Sunday, February 28, 2010

BrainStorm 11.0 Day One

After 5.5 hours in the car driving to Wisconsin Dells - Kalahari Resort, It was time to get some lunch and get settled into my room for the next couple days. The lines for check-in were rather long and the rooms were not ready yet so a brief tour of the resort was next on the agenda. The Kalahari is a rather large place complete with movie theatre, bowling alley, shops, arcade, Ferris wheel, and of course, a large water park.

[caption id="attachment_66" align="alignleft" width="400" caption="Some tools for the conference!"][/caption]

My first session of the conference was about using the ActivExpressions by Promethean which are student response systems. It was a quick session that lasted about an hour and was basically just an introduction to the device. I admit that I was interested in going a bit more in depth with the device but it did not work out that way. Dinner was a traditional Wisconsin cookout style meal of brats and burgers with baked beans and potato salad - hard to go wrong with that. There was some great networking around the table which I found to be the most valuable from the day. Went to investigate the entertainment for the evening and was not very interested so went back to my room and knocked out the first 20 cards of Square by Square and then decided to recap the day. Now if only the kids upstairs will stop jumping on the beds.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Brief Review of 280 Slides

I recently came across a web based, PowerPoint-like application called 280 Slides - created by 280 North. I thought it might be nice to do a small review of the application based on my first impressions.

First Impressions

On the home page, the big button that says "TRY IT NOW, FREE!" truly delivers. You do not even have to register or anything - just start creating. I found out, however, that you will need to register if you want to upload pictures. It was a very simple registration, though. In fact, it was probably one of the easiest I have done. Just an e-mail and type password twice - no need to even do the confirmation e-mail thing. I liked how easy it was to get going with the application.

If you are a Mac person and are familiar with Keynote - you should feel comfortable with this. It had very much and 'Apple' feel to it. Apparently two of the creators were Apple employees though. If you are more of a PowerPoint user, this is no problem. I felt this application had a very small learning curve. The user interface was very simple to understand without tons of buried menu items.

Some Advantages

OK, so I by no means did an extensive review but there were some things that stood out right away. I liked that the UI was easy to grasp with friendly icons. Since there was no installation of any kind, startup was fast - no waiting for the program to load. In a hurry? This might be your ticket. The registration was even fast and hassle-free. The media support is pretty good with the ability to upload pictures and videos along with some simple built-in shapes. I thought the opacity slider was a neat feature. Sharing via blogs and such is simple too. You can get the embed codes needed with a few quick clicks.

Some Disadvantages

OK, again, not an extensive review but there were a few things that I identified as drawbacks. First, there are only nine these to pick from and five of those are just solid colors and pretty boring. Three of the other four are OK but not stellar and the graph paper theme might be OK for some math lesson but careful on the eyes with that one... Second, and this may not be that big a deal - there were only three layouts to choose from but then again, how many do you really need? You can place things wherever you want anyway. Third is the big one in my book. I did not notice a way to create hyperlinks. Since this is web-based, there seems a strong chance to want to link to something on the web from your presentation. Ultimately there is not a lot of capabilities with the product but it does what it needs to for the most part.


Overall, I thought this was well made - attractive and functional. I am not sure how much demand there is for a product like this with PowerPoint, Keynote, GoogleDocs, and OpenOffice Impress out there especially when GoogleDocs and Impress are free and have much more functionality. I can see, however, in a pinch when you might be limited to someone else's computer or something and your favorite resources might not be available that this would be a good place to go.

Here is the sample presentation I created - it was very easy and sharing is a breeze.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Forum Tracking in Moodle

Please note that this walk-thru was created with a 1.9 version of Moodle. Newer versions may not look the same.

Ok - I thought that I would make a blog post on this one since it is a question that is often asked by teachers using Moodle.

"Can Moodle show me the new posts so I don't have to filter through them all and try to remember which ones I have not read yet?"

The short answer to this is YES! Woot!

Here is the long answer...which includes the answer to the follow up question of HOW?

By default, this feature is not turned on. Each individual has to activate the setting in their profile in order to be able to see the tracking. Also, please note that whoever created the forum needs to also make the tracking available on that forum so even though you have it set to track unread posts in your profile you may not be able to see them if the tracking on a particular forum is turned off.

Here are some visual steps to being able to see the forum tracking. I realize that there are many paths that one could follow to accomplish this task. This is just one of the options that can help you to achieve this result.

For teachers creating forums,

1. Start by clicking on the forum you want to adjust the settings for.

2. Then you want to choose Update this Forum. This button can be found towards the upper right of the page.

3. You should find a setting called 'Read tracking for this forum?' By default it is set to optional which means that students can adjust settings for that forum individually if they don't want tracking for that particular forum. If set to yes or no - tracking on the forum cannot be chosen by the student. Since the default is set to 'optional', tracking will be enabled if it is turned on in the student's profile.

Don't forget to save your changes.
This button can be found at the bottom of the screen.

4. The next step is to click on your name in the upper right corner. This should take you to your profile. Once we get there, we will need to edit your profile.

5. Click on the tab that says 'Edit profile'

6. The setting we need to adjust is not readily visible so you need to click on the 'Show Advanced' button. This will bring up some more options.

7. This is the one we want to change.  Remember, you are updating your own profile. All students will have to make this adjustment as well if they want to see the tracking. Again, don't forget to save your changes.

Now when someone posts a new thread or reply in the forum, you will get a nice notification.

Again, I realize that there are a few ways to get to these spots but both things are required to view forum tracking.

Happy Moodle-ing!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Installing Some Extras for Ubuntu 9.10

OK - so here is the deal. I have been increasingly interested in Linux and using it for various projects. I started with Ubuntu 8.04 and ran it for a while - then I tried Fedora, Debian, and SUSE. Now I am back to Ubuntu but with the 9.10 version. I have to admit that the more I use it, the more I am liking it. Now, really - I am a Linux noob so all that I have done with it so far has been through hours of research on forums, blogs, and other various documentation. There always seemed to be something that blocked my progress from fully accepting a Linux distro of any kind.

From all of the searching, I never came across one spot that really laid it all out to have a working system the way an average Joe might want to have one. That means playing DVDs, viewing flash video online, and interacting with java applets.

I recall when I first installed Ubuntu 9.10 - It was sharp! I like the look of the login screen. I also recall wishing I could have the login screen background as my desktop wallpaper but that is not really a big deal. I started to try out all the goodies, of course, and came across some issues that needed to be resolved.

  1. Flash player

    • I used the Firefox browser (which I use on the PC anyway so was not unfamiliar with it) and quickly realized that there is no flash player installed. OK - no biggie, right? Well, that is what I thought. I went out to download flash for linux from Adobe's website and found the file no problem. Downloaded no problem. There it was on my desktop. I tried a few things to install it to no avail including some hunting online for solutions. Eventually, I found an answer that worked. That is a bit hard to swallow when flash basically downloads and installs pretty much on its own or with a double click on the install file in Windows.

  2. Java Runtime Environment

    • Same deal. If you are gonna browse - you need to have JRE installed to help maximize the experience just as you would with flash. Again, did some forum foraging for answers. It was about this time that I discovered the Synaptic package manager. That is pretty neat. However, do a search for flash or java and you will get a lot of returns. AAHHHH! Which one is the right one to choose?? Back to searching the forums. (Don't get me wrong, this has been a great learning experience.) Finally something that works.

  3. Play a DVD Movie

    • Alright, time to toss in that new copy of Star Trek you picked up at Wal-Mart last week. (You saw that, right? It was very good) No dice. No URI error pops up. Yeah, I get it - can't play movies on a PC either without the right codecs. Back to the forums. The frustrating part was that Ubuntu comes with the Movie Player. When my PC comes with a movie player like InterVideo, it has the codecs too. I eventually gathered enough things from various sources to get the DVD to play.

Well, all that being said, I wanted to combine all my efforts into one post that helps with each of these things as I am guessing that this is a common issue but it can be frustrating to try to find all the bits and pieces scattered across the web.

Getting it all to work in Ubuntu 9.10

First of all, this assumes a fresh installation of Ubuntu 9.10 without any other modifications that would possibly render one of these steps useless.

Second, I am going to give you all command line information. I personally found that to be just simpler than the package manager.

Third, if you are not wired and are having trouble with your wireless connection, you may want to try checking to see if the drivers are available on the machine but not installed.

  • Go to System > Administration > Hardware Drivers

  • Check to see if you have a wireless driver in the list (I have had some laptops just work and others that needed this step)

  • I had a driver called Broadcom b43legacy wireless driver

  • Select and install that driver

Now for the real meat and potatoes of this post...

  1. Download Ubuntu 9.10 and burn your ISO file to disk. Boot your computer with the disk in. Make sure your BIOS settings will allow you to boot from your optical drive. I am not going to walk you through installation of Ubuntu with this post though.

  2. When installation is complete and you are at the desktop - Go to your Terminal by selecting Applications > Accessories > Terminal

    • As a side note, I use Terminal so much that I added it to the panel. (right-click on Terminal and choose Add this launcher to panel)

  3. Now you will have to be a superuser in order to do all these installs so you will be prompted for your password several times in this process. You should be able to use the one you provided during the Ubuntu install process.

  4. Here are all the installs I did to get the DVD playing. **Disclaimer - the DVD might play with less than this but from what I learned all these options allow for better performance so I installed all of them. I also know that it may not work on your system at all - this is what worked for me so I can only hope it will work for someone else as well. OH - and make sure it isn't just a CD drive. They won't play DVDs. :) I also recommend running these in the same order as listed. Accept any prompts.

    • sudo apt-get install libdvdread4

    • sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/

    • sudo apt-get install gstreamer0.10-plugins-ugly

    • sudo apt-get install gstreamer0.10-plugins-ugly-multiverse

    • sudo apt-get install gstreamer0.10-plugins-bad

    • sudo apt-get install gstreamer0.10-plugins-bad-multiverse

    • sudo apt-get install gstreamer0.10-ffmpeg

    • sudo apt-get install gstreamer0.10-pitfdll

  5. Get Flash Player installed (no you won't have to pay anything for it)

    • sudo apt-get install flashplugin-nonfree

  6. Get Java Runtime Environment installed

    • sudo apt-get install sun-java6-jre

    • sudo apt-get install sun-java6-plugin

    • sudo apt-get install sun-java6-fonts

So that pretty much wraps up the majority of the setup for me. I know that you each will have needs that are different but this seems like it would be a pretty universal set of applications to have installed. Hopefully it was helpful to you in some way.

Thanks to the many, many folks more knowledgeable than I am for the plethora of posts that helped me get them all together.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Save Time With Photoshop Automated Batch

I recently had about 200 photos that needed to be optimized for the web.  That means opening the pic in Photoshop and reducing the average 3MB pic down to about 30K. It also means saving them with new file names. Photoshop can rename all the files using a convention of your choosing.

OK - so 200+ pics would take several hours to re-size one at a time. UGH, who wants to do that? Not me. With Photoshop, I was able to perform this task in about 5 minutes by doing an automated batch. Basically, all you do is take one of your pictures and re-size it the way you want and record the process. Then you can have Photoshop perform the same steps on a large batch of pictures saving tons of time.