Aardvark

With Google’s recent acquisition of Aardvark, I wanted to give it a try and see why they bought it. Aardvark is a website that lets you ask questions and get answers. I could describe it more, but that’s what it is. You submit a question and then aardvark searches for a user that might be able to answer it.

At first, I wondered how this differed than just searching for answers online. I decided to ask it questions whose answers I couldn’t find by searching with Google. I thought I might be able to get a good response. Out of all the questions I asked, all the answers were unhelpful or showed that the answerers did not understand the questions. Some were just flat out ridiculous. I think that the concept is interesting, but so far, it isn’t helpful.

Word Processor Search

I recently continued my ongoing search for the ultimate word processor for mac. Before I get to much further into this post, I must say that I am very content with Office 2007 on PCs. I think it is great. Since I’ve been using macs rather exclusively for the last 3 or 4 years, I have not been impressed by the word processors for mac. Here’s what I have learned.

Lightweight word processors. Let me say that I love these little programs. I’m talking about TextEdit that comes with OS X and others like Bean. In my speed tests (which weren’t done really scientifically) these were obviously the winners. They can do everything they do lightning fast. I wish that the the other word processors were like this. Obviously, they aren’t near as powerful as their big brothers, but they ar great for jotting down some text. I use TextEdit all the time. I think bean is real great too. The only real problem I have with these is that I can’t implement all the features that I need in order to produce an APA paper.

Openoffice.org and NeoOffice. I love these two suites. They are nice, but unfortunatly they are are also slow. They are memory hogs. There are occasional bugs. I’m really impressed with the work that has been done. Now, the whole idea of using open-source software really gives you warm fuzzies. Those, however are canceled out by the bickering and bad talk going between the two companies. It’s a long story but you can search for stuff about it online. NeoOffice looks and works a lot better with OS X. OpenOffice.org now has a native app which allows it to compete with NeoOffice. The former now has to wait to include the updated code from OpenOffice.org which puts it a little behind OO.o.

Word 2008. Some people might complain about using a microsoft program on their mac. I’m not a fanboy. I’m fine using it. It was much quicker than OpenOffice.org and NeoOffice. I liked that. Office 2008 has about every feature you need. It’s bloated. It’s expensive. It works. As I was looking around all these programs, I found a hidden menu item: Style Gallery. This allows you to sort of apply style sets, but isn’t really the best solution. You just create templates with the styles you want and then you can apply them to any document. I don’t like how confusing the formatting palette can get though.

Pages ’09. I like pages. It’s quicker than all but the lightweights. It isn’t as expensive as Office 2008. It has the ease of use of a typical mac program. It’s rather feature complete and let’s you do everything that you need.

Mellel and others. I didn’t look at these too much. I found that they simply didn’t look nice and I didn’t want to spend money on program that didn’t seem to look nice or offer frequent updates.

So, here’s a brief run down of some categories and the winners.

Macness: Pages
Features: Word
Price: OpenOffice.org
Warm Fuzzies: OpenOffice.org
Speed: TextEdit
Style sets: Mellel
Comments interoperable with others: Word

So, it looks like I’m stuf with word. What I want is a quick, free, open source word processor that has style sets and works well with Microsoft Words reviewing features (comments, track changes, etc.) If anyone out there knows of one, post a comment.

Magic Mouse Review

I really wanted a Magic Mouse. They are just cool! So I bought one a couple of weeks ago. I love that it uses bluetooth. I love the multi-touch features. I hated the ergonomics. It hurt my had to use, so I took it back. If you want a cool mouse, spend some time with this one at the store first. If you have small, little, hobbit hands like me, you might not want to get this mouse.

Personal Development: Computer Style

Whoa! Two posts in one day! Hold on! As part of my own personal development, I’d like to blog more. It helps me share ideas.

Dragos Roua has an interesting post on being your best self. It compares us to computers. I think that there are some good points here, especially the unexpected shutdown.

Balance your core features

Defrag your mind

Update your drivers

Stay virus free

Enjoy an unexpected shutdown every now and then

WordPress App

I just downloaded a very cool app from iTunes. It allows me to post to my wordpress blog directly from my iPod touch. You have to be connected to the Internet when you set it up. It gets all the important information including former posts, comments, and categories. Once you setup your initial account, you can set up other accounts. The blog can be hosted on your own server or the wordpress.com hosting site. Also, after you set it up, you don’t need Internet access. You can create or edit you posts. I assumed that you could set it to upload automatically when you have an Internet connection, but It looks like you have to come back and publish it when you have a connection. This is my first post using the app and so far I really like it and recommend it to ant wordpress bloggers out there.

VMWare Fusion 3.0

As a tech enthusiast, I’m often asked to give assistance to friends and family when they have technology questions or problems. Recently (1.5 years ago), I switched entirely to macs. I really do love them. They look nice and they work excellently. They last long and have good resale value. One thing that I have to do though, is stay familiar with the world of Windows. I’m also a big fan of Linux. Virtualization becomes essential for me.

VmWare recently released a new version of their windows on mac virtualization software. I’m not new to Virtual Machines. I started using them a lot back when VMWare made the free VMWare Player available and Microsoft did the same for Virtual PC. I had previously been using Fusion 2.1. I decided to update to version 3.0 because I could do it for $19.99. I don’t regret it either.

Fusion 3.0 comes with lots of new features. The first thing that I notices was a great increase in speed. I found that my new XP vm was quite snappier. Keep in mind, I’m running this on a 13″ unibody MBP. I’ve upgraded to 4gb of ram which really can make the difference. I really like how well the vm runs with only 1gb allocated to it though. Windows 7 worked great with 1gb, but even better with 2gb.

I’m not much of a gamer, and you really don’t have to be to enjoy the new graphic enhancements. In Windows 7 and Vista, you can now use the Aero effects. The capability was there in version 2.0, but the driver wasn’t digitally signed. It is now, and you can enjoy the aero effects. I found that with my measly integrated graphics, I could run Aero pretty well. It’s wasn’t great, but it was about equivalent to my old PC with integrated graphics running aero on vista. One of the complaints that I have read about was that fusion only supports OpenGL 2.x in Windows XP. That’s both true and false. Out of the box, you can only use OpenGL 1.4 in Vista and 7. However, if you uninstall the driver, reboot, and reinstall it, and reboot again, it loads a different driver for 7 that does not let you run the aero effects, but does let you use OpenGL 2.1.

Fusion 3 is also optimized for Snow Leopard. I’m actually running SL with 64-bit extensions on. Everything is working great!

I still find unity to be kind of blah. You can see the windows desktop when moving around windows. It really takes away from the experience. But, like previous versions, you can very easily use Unity with Linux . . . well at least with Gnome and Ubuntu.

One feature I find cool, but not really useful to me, is the new menu bar. I was shocked to see that it runs even when no vm is running. You can turn this off. When on, it remembers the applications in your start menu. What really shocked me was that if also created a menu for my Ubuntu VM. I included some screenshots here.

Google OS

Late last night, when I was going through my feeds in Google Reader, I came across the news of the Google OS.

It seems like a great idea. One thing that really attracts me to it is that it could substantially increase the utility of affordable desktops for educational purposes. Right now netbooks are burdened with windows xp or properly equipped with a lesser known and more intimidating flavor of linux. I think linux is perfect for these machines, but new users aren’t keen on switching.

Now that Google is working on an OS built on the linux kernel and heavily integrated with the web, we might see a broader group jumping on the linux train. Google is one of the few corporate forces with the power and momentum to get linux into more machines. Linux runs great on low profile systems and is highly extensible.

So, as far as education goes, I can definitely see Google OS making the cheap netbook and other cheap desktops a good selection for educators to use in labs and classrooms. Instead of being the intimidating “linux,” it’s google!

Routers

I use the Internet all the time. I had been noticing that my computer seemed slow. I have a mac and i had noticed that my wife’s PCs were much faster on the web. After some searching, I found that I am not the only person with this problem. One suggestion was to change the DNS servers. So, I changed them to openDNS servers. That seemed to help a bit, but the other day my wife was using my machine and mentioned how much slower it was.

The investigation continued. I found that for some reason, some people think that macs don’t like Linksys routers. I was looking for a solution and found an open source firmware update called DD-WTR. I used it to update my firmware, and I have found some added snappiness to my web travels. If you are technically talented and have a linksys router, this might be something worth trying.

iLife, ESL, and the Past Tense

I recently did a Poster Session at an Apple Education Conference: AcademiX. It was a lot of fun. I thought that I would share what what I did. For more information you can look at the Poster Session PDF.

Overview

For starters, this is something that I did with my intermediate ESL students.  In order to help them with them learn the past tense, I gave them an assignment.

The student videos were comprised of two parts. First, the students drew their story as if it were a comic. Second, the students narrated the story.

Preparation

1. The students were divided into groups of four or five.
2. Each group was assigned one of the four topics:
•    Frightening Experience – Fire
•    Frightening Experience – Car accident
•    Frightening Experience – Getting Lost
•    Most Embarrassing Moment
3. Each group brainstormed to find a good story to tell for their assigned topic.
4. The students then began to take turns drawing pictures to go with their stories.
5. While not drawing, the other students would review and practice their portion of the speaking part.

During this portion the students had great authentic language use.

Brainstorming – The students told personal stories about their past while thinking of good topics. The students negotiated ideas as they decided on a story whether fictional or real.
Practicing – The students were able to use more language as they practiced their presentation. They helped one another and corrected each other.

I should note that this was done over the course of a week. For each class period, they were given 30 minutes to work on the project.

Day 1 – Brainstorming
Day 2 – Creating a Story
Day 3 – Drawing the Pictures
Day 4 – Recording their stories

Putting it all together

1. The students pictures were scanned and imported into iPhoto where they were edited.
2. Students recorded their dialogs using GarageBand, Sound Studio or WireTap Studio Pro. The students used iMacs with their built in microphones.
3. The audio and pictures were imported into iMovie where it was all put together.

Conclusion

It was a fun activity for everyone. It did put a lot of the burden on me to put it all together, but it was worth it.