Tag: software

The Setup.

A couple of months ago I wrote a post entitled How I Use a MacBook Pro (May 2011). Since that time I’ve stumbled across a blog entitled The Setup which asks a range of creative people four questions about how they roll. I’ve realised the benefit of putting what I do into words, complete with links. Once you’ve read what’s below, I suggest heading over to usesthis.com to check out other people’s contributions!


Doug Belshaw enjoying a meal on Bateaux Dubai, July 2011

Doug Belshaw

Researcher/Analyst, JISC infoNet & Director, Synechism Ltd.

1. Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Doug Belshaw and I work at Northumbria University where JISC infoNet are hosted. I’ve also recently started an educational consultancy called Synechism Ltd and am co-kickstarter of Purpos/ed. At heart I’m an educator interested particularly in social justice issues, digital literacies, mobile learning and open educational resources. Prior to that I worked in schools and academies as Director of e-Learning and taught History for seven years.

2. What hardware are you using?

I’m pretty much attached to either my iPhone 4 or (work-provided) early-2010 MacBook Pro most of the time. Occasionally I break out my iPad (original wifi version) but I prefer my Kindle for reading. I write in Moleskine notebooks and then scan them in so that they’re available to me digitally anywhere, using the Tim Ferriss method of indexing. At work, although I try to use my MacBook Pro as much as possible, I’ve just had my work machine upgraded to a fairly decent spec (AMD Athlon II X2 3Ghz with 4GB RAM and Windows 7). Multiple desktops are a must – I run dual monitors on my work PC and six virtual desktops via Spaces on the MacBook Pro.

3. And what software?

I experiment with software regularly, but my staple apps and webapps are the following. I’m not a big fan of email, but GMail (I’ve got 5 accounts) makes life more bearable – as does the Sparrow app. I’ve found that Xobni makes Outlook bearable. My job would be a lot harder without Skype for interviewing and catching up with people and TweetDeck for keeping my finger on the pulse (I’m also a big fan of LinkedIn Signal, Google+ and Quora for this). I’m a lot less frustrated regarding passwords now that I’ve transferred wholesale to LastPass.

Dropbox keeps my files in sync between my machines, and I just love the fact that I can send a link to a large file in there from the iPhone app wherever I am. Google Apps is a wonderful service and I’m a massive fan of Google Calendar – I’m so much more organised due to its reminder functions. For keeping up with RSS feeds I use Feedly, which is a front end for Google Reader. I flirt with Evernote from time to time, using it sporadically but I’m still grappling with how to use it effectively. Licorize is my go-to place to store bits of digital things.

Shorter writing tends to be via WordPress or Google Docs, with longer stuff powered by Scrivener, with which I’ve been writing my doctoral thesis. Papers is a godsend for organising academic journal articles. I’ve recently downloaded iA Writer for the iPad which looks useful – I’m going to have to get myself the offical keyboard. If I’m presenting I’ll use Keynote, which I find to be a wonderfully useful tool. Despite having Adobe CS5 provided through work, I mainly use Keynote and Seashore for image creation and editing. If I’m brainstorming I’ll use XMind.

Spotify, Last.fm and SomaFM provide the tunes to which I listen for most of my waking hours. I also listen to a lot of podcasts whilst commuting and doing tasks that don’t require much in the way of creativity. I’ve recently come across the DownCast iPhone app which making this a more positive and hassle-free experience (it downloads podcasts in the background).

I’m not a paranoid person, but I do subscribe to iPREDator, a VPN provided by the people behind The Pirate Bay as well as using PeerGuardian. I notice that my download speeds – and not just by Bittorrent (for which I use Vuze) – are much increased when BT don’t know which sites I’m connecting to. There’s other tools that make my life easier like Cloud.app, Timey and Cinch as well as other webapps I haven’t mentioned like Posterous, Amplify, Delicious, Greplin, Flickr, ImageStamper, Huffduffer, Instapaper (love the auto-send-to-Kindle feature!)

Right now I’m alternating between Google Chrome and nightly builds of Webkit, but up until recently was using Rockmelt as my browser. I’m a bit of a browser tart.

4. What would be your dream setup?

I’d love a Mac Pro. A geeky aim in life for me is for any app to load on my Mac without it ‘bouncing’ in the dock. That would be awesome. I’d also love a 30″ Apple Cinema display, but that probably isn’t happening anytime soon. I’d also love not to have to go into the office every day and be able to work remotely from something like an OfficePOD at home. I’ve got a study, but it’s a garage conversion so can be loud and is too much part of the house to be productive. For now, I’ll have to make do with coffee shops (where I’m able, bizarrely, to get in the zone).

5 reasons I’m using less and less Open Source stuff.

I’m not attempting to get into a flame war with this post. It’s a personal reflection and more of a statement than an argument. Please comment appropriately! 🙂

In a perfect world, everything I use would be an Open Source product and have been produced using Open principles and philosophies. I’ve been part of a Becta-funded project into the use of Open Source Software (OSS) in schools, spent time with Linux as my sole operating system, and have given away (to anyone who’d have them) CDs and DVDs containing OSS.

But, without consciously aiming to do so, I’ve found myself using less and less Open Source stuff over the last year or so.  Why? There’s several reasons.

1. Standards are to innovate upon

The reason that we have ‘standards’ in any area of life is to ensure compliance. But that isn’t meant to limit creativity and innovation, but to serve as a basis upon which it can flourish. Whilst there’s a lot of wonderful work going on in the OSS arena, there’s also a lot of people and projects engaging in catch-up.

2. Willingness to pay for software

When I was younger I had no or very little money. I’m far from rich now, but can nevertheless afford to pay for software that improves my productivity and/or outputs. This means that I’m using iWork instead of OpenOffice.org, for example.

3. Ecosystems and things ‘just working’

I was sorely tempted to purchase an Android-powered mobile phone recently. The main reason I didn’t? It had nothing to do with the specifications of the phone I had in mind. It was to do with access to the iTunes store. I listen to a lot of podcasts but, since moving completely to Spotify for my music, no longer sync my iPhone at all. Whilst I would be able to use software such as DoubleTwist to get content onto an Android-powered phone, it would mean syncing again and no access on-the-move. That, as they say, was a dealbreaker for me.

The other thing about tightly-controlled ecosystems is that, for all the whinging about control, DRM and monopolies they provide a seamless, enjoyable and fairly risk-free experience to the end user. I know, for example, that I’m going to get well-made app in the iPhone app store, and that books are going to be formatted correctly when using the Amazon Kindle store.

Finally, ecosystems mean that things ‘just work’. I continue to use Google’s online offerings because they all work together so well. I can get data in and data out easily, and transfer information between applications quickly. Taking any longer than necessary to do tasks isn’t high on my list of desirable features for any technology with a thesis to write…

4. Too much choice

The mantra of the ‘noughties’, if it had one, would have been ‘choice, choice, choice’. We were given a plethora of television channels, luxury goods and even hospitals to choose from. More choice, it was argued, led to higher standards.

However, the problem with too much choice is that you become paralysed in the process of decision-making. You need some kind of kind or heuristic to apply to the situation. Think about purchasing a laptop. There are so many makes, types, shapes and colours that it would take a great deal of time even to whittle it down to three choices.

The same goes with software. Once I’ve found a reputable and high-quality source of hardware or software, I’m likely to stick with that source unless something disastrous happens. So who do I look for when I’m making hardware purchases? Apple and Sony. Where do I look first for my online apps and software? Google.

5. Free is not OSS

I still use a lot of free software. But much of it is not OSS. There are new models evolving where the end product is made available either temporarily or permanently to users for free. (think of ‘freemium’ models, sponsored apps and the like!)

The fact that it is (usually) free is, like it or not, the biggest selling point of OSS. Whilst I and others completely buy into the philosoph(ies) behind it, with the increasing availability of free (as in beer) software undermines the appeal of OSS.

Conclusion

I am not advocating that people ignore OSS in favour of proprietary products. Far from it. What I am pointing out here is that the landscape is changing and OSS advocates need to change their approach. My recommendations:

  • Much more emphasis placed on the ‘four freedoms’
  • The building of an OSS ecosystem
  • An app store for OSS (seriously)

What do YOU think? Have you been using less or more OSS recently? Why? :-p

Learning Score

Just to mix things up a bit, I thought I’d do this as a series of videos – it seemed appropriate to the subject matter. Learning Score is a visual planning tool for educators. And. It. Rocks. :-p

  1. Official promotional video
  2. My quick overview
  3. Planning a lesson from scratch in 10 mins

1. Official promotional video

2. My quick overview

3. Planning a lesson from scratch in 10 mins

You can get a 14-day free trial at http://www.learningscore.org/trial, but if you’re quick you can get a longer trial at http://www.learningscore.org/bett! 😀

Mac OSX apps I currently use.

Michael Arrington (of TechCrunch fame) recently posted his fifth annual list of the tech products he loves and uses every day. Paul Stamatiou updates his Stuff I Use page regularly. People often ask me what apps I use, so here goes in the quickest and easiest way I know how – Flickr with notes*



(if it’s too small to read, you might want to click through!)

* Want to do this yourself? Try this script (which I used) or Mbedr. 🙂

The problem with free stuff.

divieto?
Image: ‘divieto?

Background:

I like free stuff. I also like Open Source (OSS) stuff. I especially like FLOSS. OSS has a model that works:

In his 1997 essay The Cathedral and the Bazaar, open source evangelist Eric S. Raymond suggests a model for developing OSS known as the bazaar model. Raymond likens the development of software by traditional methodologies to building a cathedral, “carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation”. He suggests that all software should be developed using the bazaar style, which he described as “a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches.” (Wikipedia)

The trouble is, the only real ‘model’ that non-OSS developers have for making software freely available is freemium: making basic services free whilst charging for more advanced features.

The problem:

Educators get upset when services they’ve been using (for free) get shut down. That’s understandable.

Why are educators using these free, online tools? Because those that are provided for them don’t cut the mustard. Why aren’t they paying for the more advanced (premium) features? Because they would have to pay for them personally.

Solutions:

  1. Encourage/dictate that staff and students use only Open Source software (if a developer leaves, the software is still there and you can find/pay someone to develop it further)
  2. Give staff (and students?) a budget to spend on software/web apps (a bit like a personal version of the ill-fated eLearning Credits system in the UK)
  3. Have a backup plan (what other services could you migrate to if the worst came to the worst?)

Conclusion:

If you don’t pay for it (or, if ad-supported, click on the ads) don’t grumble if it’s not there tomorrow.

Digital things upon which I *do* and *would* spend real cash.

moneyI’m not a huge fan of spending money on software and digital services. There’s a couple of reasons for this. The first is that I’m an advocate of Open Source Software (see Open Source Schools, of which I’m part). As such, I believe that making software available free of charge – with the source code inspectable – makes for better software and communities built around the functionality the software provides. The second reason is that I tend to like to have something tangible as a result of any financial outlay.

All this is by way of explanation as to why the following are services that persuade me to part with some of my hard-earned money. I follow that with those I use for free but would happily pay for! 😉

Things upon which I *do* spend real cash

Bluehost

I have a number of websites and blogs, all of which need a home on the Internet. I’ve found Bluehost to be reliable and very reasonably priced. They’ve got CPanel installed in the admin interface, which makes installing web applications such as WordPress and forums a breeze!

Flickr ($25 = c.£17)

Photographs are incredibly important things. They are a snapshot of a time that can never be recaptured, and evoke powerful memories. Despite backing up regularly via my Apple Time Capsule, it’s important that I never lose the most important of my photographs – especially those of my son. That’s why I upload all the ones I consider important to Flickr.

Purchasing a yearly Flickr Pro license means that more than just the last 200 of my photographs can be seen and that I can create an unlimited number of ‘sets’ in which to place them. 😀

Remember The Milk ($25 = c.£17)

You may wonder why I’d spend good money on what is, essentially, a glorified to-do list. It’s because Remember The Milk (RTM) is so easy-to-use and fits in with my way of working. The free account is fine if you just want to organise yourself via the web-based interface, but the real power comes if you’ve got an iPhone. The app for the iPhone is only available to those who have a Pro subscription. It’s a work of art in terms of simplicity and adding to your productivity. Great stuff. 😀

Things upon which I *would* spend real cash

Gmail & Google Docs

Gmail features c.7GB of storage With Google Docs providing an online, collaborative suite of office applications that are just a joy to use. Every time I reflect on the fact that I can use this for free, I count myself fortunate. Marvellous!

Super-quick synchronous Internet connection

We currently get broadband free from Orange as a benefit from my wife’s mobile phone contract. We pay an additional £5 per month to upgrade the speed from 2MB/s to 8MB/s. But that’s only the (theoretical) download speed. We get about 6MB/s download and 512KB/s upload.

I’d pay about £25/month for 20MB/s synchronous DSL and would even consider £50/month for 50MB/s. That really would mean ‘cloud computing’! 😉

Twitter

Twitter is a micro social networking/blogging service with a 140-character limit. I’ve connected to even more people than I had done previously via blogs in the Edublogosphere. It’s real-time and very, very powerful. Some people call it their ‘PLN’ (Personal Learning Network). I’m not one of them. I just think it’s great. 😉

If, for example, Twitter charged the same amount for a year’s service as Flickr does (i.e. $25) I think it would be hugely profitable very quickly.

WordPress

WordPress is the software that power this and, to be honest, most blogs on the Internet. It’s developed rapidly – mainly because it’s Open Source – and very flexible and powerful. If you don’t as yet have your own blog, I’d encourage you to sign up with Bluehost and install WordPress on your own domain via CPanel. You can, of course, just use WordPress.com

Which software and digital services do YOU pay for? Why?

(image by Joshua Davis @ Flickr)

Educational Technology Integration Matrix

I came across the Technology Integration Matrix today. It’s a resource created to ‘support the full integration of technology in Florida schools’, but is great for any department, faculty, or school that wants to analyse where it is with integrating educational technology.

It reminds me of the ‘Apple Schools of the Future’ programme in the 1990s, which observed teachers’ classrooms changing fundamentally due to the integration of computers.

Five levels of technology integration into the curriculum are defined:

  1. Entry – The teacher uses technology to deliver curriculum content to students.
  2. Adoption – The teacher directs students in the conventional use of tool-based software. If such software is available, this level is the recommended.
  3. Adaptation – The teacher encourages adaptation of tool-based software by allowing students to select a tool and modify its use to accomplish the task at hand.
  4. Infusion – The teacher creates a learning environment that infuses the power of technology tools throughout the day across subject areas.
  5. Transformation – The teacher creates a rich learning environment in which students regularly engage in activities that would have been impossible to achieve without technology.

It’s well worth a read – you can download the PDF to print out for your own use here.

Wixi: a bizarre yet useful free file-sharing / web-desktop hybrid

I stumbled across Wixi today. It’s a combination of desktop operating system, file-sharing application and personal file repository. It reminds me of EyeOS with which I experimented a year or more ago. It’s currently supposed to be in invitation-only beta, but you can sign-up using this page and get unlimited storage!

Wixi desktop

Once you’ve created your account and logged-in, you can create folders and upload your media to the site. This can then be tagged and set as ‘private’ or ‘public’. If you set, say, some video as ‘public’, it can be streamed (but not downloaded) by visitors to your Wixi profile page. You, however, as the owner of the content, can both stream and download it no matter where you are. Wixi does not require any special software to run, other than a web browser (currently only Firefox and Internet Explorer).

Although I experienced a few minor and not-too-irritating bugs whilst uploading, I’ve found it a great (free!) service so far. I’m stumped, however, as to how they’re going to deal with potential copyright infringement law suits. A quick search for ‘DVD rip’ brought up a whole host of films uploaded by other users that I was able to add to my Wixi page and stream (full-screen!) almost immediately:

Wixi - films

Wixi is definitely one to keep your eye on, especially as you are able to embed widgets to share your content in blogs, wikis, etc. I’m certainly not recommending this one for educational uses. I think this one’s for personal use only… 😉

Give it a spin, and add me as a friend – I’m on there as dajbelshaw. 😀

THIS is how technology can enhance learning

I can remember last year seeing a prototype of an alpha of a proposal for something at a university in the US. It was showcasing live 2-dimensional ‘real’ physics simulations. It was amazing, but not available for us mere mortals to play with.

I’m delighted to say that today, via the wonder of popurls, I came across a video showcasing a freely-downloadable piece of software called Phun that allows you to do the same! Have a look at it, a thousand words of mine wouldn’t do justice to the simplicity, elegance and intuitiveness of it:

It’s currently available for Windows and Linux with a Mac version coming soon. You can grab it as a free download here! 🙂

Nokia N95 tips, reviews and software all in one place

Nokia N95

It’s taken me the couple of weeks since I bought one to trawl through blogs, forums, wikis and websites about the Nokia N95. This post is dedicated to putting what I’ve found out so far in one place to help others who have just invested in the little marvel!

Note: I shall be adding to this post as I find out more information, so bookmark it for later. 🙂

Read more →

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