Saturday, August 25, 2007

Newton Astronomy

Meg and I have spent most of our week days during August doing home repairs on my family's place on Lopez Island. This time I brought along my MessagePad 2100 with a couple of astronomy packages loaded on it.

Sky Guide has the potensial to be a great Newton application if only the stars and constellations were labeled. Sean Luke has a fantastic rant about the perils of closed sourse software in which this program is specifically referenced. However, Sky Guide does provide a good snapshot of what the sky looks like at any given time or location.

StarChart 2.1 is an update of an earlier version of this great astonomic chart package. This application displays stars, constellations, and planets, again based on time and location. You can click on specific stars, planets, or constellations to bring up detailed information of them, including an individualized representation of a constellation, for example. There are also many display settings that allow the user to customize how the data is presented.

Additionally, I have a sky guide that I made in eigth grade astronomy class, fashioned from a manilla folder. I started the low-tech way and gauged the paper sky guide, noting which planets were supposed to be where. The first two nights were too foggy to star gaze, but we lucked out on the third night. Newton in hand, I went outside. Both StarChart and Sky Guide allow the user to orient the display in the direction she or he is standing. I chose Victoria, B.C. as my location, since I can see Victoria from the house on a clear day. The moon was rising to my right, and the Newton's sky guides both confirmed I was pointing in the correct direction and oriented.

The inclusion of the Newton's sky guides improved by sky gazing experience because I was able to identify some of the constellations and planets I saw. Pluto and Neptune were both out. I also saw Casseopia, Pegasus, and Capricorn. It was cool being able to identify what I saw.

It was a little harsh using the Newton's green backlight then trying to readjust my eyes. At one point a band of Newton users commissioned and installed red backlights specifically so they could star gaze with their Newtons.

To finish it all up, I wrote this blog post up in Newton's Notes. I kept StarChart and Sky Guide running at the same time with no problem so I could reference what I saw. I installed nBlog on this MessagePad then posted the entry using the Newton's wifi card. Nerdy!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lego Auto Assembly Line

I saw this video at Wired: an automobile assembly line built and programmed in Lego Mindstorm bricks and parts.

The details are at times hard to catch but it is amazing that people were able to built this. Hat's off to the fact they used Mindstorm, and not NXT, bricks: old school Lego

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Children's Reviews of the OLPC XO Laptops

Over at OLPC News there are some "reviews" by children of the One Laptop Per Child's XO laptops. While short in written comment, there is a Flickr set of a young boy playing with the XO:

"[W]ith practically no help from the adults, he had started painting, typing, and playing with the webcam, cackling quite evilly the whole time."

There is also an awesome review written by a 12 year old about the laptops. She (or he) complains about the speed of the machine as well as the battery time, but overall finds the unit to be rugged, well designed, and fun to use. Interestingly, she or he wished there were another XO laptop in the area so the IM program could be used.

I particularly liked the cute Quebecois 8 and 10 year olds, who with some adult guidance, manage to replace the motherboard on an XO laptop: there is a YouTube video of the action. Negroponte expects 95% of repairs "in the field" should be accomplishable by students. I love the footage of the brother and sister puzzling out how the machine comes apart.

OLPC News Children's Review of OLPC XO Technology


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Alan Kay's Dynabook Concept

I read an interesting interview referenced on the NewtonTalk mailing list. Alan Kay is intereviewed about the Dynabook concept he developed for a portable computer in the late 1960s, and how he felt, in the 1990s, that industry had still failed to produce a computing environment that would meet the specifications originally planned for the Dynabook. The Dynabook was intended to be a computer for students, which had to be light, powerful, and capable of fostering the conditions in which learning is effective and possible.

I was most struck by what Alan Kay observed about how computers are mis-used in education, and his own interests in computers in education.

One of the problems with the way computers are used in education is that they are most often just an extension of this idea that learning means just learning accepted facts. But what really interests me is using computers to transmit ideas, points of view, ways of thinking. You don't need a computer for this, but just as with a musical instrument, once you get onto this way of using them, then the computer is a great amplifier for learning.

Tech Club projects that were particularly popular last year, like podcasting and movie making, were projects that allowed diverse student groups to transmit their ideas, their points of view, and the way that they thought about and interacted with each other and their world. I think the success of the projects was because students were able to use new media to better express themselves. As I plan projects for the school year ahead, I should keep in mind the idea that the computer is an amplifier, not the means to the end. This will help de-emphasize technology while encouraging creativity through the use of technology.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Best Pizza in Seattle

Meg and I just returned from sampling what we have deemed the best pizza in Seattle, Snoose Junction Pizzeria, on Market Street in Ballard. This is true New York-style pizza, with a crispy, thin crust, a zesty and sweet tomato sauce, and not too much cheese. Meg and I had given up on the possibility of a decent pizza in Seattle, having discounted Pagliacci, Mad Pizza (idiots), Good Guys, and other joints claiming to make pizza. Snoose Junction is the real deal. Their pies are very reasonably priced. They source from local suppliers, make their dough and sauce on site, and know what it means to claim to serve New York-style pizza. Plus they have an Addam's Family pinball machine, one of my favorites. They also used "green" building practices, recycling materials from the Leilani Lanes bowling alley, the old court house, bleachers from a local high school, and other sites. Given them a taste.