Tuesday, 30 September 2008
But most people see them as a simple little "extra". But mixing with other technology these netbooks can be the centre of your computing world. For example, the picture above shows my Linux Asus eeePC connect to a 20 inch (50cm) screen, and the resolution change to that of a good laptop. Add a separate keyboard (keys are a bit small for my hands) and mouse and you have yourself a cheap and portable system. I used it to create this blog entry.
The one drawback with these machines is the battery life which can be as low as 90 minutes. But if you know that at the beginning, you can always carry a spare.
It is also ideal for pupils looking for a replacement for something like an Alphasmart. Those have good battery life, but their cost effectiveness is gone. For those worried about all those games and viruses that could appear on the machine, try the Netbooks that use a Linux system instead of Windows. It is cheaper, less games and far fewer viruses.
Monday, 29 September 2008
Given that testing finds out the underlying causes of the literacy problems, why not try to address those underlying difficulties before you try to improve literacy? That way you would have a more receptive brain to teach. Otherwise you are in danger of perpetuating failure, or at least not optimising learning. This project set about identifying seven key areas to improve, and then make a series of activities aimed at working with those areas. There is no claim that they will make a huge difference given the small number of activities (only 135 games), but at the very least they will highlight what could be done, and the areas that are important. It is hoped that future research will demonstrate what works in this area, and how to make it more effective.
This project recently won a major award in Austria for its innovative approach to learning.
Sunday, 28 September 2008
I have been reviewing a number of online tools that allow collaborative work which no doubt would be a boon to many learners (and workers) since it would allow remote support. Instead of the teacher/tutor/support worker/colleague needing to sit alongside, they can review and support the work at a distance.
But then I was reminded of a university based dyslexia support tutor who I saw "helping" a history student make a concept map. Unfortunately rather than help their thinking process to identify the structure and content themselves, they told the student exactly what to write. That is, the concept map was a reflection of the knowledge of the tutor rather than that of the student. Consequently they would need the tutor again the next time they had to construct a concept map. The dyslexic student had not been empowered.
These new online collaborative tools offer opportunities, but also have the potential to disempower, as in the example above.
The question is not about cheating, but being fair and empowering. We need to be vigilant to ensure we give (and receive) support that allows the acknowledged "author" to be proud of their own work.
Saturday, 27 September 2008
Have you ever wanted to look up something on the web but the results were too complex? Did you know that Wikipedia has a "Simple English" version? It is very similar in principle (though with only 37,000 articles as opposed to 2.5 million on the main site), using simpler English in the explanations.
Friday, 26 September 2008
Viewzi is a visual web browser that would suit anybody who prefers to access information in pictures. This may be for the original search, or if they want to return to a website and cannot remember the name from a list but would recognise it if they saw it.
Technically it appears to fall between a browser and a web service, since you sign up to it, and results appear in your normal browser.
This beta version looks to be any interesting development, with a number of "developers" providing alternative methods of display. Types of display include Celebrity Photo View (above), News, Screenshot, Albums, Basic Photo and a number of others.
Thursday, 25 September 2008
The link to this video gives us a hint of what is to come, namely the flexible computer. In this case it is a flexible e-book, but given what can be done with it, one can imagine the full computer is not so far away. The book uses e-ink, which currently restricts it to black and white. But it is lightweight, and only one third the thickness of the Apple Air computer.
Interestingly, it is not so far from the Negroponte vision for the next stage of his one-laptop-per-child. He is already talking about touch screens and virtual keyboards. Clearly that overlaps with this concept.
Just image, no more computers broken for being dropped, thrown or stamped on! The link is a good demonstration of how versatile this new product will be.
Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Yesterday the new Android powered phone were unveiled, to a fairly small fanfare. The problem is that they are competing again other touch screen phones, such as the i-Phone and various HTC phones to name a few. So all that is left is the fact that it has free operating system. It may drive down the price, but will it help the dyslexic individual?
The answer is probably not, but we shall see. By having an open sources platform it may allow quicker development of tools, and therefore wider use among the techies. However, the fact that the development is lead by Google means that it should at least integrate with Google Docs and make online management of documents easier. This means you wont have to worry about leaving documents at home. It also means that people can share more easily.
As to the touchscreen, people are divided on its usefulness. If the individual is also dyspraxic, then maybe they will have problems, but maybe less than on, say, a blackberry keyboard. Interestingly there are other interesting developments that may have an impact, such as Swype, which allows you to type using an onscreen keyboard, where you do not have to lift your finger off the keypad.
BBC Google report
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
We become very reliant on our mobile phones, and if the power fails, we can loose (temporarily) phone numbers, appointments, calendars, and the ability to call somebody to tell them the phone has died and can they provide vital information. There are many simple solutions: carry a spare battery (and remember to keep it charged) always keep an extra charger at work/school/college, carry a charger with you, carry a second phone etc.
However, there is another option, which is the wind-up charger. Three minutes of winding apparently will give eight minutes of talk time (or access to those vital numbers). I admit this is more a novelty present for most people, since why carry this instead of a spare battery or charger and knock on somebody's door. Or ask somebody to borrow their phone. But as somebody who travels a lot, I know that there are many occasions when it would be good to have this option.
Click for a link to one of many such devices and suppliers.
Monday, 22 September 2008
It is not widely known that Adobe Acrobat has a built in text-to-speech reader called Read Out Loud. That means that you can ask the program to read any PDF to you without needing to install separate software. It uses the voices built into your computer and although the voices are not as good as the commercial text-to-speech engines, it is a very useful tool if you have no alternative installed. It is accessible in Acrobat through View > Read Out Loud.
About Read Out Loud
Sunday, 21 September 2008
Every dyslexic is different, and the typeface of preference is very personal. There are many factors that can influence it, but research suggests that most prefer what they are used to. That is, if you grew up reading Times, then that may be your preference, at least on paper. However, Times breaks up on the computer screen, so you may need to change to Arial. This in turn will affect what you prefer on paper. Thus your preferences will change.
If one had to suggest to a commercial organisation what typeface to use that would assist the highest number of people, the answer would be that Arial or similar should be the first choice. But it would be even better if an electronic version was made available for people to adjust to their own preferences.
Saturday, 20 September 2008
There may be many reasons why you may want to do a screen capture. This is a small program that allows you to capture the exact area you want. This means you can save everything on the screen, from a tiny area to the full screen. And its free. It is also available in Brazilian Portuguese, Catalan (Valencian), Chinese, Czech, Deutsche, Dutch, English, French, Galego, Hungarian (Magyar), Italian, Macedonian, Polski (Polish), Portuguese (Portugal), Russian, Sloveski, Spanish and Swedish.
Of course you could also use Print Screen, built into Windows. However, this is more sophisticated with diverse options.
Friday, 19 September 2008
This is a completely free recording program that is (almost) as good as some of the more professional versions. It allows most of the functions from recording, editing, boosting poor quality, removing hiss etc. (But a poor recording can only ever be made into an improved poor recording. It is better to seek to maximise the quality in the first place.) Another benefit is that you can convert wav files into mp3, with the aid of an additional download. This is useful for those text-to-speech programs that only produce wav files.
Thursday, 18 September 2008
The layout of the modern keyboard was designed to minimise the number of keys that clashed in the mechanical version. It is not the most efficient layout, but with so many keyboards of a fixed design, it is difficult to envisage any other layout becoming commonplace. The one layout that does provide considerable theoretical promise is the Maltron keyboard.
In the 1970s Lilian Malt re-examined the strain issues around keyboard use, and in collaboration with Stephen Hobday developed the Maltron keyboard. (www.maltron.com). Their analysis of the logic behind the keyboard makes for very interesting reading. For example the keyboard rest keys (i.e. those keys where the fingers naturally rest) on the QWERTY – ASDF : HJKL - allow just 27 words to be typed. However, the Maltron layout rest keys - ANISF : DTHOR – over 7500 words can be typed. For the 20 most common words (the, of, and, a, to, in, is, you, that, it, he, was, for, on, are, as, with, his, they, I) which account for 25-30% of all words used, only “a” can be typed with the rest keys using a QWERTY layout, while all but four (you, was, with, they) can be typed using rest keys with the Maltron layout. As well as improved key placement, the Maltron keyboard is also said to be a better ergonomically as it matches the natural position of the hand.
However, if the next generation of keyboards is built into the screen, we have the option to change the keyboard layout at any time. This means, at least in theory, that future generations could train to type far more efficiently.
Wednesday, 17 September 2008
It is good to have text-to-speech on your computer. But what happen when you move from machine to machine? The answer is to have the software on a dongle. One such solution is ClaroRead SE (cut down but still high quality voices), shown here. And at less than £70 (€100) is a good solution. Available from the British Dyslexia Association web shop.
ClaroRead SE at the BDA Shop
Tuesday, 16 September 2008
Just about everybody I know carries a USB memory stick around. But where they keep them is anybody's guess. Usually it's a case of "It's in one of these pockets somewhere", "At the bottom of the handbag, I think", or "On the table at home." For some time, I have been looking for a decent memory that is somehow easy to keep nearby. My current choice is the Flexi Integral (2Gb). It is small enough to attach to the key ring (see above), folds away, and is rubberised. Cost is around £12 (€16).
Possible source of this USB: Pixmania.com
Monday, 15 September 2008
The beta version of Dropbox has was launched last Thursday, and offers a new way to save and share files. Basically, you install a piece of software onto your computer, and you are able to share files on the web and with other computers. You can put up to 2Gb onto the web for free, making it a useful backup service. It really cannot be much simpler than that. Installation was easy and stress free. There are versions for Windows, Mac and Linux, meaning you can share any time with anybody. So if you are online, why not just email? Firstly, there are file size limitations, and secondly this is also backup storage. Hopefully it will minimise those lost and forgotten files.
Sunday, 14 September 2008
It is an urban myth that there are fonts that suit all dyslexics. Everybody is different. However there are some features that make it easier for the dyslexic reader. In brief, I suggest the use of Arial rather than Times. But if everybody does have their own preference, then why not design the typeface that suits you. Then you could change any electronic document to your own preference. Here is a font design tool, which even allows you to share it, all for free.
Saturday, 13 September 2008
See also Battery life - but not as we know it
Friday, 12 September 2008
There are many different free "Stickies" (Post Its) programs, which are simple little notes that sit on the Desktop as a form of short term visual reminder. (They also have alarms, you can change colours, fonts etc.) I have chosen this one as it has the option to download the menus in different languages, including Brazilian, Catalan, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish.
Zhorn Software Stickies
Thursday, 11 September 2008
Sometime you see something that you know will be useful, but you are not sure what to use it for. This is one of those tools. Imagine giving two kids a piece of blank paper but not telling them how to use it. That is what we have here, but the two people can be in different countries! How else do you describe this kind of whiteboard? This is a tool that can be used for any shared experience, from planning, freehand concept mapping, language learning or just having fun.
Results are shared by asking the program for the web page where it can be seen. All you need to do is hit that button, and you can send the URL to a friend by email, Skype or any other means. You can also print, save and send the pictures.
Wednesday, 10 September 2008
There are two types of plagiarism: purposeful and accidental. Purposeful plagiarism is when you claim something was your work when you knew it was not. Accidental plagiarism is when, for example, you are on the internet and rather than loose the text, you copy and paste it into your notes document. Then when you are rewriting it, you forget which is yours and which is not. Suddenly somebody else’s text appears in a document without a clear indication that it is not yours.
Before wide access to electronic information, this was not a major issue because a) people were not able to cut and paste, and b) there was no easy way to check is something was original. However, universities now have access to software that check for plagiarism. This is because too many people try to cheat. And as far as I am concerned, if they purposely attempted to deceive others, then they should be punished appropriately. But what of those who genuinely do it accidentally? Fortunately there is some help before you have to hand it in.
It is called Viper, and can be downloaded from www.scanmyessay.com. In principle you upload your document to the software that sits on your computer, and then you click on Server and Web Search and it checks the internet for any document similar to yours by taking lots of short phrases and comparing it to what is already on the web.
Tuesday, 9 September 2008
1. Dim your screen
This is an obvious way to say power, since the backlight used to light the screen accounts for 2-3 watts of power.
2. Avoid multitasking
Minimise the number of programs running at the same time, including those running in the background. You can see how busy your CPU is by going to the Task Manager. Decrease the activity will increase the battery life.
3. Minimise the number of “devices” operating
USB devices such as the mouse can be a power drain. Switching off WiFi saves another 3 watts. Run from the hard drive, not from the CD/DVD drive.
4. Adjust the power settings
Use the one that maximised battery life. This will decrease performance slightly, but not enough to show with standard programmes such as word processing.
5. Lower screen resolution
This option decreases the call on the graphics computing. Although generally not recommended since the low resolution may be uncomfortable and counter productive, it is none-the-less an option.
6. Use “Hibernate” instead of “Standby”
Hibernate save far more power than going into Standby mode. Although placing a laptop in standby mode saves some power and you can instantly resume where you left off, it doesn’t save anywhere as much power as the hibernate function does.
Monday, 8 September 2008
Sunday, 7 September 2008
In the spirit of constant review, the blog from the 2nd September 2008 highlighted the release of the new Google Chrome web browsers. Now, after a few days, there has been the opportunity to reflect and review comments on the web. The consensus appears to be along the lines of "Nice browser, but not ready yet."
But, as the illustration shows, there is one good new feature that I like, which is that you can have a visual front page of Bookmarks when you open a new tab (Ctrl T). Of course I would like it differently organised, but it is a start.
On background colours, I have yet to find the control panel.
On increasing text size, it performs well using Ctrl + +. Where both Firefox and Explorer increase the whole page size, Chrome only changes text size. This is better in most cases.
It seems they have some way to go before they have compatibility with all the screen readers.
For a list of the shortcuts mentioned below, see their Keyboard Shortcuts guide.
Jonas Kline (Software Engineer - Accessibility for Google), released the following statement about accessibility on 4th September:
"Google Chrome, our new Open Source browser released on Tuesday
In the spirit of releasing early and iterating, this version of Chrome has focused on basic support for keyboard navigation and shortcuts
Accessibility is important to us, and we have for some time worked on its implementation. We look forward to releasing this, and making further improvements for our users."
Saturday, 6 September 2008
Friday, 5 September 2008
Thursday, 4 September 2008
Wednesday, 3 September 2008
Tuesday, 2 September 2008
Of course the first reaction is that one needs to learn yet another new system. But fortunately the new browser follows the principles of clarity and therefore it should be intuitive.
Key areas for consideration include ease of changing background colours and font sizes, and the ability to integrate text-to-speech software. The other aspect will be the ability to return to ones favourite sites, through history and bookmarks.
Clearly this development is about making a browser for the services that are up-and-coming, including better handling of online services such as Google Docs, Google Earth, Videos etc and the yet to be conceptualised ideas for "Web 2" and "Web 3" (whatever those terms may mean!).
Monday, 1 September 2008
Freeware is used here to suggest all the software that can be used without paying anybody. This excludes Shareware, where you are supposed to send money after a given amount of time.
Does this mean you do not need to buy any software? Commercial software exists because is has advantages. But if you waiting for funding (or will never get it!) you can still explore the following software. Note that the list includes online and offline versions.
The Suite includes the following:
Basic Office software (offline)
Open Office www.openoffice.com
Basic Office Software (online)
Google Docs http://docs.google.com
Natural Reader www.naturalreaders.com
Concept mapping (offline)
Concept mapping (online)
Mindmeister www.mindmeister.com (Collaborative)
Typing tutor (offline)
TypeFaster Typing Tutor www.typingsoft.com/all_typing_tutors.htm
Klavaro Touch Typing Tutor www.typingsoft.com/all_typing_tutors.htm
Typing tutor (online)
Online Keybr www.keybr.com
Don’t forget the milk www.rememberthemilk.com
BATS – Basic Assistive Technology Suite – is available to the Ibis website: