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Jonathan's developments, thoughts and ideas on teaching, technology and learning.

There are never enough days in the week

Eight days a week Notepad.

This is a neat little product. It has the full seven days, Monday to Sunday and another tab for "someday" - probably designed for all those thoughts and dreams that one day you will get around to doing but don't want to forget them.

Timetabling the Stepping Stones curriculum has been troublesome; finding enough curriculum time for each subject and allocating this over the week is challenging. My secondary school, Mayflower School, used to run a 6 day week (still Monday to Friday, but each day in turn was substituted for a 'Day 6') to overcome this problem. It was totally confusing and weird, and mostly caused complications for the teachers. Nice idea... but didn't really take off.


Free music downloads from SpiralFrog

... though not until December 2006.

A Times Online article reported that SpiralFrog has licensed music from Universal Music Group (UMG) in exchange for displaying advertising whilst each track is downloaded to users computers.

"SpiralFrog will offer users of its no-cost web-based service the ability to legally download music by many of the world's most popular and award-winning artists."

Read the SpiralFrog Press Release and also sign up for email notification with more information about this new site.


Teachers TV Search for Programmes

Since blogging about Teachers TV a year and a half ago, (Teachers TV launches on 8th February 2005) the channel and supporting website has 'come of age' and is tremendously popular amongst teaching professionals.

Several initiatives are now in place and look to be very useful and informative.

If you register online, you can search, watch and download some archived Teachers TV programmes using the Video Library and inclass tv feature.

In fact, you can search for programmes using this form:

or browse by category...


Key stages


Consider also, Teachers TV - Become an Associate, where there are opportunities to become more involved with programmes, chances to see advance screenings and attend special events. There is also a CPD section called 'My CPD'.


A resource site for teaching English

I have spent some of my Summer break developing an English scheme of work for Key Stage 4 pupils. Working with Di enlightened my thinking in this unfamiliar exam phase, especially towards preparing pupils for Entry Level and GCSE courses. Di also pointed me towards a website to find appropriate resources for this age group.

Teachit is a website containing heaps of resources categorised by key stage. It caters for children in the primary phase through to Key Stage 4.

"Teachit is a tried and trusted education resource used by thousands of teachers nationwide.

Specialising in English, Drama and Media Studies from primary to post-16, the online Teachit library offers 7270 pages of classroom materials, schemes of work, lesson plans and teaching tools, all created by working teachers and constantly growing."


Gigabit street networking

I was discussing the transfer of large video files with Dan earlier, and how limiting it is that the bandwidth between residential houses is so narrow. This is largely due to the technology used on the phone network at the BT exchanges, yet surely it doesn't have to be like this?

In a world of increasing demands for faster, more reliable and cheaper broadband connections, surely the solution lies in converting phone networks to IP networks, where houses are connected with an IP address rather than a dial tone. We could still hook up our phones via the Voice Over IP technology, but means that the devices in those green BT boxes on our streets will be filled with switches and hubs to connect houses together. In an ideal world, fibre optic would replace existing copper, yet I can see the huge expense involved. Regardless of that, the copper that runs to each of our houses is capable of gigabit networking. So why don't we utilise the existing copper in exchange for faster connections?

Perhaps cost and demand has something to do with this. The average home owner would barely understand gigabit networking, let alone VOIP or even be aware of its significance. However, the take up of broadband in residential houses is enormous, that I wonder how soon more consumers will be demanding more speed. Watching TV and downloading films over the Internet will further increase demand for faster connections.

Am I missing something?

Somehow, I think the chances of someone creating lots of wireless networks by placing Wi-Fi boxes on top of telegraph poles or street lighting might come sooner than BT upgrading its network infrastructure.


Apple iSync and compatibility with latest Sony Ericsson phones

If you have one of the Sony Ericsson's latest mobile phones, K610i, K800i etc you will probably find that Apple Mac OS X iSync software doesn't support them. iSync allows you to synchronise your Apple Address Book and iCal diary with your mobile phone, something that has become an essential component of my mobile life.

Wanting to transfer all my contacts from my Address Book to the new phone, I quickly established that Apple's iSync doesn't yet support this new phone... though I know Apple will in time. Needing a solution now, I used the mobile.feisar.com site. There was a small charge for the iSync Plugin.. and I know it's probably available for free somewhere, like the K800i iSync plugin can be downloaded.

New phone also means new features, here are just a few improvements over the K750i :

  • 3G / video calling / video messaging - though you need to be in a 3G reception area, and of course so does the recipient!
  • RSS news subscription service - really handy, I use RSS news feeds a lot on my MacBook Pro and this is far more portable.
  • Blogging tool - seems to be tied into the Blogger.com service though - shame. If it handled an interface to xmlrpc that would be more useful.
  • software update service - not many people care about this except for people like me. The ultimate goal is always to establish the best and the latest functionality.
  • predictive word suggestion - not sure how useful this will be really.
  • small thing, but significant - the on screen font has changed making it largely, softer and easier to read.
  • has much improved file management features.
  • the K610i is a smaller phone - which also means lighter too.

Upgrade. It's the way forward...


Gym training using Concept2 online performance tracker

In the past 6 months, developing my physical fitness has been something I have enjoyed and which has more of a necessity as I challenge myself to compete in some very physical challenges. In May of this year I participated in the COINS Three Peaks Challenge, climbing three peaks within 24 hours. On 10th September, my team, Sandy, Mieke and Larry will take part in a Total Objects Adventure Challenge, and involves climbing a mountain, paddling a canoe and cycling 24km.

Read more about the Total Objects Adventure Challenge.

Training for this activity has started in earnest, anything from the treadmill to the rowing machine to exercise bike. Things I learnt about myself during the last training sessions:

  • I am more motivated to train in the company of others.
  • direct encouragement spurs me on to succeed.
  • setting time and distance related challenges or goals helped not only motivation, but stamina and maintaining a consistent pace.

Larry discovered that Concept2, the people who manufacture rowing machines, have a free to register and use, personal goal/achievement tracking system. We have both registered and are able to rank our results against other people.

My best over 2000m is 7mins 37secs. Not a fantastic time, but a marker in the sand to beat.

I challenge you.

Cracker of Brightlingsea had a wonderful Regatta at Cowes Week 2006

Today was the last day of the Skandia Cowes Week which took place in the Solent between the UK mainland and the Isle of Wight. Lack of sufficient wind on the last day resulted in many of the classes not starting in the final race of the 2006 regatta.

During the week, Cowes Radio broadcast a racing commentary with Simon Vigar speaking from the Royal Yacht Squadron and Dick Johnson out and about on the water. It was a really useful commentary as it covered much of the action in the boats starting ahead of our class, and also provided regular weather forecasts. Having listened for much of the week, and being mentioned very little, we thought we would have some fun and send the studio our top 10 interesting facts about Cracker.

I recorded the broadcast (repeated from 10pm)

Listen to the email that we sent to studio@cowesradio.co.uk and was read aloud on Cowes Radio.

Needless to say, Cracker got LOTS of mentions following our email.

The Cracker Team did rather well, finishing 3rd overall... out of the 30 or so boats in the Class 6 IRC. Here are the boats finishing in the top 10.

(click image for the full list of results)

For a quick overview of the whole week, visit www.cowes.co.uk and watch the short videos online.


WWDC06 conference rapidly approaches 7-11th August

As we near the start of WWDC, the anticipation heightens as we await the announcements from Steve Jobs about new products and developments from the team at Apple computer.

What can we expect from Apple at this annual developers conference?

  • a preview of the new operating system, Leopard and maybe a release date.
  • a replacement system for the G5 Power Mac... sporting an Intel chip. Perhaps in a revised case.
  • announcement about production of an Intel XServe system.
  • a new consumer device, perhaps the iPhone, or revised iPod Video with wireless / bluetooth technology.
  • some home entertainment / telephony (Voice over IP) enhancements for the whole range.

So when is it?

Look out for the keynote presentation starting on Monday 7th August at 6pm GMT or if you live in other parts of the world:

10:00AM - Pacific
11:00AM - Mountain
12:00PM - Central
1:00PM - Eastern
7:00PM - Paris
2:00AM - Tokyo (August 8th)

Apple usually streams a recorded keynote presentation for people to watch after the event, so keep your eyes open on the Apple site.

During the keynote, I usually read a text based transcript provided by the MacNN site.


Apply for new DVLA tax disc online

Having received the new style MOT certificate from my local test centre, I have been informed that drivers can now apply for tax discs online.

The DVLA seems to have "joined up" their systems with the Motor Insurance Database (MID) and MOT Test Certificate Database to make this new service available. This is very sorted.

Would love to be able to purchase petrol online or buy petrol credit, like a Pay As You Go scheme. This would mean I could turn up at any filling station convenient to me and either fill to the amount purchased, or as much as my PAYG scheme would allow.

... think of the savings to be made of not having to stand in a petrol queue admiring rows of sweets and chocolate.

Multi-way video conferencing using MacBook Pro and iChat to initiate conference

Just by chance, I stumbled across the multi-way video conferencing technology that exists in iChat. You might think, well, what's new? That's been possible for easily a year now, and I played quite a lot with that sometime ago whilst I was still working at Ultralab.

However, back then, I had to use the G5 Power Mac Desktop computer to initiate a multi-way iChat conference using video, but now it seems the MacBook Pro laptop is powerful enough to host such a conference.

Amy, Dan and I played with this technology yesterday evening. Although the quality of the image was much reduced, the audio came through very clear and was perfectly useable. Both Dan and Amy's images of the other participants in the conference was not so clear as mine. I'm not sure whether this was due to the limited bandwidth they each had, or that their computers are the less powerful iBook machines, or whether in fact, being only participants rather than the host had anything to do with it?

We tried to connect again on our local network at Stepping Stones school, this morning, and found the same issue about image quality applied. This perhaps rules out a bandwidth issue since we were each running on at least 10Mbits wireless connections.

Read more about our explorations using iChat and multi-way video conferences.


Cards straight from the compost heap

These are fantastic. I saw these cards on a stall in Guildford and captivated my interest, probably because they appropriately match my sense of humour....

"At the bottom of every garden, if you dig a little deeper into The Compost Heap, is a feast of endeavour just waiting to be enjoyed. Every plant, flower or vegetable which might be found lying on The Compost Heap, from time to time, have lives of their own."

The Compost Heap, www.compostheap.net


Apple Macintosh 'Sleep' Keyboard Shortcut - Two Seconds to Sleep

I'm not usually one for keyboard shortcuts, apart from the basic ones, like Undo, Select All, Copy / Paste etc. I subscribe to Apple's 'Hot Tip' feed which explains how to send your Mac to sleep in just two seconds.

"Want the fastest way to put your Mac right into a deep, sleepy-bear hibernation-like sleep (no whirling fan, no dialogs, no sound — nuthin’ — just fast, glorious sleep). Just press Command-Option and then hold the Eject button for about 2 seconds and Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz. It doesn’t get much faster than that."


Building Schools for the Future... Yorkshire and Humberside

A partnership between Yorkshire Culture, Sport England Yorkshire and Arts Council England, has led to the creation of a new website with lots of useful guides towards the Building Schools for the Future, (BSF) programme, launched by the DfES in 2005.

BSF-Culture hosts a variety of resources and aims to:

  • Strive for good quality and innovation in the design of school sport and arts facilities.
  • Promote joined up and strategic working within and across local authorities.
  • Encourage community access to school facilities and the growth and sustainability of community activity.
  • Ensure the benefits of cultural activity are understood by schools and local authorities, and are reflected in their education vision and school ethos.
  • Advocate consultation with young people, teachers, parents and the local community during the BSF process.
  • Represent the cultural sector, communicate opportunities and establish partnerships.

On the site are some case studies, design checklists, guidance about community use of schools, and support on how to obtain funding.

Any school leader who is just about to begin or is on a route along the BSF programme, should visit the site.

Animation workshop at Alfriston School

Amy and I ran an Animation workshop at Alfriston School on Wednesday and these are the videos the children produced. As is common, none of the children had used an Apple Macintosh before, none has created an animation of any sort, and this was the product of their work after only 90 minutes.

Just in passing, Alfriston School is a special MLD (Moderate Learning Difficulty) school in Buckinghamshire. They provide an education for children with physical disabilities, learning difficulties and some who have challenging home lives.

View their work

Get your bookmarks, history, passwords, cookies in sync here

This is a Firefox extension, developed by Google Labs.

Google Browser Sync unifies your bookmarks, history, saved passwords, and persistent cookies across all the computers where you install it. It also remembers which tabs and windows you had open when you last closed any of your browsers and gives you a chance to reopen them.

read more

This is something that I've been looking for for years, yet not prepared to pay for the .Mac subscription which is an alternative.


Stepping Stones pupils presented at the Apple Store, Regent Street, London

Stepping Stones school is only the 2nd school in the UK to participate in Apple's School Nights programme.

Our pupils did very well, developing confidence to speak in public and show some of their cool digital creativity work to a very mixed audience, consisting of mainly Apple Store customers. We were presenting in the instore theatre. Essentially, we could use the theatre space as we liked... the 'be creative in how you present, and what you present' ethos was very evident.

Read more about the event.

Just in passing, the Apple Store School Nights event is open to any school wishing to use the Apple Store to present creativity work developed on a Mac. Sign up here...

Jedi weapon on your Mac ...another motion sensitive application

MacSaber icon: MacSaber application iconThere seems to be an abundance of motion sensitive applications out there... and none more fun than this one!

read... "MacSaber: Turn your Mac into a Jedi Weapon"

Making your MacBook Pro one of the most expensive toys you can buy.

However, there is one other purpose of MacSaber, and that is it also acts as a spirit level, which probably makes it one of the most expensive tools you can buy too.


MacBooks, motion sensors, built-in iSight cameras and thieves

Undercover iconOrbicule have written some really neat software called Undercover and TheftSensor.

Undercover is aimed at recovering your Mac in the event of it being stolen. It relies on screengrabs, built-in iSight camera shots and Internet IP addresses to determine the identity of the thief and allow the Police to track down the persons location.

TheftSensor makes use of the motion sensor to determine whether the computer is being moved without authorisation. When the software is 'armed' the alarm will sound if the computer is moved or the computer lid is closed. This software works with any Mac that has a motion sensor, which includes the latest iBook revision and the entire MacBook and MacBook Pro range.


Photograph of my desk at Stepping Stones

(click the thumbnail to see a larger image)

A photograph of my desk taken on Friday 19th May 2006 amidst comments on the Stepping Stones website that it is very messy... I don't believe it myself... maybe I'm in denial?

... and besides, are creative people naturally gifted at being messy, untidy and disorganised?



Pixoh - Editing pictures online

Pixoh - Great online tool... and does most of what you need for simple image manipulation.

Current functions include:

  • crop
  • resize
  • rotate
  • adjust, brightness, contrast, sharpness, hue, saturation
  • saves edited image in a range of formats, gif, jpg, pdf, png, psd, tif
  • also, save to Flickr

There now needs to be some way of interfacing this tool with content management systems so that users can edit images within their own sites, eliminating the need to store the image somewhere and subsequently link to it. Flickr comes the closest through using RSS.


COINS Three Peaks Challenge completed!

Challenge completed!

This past weekend has been one of the most physically challenging experiences of my life, having just climbed the three tallest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales as part of a team to raise money for CARE International. The weather just couldn't have been better, the lasting sunshine meant the views from the mountains were simply breathtaking and spectacular.

Ben Nevis: grueling climb to the top, especially the last hour which was exhausting walking on icy snow to the summit. Yet had the most stunning views by far.
Scafell Pike: tricky walking across a field of boulders, which were wet and slippery. Tough mentally too, as two sections required a descent before the next climb up and to the summit.
Snowdon: much more gentle apart from the initial steep climb, and the ridge walk. We started climbing this mountain at 5:50pm, which meant we weren't down until 11:00pm, walking much of the path in darkness.

More Three Peaks Challenge event photographs.

See results and timings from all the teams - we weren't the slowest on any of the mountains, but one of the slowest overall. For us, it wasn't about finishing first, but completing the challenge as a team. One of the team member, Mieke, commented:

"Seven went up, seven came down"

I'd like to thank people who sponsored the team using the online Just Giving site. If you haven't yet sponsored me or the team, and would like to, it's not too late. All proceeds go direct to CARE International, including any Gift Aid which is automatically added. This is a great cause and worth noting that 91% of all money raised go directly to supporting projects and saving lives.

In the weeks leading up to the event, I helped to produce this short film "Challenge Poverty, Challenge yourself" which explains how the COINS Three Peaks Challenge event raises funds to change the lives of many hundreds of people around the world.

Want to take part in a CARE Challenge Series event?


So, just how complex is Google PageRank?

I found this page about how Google sees itself as developing the "perfect search engine" interesting...

PageRank performs an objective measurement of the importance of web pages by solving an equation of more than 500 million variables and 2 billion terms.

Just in passing, I used Google's search engine interface on my mobile phone this past weekend, it's staggeringly fast and surprisingly usable despite not all sites being mobile browser friendly... including this one. Uh oh.


Search Engine Optimisation should be about helping people find relevant content

Sometimes I really struggle with the concept of people tricking search engines into listing their sites by including popular keywords on their pages, yet the keywords they have used have little relevance to the content on their sites. They simply serve to draw more people to click on their sites in say, a Google search. It kinda defeats what search tools like Google are trying to achieve.

Gerry writes,

"Sometimes, those involved in search engine optimization lose sight of certain absolutely critical issues. The objective should not be to optimize for any particular search engine. It is to optimize for people who search. This is a subtle but essential distinction. It's easy to get obsessed with the technical aspects of Google and Yahoo!"

Here is the article in full: Search engine optimization: beyond search keywords


Clothing care labels are pants

It occurred to me this evening how unfriendly clothing care labels are. I failed dismally at even the basic symbols, nevermind the advanced ones!

Even though I looked closely, tried to eliminate the known ones from the unknowns, I still couldn't fathom the cross with the triangle. The cross wasn't a stumbling block... it's a universally accepted symbol for 'don't'

... but a triangle - come again! Most things I don't bother checking... but special, expensive items that I'll depend upon on mountain walks meant that I took a bit more care over.

Here are the full set of clothing care labels with explanations - for those that care for their pants more than I do.


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