Sunday, November 30, 2008

This weeks top 5

Top three most frequented pages are pretty much the same.

1. Popsicle stick bridge again
2. Homemade spy equipment
3. Popsicle stick bridge building
4. Son of Citation Machine
5. Funny Famous Quotes

The last two must be reflective of all those research papers coming due before the end of this school term. Searchers looking to put together those bibliographies and filling out their text length with a few quotes ended up on my blog. Hope you all pass.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

We had our traditional Thanksgiving dinner yesterday as my wife had to work today. It's one of the drawbacks of working in a hospital. Women have babies every day regardless of the holiday and the staff needs to be there every hour of every day all year long.

I'm sure the families of other folks who work in health care, law enforcement and the military understand the need to celebrate holidays on a slightly different schedule than everyone else. As I send my wife out the door with a cold turkey sandwich, I am thankful for her being my wife. Celebrating the holiday early is a small price to pay for having her in my life. I hope that who ever gets her as their nurse tonight will be thankful for her care.

Thanks to all of you who make these sacrifices to keep the rest of us healthy and safe.

[Image: Photograph of President Truman receiving a Thanksgiving turkey from members of the Poultry and Egg National Board and other representatives of the turkey industry, outside the White House. November 16, 1949: The National Archives:]

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Google Forms

By far the most popular part of the Google Docs with the folks I work with is Forms. They have started popping up in all sorts of ways ever since we demonstrated this at a recent staff inservice. Including a mock election on Nov 4th to coincide with the national elections. Our Social Studies teachers copied the entire Colorado Ballot into a Forms doc and then brought all the kids down to a computer lab that day to vote. The votes were tallied instantly. Everyone involved thought it was extremely cool.

Saw on The Offical Google Docs Blog that they had included some new Form templates including this Website Feedback Survey I've embedded below. Go ahead and take the survey and I'll post the results so you can see how the information is tallied in a spreadsheet. I'll also take a few snapshots of some of the analytic tools so you can see the different ways you can look at your data.

If you haven't tried Forms yet, I highly recommend it.

Previous Post on this Topic: Quick Forms using Google Docs

[Image captured from the Official Google Docs Blog:]

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Google Calendar In Your Sidebar

I've been messing around with Google Docs a lot lately and stumbled across this great little tutorial on The Edublogger describing how to embed a small version of your Google Calendar in the sidebar of your web page. I had been just thinking about trying to figure this one out. I love it when someone saves me a few steps.

I'm working on getting my classroom pages organized in such a way as to be useful for my students and also manageable for me. I created them using Google Docs and have been playing with many of the built in features including embedded calendars. I'm experimenting a whole lot more than I might normally because I am also the resource person in my building for all things Google Docs. If you have looked at my pages the idea of me being a resource person might be a little scary. Right now my pages feel like a mish-mash of different gadgets. It's too much and I'm going streamline soon.

Maybe during the coming long weekend? A man can't spend 4 full days eating turkey. Can he?

[Image captured from "How to Embed a Google Calendar in Your Blog Sidebar": The Edublogger:]

Monday, November 24, 2008

Using Google Docs in the Classroom

I've been using Google Docs in my classroom for a couple of months now and am still exploring how to best utilize it's capabilities. Saw this posting today and found several ideas I plan on trying including setting up a shared presentation like this one.

[via Google Docs Blog]
[Image captured from Google Docs Blog:]

Sunday, November 23, 2008

This weeks top 5

I just checked to see which of my posts got the most hits this past week and here is the rundown.

1. Popsicle Stick Bridge...again

2. Popsicle Stick Bridge Building

Hmmmm... the second post is more popular than the first?

3. Homemade Spy Equipment
Just who are all you people spying on?

4. Prosthetic Arm Update

5. Articulated Werewolf Mask
OK....this is one of my favorites but why the sudden upsurge just before Thanksgiving? Does this reflect some sort of holiday confusion? Or am I behind the curve again on how to put on a great Thanksgiving get together?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Google Docs Blocked

I was in a near by school district recently for a workshop. It was being held in a high school computer lab and when we broke to do our first assignment, I immediately went to Google Docs. I figured I could start the project in the class and then quickly pick up where I left off at home.

Except the district blocks Google Docs.

This lab was locked down tight. I couldn't use a thumb drive. I couldn't get to several sites I normally use every day. Other teachers couldn't access their school sites to grab information needed for the class. The instructor was at a loss at how to get her assignments from her portable drive to us through this school network. IT was called but it was a late night class and I'm pretty sure we were a low priority. Finally, someone suggested a proxy server to allow us to reach our email accounts. I'm sure it broke many school rules to use a proxy but it allowed us to continue on with our class.

I imagine this is the kind of wall of frustration many of our students hit when they try to work at school in the same way they work at home. We teachers resorted to the same thing that many of them do. Work around the system.

I was helping a student the other day in my school who was trying to grab some pictures he had stored on PhotoBucket which is blocked in my district. As soon as he discovered it was blocked, he pulled out his internet ready phone and went to the site where he then emailed the pictures to himself. He's not going to stop using Photobucket, he just is going to adjust his work flow.

I worry at the message we are sending our kids. I also struggle with trying to figure the right balance between protection and paranoia. Don't know the answer yet, but I am working on it.

[Original Image captured from and then altered in photoshp]

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Improvised zoom lens

While vacationing in Monterrey, California recently I had the opportunity to try something out that's been on my mind. I had my digital camera and my binoculars in my hands at the same time so I decided to try and take a picture holding the camera up to the binoculars lens

The first picture you see here was taken using only my camera zoomed in all the way. The second was taken using the binoculars. It worked but it took multiple attempts to get it just right. It's tough to hold the two together and keep everything steady. I had a lot of blurred shots. You also have to line the two up perfectly. The bird didn't help by walking out of the frame.

I think a simple jig might do the trick here if I were to try this again. Something that could hold both in the same plain and free me up to focus and frame my shot.

Now if I only had a telescope.......

[Images all taken by Al Gunn and are free for the taking. No restrictions. No attributions. If you need a free picture of a sea gull than I'm your man!]

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Courage to Teach

I was corresponding with a young teacher the other day and decided to recommend a book that has inspired me many times in the years since I first had it handed to me by a fellow teacher.
It's called, The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer. It is definitely a pro-teacher book and if you have had a bad week of being blamed by parents and administrators for the failures of education. Give this book a look-see.

Here are a two quotes.

"In our rush to reform education, we have forgotten a simple truth: reform will never be achieved by renewing appropriations, restructuring schools, rewriting curricula, and revising texts if we continue to demean and dishearten the human resource called the teacher on whom so much depends. Teachers must be better compensated, freed from bureaucratic harassment, given a role in academic governance, and provided with the best possible methods and materials. But none of that will transform education if we fail to cherish, and challenge, the human heart that is the source of good teaching."

"This book builds on a simple premise: good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.

Since I've pulled this book down off my shelf, I think I shall read it again. It's November. The kids are restless. I'm a little cranky. I could use some inspiration right about now.

[Quotes from The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life; Parker J. Palmer; Jossey-Bass Publishers: San Francisco; 1998]
[Image: Captured from]

Monday, November 17, 2008

American Chop Shop: A plan for making America's fleet of vehicles green

I came up with this idea last summer but after writing it out decided it would cost too much to be sellable to the general public or congress. Then the economy went south, the voters went for a President promising change and we passed the biggest bailout package in the countries history. This idea seems almost cheap now.

My citations are from early summer and some of the money figures are based on gas in the $2.50/gallon range. But I want to get the idea out for discussion. If there is any interest, smarter folks than I could cite the financial costs and feasibility of the project.

What I like about this idea is that it works to get inefficient vehicles off the road now and also give people the opportunity and impetus to buy a greener vehicle. It could also be a boost to the economy from the demand side of the equation instead of the supply side (ie; sending money to the automakers).

Let me know what you think?

American Chop Shop
A plan for making America’s fleet of vehicles green.


The Federal government could build a series of automobile recycling facilities around the country with the express purpose of speeding up the process of replacing our current fleet of vehicles with more fuel efficient cars and trucks. The program would also act as an economic boost to our economy giving consumers the ability to purchase newer vehicles and divert more of their spending money away from transportation (fuel, price of new car, loss of trade in value) towards other areas.


US has a fleet of vehicles that get poor gas mileage. Few electric or other alternative energy cars on the road. Statistically, the turnover of vehicles is about 10% every year. So, even if every car that was purchased was green it would take 10 years to get our current crop of gas guzzling, low mileage, planet beating cars off the road. (6)

One result of the rising gas prices is that folks who want to trade in their old gas guzzlers are getting poor trade-in value as dealers are having a hard time moving these vehicles. While this is a justifiable and understandable process of the market. Our communities and environment could use a little help here. This might be the place for big government to step in and help out.


1. Set up regional centers to buy, dismantle and recycle old automobiles and trucks. These dismantling-factories(5) could be placed near areas with high unemployment. Some of the parts could be recycled out for parts but the majority of the materials could be broken into their basic components and sold as such.

2. Start with the older cars with the worst gas mileage first and offer to buy them at blue-book value (or slightly higher). Each year the program could expand to pull more modern cars off the roads.

Replacing one 17mpg car with a hybrid that gets 45mpg halves the vehicles environmental impact and saves the consumer roughly $2100 in fuel costs. If an electric vehicle was chosen, the driver would save over $3500 per year and the environmental impact would be decreased even more. (7)

3. Put a lid on the project with an end goal in mind such as 90% of vehicles on our roads will meet certain standards of efficiency. Towards the end of the project, the dismantling plants might be phased into a general recycling type facility or closed completely. The first five years will probably see the biggest number of vehicles being recycled. After that the program will start to diminish each year as the supply of older vehicles diminish.

Gas prices will also start to fall as demand starts to fall. Steps need to be taken to ensure we don’t fall off the conservation wagon like we did after our efforts after the last gas crisis in the 70s. Incentives need to be there for consumers to buy greener cars and industry to make them. For national security, we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil once and for all. (8)

4. Offer a tax rebate to folks who buy a green car. This along with the money a person could get from selling their car to a recycler would make green cars more affordable for the next five years and give an economic stimulus to car manufacturers to actually make and supply green cars.

Rather than a tax rebate, a voucher could also be issued instead for the value of the car plus an extra 25% that could be used as a trade in for a more fuel efficient car. This alternative would ensure that monies gained from the sale of an old gas guzzler go towards the purchase of a green car.

5. This does not have to be a money making program. It’s purpose first and foremost is to get the gas guzzlers off the road. Even if it ends up costing the government money, we’d be paying that anyway for other technologies or solutions. We pay to maintain the road infrastructure of this country. It’s time to put a little money into the vehicles on that infrastructure. Isn’t this more economically stimulating than sending every tax payer $600 and possibly a little cheaper in the long run? Or sending Detroit 25 billion?

  1. We could turn over 90% of the fleet of American cars and trucks in less than ten years.
  2. Reduce auto emissions drastically over the next ten years (3) which would help our over all environment as automobiles are responsible for over 50% of CO2 emissions. (4)
  3. Create jobs in America for Americans. Dismantling plants would be located in America and would create a variety of support positions and related industries.
  4. Create demand and innovation in the automobile industry.
  5. Reduce our reliance on foreign oil (1)

The planet is in trouble. Our economy is being hurt by high gas prices. We have to do something and waiting for the market (supply and demand) to bring about a green automobile revolution is too slow. This plan could be one part of the solution and has the following benefits:

  • It is a visible and tangible response to the problem. Everyone would see the change as the number of efficient vehicles become more visible on the road. The government could post the amount of gas saved, the reduction in emissions on a web site with every vehicle they purchase.
  • Every person who has an older vehicle or who wants to buy a new one could take advantage of the program regardless of their income level.
  • The economy would be stimulated from a variety of directions.
  1. Replacement of older cars with more efficient models would infuse consumers and economy with cash (2)
  2. Stimulus to automobile industry as demand rises for fuel efficient cars
  3. Jobs created by the dismantling plants, the network created to buy and transport older vehicles and the re-direction of consumers money from transportation costs to other goods and services.

In closing, this may not be a perfect solution or even the best but I expect my government to step in when there is a crisis and I think we are in the midst of three of those now. Our dependence on foreign oil, a deteriorating environment and an economy slipping into deep, recession.


1. More than half of the gasoline we put in our cars comes from oil imported from other countries. []
(2) Petroleum imports cost us over $5.2 billion a week—that’s money that could be used to fuel our own economy. []
(3) Highway vehicles are a major contributor to air pollution in the U.S., producing 26-62% of key chemicals that cause smog and health problems. []
(4) See chart on this page:
(5) Article: “Working overtime: America's auto shredder capacity grows to feed a hungry global market”
(6) The life expectancy of a car in the U.S. is about 10 years, during which it will pass through an average of three owners. (This stat is bandied about in several places, but I can’t find the original source?)
(7) (This is based on driving 15000 miles with gas prices at $4 and electric costs based on $.04 a mile.) I expect gas prices to be a little higher and/or the government to step in and artificially lower the costs.
(8) Following the oil crisis of the early 1970s, however, smaller vehicles, often imported from Japan, became more and more popular with the American public as these vehicles featured better fuel economy ratings. In the late 1970s, the US government passed minimum fuel economy standards and in the 1980s American automobile manufacturers drastically downsized their cars,

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Most Popular Posts

I've added a "Most Poplular Posts" section in the sidebar. I check the page views on my blog entries weekly and these posts got the most visits. Anything I've written about popsicle bridges has gotten lots of interest. I suspect that many of those were students involved in competitions around the world. If you were to create a site about building popsicle or balsa wood bridges, my guess is you would have a huge hit.

"Popular Posts" is an experiment in making my blog a little more user friendly. Along those lines, I'm looking at creating a better set of labels to help folks find info on topics they're interested in once they get here. More on that when it's ready to go. I'm also going to try out the new Blogger Reactions. Little instant feedback boxes should start popping up below each post. I'll let you know what I think about them once I get them working.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Weekend Reflection

I've been running Painless Technology for a little over a year now. My reasons for starting were three fold: One, I wanted to create a site where I could share links and items that other technology teachers might find interesting or entertaining. I'd been sending emails with links out for several years to other tech teachers in my district. Why not make it a little more formal.

Second, I wanted to force myself to write on a regular schedule. I'm not all that comfortable with writing items like this and I wanted to move out of my comfort zone. My prose isn't the best. But, I'm a nice guy and I try hard.

Three, if I was going to promote using tools like blogs in schools than I had better be comfortable using those tools myself. If I'm going to climb up on a soapbox and sing a song of blogging love than I had better know of what-I-sing. Now I can stand in front of a group of teachers and say, "If I can do it. So can you."

So, here I am a year and month later and I still enjoy it. I don't have a huge audience but enough people follow my posts to keep me going and I am grateful for the attention. I am constantly surprised at the number of people outside my school district who check in on me regularly. Likewise, I am a little surprised that many of my local colleagues don't. I guess they must not have liked those clever emails I used to send out? (Chuck. You could have mentioned that.)

Thank you everybody for your support, advice and comments.


Only a test of some formatting changes.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Funny: Faust 2.0

((For an explanation of EULA....but, will it still be funny if you need it explained to you?))

[via xkcd]

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Google Alerts

Reading Larry Ferlazzo's website earlier this month, he mentioned Google Alerts and the ability to have them now appear in your RSS feed. I was aware of this feature but had never tried it.

I signed into my Google account and headed over to the Google Products page, by going to the more link and then to the even more>> button from the drop down list. I chose Alerts and was able to set up a RSS feed in just minutes. The feeds showed up in my Google Reader immediately and I could manipulate them the same way I do any feed.

Cool! Now, I have links fed to my Reader regarding items I'm following or search for regularly.

[via Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day...]

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Selling Social Networks

This article, Go with the Flow: Selling Social Networks has some good information for answering some of the following questions about using social networks in the classroom.
  • How can social software enhance learning?
  • While using Web-based programs, can students stumble upon inappropriate sites?
  • How can we prevent students from disclosing personal information online?
  • What about students using the technology for nefarious purposes?
  • Do outsiders have access to the Web site the students are using and, thus personal information?
  • What about the cost?
If nothing else, it may get conversation started in your building.

[via iLibrarian]
[image: "My social Network on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and MyblogLog": Flickr: Uploaded on November 2, 2007 by luc legay: Creative Commons]

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Perfect Toy

This article describing the stick being honored by the National Toy Hall of Fame made me think of what I have always considered the perfect toy. A cardboard box. When I first saw the article, I thought "How could they pick a stick over a box?". Then after further reading, found that the cardboard box had already been inducted in 2005.

One of my fondest memories from my childhood was when my best friend Ron and I dug an old water heater box out of a trash can. We cut the ends off and discovered that we could get inside and by crawling forward on our hands and knees create what we called a tank but in reality was more like a boy-sized hamster ball. We took great joy in running over our friends. Jumping out of the sides of our tank with our guns (which were probably sticks) and shooting down any unsuspecting enemy soldiers. We were playing in my landlords huge back yard which she never seemed to mind sharing with the neighborhood kids. Her sprinklers were the type that shoot big streams of water with that wonderful chhik-chhik sound and they were on a timer. We were in the middle of the yard when they came on and in our young minds we were under attack as our cardboard tank was hit from all sides. We ran that box around the yard screaming every time a jet of water blasted us until finally the cardboard dissolved around us and we had to make a run for safety where we found Mable and Clarence (my landlords) laughing hysterically. They fed us lemonade and cookies and told us that was the most entertaining thing they had seen in months.

I loved Mable and Clarence. I loved that box. I love that memory. Give your kid a big empty box and some markers and watch what happens.

Maybe something magical.

[Related Post: Mr. McGroovy's Box Rivets]

[Image: Captured from]

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ice Skating at Satan's Lava Lake Winter Resort

Our state community college coordinator's held a meeting for all the CTE teachers in my area. I heard something I never thought I would hear in a school sponsored meeting. One of them was talking about recruitment activities and working with new, young teachers in the field. After meeting with the new teachers for several months, they realized that to better serve them, they needed to create a Facebook presence. I was too shocked to ask a follow-up question.

Before this I had never heard the word "FaceBook" or "MySpace" mentioned in a sentence uttered by any school official that didn't also include the words "unsafe", "evil" and "apocalypse".

Things do change.

[Image: "Evil Ice": Flickr: Uploaded on March 3, 2007 by The Adventures of Kristin & Adam: Uploaded on March 3, 2007by The Adventures of Kristin & Adam: Creative Commons]

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Funny: Your Best

I check my RSS feed daily for a new Chris Harding strip. His We The Robots is a lot of fun. Occasionally, it might not be school safe, but that shouldn't stop you from looking before work. His series on writing memoirs had the English teachers I know rolling on the floor.

I have to cut and paste to get his work to fit here, so go to his site to see it in all it's glory.

[via Visit his site and buy his stuff. He makes me laugh. Help make him rich...or at least enable him to buy the occasional cup of coffee.]

Friday, November 7, 2008

Funny: Printing Press

[ ‘Cartoon by Nick D Kim, Used by permission.]

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Robotic Recon Scouts

Seen a couple of these single axle robots on the web lately. Here's the interesting use of one as a small surveillance robot in dangerous situations.

Wonder why we haven't seen the use of these filter into prime time cop shows? Too new?

Also, I didn't know that police departments had Technology Exploration Units (mentioned in the video). That might be an interesting career choice.

[via Botjunkie]
[Image captured from]

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

On Screen Timer

Sometimes you just want a timer and you can't find a watch with a second hand. Sometimes you are giving your students a timed exercise or quiz and you want a visual to remind the kids of how much time they have left. Sometimes you want to countdown the seconds until you can run out of the building screaming.

Our school librarian sent out this link the other day for a simple online stopwatch. I've already used it twice. The timer shown above is a little countdown bomb. I'm sure the kids will never tire of hearing how they shouldn't "bomb this test."

[Image captured from]

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day in the United States

If you live in the United States don't forget to vote today.

Vote early as it looks to be a huge turnout.

"The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not presidents, senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country"
-Franklin D. Roosevelt

Find out voting information for your area using Google Maps.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Your Vote Matters

Favorite quote from this video:

"I can do anything, I was in a boy band...OK!"

If you need to find your polling place or other voting information go here.

Word Cloud using Wordle

Wordle is one of those applications that creates a word cloud. That is, it will take all the text you give it and create a graphic where words that are repeated more often are printed larger. Words that are used less frequently are printed smaller. The cloud at the top of this post is made up of the lyrics from the Beatle's tune, "Let it Be".

The Gettysburg Address looks like this as a word cloud in Wordle.

I know there are other applications that can do this so with that in mind I went to Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day and did a search for "word clouds". He had a post (Larry has a post on everything!) and discusses two such programs. Wordle is one and Tag Crowd the other. I looked at Tag Crowd and did the Gettysburg Address to compare the two. You can see the results using Tag Crowd below.

I like Wordle better. It gives me more options than Tag Crowd including control over the color and some font selections. Do be aware that if you use Wordle, the content at the site isn't censored and kids can see some inappropriate words in the gallery. If this were a big issue, I might choose Tag Crowd.

I recently had a technical glitch with a lesson plan in my Multimedia class and needed a quick distraction for my class. I had the kids find the lyrics to a song they liked (with appropriate language) and then paste it into Wordle and experiment with the different parameters. They entertained themselves for a good twenty minutes trying different songs. I threw out the suggestion that they put in a political speech or two and the race was off to put in snippets from different candidates. My experience with this has got me to thinking about creating a design project using a word cloud as part of a collage.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

If you care...VOTE

Plan now to vote on Tuesday. Are you going before work? After work? Taking time off from work?

Remember those lines may be long? Let those long lines inspire you and remind you that it's important.

Plan today and remind your friends and family.

Find your polling place using Google Maps.