Saturday, November 28, 2009

2GB of free cloud back up

Good news for lovers of the cloud: Ubuntu 9.10 comes with 2GB of free cloud backup and storage! Install the client and sign up for the free account and Ubuntu One scans your files for changes and uploads any new or changed files to your cloud drive. So most of your backup problems disappear, but you can also access your files from any computer in the world. If you've got Ubuntu on your work computer and your home computer (like me), you can access the same file from two different locations. For instance, you can be working on a file at work, finish up for the day and head home. By the time you've logged on, the files have synced and you can open the same file and carry on at home. Now that's living in the cloud.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chromium OS launched

Exciting times for Linux geeks. Google has open sourced its disruptive operating system Chromium. Essentially it's a lightweight operating system that contains just enough to power a browser (which is where Google sees us doing just about everything in the near future). The way Google have been able to achieve a boot time of 7 seconds is to strip out everything that is not essential to running a browsers. Anyone who's used computer before is probably familiar with the way operating systems get slower and slower over the life of the device. This is quite convenient for peddlers of locked in operating system, because it means you're more likely to pay for an upgrade, but the root cause is often sloppy programming of third party software. What often happens is that programmers put parts of their code into the boot process so that it run all the time. Why? Because if 50% of their programme is running constantly, when you actually start that programme, it appears to load faster. So the program looks like it's nice and fast, but what it's actually doing is choking your entire computer. Not good in the long run.
With Google's 7 second boot and Ubuntu's goal of a 10 second boot in its next release, it looks like speed is going to become on of Linux's hallmarks in the years to come. It may just be the tipping point for an increasingly impatient market.
More on the Chromium OS:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Record and play back classes

One of the difficulties still facing educators (who have embraced ICTs or not) is the problem of making learning resources available to students who are not physically present in the classroom. Traditionally this has happened through the use of copied notes, and more recently through electronically captured and distributed resources. The problem with this is the fact that the majority of the intangible 'magic' of learning happens in the discussion and questioning that surrounds the resources. This 'magic' has been difficult to capture, except in a monolithic, podcast or video podcast which is not searchable or integrated with the notes, handouts and presentations being used.
Enter Synote. Synote is a web-based teaching tool that allows one to record video and audio of a class, run it through voice recognition to transcribe the conversations, then make it available for others to play back. Fast forward the video and the transcript fast forwards too. And it's available for full text search too.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Go Uruguay!!!

This is a wonderful endorsement of a wonderful programme. This from the BBC:

Uruguay has joined the small number of nations providing a laptop for every child attending state primary school.

President Tabaré Vázquez presented the final XO model laptops to pupils at a school in Montevideo on 13 October.

Over the last two years 362,000 pupils and 18,000 teachers have been involved in the scheme.

The "Plan Ceibal" (Education Connect) project has allowed many families access to the world of computers and the internet for the first time.

Mahara has LEAP2A support!

Great news out of the Mahara community this week:
"The latest, and I hope last, of the betas for Mahara 1.2 has just been released. The biggest piece of news regarding this is that Mahara has full LEAP2A support - in particular, you can export your account from one Mahara, and import it again to the same or a different Mahara, and the new account will have all of the data (files, blogs, Views) that the old account had."
Simple as this sounds, it's actually a huge enabler for lifelong learning through e-portfolios. Import/export of portfolios enables a youngster to begin building an e-portfolio in an Early Childhood Education centre (with a bit of help), then have that portfolio follow them through primary, intermediate, secondary, tertiary and into the workforce. This process has also been enabled by the Ministry who has had the foresight to use Mahara to power
It also means that students can move schools and have their portfolios follow them. Above all, it means a much better way to identify new students' strengths and learning needs before they enter an new school.
And of course at the end of the process, they are well set-up to share their achievements with potential employers who will employ them and pay them megabucks.
Well done to everyone in the Mahara community. This is a huge step forward for learning.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

ULearn 2009 conference presentation

Here are my notes from my presentation on 'The Open Source School' at ULearn.

Post comments if you've got any questions...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Windows 7 Parties

This is great. Host a party to help launch Windows 7. As the guy says: "Can you believe Microsoft put the launch of Windows 7 in our hands? Are they nuts or what?"

Saturday, September 26, 2009

It's conference season

Must be school holidays because it's conference season. First up is the SLANZA conference in Christchurch where I'm presenting with our wonderful librarian Sharon on Koha the open source library management system.

The second conference is ULearn, also in Christchurch. I'll post the slides from that presentation soon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Desktop publishing with Scribus

I'm presenting at the SLANZA conference next month on Koha the open source integrated library management system, and so I thought about ways to spread the word among delegates. 'Surely a tastefully designed flyer for the conference pack' I thought. I got in touch with the conference organisers to see if I could slip something in. (One of the problems with open source software is that often there's no one vendor who coordinates things like marketing, so proponents often become sales reps and marketers as well as advocates.) I knew Scribus was pretty good for throwing together professional-looking collateral, so I thought I'd give it a go. I'm no designer so my starting point was where I found a flyer for KDE designed by Flavio Tordini. A quick download and a few changes in Scribus and I had my flyer. If you need to do any desktop publishing (newsletters, magazines, flyers, posters etc.) have a go with Scribus: it's brilliant. The finished result, ready for conference packs:

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Open source video sharing site

We care about learning so much that we canceled classes on Wednesdays. Are we crazy? Well maybe, but what if I told you that some of our best learning happens on Wednesdays? At Albany Senior High School, Wednesday is Impact Project day. Students work with a supervising teacher to take an area of passion for them and turn it into learning. It's project-based learning and the 'impact' side of it comes from the requirement that it must make an impact on the community; it must give something back. Students work on everything from forming bands and arranging gigs through to supporting and learning more about local charities. We've also had some students comlete some pretty exciting open source projects. 'Ourtube' is one of the best. The students came to me and asked what the school needed more than anything else. I said "We've got a pretty good setup already, but one thing we're missing is a really nice youtube-style platform for teacher to use to show documentaries and animations to classes." 8 Wednesdays later, the school had a web-based video sharing site offering: uploading and transcoding, tagging, subscriptions, favourites, LDAP integration, comments and messages. All open source and all free of charge. It's built on Plumi, Plone and Flowplayer. In fact, it's so good, we're considering putting it in a data centre so other schools can start to use it.Copyright issues are largely taken care of by an agreement we have with a content provider and by our screenrights licence, but as time goes on, I'd love to get access to more Creative Commons content so that licencing becomes easier.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Move over Silicon Coach; enter Longomatch

I discovered this trawling through the Linux Journal. From the site: "LongoMatch is a sports video analysis tool for coaches and sports scientists, to assist them on making games video analysis. It simplifies video analysis by providing a set of intuitive tools to tag, review and edit the most importants plays of the game. It allows to group plays by categories and adjust the lead and lag time of each play frame by frame through a timeline. It also has support for playlists, an easy way to create presentations with plays from different games and provides a video editor to render new videos with your favorite plays. Even if it is primary focused to sports, LongoMatch can be used for any task that requires tagging and reviewing segments of a video file, and can be applied to fields like cinema, medics or conferences." It's great and is only v0.14.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Moodle and Mahara integration

This is an old post, but it's the first time I've seen a screencast of this feature in action. It's SSO between Moodle and Mahara demonstrating the function of pushing an artefact from the assignment module in Moodle through to the Mahara files area. As I see it, this is fundamental to a useable LMS/e-portfolio system. Good to see it's on its way:

Saturday, September 5, 2009

ASHS in the news

We recently featured in an interesting article in the New Zealand Herald. One quote captures our philosophy more than others: "What we were wanting to do when we were putting the school together was to give the students a broad range of skills and a broad range of tools so they could deepen their understanding of what they were learning and present information in new ways."
Read the full article here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

So what software do you use?

We have 100 student desktop computers running Ubuntu 8.10. Each machine has the following software installed:

  • Open Office
  • Freemind
  • Planner (Project Management)
  • Stellarium
  • GBrainy
  • KSeg (Geometry sketchpad)
  • Graphics:
  • Blender 3D
  • Gimp
  • Inkspace
  • Ocular
  • Scribus
Video and Audio:
  • Amarok
  • Audacity
  • Avidemux
  • Recordmydesktop
  • Kdenlive
  • Kino
  • Pitivi
  • LMMS
  • NtEd
  • QSynth
  • VLC
  • Rosegarden
  • Rhythmbox
  • Frescobaldi
  • Gambas
  • Bluefish
  • Eclipse
  • Alien Arena
  • Battle for Wesnoth
  • Flightgear
  • Frets on Fire
  • Nexuiz
  • Torcs
  • Warsow
  • Glest

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Open source digital signage

Today's the day we officially launch our digital signage system. When I say our, I mean the one given to the school by the amazing 16 year old who built it for us out of open source components. It runs on the Xibo open source digital signage system (which only requires an Apache server) and pulls in an RSS feed from our notices forum in Moodle. So if you post a notice to the intranet forum, 5 minutes later, your message is on 42" plasma screens around the school automatically. All the school had to do was buy the hardware and provide a little bit of space on our virtual server to host the system. The design for the background was done by another of our students who is on a work experience placement at a graphic designers. I tell you, these kids are so clever it's humbling.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Bitten by a penguin: the Windows user's guide to Linux

Two quick points:
  • Jon Jermey has written a nice little introduction to Linux, aimed at Windows users, and he's made it available for download as an e-book here. It's a really good summary of what Linux is, some of the major distributions available and why one might make the switch to one of them
  • Secondly, if you're not aware of it, Ubuntu Linux Live CDs are available here. A live CD lets you run an evaluation version of Linux without making changes to your existing system. These are really cool: pop in the CD, fire it up and have a play around. If you don't like it, eject the CD and it all goes away; if you do like it, double click install and it'll install a copy onto your computer. You can even keep your exisiting operating system (Windows or OSX) so you can choose between it and Linux. (If you don't know what a disk partition is, it might pay to ask someone who does to look over your shoulder while you install it, however.) I wondered why other software companies didn't offer a Live CD option, but then I realised that if MS had done this with Vista, no one would have bought it. Companies like Microsoft can't survive by offering people choice; they can only survive by compelling people to upgrade regularly. The need for cashflow determines the consumer's experience.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Linux tablet

This is cool. A 5 inch tablet or slate. BTW Why is it that we use stone age/industrial revolution language to describe these cutting edge things? It runs Android (the same operating system as the HTC Magic) and looks very, very cool.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Magic little phones

As a school that's interested in 21st century learning tools, we don't ban mobile phones at the gate. Far from it: we welcome students' mobile computing devices and have set our network up to accommodate them. We have banks of charging laptop locker to keep portable devices secure when they are not being used; we have a wireless network that allows any device to connect to it and we use portable devices (iPods, phones etc.) in learning wherever possible.
We've been thinking about getting iPhones for the Senior Leadership Team for a while but something kept gnawing at me: how could we as an open source school encourage the use of proprietary operating systems on smartphones? Clearly we couldn't, and we decided to put our money where our mouths were: we took possession yesterday of 5 HTC Magic phones running Google's Android OS, which is in turn based on Linux. I took it home last night and spent most of the evening playing with it and I have to say that seeing a Linux-powered phone competing function for function with an iPhone was a great feeling. (My wife has already started referring to herself as an 'Android Widow'.) Have a look at the features. It's a magic little phone.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Software Freedom Day

It's rapidly approaching and feels like some kind of landmark: it's the first software freedom day to be celebrated by Albany Senior High School. We've decided to do things in our own way, and have chosen to hold a LAN party (with pizza and drinks) playing only open source games. Students are arranging themselves into teams of four and will play each other in capture the flag and deathmatch games. Our relationship with games at ASHS is an interesting one: we have Wine installed on our Ubuntu machines, and very quickly students realised that they could bring in Windows games and play them on our network. Within a very short space of time (and with the help of a few USB sticks) students were arranging their own LAN parties at lunchtime using software of questionable legality (at best). One of our staff members and I sat the gamers down and explained our dilemma: we didn't mind them playing games; what we did mind was them pirating software in order to do it. We decided to explore other alternatives including open source games, and quickly found out there are quite a few more than reasonable Linux-based options. Within a few days we had added a dozen games to our machines and the students were tearing into them. The two most popular are Alien Arena:
...and Nexuiz:
So now our students play legal, open-source games, and we're going to celebrate the fact on 18th Sept with our very own LAN party.
Interestingly the PIRLS 2006 survey found outside of school on a normal day, 49% of teenagers play computer games for more than 1 hr/day while 66% watch television for more than 1hr/day. Clearly teenagers play games, and clearly we need to accept this fact if we're ever going to be able to harness them for learning. With more and more games and simulations being used to train doctors, pilots, engineers and planners its only a matter of time before the play a key role in education. For some of the best games I've seen in a long time, have a look at Games for Change.
For the record, we have the following games installed on all of our machines:
  • Alien Arena
  • Battle for Wesnoth
  • Flightgear
  • Frets on Fire
  • Nexuiz
  • Torcs
  • Warsow
  • Glest
What really brought a smile to my face was an email I received last week: extremely polite, very well composed, and reading something like this: "While we appreciate the games you provide for us already, we have noticed there is a lack of strategy games on the school machines. We have researched open-source strategy games and would appreciate it if you added the following to the student computers..."
I'm adding them now.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Open source up; locked in down

I was recently passed this really interesting survey Forrester Consulting has carried out. It found that 81% of enterprises have already deployed open source desktop/productivity software or are planning to with 12 months.
See the full report here.

Another report caught my eye, this one noting:
  • More than 72 percent of those surveyed are either actively evaluating or have already decided to increase their adoption of Linux on the server in 2009, with more than 68 percent making the same claim for the desktop;
  • The recession is forcing many IT buyers to re-evaluate purchasing strategies in order to save costs, with open source increasingly getting the nod. IDC found that the recession is driving even more adoption of Linux, and new Forrester data suggests that cost savings will help open source well beyond Linux."
See the full report here.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Koha and SCIS

Funny how things work: at almost the same time as Mason James finished work on our Koha/SCIS integration, I noticed this on the website:

In a boon to Australian and New Zealand schools considering the Koha open source integrated library management system, CALYX information essentials recently demonstrated the seamless upload of bibliographic records from SCIS to Koha.

...which is preciesly what Mason has just done for us. Great minds think alike I guess. The Calyx site also has a great explanation of why Koha is such a create ILS:

Why Koha?

Koha is a full featured integrated library system (ILS). In use worldwide in libraries of all sizes, Koha is a true enterprise-class ILS with comprehensive functionality including basic or advanced options. Koha includes modules for circulation, cataloguing, acquisitions, serials, reserves, patron management, branch relationships, and more. For a comprehensive overview of features visit the Koha feature map.


  • Friendly and intuitive web-based catalogue searching
  • Accessible from any web enabled computer
  • Powerful self-service tools for patrons
  • Circulation, borrower and fees management
  • Acquisitions, cataloguing, authority control, serials
  • Koha 3.0 is OAI-PMH compatible
  • FRBR-style results display
  • True n-tier architecture
  • Granular permissions in the administration module
  • Branch flexibility and control
  • Easily create records from scratch or download records from free sources
  • Customize record types and locations to match your needs
  • Web-based search engine integrates with your existing intranet
  • Can easily integrate with existing member’s database
  • Manage digital objects
  • Reading-level, abstracts, thumbnail cover images
  • Full utilization of record metadata
  • Incorporate digital resources directly into the catalog results
  • Integrated federated searches for databases and other external resources
  • Library standards compliance (MARC, Z39.50)
  • A powerful full-featured search engine
  • Scalability from a thousand to tens of millions of records
  • Multiple record formats (MARC, XML, etc.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Return on Investment has a great calculator for assessing the investment made into open source projects. It takes a project and analyses its code, then works out how much it would cost to pay a developer (at $55,000k/yr) to produce an equivalent project. Some of the projects took even me by surprise: got a spare US$150m? You could commission an Office suite. If your fortunes have waned a little in the recessionary times and you only US$15m sitting round, you can buy yourself a graphic manipulation project similar to Photoshop. It makes Firefox seem like a bargain at only US$840,000!!
Some of my other favourite projects are listed below:

Open Office:




However you look at it, these numbers are a ringing endorsement of the open source model. Individuals, groups and organisations contributing a few hours (or dollars) here and there can pull together teams that dwarf most software development companies, simply by harnessing the power of community. But the great thing is that for the end user, it's all free.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Open Source School in print

We've just been featured in an article in the Education Gazette, the most widely read school publication in New Zealand. This is really exciting for us, because from the outset we've wanted to spread the word about how good Open Source software is and what is possible with it. Here's an extract from the article:

"We wanted to offer our students a wide range of powerful tools without being crippled by excessive software licencing costs. To provide the range of software tools we wanted, we would need to pay several thousand dollars per computer, which would be on top of the purchase price of the hardware. We also value openness, transparency, and the learning community, but compelling potential collaborators to purchase software before they could work with us seemed to run contrary to our values. With proprietary software, information is locked up inside a case (or file format). Others must have the right application in order to unlock that file and decipher the information it contains. It's not open, not transparent and not egalitarian. If the information is contained in a Photoshop document, it costs the other person $1200 for the privilege of unlocking that document and to begin collaborating with me."

The full article is available online here.

Library 2.0, tagging and the Tenenbaums

I've got a good sized DVD collection. My top 5 DVDs change all the time but there are a few with which I couldn't live without: The Royal Tenenbaums, Citizen Kane, Rushmore. My collection stretches to about 80 carefully selected items, all arranged alphabetically by title -a bit obsessive I know, but I used to work in a library. Alphabetically by title makes perfect sense to me, but depending on who you are, you might nit like my method of cataloging items- you might choose to group actors together, or use genre, or Director, or... or...
My point is that any system of organising things only works if it makes sense to you. Which is where tagging comes in. Using tags is a good way of letting users bring their own method or organisation to a collection of items: they can label things with their own keywords. These keywords can be gathered together across all users and displayed in the form of a cloud.
Our library management system Koha allows patrons to add their own tags to items from either the search results or details page. It's true library 2.0 but it has the benefit of allowing patrons to use a taxonomy or a folksonomy.

Gimp is great but I wish they'd change the name

Manipulated graphic images are so ubiquitous these days. Photoshop has played such a role in popularising this kind of artform that it has even managed to become synonymous with it. At ASHS we wanted our students to learn how to create these kinds of images, but we didn't want to pay tens of thousands of dollars, and nor did we want to only allow a privileged few to develop these skills. Enter GIMP. Gimp can do just about everything Photoshop can do: resizing and cropping photos, altering colors, combining multiple images, removing unwanted image components, and converting between different image formats, but it's open source and it's free.
So this is GIMP: great App; pity about the name:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Let me tell you about our school

Albany Senior High School (ASHS) opened on February 3 2009 with 242 year 11 students. It's NZ's first state-funded senior high school and has some rather cool features. As you may have seen, we're an open-source school, but we also have flexible learning communities (no shoebox classrooms here), and a curriculum for the 21st century that includes student-directed, project-based learning and dedicated tutorial time. Our permanent campus site is a flurry of activity as our building (below) is constructed, ready for us to move into in February 2009.

New features in Ubuntu 9

At Albany Senior High School, we've got 100 student desktop and 24 staff laptop computers running Ubuntu Linux. So when I saw that v9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope) was only 8 days away I had a good look at the new features. The cloud computing and turnkey mail server look quite good, and the support for external monitors looks useful as well. It feels pretty good to know that while I'm sitting on my chuff these fantastic developers are beavering away producing new features for me to use without sending me the bill.
But which new features deserve to see the light of day? If you swing by you can see some of these new features and even participate in their development. Community members propose new features and other community member vote them either up or down. Crowdsourcing the selection process means you tap into a committed developer community full of great ideas. And somehow I trust the community to come up with better ideas than a focus group or a group of coders sitting around a table with a kushball. Swing by the brainstorm and vote for a few ideas. You never know- they may turn up in the next release!

Koha and 5 star ratings

Our developer Mason James has just finished a prototype for a 5-star rating system for our Koha installation. At the moment it's only available on the testing site but it's looking really good. Patrons can log in, search for an item, rate it (on the search results or details page) and share those ratings with others.
I'm thinking that if we can get students to log in to rate an item, we're close to getting them to log in and write reviews, renew books, tag items etc. There's also a deeper goal here: if students see other students rating and making reading recommendations, it's the ultimate way to create a culture that promotes literacy and reading.

Edit: this feature is being contributed to Koha 3.2 along with our reading recommendation engine.