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Jonathan's blog

30 years on - this is just the beginning for Jonathan too!

Goodness... it's just dawned on me that I'm as old as Apple. (read about Apple's History here.)

and yes, this is just the beginning for me as well.

.... I like that thought.


Happy New Year.


Tomorrow's Learners Today feature at the BETT 2007 Educational Technology Show, London

BETT, the Educational Technology Show takes place at between 11th and 14th January 2007. The show attracts some 28,000 visitors bringing together the global teaching and learning community. It really is the place to be. The show usually features a good mix between experienced exhibitors and presenters in the field of educational technology.

The feature stand this year is "Tomorrow's Learners Today" and is supported by DfES and Partnership for Schools amongst others.

When technology can do anything we wish, says Professor Stephen Heppell, the question becomes: What should we wish for?

The stand is divided into two. One half will showcase a school each day. Pupils on the stand will be surveying visitors and exhibitors about their ideas on future schooling. At the end of each day, the results from the surveys will be announced.

  • Lampton School, Hounslow (on Wednesday)
  • Homewood School, Kent (on Thursday)
  • Castle Manor Business and Enterprise College, Haverhill (on Friday)
  • Edensor Technology College, Longton Stoke (on Saturday)

The other half of the stand will feature BETT Brains - and will consist of leading experts on the design of future schools. Many Building Schools for the Future (BSF) case studies will be presented over the four days and the presenters include:

  • Peter Wain, Becta,
  • Mike Rumble, QCA,
  • Hannah Jones, NCSL
  • Kate Stewart, Learning Designer, TeamAgogo
  • Carole Chapman, Notschool - Virtual Learning
  • Dan Sutch, Futurelab

... along with several representative from Partnership for Schools (PfS) and not forgetting Stephen Heppell presenting daily. I will also be on the stand talking about my work with Stepping Stones School on Friday and Saturday, so please do come along and meet me on the stand, D62.




You can read more about the feature stand.

If you want to see what went on last year, take a look at the BETT 2006 Review movie

Webnote: stickies for the Internet - try it for yourself

I've re-alivened my interest in Webnote - an online tool for writing notes within a web browser.

It's a great little tool for capturing thoughts and ideas and crucially, sharing those with collaborators. Several years ago, I used Webnote for giving presentations to an audience on Ultraversity. I love the tactile nature of the notes, picking them up and moving them as I move through the presentation. Few people know that you can format the text inside the notes with HTML code, which means you can also add images and tables. I've tried adding QuickTime movies and sound with mixed results. Sadly you can't control the movies that play because that interferes with the way in which the sticky notes work. Maybe something Tony could work on, although I recognise this is a project that was created many years ago now.

Last week I installed Webnote on the Learning Spaces server so that others could play and explore it's features. Once webnotes are saved, you can access the webnotes from anywhere using the URL of the webnotes page.


One of the drawbacks is that there isn't a permissions model to grant or deny access to individual users or groups of users.

However, I just love the simplicity of the tool and its adaptability towards many purposes from note taking to presentation and webpage creation, not forgetting how easy it is to share what has been created with others.

Try it for yourself.


A homepage of widgets and gadgets

I've been looking for something like this for years and it's very nearly perfect.

Essentially, this is a tool for building a custom webpage with personalised content, widgets and gadgets. It is powered by, unsurprisingly, Google and uses your Google Account to store and configure your personal homepage.

There are many widgets and gadgets to choose from, from boring but essential items like calendars, todo lists, tv guides, currency converters to more interesting ones such as RSS News feeds from sites of your choice and list of recent emails.

You can create your own Google Gadgets too, which is just as well, since no matter how hard I look, I can't find a gadget that allows me to just write and save hyperlinkable URLs to the page - huh? This is basic HTML, but of course I want a simple WYSIWYG editor.

Apple have been developing Dashboard which is built into Mac OS X and is a similar sort of feature with widgets that do cool and useful stuff for users. What I just don't get, is why would I disappear off to another (hidden) part of the operating system to perform certain functions?

I've long since wanted tools such as the ones talked of above, to be available from the desktop of my computer, but on reflection, that's a bit limiting. Access through a web browser just seems more natural and makes me wonder how soon it will be before the desktop becomes the web browser. Can't be that far off.

One of the significant advantages of Google's Personalised Homepage, is that I can access the tools and features that I selected from any browser on any system.

Just a few of the gadgets on offer from Google



Re-living the Tamiya Hornet - superb off-road buggy

Much of the past two days has been spent building the re-released version of the Tamiya Hornet radio controlled car. This car was a big success in the 1980's and it was then that I began an interest in model car building and racing. Nearly 20 years ago, I spent much of Christmas Day and Boxing Day building the car with my grandfather.

Today, all the memories of building The Hornet came flooding back - my Christmas present yesterday was the re-released Tamiya Hornet. Vivid memories of how grease was applied to everything in the gearbox and seemingly everything else in the room (!) and how time-consuming the construction of the wheels were with all those screws and nuts, nevermind the intricacy of painting the body and applying the various stickers to the outside.

The hardest task in the build was cutting the body from the vacuum formed plastic and masking up the irregular shaped windows. It didn't help when I later discovered the masking tape was more porous than I had hoped, and once removed, left traces of paint on the acrylic plastic that I had hoped to leave transparent. However, a quick solution to this is to use nail varnish remover which, like Polyfiller is to walls, hides a multitude of sins. Apply nail varnish remover sparingly to cotton wool buds so as not drop the fluid on the rest of the paintwork. Paint can be removed quite easily using the buds working at patches of paint. Then wipe clean to leave no trace.

The Electronic Speed Controller is a massive improvement over the previous servo operated wiper board which I recall became troublesome and unreliable after only a few uses as it depended upon good contacts being made for the car to operate reliably.

I seem to remember there being an alternative fixing for the rear gearbox that eliminates the rocking action that takes place when the car first accelerates. The replacement brackets prevented this rocking action and therefore the full power distributed through the rear tyres. I have yet to find this item, so if you remember this part, or indeed know where I can buy one, please mail me.

It's a great feeling recalling fond memories of the past and all the challenges that are associated with making the car run faster. Reminiscing with my brother yesterday evening brought back the vocabulary we used on an almost daily basis.

Visit Modelsport UK to find other re-released cars, such as the Lunch Box, The Frog, Grasshopper, Wild Willy, and the Clodbuster.

If you are about to order your Radio Controlled Car, why not contact Modelsport UK and quote "jonathansblog" and see if that might be worthy of a discount. Many of you have already purchased your cars from Modelsport UK and have been very happy with the service.


A Kiwi Jingle Bells - a New Zealand version to the traditional Christmas song

A good friend, Ali Hughes in New Zealand, sent the kids at Stepping Stones the alternative version to Jingle Bells. This is the Kiwi version, the lyrics of which reflects celebrating Christmas in the summer months.

"Oh, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way
Christmas in New Zealand on a sunny summer's day, ah!
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way
Oh what fun it is to have a Kiwi holiday!

This fantastic book is accompanied by a music CD with instrumental, spoken and sing-a-long tracks.

Listen to a short extract from the CD (Apple QuickTime, 600kb).

Buy online.


Ford Engine Screensaver - Download Flash movie showing the animated 3D construction of a motor engine

In response to lots of interest in the Ford Engine screensaver, I have placed the Flash version on this site. Download (11.2MB) - (ctrl click to save file to desktop) The animation shows a 3D DOHC 4 cylinder engine being constructed from a bare casting and shows the various components being bolted onto the engine block. When the assembly is complete, the engine begins to run, showing an individual cylinder running through all 4 strokes. 3rd Billericay Scouts recently completed the Mechanics badge, where we used this animation to teach our youngsters about how an engine works and the components found inside.

The only reason for making the Ford Engine screensaver available here, is that it doesn't seem to exist any more at the original site.

Please keep this service running.

Due to the enormous interest in downloading this screensaver from this site and the large amount of traffic coming to my server host, I would really appreciate a donation towards the hosting costs of this service. Many thanks for your understanding.


** Download software list UPDATED 22nd July 2009 **


Downloadable options:


Mobile Phone version

Please support this screensaver development.



** UPDATE 31st October 2007 **


There is another animated construction of an engine, this time a diesel engine made by Perkins which can be downloaded from this website. Download the Perkins 3D diesel engine animation.




Ouch... Nintendo Wii injuries

Whilst trawling the net for one of those cool Wii controllers to use on my Apple MacBook Pro, I stumbled across this site, Wii Have A Problem, which collates reports from Nintendo Wii users who have sustained injuries from playing with the new gaming consoles controller.

The site describes, with photos (!), some of the incidents. Just wondering how keen I still am.. ;-)

Best take care if you are fortunate to get one in the next few days.

By the way, has anyone found these controllers for the Apple Mac platform yet?

Tom Smith talks to Jonathan Briggs about the Burning a Hole project

Friend, Jonathan Briggs, interviewed Tom Smith about Burning a Hole and elicited some of Tom's ideas behind his latest project, his intentions and indicators of success. Listen to the Podcast.

Also, are you still Christmas shopping? Looking for gift ideas and inspiration? ...then visit the Burning a Hole site.


Burning a Hole ...because everyone has their price

I've started thinking about about Christmas shopping - although, for some reason, rather early. As a family, we've long since supported the idea that we should buy each other presents and not spend more than an agreed amount on each other, which is an understanding rather than a rule or an expectation.

With this in mind, I now want to find items which are available for around that price. Enter Burning a Hole.

Burning a Hole is a site specifically designed for shoppers looking for items by price.

As the site says...

"It's a one pound shop, two pound shop, three pound shop"

"Like a shop but organised by price"

This is a brilliant site, and just like all of Tom Smith's work, appeals to how people actually think and work, rather than fitting into the way many e-commerce sites forces us to operate.

I love the way you can hack around with the URL to find the exact price bracket...

i.e. finds gifts priced between £18.50 and £22. Now I know people aren't likely to buy something for an exact amount, but I could see how something bought for £20 would mean I would consider items either side of that amount.

Maybe Tom could create a place for users to add a minimum and maximum price in two fields so they can customise their search? I love the buttons at the top... and even more the '£10,000' and '+' buttons. I've never really considered what's available for that sum of money, although now that I have, I quite fancy the Sub Orbital Space Flight - only £63,000 - maybe next year.

PageRank.... it's just a question of maths....

David from the American Mathematical Society has posted an explanation of the mathematical operations that determines Google's Pagerank.

Phew. At least that's understood then.


Online Advent Calendar

It's that time of year again...

Stepping Stones school have produced an online advent calendar. Join in the fun for yourself.

Other advent calendars include...

Suggest your favourite advent calendar below.


Ultraversity Graduates

A wonderful day, celebrating the success of so many Ultraversity graduates which took place today at Chelmsford Cathedral. The setting within the Cathedral is beautiful and memories flooded back of 7 years ago when I was celebrating my own degree in the very same space.

Today will be memorable, not least because I had the opportunity to talk face to face with several graduates after three years of communicating in an online environment. Seeing so many happy faces celebrating their degrees in a formal setting is something I will remember for years to come. Today, brings to a close a very special chapter in my portfolio of work - designing online tools for a degree programme where students built a degree around their practice in the workplace through action research. A fabulous project.

For many, this will be the start of a new chapter in their lives.

Congratulations and best wishes to everyone! Read more on the Ultralab site.

CogMap - an organisation chart wiki

This is a tool for generating organisation charts using AJAX technology.

Currently, CogMap has a very basic set of features, i.e. there is no permissions model and you can't generate more complex organisation charts.

However it makes a nice change to use a simple set of tools without all the complexities associated with users and groups.

Take a look at Google's CogMap. Have a go and build your own.


One lump or two...

Selector mugDrink Selector MugHow cool is this ?

I've long been interested in the problem of knowing who drinks what drink (tea or coffee, sugar / no sugar, milk / no milk etc) in the workplace. This might be a solution to that problem. Whenever this problem is muted around Stephen Powell, he often refers to a tea and coffee database, which includes data about people and their drinking preferences.

The Drink Selector Mug offers an alternative solution which although, empowers the user, kinda assumes there is someone else making the drinks - if only...

Cream ceramic mug with stainless steel selector rings

Twist rings to reveal your choice of drink and your milk and sugar preferences!

This would make a great Christmas present for someone... perhaps for a teaching friend, a work colleague, or just a friendly face.


Hiking, Assessment and Shoeburyness

Walking along Shoeburyness coastline, whilst training our Scouts in hiking and navigation, I chatted to one of the boys, Daniel, about his school education and how he felt he was progressing.

What was interesting and really obvious in Daniel's conversation with me, was his awareness of exactly what level he was working at.

"In my D&T project, Miss Davies says I am working at level 5c"

I shouldn't be surprised, after all, Daniel wasn't and he thought it normal that he would know and be able to share such things with others. It became obvious that Daniel wasn't aware of his ability in one subject alone, but in other subjects too. I questioned him further as to whether he knew how to improve beyond his current assessment, he said he did and cited some examples. Making pupils aware of their National Curriculum levels in both Primary and Secondary education has been encouraged for the past few years now, where teachers have been open with parents and pupils about attainment levels. At the end of each key stage, parents are informed of attainment levels in English, Maths and Science.

It was an enlightening conversation, and one that filled me with some excitement about children understanding more about their own learning and how to progress and achieve higher. We are definitely in a new era of learning, no longer is it helpful to assess a piece of work as "good" or comment "try harder" - instead, we as teachers are more informative about how well the pupil performed and how they can attain higher.


Back to School with the Class of Web 2.0: Part 3

The very excellent sequel to Back to School with the Class of Web 2.0 has recently been published.

Key things that stood out for me were:

Go and have a read for yourself... and don't forget to look at Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven't already done so. It's good.


Free calls to UK landline phones when you use Skype

Just when you think things couldn't get better, I learn of this new promotion from Skype offering free calls to any landline phone in the UK. Handy, having just bought a Skype WiFI phone device.

You still need to purchase SkypeOut credit in the usual way, which starts from 10 Euros, but you'll not be using any of them all the while you are making landline calls.


Merlin John Online

Merlin John, the founder and past editor of the very excellent TES Online magazine, now provides a new service to ICT enthusiasts and professionals through his website, Merlin John Online, Read his site for current musings about ICT in education.

I met Merlin, briefly, at the NASEN & TES Special Needs Exhibition in London today.

Online, collaborative tools using Web 2.0 technologies

All WiFi'd up... the WiFi Skype phone


Stepping Stones School attends Be Very Afraid III

Daniel and Jessica from Stepping Stones School attended the the Be Very Afraid III event on 2nd October 2006. We used iChat AV to video conference with the pupils who weren't able to come. The event was held in London at BAFTA, Piccadilly. The day involved pupils from a variety of schools and colleges, showcasing their digital creativity work. The whole event was organised and managed by, together with DfES and BAFTA.

How Projects Really Work (v2.0)

This amused me. View the cartoon



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