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Yearly Archives: 2014
Season’s Greetings, everyone. The holiday season is upon us, so I thought I’d take a break from my usual blog on open source educational technology and write about a something a little more lighthearted.
If you want to make your Linux desktop look more festive for the holidays, all you need is a little time to do this.
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to do add holiday cheer is to set your screensaver to Fuzzy Flakes. If you go into Settings, you can set the background color to something that might be a little more seasonally festive than the default pink. The screenshot on the left shows the Xscreensaver Settings window.
Next you’ll want to set a holiday-themed background.
Simply search for “linux christmas (or the holiday of your choice) wallpaper” in your favorite search engine and you’ll get plenty of hits. Choose one or several of your liking and download them. Once downloaded, use your desktop environment preferences utility to setup the desktop background of your choice. On a related note, you can also find Christmas/holiday themes for your desktop environment or window manager. Check out the great Window Maker theme that I installed in the screenshot to the right.
The next item you’ll want to obtain to complete that holiday look (at least if you live in the northern hemisphere) is Xsnow.
Xsnow is an application developed by Rick Jansen that generates snowfall on your computer screen. You may already have it installed. Open a terminal and type “xsnow” and it should start right up, if it’s installed. A gentle cascade of snow is not all that Xsnow gives you. You also notice tiny fir trees appear on your screen as well. To add to the fun, Santa can be seen driving his sleigh and reindeer through the snow with Rudolph leading the way. Xsnow can be customized in a number of ways, so I’d suggest you read the Xsnow manual page (type “man xsnow” in a terminal window) to learn more. The screenshot shows my Window Maker session dressed up for the holidays with Xsnow running to enhance the effect.
That’s all for now. Have a safe and happy holiday season.
Dmytro, B. (2004). Fuzzy Flakes [software]. GNU General Public License.
Jansen, R. (2001). Xsnow [software]. GNU General Public License.
Window Maker [software]. GNU General Public License.
Xscreensaver [software]. GNU General Public License.
A person who reviewed Enertgize Education through Open Source felt that the book should have contained lesson plans with open source technology integrated into them. This has inspired me to do just that. Download the compressed file by clicking on the link below. Uncompress or unzip the file and you’ll have a folder containing a lesson plan and packet for a project designed to teach 8th-grade students how to use the periodic table of the elements. All you need to do is download and install Kalzium (Linux) or QPerdiodicTable (Microsoft Windows), both pf which are open source interactive periodic tables of the elements, onto students’ laptops and you’re ready to go.
Periodic Table of the Elements Scavenger Hunt Packet retrieved from here.
OpenRocket is an application for virtually building and launching model rockets. This software was developed by Sampo Niskanen, who was a student at the Helsinki University of Technology when he developed OpenRocket as the focus of his graduate studies on open source software. OpenRocket is fun and easy to use. The online guide, Getting Started with OpenRocket. advises basing your rocket designs on existing products, so I chose to virtually create and launch an Estes Hi-Flier (kit number 2178) as shown in the image below.
OpenRocket launches with a pop-up window asking the user to provide rudimentary information about the rocket he or she plans to design (design name, designer and a field for comments). If desired, this window can be readily closed so that the user can begin working with the application.
The OpenRocket interface is very straightforward. A simple menu bar is at the top of the window, allowing users to perform common tasks (Open, Save, Undo, etc.). Below this are two tabs, Rocket design and Flight simulation. The Rocket design tab employs a kind of switchboard interface that allows users to select which model rocket components they would like to add to their build. The only three options available at start up are Nose cone, Body tube and Transition (a coupler that is tapered at one end). To the left of this switchboard is a window displaying a text-based tree-structure outline of your rocket. The lower half of the screen is the canvas upon which your design appears. The default is Side view, but users can toggle between this are Rear view. This canvas is flanked on top and to the left by rulers measuring centimeters. At the top of the OpenRocket window is a simple menu.
When a new component is added to your rocket, the Component configuration window opens providing information about the component’s shape, composition and mass, as well as offering options to modify the component. Additional tabs are available for configuring such categories as mass override, figure (illustration) style and a field for notes about the model. This feature can also be accessed by clicking on a component and choosing Edit from the switchboard menu just to the right of the outline window. Components in the outline area can be expanded to reveal sub-components or collapsed to hide them. Components can also be moved here by clicking on a component and dragging it to a desired location in the tree-structure. Furthermore, components can be modified using the switchboard immediately to the right of this window. Two really neat features included under the Analyze menu include Component analysis and Rocket optimization. These allow you to tweak your rocket’s performance.
Once you’ve added an engine, the fun begins, as the guide Getting Started with OpenRocket states, as you’re ready to enter into the simulation portion of the application. OpenRocket is well integrated with the model rocket industry in regards to measurements and sizes of various components. For example, when you are ready to select a motor, if you have properly configured your engine mount, only motors that will fit the engine mount will be listed. Once you have selected your engine (or engines), we’re ready to run a simulation. Click on the Flight simulations tab. The Flight simulations window has five buttons at the top of the screen allowing users to create, run and modify simulations. Below this is a pane in which are listed user-created simulations. Below this is the canvas showing the user’s rocket.
Clicking on New simulation opens the Edit simulation window. Under the Launch conditions tab, you can customize the simulation in terms of engine configuration, wind speed, atmospheric conditions and other launch conditions. When the launch is configured as desired, click the Run simulation button. A window with simulation information will flash on the screen. Click on the Plot/export button and this will open the Edit Simulation window. In this window, users can adjust various criteria relating to the simulation, such as launch conditions, simulation options and what types of data will be plotted. Once this information has been set, simply click the Plot flight button in the lower right corner and a window presenting a graphic representation of the rocket’s flight will open. What’s really fun is to tweak various rocket components and launch conditions to see how they affect a rocket’s trajectory.
So, what are the benefits to using OpenRocket? It provides a wonderful opportunity to build and test model rockets prior to launch. What this means to model rocket enthusiasts is that they will have a better opportunity to determine their rockets’ trajectories and, therefore, have a better chance at recovery. Plus, it’s a fun way to experiment with model rockets. Isn’t that really what it’s all about?
OpenRocket is available for Linux, Apple MacOS, Microsoft Windows and Android.
Niskanen, S. (2009). Development of an open source model rocket simulation software. Helsinki: Helsinki University of Technology. Retrieved from: http://openrocket.sourceforge.net/thesis.pdf
Pummill, J. et al. (n.d.). Getting started with OpenRocket. TRF Community. Retrieved from: http://comp.uark.edu/~jpummil/OR-Start.pdf
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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?
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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/