I've been using slideshare.net for about 3 months and have even been communicating by email with one of the founders - Rashmi Sinha. To friends, I've always described Slideshare as sort of YouTube for powerpoint. Here's how it works - you upload a presentation either powerpoint, openoffice or PDF - basically any format you might be using. As part of the upload you give the presentation a title, tags, description and have an option to allow or disallow downloads. Don't upload anything private - slideshare is completely public - anyone can see your slides. Once uploaded, you or anyone else can view the slides in a small inset viewer or in fullscreen mode. Users/viewers can (1) share the slideshow, (2) digg the slideshow (social news site digg.com), (3) subscribe to a user, (4) favorite with tags, and (5) comment. Here are a couple examples; one I've favorited and another I uploaded from the Enterprise 2.0 conference.

While I really like this service and see great uses and potential for it, I understand why it has not become as popular as YouTube. Video is the current killer app! You can say and do so much with video - powerpoint or slideshows just don't get kids revved up. But ... what if you could add audio to the slides? Well - now you can! Slideshare has just launched a new feature called slidecasting. Here's how slidecasting works - upload your presentation, upload an mp3 audio file to a separate hosting service, link the two by adding the audio url to the slideshow, synchronize slides and audio, and finally save and publish. Here's a demo, some examples and an embedded example below.

Visit slideshare.net and search for some presentations and slidecasts that you like or find interesting and send them to at mqaissaunee@gmail.com.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Bright Ideas: Innovations in Teaching Programming

I just got back from Frisco, Texas - in the Dallas area. I spent the week at Collin County Community College teaching a Fundamentals of Wireless LANs workshop for 13 faculty from throughout the Texas region - a pretty grueling 40 hours delivered in four-and-a-half days. Collin is home to the Convergence Technology Center, a National Science Foundation-funded regional center focused on creating convergence technicians - a sort of all-purpose IT technician.

For the past six years, Collin has hosted this event - 2007 Texas State Working Connections - part of a national IT professional development initiative started by the American Association of Community Colleges, Microsoft, and the National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies. This year, the tracks offered were:
  • Convergence+
  • Intro/intermediate Voice over IP (VoIP)
  • Fundamentals of Wireless LANs (me)
  • Ethical Hacking
  • Social Networking (Gordon Snyder) / Office 2007
  • Game Programming
This is Mike Dawson a really bright young guy (thirtysomething) who was the instructor for game programming.
What's interesting about Mike is not his love of Brownie Sundaes or his insistence on asking for extra hot fudge - instead it's the really innovative approach he takes to teaching programming.
BRIGHT IDEA: Combining his writing ability, his programming expertise and his love and knowledge of gaming, Mike teaches programming within the context of game development. Using a textbook he's written - Guide to Programming with Python, Mike takes a difficult subject - programming, that many young people find dry and uninteresting and makes it engaging. Why were faculty from Mike's workshop so excited? It's because they know firsthand the challenge of teaching programming, particularly to kids. They recognize the great potential of Mike's approach and are eager to give it a try. Imagine that your students become so immersed in creating the game, that they forget - at least for the moment - that they're programming. From the workshop description -
Introduces principles of game programming through hands-on creation of simple games with the Python programming language. Major topics include Python syntax, data structures for games, designing game worlds with objects, sprites, audio playback, player input, animation and collision detection. More advanced topics, such as simple physics and basic artificial intelligence, will be covered if time permits. Both text-based and graphics-based games will be examined. As a final project, attendees will program a 2D action game, complete with graphics, music, sound effects and animation.
There's also a retail version of Mike's book, Python Programming for the Absolute Beginner - here he is holding a copy at the Frisco Barnes and Noble - not quite Vanna White.

Take a look at how you're teaching and the context within which you're teaching - are your students like the meerkats in this video or more like this one?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Educators as Entertainers

I met a new faculty member this year who announced to me that it's not his job to entertain students. In fact, he explained that he tells his intro class - to paraphrase - this class, the material for this class is boring; there's no way to make it interesting. As you would expect, I was stunned. The video below speaks to this - if these meerkats remind you of your students, maybe it's time to consider changing your approach to teaching.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

iPhone Review Part 1 - The Hardware

I've had an iPhone for just over a week now and have had a chance to really put it through it's paces. I'll start first by detailing the hardware and construction of the device. One of the challenges of reviewing this device is the tight integration between hardware, software and user interface - all work together so well, that it's difficult to talk about one without considering the others. Although the device is not perfect, it does live up to the hype and is a game-changing device. Apple has - with this one product - changed the way we interact with technology, browse the web, activate our devices and dramatically altered the expectations we have of similar devices.

Let's start by looking at the iPhone hardware. The construction of this thing is top-notch. It feels very substantial in the hands - solid with no rattles - much different than Treo or Blackberry devices I've used in the past. It's a little smaller than a 3 x 5 index card and about as thick as two cd cases stacked together. The face is almost completely all screen
- except for a physical (home) button at the bottom
and the headset ear piece at the top.
The screen is probably the first thing you'll notice - its bright and beautiful under just about any lighting conditions - indoors or out - these pictures just don't do it justice. The iPhone has a sensor that detects ambient conditions and adjusts the contrast and brightness appropriately. As most of you already know, another sensor shuts the screen off when the iPhone is placed against your face to make or receive a call - battery life; and another set of sensors cause the screen to adjust its orientation (portrait or landscape) to that of the iPhone. In addition to the single button on the front, there are four other buttons - a ringer off switch on the left hand side along with a volume up/down rocker that adjusts volume for phone, music and video.
At the top is a sleep/wake button that can also be used to power the iPhone off and on.
The headphone jack is also at the top. Because it is slightly recessed this jack may not accommodate all existing headphones, possibly requiring an adapter. The back of the iPhone is mostly metal, except for a small plastic portion at the bottom,
which houses the antenna - no metal=better signal strength. At the bottom you'll find the standard iPod dock connector and two small speakers - yes that's right you can listen to your music, watch your videos and make calls without earbuds or headphones. Also on the back of the iPhone - on the top-left - you'll find the integrated 2 mega-pixel camera. The camera does not have a flash and cannot record video (maybe a software upgrade) but takes surprisingly good pictures.

The last piece of the iPhone hardware that I'd like to talk about is not actually part of the iPhone, but instead part of the included earbuds. Unless you've been living under a rock, you've seen the white iPod earbuds that have become ubiquitous since the introduction of the iPod in 2001. The earbuds included with the iPhone have a little plastic "box" on the right earbud line about 6 inches from the earbud. The ingenious little "box" is a marvelous piece of engineering and user interface. In addition to housing a microphone - which provides really clear call quality - the "box" is also a remote control for the iPhone. A single click will accept an incoming call or terminate an existing call and also switches between incoming and on-hold calls - i.e. cal-waiting. If you're listening to music, a single click will pause or resume the music and a double-click will move to the next song in your playlist. To decline an incoming call, click and hold the remote - which will also switch to an incoming or on-hold call and end the current call.

Overall I'd give the hardware a grade of A+, not necessarily because it's flawless, but because there's nothing else like it - not even remotely close. Everyone else is playing catch-up, at least for now. Keep in mind that I'll review the wireless functionality - which is a deal-breaker for many - separately. As far as the hardware goes, the only quibble one might have is the recessed headphone jack - especially if your $300 noise-canceling headphones don't fit.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Podcasting Tools and Resources

Mashable.com has a great article detailing a number of tools and resources for podcasting - Podcasting Toolbox: 70+ Podcasting Tools and Resources.

Some of the more interesting include:

Mobile Podcasting

  • Podlinez - a simple service to listen to podcasts on your phone.
  • Gabcast - Record podcasts straight from your phone.
  • Yodio - Record audio from your phone, add photos and captions.

Text to Podcasts

  • BlueGrind - Converts text (especially blogs) into podcasts.
  • Feed2Podcast - Convert any RSS feed into a podcast.
  • Talkr - Convert blogs to audio podcasts.
  • Odiogo - convert RSS feeds, text articles and blog posts to podcasts.

Podcasts to Text

  • CastingWords - a podcast transcription service that converts podcasts to text for $0.75 minute. It employs human transcribers.
If you know of any others or try any of these out let me know.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Sunday, July 01, 2007

iPhone post from the beach

Taking some time off - and playing with the iPhone. Getting much
better at typing - not a perfect device, but far ahead of anything
else out there. Will provide some more details later.

Here's a quick pick from the beach!



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