Learner-Shaped Technology

December 29, 2006

Great Google Earth Feature – Time Animation

On the Google Earth Blog, Frank Taylor lists the top ten Google Earth time animations for 2006. Time animations were added in Google Earth 4 and are a great way to view data that changes over time, for example animal and human cases of avian flu (Declan Butler’s blog). Authors simply add a time span element to data in kml files, like so, and Google Earth renders a time slider bar in the user interface.

<TimeSpan id=”ID”>
<begin>begin date here </begin>
<end>end date here</end>

The time slider is highlighted in a screen shot of the avian flu map below.

google earth

There are some Google Earth software limitations that were apparent when viewing Hurricane Katrina data. I wished I could have incremented the “animation” in hours rather than days. There are some great suggestions for improvement on Stefan Geens’ Ogle Earth Blog, so I won’t rehash them here. This functionality is a great addition to GE!

December 28, 2006

Wii and Physics?

Filed under: education,general,science,technology — Mike W @ 8:33 am

Tim Lauer of Lewis Elementary School points to an interesting use of Darwiin Remote Software and the Nintendo Wii remote to run a Roomba (a robot which will vacuum your house). I don’t have a Nintendo Wii game, but if Darwiin will capture 3D acceleration from the Wii game remote, it shouldn’t be too difficult to determine force information from the remote. So if someone is playing Wii baseball for example, it should be easy to capture the force of their swing. Perhaps students could experiment with different variables to increase the force of the swing and determine the impact on the distance the batted ball travels. Does the game show the force of the swing already?

In my physics classes we used the Vernier accelerometers to capture 3-dimensional acceleration on different amusement park rides. Although the experience turned me green, we got exceptional data (see image and graph below). I wonder if using a combination of a Wii remote, Bluetooth, and some sort of handheld device if the same sort of data could be gathered on the ride? It still doesn’t solve my motion sickness, but maybe it would save a few bucks and be fun to try.


MAMP – Another reason for me to stay on the Mac side

Filed under: general,technology — Mike W @ 7:56 am

Okay, if I get up before the sun comes up on vacation to catch up on my blog, does that mean I’ve joined the ranks of the blog-addicted? I mentioned in a previous post that I converted to a MacBook Pro this summer for my new job at Furman. Faculty in Math and Sciences have both Macs and PCs, so I figured I could best support them with a Mac running a VM with Windows XP, using Parallels.

There are many times I need to be running a local web server to experiment, and since I was more comfortable with PC, I’d run WAMP (an easy installation for Windows of Apache, MySQL, and PHP). After wrestling with some issues running MediaWiki on WAMP/Windows, I decided to give MAMP (Mac, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) a try. Now I have one more reason to hang out on the Mac side. This is way easy! It literally took 5 minutes for me to get MAMP set up and install MediaWiki on my laptop. Here’s a shot of the MAMP control window.


I don’t do much Java coding now (I used to do a lot), but this summer I was able to set up Eclipse as a Java IDE on the Mac side easier than on the PC. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but maybe my next personal purchase will be a Mac! Rhapsody is one of the few reasons I fire up parallels now. The web client just doesn’t do it for me.

Information Aesthetics

Filed under: data visualization,general,science — Mike W @ 7:18 am

After complaining this summer about the limitations of PowerPoint as an information-sharing medium this summer, Dr. Jane Love at Furman pointed me towards Edward Tufte’s essay The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. Great stuff! I was really struck by the chasm between what our brains and eyes want to see and what a PowerPoint presentation gives us instead. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to read his book The Visual Display of Quantative Information and get one of Tufte’s posters like the one graphically displaying Napolean’s march.

Shortly after reading Tufte for the first time I added the Information Aesthetics Blog to my reader. I enjoy the blogs but confess I usually have to go to the source to understand the data being represented. Below is a nice link from infosthetics to a Google video comparing stellar and planetary sizes. Although one missing planet begs a question that would leave my kids unable to contain silly laughter. That’s where their sense of humor is right now.

December 14, 2006

Drupal and Joomla – Open Source Frameworks for Websites

Filed under: general,technology — Mike W @ 10:21 pm

I’ve recently been looking into open source content management systems (CMS) like Joomla and Drupal as potential frameworks for a new version of CTEL’s website. I checked into Drupal after learning on Tim Lauer’s blog that it was being used to power his school’s website. We’re looking to move our registration for workshops online, and while we could write a custom application, Drupal (which also led to an exploration of Joomla) seemed to provide a great framework for a website, along with event management. Joomla bubbled up to the top, but only because it seems to have more options for events than Drupal, for the time being. We’ll still have to do some custom coding to get the registration application the way we want it, but we’re moving ahead with Joomla based on events and some of the following features (to name just a few):

  • Themes
  • Built in Search
  • Print and PDF maker
  • Contact Management
  • RSS Feeds
  • Polls
  • Most Popular
  • User Management
  • Usage Statistics
  • Events Management
  • Content Management – Edit in Place, Setting View and Expiration Dates, etc.

It took a little while, but once the concepts of module, component, section, category, etc. took hold, I was able to throw together a robust website very quickly. I experimented with Joomla locally with a WAMP installation and pretty minimal setup. My next step is to turn a small application I wrote to capture faculty availability times into a Joomla component and hook into their user API. Look for changes on the CTEL site in the next couple of months. Open source rocks! Here are some other plugins from Joomla that I’m checking out now.

  • DocMan – document management
  • Generic Form Creator
  • Forums
  • Blog
  • Newsletter Creation / Management – Manage subscriptions, etc.
  • Google Maps Integration / Plot Visitor Geographic Distribution on Google Maps
  • Versioning
  • Portfolio
  • Folksonomy tags
  • Dropdown menus
  • Wiki
  • Podcasting
  • Surveys (Joomla SurveyForce)
  • Template Builder for Dreamweaver

I think it’s probably prudent for us to wait for Joomla 1.5’s release before we unveil the site, but it looks like that’s coming very soon.

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