Saturday, April 26, 2008

FLV (Flash Video) is the New MP3

OK, let's pretend that the YouTube and Google Video terms of service allowed you to download their flash video. That it was OK to use a program like DownloadHelper to quickly download videos that you wanted to watch away from your computer. And that you could quickly and easily put them on a player like the Archos 650+ and take them with you to watch on the train or plane or automobile. Or at the gym while on the treadmill. Or while waiting at the DMV.

You could watch Barak Obama's speech on race. You could watch Frontline's Growing Up Online. You could watch Professor Randy Pausch's "Last Lecture." YouTube and Google video suddenly become serious educational places. I can watch a 3 - 5 minute funny video sitting at my desk looking at my computer, but for a one- or two-hour video, I want to take it with me somewhere comfortable. Or plug it into my television.

Think of the incredible repository of video that exists but is as-of-yet unavailable, which will suddenly be freed for personal viewing. Just look at Hulu and the old video they are digging up--that's just scratching the surface.

Won't it be amazing when we can (legally) download this video content and take it with us, like we do MP3 files? The day will soon come. I don't know how the licensing will work out, but the personal educational benefit is so compelling that we'll figure it out. We really need to.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Growing Up Online

It took me some time to getting around to watching this Frontline show on "Growing Up Online," but I immediately told my wife that this is "must-see TV." Really, required viewing by anyone with children. Not because it is explains the dangers of the Web, but because it is an incredibly balanced report on the effect of the read/write or participative world of the Internet. I wish it had showcased some good examples of educators using Web 2.0 tools in the classroom, tappping into the incredible changes taking place in communication, but even without that I felt that I had watched a program of incredible thoughtfulness.

Can be watched in its entirety at, or by searching for it on Google Video or YouTube.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

2008 K-12 Open Minds Conference in Indiana

The K-12 Open Minds Conference has been scheduled for September 26 & 27, 2008, at the downtown Marriott in Indianapolis, Indiana.

This is great news for a couple of reasons. First, last year the conference was the sleeper home run for Free and Open Source Software in K-12 schools, with over 300 participants to the surprise and amazement of vendors and sponsors. This year, with good advance notice, we expect 400 - 500, and maybe even a waiting list.

Second, having the dates before the end of September will have a direct impact on funds that certain schools can use to attend. That having been said, this conference will be, like last year, an incredibly inexpensive event. The costs for the Marriott are likely to be a little higher than were incurred last year (and well worth it, since anyone flying in won't have to rent a car this time!), but the yet-to-be-determined price will almost certainly be below $200, with an early-bird registration cost closer to $160.

Look for more news and information at, where you can also find a treasure trove of material from last year.

Anybody want to be in charge of the "Be Like Mike" t-shirts this year? :)

Ubuntu for an Kiosk Machine / Home Use

The new releases of Ubuntu are due out this week ("Hardy Heron," which is 8.04), and my expectation is to have continuing pleasant experiences with Ubuntu as it is becoming the de-facto mainstream distribution of Linux for general users.

Some weeks ago a good friend who is a dentist called to tell me that the kiosk machine that I had put in his front office to showcase his website was not working. Turns out the problem he'd identified was an easy fix, but his web services company had upgraded something on his page (likely Flash) and our nearly abandoned program wasn't displaying his page anymore. It's been a little bit of heartbreak for me that the attempt to commercialize our post-hurricanes pro-bono project PublicWebStations never developed enough interest to keep working on it, so I've continued to save articles on web kiosks and specialized Live-CD distributions--in the back of my mind, planning to someday try to build a community around creating a customizable web kiosk program in Linux for anyone to use. That takes me to my old familiar soap-box about re-using old computer hardware, but I won't go there... yet.

So, knowing that my friend just needed a simple showcase machine for his office, and that security and non-hackability weren't critical, I added a hard drive to his computer and loaded Kubuntu, a KDE version of Ubuntu. I then added Firefox, and for Firefox downloaded two extensions: R-kiosk and Stylish. R-kiosk allows the browser window to take over the the screen and lock out any changes, Stylish allowed me to put in some code to get rid of the vertical scroll-bar, which only appears because on the first page is content below the main portion of the site with text information. (See In order to escape from Firefox, since it takes over the whole screen, you can use the key combination alt-F4, then start Firefox in safe mode if you need to make any changes: start a terminal session, then use "firefox.exe -safe-mode" and disable the add-ons before continuing. I had to disable R-kiosk add-on in order to be able to start firefox regularly and then add the code for the scrollbars, then restart, enable rkiosk, and restart again. You'd need to do this to change the default home page, for example.

Anyway, not the most light-weight solution, nor the most secure, but a very easy method for getting a good web kiosk going.

Now that I was in Linux mode, I went into our family room and decided that I wanted to switch from using Puppy Linux there to Xubuntu. Puppy's been great, but the newest beta version of Xubuntu, which is designed to work well and fast on older hardware, has Firefox 3. Our family computer is a P3/1GHz machine with limited memory (maybe even 128MB), and I wanted to see how it would do with Firefox 3, which is still in beta, but which is definitely a faster browsing experience than Firefox 2. Aside from one small hiccup with Synaptic which required that I make a directory it told me it was missing to run, installation was very smooth, and the browsing experience pretty much indistinguishable from my much more modern, core-duo laptop. (As you can see, we still have our small stereo hooked up to this computer, since we have loved, where we uploaded all our CDs and can play them from the computer. It doesn't also hurt that Hannah Montana's videos can be found online, forming much of the "educational content" of our ten-year-old daughter's computer use...)

Then the moment of magic. Using Synaptic I loaded Skype, then added my Logitech 9000 webcam through the front USB port on the computer, and with no additional configuring was able to video-conference with Skype. OK, that may not seem like much, but the moment you can have Skype capability with no hacking on a free distribution running on old computers, you have a really, really great solution for disaster relief shelters. Think about all the classrooms that could benefit from this machine--which is basically so old that it's not even on really on the back side of any refresh programs. I was somewhat amazed. No time to really even think or ponder too deeply on this now, but that back-burner project just got the heat turned up a bit.

Embedding Google Forms in Wikispaces

OK, this is a pretty specific topic, but I may not be the only one who's wanted to figure this out.

(I wish Google would make their cool logo for Google Docs available, as it would have spiced up this post. Oh well. See it here:

Here's the scenario: I'm helping Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay set up a workshop this summer to teach their "Flat Classrooms" program to other educators. I'd set up the website as a Wikispaces wiki, with a custom domain. I wanted to use Google Spreadsheets new form capability (very sweet) for registrations--that way Julie and Vicki and I could all see the registrations as they came in. The trouble was, even though you can easily find good information on how to set up a form and collect information, and then even how to embed a form using the HTML "inline" function into another webpage--it wasn't working in Wikispaces. Using the aforementioned methods to add code in the "Other HTML" option from the "Embed Widget" button, I was getting a "404 Page not found" error.

So I read around and something clued me into the fact that when you set up a form in Google Spreadsheets, you can have the form emailed to you. In Gmail I went to the "show original" option while in the actual email that I received, and I could see the web-page code that had been generated to show the form in the email--which was regular code for an HTML submit form, and not an inline link to the form page. Well, that may be Greek to you or not, but all you need to know is that if you go down to the part of the original email that starts with the left triangle bracket before "form action="" and you highlight through "/form" finishing with the right triangle bracket (which is almost at the end). You can now paste that code into "Other HTML" from the "Embed Widget" function, and your form will appear (and work!) on Wikispaces.

What I actually did after I discovered this would work is that I pasted the code into a text document, and then added additional "breaks" to make it look a little nicer before pasting into Wikispaces. But that's for nit-pickers... :)