Friday, September 28, 2007

Amazing Robot "LittleDog"

Saw this video of LittleDog, a 4-legged robot programmed by Stan Schaal from USC and built by Boston Dynamics and was amazed by it's ability to work it's way up and over a pile of rocks. I immediately did some searching and came up with links to Boston Dynamics and an article on BotJunkie. Boston Dynamics has four robots in development(links are to YouTube videos):
  • Big Dog (a large four legged robot)
  • RHex (an all terrain, even water, robot)
  • Little Dog (same video as below)
  • RiSe (little bugger climbs walls and trees)

Here are some other LittleDog related links. Reading is probably a little to high for middle schoolers but a high schooler passionate about robotics would find these interesting.

[Image: Jackel, Larry. "Learning Locomotion Proposer Information Pamphlet." IPTO Information Processing Technology Office. 06 Mar 2006. DARPA. 19 Sep 2007 .]

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Homemade Spy Equipment

In a TV show I was watching recently, the bad guys were using a microphone/laser setup to spy on the good guys. They used the glass in a window as the pickup device and could hear the conversation in that room. I turned to my wife and said,
"We used to make something like that in my technology lab. I could have been a spy. I was like Q in James the next generation of sneaky operatives."
She told me to be quiet and watch the show.

Shortly after that program I ran across directions on how to make a the same kind of listening device from a cheap laser pointer. My first thought was that anybody, including that creepy guy who lives down the block, could be listening in on my witty conversations. My second thought was, this would be a cool enhancement to the laser station in a technology lab.

If nothing else, a teacher could use this as a discussion starter on ethics and personal freedom. Also the need for black screens on all your windows! [Article on countermeasures in case you don't want to board up all your windows.]

[Chilton, Dan. "DIY laser long-distance listening device." 22 Aug 2007. DIY Life. 17 Sep 2007 .]
[image: "Megalaser." Megalaser. 2007. Megalaser. 17 Sep 2007 .]

Monday, September 24, 2007

Size Matters

If you teach web design, you might be interested in this article at A List Apart that discusses issues related to the new Apple devices that display web pages. The section that caught my attention was that the file sizes of the various components of your page are once again important.

This hearkens back to a day, when a younger version of myself was learning html. Machine memory was more expensive and scarce. My instructors nagged about file size all the time. Pages loaded faster if your files were smaller. Pictures definitely came up quicker if you optimized them for the web. Then broadband got faster and storage got cheaper. Designers stopped worrying so much about file size.

Enter Apple and their new hand held viewers. Like the computers of old, they have limited ram and memory capabilities. This means pages that have been built with size in mind, will open faster. The article gives a nice overview of building sites that are iPod friendly.

[Image: "iPod Touch." Apple. 2007. Apple Inc.. 22 Sep 2007 .]

Friday, September 21, 2007

Did you read my email?

I read a post on AppScout about an application that can notify you when your email is opened by the recipient. I wasn't so much interested in the application itself as I was in the explanation of how spammers can use images within an email to verify if an address is good.

It works like this, when you open an image in a spam mail, the image is accessed from the server where it is stored. A message can then be generated by that server letting the spammer know that this is a valid email address. The owner of said address can then be sent numerous messages about the latest male enhancement products. Even if said owner is happy with the current state of his enhancement.

The application, SpyPig, works in the same way. It uses a little picture of a pig that you embed in your email. When your boyfriend opens the note where you remind him of dinner with your parents, the pig image is also opened. The server where the image is stored notes this occurrence and notifies you that said image has been opened. When your boyfriend then says,
"Honey, I was so busy at work, I didn't have a chance to open your email. If I had, I never would have gone out with the guys. You know I love your mom and dad.......even if they do hate me and all my tattoos!"

You can then scream with a frying pan in your hand,
"You bum! You two faced nerd noodle! We are through!"

It isn't foolproof, as many folks have mail setups that show images as attachments. They have to deliberately open the picture to make it work. So, it is possible for someone to open your email and for you not to get the notice. There are also people who resent these kinds of intrusions into their privacy. But, now you know.

["SpyPig: Track Your Email...Like Spammers Do." AppScout: Stalking the Killer App. 14 Sept 2007. PC Magazine. 15 Sep 2007 .]
[Image: Lange, Dorothea. "Mail boxes in Bell county." Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection. June 1937. Library of Congress. 15 Sep 2007 .]

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Cool Mix of Media

I read this post on the official Google Blog about their new presentation application which sounds cool but it wasn't what excited me the most. It was the demo video of Google Docs. Again it wasn't the Google Docs that got me excited, but the video itself.

The students (and teachers) where I worked often would seek my help in creating various kinds of presentations. Usually, the day before they wanted to present it to the class. One of my suggestions for a fast presentation was to film simple line drawings or cut-outs. I had seen a demo of this somewhere and it had impressed me. (Though of course, I didn't have the demo to show them.) Their response usually went something like;

"But Al, I don't want to do no stinking paper puppets or stick figures. We've got all this expensive video equipment. I want a gosh darn movie. Something along the lines of Star Wars. By tomorrow! Morning!"

I wish they could have seen this Google presentation. It is a video of paper cut-outs and magic markers diagrams. The camera is static and a white background becomes the stage. A hand appears to move items around and in my favorite part, an almost invisible string pulls a paper cut-out across the screen. In another scene, a smile is drawn on a cut-out character's face to depict happiness. It's simple. It's effective. It's a great example of how a good video can be made using everyday materials.

After a little digging, I discovered that the video was created by a company called Common Craft. They have some other examples of their work on the web site . I'd be first to sign up, if these folks ever gave a workshop.

[Bodis, Attila. "Our Feature Presentation." The Official Google Blog. 19092007. Google. 18 Sep 2007 .]
[Screenshot: Bodis, Attila. "Our Feature Presentation." The Official Google Blog. 19092007. Google. 18 Sep 2007 .]

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

HowTo: Extract pictures from a PowerPoint presentation

This dilemma came up a couple of times last year at my school. Person comes to me in a rush and wants to get a picture out of PowerPoint. In both cases, since time was an issue, I just grabbed a screenshot. I promised myself that someday I would find out how to do this, but it has never made it to the top of my to-do list.

When I stumbled across this post I thought, "Aha! I knew there had to be an easy way!" Export the PowerPoint as a web page and the pictures will all be put in a file. Simple. Easy to do.

Go to this article, Extract Pictures from PowerPoint Photo Slideshows - Simple Hack to get a detailed explanation. While you are there, browse around Digital Inspiration. You're bound to have one or two "aha" moments yourself.

"Extract Pictures from PowerPoint Photo Slideshows." Digital Inspiration. 2007. Digital Inspiration. 16 Sep 2007 .

Monday, September 17, 2007


Every time my school had an open house, the comment I got from parents who were touring the technology lab was never,

"Mr. G, you are so good looking for a man your age. What is your secret?"

It was always,

"I wish I could take this class. I'd like to just come here, hang out and mess around with all this stuff!"

A place called TechShop has opened in California that offers just such a place. Along with access to all thier neat equipment they also offer classes in case you don't know how to run a Desktop Milling Machine or are a little rusty on your welding. There are plans to keep the shop open 24 hours a day. Just imagine, a place where you could run your power tools and hammer metal at any time of the night without the neighbors taking up a petition for your immediate deportation to Iceland.

Guy Kawasaki has a long article on his blog, How to Change the World, about the TechShop and it's founder, Jim Newton.

["TechShop is the SF Bay Area's Only Open-Acess Public Workshop--Welcom." TechShop:Build Your Dreams Here. 2007. TechShop LLC. 12 Sep 2007 .]
[Image: Kawasaki, Guy. "How to Change the World: TechShop: Geek Heaven." How to Change the World. 2007. 12 Sep 2007 .]

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lorem Ipsum: Fake Text

There are times when working with a web page or a desktop publishing layout that you need to fill in an area with text. Sometimes the actual text for the project isn't ready. You could repeat a series of words. You could type jumbled letters over and over again. Both these solutions look fake and are a little distracting to the eye.

Thus the need for Lorem Ipsum. This site generates a passage of text in Latin. When you paste it into your project, it looks like readable text. It fools the eye. It allows you to look at the visual layout of a piece without getting distracted by all that pesky content. It lets you treat the text as just another part of the page design.

What I like about this particular site (there are others on the web) is it lets you specify the number of words or paragraphs. This page also gives some interesting background on the origins of Lorem Ipsum. It is free but the author does ask for donations from frequent users.

["Lorem Ipsum-All the facts-Lipsum generator." Lorem Ipsum. Jan 2006. 11 Sep 2007 .]

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

TED: Ideas Worth Spreading

When I first heard about TED, I thought,

"Yuch! A bunch of professors and old academics getting up and giving formal talks to a bunch sleeping graduate students. Shoot me now!"

Finally, I went to the site after an enticing talk was mentioned on a blog I was reading. Now every time I think about TED, I think, "Wow!"

TED bring together the most creative, interesting, thoughtful speakers to talk about subjects they are passionate about. Watch one or two of these videos and I think you will be pleasantly surprised. I also think that, like me, you will check back here at least once a week to see what's new. There are many of these short videos that would be appropriate to share with your students either in a classroom setting or individually. They are distributed under a Creative Common's license and are freely usable as long as you credit the source.

I'm embedding a 5:41 minute talk that I found fascinating and moving by Dean Kamen who has been working on the development of a new prosthetic arm. The photo here is a screenshot from that presentation.

["TED| TEDBlog." TED:Ideas Worth Spreading. 2007. TED. 11 Sep 2007 .]

Monday, September 10, 2007

Make Magazine

While reading the latest issue of Make magazine today over my morning coffee, I thought, "My kids and I would have loved this magazine in the technology lab. It has so many projects I could have tied in with the different modules in my class. So, here is my enthusiastic plug for a great magazine.

For example, this months featured articles are:
  • Retro R/C Racer: Build a model 1930's midget racer out of scrap.
  • DIY Wheels: All kinds of ideas on how to mod a bike.
  • Vacuum Former: Build your own!
  • Rotating Bird Feeder: Photograph those pesky birds....close-up!
  • Solid Geometry: Learn the five Platonic solids and then build stuff!
The projects range from easy to hard. Make has got me digging through my garage looking for my old soldering iron. I was never much into electronics as a young man, but this old man is thinking he might want to tinker around with circuits and build the worlds next great doo dad machine.

There is a electronic version available to subscribers. There is also a related blog and podcast worth looking into. This is a fun read for any technology geek, even if you never build a single project.

[" MAKE: Magazine." Make: Technology on Your Time. 2007. O'Reilly Media, Inc.. 10 Sep 2007 .]�
"O'Reilly Media--Bookstore: Make: Technology on your time volue 07." Oreilly. 2007. O'Reilly Media, Inc.. 10 Sep 2007 .]

Friday, September 7, 2007

K12 Online Conference 2007

Stumbled across a link to the K12 Online Conference 2007. Clicked on it and thought right away that this sounded like something I want to attend. If I understand this correctly, it is free and it is all online. They have some video teasers available and I watched a few. I decided already on some of the sessions I want to attend.

Dean Shareski
“Design matters”
Drew Murphy
“Step by Step- Building a Web2.0 Classroom”
Jeff Utecht
“Sustained Blogging in the Classroom
Lee Baber, Paul Allison, Susan Ettenheim and Thomas Locke
“Building Online Communities for Youth”
Karen Richardson
“Crossing the Copyright Boundary in the Digital Age”

These are all topics I've been thinking about lately. I am so intrigued about this gathering that I've added a link to my blog. If you are into tech education, there has got to be at least one presentation that grabs your interest. Take a peek.

[Screenshot: "k12 Online Conference 2007." k12 Online Conference 2007. k12 Online Conference 2007. 7 Sep 2007 .]

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Son of Citation Machine

Yesterday's post about using primary sources got me to thinking about copyright and proper citation. There are some good online tools to help students format citations. I remember how painful this used to be when I was in college in the pre-computer dark ages. I held the writers manual in one hand as I carefully typed in, with one finger on my old manual Smith Corona, the sources for my bibliography. It was a royaly pain. When I told this story to my students I would always get the question,

"How old are Mr.G? You must be reallllllllly old!"

In recent years, I taught my students to use Son of Citation Machine. Every time I gave this lesson, I had at least one child who had another site they liked better. I let them use which ever one they wanted, as long as they used something. I did find that at certain times of the year, one site might get bogged down with high traffic. So, it might be handy to have a few other urls of similar sites available for your students. Or to the utter dismay of your class, a book or handout with the proper formatting.

"This ain't no English class. This is a computer class Mr. G. Why do we have to look at a book?"

The two screenshot shown here are the interface and the resulting citation based on the Son of Citation for a web page MLA style.

[Screenshots: Warlick, David. "Son of Citation Machine." Landmarks Son of Citation Machine. 2006. The Landmark Project. 7 Sep 2007 .]

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Teaching with Primary Sources

A couple of years ago I went to a workshop put on by An Adventure of the American Mind-Colorado. They sent me an email recently informing me of their name change to Teaching with Primary Sources-Colorado and it reminded me of how much I enjoyed that class. The Colorado group is sponserd by the Library of Congress and it's purpose is help "teachers and students discover the treasures of the Library of Congress". Before that, I hadn't really thought of the wealth of information available from the LoC. After the workshop, I went back to my school fired up with ways to use primary sources.

Students and teachers are always looking for images they can use in projects and presentations. Much of the time, they will just do a Google image search and use whatever they find without much thought to ownership or copyright. More than once I have had the following conversation with a student.

"What is the source of this picture?"
"No....not how you found it but who made it. Who does this print belong to?"
"No....Google is a search engine. It doesn't own this picture. It didn't make it."
"Mr. G, you're not listening. Yes it did."
"No it didn't"
"Uh huh."

The LoC offers a couple of things. One, a vast archive of materials students can use in various reports. And, two, a chance for you to do a lesson on copyright issues.

Teaching with Primary Sources
have branches in several states and offer workshops both face-to-face and online.

[image: Bonus Bureau, Computing Division, 11/24/24; Herbert A. French; 1947. National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress)]

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Google SketchUp 3D Challenge

Google SketchUp 3d Challenge

I loved creating new challenges to give my students when I was teaching in a technology lab. Once they had a handle on the basics of a piece of software or hardware I made them stretch a little by throwing down a personal challenge.

"OK Johnny and Susie, now that you think you know Photoshop. I want you to take a picture of your selves, load it into Photoshop and switch your heads on to each other's bodies. It's got to look real. You've got till the end of the hour. Go!"
This motivated my kids to use the skills they had and maybe explore a little deeper just to accomplish the task.

The Google Sketchup 3d Challenge does a similar thing. Every week they present a new challenge to create a 3d picture using the free modeling software put out by Google [Google Sketchup] . You can post your efforts online for everyone to see and the results are as varied as the skill levels of the folks posting. A couple of the previous challenges were a wooden toy and a Mars rover.

It's a lot of fun. Also, it pushes me a learn a little more about the program with every new challenge.

[image is from the Google Sketchup 3D Challenge site. Created by Don East]