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

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.

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


Deutz Engine Screensaver - download animated construction of a motor engine

Our Scout unit are working towards their Mechanics badge. One of the parents, Mike, works at Ford Motor Company and brought this rather cool screensaver along yesterday evening. The screensaver takes the viewer through the various parts of a motor engine as you watch it being constructed in front of you. Sadly, the screensaver is for Windows PCs only... Watch the Flash animation and download the Deutz Engine screensaver. I wonder if there is a tool to construct Screensavers for Mac OS X from Flash movies? You can now download the excellent screensaver from this 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 **

Now available for Windows Vista

Downloadable options:




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.




12hrs in Keswick: the Total Objects Adventure Challenge

We attempted and completed the Total Objects Adventure Challenge last weekend. This is a 12hr challenge, and involved 3 disciplines, canoeing, mountain biking and climbing Skiddaw, England's second highest peak.

The team included, Sandy Seagrove, Mieke Uglow, Larry Sullivan and me.

Some spectacular photographs were taken, thanks to the girls. View the photographs online.

See also Jonathan's Mobile Blog for some more images from the weekend.

Our team finished 6th out of the 13 teams (well done team) and collectively raised £52,700 for CARE International and will go towards key projects around the world.


Sir Ken Robinson talks about creativity and what's wrong with our education systems

Pete Bradshaw found this conference presentation of Sir Ken Robinson speaking at a TED conference. Watch the clip.

He is particularly entertaining to watch and listen to as he talks about creativity and what is wrong with our education systems.

"If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original. By the time children become adults, they become frightened of being wrong"

Ken argues that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.

Ken is also a writer and publisher, and having been inspired by his talk, I'm really interested in reading his book, 'Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative.'


MTV treadmills live... and schoolgirl demolition

Two clips grabbed my interest this evening...

  1. You will have already seen this, I am sure... but the Treadmills movie is just so brilliant, beautifully choreographed and innovative. Watch them live at the Music Video MTV Awards 2006
  2. Becky hates school - Schoolgirl negotiates demolition order.
    Not sure how genuine this is, but it's definitely amusing at the thought and possibility of school kids doing this sort of proactive move.

    Becky says:

    "Is this a demolition company or a joke factory."


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