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LinCity-NG -I Finally Attained a Self-sustained Society

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One of my fiine Universities

Regular readers (or should that be “reader”?) of this blog know that one of my favorite open source games with educational potential is LinCity-NG.  This is a port of the classic game SimCity.  What makes it ideal for education is that you could build integrated units focusing on ecology and economics, as, in theory, it is possible to create a society that is self-sustaining economically and in balance with the environment.  I say “in theory” as thia has never been accomplished by me.  Until now, that is.

In order to succeed in attaining such a civilization, you must have one that is economically stable.  This means that your citizens have to be employed, fed and comfortable.  You also need a

lincity-ng,energize education
This Tip has been emptied by surrounding Recycling Centers.

decent technology level (called tech level in the game), which can be attained by constructing Monuments early on, Schools late and, eventually, Universities.  Once this has been attained, you will attain the ability to create four things essential to having a self-sustaining, ecologically-friendly society -Recycling Centers, Parks, Solar Power Stations and the aforementioned Universities.  Recycling centers cut back drastically on waste and can even be used to empty Tips (landfills in LinCity-NG) as they produce ore, steel and other goods through recycling.  Check out the screenshot and you’ll see a Tip that has been emptied by surrounding Recycling Centers.  This limits the waste of society to such things as air pollution.  To combat air pollution, build Parks around Coal fired power stations and other sources of air pollution to shelter residences.  (hint: holding CTRL and P will create a park with a pond.)

lincity-ng,christopher whittum
This simple Park fights air pollution.

Solar Power Plants generate MHz, which can be used to power light and heavy industry, textile mills and other facilities of this nature.  To power homes (KHz), you’ll need to connect these to Substations.  Once you have Solar Power Stations, you no longer need alternative, polluting energy sources, like Coal fired  power stations.  You also no longer need Coal Mines.  This greatly minimizes pollution in general, but especially air pollution.  The one caveat that I would offer is that Solar Power Stations can occasionally catch fire, so be sure to have Fire Departments nearby.

Finally, there are universities.  There has to be four schools for every university.  Also, universities are more expensive to run.  What you gain in exchange for this is the opportunity to more rapidly increase your tech level.

energize education
Solar Power Stations -your best choice for clean energy

So, I have shared my successes with LinCity-NG.  I hope that this well inspire others.  None of my previous ongoing games in LinCity-NG have attained this level of success.  I hope that you can attain it as well.

Retraction -bcrypt Insecure for Encryption

In February 2015, I wrote an article on an encryption program that runs from the Linux terminal -bcrypt.  I am retracting this endorsement, as bcrypt has been found to be an insecure means of encryption due to vulnerabilities.  In lieu of bcrypt, I would recommend scrypt, which also runs from the terminal as well and is secure.  For more information on scrypt, read the scrypt man page.

For further reading about bcrypt’s vulnerabilities, you can read an article from the Hacker News, here.

energize education,bcrypt retraction,scrypt,energize education through open source
Scrypt encrypting my passwords020917.txt file.

A Brief Survey of Comic Book Viewers

One thing that has chagned quite a bit since I was a kid is the attitude that schools and teachers have towards comic books.  When I was a child, if you had a comic book in school, you wouldn’t have it for long, as such things were viewed as the antithesis of education.  The attitude now is that so long as kids are reading, it’s a good thing, even if it’s a comic book, which I think is a big improvement.  My middle school library has a fine collection of graphic novels, in addition to the other media that they offer.  Anyway, I thought that I would write about some open source comic book viewers that work with graphic novel ebooks and that you could use in your classroom.

comix,comic viewer,comic book viewer, energize education
Comix displaying a graphic novel.

Comix.  Comix is a very versatile and easily customized comic book reader.  Ir reads most common image formats, not just .cbr (the native format for digital comic books).  Comix supports the storing of comic book libraries as well as allowing users to adjust how they view their comic book reading.  Users can zoom in and out as desired.  As it presents one page from the comic at a time, the page being viewed can be rotated to suit the reader.  For the die-hard comic book fan, media can be displayed in two-page format, if desired.  Archive formats supported include .tar, RAR and ZIP.  Comix supports the use of bookmarks to mark pages of interest.  Comix features integrated archive editing.  Though Comix is available only for UNIX-based operating systems, it is available in over 20 languages.  The screenshot at left shows the author’s Comix session, displaying a page from DC Comics’ Batman: Gotham by Gaslight graphic novel, as do the other screenshots featured in this article.

qcomicbook,comic viewers,comic book viewers, energize education through open source
A majestic Wayne Manor displayed in QComicBook.

QComicBook.  QComicBook is highly customizable and provides the user with every feature that he or she would desire through either menus or its toolbar.  The Read Me file will tell you that the developers of QCmicBook sought to keep convenience and simplicity at its core.  In addition to comic archive files (.cbr), it also supports handling of .jpg, .png, .gif and .xpm image formats, as well as PDF files.  Users can navigate through a comic or graphic novel via a context menu, navigation buttons on the toolbar or by clicking on images of pages in the Thumbnail pane to the left of the main viewing pane.  Other features include automatic unpacking of archive files, full-screen mode, double page viewing and continuous scrolling mode, among others.  QComicBook is available for UNIX-based operating systems.

mcomix,comic viewer,comic book viewer,energize education
MConix browsing a graphic novel.

MComix.  MComix is based on Comix, but offers a few embellishments.  These embellishments pertain predominantly to a few bug fixes as well as improved stability.  MComix’s creators boast that it is both user-friendly and customizable.  The interface is very approachable, incorporating a menu, a simple toolbar and a side pane for selecting individual pages. It is designed specifically for comic books and graphic novels, and supports a variety of formats, including .cbr, .cb7, .cbt and PDF.  What makes MComix really great is that it is available for both Linux and Microsoft Windows.

I’ve presented three comic book viewers here.  So what can you do with them in your classroom?  Just as you might buy printed graphic novels for your classroom library, it’s just as easy to buy them in digital format.  You could set up a couple of second hand laptops (they’re cheap on ebay) with libraries of graphic novels on them.  Your students then sign up for a time to use one of these computers to do some reading.  You could even provide them with a reading log so that they can keep track of where they’ve left off rather than to have multiple students using the same integrated bookmark feature, which could get confusing.

Resources

Comix Sourceforge Page

MComix Sourceforge Page

QComicBook  Web Site

References

Augustyn, B. et al.  (1989).  Batman: Gotham by gaslight.  New York: DC Comics.

Casillas, L. & Brunner, M.  (2013).  MComix [computer software].  GNU General Public License.

Ekberg, P.  (2009).  Comix [computer software].  GNU General Public License.

Stolowski, P.  (2012).  QComicBook [computer software].  GNU General Public License.

Stolowski, P.  (2012).  QComicBook read me.  Retrieved from https://github.com/stolowski/QComicBook/blob/master/README.

 

QComicBook.  Q

 

 

Why I Love XFCE

energize education,xfce,energize education thorugh open sourceAnyone who has been using Linux/UNIX for a long time will have to admit that offerings in terms of desktop environments have improved immensely.  For those unfamiliar with Linux or UNIX, a desktop environment is a graphical interface (mouse pointer, background, window rendering, etc.) that is completely self-reliant in terms of support programs (file manager, text editor, etc.).  If unfamiliar with Linux or UNIX, you might say “What’s the big deal?”  The big deal is that most window managers (another form of graphical interface and part of a desktop environment, but that lacks self-reliant applications like its own file manager) do not.  There are a variety of desktop environments out there, such as KDE, GNOME, MATE, LXDE and FVWM Crystal, for example.  However, I want to focus on the Xfce Desktop Environment and why I believe that it rocks.

Xfce has evolved since its initial incarnation as an open source alternative to the (then) proprietary CDE (Common Desktop Environment) to take on a life of its own.  Xfce was originally XFCE (XForms Common Environment, the “X” coming from the “X” in X Window System, the official name of the Linux/UNIX graphical interface system), but now Xfce is no longer an acronym for anything.  So, why do I think Xfce is so special?

First of all, unlike desktop environments like KDE or GNOME, Xfce is fairly light on system resources.  This means that it will run well on older hardware.  This makes it ideal for anyone or any organization that cannot afford the latest cutting-edge hardware.  Public schools come to mind here.  Another reason why I love Xfce is that it supports a high level of customization.  Its appearance and function can be easily modified through context-sensitive menus.  This includes such things as appearance, system performance and accessibility to name a few.  Xfce can easily look like any graphical interface that you can imagine.

energize education,xfce desktop environment,christopher whittum
The Panel Preferences window.  Look at those wonderful panels!

Another feature of Xfce that relates to appearance and that I have come to truly value is panels.  Panels, often referred to as docks, are bars that can appear horizontally or vertically on your desktop, providing a place to put things like a main menu launcher, a clock or a quick way to launch frequently used programs.  Xfce requires that you have at least one panel.  It does not, however, have any requirements as to what you do with that panel.  That panel can serve in any capacity that you desire.  You can even auto-hide the panel so that it only appears when your mouse pointer hovers over it.  The screenshot at right shows what the author has done with his panels.  There are three types of panels offered: horizontal, vertical and deskbar (this latter panel is vertically aligned, but the contents are aligned horizontally.  This is ideal for wide-screen computing).

energize education
Looking at the panel at the bottom of the screen we see these plugins: (l-r) Main Menu, Show Desktop, Workspace Switcher, Task Manager (Window Buttons), Clock, Indicator Plugin, Weather Plugin and CPU Load Meter.

This leads to another one of Xfce’s useful features, Panel Plugins.  These plugins enhance functionality and provide information about your system and the world around you.  Available plugins include ways to track open applications, ways to monitor system resources and a means for keeping informed about time and the weather,  Launcher plugins provide a means to quickly launch your favorite programs.  There are plugins for switching workspaces, creating desktop sticky notes, monitoring network traffic, monitoring project time, getting screenshots and even quick access to an integrated online dictionary.  This list is by no means all-inclusive.  If you have a job to do, there’s probably a plugin to help you do it.

energize education,xfce
What does your Xfce desktop look like?

Finally, I love Xfce’s ease of use.  This is due to a number of things, but simplicity is key.  The interface in general is approachable by default.  Widgets and menus are where you would expect them to be.  The Main Menu is straightforward, reminiscent of what Microsoft Windows looked like before XP.  The menu opens providing users with direct access to what they’re looking for, organized by purpose (Communications, Office, etc.).  Context menus (opened with a right-click) allow for ready modification of any component.  If this isa’t appealing, users can easily change the way Xfce looks and works using these menus.

In closing, if you haven’t tried Xfce, maybe you should.  It’s light, simple and effectual.  What’s not to like?

Resources

Xfce Home Page

References

Xfce Development Team (2016).  Xfce Desktop Environment [computer software].  GNU General Public License.

Qimo4Kids Retires

Farewell, Qimo4Kids!
Farewell, Qimo4Kids!

It is with heavy heart that I report that the Qimo4Kids Project, has ceased.  This project developed and promoted Qimo4Kids, an open source educational operating system for children.  Based on Xubuntu Linux, Qimo4Kids incorporated the Xfce Desktop Environment with collection of open source educational suites and software.  The developers sadly announced via their now defunct Web site and via the Qimo4Kids facebook page that the project had not been updated in several years, due primarily to the fact that other things kept arising that prevented this.  C’est la vie.  They also felt that the project was not as poignant as it was when first created.  This was a fun, engaging OS and the worlds of open source and education are the poorer for its concluding.

Story Maps -Young Author Story Creation Software

Arguably, storyboards provide the ideal way to introduce young academicians to writing. Story Maps is an open source application that provides young authors with a graphical interface with which they can plot their stories and a text editor to provide the details that will bring their stories to life. In short, Story Maps is a virtual storyboard. The developer who created this application did so as part of his post-graduate studies in conjunction with teachers, students, creative writing experts and an illustrator. It utilizes story elements commonly found in fairy tales.

story maps, energize education,story boards
Story Maps start up screen

Upon launch, the user is presented with Planning View, which offers a simple interface. The screen is divided into upper and lower halves. The upper half has a green background and offers tiles, called story cards, from which users can choose story events. The story cards are labeled and have a corresponding image to further convey their purpose. Hovering the mouse pointer over each story card enlarges it and provides the user with additional information about that particular story card.

energize education through open source,christopher whittum, story maps
Ready to start writing.

These story cards can then, individually, be dragged and dropped onto the gray field in the lower half of the screen. Here, they can be arranged into a story map. Near the top of the Story Maps window is a menu bar offering one option, File. From here, users can save the current story, open an existing story, preview the current story, save the current story as HTML or print the story. At the bottom of the screen is a panel offering options to Write your story!, enter your story’s title and a button that allows users to sort story cards. The result is an interface that allows ready access to features and that is also aesthetically appealing and delightfully engaging.

Using Story Maps is easy. As mentioned above, simply click on and drag story cards to the canvas below. Once the story cards are selected, users click on the Write your story! button. This brings up the story editor that takes up the lower half of the screen, while the selected tiles move to the upper half of the screen. The current story card is displayed to the left of the editor.

energize education,chris whittum
Exported to HTML.

The story card is described (e.g. Home: “How the story starts”) to the right and ideas for what to write are presented below this description (e.g. for the Home tile: “You could: Introduce the main characters and…”). Scrolling down in this pane brings the user to the editor where the stories are typed. Below this is a toolbar offering Cut, Copy and Paste options on the left and Save Story, Preview Story, Save Story as HTML and Print Story on the right. Prev and Next buttons with appropriate arrows are, respectively, on the far left and far right of this pane and allow users to scroll through tiles without having to leave the editor.  Clicking on the Go back to planning button moves the editor pane down so that the writer can access the story cards.

In terms of exportability, Story Maps can save only to its native format and HTML.  The HTML format is more like of snapshot of the sessions in question, as can be seen in the screenshot above.  Printed pages look just like the HTML pages.  The beauty of this is that the hard copy can serve as a graphic organizer when moving the story text to a word processor where the story can be viewed without graphic organizer components.

So, if you’re looking for an engaging application that serves as a graphic organizer and as a motivator to get young academicians writing, give Story Maps a try.

Story Maps is available for Linux, but there are similar Web-based programs available online.
Resources
The Story Maps Web site

References
Fernandez-Sanguino, J. (2012). Story maps: general commands manual. GNU General Public License.
Hammond, S. (2012). Story maps [computer software]. GNU General Public License.

SchoolTool: Global Student Information System

As the school year is still young, I thought that I’d move away from curriculum and focus on something every school should have -a student information system (SIS). So, what is a student information system? A student information system is a Web-based application that runs on a server. Teachers can log onto this server and put in and analyze such information as attendance and grades. Students and parents can log onto this system to view information about themselves and people under their supervision, such as attendance and grades. What sets SchoolTool apart from its commercial counterparts is that it is designed with schools in developing nations in mind.

schooltool,energize educatrion,student information system
SchoolTool’s integrated gradebook

So what can one do with a student information system? As mentioned above, data can be collected on such things as attendance and grades, but also on assessments, student interventions and student participation. This data can be used to generate reports and report cards. There is an integrated calendar for organizing school-based activities. This calendar also works as timetable management software for larger school-based events. There is a contact management component as well.

schooltool,energize education through open source,christopher whittum
Tracking student interventions with SchoolTool.

So what’s so wonderful about SchoolTool? First of all, SchoolTool is open source. Beyond that, SchoolTool is free. A further analysis of SchoolTool’s features really requires a breakdown by category. In terms of demographics and personal information, fields of demographic and other data can be customized as needed and stored for each person. These fields can contain a wide variety of data, including, but not limited to, textual, date and boolean (yes/no). In terms of contact management, all of the expected fields are present (address, email, etc.). Furthermore, a single student can be shared with multiple adult contacts and multiple students can be shared with a single adult contact.

schoooltool,energize education,chris whittum
Using timetables to organize school functions.

Documents specifying students skills, standards or outcomes can be generated. Administrators and teachers can generate reports by student, section or teacher. SchoolTool’s integrated gradebook provides an intuitive and familiar gradebook interface for tracking and analyzing student grades. Report cards can be generated in PDF format. An integrated journal allows teachers to track attendance and daily participation. The integrated intervention system can be used generate goals and to collaboratively track student progress between teachers, students, parents and other stakeholders. These are just a few of the features with which SchoolTool empowers users.

If nothing else, this article should inspire you to take a look at SchoolTool. If you’ve heard of it or evaluated it before, hopefully this will inspire to to take a second look. One of the taglines associated with this blog is “educational technology doesn’t have to be expensive.” I’d say SchoolTool is exemplary of that.

Resources
SchoolTool Download

SchoolTool Home Page

The SchoolTool Book

References
SchoolTool Book. (n.d.). GNU General Public License. Retrieved from http://book.schooltool.org/system-requirements.html.

Shuttleworth, M. (n.d.). SchoolTool {computer software}. GNU General Public License.

All screenshots were taken from the SchoolTool Web site.

Tip of the Day: Article publishined on OpenSource.com

I am extremely excited to announce that my latest article, a tutorial entitled Learn Geometry with Dr. Geo, will be published by opensource.com.  This is the first article of this nature that I’ve written that someone else will publish.  I think that they did a wonderful job presenting the article and using my screenshots. Thanks to opensource.com for publishing this article.

dr.geo,energize education,geometry software,energize education through open source

It will be available here on August 22, 2016 (that’s 22 August 2016 for the 6.68 billion people not living in the United States).

Pitivi -Linux Video Editor

Arguably a difficult transition that Windows users undergo when switching to Linux is the lack of video editing software, like Microsoft Movie Maker.  Have no fear!  Pitivi comes to the rescue.  Pitivi (pronounced pee-tee-vee) is an open source video editor for the Linux operating system and built upon the GStreamer multimedia framework.

pitivi,energize education
Pitivi at startup.

Upon launch, Pitivi opens a greeting window providing the user with the opportunity to open an existing project or to create a new one.  Behind this is the main screen where the film editing/creation takes place.  The interface is pleasantly straightforward and intuitive.  A menu and toolbar at the top of the screen are referred to as the header bar. Below this are two tabs, or primary tabs, to the left, above a pane.  These tabs allow users to toggle between the media library and effects library.  To the right are the contextual tabs, which allow users to view clip properties, add transitions and to add titles. To the right of this, is the viewer, through which users can observe their developing creations.  The interface for the viewer is the same as for any media player.  Below these three panes is the ruler and below that the timeline.  This is where videos are placed to be modified.

pitivi,energize education through open source
Zooming in on the timeline

Media can be added to the media library by either clicking on and dragging the desired file from the file manager window to this pane or by clicking on the Import button above this pane and to the left.  When imported, media can then be dragged to and dropped on the timeline.  Once a film clip is added, the clip as it will be seen by viewers appears in the viewer.  When a user clicks anywhere along the timeline, the viewer jumps to that position.  Using the timeline toolbar to the right of the timeline, users can delete selected clips, group clips, ungroup clips, copy, paste and toggle gaps in media.  All edits affect the selected clip.

A click of a mouse button (right or left) places the playhead at the desired point on the timeline.  This is where splits are inserted.  Other tweaks involve being able to control the zoom on the timeline, adding a title, adding special effects and adding transitions.  As effects are added to a clip, they are listed in the contextual tab with a checkbox next to each.  The checkboxes are checked by default, so, as expected, unchecking one disables it.  Effects include, but are by no means limited to, such items as facedetect (detects faces in videos), kaleidoscope and Tunnel (creates a light tunnel effect).

pitibi,energize education,christopher whittum
The Tunnel effect is perfect for this movie.

Pitivi is very versatile in terms of file support.  Projects may be saved (or rendered which is the term used in Pitivi) in the following formats: AVI, Apple QuickTime, Ogg Vorbis, MP4 and MPEG to name a few.  Furthermore, Pitivi offers excellent project management.  The term project in Pitivi refers to any film being edited.  But users can save their projects at different levels of completion or in different file formats.  Many different settings can be adjusted, such as pixel and display aspect ratios, and there is an excellent Undo/Redo utility.

Now that you’ve read about what Pitivi can do, give it a try.  Better still, let your students give it a try if you really want to see Pitivi put through its paces.  If you’re so inclined, you can also contribute to their fund drive.  Such support is always appreciated.

Note: Pitivi is designed to run on the GNOME Desktop Environment.  However, all of the author’s screenshots were taken while running Pitivi on the Xfce Desktop Environment upon which it ran without issue.

Resources

Pitivi Download

Pitivi Quick Start Manual.

References

Pitivi [computer software].  (n.d.).  GNU General Public License.

JPitivi quick Start manual.  (n.d.)  GNU General Public License.  Retrieved from http://www.pitivi.org/manual/.

Little Wizard -programming environment for children

Little Wizard logoI’ve recently come across a very engaging platform through which children can learn to write computer programs.  Little Wizard is an open source application designed to help students in the primary grades learn the concepts that are common in all programming languages, such as variables, loops and conditions.  Students can do all this using the mouse.  Let’s get up front and personal with Little Wizard.

Little Wizard, energize education through open source
Little Wizard at start up.

The interface is WYSIWYG and rather delightful in its use of colorful, engaging images.  At the top of the window is a menu bar and below this is a toolbar which, by default, has the Program button already depressed.  This is referred to as program view.  Below the toolbar is a row of tabs, called the palette.  Below this is a row of colorful buttons used for writing computer programs by simply clicking on and dragging program elements represented by the buttons to the program grid below.  This is where users write their programs.  One really cool feature is that users can easily toggle views of their programs by clicking on buttons on the toolbar.  Users can bounce from program view to world view to mixed view.  World view presents the world grid which allows users to create and alter the wizard’s world.  Mixed view displays both the world grid and the program grid.  Integrated tooltips nicely enhance functionality.

little wizard,energize education
A simple program being executed.

So, what kind of programs can you write with Little Wizard?  Looking at the tabs in the palette should give you a clue: Wizard, Math, Variables, Conditions and Loops and Other.  Each tab has icons, which represent different program elements.  Wizard controls functions such as movement of the Little Wizard icon.  Math is where you find numbers and their operators.  Variables provides the ability to add variables to your program.  Conditions and Loops allows for conditions (e.g. if/else statements) and loops (e.g. repeat/until statements) to be placed in a program.  Other allows users to assign positions or to prompt for user input.  Using these tools, young programmers can make the wizard move, wait for user input or even change his world.

little wizard, energize education
Little Wizard creates a world.

So what happens if you need help getting started?  The Little Wizard Web site offers a free tutorial that will guide you through Little Wizard’s interface and to help you learn to use the building blocks of computer programming.  Sample programs are provided that give Little Wizard the opportunity to show you what it can do.  In no time, users can start developing and bringing to life their own ideas.  Now stop reading this and download Little Wizard so you can see what your students will create.

Little Wizard is available for Linux and Microsoft Windows.

Resources

Little Wizard Tutorial

References

Kirillov, K.  (n.d.).  Little Wizard’s home page: tutorial.   GNU General Public License.  Retrieved from http://littlewizard.sourceforge.net/tutorial.html.

Kwadrans, M.  (n.d.).  Little wizard [computer software].  GNU General Public License.