Thursday, July 12, 2012

Open Source GIS Software

Actually there is a ton of free GIS software out there, but I've found QGIS to be the best of the bunch:

"Quantum GIS (QGIS) is a powerful and user friendly Open Source Geographic Information System (GIS) that runs on Linux, Unix, Mac OSX, Windows and Android. QGIS supports vector, raster, and database formats. QGIS is licensed under the GNU Public License. "

  • Direct viewing of vector and raster data in different formats and projections. Supported formats include: 
  • Mapping and interactive exploration of spatial data. Tools include: 
  • Create, edit and export spatial data 
  • Perform spatial analysis,  
  • Publish your map on the internet using QGIS Server or the "Export to Mapfile" capability (requires UMN MapServer
  • Adapt QGIS to your needs through the extensible plugin architecture.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Unity3D embraces Linux

Each Wednesday at our school students get to choose what they study. It's called an impact project and students work with teachers and mentors from the community to learn deeply and make the world a better place. Our school's contribution to the world is to help students see opportunities, innovate, be creative and become entrepreneurs. It's an awesome day to be a teachers and it's equally awesome to see what students are capable of when they are put in charge of their own learning.

A lot of students choose to build their own computer games, and a lot of them use Unity3D as their game development engine. It's an awesome open source engine that helps developers get up and running quickly. So I was pretty excited to see that the next release will export native Linux games:

So, yeah, I'm pretty excited.

Virtual Electron Microscope

"The Virtual Microscope is a NASA-funded project that provides simulated scientific instrumentation for students and researchers worldwide as part of NASA's Virtual Laboratory initiative. This site serves as home base for theImaging Technology Group's contributions to that project—namely virtual microscopes and the multi-dimensional, high-resolution image datasets they view. Currently we provide 90 samples totaling over 62 gigapixels of image data. The Virtual Microscope, which is available for free downloadsupports functionality from electron, light, and scanning probe microscopes, datasets for these instruments, training materials to learn more about microscopy, and other related tools. The project is open source and the code is available on Sourceforge."

Sunday, July 8, 2012

How safe are your blueprints?

James Bond and Knight rider might have had to resort to using tiny cameras to take photos of secret blueprints, but it seems today's data thieves don't need to go to such lengths. There are reports of a virus spreading through installations of AutoCAD that is sending sensitive data to email addresses in China.

Free software has fewer viruses, partly because everyone can see the code (warts and all) so everyone can spot potential security breaches. Sadly if you keep your code hidden from your users, you're really just helping writers of viruses do their work.

If you're worried about the security of your CAD data, use something open source like Draftsight.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Get off my lawn!

If you've ever told any of those young punks to get off your lawn, or found yourself despairing at 'kids these days' it's important to remind yourself that thus it has always been. One of the constants since the beginning of time has been one generation despairing at the next. Even Socrates felt that youth should be trained in such things as "when the young are to be silent before their elders; how they are to show respect to them by standing and making them sit; what honour is due to parents; what garments or shoes are to be worn; the mode of dressing the hair; deportment and manners in general" I bet he chased a few kids off the lawn.

Just so we remember that the kids are alright, here's a study to show that children these days are no "less attentive or more distractible than kids in the past"
"The study gave a large sample of kids the "Gordon Diagnostic System" GDS test of sustained concentration ability. This dates to the 80s and it consists of a box, with a button, and a display with three digits. There are three different tasks but the main one is a sustained attention test. The goal is to watch a series of numbers and quickly press the button whenever a "1" is followed by a "9". Easy... but it takes concentration to do well.
Over the period of 2000-2006, the researchers gave the GDS to 445 healthy American kids, not diagnosed with any learning or behavioural disorder and not taking medication. They compared their scores to the standardized norms - which were based on a sample of American kids back in 1983.
The results showed that today's kids scored pretty much the same, on average, as the 1983 kids. The average age-standardized scores were extremely close to the 1983 means, across the board. Children diagnosed with ADHD, as expected, scored much worse. Oddly, kids with an Autism Spectrum Disorder did just as badly as the ADHD ones."

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Free is better, even when you can pay...

I spotted this little fairytale on Wes Fryer's blog recently. It's a tale of learning, budgetary constraints and the triumph of free software.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Make Space: Tools

Make Space is a book about space and how it is used for learning. It's organised along five themes:

  • Tools (useful things that fill up a space)
  • Situations (quick, repeatable configurations or patterns)
  • Design template (breakdown of the elements at play in a space, or the game behind the game)
  • Space studies (first person dispatches from the front lines of space design), and
  • Insights (kernels of understanding we've discovered through our 'trials and errors')
Here are some of the great tools from the book:
Transit trolley where the G clamps holding it
together form handles

Rear projection screens
Bar clamps with eyelets used to hang displays from.

Modified clothes rack becomes a 'z rack' or
mobile whiteboard / screen /divider.

Hanging screens could be combined with suction
cups/plungers to be affixed to  walls/windows etc.

Portable 'scoop stool' screen

T-walls for portable display space.

T walls in different configurations
can create many different spaces.

Your imagination + Arduino = Anything

Here's Massimo Banzi's TED talk on Arduinos. It's a wonderful talk for anyone who has an imagination and a desire to do cool things with technology.

Some of the projects he mentions are:

  • An RFID-powered cat feeder to make sure Fido doesn't eat Felix's food.
  • A quadcopter powered by Arduino
  • A TV that mutes itself when Kim Kardasian comes on.
  • New musical instruments
  • A glove that interprets sign-language and prints the message the signer is signing.
  • A PS3 interface that allows children with limited movement to play games
  • Plants that tweet, and even...
  • A chair that tweet when someone farts.

"Massimo Banzi helped invent the Arduino, a tiny, easy-to-use open-source microcontroller that's inspired thousands of people around the world to make the coolest things they can imagine -- from toys to satellite gear. Because, as he says, "You don't need anyone's permission to make something great." "