Archive for Technology

Playbook Review

Last week I bought RIM’s new Playbook tablet to see how it runs and if it is something that I could find useful. For those interested, the answers are “excellent” and “no.”

I opted for the 16gb version, my thinking being that I’m usually not prone to wanting large amounts of data being carried around. As well, the need for holding many small files is waning with the growth of cloud computing and services such as Dropbox. The price for this device is $499 and I think it came to about $550 after HST.
playbook
I must admit that my expectations for this device were not great. A day before I was joking with friends that “you know you have a failed launch when you aren’t asking if they bought one, but instead you ask them if theirs works.” There are reports of people having problems with the Blackberry Bridge, which would be a bad thing for PB owners. You see, RIM hasn’t yet developed an email client for the PB. Instead, they are relying on PB owners to connect to their blackberry phones in order to receive emails, contacts and calendars. I’m not sure if the Bridge only works with BB devices.

When I got home I unboxed the PB and plugged it in to give it some charge. I had to go out for a while, so I’m not sure if the device came with a charge or not. A couple of hours later I returned and fired up the PB. The first thing it did was find a new OS update. 250mb and 5 minutes later I had the latest software, fast and easy – sweet. I had a quick look with the device Read the rest of this entry »

Using Math in Moodle

If you’re like me and interested in using math notation in Moodle, I believe you have 2 options. The first option is to use the TeX filter that is in Moodle. This is a LaTeX type editor. To enable, go to site administration -> plugins -> filters
TeX in Moodle: http://docs.moodle.org/en/Using_TeX_Notation
And more notation info: http://docs.moodle.org/en/Using_TeX_Notation_2

The big problem with TeX in my mind is that it is a bit awkward to use. However, if the range of notation that you want is narrow, you can quickly learn how to input what you need.

I think the better option is to use ASCIIMathML because it is easier to use, is more intuitive and also looks better. However, one of the big problems with ASCIIMathML is that it only works with Firefox. No other browsers are able to display its notation without other plugins. There are two workarounds for this. First, you can demand that users use Firefox. Secondly, you can use a version of ASCIIMathML that has a “fallback.” How the fallback works is if the browser does not display the ASCIIMathML correctly, it automatically switches to displaying LaTex images.

First let’s start with the ASCIIMathML. You can find a bit of information about it here, including a link to download: http://docs.moodle.org/en/ASCIIMathML
I found this thread on the Moodle forums to be very helpful:
http://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=153697
For my examples below you have to include a javascript file inside your Moodle installation. I am assuming that you are putting the ASCIIMathML.js file in the folder:
http://www.yourdomain.com/moodle/lib/asciimath/
Adjust this url with your own domain.

To get asciimath working in Moodle 2.0, go to site administration -> Appearance -> Additional HTML
In the “Within HEAD” section, paste the text:
<script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://yourdomain.com/moodle/lib/asciimath/ASCIIMathML.js”></script>

What this does is ensures that the ASCIIMathML javascript is inserted into the head of every html page.

If you don’t have Moodle 2.0, you have to find your config.php file for your theme and insert the text there. For example, if you are using the theme FormFactor, go to the file: http://yourdomain.com/moodle/theme/formfactor/config.php
Open the config.php file in an appropriate editor (I use Codelobster) and somewhere between
<head> and </head> insert the line:
<script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://yourdomain.com/moodle/theme/formfactor/lib/asciimath/ASCIIMathML.js”></script>

In firefox you should now be able to use ASCIIMathML notation. I had an additional problem and had to edit my asciimathml.js file. Somewhere around line 50 in this file I had to change
var avoidinnerHTML = false;
to
var avoidinnerHTML = true;

Okay, now that it’s working you can try a fallback version. I used ASCIIMathMLwFallback2.js from http://dlippman.imathas.com/asciimathtex/AMT.html

I edited the same “avoidinnerHTML” in the .js file, uploaded it to the same /lib/asciimath folder, and edited the “Within HEAD” section to use the new javascript file name. I now have ASCIIMathML working on all browsers. More info on fallback can be found at this Moodle forum link: http://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=134706

Music, Again

A couple of weeks ago I bought a Patriot Box Office media player. It was a pretty sweet deal too, only costing $60 after a mail-in rebate. Since getting it the amount of music that I’ve listened to has, like, quaddriggled. For those of you that don’t know what a quaddriggle is, let me tell you something: it’s a lot. I have the PBO hooked up to my Bryston in the living room, and I’m mostly streaming flac files from my NAS. Flac is lossless, so theoretically it is the same as CD quality. While I can’t say that the delivery method is perfect in terms of sound quality, the two most important parts are the amp and speakers, and I’m doing pretty good in that regard. The nice thing is that I can now quickly flip through my music collection and pull up anything within seconds. That is entirely different from the old setup where I had to pull out a CD, put it in the CD player and press play. That whole rigamaroll took, uhh… seconds. But more of ’em. Yeah, more.

Irony

i·ro·ny

1. the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning

2. Go to an Apple Store to upgrade and activate an iPhone4. Watch Apple specialist use a Mac to enter information into their System. Watch Apple specialist open a Windows XP emulator in the mac in order to activate the phone.

Earth to Microsoft – it’s 2010

I’m not one to really do the pros and cons on Windows (7) and Mac OSX. In fact, I think that on most accounts the two operating systems are essentially the same. They both have icons, usually at the bottom of the desktop, that a person clicks on to open a program. The programs are often identical in both OS. To install a program, you download it and then click on it. To print, you hit the print button. They both use a two-button mouse. etc. The whole apple user experience thing is completely overblown and not really rooted in any kind of reality.

Having said that, I have a question for Microsoft. It’s 2010, what up with all the reboots? I was using the computer the other day when I was notified that an update was installed and that I should reboot my computer. Windows users get these messages weekly. This time I just leaned back in my chair and stared at the screen. Really, a reboot? Wasn’t MS supposed to have re-written Windows, couldn’t they work things out so that our PCs don’t need constant reboots? After all, we all know how long it takes for Windows to boot (2 or 3 times longer than a mac) and it gets really annoying.

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TQS Quandry

Being an education student at SFU and hopefully meeting all the requirements for a teachers certificate from BCCT this August, I am naturally curious about the pay scale categories assigned in BC. The Teachers Qualification Service, TQS, is the organization that is in charge of this. I had a question about categories and how they are affected by UBC’s MET programs, so I went to the TQS website in hopes of finding someone to contact with my query.

I was a bit surprised that on the TQS website they say that all questions should be directed via mail, fax or in person. I don’t have a fax machine, I didn’t want to wait for the mail service, and I had some free time yesterday so I went to their office to ask my questions. I turned out that the people “in the know” weren’t in the office at that time, so I wrote a letter outlining my questions and left it there, along with some supporting documentation.

Later that day I received an email from the TQS. I thought that was a bit odd considering they don’t apparently like email. In the email, the person asked for my BCCT certification number. I replied that I didn’t have one yet. I then received the following email:

from: TQS
subject: *Please submit your request by fax or mail.* Re: TQS Inquiry

Teacher Qualification Service
106 – 1525 West 8th Avenue
Vancouver, BC V6J 1T5
__________________________________________

Well shiver me timbers, I had a good laugh at that one. It of course begs to be replied with any number of smart-ass responses. Here are some of the better ones that I’ve thought of:

“When is a good time to pick up the letter I dropped off, so that I can mail or fax it to you?”

“Would you be so kind as to mail or fax me my letter, so I can do the same for you? I don’t have a fax machine, perhaps you can drop it off at my house?”

“Do you remember that flat, white, papery thing that I dropped off today? There’s a good chance it’s still on your desk. If you can’t remember what it looks like simply recall that it’s the thing that you used to copy out my email address. There, you found it. Good. Can we just pretend it is the letter, and that it has already been mailed AND faxed?”

“Can I fax only a cover letter? You can then attached to the documents I already dropped off at your office and we can call it a day.”

“Do you remember seeing that flat white thing on your desk with a bunch of blue lines, circles and arcs on it? That is paper with writing on it. The hi-tech name for it is “letter.” You already have it, me mailing or faxing another one isn’t going to change that situation. Please take action accordingly.”

“Can you please scan and email me the contents of the letter? I recall that it was written quite clearly and neatly covered all the points that I was interested in. I’d hate to re-write it in case I miss something.”

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