Gaming Lagoon

Gaming Lagoon


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Technology in Schools

Technology is ubiquitous, touching almost every part of our lives, our communities, our homes. Yet most schools lag far behind when it comes to integrating technology into classroom learning. Many are just beginning to explore the true potential tech offers for teaching and learning. Properly used, technology will help students acquire the skills they need to survive in a complex, highly technological knowledge-based economy.

Integrating technology into classroom instruction means more than teaching basic computer skills and software programs in a separate computer class. Effective tech integration must happen across the curriculum in ways that research shows deepen and enhance the learning process. In particular, it must support four key components of learning: active engagement, participation in groups, frequent interaction and feedback, and connection to real-world experts. Effective technology integration is achieved when the use of technology is routine and transparent and when technology supports curricular goals.

Many people believe that technology-enabled project learning is the ne plus ultra of classroom instruction. Learning through projects while equipped with technology tools allows students to be intellectually challenged while providing them with a realistic snapshot of what the modern office looks like. Through projects, students acquire and refine their analysis and problem-solving skills as they work individually and in teams to find, process, and synthesize information they've found online.
The myriad resources of the online world also provide each classroom with more interesting, diverse, and current learning materials. The Web connects students to experts in the real world and provides numerous opportunities for expressing understanding through images, sound, and text.

New tech tools for visualizing and modeling, especially in the sciences, offer students ways to experiment and observe phenomenon and to view results in graphic ways that aid in understanding. And, as an added benefit, with technology tools and a project-learning approach, students are more likely to stay engaged and on task, reducing behavioral problems in the classroom.

Technology also changes the way teachers teach, offering educators effective ways to reach different types of learners and assess student understanding through multiple means. It also enhances the relationship between teacher and student. When technology is effectively integrated into subject areas, teachers grow into roles of adviser, content expert, and coach. Technology helps make teaching and learning more meaningful and fun.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Time for some Enlightenment.

In the days of old when knights were bold and computers not invented. Men did stocks with wires and blocks and results were not as intended. :)

Then computers were conceived, with the result of massive sales of pizza, chips and fizzy and/or caffeine loaded drinks. The first computers were, by today's standards, slow and limited. Programs had to be written to make the best use of available CPU cycles. They had to get the most bang for their buck so to speak.

As computers have become faster so have programmers become lazier. It seems to me that individual programmers believe that their program is the only one that will run on the computer and will have access to all of its resources. They also seem to think that once a function is working then it doesn't need to be looked at, until it either needs to be expanded or is broken. These and several other reasons, often result in programs which perform under par and use much more resources than are actually needed. Once you have several programs like this on your computer then it starts running slower than molasses in Siberia during winter.

As you probably know I have recently been using an ancient, by computer standards, laptop for the past couple of weeks and it really shows up the differences between program efficiencies. Whether it is a web browser, file manager, music or video player. I have spent many dozens of hours compiling, deleting and again compiling other programs to test them out and choose the best, for me, ones.

However, even though I like my command line I also like a bit of eye candy to soothe the savage beast in me :) To that extent the window manager has to be light, both in computer resources and on the eyes. In other words I want to have my candy and eat it too. One thing I did find surprising was that the window manager has more of an effect on running programs than I thought. Then I used to think that my big toe was stuck out of bed, until I stood up to tuck it in.

I used to think that once a program was running, the window manager was out of the way and the program did it's thing. Working with slow hardware cured me of that naiveness. The window manager really does have a large effect, especially making the difference between a smooth running or stuttering video playback. I choose video playback because it is the most resource intensive visible usage of a computer. Just to recap the laptop is a P3 500Mhz with 256Mb of ram.

Still, in the interests of efficiency I eventually settled on XFCE as my desktop environment to give me a balance of eye candy and resource efficiency. It did everything quite well and I had no trouble watching videos. Until I tried playing some high resolution matroska video files. I knew that these files would push the computer to the limits but I did want to watch my Star Trek.

The poor little thing started to act like someone had shoved a whole hard boiled egg in it's mouth. It literally choked up. It did bravely struggle on and the audio was fine but the video was about one frame per thirty seconds. Not entirely good enough. So I went on the warpath for a more efficient window manager, which could still provide me with my eye candy.

Remembering back to my first days of Linux, too many years ago to count :) I remembered that there was a window manager called Enlightenment. It was far ahead of its time in terms of eye candy but the user interface paradigm was completely different to windows and I wanted something windows like. For that reason I had chosen KDE until they brought out the 4 series.

So I decided to break away from the, what Linux detractors call, windows 95 look and give Enlightenment another try. Enlightenment 16 was easy to install and looked and felt exactly the same as it did when I first became involved in Linux. It was minuscule too at using only 1.6% of the computers memory. However I wanted something more modern so I gave Enlightenment 17 a try.

Once it was installed I was immediately impressed by the eye candy. Just the default was much better than my tweaked XFCE. The memory usage was about on par with XFCE, a bit less at 3.5% compared to 4.3%. The memory usage is not the whole story however.

XFCE is a desktop environment and not just a window manager so it does have other stuff running besides the window manager. All in all about ten processes. Enlightenment only had about three. I was getting much more bang for my buck. Better eye candy and less resources used. My little old laptops total memory usage, straight after turning it on and before any programs are launched, dropped from 123Mb to 85Mb. When you only have 256Mb to play with that is a big difference.

The big test and deal sealer for me was will it blend play my Star Trek. Surprise, surprise, I actually got a smooth playing video file, with eye candy, compositing and graphical effects (rain, snow, fire, marching penguins, etc.) so I was a happy chappy.

There are caveats. E17, as it is often referred to , is still in heavy development so I am right on the bleeding edge here. It has crashed on me several times but all that happens is the window manager restarts. No other programs are affected. So I find it quite usable and am now looking at putting it on my other machines.

What window manager(s) do you use? Do you go more for eye candy or utilitarian (the so called w95 look) window managers. Do you even use window managers :) Why did you choose what you use? Can you suggest an even better window manager than E17? Tell me in the comments below.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fat or thin, it's your choice.

People say that you can choose how fat or thin you are simply by combining a proper diet with regular exercise. For some reason it doesn't work for me. No matter how many slices of pizza I cut down on or how little beer I drink it doesn't seem to make any difference to my waistline. I do exercise too. I make it a special task to walk as many times to the icebox as I can. So it seems that I have no choice and it is a genetic thing that my body is the way it is.

With Linux however, I do have a choice. It doesn't matter what distribution I use, I can configure my Linux installation to be as fat or thin as I like. Even so called bloated distributions can be made slim and trim. I just wish my belly could be :) Not just the bloated ones. The specialist thin distributions can quite easily become just as fat as the rest of them.

The reason for all of these different distributions is mainly because someone or a group of people wish for a Linux distribution to work in a certain manner. If there is not one available then they will go out and create their own. If their vision is shared by many then that distribution becomes popular, eg. Ubuntu. If not then it stays a hobby project or fades away.

In the end Linux, is Linux, is Linux. It all works exactly the same underneath. Pretty much the same as people. We all look different (I bet you are glad that there is no-one else who looks like me :) yet, barring some horrible disease, all our bones are the same, all the organs are in the same place and the differences are minor.

This was brought home to me a few days ago when I visited the BodyWorld exhibition being displayed in Istanbul. Stripped of our skin, with all of our internals displayed for the world to see, there is no way that people could be told apart. Linux is exactly like that.

Once you strip off the skin of any Linux distribution and by skin I mean the minor differences between Linux distributions, then they are all the same. Sure there are age differences between the installed programs but unless our parents were all enjoying the same moment at the same time then we are not all the same age either.

The point here is that, no matter what Linux distribution you start from, you can make it do anything, be anything or look like anything. If wished you can take an Ubuntu installation and have it look, feel and perform like a Fedora distribution. Or you can take a Fedora installation and have it as slim and trim as Puppy Linux.

All it takes is a wish to do so and a desire to act. This is the freedom which Linux gives you. The freedom to have your computer exactly how you want it to be. The flexibility of Linux and it's devilled kindred allows you to mix and match, squish and scratch to fit or fill any desired form factor. It is really the Flubber of operating systems.

What is your desire? Do you like a fat system with all the bells and whistles and so much eye candy your eyeballs rot? Would you prefer a lean mean computing machine and save your cpu cycles for real work? With Linux you can have it all. Tell us how you have modified your chosen distribution to suit your personality in the comments below.

Open source, helping the children of the future.

The children today have it lucky. I probably sound like I have one foot in the grave with that line but I still think that you are only as old as you feel. I would like to feel twenty year olds but my wife has different ideas :) Hrmph, hmmm, back to the subject.

Yes, children today have it lucky. This thought struck me as I entered an elevator (or lift) and there was a mother with her child there. The child had an electric trike. I have also seen many other children (all around five or six) with motorised toys. I have even seen them so young they could hardly walk yet were, snake like, meandering around in an electric toy jeep.

Then there are all the other toys and doodads which require a charger or batteries to make them do and create all sorts of electronic wonderlands for the impressionable minds of our next generations. When I was a young whippersnapper and still wet behind the ears (I like to think I still am :) electronic toys were unheard of. About the closest thing was a battery powered monkey which clashed cymbals together until either the batteries ran out or your father, in a fit of tinnitus induced rage, destroyed it like a rabid dog.

One thing I do remember is no matter what I had, I would pull it apart to see what makes it tick, whirr or go ping. Most of the time when I put it back together it would still work. The occasional extra spring or sprocket didn't seem to affect the wocket in my pocket much.

These days children have iThis and iThat as well as cell(mobile) phones, netbooks, laptops and the now common desktop pc. The problem with these is that the exploration potential of these devices is very limited. You can open them up and see, what? A circuit board, a few extraneous components and that is about it. There is nothing to show how it is working. Nothing to pull out and be surprised by a loud sproing and greeted with a twisted metal ribbon which must be wrestled into a tight coil again.

About the only thing the children of the future have left now is exploration of the mind. Not theirs, their mind is still forming. They can only explore the mind of the people who programmed these closed mystery black or these days, multi-coloured boxes. Most of the time they can only do that by pressing buttons and going through menus to try and guess what the programmer was thinking. This is why hacking or jail breaking these closed and proprietary items is so popular.

Fortunately open source software has reached the point where it has become mainstream. Companies are buying other companies purely for their open source components. Other open source programs are extremely popular and grabberments, educational institutions and more businesses than ever before are seriously considering or using open source software. However, you may be thinking, what does this have to do with our children?

It is quite simply this. Open source gives our children back the power to see how their world works. They no longer have to infer or guess what the programmer is thinking. They can actually see exactly what the thought processes of the programmer(s) are and from that gain an understanding of these mysterious electron munchers. From that base they can twist and tweak to regain control of that physical medium and make it do what they wish. Without a thousand and one cuts from a stubborn metal ribbon.

Open source allows our future children to see how an operating system works. They can see how a word processor runs or a browser browses. They can understand how a computer plays music, video files or record from webcams. They can, with open source, go deep into the hardware and watch the signals from their keyboard trigger events in the kernel. They can see exactly how and why that kernel reacts to those signals and they can easily modify and experiment with that process.

That is they key word right there. Experimentation! Without experimentation then we, as a species, will not improve. If everything was handed to us and we could simply just use it without understanding how it works, then pretty soon there would be no-one left with enough knowledge or desire to make more of these interesting electronic nick knacks. Even now I see this trend where younger people than I, can not think outside the beaten path and when faced with an unusual situation can do nothing, nor even think of anything to do. A real case of monkey see, monkey do.

When I see that sort of behaviour it makes me sad. I think that this current crop of future makers, takers and earth shakers is at a serious disadvantage. Once their mentors have passed on and this current new generation is left on its own there will be a lot of lost wandering and much wailing and gnashing of teeth. This is where the future children will inherit the earth.

Their minds will not be welded shut by those whose only aim is to gain material wealth. The future childs wealth will be in the knowledge treasure trove which open source can open up to them. Provided they wish to lift the lid of course. For those inquisitive minds which do so they will gain the greatest treasure of all and the key to shaping the world to their liking. The future will be in the hands of the next generations and open source will be the instrument of their power.

At least that is how I see the future of our tomorrows child. How do you see it? What do you think the advantages and disadvantages our future children will have? Will, in your opinion, open source have a large or small role to play?

Modern OS on ancient hardware.

I am currently using, at this very moment, while I am typing, the latest completely updated version of Gentoo. I can surf the net, play movies and my window manager even has transparency. I am developing my Partalog program on it and transferring files, home movies taken with my Flip, to my home server over the internet. In other words pretty much everything which the average computer user uses.

As you probably guessed, I am not at home right now. I am in a completely different city altogether. Yet I still have the need to spin some bits and bytes. I can't help myself. I am a computer junkie and have no desire to follow any twelve step program :)

Unfortunately I am not rich. I am married with children and like Mr. Bundy, forever handing out money. At least I like my work though. So this means that I am not using this on a netbook, I don't have the latest quad core hyped up iWhatever. Yet I am using the exact same operating system on my home desktop/server as I am using on this primitive beast. I even have it set up with the same window manager, drop down consoles and other little tweaks to make my computing experience uniquely me.

Sure, using ancient hardware like this does have some drawbacks. Things do take just a little bit longer to load up, Something like taking a minute to start up compared to forty seconds on my dual core home machine. Starting up programs takes maybe fifteen seconds instead of ten. I can live with that, it is no more than the delay windows users have on their super modern machines once all the anti-virus and anti-spyware crap is installed. This little piece of history actually seems to run faster than most of the poorly maintained windows computers I see.

This little computing buddy of mine was nearly sent to the great junk heap. It was languishing and lonely, gathering dust because nobody could use it. It was not capable of running modern windows and the power connection was flaky. So I rescued it, gave it some love and it is in return loving me back :) What is it?

It, is an over twelve year old IBM ThinkPad i1400 Series laptop. The hard disk is only 12Gb, of which I still have over 7Gb free. I have expanded it's ram up to the maximum size of 256Mb and fixed up the flaky power port. It has no touchpad, instead using a keyboard nipple as a mouse and its cpu is a little pentium III running at only 500Mhz. Yes, even the cheapest and smallest netbook, heck even most mobile phones are more powerful than this.

Yet, on this ancient, dinosaur of computing history is able to run the latest Linux with ease. It only has, as I said, 256Mb, ram yet hardly uses any swap space. Once the programs are loaded up they perform without any problems. I could even update Gentoo, which means compiling programs, in the background, surf the net and work on my Partalog program all at the same time.

There is no possible way I could run any windows on this machine and do what I can now do with this little trooper. It yet another reason why I like Linux. It doesn't matter what I use, what the hardware specs are, I can still run the latest, modern, operating system available.

What old hardware do you have which is gathering dust because it is considered too old for modern programs? What could you use them for if they could only run an up to date operating system? Well now is your chance. Take them out, dust them off and give them some Linux loving. In return they will faithfully love you back :)