Monthly Archives: January 2009

Google decides the whole interweb will harm your computer!

Wow, that was an exciting 20 mins on an otherwise quiet Saturday afternoon…

Google turned on the interwebs and flagged everything as malware with this label under every site link ‘this site may harm your computer’. Well of course an upshot of this was for Twitter to go ballistic as around the world people asked what was going on. I was having problems keeping up with the amount of comments and questions going through the various hashtag searches such as #googlemayharm.

So was it…
* Skynet escaped its cage?
* A malicious attack?
* An update gone wrong?
* Something else b0rked
* Google testing to see if we’re awake?

Anyways… I wonder how this affected business globally – if it had been on a weekday would it have had a bigger impact? Were Norad scrambled?

It was kinda exciting as it gave us conspiracy theorists a few minutes to fantasize about Machiavellian possibilities ;-)

Well seems to be fixed and no word from Google yet, so move along now…

Sad news. So who are the role models for kids today?

We’re only 3 weeks into 2009 and already I’ve lost two really big influences in my life: Oliver Postgate who created my beloved Bagpuss, Clangers and Ivor the Engine, and yesterday I heard that Tony Hart had passed away – his Gallery was the pinnacle of greatness for any young artist to be included in. Sadly none of my submissions got there, but didn’t stop my enthusiasm and I still went on to get a 2:1 in Fine Art – which I doubt I would have done without Tony’s weekly inspiration.

As the news of the passing of these two much loved chaps filtered through Twitter, Facebook and various forums, I got a sense of how much these people meant to my peers – a real generational outpouring of sadness and inspirational tales that I hadn’t seen so much of since the untimely death of John Peel.

Happily some of my other childhood inspirations: Patrick Moore, Johnny Ball, Rolf Harris & John Noakes are still around – but I’m struggling to find some women to add to this list… Erk. Why?

So, who are the role models, (some females too please!) for the present generation of children and who is inspiring them to get writing, painting, inventing and coding?

UPDATE:
* Re female role models of my generation, my colleague Bruce James just came over and suggested Judith Hann who presented UK science & tech prog Tomorrow’s World for 20 years (1974-1994) and was the longest serving presenter (nice one, Bruce).

BETT 09, 14-17 Jan, Olympia

The couple of hours I spent at BETT yesterday didn’t really do it justice – if you haven’t been, BETT is a huge annual technology in education expo at Olympia, London.

Here are my highlights:

I had a great chat with the Q4 Go-Robo studio folk – they have created a programming system/interface that enables students to create time-line applications for WowWee robots – you can also run these so that you have multiple robots operating in sync. This technology encourages school children to get interested in programming. The GRIDscript programming language is a bit like LOGO or visual basic.

What particularly interested me was a project involving the Go-Robo Choreographer kit with a ‘Femisapien‘ female robot – basically, there aren’t many ‘female’ robots in existence and so this was perfect for a project that they told me about that involved girls from Milford School to customise robots using the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing brand as inspiration.

The choreographer system allowed the girls to write dance routines – the robots memory can hold up to 80 commands for dance sequences, the girls also designed outfits and characters for their robots. They made a great video about their experiences – do have a look, its fab!

UPDATE: a really interesting Robotspodcast with Mark Tilden, designer of many WowWee biomorphic robot toys such as Femisapien – he has a few things to say about technology and the female of the species as well as insights into what’s round the corner for robotics, inspiring girls, tinkering & Maker Faires.

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I really liked the POB robot maker, as with the various servomotors and interfaces you can make many combinations of robot in various mods such as POB-eye, NXT Lego 12C and can manage USB, Bluetooth ports. The robots can be programmed with RISBEE graphical dev software and C which compiles with AVR studio for advanced users. I saw the robots using detect sensors and was really pleased that you can even get an Arduino kit for them.

Another robotic kit that interested me was Robobuilder – this kit doesn’t require any interest in programming as you can download motion modules to get it to run movement sequences. You can get an educational kit for it for more advanced motion control study. I guess the hook for this is that you can build your robot from a kit and indulge in community chat and sharing of ideas.

UPDATE: should mention that I saw the robots in the two above paragraphs on the Robosavvy stall.
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I enjoyed my visit the Lego Mindstorms education stand – I saw some lovely robots to use with ICT, science and maths learning. There’s a really nice choice of sensors you can put together: eg temperature, touch, movement, accelerometer, etc with a NXT 32-bit brick to run commands in lessons. Really wish we had this stuff when I was at school to build and encourage interest in science & programming as it’s so engaging and motivational.

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Had a good chat with the Unimatic people – I’m fascinated by 3D printer tech and it was great to have some people at BETT to indulge me in chat and ask questions. The whole subject is really rather intriguing and I love some of the more futuristic predictions involving nanotechnology & grey goo, but for today I’m just happy to poke and prod and look at rapid prototyping objects such as tiny scale cars that even have wheel axel space without being drilled.

I had a look at a couple of kits that are really quite reasonably priced, eg the RapMan: 750UKP for a 3D printer assembly kit and 20UKP per kilo of the polyethylene (or other materials) that is pumped and weaved out of a gun-like nozzle to make up the prototypes. This kit is aimed at students for printing their designs and can even print some of it’s own replacement parts.

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Other cool stuff:

* Assistive technologies such as new keyboard designs with www.microlinkpc.co.uk

* Really fast, portable OCR technology and braille keyboards

* Games based revision and assessment – motivating students to learn and revise: www.iamlearning.co.uk

* Interactive whiteboard technologies: www.mimio.com

* Dance mat based exercise routines (just like DDR) for the classroom http://www.cyber-coach.co.uk – actually asked my personal trainer a year ago if we could have this stuff at our gym, to no avail ;-)

* Video and broadcast technology – encouraging learning experiences in front of and behind the camera. Also loads of neat design and presentation applications.

I missed tons of stuff, but as ever it’s so difficult to view and take in everything at BETT in one session – though I really enjoyed what I saw.

TeachMeet at BETT 09, January 16th

Last night I went along to TeachMeet an unconference for teachers, held upstairs at BETT. At first I thought I’d stumbled into an awards ceremony as I entered a huge room filled with round, clothed tables filled with chattering cheery people. Within 5 minutes someone has given me some LOLcat inspired drinks vouchers and I have a glass of red wine. I joined a table with some equally friendly people, the first person I chat to is an ex-headteacher who is smiling and nodding to people as they pass. Other people are wandering about taking photos and filming the event – generally being very organised and enthusiastic.

This is a very grown-up unconference – the drinks and nibbles are sorted, the venue is very comfortable and the 150 or so people are saying their hellos – there’s a lot of friends and colleagues here.

On one large screen is projected Monitter – which allows you to search for tweets by subject and the three columns are displaying three different twitter hashtag streams on TeachMeet. On the stage screen, a large one arm bandit is projected filled with names – this turns out to be a random generator for picking who talks – basically far too many people than possible presentation slots have signed up during the weeks before the event and their names were entered into the random generator to be picked. This is a little different to the unconference format I know because I’m used to lots of rooms or areas to breakout in and having many talks running simultaneously. There’s also a camel – there’s a time limit on the talks and if you go over the camel gets thrown at the speaker (which it did several times as people had a lot to say)!

I have to mention that the most talked about thing all evening was Twitter, people were evangelising about it all night as something that was revolutionalising their lives and their teaching experience. The backchannels were chocka!

Some quick highlights then…

* Twitter was being used in lessons to help students understand Google Earth better – the teacher presenting challenged them to find their classroom and then others on Google Earth by chatting and asking questions of people of Twitter – they then found school locations for example by finding the name of a school on a football pitch.

* Teachers from all over the country were tuning in via FlashMeeting one of the presentations was shown on the stage screen in this way.

* Greg Hodgson uses threaded stories created in Photoshop to illustrate news stories. Students used their Photoshop creations to illustrate their work and to generate new stories.

* “Hi I’m Drew and I’m a Twitter addict” is how one teacher introduced himself – he teaches GCSE IT and used Twitter to create a personal learning network and encourages people to join in. He went on to say that “Twitter is my Google” – he says that he doesn’t use Google unless he can’t find an answer on Twitter – he follows 2000 people.

* We heard about a band who publish their music under Creative Commons licence and invite students to remix it.

* Another interesting project was how graphic novels were being re-written in textspeak.

* It was announced that the hashtag #tmbett09 was no 8 on Twitter subjects at the time of the unconference. I don’t doubt it as the backchannel was full of chatter – I was finding it hard to keep up!

* This site was shown in another presentation http://mathtrain.com

The evening was followed by a sponsored meal at Pizza Express – overall it was a great night and really good to hear peoples stories and experiences.

Bettr at Demos, 14th January 09

On Tuesday the 14th I went along to the cosy Demos offices with some of my colleagues to Bettr – a one day education unconference coinciding with the BETT education and technology conference at Kensington Olympia.

It was an interesting day with some very cool people and ideas. Here’s a few snapshots…

* I heard the BBC described as ‘a quasi arm of the government’ which certainly raised a few eyebrows and caused Geeorge Auckland to remark “bollocks”!

* I watched Ian Forrester nearly go into meltdown on the suggestion that schools should be ‘Apple-isd’ the ensuing discussion was quite interesting as Cubicgarden made the point in reply that Apple is a very closed entity and that using open source tools is a good idea – ‘just use Twitter – you don’t need to rebuilt it!’

* Dave Pook (Sqoo) – did a good session on web services and education. This generated lots of thoughtful comments and conversation.

* Heard an interesting debate on ‘what can we learn from from 2.0 learning apps?’ The audience discussed technologies that have come and gone or ended up in ghettos.

* A chap from www.tinker.it talked about experiences of unconferences – from planning to organising forums and publisising events on sites like Upcoming.

* Ant did a session on a BBC Micro for the 21st Century, which intrigued and was enjoyed by quite a crowd.

* My partner in crime at Backstage, Ian Forrester, gave a talk on our new Ideas Store – an area to submit and talk about ideas. Hannah, James & George talked about Open Lab (Open Learning) and George fielded some unexpected questions on the BBC Archive.

* Dave Green talked about the London Games Fringe.

* JISC dev8D – developer happiness days were talked about.

* People from the Young Foundation gave a quick talk – they’re keen to give away money to social entrepreneurs aged 14-25 and are looking for scaleable and sustainable ideas.

Kernel Panic or a detour down Mac memory lane!

Feeling a bit sorry for myself today, as I was a bit unexpectedly sick last night (enough info) followed by a rotten aura migraine. Anyways, Salem, my dear old PowerBook G4 came out in sympathy with me earlier, with what appeared to be his own kernel panic…

A quick reboot seems to have cured Salem for now, though Apple’s support pages suggest I might have to reset the NVRAM and PRAM by holding down X on next start-up (hopefully not an OS install). I presume this is the equivalent to what used to be called in the bad old days of 90s PowerPCs ‘zap the PeeeeeRAM’ (sic) which was holding down Command + Alt +P+R at start up. Gosh thems were the days, I wonder who also remembers jolly times spent turning MAC OS extensions off and on until successfully finding the one that was conflicting with whatever you wanted to run? ;-)

Anyways, I’m still feeling a bit grobbley, hope my kernel panic is past it’s worst and I don’t have to get anything zapped!