It’s been a while, too long in fact, since I’ve written anything here. Hard to believe that the summer is winding down. You probably have lots of photos and videos taken this summer. What better way to share them than in a movie that you’ve made yourself? You don’t need Microsoft Windows Movie Maker either. Let me introduce you to OpenShot, the open source alternative to Movie Maker.
Upon initial launch, OpenShot bears a striking resemblance to its proprietary counterpart and it works in a similar fashion. What I find extremely appealing about this software, personally, is the WYSIWYG interface. The interface is very straightforward, which is a big deal to me as I believe new users will have a tendency to return to an application if they have a pleasant first experience. ( I’ve just discovered another strength of this software: the user’s manual jumps right into using the software via a piece entitled Learn OpenShot in 5 Minutes, rather than to present the application and its features. The manual addresses these topics, but after guiding the reader through initial use of the software. How cool is that?)
Looking at the screenshot at left, the Main Toolbar is at the top of the window, under the menu. Below this are the Function Tabs, which allow users to toggle between files, transitions and effects. The Project Files pane below this shows all media files that have been added. The Preview Window to the right displays video playback. Just below these two panes is the Edit Toolbar (left) and the Zoom Slider, which allows users to tweak the time-scale. Below this is the Play-Head/Ruler. The Ruler displays time-scale and the Play-Head shows the current position of the movie on the time-scale (appears in red when in use). Finally, the Timeline is at the bottom of the window and displays each component of the movie.
Adding media is easy. Once you’ve added media to the Project Files pane, simply click and drag them to the Timeline. You can add a wide variety of audio, video and image media to your video. Once media has been added to the Timeline, it can be repositioned by clicking and dragging. You can also add effects, such as transitions, special effects and sounds. Finished videos can be exported to such video formats as AVI, MOV, MP4 and MPEG, If you really want to see something cool created using this software, let your kids or students run wild (well, not that wild) with OpenShot. They’ll show you what thinking outside of the box is all about.
OpenShot is available for Fedora Linux and Ubuntu Linux and also as a Live version run from DVD so that you don’t have to install it to try it.
OpenShot Home Page
OpenShot Video Editor Manual 1.3.0. (2013). OpenShot Studios, LLC. Retrieved from http://www.openshotusers.com/help/1.3/en/.
One of the great benefits of mailing lists is that you have the opportunity to learn about new things. In this case, the new thing that I have learned about via the schoolforge-discuss mailing list is FisicicaLab, an open source educational application developed to solve physics problems. FisicaLab handles all of the mathematics related to physics, giving the user the ability to focus purely on physics. So, without further adieu, let’s take a closer look at this thought-provoking piece of software.
The graphical interface is similar to that of GIMP, incorporating multiple windows. Unlike GIMP, FisicaLab utilizes only two windows initially. The main window is called the Chalkboard and the other window is entitled Modules and Elements. The Modules and Elements tool enables users to add items to the Chalkboard and to modify those items. Buttons at the top of the Modules and Elements window allow users to toggle between different types of elements. (See the screenshot for a typical session). Additional windows open as needed.
FisicaLab allows users to manipulate virtual objects such a blocks, pulleys and forces. These can be handled and allowed to interact in a variety of ways, including, but not limited to, relative motion, collision and explosion. Other factors that can be adjusted include friction and force, among others. FisicaLab gets a high level of expandability via additional modules which users can install. These modules include, but are not limited to, kinematics of particles, dynamics of particles and calorimetry, ideal gas and expansion.
This brief article is written merely to inform and cannot do this wonderful application justice. If you teach physics, FisicaLab is designed with both instruction and learning in mind.
FisicaLab is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS.
GNU FisicaLab Home Page
GNU FisicaLab Manual. (n.d.). GNU General Public License. Retrieved from http://www.gnu.org/software/fisicalab/manual/en/fisicalab/index.html#SEC_Contents.
All images are from the GNU FisicaLab Web site.
It’s been over a month since I published my last article, so I just wanted to check in with my readers. I have every intention of continuing this blog indefinitely, or as long as possible. My hiatus has been due to a recent lack of time. I have enrolled in courses to become an educational consultant, which has tapped into my time for this project. This project is one of the reasons that I am (eventually) leaving the field of teaching for that of being a consultant. This new career will provide me with the increased income that I need to develop this project adequately and to give it the chance to thrive that it so deserves.
In short, though my blogs will be less frequent until my courses are done, this blog, like my enthusiasm for the Energize Education project, will carry on. Thanks for reading.
I’ve recently come across a piece of open source technology that will not only take the struggle out of getting your kids to do schoolwork at home, but will also put them in control of this work while helping them to self-monitor and develop independence at the same time. AutoTeach will do all of these things. So, what is AutoTeach and how can it do all of this?
With AutoTeach Parent Tool, students earn credits which can be used to “purchase” time on the Internet. There are three components that make this happen. the first is the Credit Meter. The student logs onto this via his or her wi-fi device (tablet, game system, etc.). While this is running, the student can access the Internet. The next component is a Raspberry Pi. For those unfamiliar with Raspberry Pi, they are open source palm-sized computers consisting of a motherboard with a CPU and RAM, as well as audio, video, SD card (used as hard drive), USB and LAN ports. In short, they are fully functioning computers. The Raspberry Pi serves as router, Credit Meter and firewall. By default, the firewall only allows the students to access the third component of AutoTeach, the Credit Reader Web site.
The activities are just as engaging as they are educational. By completing activities to a predefined skill level, students can earn credits toward free Internet time. You may actually find your kids begging to do schoolwork. A really neat feature of AutoTeach is that credits can be awarded manually. This means that you could use it as a reward for completing chores or other activities that you would like to encourage. In terms of personal growth, students will have greater control over their learning and a greater enjoyment of it. Through monitoring their own progress and working independently, young people will develop a sense of independence as well as one of self-reliance.
Arguably one of AutoTeach’s greatest strengths is its capacity for growth. Developers will be constantly creating new plugins. There is also a development suite available, AutoTeach’s Development Sandbox, which will allow developers to create plugins on their own. The result is that potential for more plugins is limitless.
As you can see, I am very enthusiastic about this technology. So how do you acquire AutoTeach? It is available as a subscription. To learn more, check out some of the resources below to which I’ve provided links.
Cossé, C. (n.d.). AutoTeach your kids, advance education software development.
Thanks to Charles Cossé for permission to use the images that appear in this article.
I’d like to look at a nifty little media converter entitled WinFF. WinFF bills itself as an open source video converter. I refer to it as a media converter as it is capable of converting audio files as well. Truth be told, WinFF is actually a graphical front-end program for FFmpeg, which is a program run from the comand line that does the actual converting. WinFF simply allows users unfamiliar with the command line to run conversions using a graphic interface.
Before I begin, I want to say that I am running WinFF in Ubuntu Linux. Although WinFF is available for both Linux/UNIX and Microsoft Windows, the screenshots in this article will show WinFF being run on Linux and will also show a file manager, equivalent to Windows Explorer, displaying the contents of a CD, or as Linux refers to them, an Audio Disc, which is similar to a CD’s/DVD’s folder in Windows. That having been stated and without further adieu, let’s get to the point of this blog: converting media files using WinFF.
When initially launched, you will be presented with a window that should look like the screenshot at left. WinFF’s interface is WYSIWYG and you can see from the screenshot that the buttons on the toolbar (referred to as the Buttons in the WinFF documentation, which can be downloaded from their Web site) offer tooltips to provide more information about their function. Above the Buttons is a menu bar. Below these is an empty field where information is displayed during the conversion process. Below this are tabs pertaining to various types of media and a place to specify your output, or destination, folder.
I will be converting the CD shown in the screenshot at right. It was a gift from my niece (Love you, Ayla) and I’m anxious to add it to my MP3 collection. Place the audio CD in your DVD drive. A window will open asking you what to do with the disc that has been placed in the drive. Choose to open it in file manager. This way you can view the files on the CD. WinFF and FFmpeg support WAV files, but not CDA (Compact Disc Audio) files. Your CD is likely to have files in either format. Once you’ve checked the contents of the CD or, as WinFF refers to this type of media, Audio Disc, you can start WinFF.
Once WinFF has opened, click the Add button. This will open the Select Video Files window (shown at left), which looks like a file manager. Select the files that you wish to convert (Tip: You can press the CTRL and A keyboard keys simultaneously to select all pf the files) and click the Open button. This window will close and return you to the main WinFF window.
Now, set your desired conversion format and preset. For this type of action, Convert to should be set to Audio and the Preset to MP3. Next, choose your destination folder. This is important as it will make finding your converted files easier if you place them in a precise location. Clicking on the ellipsis (…) will allow you to select a more specific location than the default, which in Linux/UNIX is your home directory. When you are ready, click on the Convert button and the process will begin. The actual conversion process occurs in a terminal window as shown in the screenshot at right.
When the process is completed, you will be instructed to Press Enter to Continue (as shown in the screenshot above), which will close the terminal window and return you to the main WinFF window. The process is complete and you can now close WinFF. You may still want to rename your new MP3 files as they will still possess the generic name (e.g. “Track 1.mp3”) that they had while on the CD, but that can be done in a file manager at your leisure.
Ballard, F. (n.d.). FFmeg [software]. Lesser GNU General Public License.
Weatherford, M. (2013). WinFF 1.5 English Documentation.. GNU General Public License.
Weatherford, M. and Stoffberg, I. (2015). WinFF [software]. WinFF.org.
I want to look at a fun application entitled LinCity-NG. As the name would imply, it is an open source clone of Electronic Artis’ (EA) SimCity. LinCity-NG has evolved quite a bit since my first encounter with it ten years ago. It has an aesthetically appealing interface and is highly customizable in terms of features and game play.
LinCity-NG is also a wonderful way for students to learn about both economics and ecology. My reasoning for this is that this game requires users to build a civilization. In order for a civilization to grow it must first survive and then expand. Surviving means that you must have a successful economy with employment, resources and trade. These things fluctuate during the game and to succeed, you must be able to compensate for them. In terms of ecology, as you expand, you will encounter various types of terrain, such as wetlands, that you must work around as removing them is very expensive. You must also be aware that civilizations generate pollutants. These pollutants must be dealt with responsibly in order to avoid repercussions. Keeping these factors in mind, let’s take a closer look at LinCity-NG.
When initially launched, LinCity-NG presents the user with a straightforward interface. The screenshot at left displays the main menu. Clicking the New option opens a menu allowing users to select a scenario. Available options include Beach, good times and bad times, among others. Personally, I like to start with an empty board and when I create my LinCity-NG academic unit (forthcoming), this will be required so that all students start at the same level in the game. If you’re experimenting with LinCity-NG, by all means try different scenarios. The titles are self-explanatory.
Once your game starts, you will be presented with a map of the terrain upon which a civilization must be built. There is a panel on the upper left-hand side of the screen that provides access to available actions and structures. In the lower left corner is what looks like the control buttons on a DVD player. These allow users to accelerate and pause the simulation or to run it at normal speed. Users can also access the main menu from here. In the lower right-hand corner, is a panel offering a map, some buttons below it and several tabs. Both tabs and buttons allow you to view various information about your civilization, such as economic standing and resource availability, among other things. The map is laid out in a rhomboid shape. Check out the screenshot at right for an idea of the initial layout.
In the beginning, users can create only the bare minimum in terms of structures for their civilization. As your civilization grows, more options become available. This is what would make LinCity-NG an ideal platform for learning. All learners start at the same level. Each could be provided with a rubric identifying what their society must have in terms of services and industry at specified points in game time. For example, “By simulation year 60, your civilization should have Residences and Farms powered by Windmills.”
Looking at the panel in the upper-left corner, each button represents a category. The top button allows you to toggle between the Query tool (mouse pointer),the Bulldozer and Water. Clicking on anything with the Query tool will provide information about that item in the little map window in the lower-right corner. The next tool on the panel allows you to iniitally build Residential areas. You can choose from one of three options, each of which affects the population levels differently. The button below this could best be described as basic resources. These include at outset Market (where jobs are created and goods exchanged), Farm (for food) and Water well.
The next button opens a menu that could be best described as social services. Initially, Monument (something to give the citizens pride in their community) is the only option available, but others include School, Fire Department and Sport (like a basketball court). Transportation is the next category. The only option available is Track (like a trail) at first, but others such as Road and Port can quickly be unlocked. Power sources are next and none of these are available at start up time. Windmills however can be readily earned to provide power to Residences and Farms, as I indicated above.
Resource sources are next. The options available at the beginning include Commune (a place where such goods as coal and steel are produced), Ore mine and Rubbish tip (landfill). Other choices that become available are Coal mine and Recycle (recycling center). Industries make up the final menu. Pottery is the only option available at outset (like all industries in the game, Pottery converts resources into goods). As the game progresses, users have access to Blacksmith, Mill, Light Industry and Heavy Industry. If you haven’t got all of that committed to memory, don’t worry. One of LinCity-NG’s greatest strengths is its integrated help. Just right-click on any of these options for more information about them.
I could write more on this stimulating application, but I leave it to you to explore LinCity-NG for yourself. Your students will be enrapt. There is one more academic aspect of LinCity-NG that I neglected to mention and that is creativity. Though you can use it to teach students about economics and ecology, one fun aspect for the educator is the opportunity to observe the worlds that students will create and how they vary. Student creativity is often one of the greatest rewards that educators can enjoy.
Sharp, G., Keasling, C. and Peters, J.J. (n.d.). LinCity-NG [software]. GNU General Public License.
I’m going to walk you through the process I followed to update an old laptop into a useful computer. My thinking is that if I could do this, so could anyone else, especially educators in poorer school districts or even homeschoolers.
A friend of mine gave me an old IBM ThinkPad T40 (shown at right). It has an ebay value of around $40 (U.S.). It was built for Microsoft Windows XP and worked decently, save for the outdated software and hardware and the fact that the onbooard wifi didn’t work. I decided to make it into something a little more useful for today’s computing.
Here are some specs:
- Intel Celeron M processor at 1.5 GHz
- 512 MB SO-DIMM SDRAM
- 80 GB ATA Hard Drive
- BIOS Date: 2006-06-02
- 6x DVD-ROM
- 2 USB ports
- 2 Sound Ports (1 in, 1 out)
- On-board modem, NIC and wifi
As I saw it, the best and easiest course of action was to upgrade the RAM. This can arguably be said any laptop or desktop PC as it’s a fairly easy procedure and a fairly inexpensive as well. I bought my 200-pin SO-DIM SDRAM replacement module on Amazon, but there are many other places online where this can be procured. For those of you thinking “Chris, I’m not a computer repair technician. It’s too complex. I can’t do this,” I say “Yes, you can.” Internally computers are compartmentalized and therefore easy to work on, so long as you’re careful about electricity. Laptops are no exception. If you turn the laptop over, you will see various panels held in place with Phillips screws. The screenshot at left indicates the panel we need to open.
Once you have removed the panel (after taking out the screw, I had to use a small knife to lift the plate up), you will see the RAM module. You will notice two clips, one on the right of the module and one on the left (if you look at the screenshot on the right, you can see that the right clip is just to the left of the screw hole). These are simply pulled out away from the RAM module. The module will pop up and can then be slid out. Make a note of its positioning to make sliding the new RAM into place easier. For my RAM update, I chose a module offering 1.2 GB of RAM, which is a tremendous upgrade for this system and the maximum supported RAM. Slide the new RAM module into place, push down on it until it lies flat in its cavity and the clips will lock it down. Put the plate back on and we’re ready for the next step.
I chose to install Xubuntu Linux 12.04 LTS (Long-Term Support) 64-bit as Xubuntu 14.04 LTS presented a warning during installation stating that Celeron M processors do not support PAE (Physical Address Extension). If you have the time and the interest, however I have provided a link below to an article on working around this problem. In either case, I have provided a link to Xubuntu’s download page. Once you have downloaded the ISO file, you’ll need to burn it to a DVD as an image then place the disc in the DVD-ROM drive. You’ll also need to enter the T40’s BIOS and set the DVD-ROM as the primary boot device. To enter the BIOS, you’ll need to press the Access IBM key (located in the upper left corner above the keyboard) when you first turn the laptop on and choose Start setup utility from the menu. When done, save your settings and restart the computer. Installation will begin on reboot.
The reason I chose to install Xubuntu is that it is lighter than Ubuntu in terms of hardware demands, which makes it an ideal OS for older computers. You will be guided through through the installation process. When it is completed, you will be prompted to remove the disc and restart the computer. When it restarts, you can log in using the account created during installation. If all goes as it should, you should be greeted with a desktop like the one shown in the screenshot.
Regarding the on-board wifi, you will find many discussions online about this topic. Rather than to resolve it, I went on to Amazon and purchased a Panda Mini Wifi 150 Mbs Wireless-N 24 GHz USB Adapter. It plugs right into one of the USB ports and starts working immidiately. It provides a reliable connection and after a year and a half, I still have no complaints. You may want to install additional software, depending on your needs, but other than that, you now have a perfectly good computer for education, Web surfing, productivity, gaming or whatever your needs may be.
Energize Education through Open Source will be one of the books presented by Lulu Publishing at the Los Angeles Times’ annual Festival of Books at the USC campus on April 18 and 19, 2015. More information will be provided as it becomes available. For more information about the festival, click here.