Scratch: learn visual programming

July 14, 2010

Scratch is a great way to introduce kids (or anyone) to how programming works. There is a stage in which you put characters (“sprites”) and a box off to the side where you can drag and drop “blocks” of code that fit together and run in a sequence. Scratch is fairly simple, but if you need help, check out learnscratch.org. Download Scratch here.

This may sound like a childish waste of time, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. For educators specifically, Scratch helps foster problem solving and also some collaboration. Recently, Google released a service called App Inventor. App Inventor is a site where you can make Android apps without having prior experience in coding. Similar to Scratch, it uses blocks of code along with a visual box to show how your code will work when activated. App Inventor has the potential to become a very successful platform.

Don’t ever dismiss Scratch as a kid’s toy. It’s an educational resource. Now only if Apple would make one…

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4 ways to use your iPhone/iPod Touch as a flash drive

July 1, 2010

The concept of the iPhone/iPod Touch is to create the ultimate all-in-one device. One big part that is missing: a flash drive (yes, I know, it can’t make coffee or toast either.) The following are three ways you can use your iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad as a flash drive. The first 3 work on Macs and PCs and the fourth is Mac-only.

1. iPhone Explorer – free download that can browse media folder of device without jailbreaking, can view root directory if you jailbreak

2. Use a wifi flash drive app for iphone- There are many of these to be found on the app store. Open the app, then your computer’s web browser, and go to the address it tells you to transfer files. DOES NOT transfer pics, etc. manually like iPhone explorer, and has slow upload speeds. I use Files Lite- it is limited to 200mb so that some users will upgrade to the paid version, but there are many similar apps out there that may be a better deal

3. Use an app and service like Dropbox– Dropbox stores your files in a cloud and can access them from any web browser on any computer. They have an iPhone app to make this easy to manage.

4. PhoneDisk – PhoneDisk is free for a limited time. It does largely the same thing as iPhone explorer does, but the main difference is that when it detects an iPhone, it mounts it as a native disk. For mac only.

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NeoOffice: Free Microsoft Office Alternative

June 28, 2010

NeoOffice is a Mac alternative to Microsoft Office. It has an interface that resembles the old AppleWorks 6 (remember that?) which runs all of the features (spreadsheet, word processing, presentation, etc.) from one main Aqua app. It is built on the OpenOffice technology, with a few small improvements.

For Mac, use NeoOffice and for Windows use OpenOffice.

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Free Microsoft Office Alternatives

June 26, 2010

In the next few days, I will review some of the best alternatives to the Microsoft Office suite. You might want one of the alternatives for…

…your kid’s computer

…your home computer

…your small business

or any time you’d use Office.

I will review some of the best free titles and web app Office alternatives including:

  • Google Docs
  • NeoOffice/OpenOffice (they are very much the same thing)
  • Zoho Office

Some other alternatives include Docs.com, but docs.com requires a Facebook account to login, which I don’t have.

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3 of the best places to find free fonts

June 23, 2010

If you make a lot of presentations, videos, or any other multimedia items, you probably need more fonts than just what comes on your computer. Be sure to check the license on the font if you are using it on something commercial or widely-distributed. Here are some of the best sites to look at:

  1. 1001freefonts.com– has many categories of fonts for free Windows/Mac download, also can download 10,000 fonts licensed for commercial use for $19.95
  2. freemacfonts.com– has a reasonable collection of Mac-only fonts, but poorly organized, search box takes you to a paid fonts site- you have to click through the alphabet to see all the fonts
  3. fontspace.com– A unique font site that has 13, 524 and counting free Mac/Windows fonts that are user-submitted

If you are bored or adventurous, you could try your hand at making fonts with FontForge. It is a clunky X11 app, so don’t expect that you’ll have time to design all your own fonts.

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Jing: A free Screen capture utility

June 17, 2010

If you’re reading this, I’m sure there’s probably been some time that you wanted to demonstrate something on your screen to someone else. It might have been a tutorial for your software, or a how-to demo.

Either way, you could have used Jing. Jing is a lightweight utility that allows you to capture screen videos to SWF format. (Unfortunately, the SWF has a Jing watermark/ad in it- you can remove this and add MP4 support for $19.95)

For some reason, it requires you to sign up for a Screencast.com account (free) in order to run the software.

It also allows you to capture PNG images (no watermarks on these!) and annotate them with its integrated tools. You can download Jing for free @ jingproject.com. If the little sun get annoying, you can switch it to a menubar icon in Jing’s preferences.

It works on Mac and Windows, but for Windows I recommend CamStudio.

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Make a DVD Easter egg with iDVD

June 15, 2010

Have you ever tried the Easter eggs on DVD movies such as Star Wars and thought how cool it would be to add Easter eggs to your own home DVDs? There is a simple way to do this with iDVD. (In case you didn’t know, an Easter eggs are hidden content objects or features accessed by secret means that you are unlikely to find on your own without previous knowledge of it.)

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Open a new or existing project with iDVD that you’d like to add an Easter egg to.
  2. Add new content. (I’ll use a submenu, but you can use a video or slideshow just the same.)
  3. Edit the name text for what you just inserted: Select the whole name and press delete, so that all you see is the the outline of the text area and maybe an underline or a bullet.
  4. Get rid of the bullets or underlines: Go to the buttons tab on the right panel. Check each of the menu items (menu at top of panel) and make sure that each is set to the circle with a line through it- it should be the first option.

Now you cannot see the hidden menu/video. To access the Easter egg from a DVD player, just select the item. You can’t see the item, so the only way you know it is selected is that nothing else on the menu is.

If this was a little confusing to read, but sounds cool, check out my screencast here.

If you would like to check out Easter eggs for products you may already have, check out eeggs.com.

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