Update: Open Source Model Rocket Designer and Launch Simulator

I am currently working on a review of an open source software item that model rocketry people will just love. OpenRocket is an application that allows users to create model rockets. More than just a canvas, OpenRocket allows users to simulate flights, analyze rocket performance and to optimize the design according to the results. Watch this space for more info.

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A sneak peak at OpenRocket

Help! Microsoft Windows Won’t Boot Properly!

So, horror or horrors, Windows has crashed and you’re having trouble getting it to boot properly. Don’t panic, because I’m here to tell you how you can possibly fix your damaged operating system and get your computer to boot up like the crash never happened.

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Tux the Linux Penguin

“Chris,” you want to ask, “how do I do this? Please cut to the chase and enlighten me.” I am only too happy to oblige. To rescue your computer, you will need two things: a blank writable media (e.g. DVD-R) and a live Linux distribution. You probably already have the necessary media or can readily acquire it. What is this “live Linux distribution?” you probably want to ask. A live Linux distribution is a Linux distribution that can be placed on removable media and then, by booting from this media, allows you to run Linux on your computer without installing it. That’s right. You can run Linux on your computer without installing it. Live distributions will not adversely affect your computer or data in any way. You can test drive a new car, so why you shouldn’t you be able to test drive a new operating system?

So how do you go about choosing a live Linux distribution (known in the vernacular as a “live Linux distro”)? According to DistroWatch.com, there are 178 live operating systems from which to choose. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to use Xubuntu Linux as it is a personal favorite. If you’d like to see DistrWwatch.com’s very comprehensive list, click here.

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Xubuntu Linux logo

First of all, we need to get the Xubuntu Linux ISO image (the live operating system). Go to Xubuntu’s download page here and download the ISO image (be aware that there are two options:
32-bit and 64-bit. I leave it to you to determine which is right for your computer system). When the download is complete, open the Downloads folder. Place the blank media in your DVD-RW drive. Copy the downloaded file and paste it into the DVD drive folder. Right-click on the icon and choose Burn Image. The Windows Disc Image Burner window will open and guide your through the burn process. When the process is done, the disc will be ejected. Remove it and place it back into the drive, as we’re going to boot from it.

To complete the next few steps, you need to know a few things. The first is the location, physically, of the hard drive upon which Windows resides. The second thing is that though the Computer folder may list two hard drives (C: and D: (or C: and FACTORY IMAGE/RESTORE respectively) the truth is that you most likely have only one hard drive. In many respects, a hard drive is like an empty building. As with an empty building, sometimes it is desirable to create two smaller, separate spaces, rather than to have one big room. With a hard drive, this is done through partitioning. The two drives listed in the Computer folder (not including your DVD drive) are actually one hard drive divided into two partitions. one of which, C:, actually holds the operating system and your files. You need to be aware of this as you will need to know which partition you are going to attempt to repair.

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The author’s BIOS -your BIOS may or may not look like this.

Restart your computer. The moment the boot up screen appears, enter the BIOS. BIOS stands for Basic Input/Output System. This is where settings can be adjusted on your computer such as date and time, boot device priority and settings pertaining to hardware built into your motherboard, for example. Sometimes the initial boot screen will display the keyboard key needed to be pressed to enter the BIOS near the bottom of the screen. If not, try pressing the Delete key. For Compaq computers, it’s usually F10. You may have to consult the manual that came with your computer to learn how to enter the BIOS. Your BIOS may look like mine, shown in the screenshot to the right.

Once in the BIOS, you will want to modify the boot device sequence (this is under Advanced BIOS features in my BIOS). You will want to set the DVD drive containing the bootable media as your first boot device. Make a note of your current first boot device so that you can restore it to this capacity when you reboot. When finished, press F10 and choose Yes when asked if you want to save the current settings and exit.

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My live Xubuntu session

The system will boot from the DVD. You will be prompted to touch the keyboard. After choosing the appropriate language (English-US is default), choose Try Xubuntu without installing from the menu that appears. Once the system has booted, you’ll see the Xubuntu Linux Desktop, as shown in the screenshot at left. Open the Terminal Emulator (command line) window (there’s a button to do this on the panel (application dock) at the bottom of the screen (it’s set to AutoHide, so just move the mouse pointer to the bottom of the screen to view it). First, we need to see where Linux has put your C: partition. Type )or copy and paste) the following command into the terminal:

sudo fdisk /dev/sda

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Fdisk displaying partitions of a typical hard drive running Windows.

Sudo tells Xubuntu that you want to run the command as a system administrator. Fdisk is a hard drive partitioning program. Don’t worry. We’re not editing any partitions. We’re just using fdisk to view the partitions on /dev/sda (your primary hard drive). The /dev/sda portion of the command tells Linux that we want to look in the devices (/dev) directory for the primary or first hard drive (/sda). At the question mark prompt (?), type p to print the partition table. My partition table is shown in the screenshot (note that I changed the Terminal Emulator’s default color scheme for the sake of legibility in this blog). Most likely, your C: drive is listed as /dev/sda1. Press q to quit fdisk.

At last we’ve reached the next to last step. In the Terminal Emulator window, type the following:

sudo ntfsfix /dev/sda1

A report of errors found may be generated. Reboot the system using the Session Menu. The system will shut down Linux and eject the disc. Remove the DVD and press Enter as the prompt on the screen asks and, upon reboot, enter the BIOS to restore your boot device settings to their original status, save and reboot. If all went well, Windows will boot to its former functional status. Don’t thank me. Thank the developers behind the ntfsfix program. They’re the real heroes.

Three Open Source Web Development Appllications You Should Check Out

If you’re a Web developer, you probably have invested in Adobe Dreamweaver, which is a powerful, proprietary Web development application. There are open source alternatives that you should consider. Why consider open source? The biggest reason is financial expense. For Dreamweaver alone, without additinal packaged software, the price is $249.00. The software that I address here is free. Another reason to give these programs a try is that each of these develpment tools is full-featured, providing everything you need, plus a few surprises.

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Bluefish Editor

Bluefish. Bluefish has been called a developer’s HTML editor. This is because, unlike the other two programs addressed here, users work entirely with code in an environment similar to a text editor. This may seem daunting to new-comers to Web design, but many developers feel that this gives you complete control over every element of your Web pages. Bluefish can be readily customized through several ways. Toolbars are divided by tabs, according to categories (Forms,Frames, CSS, etc.). The Quickbar is an empty toolbar to which users can add frequently used tools offered by other toolbars. A menu bar provides a ready alternative to the toolbars. Bluefish can be easily customized through Preferences, offered under the Edit menu. Customizations can be applied to appearance, default document formatting, output parsers and plugins as well as to many other aspects of Bluefish. The screenshot on the left gives a good look at a typical Bluefish session.

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KompoZer in split screen mode

KompoZer. KompoZer is a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get; pronounced whi-zee-wig) Web authoring tool. In layman’s terms, this means that users can create Web pages graphically (typing, dragging and drppping, text formatting, etc.). KopoZer also allows users to work directly with the code. Furthermore, KompZer offers a split screen view that divides the work area into two panes. The top pane displays the current page in WYSIWYG mode, while the bottom pane displays the page in HTML/text mode. In addition to these interesting features, KompoZer offers everything a Web developer needs. Features can be accessed through a toolbar or menus. This includes customization. One neat feature is a tool that allows users to validate their code (HTML/XHTML) through a direct link to the World Wide Web Consortium’s Code Validation Service on the Internet. KompoZer is supported by Mozilla, the people behind such open source programs as the Firefox Web Browser and the Thunderbird email client. Check out the screenshot to the right for a look at KompZer in action.

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BlueGriffon doing it’s thing (thanks to the BlueGriffon team for the screenshot).

BlueGriffon. BlueGriffon is a WYSIWYG Web authoring tool that allowing users to work in either a graphical environment or directly with code. This application, like KompoZer, is supported by Mozilla. BlueGriffon utilizes Mozilla’s Gecko rendering engine, which is used by Firefox to display Web pages. This means that Web pages created and viewed in BlueGriffon will appear the same in Mozilla Firefox as they do when previewed in BlueGriffon, regardless of the operating system being used. BlueGriffon has all of the features you would expect to find in a Web authoring program. Customization is easily handled through the Preferences option under the Edit menu. There are also a variety of add-ons offered on the BlueGriffon home page to enhance functionality. These include a user’s manual, a CSS editor and an integrated FTP client. The screenshot at left shows BlueGriffon being used to edit a page in text mode (thanks to the people at BlueGriffon for use of this screenshot).

In closing, I just want to say that technology does not always have to be expensive and that just because you have not heard of an application, doesn’t mean that it won’t work for you. There are other open source Web development programs out there, so if you find that these don’t meet your needs, I encourage you to do a little research and find something that will. A little time and effort can save you money and possibly result in finding an application that will make you wonder how you managed without it.

Resources

BlueGriffon Home Page
KompoZer Home Page

References
BlueGriffon [computer software]. (2010). GNU General Public License.
KompoZer [computer software]. (2010). GNU General Public License.
Sessink, O. et al. (2010). Bluefish [computer software]. GNU General Public License.

Secure and Stable Private Cloud Service …and It’s Open Source

I have recently come across a cloud hosting company that sets itself apart from others. OwnOcean.com utilizes an open source technology called ownCloud and offers stable and secure private cloud storage to the consumer. In fact, the stability and security, and speed of ownCloud server hosting service are points of pride with the people at OwnOcean.com. How they do this and what they can do for you is what I’d like to address here.

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OwnOcean.com’s Main Page

First of all, setup is fast and easy. Simply click on the green Sign Up button in the upper right corner. A window will open asking you to provide an email address and your desired password. It’s that easy. The OwnOcean team will send you an email message confirming your username and providing you with a link to your ownCloud server login page. They also provide you with a link to a blog that will provide you with step-by-step tips and an integration guide. Their tech support team is always available if you need them. Few things in life, and especially in technology, are this easy.

Now that your ownCloud server has been set up by OwnOcean.com, let’s talk about security. When you set up an account with OwnOcean, you’ll be provided with 15 gigabytes of storage space on your own personal server. Most cloud hosting sites will have multiple users on the same server. The real danger with this practice is that if one account is then compromised it’s possible that the other accounts could be compromised as well, whether the threat is a software bug, a hacker or malicious software. With OwnOcean, you own your own server.

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You’ll be guided through the sign up process, which begins here.

You have complete control over it and over your data. If you’re a professional and want to protect clients’ confidential information, the people at OwnOcean make it extremely easy, via one of their many integrated plugins, to encrypt your data. This means that in the event that an unauthorized individual does access your data, it will be indecipherable to them. Furthermore, OwnOcean employs layers of protection to secure your data and privacy. How’s that for security?

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Don’t worry. It’s secure and could well be one of the best investments you’ll ever make.

OwnOcean boasts “rock solid stability”. Crashes on such stable systems are almost unheard of. This stability comes from the fact that ownCloud operating systems are able to identify potential threats to stability and neutralize them before they become problematic. What all of this means is that your cloud will always be available to you. With such stability and high levels of security, having a cloud with OwnOcean is very similar to having a virtual Web-based vault for your data.

One of my favorite features of ownCloud is the capacity to create users and groups. As the administrator of your ownCloud server, you can create accounts for others to use to access specific pieces of data. You simply create a user account and then assign groups to which the user will belong (by default admin is the only initial group) and to which group, if any, that they will have administrative privileges.

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The OwnOcean Team sets up your account

You can also assign storage space to this user. Groups can be just as readily created. The real value here is that it makes project collaboration easy. First of all, you would create a group for the project. Then you would either add desired users to the group or create new users and add them to the group. Then upload the file you wish to share, or create it in ownCloud. Anything created in ownCloud can be shared. As this file is on a cloud drive, members of the group can make changes to it from anywhere at their own convenience, so long as they can access the Internet. OwnOcean will keep track of the changes made and who made them. In short, this means that you could literally have a project to which collaborators around the world could contribute.

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Just log in to use your new ownCloud account.

ownCloud offers many plugins (called Apps), some of which are already installed, to enhance its functionality out of the box. There are many pages of Apps available on ownCloud’s Web site, so you’re more than likely to find something to meet your needs. In short, your ownCloud server can become anything that you need it to be. To help you find the right plugin, ownCloud’s plugin page has an integrated search tool. In addition to this, users can rate Apps, so that you have others’ experiences and impressions to help you make a choice.

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Your new ownCloud account is ready!

The icing on the cake with ownCloud is its Web Interface, which is very approachable and intuitive. Everything can be managed through either the Navigation Bar on the left-hand side or through Search/Settings at the top of the Web Interface window. ownCloud also provides a desktop syncing application that can be downloaded for Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX and Linux, which makes syncing files on your computer with files on your cloud simple. All of these terrific features have made an ownCloud believer out of me. I know my data is secure. Is yours?

Thanks to Zach Hines for the suggested content, edits and for contributing the video and beautiful screenshots.

OwnCoean Web site: https://ownocean.com

Source: ownCloud User Manual Release 6.0. (April 28, 2014) The ownCloud Developers.

New Cloud Service Under Review

I have been asked to review and write a blog for a new open source Cloud hosting service. This service offers stability and security at the highest levels. It also offers a great deal of functionality and flexibility. I’m very excited about this opportunity and have been very impressed with what I’ve seen so far. When the blog is published, I’ll post it here. I’m also very excited to be a part of such a project. More to come.

gbrainy -Lumosity without the cost and hype

We’ve all seen the ads for Lumosity, the Web-based service that boasts games that “train your bran”. You also have to pay to use Lumosity, something the ads don’t tell you. Well, I want to introduce you to a free and open source application that does the same thing and touches on exactly the same areas that Lumosity claims to address, but without the cost and fanfare. The application is gbrainy and we’re going to examine its components so you can see how it can help you train your brain.

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gbrainy’s main menu

First of all, you may wonder what are the components of gbrainy? gbrainy consists of four components: Logic puzzles which are designed to challenge your reasoning and thinking skills; Mental calculations, which measure your ability to mentally solve arithmetical calculations; Memory trainers are designed to test and improve your short-term memory; Verbal analogies assess your verbal aptitude.

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A sample logic puzzle

Logic puzzles presents the user with a scenario and a question. Answers to questions can be both selected response and constructed response. The user can respond either by using the mouse, the keyboard or either one, depending upon the type of question. The puzzles measure users’ attention to detail as well as reasoning skills. So how do gbrainy’s Logic puzzles compare with Lumosity? Among the skills that Lumosity claims to promote are attention, speed of processing and flexibility. These games certainly help to cultivate these skills.

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The author tries to solve a Mental calculation problem.

Mental calculations displays a mathematical equation to be solved by the user. The operations include common arithmetic operations, algebraic expressions, finding averages and working with decimals and fractions. The goal here is to determine the user’s ability to perform mental equations. gbrainy provides all of the data necessary to solve the problems. You need to provide the answers via keyboard or mouse. How does Mental calculations compare with Lumosty? They help to hone your speed of processing and problem-solving skills, just as Lumosity claims to do.

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Improve your concentration and short-term memory with Memory trainers.

Memory trainers provides the user with objects to observe for a set period of time, then asks a question pertaining to what has been observed. These objects can be words, numbers or shapes and the amount of time to observe them is fixed. Input is given solely through the keyboard. For example,take a look at the Memory trainers screenshot to the right. After observing the numbers provided for the time allowed, gbrainy switched to a screen asking me how many odd numbers were listed on the previous screen. I actually found Memory trainers to be the most challenging of gbrainy’s puzzles due to the time factor. In comparison with Lumosity, Memory trainers matches it readily in terms of improving users’ short-term memory and their capacity to pay attention to details.

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Verbal analogies: Do you think the author selection is correct?

Verbal analogies assess and improve your vocabulary. The puzzles are all selected response. The user may be asked to choose the best definition for the word given from a list. Alternatively, the user may be asked to select a word that will best complete a given analogy. Additionally, gbrainy provides alternate answers that would have also been acceptable in addition to the answer provided by the user. This is a great opportunity to build your repertoire of synonyms. In terms of Lunosity’s goals, Verbal analogies strengthens both your long-term memory and your processing speed. The Verbal analogies screen is shown at left.

In closing, I just want to add that I did not write this to condemn Lumosity. I wrote this article to simply inform people that a free alternative is available. For more information, visit gbrainy’s Web site. gbrainy can also be played on the Web here.

Source: i Hernandez, J. M. (2012). gbrainy. GNU General Public License.

Scratch: The Launchpad for Students’ STEM Careers

If you haven’t heard of Scratch, then you’ve been missing out and so have your students. Scratch is an open source programming environment, with an integrated programming language also called Scratch, created by MIT with the goal of introducing users, especially young people, to computer programming. Users can create interactive stories, games and graphics. Furthermore, these creations can be shared with others via Scratch’s Web site. This is an excellent way to introduce your students to STEM.

What makes Scratch so special? To begin with, the interface is unlike that of any application of this type that I have seen. A menu bar/toolbar is provided for frequently used tasks, such as opening saved projects and sharing completed projects. From there, the interface goes in its own unique

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The Scratch initial start-up screen

direction, but still remains very user-friendly. In lieu of the traditional text editor/display pane layout, Scratch utilizes four panes, each with a specific purpose and interface. Operation and manipulation of objects is almost entirely point-and-click. This is arguably from where much of its ease-of-use comes.

One of the biggest differences between Scratch and other applications of this type is how the programs are written. Rather than typing code into a text editor, users are provided with a switchboard at the top of the leftmost pane. The buttons on the switchboard represent eight categories of commands that can be employed. The commands appear below the switchboard and can be

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The author’s Scratch session

added simply by clicking on them and dragging them to the pane on the right. Here the commands can be connected in a fashion that combines a flowchart with puzzle pieces. Programs, called scripts, can be created for any object (sprite) that the user creates. These scripts integrate variables as well, such as waiting times for events or results of interaction with other objects.

Finally, one of the really cool things about Scratch is the integrated graphics system. This includes a versatile drawing tool as well as graphical images included with Scratch. The drawing tool runs in its own window and provides users with everything they need to create colorful, detailed sprites. These sprites can in turn be modified under the Costumes tab in the same pane into which programming commands are placed. Using this feature, animations can be easily created using two or more costumes for a sprite. Users can also create backgrounds or select backgrounds from Scratch’s media library. The author used just such a background for his outer space scene shown in the screenshot above.

I cannot even begin to do this application justice here. Check out the Scratch creations submitted to the Scratch Web site. Try it for yourself. Then introduce your students to Scratch and watch worlds unfold.

Scratch Web site: http://scratch.mit.edu/

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

I’m currently working on an article about a brilliant piece of open source software called Scratch. It’s created and maintained by MIT and designed to teach beginning computer programming to young people, but gives them the opportnity to create interactive stories and games. These can then be shared with others online. I’m really excited about this fun and versatile application. The screenshot below provides a preview of Scratch.

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Scratch on initial startup

So You Say Your School Or District Can’t Afford to Automate?

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Energize Education Tip of the Day- The KDE Education Project

Today I want to focus on the KDE Education Project or KDE-Edu. As you may know, KDE (K Desktop Environment) is an open source graphical interface for UNIX-based operating systems like Linux. KDE-Edu is a project started by the people at KDE with the intention of developing educational open source software for all ages, both learners and teachers. ktouch,kde-edu,kde edu,kde education project

The software that they produce addresses language arts, mathematics, science and social studies as well as other areas of learning, such as computer programming and occupational therapy. Language arts appplications range from KHangman, a variation of the popular word game to KWordQuiz, a vovabulary builder, to Parley, a powerful vocabulary assessment tool. Mathematics applications range from KBruch, a tool for quizzing users about fractions and facotrizations to applications addressing more advanced topics, such as KAlgebra for graphing algebraic expressions and Kig, an interactive geometry tool.

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Kalzium, an interactive table of the elements.

In terms of science software, KDE Edu has some interesting offerings. These include, but are not limited to, an interactive periodic table of the elements, Kalzium, a virtual planetarium for your computer desktop, KStars and Step, an application that allows users to create virtual two-dinmensional physical science experiments. If you’re looking for social studies applications, check out Marble, a virtual globe that allows users to view Earth from various perspectives including geographical, historical and climate or KGeography, an application that quizzes users on their geographical knowledge including locations, capitol cities and flags.

Other applications include KTurtle, a program teaching beginning computer programming, KTouch, a typing/keyboarding tutor and KLettres, a tool for teaching younger students how to write their letters.

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Ktouch typing trainer

I cannot do KDE-Edu justice in this short space. There are more applications available than I have discuessed here. I urge you to check them out. They’re open source, free and will soon (as of this writing) be available for Microsoft Windows.