Category Archives: Technology

myImager.com and FlamingText.com

brushesLet’s say you’re teaching a web design or digital photography lesson. You’ve made all your plans, you’re ready to go, but you have one problem – you didn’t sign up early enough to use the computer lab that has Adobe Photoshop installed on the computers. There’s still a lab available, but those computers are so old that they won’t even run a current version of Photoshop.

So what do you do? Well you could reschedule, but do you have a plan B to be working on in the classroom? There is a plan B, and it can be used in that other computer lab. myImager.com is a website that allows you to upload and image, then edit it in a variety of ways. It’s not as full featured as some of the more well known image editing programs out there, but in a pinch it’ll do the basic stuff for you.

If you have an image already uploaded to a server but want to edit it a bit, you can always head over to FlamingText.com and use their photo service. This isn’t FlamingText.com’s key feature (as you may guess by it’s simplicity). Rather, they have a very nice system for creating headers and banners that say whatever you want them to say – including choice of fonts, colors, and even (in some cases) animation.

Wikipedia

Browser Window pixYou have a report to write on the Vietnam War. No problem, you did your work. You found your references – all six of them.

Wait … six? You thought you only needed five! Well you’d better think fast, your report’s due tomorrow morning and it’s already midnight. What do you do?

Well you could try a Google search, but even the best search engine is hit or miss sometimes. No, your best bet is to use an encyclopedia.

What, your edition of Encyclopedia Britanica was published in 1956? Never fear, Wikipedia is here!

Wikipedia is based off of two words, the combination of which is a very accurate description of the site. The first part, “wiki,” describes what can be called an “open source” web site – anyone can edit it. This is great, because if it’s missing a section, some enterprising individual is bound to add it. If information is found to be incorrect, someone else will fix it. Yes, there’s the potential for someone to really screw this up, but so far so good. (I’ll let you guess what the “-pedia” part stands for.)

So, if you want to use a free online encyclopedia that gets updated almost in real time, check out Wikipedia. You won’t be disappointed.

Podcasting

circuit boardFor those of you that didn’t know, a “Podcast” is halfway between a blog and a radio program. In fact, most podcasters also maintain blogs that show similar content. They are easy to record and upload, where a special RSS aggregator then downloads the recording to your computer, iPod, or any device that can play MP3 files. (It’s just called a PODcast because iPods dominate the market and it’s a derivative of “BROADcast.”)

Podcasts have two things going for them. First, because they’re saved as mp3 files you can listen to them when they’re most convenient. Don’t time to finish listening to a podcast? Just hit pause and go back to it later. It’ll wait for you.

Second, podcasts are narrowcasts. Broadcasts are usually done by companies that need to make money (even public radio needs to attract enough listeners to do well on a membership drive), so they will try to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Ever wonder why there’s so many conservative talk show hosts? It’s because they have the most listeners so they get the most advertisers.

On the other side of the coin, podcasts are usually done just for the fun of it – like blogs. Sure, a few podcasters might ask for some donations, but since they’re self funded they don’t need to have a broad audience. As a result, they can focus on very specific topics that might not attract more than 1,000 people. (This does not mean podcasters try to avoid listeners, only that they don’t have to cater to the masses) I personally listen to podcasts on web design, technology, photography, and educational technology. Some of those topics would never make it into a radio program, but they’re important to me so I listen.

There are many good podcasters out there, but here are three good ones that teachers might want to check out:

teach42

This frequently updated blog includes many a podcast on how teachers can integrate technology into their curriculum. Far from being merely a blog about blogging, any type of technology is fair game to this guy. Next to Leo Laporte, he’s one of my favorites.

Weblogg-ed

The maintainer of this site is a Supervisor of Instructional Technology and Communications, so you can be certain he knows what he’s talking about. Mr. Richardson describes himself as a “blogvangelist,” so it’s quite understandable that most of his postings are centered around how blogs can be used in the school setting. [EDIT – while Weblogg-ed is still quite active, he doesn’t podcast anymore.]

Teachnology

Another good site, this podcaster focusses mainly on websites that can help teachers in the various subjects. It’s important to note that this is not Teachnology.com – that’s a different site and it’s nowhere near as informative.

RSS Feeds

circuit boardYesterday I mentioned RSS feeds, so today I thought I would describe them in more detail.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It’s sort of like html code, but different in some key ways. Mainly, with RSS feeds the content comes to you rather than you going to the content.

If a web site has an RSS feed option, you’ll see a little link or button that says “XML,” “RSS,” “Syndicate this site,” “Atom,” or something like that. (The feed URL for this site is to the right near the top, for example.) You may have already seen this button and clicked on it, only to get a page full of text and code that was difficult to read. That’s OK, it’s just not meant to be read in a web browser.

Instead, what you can do is copy the address for that page of gibberish into a program known as a “news aggregator.” That program then checks the feed on a regular basis to see if the website has any new content. If there is, it shows it to you. Naturally, this feature is nice for sites that update often, like news and blog sites. Most of my news comes from the RSS feeds I’ve subscribed to, although I’ll occasionally listen to the radio.

News aggregators are becoming more and more common, and you don’t need to pay a dime for a good one either. If you use Firefox you can download an extension to make it an aggregator as well as a browser, or you can go with any one of a number of programs out there. Even Thingamablog (the program I use to make this website) has an aggregator feature, although at this point I much prefer NetNewsWire Lite for OS X. You can even use a web based news aggregator if you use multiple computers (Yahoo! has added this feature, for example), but I much prefer using a separate application.

Furl

Browser Window pixWhat do you do when you find a website you like? Why, bookmark it, of course! But wait, what if you’re in a lab and there’s no guarantee you’ll be on the same computer again? Or perhaps your a teacher using a shared computer in the teacher’s lounge? Or what if you want to visit the same site from home and from school?

Well, you could always copy the sites’ addresses down by hand on a scrap of paper, but if your handwriting’s anything like mine you might not remember if you used an “a” or a “u” in some cases. Better yet, you can use a website like Furl that saves bookmarks online.

Online bookmarks are really nothing new (there were a few dotcoms back in the day that thought they could make a ton of money off of the concept … they couldn’t), but Furl added a few other pictures to sweeten the deal. Bookmarking sites is quite simple, once you copy a Furl link into your browser’s bookmark bar. When bookmarking, you have the option of filing the bookmark in any number of categories, as well as adding keywords and a short description for reference later (so you don’t have to ask why you bookmarked the site two months from now).

One of the nicest features included is the ability to export your bookmarks on a variety of formats – RSS feeds, web site additions, ZIP archives, Mozilla bookmarks and – best of all if you’re a teacher or student – MLA or APA citation format. That’s right, never have to write out your works cited list again.

I’m still playing around with it, but if I may very well add Furl to this site in the future. We’ll see.

Lissa Explains it All

Browser Window pixYour first web site is a step into the brave beautiful world of self publishing, where you can share your ideas, your masterpieces, and, dare I say it, your very soul with the world.

Unfortunately, a lot of the so-called web page builders provided by the free hosting services out there leave a lot to be desired when it comes to customization.

Lucky for you, web design isn’t too hard to learn thanks to web sites like Lissa Explains it All. (This is quite possibly a take off of an old Nickelodeon show called “Clarissa Explains it All.”) Don’t let the garish color scheme drive you off, this stuff can be quite helpful.

Sure, you can use a program that writes the code for you. I’ve used plenty of those myself. However, I’ve yet to use a program where I didn’t have the desire to go in and tinker with the code “by hand.” Sometimes it’s faster and easier than trying to modify the same thing through the program’s menu options. I’ve yet to see anyone learn to use HTML and then regret the time it took.

Leoville.com

circuit boardYou’re in a jam – your computer doesn’t work. It could be a virus, but then again maybe it’s something you accidentally configured wrong. Could it be that your software’s incompatible? Wait … is smoke supposed to come out of THERE?! Oh, if only your user manual didn’t read like it was written in a foreign language!

Fear not gentle souls, for Leo Laporte is here! You may remember Mr. Laporte from the hit TechTV show, “Call for Help.” He’s also on the air in southern California on KFI AM640, a station with more than one decent show broadcast over the internet.

In my opinion one of the best features of this site is the Town Square, a friendly community message board suitable for all ages and full of people willing to help anyone out if they can. When I have a tech problem, this is where I go.