Sunday, 31 May 2009

31. Reflection on concept mapping

As I went past the 300 entries marker, I had a chance to reflect on the number of concept mapping tools I have highlighted here. These include
  • Novamind
  • Wisemapping
  • Dropmind
  • Drawanywhere
  • Exploratree
  • Mind42
  • Mindberry
  • Mndmaker
  • Mindmeister
  • Xmind
If we want to review what is available, we need to add at least i-Kon Maps, Inspiration, Mind Manager, Mind Genius, C-Maps, Inspiration, Kidspiration and Mindfull to name a few!

But my question is this - How do we know which one to use? You may be surprised how little work had gone into answering this question. And if we look closely what students are told to use, it is more about the knowledge to the specifier than the needs of the student.

So how do we decide what should be used? I do not aim to answer that here, but instead highlight some of the questions that need to be asked.
  • What are the needs of the user?
  • Is this what the student actually needs or what they think they need?
  • What is the "problem" they are trying to resolve?
  • How do you evaluate the quality of the solution?
  • Does the software fulfil the need?
  • Is it efficient, effective, user friendly and provide the appropriate results in the appropriate format?
  • Would other software do it better?
  • And how would we start to evaluate the above responses?
These questions require serious consideration since they effect the usefulness as well as the way resources are allocated. At the moment it is like everything we need is in the room, but somebody needs to turn the lights on.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

30. Google Chrome update

Google have recently release a new version of their browser Chrome and apparently it is 30% faster. I have as yet to see any real advantages, so will stick to Firefox for the forseeable future, especially as there are so many wonderful add-ons. And for the record, only 5% of the readers of this blog use Chrome.

Google Chrome

Friday, 29 May 2009

29. Reminders through Twitter - Mindmeto

I confess that I am not a great fan of Twitter. For me things have to have a purpose, and to date I do not have a reason to use Twitter. Perhaps it is my antisocial nature. Or that I tend not to work in a network that required this kind of rapid connection. But for those of you who do, there is a reminder service that utilises it. If you know the Twitter system, you will be very familiar with its use. Now just add reminders! This could be for groups of for individuals.


Thursday, 28 May 2009

28. Location, location - with Zhiing

Zhiing have just officially launched their "Where am I?" system for the iPhone, Android, Symbian, Blackberry, and Windows Mobile platforms.Many people cannot see its advantage. But for the dyslexic individual, it could provide a valuable way to communicate one's position to taxi drivers, loved ones, and emergency services. Unfortunately is does not yet cover the entire world, but it is getting there.


Wednesday, 27 May 2009

27. E-book reader - from iRex

It seems there are many e-book readers coming to market, and only time will tell which will win the sales war. They claim that "The iRex Digital Reader series are the world's largest e-readers." The books can be downloaded to your computer from Mobibooks before being loaded onto the eReader.

Irex eReaders


Tuesday, 26 May 2009

26. Giving more viewing space - Tiny Menu

It may sound trivial to want to change your horizontal Firefox menu bar (the ones that says File/Edit/View etc) into a drop down menu, but if you have a small netbook screen, you often are desperate for any space you can. That, in a nutshell, is what this add-on does.

Tiny Menu

Monday, 25 May 2009

25. Online flashcards - Cobocards

This is about creating flashcards for learning and remembering, either individually, or collaboratively. The idea is fairly simple and easy to control. The trick is to find the right person to learn with. Note the video presentation on the front page.


Sunday, 24 May 2009

24. Wolfram Alpha on test

I decided to put the much heralded WolframAlpha to the test with the obvious word - dyslexia, just to see how it faired. I think my response at this level must be "nothing to write home about". Here are the results.

Input interpretation: dyslexia (English word)

Definition: Noun - dyslexia - impaired ability to learn to read

Word origins: German | Greek (first recorded use: 1887 (122 years ago))

American pronunciation: (This does not appear to show well here.)

Broader terms: learning disability / learning disorder

Hyphenation: dys-lex-i-a

In response to "How do you make a concept map?" it responded "Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input."

At least when I put the same question to Google it gave me half a dozen good answers.


Saturday, 23 May 2009

23. Tidy website reading - TidyRead

This is a neat little Firefox Addon that take the web page and converts it into a much simpler format to read. What you see above is "extracted" from a BBC web page.


Friday, 22 May 2009

22. PDF to Excel - pdftoexcelonline

Some of the PDF converts have great trouble with tables. This is where this program excels (pun intended). It makes sense of the tables allow you to import them into Microsoft Excel.

PDF to Excel

Thursday, 21 May 2009

21. Screen recording - BB Flashback Express

Of course you could see this as just another screen recorder. But it has a few advantages, such as being able to zoom in (or out) of a key area at any time while you are recording. It can also do sound, video and the other usual recording conventions, even at high frame rates. It is said to be excellent for demonstrating how to use certain software.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

20. Flexible ebooks - Readius

There is more to life than ebooks. And while I love my Blackberry, reading a very long email is painful on a small screen. Please give me paper any time. However, given the mentions of Kindle on this blog, it seems appropriate to also review the alternatives (and the future).

The Readius is billed as the world's first pocket ebook. The picture does not show how big the screen is (it fits in the palm of your hand). To me the exciting part is that the screen folds up inside the device.

So we can expect to see bigger flexible screens in the future, with the folder size of a computer being small enough to fit into a pocket (as deep as the keyboard - around 10 cms or 4 inches), but the screen can fold out to conventional sizes.


Tuesday, 19 May 2009

19. Concept mapping - shared through Novamind

Inspiration comes from many sources, and knowing how other people use a tool can often free the mind from its constraints.

I recently came across this concept map sharing gallery. Although based on a particular piece of software (Novamind - Express version is listed as $49), the ideas and principles obviously work with any concept mapping software.

Novamind Gallery

Monday, 18 May 2009

18. The new killer app? - WolframAlpha

Today is the launch of what some suggest will be the next "killer application", the one that will make Google sit up and take note (and maybe try to buy it?). The media has been talking about WolframAlpha for some time, but today is the official launch. So maybe you should not try it today as it may be a little crowded in there! But basically consider it as dyslexia friendly as rather than just give you a list of pages on which you may find the answer to your question, this claims to provide the answer to your question. Now that could be interesting! Obviously I am writing this before the actual launch, so I cannot try it. But I look forward to seeing its answer to "What is dyslexia?" That will tell me if I should ever use it a second time.


Sunday, 17 May 2009

17. Unknown changes

I found it very disturbing recently when suddenly I lost all my bookmarks from my web front page. I would go as far as to say it was distressing. Add to that, I suddenly was being logged out of iGoogle ever time I quit the browser. Yet I had changed nothing. How could this happen?

I am still not sure, but it seems Google may have changed some small things behind the scene (e.g. developers API's - don't worry, I am not sure what it means either!). This accounted for the bookmarks disappearing. My guess on the logout part was that it changes some cookies in my system, but they did not get replaced when they changed their system. This reasoning is because I tried, thanks to hint I finally found, deleting all Google cookies in the cache. This means they would have to be replaced with new cookies. It appears to have cured it. But I am still wondering how many others had the same problem.

It is not that I do not like change (would I do this blog if I didn't!) it is the fact that I had so much problem finding the right words to type into Google to find why my "Google Apps" were no longer working that annoys me!

Saturday, 16 May 2009

16. Making comics offline - Comic Life

Yes, there is something cool about those all singing, all dancing, online comic programs that are free. But sometimes it is nice to have a little program (for £25) on your computer that makes comics in the traditional way. And sometime you get just too many choices. This simple, easy to use program allows quick and easy comic development. It is available for both Mac and Windows.

Comic Life

Friday, 15 May 2009

15. E-books - Kindle DX

The latest e-book device from Amazon is the Kindle DX. Of particular note is the "Read-to-Me" feature which is text-to-speech. They had a big row with the Authors' Guild of America recently over Kindle 2. (The Authors' Guild demanded Amazon turn off their text-to-speech because it infringed their rights.) According to Amazons' own website, "Kindle DX can read newspapers, magazines, blogs, and books out loud to you, unless the book's rights holder made the feature unavailable". This may explain why this new version comes so quickly after Kindle 2.

Other feature are that it is a lot bigger (9.7 inch diagonal screen - up from 6 inch for previous models), can hold 3500 books, periodicals and documents, uses wireless to download a book in less than a minute, the display auto-rotates from portrait to landscape as you turn the device, reads ordinary pdfs, and has a battery life of two weeks!

But before you rush out and buy one (at around £320 or €360) it is worth looking at the downsides. For example, using their "highlighter" is difficult, searching is problematic (I love to flick through a book quickly to find what I am looking for - how can a single screen ever allow that?), and what about all those books that are not available electronically. Also, the technology for colour is not yet available. So you can forget changing background colours etc.

Amazon Kindle DX

TechCrunch Review

Thursday, 14 May 2009

14. Uploading and online sharing - Docverse

This is another sharing website, but instead of using some non-standard system, it uses Microsoft Word. So you can share and collaborate online using the real document. Only one slight drawback is that you need both Vista and Microsoft Office 2007.


Wednesday, 13 May 2009

13. Laptops - Asus new 8.9 in tablet

It seems that every month there is a significant step forward with laptops. The latest step in "netbooks" is the eagerly awaited Asus Eee PC T91 due out by the end of May or early June. The most significant advance in this 8.9 inch screen computer is the swivel touchscreen, making it a very useful tablet device. This means you are actually looking at the area you are working on, rather than looking at the screen while "working" elsewhere, with either the mouse or the keypad, both of which are not the focus of your viewing attention.

And if you want novelty, apparently it also throws in a TV tuner and GPS just for good measure.

Price is said to be £449.

Video guide to the Asus Eee PC T91

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

12. Recovering bookmarks - Enhanced Bookmarks

Bookmarks are wonderful, especially when sitting there for a one stop click on the iGoogle front page. But when they disappear, as happened with Enhanced Bookmarks a few days ago, it is a disaster. I understand they are trying to fix it, but in the meantime, somebody has come up with a really nice fix. It does not restore them, but it does remind you what they were and what were the URLs.

Thanks guys at Xoonoox!

Enhanced Bookmarks recovery

PS. Note to self - keep a list of bookmark links somewhere!

Monday, 11 May 2009

11. Concept mapping for projects - ConceptDraw

ConceptDraw have release a version of their concept mapping software that is designed specifically to help with project management, which could work equally well for the dyslexic user as a business tool or to help develop and execute student projects. It covers all aspects from concept to planning through to execution with the usual built-in reminders and emailing as standard.

A 30 day trial is available.


Sunday, 10 May 2009

10. Digital camera with Polaroid prints

This is one of those producta that you know is useful, thought you cannot quite work out the list of uses. The old Polaroid camera was a wonderful tool, but died at the start of the digital age. However, welcome the new age of the Polaroid camera.

Polariod are about to release (13 May) a camera whose specifications are a 5meg camera, a massive 3 inch view screen, and an internal printer that produces picture slightly larger than business cards in about a minute.

Uses? To many to mention, from reminders (where you parked the car when you went on holiday - how often have you taken a picture and the battery is dead when you need to see it?) to using to put images into coursework.

Polaroid Camera

Saturday, 9 May 2009

9. Using avatars - Star Trek style

I have yet to see research on the use of avatars, but I believe that they will be the future of text-to-speech, and will help make the text more "user friendly". Of course when a person watches the mouth closely, they do it to get clues as to what sound was made. These avatars do not (yet) provide enough detail to help in this sense. But they make it more interesting. This is a site that allows one to upload ones own photos to become the avatar. You can then use the text-to-speech to have your own words said. And you can even share the site with others.

This is put here as a glimpse of the future, and as a piece of fun for kids to experiment with text-to-speech in a novel and motivating way.




Friday, 8 May 2009

8. Word mining - VocabGrabber

I think this sits somewhere between practical and fun. Basically, put some text into their text box, hit the button and it "does things" with you text. This include identifying all the key words, ranking them in different terms, separating out different types of words, and even producing "semantic maps" (see that part top right?). It is fun, but at the same time, if you need to identify key vocabulary in a text to help a dyslexic individual with key words, it could be useful.


Thursday, 7 May 2009

7. Talking books - with Stanza

Stanza is a popular iPhone e-reader, and has been around for some time. It also works on different platforms. However, it has just been bought by Amazon, the same people who have just run into legal problems with the text-to-speech for their e-reader Kindle. Not sure how I can see that one will not be OK, but the this one will be fine.

According to the website, "It gives special attention to details that are usually overlooked in other software readers such as hyphenation, text columnation, automatic text scrolling, and user-friendly page and chapter navigation." Of course you still have to buy the books!


Wednesday, 6 May 2009

6. Mindmeister - Updated

Mindmeister (free for the first six mind maps, but never mind, you can always replace one with another!) have just released an updated version, with many improved features, including improved availability of images to put into your mind maps. Also high on their new features list is the German and Japanese interfaces. Apparently soon to follow will be French, Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese.


Tuesday, 5 May 2009

5. Examining the way forward, with Norwegian computers

Have you ever considered how students will be taking exams in say ten years time? Well, according to the BBC report, Norway is giving us a glimpse of what lies ahead. Basically they are giving every 16-19 year old their own laptop computer, which they can then use in exams. These come loaded with standard software, and can be used at all times by the students.

However, during exam times, some "anti-cheating" software clicks in to stop people using "outside" help. (It is based on watching every keystroke used, software accessed and website visited.) They talk about the advantages of using systems the students are familiar with. However, there is not mention of assistive technology that would be useful for the dyslexic student.

BBC Report on Norwegian experiment

Monday, 4 May 2009

4. Waiting for approval - Approver

I have tried a number of shared document online systems, but the problem is that you have to coordinate when to be there together. Approver allows you to make changes to an existing document online, and then the partner is informed of when the changes are made or the document approved through an email. This is particularly good if there is a group of users, or waiting for a tutor to visit your document.


Sunday, 3 May 2009

3. Bigs sales for little laptops

While sales of 250,000 of these devices is not big these days, the potential for another three million is big news. If these do happen, it will make India the biggest investors in the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project. But my concern is that there is still nothing on them.


Saturday, 2 May 2009

2. Edysgate revisited - Dyslexia wins

Please excuse a little self-indulgence. Back in September I mentioned about Edysgate, an EU-funded project I have been involved in, which seeks to improve underlying cognitive skills. Below are the words from a letter received this week.

"I am writing to you as the Chairman of the World Summit Award which was launched as part of the United Nations Summit on the Information Society and which is the unique global competition for recognition as the best in e-Content and Creativity. (

The World Summit Award Grand Jury 2009 met in New Delhi, India from April 1-8 bringing together eminent multimedia and e-Content experts from 34 countries. The Jury evaluated 545 entries (from an original 20,000) which were nominated from 157 countries to the Global WSA. The Jury selected the five most outstanding products in each of the eight WSA Categories as Winners.

I am delighted to officially inform you herewith that your product (Edysgate) has been evaluated by the Grand Jury as a world wide example of outstanding e-Content! Your product has been declared one of the WSA 09 Winners in your category and best practice of high quality e-Content!"

Unfortunately, the official reception is in Mexico in June.


Friday, 1 May 2009

1. April Review

Without doubt my favourites for the past month has been not so much the products themselves, but to see that people are now beginning to develpo tools for smart phones other than the iPhone (9 and 30).

Sharing and backups
5. Sharing all - Mikogo
8. Screen recording - GoView
11. Screensharing update - Dimdim
17. Sending large files - Yousendit
26. Email and backing up
28. Large files? Enjoy the buzz of Otengo
29. Shared documents with formating - Solodox

Concept mapping
9. Mindmapping on the Blackberry - Mindberry
27. Concept mapping on and offline

Speaking functions
3. Listen with Twitter - with Shouttr
12. Remote control by voice
13. Skype on the iPhone
30. Talking of functions - vlingo with iPhone and Blackberry

19. Fires of dissent - Kindle II revisited
22. Low price netbook - Coming soon

Tidying the desktop
4. The missing link - Foxtab
10. Reinvent your desktop - BumpTop

2. What does it mean - Click Answers
6. Making movies - the XtraNormal
7. Online mini-tests - yAuthor
14. Keep taking the tablets - from Motion
15. Online password protection - Passpack
16. Online OCR - InstantOCR
18. Where is the car parked - G-Park
20. Read it - ineedtoreadthis
21. The road to organised research - Mendeley
23. Image software - Paint
24. Typing tutor - From Pete
25. Text prediction made usable - Phrase Express