TechTips

Copyright 2006 Miguel Guhlin – www.mguhlin.net
T&L Editor: Gwen Solomon - gwensol@earthlink.net

Permission granted to Technology and Learning for TechTips column to publish.

January 1, 2007 - Listen to Podcast

What Are Live CDs And How Can I Use Them?
Here are some free or low-cost alternatives to accepted software solutions. The goal is an education environment that is technology-rich where teachers can accomplish their instructional objectives using free software, minimizing the cost of what they use with children. This goal is within reach and states such as Indiana have realized them through the use of Linux and open source software. However, how can teachers, students and their parents, and district staff begin to realize the benefits of such tools with a minimum of trouble?

In an issue of TechEdge, Marilyn Hagle (Cedar Hill ISD) shared that she thought that...

''...bootable CDs might just be the ticket for classroom teachers who wish to incorporate easily the hundreds of Open Source software programs freely available...with a bootable CD, you can run the software without installing anything on your computer.''

What a fantastic idea! Following up on this, I wondered what other software solutions might be useful. Until now, we have had shared software that works on the two platforms-Windows and Macintosh-in schools. Increasingly, however, Linux is finding its way into schools and has become a contender that can in one motion, achieve the goal of low-cost alternative software that can impact technology use in Texas schools. This article shares some popular Linux CDs you can start with that are specifically designed to provide you with a friendly introduction to Linux and free, open source software.

While the real benefit of Live CDs comes from the productivity tools available on the CDs, rather than the reportedly educational software-more along the lines of games and tutorials-there are some real gems among the software. The key, though, is that everything you see on a Live CD is free to share with your students and colleagues, a point that is often lost when dealing with Windows or Macintosh software.
Here's a short list of useful CDs with a focus on education:

CD #1 - EduNix

Like all the other CDs, EDU-Nix is known as a “live” CD. That means that it comes with its own computer operating system (linux), does not install anything to your computer's hard drive (so no fear of ruining your computer for other uses), and has a variety of relevant software. That software includes educational, Office productivity, and Internet programs. If you have a computer that can run Windows that can boot from a CD-ROM, then you can easily try this system.
Furthermore, if you decide the software on the EDU-Nix CD is worth sharing with your students, you can make unlimited copies of the CD and share it with them, as well as your colleagues.

While you can find a complete list of software online at http://www.edu-nix.org/software/completelist.php, these math friendly titles also appear on the EDU-Nix CD: 1) Scientific Calculator; 2) Math Command ; 3) KBruch Fractions; 4) Kpercentage; 5) Interactive Geometry ; 6) Function Plotter. Other programs include Kgeography, touch typing tutorial programs (Ktouch and Tux Type), and Keduca. If astronomy is of interest, then programs like Celestia and Stellarium also appear, as well as a few others.

CD #2 - Edubuntu

Edubuntu, like EDU-Nix, features the standard list of productivity tools (such as Open Office, an alternative to MS Office suite). However, it also comes with a few additional programs that EDU-Nix is lacking in, such as Kverbos. With Kverbos, you can practice Spanish verb conjugation. The programs have a built-in set of over 9,000 Spanish verbs for verb conjugations. This is certainly a fun tool to use. You can get a copy online at http://www.edubuntu.org

January 8, 2007 - Listen to Podcast


What new utilities are out for Windows and Mac to help me organize the mess of files I have on my computer?

If you're a Macintosh user, you are familiar with iPhoto, an application that gives you a thumbnail view of all the photos on your hard drive and enables easy management and locating. But, what if you are looking to organize not just photos but other types of files, such as the plethora of Adobe PDF files that find their way onto your computer?

If you're a Macintosh user, you can use an iPhoto-type application for managing Adobe PDF files in an easy, graphical interface (http://theok.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/yep1_1.jpg) that sports thumbnails of PDF content. The program is known as YEP and it allows you to centralize your PDF files for simplified management, and enables you to add tags (one word descriptors) to each PDF file. YEP also generates tags for your PDF file thumbnails based on the actual title and contents of the file, which is handy since you do not have to create any yourself if you so choose.

While YEP is Macintosh only, though, and while the 1.1 version is free in perpetuity (so it says), the 1.2 version will cost money. So, be warned that if you want to take advantage of this tool, you'll probably get addicted and have to pay down the road. Some people assert (http://lifehacker.com/software/downloads/download-of-the-day-yep-mac-209798.php) that this PDF magic can be done in iTunes, an assertion supported by this tutorial available from Apple, a how to on adding PDFs to playlists. (http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?path=iTunesWin/7.0/en/517win.html)

Managing multiple files on your computer can be tough, especially now that we all have increasing access to 120gig USB External drives. On the Windows XP side, some folks have given into using Google Desktop, which worries me due to Google's proclivity for sharing information. Privacy should be a concern for an 21st Century Learners, even if they are, as Wes Fryer describes them, “digital refugees” (as opposed to natives or immigrants).

However, there are other programs that aren't as invasive of one's privacy. One option is Copernic Desktop Search (http://www.copernic.com/en/products/desktop-search/download.html) and a list of all the file types (http://www.copernic.com/en/products/desktop-search/faq.html) it indexes on Windows is available online (http://www.copernic.com/en/products/desktop-search/faq.html). I like Copernic's privacy statement, which reads:

We understand your concerns and CDS was designed with your privacy in mind. Rest assured that the data indexed by CDS stays on your PC and on no account will it be transferred to us or any of our partners. Furthermore, computer activity is never logged. It is solely monitored to enable or disable the indexing process.

Of course, Windows Vista users will also have this functionality built-in...but who's planning to upgrade to Vista and can Microsoft be trusted in light of its collaboration with the Chinese government regarding dissidents?
Linux users have access to two utilities, one of which is Beagle and available for installation via the usual means on Debian distributions of Linux (sudo apt-get install beagle).

You can find these two free utilities online at:

  1. YEP for Macintosh- http://yepthat.com/
  2. Copernic Desktop Search for Windows- http://www.copernic.com/en/products/desktop-search/download.html

January 15, 2007 - Listen to Podcast

How do I get copies of those videos on YouTube and Google to save to my computer so that I can share them at work?

After viewing this video "The Audience is Up to Something" from the Long Tail blog, I hoped to get a copy I could show at a workshop I was conducting. Unfortunately, YouTube is almost universally blocked in K-12 school districts. I had to laugh at the hypocrisy of one education reformer asking for the Internet administrator to disable the content filter-an act few teachers can accomplish in their own districts-so they could share proscribed content.

While I could run the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Tor to bypass it-certainly NOT something to do if you work in a District since it immediately violates your commitment to uphold the Acceptable Use Policy--it would slow things down...and everyone knows 20 seconds is an eternity in front of an audience.

However, there are several tools you can use to accomplish capturing of forbidden fruit. These tools are listed below:

  1. YouTube FLV Grabba! - http://teemus.livejournal.com/219351.html
  2. YouTubeX - http://www.youtubex.com
  3. YouTubia- http://www.youtubia.com
  4. KeepVid http://www.keepvid.com
  5. Video Downloader - https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/2390/
  6. YouTube to Me - http://www.joshkinberg.com/blog/archives/2005/11/greased_google.php
  7. Ripzor - http://www.ripzor.com/
  8. YouTubeGetter - http://www.exploseek.com/FlvGetter/

Of the tools listed above, I found KeepVid to be the easiest to use and is the solution I use the most. You can visit the KeepVid.com site, select “YouTube” and paste the web address (URL) of the YouTube video you want to get. Click DOWNLOAD and you'll be offered a link to save the video file to your computer.

Unfortunately, KeepVid itself may be banned in K-12 environments, so you will want to use it at home to save videos, then bring the videos on a USB drive or CD-ROM. Some of the other solutions should work in education environments.

A related question for iPod users-Windows or Mac-is how they can put YouTube videos on their iPod. You can take advantage of two free programs to accomplish that. Windows folks can use iTube, while Mac folks can use PodTube.

iTube (Windows) describes itself in this way:
iTube automatically locates a YouTube video, downloads the video file to your hard drive, coverts the video from Flash to MPEG-4 and adds the converted video to your iTunes library. No more hassling with multiple step processes to convert an YouTube video. Paste in the URL of the page on YouTube, hit Go and you're done.

With PodTube, you can view a YouTube video in the Mac Safari browser and PodTube will allow you to download it.

Download these programs:
  1. iTube for Windows - http://www.topdrawerdownloads.com/download/104839
  2. PodTube for Macintosh - http://djodjodesign.free.fr/rightEN.html



How can I quickly install my favorite software programs on my Windows computer?
When setting up a new computer, an activity that can be time-consuming if you're not working from a recorded image of the hard drive, there comes a time when you want to install useful utilities. On UbuntuLinux, there is a simple program (script) known as “Automatix” that automatically loads all the useful software you need. Forget about going out to download media players, etc. Instead, the automatic program takes care of the work. Is there a program for Windows? The answer is “Yes, it's InstallPad.

The author of
InstallPad describes it in this way:
''...an innovative new Windows utility called InstallPad automates downloads and software installation. Simply provide InstallPad with your favorite apps' URLs and it does all the footwork for you - while you spend your time doing something much more interesting.
Source: http://www.mguhlin.net/archives/2006/11/entry_2248.htm''

Some of the programs that are installed include-but not limited to--Firefox, Adobe Reader, Picasa (image management), GAIM Instant Messaging, Mozilla Thunderbird Email, VLC Media Player, Google Earth, Ad-Aware, Ccleaner, ClamWin AntiVirus, Spybot Search and Destroy, and Spyware Blaster. You can also get Audacity Sound Editor, Democracy TV (Internet TV Player), and others.
You may notice that many of these programs are ones that have been featured in previous articles. There are several components, and you will want to download all of the following items that appear online at address shown above.

Components include the following:


January 29, 2007 - Listen to Podcast

I'm still running Windows 98. Although Microsoft has service packs for Windows XP, how can I quickly update Windows 98 computers with an equivalent service pack?

If you're stuck with a Windows 98 computer-and you haven't made the switch to Linux on it to get a brand new system-you may want to take advantage of this freeware update for Windows 98. The author of this freeware 98 SE Service Pack shares this point:
Microsoft has never released a service pack for Windows98 SE. But I made a Service Pack for Windows98 SE users. It contains all Windows98 SE updates from Windows Update site and more. It is a self-extracting and self-installing pack like Microsoft's update files. Thus, you cannot choice individual files.
His only warning is that the service pack be used on Windows 98 Second Edition English version. You are encouraged to make a backup of your computer system-perhaps using tools previously suggested in earlier issues-and are required to have at least 32 MB of RAM. Get the Windows 98 SE Service Pack online at http://exuberant.ms11.net/98sesp.html

February 5. 2007 - Listen to Podcast

I tried that THE GIMP graphics editing program, but I need something easier. Is there something?
I tried that THE GIMP graphics editing program, but I need something easier. Is there something?

Although THE GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is my graphics editing program of choice, especially on multiple platforms, Windows users have access to another program known as PAINT.NET. I'm not much into graphics/pictures, but I found the screenshots/images on their web site pretty nifty. Some of the features that appeal to non-artists who need simple, powerful tools include easy interface. Most of us have worked with Microsoft's Paint program. Paint.Net mimics this interface even as it provides layers. If you haven't worked with layers, you might think of transparent pieces of paper that allow you to have an original image, then modify it by overlaying a transparent page with another image or text on it. This enables you to add or subtract layers of images without affecting your original image.

Per its web site, PAINT.NET also includes simple tools for drawing shapes, including an easy-to-user curve tool for drawing simple splines or Bezier curves. Other tools include the Magic Wand for selecting regions of similar color, and the Clone Stamp for copying or erasing portions of an image. These are essential tools to have in a PAINT program. You can also quickly enter text, zoom in and recolor images.

As a non-artist, I really appreciate unlimited "undo" in any program, but especially, a paint program. That means you can make as many mistakes as you like and undo them. I like to think of undo as a license to experiment with confidence, knowing that you can always back up to a previous phase of development.

Finally, for those of us who are worried about price, PAINT.NET is, like The GIMP, a free, open source software product. For those of you who are expert programmers--or perhaps, your students are interested in experimenting--then having access to the source code is a plus. Remember that "Free" in the acronym for free, open source code does not always mean free as in price, but rather...

The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.

The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.

The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Download PAINT.NET at http://www.getpaint.net/download.html .



February 12, 2007 - Listen to Podcast

How do I share presentations with others via the Web?
Think you know the answer to this question? If yes, then you may be familiar with the old-fashioned approaches of placing Powerpoint slide shows in HTML format and uploading them to a server. New tools make that approach obsolete. Below are two online tools that enable you to create, edit, and/or publish, and show presentations.

One publishing and sharing tool is
SlideShare, which was created to provide conference organizers an easy way of storing and sharing presentations. A neat feature is that SlideShare will accept both OpenOffice Impress slide shows, as well as Microsoft Powerpoint ones. This enables an easy way to share presentations with others, regardless of whether you use free, open source software or proprietary software. You can try out SlideShare for yourself online at http://slideshare.net/

A similar tool to
SlideShare is ZohoShow. ZohoShow allows you to import presentations, as well as create them online, a feature SlideShare does not have. You are also able to insert flowchart shapes, integrate content from Flickr Image sharing site (although this is probably blocked in your District), and more. Try out ZohoShow online at http://zoho.com/ (note that you can also try a word processor, spreadsheet, and other productivity tools here).

February 19, 2007 - Listen to Podcast

What are wikis and how can I get one?
One of the most exciting Read/Write Web technologies that is available for educator use includes wikis. Since I was introduced to wikis some time ago, I often forget that many educators are not familiar with them and lack a clear understanding of how they work. Wikis allow people to collaboratively edit and work on a series of web pages. Perhaps, one of the best examples is the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

You can find thousands of education wikis online, but a short list of educational wikis and what you can do with them are at http://mguhlin.wikispaces.com/wikiwiki

In the meantime, a roundup of wikis you can quickly create using free, web-based services include the following:
  • Wikispaces.com - In addition to offering 100,000 free wikis to educators, they have also created a wiki about Educational Wikis. Check it out online at http://educationalwikis.wikispaces.com/
  • PBWiki.com
  • WetPaint.com

While there are many other free wiki services, these are certainly a place to start. If your school district blocks access to wikis, I encourage you to ask them to either open the space or allow you to setup your own wiki on school/district servers. For that purpose, I would recommend you use either MediaWiki (mediawiki.org) or TikiWiki.org

And, finally, stopping programs from installing themselves on our Windows computers can be difficult. Otherwise, we would not have all these firewall and anti-malware software utilities available. However, what do you do when the software that's being installed without your permission is the latest version of Internet Explorer? While Firefox 7 rates higher at blocking Internet Explorer 7 phishing scams, some of us may be content to just stay with the browser we have on our machines and avoid the browser wars. No doubt, network technicians are suffering the same anxiety from Microsoft that they suffer from teachers on occasion-how to stop unwanted software installations.

February 26, 2007 - Listen to Podcast

Internet Explorer 7 is coming. How do I stop my computer from downloading it?
Although some folks are ready for Internet Explorer 7 to take over their computers, others are less excited about the prospect, especially if using other browsers that provide the new functionality (like Firefox or Flock). Internet Explorer 7 has been reported to fail on launch--which means you would have to uninstall it--or to cause other problems with computers. In large school districts, as well as businesses, there is a real question as to whether IE7 should be loaded yet. In fact, some argue that it is better to wait on loading IE7 because of past software upgrades from Microsoft that have failed.

There are changes with any massive switch from one version to another. What happens if your computer upgrades to IE7 via the automatic Windows Update, only to discover that your District HelpDesk and Network Services staff recommended NOT to upgrade?

Or, if you're a web developer, then you might join others who say that Internet Explorer 7 just is not up to web standards. Unfortunately, though, Internet Explorer 7 will automatically be installed on your computer via Windows Update. How can you stop the update?

You can stop Internet Explorer 7—if it's not too late already—by using a free utility that disables IE7 installation via Windows Update. You can download the DisableIE7Update utility at http://www.dailycupoftech.com/Downloads/DisableIE7Update.zip

Microsoft also has a toolkit to disable automatic delivery of Internet Explorer 7 available online at http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?linkid=65788