Friday, August 28, 2009

Fun on Friday #38: Have your cake and...

Many schools have a very fine tradition of organising cake days. Money is pooled, cakes are delivered and calories are consumed. Whether or not it was cake day in your school today, I hope you enjoy this Fun on Friday site: Cake Wrecks.

cake wreck
Originally uploaded by HeroicLife
Cake Wrecks is a blog which describes the cakes it features as: "...any cake that is unintentionally sad, silly, creepy, inappropriate...". It is a celebration of mistakes and horrors perpetuated by professional cake decorators.

I suspect that the Creative Grammar, Cake Wrecks: Handwriting Horrors and Mithspellings categories will be of particular interest to the teaching profession.

I did initially think that the odd spelling mistake on a cake wasn't too much of a disaster - after all, you're going to eat the evidence anyway. However, some of the cakes featured effectively define the opposite of the phrase "good enough to eat". :-)

What's your favourite Cake Wreck?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Vote with Twitter

This is a follow up to my What do you think? post. I had loads of good suggestions from people, with many pointing out that Poll Everywhere can accepts votes sent via Twitter.

polling station
Originally uploaded by secretlondon123
I really like Poll Everywhere and have used it with small sections. The free account for 30 responses is perfect for an average class size. However, I am not sure I'll be able to get funding to use it in lectures with hundreds of students... which is a pity. I was pleased to note though that someone from Poll Everywhere noticed my Tweets and encouraged me to get back to them to talk about costs.

In the meantime, I thought that using unique hashtag on Twitter and counting responses would be a quick and dirty solution that might be good enough for on the fly straw polls. A couple of people suggested possible lines to pursue that didn't involve a full blown programming project involving Twitter's API, so I had a go... with minimal success.

First off the blocks was Stuart Meldrum who suggested pulling the RSS feed from a Twitter Search into a Google Docs spreadsheet. I got so far but couldn't work out how to pull in all the search results. I've published a copy, called Public TwitGraph, which hopefully you can look at. If anyone can tell me what's going wrong, I'd be very grateful.

Next suggestion I tried to follow was from Martin Hawksey who suggested using Yahoo Pipes. Again, I had a go and got as far as adapting someone else's pipe to produce a list of numbers that I thought I might be able to pull into Google Docs to add them up and draw a graph. However, I couldn't get the RSS feed from the Pipe into Google's spreadsheet. Curses! Thankfully, Martin is more skilled with Pipes and has managed to use a hashtag to draw a graph. Brilliant! Stunningly brilliant even!

I can't quite see how he's done it, and I'll need to play with it for a while to see if it scales up, but it looks very promising.

What I really like about all these solutions (or in my case, not quite working solutions) is that they are based on stuff that other people created... stuff that they willingly shared with the Internet community. Yet more proof, if proof is needed, of the value of personal learning networks, Web 2.0 technology, blogs and (last but by no means least) Twitter.

I'm off now to tile a bathroom... but tomorrow, I'll be playing with Pipes. :-)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Fun on Friday #37: Folding Fun

The new school term has started in Scotland, so I guess it's time for the return of Fun On Friday.

I thought this site was great when it was first brought to my attention. Have a look at Kemp Folds.

Now, see if you asked yourself the same questions that I did:
  1. Why Ross Kemp?
  2. Would it work with any head?
  3. Does it work best with baldy blokes?
  4. Does it work best with Ross Kemp?
  5. Seriously... Why Ross Kemp?
  6. In fact... just why? :-)
I think I can answer the last question. It's because it made me laugh out loud the first time I visited the site! (My favourite is this one.)

How did your set of questions go?

Thanks to bobbyllew for bringing this site to my attention.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What do you think?

Personal Response Systems are used in schools and universities to collect opinions, and answers from students. They work like the ask the audience system on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? I must admit that I wasn't sure they would be much use until I tried them in a lecture. The response from the students was so positive that I was convinced after one use. However, there are problems. Handing out and collecting the handsets, setting up the software and receivers etc. is all a bit of a pain.

It occurred to me that since I already have a Twitter backchannel going in many of my presentations, it might be possible to use Twitter to collect student votes.

What's the big idea?
It seemed such an obvious idea that I was sure someone must have already done it... So I spent most of yesterday evening failing to find what I was looking for. I thought you could ask a question and give a unique hashtag for each possible answer. For example, you could ask:
Do you think voting with Twitter is a good idea?
1) To vote Yes, Tweet: @ddm090820 #ddm001
2) To vote No, Tweet: @ddm090820 #ddm002
Something would look for the unique hashtags, count them and then display the votes cast. Simples! Except, I can't find anything that does it. I asked for suggestions from Twitter but nobody could come up with exactly what I wanted. Essentially, I want a free version of Poll Everywhere!

I got quite excited when I found TweetVolume. It seemed to do what was required... until I realised it used Google to search Twitter - not much use if you want real time reporting of the results. If only they had used Twitter Search instead of Google.

My next idea, suggested by Barbara007 on Twitter (in response to my pleas for suggestions), was to search for the tags myself and just count the results. I investigated this too but while Twitter Search tells you how long it took to come up with its results, it doesn't tell you how many hits it finds. I want to use this with groups of over 100 students, so scroll and count is not going to work!

It seems to me I have four options:
  1. Talk the TweetVolume people into using Twitter Search instead of Google.
  2. Get someone who knows about programming and APIs to write an app for me.
  3. Find a live Twitter search tool that tells you how many hits it finds.
  4. Give up!
...Unless you know differently. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Guitars, gadgets and great jobs

I wrote about the Gadget Show when I was considering what the best job in the world might be. (See my The best job in the world? post.) I suggested that, for me, the best job in the world might be to present on the Gadget Show - play with technology, mess about and occasionally blow things up. What more could a nerd ask for?

139/366: Three chords...
Originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
Gadget Show
I enjoyed the first couple of episodes in the new series but the one shown on Monday, convinced me that the Gadget Show was definitely the right choice for me. Why? Because the focus of this week's challenge was to learn a new skill online. Online learning! Now if that's not a Gadget Show topic for me, I don't know what is. And even better was the skill Ortis chose to learn because while Jason decided to learn to cook, Ortis wanted to learn the guitar! Again, suits me down to the ground. Online guitar tuition - been there, although as yet, not done that!

More on my attempts to learn guitar in a moment after a word about the challenge.

Gadget Show Challenge
Ortis won the challenge (his first win apparently) by playing with a Coldplay tribute band (called Coldplace) in front of thousands of people at a festival whereas Jason had to cook a meal for a top chef.

At first I wondered if the test was fair. Ortis only had to learn one tune; Jason had to learn to prepare seven dishes. However, the more I thought about it the more I decided Ortis was the worthy winner. Partly because Jason just couldn't do it - he even managed to use salt instead of sugar in his pudding! (Clearly he hadn't tasted it himself before serving. Tsk! Tsk!) Mainly though, I think Ortis deserved to win because he used the technology much more intelligently. When he was struggling with the chords for the song, he Skyped the guitarist from Coldplace who taught him how to use a capo. When Jason was struggling, he appeared to just keep following the same instructions to make the same mistake over and over again. Perhaps it was edited to make him look dafter but why didn't he go on a cooking forum to ask for help? Why didn't he send out a request to his personal learning network on Twitter? Why didn't he Skype his mum or someone else who could actually cook? In his favour he was using a outrageously desirable Modbook!

However, Ortis performed brilliantly. The expert criticised Ortis for being a bit static on stage but to be fair he was playing Coldplay not The Clash. :-) As I said, a worthy winner.

My own efforts
I have stated elsewhere my desire to learn the guitar using online lessons and have just started a semi-serious attempt to do so. I'm aiming for a minimum of ten to fifteen minutes a day with Garageband. I'll also dip into to some of the links from the Gadget Show lists as well as the excellent Guitar Savvy site which I recently discovered. To give you an idea of where I'm coming from, here's a link to a very embarassing video of me playing the guitar Daughter Number 2 built. She can play but refuses to play it in front of other people. Since someone had to try out this gorgeous guitar, I stepped in. Everyone else in the room was an experienced and talented guitarist (especially Mark Bailey the chap that ran the build your own guitar course) so my ineptitude was clear for all to see. In the video, you can almost hear the collective sigh of disappointment at how bad I was!

I will post another video around the middle of September to let you see how far I've got in a month. (Not very far I fear!) Will I reach the standard that Ortis managed? Only time will tell. :-)

Have you ever tried to learn something using only online resources? If so, what? Also, I'm still on the lookout for good online guitar tuition resources, so feel free to share those too.

It seemed appropriate to cross-post this to my music blog. Apologies for repeating myself if you follow both.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Meaningless babble... and a useful tool

I saw oodles of pointless babble about a report on Twitter messages today: Twitter tweets are 40% 'babble'. I'm guessing that some people have already leapt to Twitters defence, so I will content myself by giving an example of a valuable exchange I saw today.

And on keyboards...
Originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
Leon Cych, AKA eyebeams posted a tweet asking for alternatives to Garageband. I had a bit of a problem with the question because Garageband does so much. You can play music, be taught to play an instrument, create music, edit sound, assemble sound loops, create podcasts, mix tracks, ... However, I had a go (as DavidDMuir) and so did _misterG, Ntoll, russdev, jont, and Steve_Collis. As a result, in the space of an hour or so, Leon had a list of alternatives to investigate.

A good example of the 8.7% of valuable messages or fairly typical of what you get most of the time if you follow the right people?

And for the record, here's the list he assembled:
A brilliant mixture of online and offline, free and commercial, beginner and advanced!

Any others that you want to add?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Back to school

For many children in Scotland, Monday marks the start of the new school term. Hair has been cut. (Don't worry, the difference between a bad haircut and a good one is just two weeks!) New shoes have been polished. (Can you still get Clark's Commandos?) And maths sets have been purchased. (Does anyone ever use those triangular things?)

I've been getting ready too. Our students enrol next week and it's all coming together. New suit? Check! New shoes? Yes! New haircut? Er... tomorrow... maybe?

Most important of all though, is that I've learned the Four Capacities.

I think that should put me at least one page in front of the students. I'm ready to teach.

What preparations have you made for the start of term?

Friday, August 07, 2009

Gone but not forgotten...

I am way behind in noticing this because my copy of Personal Computer World magazine is delivered to work, so I have only just discovered that it is no longer being published. When I went into work yesterday, I found two copies of Computeractive in my tray and a letter explaining that:
"Because of the unprecedented adverse economic climate, advertisement and copy sale revenues have declined in parallel with the contraction of the monthly personal computer magazine market, to the point that the title is no longer economically viable..."

Soon to be an aquarium
Originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
I have two copies of Computeractive because they switched my subscription to that publication after the last edition of Personal Computer World was printed. I'm afraid that Computeractive is a poor substitute for Personal Computer World as it is too lightweight and aimed at a completely different audience. I liked and subscribed to Personal Computer World because of the depth and breadth of the content. They understood that PC was not synonymous with Windows and that not all PC users are business people. I also liked it that they didn't just fill the magazine with reviews and, although things had moved on from the days of typing in programs from printed listings, they still gave good hands on, practical advice on how to get the best out of both applications and programming environments.

In short, I've been reading Personal Computer World more or less all the time I've been a Computing teacher, I've been a subscriber for at least twenty years, and have never hesitated to recommend it to Computing teachers and students alike. It will be sadly missed and I'm not sure what I'll subscribe to instead - I'm not aware of any other computing magazine like it.

An obituary from a former editor makes interesting reading as does the reaction from a contributor and of particular interest is Guy Kewney's assertion that falling advertising revenue was not the only problem!

Can anyone suggest an alternative now that PCW is gone?