I’d like to focus on computer programming in this installment. Towards this end, I’d like to take a look at Pharo, a software development environment released under the MIT License (similar to GPL, see link below). Pharo provides a graphical way to utilize the Smalltalk programming language, the programming language used to write Dr. Geo, one of my favorite geometry exploration programs.
First of all, Pharo’s development team refers to Pharo as an “immersive programming environment.” What does this mean? Dictionary.com defines immersive as an adjective “noting or pertaining to digital technology or images that deeply involve one’s senses and may create an altered mental state.” Techopedia defines a programming environment as “a collection of procedures and tools for developing, testing and debugging an application or program.” Another name for such an environment is Integrated Development Environment or IDE. What this means is that Pharo provides a graphical interface for Smalltalk that is so intuitive, full-featured and graceful that it allows you to code without getting in the way.
Before I go further, I’d like to share a few things from Pharo’s mission statement. The Pharo team seeks to provide an accessible and innovative free, open source programming environment. These people strive to keep Pharo small, stable and equipped with excellent tools key for software development. Finally, Pharo seeks to foster a healthy ecosystem of contributors who strive to maintain and enhance this application.
Smalltalk is an object-oriented programming language, which, in layman’s terms means that it focuses more on objects and data rather than on commands, or actions, and logic. Keeping this in mind, Pharo is designed to be very straightforward to use and to provide prompt feedback. Pharo also includes an IDE (Integrated Development Environment), from which it draws its simplicity. Furthermore, Pharo offers a high level of diversity through a large library and a set of external applications. Pharo also includes strong support for business use in the form of organizations, such as the Pharo Industrial Consortium and an association of users, the Pharo Association.
I’d like to take a look at Pharo’s interface as this is key to Pharo’s ease of use. How often have you launched a new program with some trepidation, wondering with what will I be presented? How intuitive will the interface be? How long will it take me to figure out how to make this thing do what I need it to do? Arguably, Pharo’s interface, or lack thereof, is not just one of its strengths. It’s also aesthetically appealing. No need for a menu bar or tool bar, as Pharo relies on context-sensitive menus for its functionally. Simply click in the main window to open the World Menu, which is a general menu, from which you can select Workspace. A Workspace is like an artist’s sketchpad upon which you create your application. Once a Workspace has been opened, you can use contextual menus to perform desired tasks.
So, what’s the best thing about Pharo? It could be that it is free to download. It could be the number of free books about Pharo available online. It could also be the extensive support community. I leave it to you, the reader, to download and install Pharo. Then start using it and find out for yourself what you think is the best thing about Pharo.
Pharo is available for Microsoft Windows, Apple MacOS and GNU/Linux.
Thanks to the people at Pharo for permission to use their screenshots for this article.
Black, A.P., Ducasse, S., Nierstrasz, O., Pollet, D., Cassou, D. & Denker, M. (2009). Pharo by example. Switzerland: Square Bracket Associates. Retrieved http://pharobyexample.org/versions/PBE1-2009-10-28.pdf
Immersive. (n.d.). In Dictionary.com. Retrieved from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/immersive?s=t
Pharo [computer software]. (n.d.). GNU General Public License.
programming environment. (n.d.). Techopedia. Retrieved from https://www.techopedia.com/definition/16376/development-environment
Unizor is an open source mathematics and physics Web site that seeks to promote intellectual strength, creativity and analytical abilities. Unizor’s founder, Zor Shekhtman, does this through a series of lectures on mathematics and physics designed to help high school students exercise the mind just as one would exercise his or her body in a gymnasium. The abilities strengthened by using Unizor can readily be applied to real life. Another great strength of Unizor is that parents and other responsible adults are placed in charge of their students’ education.
So, how does Unizor do this? A parent/supervisor goes to Unizor’s Web site and creates an account for him or herself. The parent/supervisor then has two roles. The first is to enroll his or her students into instructional programs. The second is to manage the learners’ progression through the programs. Each student has an account created by the parent/supervisor which makes this possible. From here, students’ progress can be monitored, including exam scores, and they can be passed on to the next level within the course.
How does Unizor work? Each topic is presented by Zor Shekhtman as a video lecture. Far from being dry, Zor conveys his enthusiasm for the curriculum through his instruction, which makes the lectures very engaging. Zor also utilizes visual aids and examples to enhance the learning experience. The educational experience is further augmented by the use of other media and materials. Furthermore, teachers are not left out. To quote from the Unizor home page, “The function of a Unizor teacher is to provide quality educational materials. Control over educational process is not a function of a Unizor teacher, this is supposed to be provided by parents/supervisors.” Teachers can modify both instructional content and exams as well.
Unizor has a very different approach to mathematics education than the more prevalent principles utilized by many schools. These principles have an emphasis on formulas and procedures and the memorization of these. The problem with this is that students, not finding immediate real-world application for this information, will soon forget it once the assessment is passed. Unizor focuses on a logical and analytical approach to mathematics education, encouraging problem-solving, proving theorems, axiomatic foundation and rigorousness of educational material. This approach is conducive to the development of students’ minds, something that will be of value in any occupation.
Unizor is ideal for learners who have been identified as gifted and talented. The opportunities for academic and intellectual growth abound here. Be aware, that Unizor is a work in progress. However, there are more than 400 lectures available with more to come. You should also know that the physics component is still predominantly under development. So take control of your student’s learning and create a supervisor account on Unizor’s Web site today.
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.
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’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
- 1 video out port
- 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 to be the most approachable upgrade for any laptop or desktop PC as it’s a fairly easy procedure and a fairly inexpensive one as well. I bought my 200-pin SO-DIMM 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 as well as being the maximum supported RAM for this system. 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, 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 the installation process. When it is completed, you will be prompted to remove the disc and restart the computer. When it restarts, enter the BIOS and restore the default boot settings. Save your settings, reboot and when the computer finishes booting, 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 at left..
Regarding the on-board wifi, you will find many discussions online about this topic. Rather than try 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 immediately. 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.