FotoFlexer – Online Photo Editing

I’ve been playing around with a couple of online photo editing tools. I’ve discovered Picnik and Phixr and these are both neat tools. Today TechCrunch covered FotoFlexer, another online photo-editing tool. FotoFlexer has recently integrated the much-hyped “seam carving” technology. Their implementation is called “smart resize”. Here’s a demo.

I like what FotoFlexer is capable of, and it’s an easy tool to use. However, I don’t know who their marketing department is, but c’mon, change the image on the front page of your website. I was 10 years old the last time I thought virtual breast augmentation was funny. If you ever want to break the education market, your page and product need a refocus.

More Great Mac Apps

I recently wrote about some of the Mac Apps I use on a daily basis. Here’s another list, most of these apps are very useful to me, but I don’t use them quite as often.

Delicious Library: This is one of my favorite apps for keeping my personal library organized. I have hundreds of books in my office and I am lending out books quite often. With this application, I am able to inventory my books using an iSight webcam or a Bluetooth barcode scanner (I use the latter). You could also do it manually. Then, I am able to lend out books easily to people by dragging and dropping the book to the individual I lent it to. It even send notifications via email for those that keep my books way too long. :-) It’s one of the few apps I pay for, and it’s worth the money if you need this sort of thing. It also syncs well with LibraryThing.

Handbrake: Handbrake is a free, multi-platform, DVD to MPEG-4 converter. This will rip DVDs to a number of formats. But if you are looking for something just does DVD to iPod specifically, check out Instant Handbrake or iSquint.

Jing: I should have put this in my last list because I use it every single day. Jing is a screencast tool that makes screencasting incredibly easy, it’s fast, simple, uploads the produced videos for you automatically, and even copies the link to your clipboard. I use this daily to send quick “how-to’s” to teachers and students via email, any of my Ning groups or via instant messaging. It’s a new, free app, but it’s quickly become essential for me.

Skitch: Screen capture on the Mac has always been a weak feature. Skitch works very much like Jing, but works with still images. You can edit screen captures and they are kept online for you. This is another great free app.

Chicken of the VNC: To see my office Mac from home, I regularly use VNC (Virtual Network Control). This is a very useful app which is easy to use once set up. It’s free and open source.

SubEthaEdit: I haven’t used this as much lately, but it’s a great “text collaboration engine”, most suited for programming. It runs over the OS X “Bonjour” network. I just noticed that this is now software you have to pay for (it used to be free).

Flip4Mac: This free tool allows you to play Windows Media files via Quicktime.

Scratch: I haven’t played with this much yet, but will be introducing it to my undergraduate students this semester. Scratch is free visual programming environment designed for kids. This has great potential for the classroom.

Senuti: Senuti (“iTunes” in reverse) is a free app that allows you to transfer songs from your iPod to your computer.

Well, that’s all I can think of right now. If there are others you know of that are worth noting, please comment!

Freedom Sticks For The Classroom

I’m working with teachers in a small-town Saskatchewan school. My role involves getting these volunteers to begin using current forms of technology in the classroom, to research the process and to begin a technology-related mentorship program. These teachers will eventually become mentors to others in the division. It’s important to note that these teachers are very new to technology in the classroom and are beginners in this area.

After some initial conferencing, I decided that blogging would be a great place to start. The following documents the process with the first teacher.

I thought I’d start at It’s been really reliable, and although (philosophically) I prefer, it has been buggy for me and my students in the past. I found out quickly that was blocked by the school filter. So, we tried It worked!

We started the sign-up process. Everything went well. But, when we went to check the authorization email that was to be sent from, we realized that the school mail filter rejected the message from Uggh. We tried again, but first I had the teacher sign-up with a Gmail account. This worked, but we had to choose a new userid and URL for edublogs. But that’s OK, we’re getting there.

In, I had the teacher change the presentation (theme) and the temporary password. When we came to create our first post, I noticed something missing. The ONLY browser on the school computers was IE 6. For some reason, the visual editor in WordPress did not show up. This was another big issue, but at least we could post basic messages.

Next we tried attachments. We could upload files in IE6 in edublogs, but when you went to attach the file to the post, it would not work. Another IE 6.0 issue it seemed. Then we went to embed a Youtube video. Nope, YouTube blocked. Oh, we could get to TeacherTube … but, wow, no Flash player installed on these machines either.

So let’s go through the list of things of issues:

  • Filtering blocked some really important, educational sites.
  • No visual editor in WordPress because of IE 6 (it seems).
  • No ability to attach files to blogposts.
  • No Flash player.


I setup a wireless network (probably against board policy) in about 10 seconds using my Airport Express. I take this tool with me everywhere, to every classroom I work in, to every hotel I stay in and to every conference I present at. Setting up a wireless network is idiot-proof with this tool, and this is by far the best $100ish I have every spent.

While on the Wireless networked, I noticed that I could get to any site using Firefox on my MacBook Pro. As I had a few USB sticks with me, I thought I’d try installing Firefox Portable onto a stick and see if it would work on the school computers. If you don’t know much about portable apps, basically these applications run from a USB stick with no need to install on the local computer. In placing this USB stick into the school machine, I quickly realized that we were now able to do everything we wanted to do including bypassing the school filter. For some reason, the entire web proxy system was closely tied to IE, so when we used Firefox, we no longer had limits. now worked perfectly on Portable Firefox. We now had the visual editor and could attach files. We were free!

I quickly realized that it would be useful for these teachers to have their own sticks. Thus I purchased 8 sticks (one for each teacher) and included the following apps, most of them available at

  • 7-Zip Portable: Compression utility (WinZip equivalent).
  • AbiWord Portable: MS Word replacement.
  • Audacity Portable: Audio-editing utility.
  • FileZilla Portable: FTP utility.
  • Firefox Portable: Web browser.
  • GIMP Portable: Imaging editing app (Photoshop-like).
  • Open Office Portable: Includes Write, Calc, Impress, Base, Draw, Math (MS Office replacement plus).
  • VLC Portable: The best cross-platform video player (plays almost everything).
  • Opera USB: Another web-browser. I added this because it seems to have the Flash player built in the browser, Firefox Portable doesn’t.

There are a number of other portable apps which I did not include simply because I don’t think the teachers needed the apps (too techy), yet.

Distributing these USB sticks to teachers is done as an interim measure. For now, this will allow these teachers to get to many great resources and will allow them to use powerful Web 2.0 tools. Teachers will also be able to show their students the resources they choose and deem appropriate. I have dubbed these loaded USB devices “freedom sticks” as this was exactly what was gained from this experience.

Loading Up My New Mac

I’ve recently purchased a new Mac Pro, and now I’m looking to my other two Macs (iMac, Macbook Pro) for the essential software that I need on this new machine. I feel that my other two machines are way too bloated, so I’m looking to install only my most relevant apps. Through this process, I’m realizing that I use many apps on a daily/weekly basis.

Here is my list of my essential Mac apps. This does not include the preloaded apps, such as iLife ’08.

Firefox: I’m not sure what’s up with Safari, but I try it from time to time and it never seems to properly load the pages I need. Does anyone else have this experience? Firefox is my “duh” app … everyone should use Firefox. IE is just awful and it continues to be a source of grief for any of my students still using it.

Journler: This personal journaling tool is terrific. I use it for almost every place I take notes or reflect. In fact, I built this list using Journler.

Skype: I use Skype to communicate all the time, with people at a distance, and even people on campus. It’s the simplest tool, it’s still great quality but I wish I could actually get SkypeIn service in Saskatchewan.

Quicksilver: Yea, it takes a while getting used to, but this tool is something that should just be built in to OS X. It’s described as “A unified, extensible interface for working with applications, contacts, music and other data.” It’s amazing and works so well with everything. You have to experience it to love it. Take some time to do that. I don’t use MS Office anymore. Can anyone give me a reason to? does everything I need.

Jing: I use Jing all the time … everyday. If a student asks me a technical question related to my course via email, Moodle, etc., I am able to quickly send them a quick Jing video as a solution. As part of my course, I use student question (sent via email) that I answer via Jing and post solutions for everyone. It’s just so convenient.

Twitterific: Not sure if there is a better Mac Twitter client out there, but it just works.

iGTD: iGTD or i Get Things Done is my master. It tells me what to do everyday, and it makes my life much more simpler and organized.

Miro: This is great cross-platform, open source video player with built in search capabilities. I’ve written about Miro more here. And it’s great with TVShows, for personal entertainment viewing.

VLC: Although Miro is based on VLC, I like having VLC as my default media player. It plays everything I have come across.

Adium: Adium is my multi-service instant messaging client. I use it with my MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, ICQ, GChat, AOL and iChat contacts. It doesn’t support video conferencing but it does the basics and is so convenient.

Cyberduck: I’ve used all of the free Mac FTP clients, and this seems to work best … it’s got some issues, but it does the job.

So far everything has been free. Here are a couple of apps that I actually pay money to use.

VMWare Fusion: I’ve used both Fusion and Parallels to run Windows XP on my Mac. At this point, VMWare wins out for speed.

XTorrent: This is the best Mac Torrent client by far! It’s worth the money.

That’s all I can think of for now. It’s a pretty basic list but there are some amazing apps here.

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Barriers to Integration: A String of Microsoft Technology Issues

I admit it, I’m biased, I’m spoiled by my Mac. I prefer to do all of my daily work on either OS X or Ubuntu Linux. Yet, when I walk into my teaching world, I get to experience the joys of the Windows environment.

My students, preservice teachers, will enter into a variety of computing environments. In Saskatchewan, we have some school divisions that are primarily Mac environments, some that are heavily IBM/Windows schools and we even have a few Sun Ray (thin client) divisions. Most of what I teach is either cross-platform, or platform-insignificant. Good pedagogical principles do not discriminate. But then, once in a while, I run into one of these days. Here’s what we tried to accomplish.

My class attempted a fairly simple activity. We are entering into a digital storytelling unit and we are using various tools to digitize stories. For the first activity, I’m taking my inspiration from Dean Shareski as we are putting together a simple “Mastercard” type commercial using Microsoft Photo Story. Here’s Dean’s example.

The process was supposed to work like this.
1) Create video in Microsoft Photo Story 3.
2) Save as .wmv file.
3) Upload to Youtube
4) Embed video into student blogs.

These are the issues we ran into:

Issue #1: The .wmv that was produced by Photo Story was rejected by Youtube. I read around, received some advice on Twitter and it seemed the that only solution was to re-render the file in another program. As I focus on free, widely-accessible tools, I chose Windows Movie Maker, a program I’ve never been really fond of, but figured it would work.

Issue #2: When you resave the file in Windows Movie Maker, the .wmv file is actually accepted by Youtube. However, for some odd reason, most of my students ran into an issue. When rendered in WMM, the beginning of the video appeared dim, and parts of the end were cut off abruptly. To get around this issue, I asked students to create a short title frame and end credits for each video. This seemed to solve the issue. Videos were sent to Youtube, and everything seemed to work so far.

Issue #3: Embedding videos into WordPress was a success, but only for some of my students. For others, the embed code didn’t work and was revealed in plain text on student blogs. The difference? Students that were successful were using Firefox, students with the technical issue were using Internet Explorer 7. Once students used Firefox, no further issues.

In summary, Microsoft tools provide a wonderful learning experience if the point of your learning is “getting around technical issues caused by really crappy software”. I think my students actually got to see real-time problem solving with technology in classrooms, and ways of getting around issues. This will certainly be common for many of my students. However, that wasn’t the intent. I was just looking for a simple way of using common, free Windows-based tools to publish stories. It eventually worked, but not nearly as well as it should have.

I’m looking forward to moving to both Mac, Linux and web-based tools to accomplish the same thing. I’m almost certain we won’t see nearly as many issues.

Teachers Without Borders To Release Free Software

Media Newswire reports that the Teachers Without Borders organization is set to release new software tools that “will provide the world’s 59 million teachers with easy access to online educational materials that previously have been available only in developed countries with access to high-speed Internet connections and elaborate computer networks and platforms.” These tools “will make it easy for teachers to collaborate by creating groups and then working on individual pages, or by creating and sharing galleries, blogs, forums, news feeds and bookmarks.”

OK, I’m a bit confused. I thought these tools already existed in various incarnations (e.g., Moodle, WordPress, Flickr, etc.) Aren’t these available to everyone?

OK, I’ll read on:

TWB Tools will initially contain a small library comprising primarily TWB books, five full professional development courses “and all the tools one would need to build one’s own library and/or contribute to the main branch,” he said. Mednick added that it will be “quite easy to import more, so that the local communities can have a baseline of content from which to work — to copy, remix, reuse, adapt, adopt.”

Well, I guess I will have to wait to see what these tools actually will look like. “TWB Tools are scheduled to be available in February 2007 on the Teachers Without Borders Web site.”