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Software Development

Space to share my software development, comment on other people's and stake my wish-list for the future

Google acquires Sketchup, and plugin for Google Earth

Google announces that they have acquired SketchUp, the powerful 3D modelling / design software. Google maintains their promise to provide SketchUp for educational establishments.

"We believe that supporting education is important. Google is committed to providing students, educators and institutions with low-cost or no-cost software licenses and resources. We think that SketchUp has a place in every classroom, dorm room and student laptop in the world. After all -- we live in 3D. Why shouldn't we start thinking and teaching that way?"

It seems this new acquisition provides the way forward for a stronger relationship between Google Earth and SketchUp, beyond the existing plugin allowing users to create 3D models of buildings and place these on the Google Map... how cool is that!?

Must get some of our Stepping Stones pupils working on this, many of who have already some experience of using SketchUp.

Better than sliced bread?

Well I'm not sure... though it comes close. Some weeks ago, Ultranaut, Mark Constable pointed me to an extension for the Firefox web browser, called Web Developer Extension.

I love the 'Edit CSS' panel on the left hand side which allows you to modify the CSS style-sheet and see the changes in the main browser window. Clearly this doesn't actually save the changes you make to the web folder, but it's an example of a tool which allows you to model your changes and for learning about the CSS language.

There are a whole heap of interesting plugins available - I really need to spend some time looking through some of these.

Portfolio tools (again)

Stephen Powell and I had a rather enlightening conversation about future portfolio tools for Ultraversity. Many of you will know that Ultralab's efforts in recent months have been to somehow work our way through the muddy waters of open source, proprietary and custom built (in-house) software.

Our discussion was another chance to think outside the box - breakaway from the mould which we have created in the form of the current Portfolio Tool and see if we had the chance to do it all over again, what would we do next time. Technology has moved on, in the way of blog technology, rss, open source, podcast, single sign on.

Our conversation helped us to realign our belief that the portfolio tool (in whatever guise) is about the learner, the researcher. The artefacts should be within the control of the learner who then chooses which artefacts to present for assessment.

We also talked about the need for a commenting 'engine' - the ability for whoever to comment on everything and anything - with a users & groups permission set.

File cabinet developments

It has been several months since the file cabinet space for the Ultraversity Portfolio tool was developed. The file cabinet allows researchers to upload portfolios of work for assessment by facilitators. Ultraversity researchers and facilitators have lived with a filename length limit of 32 characters for a few months now. This was imposed by FileMaker's poor handling of files, probably inherited from Mac OS 9 days....

Last week, Mark and I configured FileMaker to use the Web Connector tool which allows us to serve all requests through the Apache webserver in Mac OS X Server. This has resulted in removing the 32 character limit for all uploaded files.

Anyone who writes a piece of software with a numerical limit ought to be shot, luckily I escaped the firing line this time around. Maybe I should warn people at FileMaker HQ?

Jonathan's Blog now supports adding names to comments!

At long last, and almost completely by chance I have worked out how web visitors can attribute their comments with their name rather than be identified as simply 'visitor'

Stephen stumbled past the other day and commented on my blog....he happened to put Stephen in the 'Subject' field.....well... that's enough isn't? So I just changed the field label from 'Subject' to 'Your name' - perfect!

Cheers Stephen....funny how solutions to problems stare you in the face for months and it isn't until someone gives you a slap across the face with a wet fish that you realise the answer!

Social software: definition and characteristics

Found an article by Jack Schulze who writes about the concept of Social software and lists the common characteristics of good social software...

"Social software's purpose is dealing with with groups, or interactions between people. This is as opposed to conventional software like Microsoft Word, which although it may have collaborative features ("track changes") isn't primarily social. (Those features could learn a lot from social software however.) The primary constraint of social software is in the design process: Human factors and group dynamics introduce design difficulties that aren't obvious without considering psychology and human nature."


Ultraversity Hotseat

The first Ultraversity Hotseat using the software I developed late one evening, is coming to a close. I am amazed at it's success, we've had over 50 questions posted, and approximately 200 responses from researchers and the hotseat guest in just two weeks.

There's been a few tweaks and bug fixes since the hotseat began, and more to do before the next hotseat. Hoping I can make these changes before the end of today, the next hotseat starts on Monday, and should be available from tomorrow.

See also...Hotseat feeling the heat

Filemaker 7

After months of speculation, Filemaker inc have announced the next version of their database application, Filemaker 7. As expected, Filemaker 7 dropped support for CDML (Claris Dynamic Markup Language) - now replaced by web standards XML and XSLT.

At last, Filemaker has created a proper database structure, where one database can contain many tables. Also, amongst it's revisions includes a better (graphical) interface to building relationships between tables.

Read more about Filemaker 7

Hotseat Tool development

Ever had that sudden urge to get something done?

I developed a hotseat tool in just a few hours one evening and what's really nice is seeing it in use in such a big way. It went live on Monday, it's now Wednesday and has had well over 100 entries from the Ultraversity Researchers. So cool and hugely rewarding.

No Comment!

Cheers for the comment, whoever posted it! Sadly, the comment tool in Drupal is a little naff as it stands. The developers make a careless assumption that when people want to comment, they will either create themselves an account, username, password, profile etc etc, or be quite content with submitting a comment as an anonymous user. Maybe I'm taking this too far, but people quite like to be accredited or associated with the comment that they make - and in the case of blogging, want to do it quickly and easily. If I arrive at a site which forces me to register before I can make contributions, I very often tend not to bother, unless I feel I will get something of significance in return.

Worth mentioning at this point that I got talking to a guy called Pablo, (in the Drupal community, yes I did register!) who has written a simplecomment.module that offers a new comment form for submitting names, email address and comment - very cool - he's hoping to have something ready in the next couple of weeks. For now though, just add your name in the comment field.

Having spent a weekend looking at various blogging software, Moveable Type, Drupal, Serendipity - to find the one that would most suit my blogging needs. Truth is that any of these tools would be enough to run quite an extensive blog - but my criteria was more than that - I would looking for a blog tool that would be the most adaptable and extendable. After much exploration, Drupal seems to be the tool of choice here. As with the other tools, there is a whole host of plugins to add extra functionality. However, I favoured this tool because the core blog software and modules are written in PHP, a language I could at least hack around a bit.

I really like the way drupal allows you to build and customise your own themes - you can rack up a whole set of themes, and these can be a selection which have simply been downloaded and installed, or ones modified by the user.

Welcome to my new blog.....

For some months now, I've wanted to find some time to develop my Filemaker weblog a little. It lacks many of the features, such as trackback, RSS news feeds, that nearly all blogging software can do really quite easily. So I spent the first part of the weekend exploring how to develop these tools.

It wasn't until I started hacking around in the Filemaker database that I realised that i'd been running my old blog for nearly two and half years. Took me back a little - especially when I began reading some of my earliest entries, Software just got harder, much harder and Exploring Children's Creativity - absolutely fascinating. Have some of the issues changed since then? no, not really.

I also started me thinking why did I spend time developing my old blog in custom built Filemaker software - sounds like a crazy idea now. It quickly dawned on me that at the time, there just wasn't the range of good quality blogging software that there is today - so I built my own.

As you'll read.....I just couldn't get Filemaker to do even the most simpliest of tasks - create an RSS feed. I managed it - and it worked (kind of!)

Read on.....

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