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

The iWipe - give your Apple Mac a new lease of life

Whilst looking on the Internet for bathroom accessories, I stumbled across this:-

See the how-to on building one for yourself.

Hmmm. Not a bad price either.


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.

The Cathedral and the Bazaar

I continue to become more interested in approaches to developing software the open source way. In our Ultralab community we are currently debating what constitutes true open source software, something Ultralab aspires to do, but we aren't there yet and there is lots yet to learn and comprehend.

I re-read the The Cathedral and the Bazaar, an interesting set of articles which explains Eric Steven Raymond's experience of modeling his own software development project on the Linux model of evolution. You might find it interesting too....


I anatomize a successful open-source project, fetchmail, that was run as a deliberate test of the surprising theories about software engineering suggested by the history of Linux. I discuss these theories in terms of two fundamentally different development styles, the "cathedral'' model of most of the commercial world versus the "bazaar'' model of the Linux world.

I show that these models derive from opposing assumptions about the nature of the software-debugging task. I then make a sustained argument from the Linux experience for the proposition that "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow'', suggest productive analogies with other self-correcting systems of selfish agents, and conclude with some exploration of the implications of this insight for the future of software.

Core Breakfast Seminar - Open Source tools

I presented a seminar about Open Source software tools today at one of Core's Breakfast Seminars. I was warmed by the enthusiasm shown by the attendees, some of whom I recognised from last years' NAVCON conference where I presented several workshops. The participants included school principals, teachers, ICT technicians, software developers and some folk from local commerce.

We attempted a SubEthaEdit session as a means to collect information about participants, their professional interests and what they were hoping to gain from the seminar. A few issues arose with that, which is a lesson to never assume everything will work just fine even though I've had very successful experiences many times previous.

I progressed by talking about what open source tools are out there - you can see those I mentioned in my presentation, I used webnote as the tool of choice.... it means I can present, finish and leave my presentation available for the participants to follow up later. It all works.

An interesting discussion was held about the proprietary vs. inhouse (custom developed tools) vs. open source arguments - some valid points raised here. One question centred around what support there is for users of Open source software when the going gets tough and the technology fails at a critical moment. Typically there is no call-out or telephone support, so what happens then? It was interesting to note that some participants had experienced fast responses from open source communities with solutions and fixes, some not necessarily from the development team but from the user-base.

A good discussion was held about the challenge of appropriating a range of tools and how these could be tied together is becoming an ever increasing issue we need to solve. Single sign-on, LDAP are becoming more and more essential as time passes by. It was clear the same pain was felt by many participants in the room. Where is the solution? Why hasn't a tool which empowers users to do this without needing a computer science degree been developed yet?

Hopefully participants left with ideas for what tools they have at their disposal and a greater understanding of integrating open source solutions in their workplaces.

Thanks go to Vince, Krissie, Stephen Powell, and Jedd for their assistance with making all this happen.

12,000ft views: skydiving in New Zealand

Nick and I left Christchurch and headed off to Queenstown today looking for fun and adventure. Two hours into the journey, through some stunning scenery, I tasted my first glimpse of what was to come. Yep... as apprehensive as I was, I went skydiving. Never before had I considered such an activity. My sister Catherine has done it for charity, and survived - it looked spectacular from the film she had had recorded.

Once in the light aircraft, there was no way back, the only way down was to leap out of the aircraft door. It was a tiny single prop aircraft made from metal no thicker than a tin can... the smallest aircraft I've flown in. In fact the worse bit was kneeling next to the closed door without being strapped onto anything. In fact, I felt the most vulnerable as I was the only person left in the plan who wasn't wearing a parachute... the pilot had one, and my tandem jump instructor had the one which was to take us both safely to ground. Hmmm, things weren't looking too good at this point I thought.

The leap from from the doors was petrifying, and the feeling of falling lasted for a split second. The 30 second freefall was thrilling until the parachute was deployed (just at the moment I was thinking the ground is racing ever closer.) You do get that feeling of going thrusting upwards at the point the parachute is set... and yes, huge stresses placed on the equipment and you, but the buzz and thrill just increase massively before reaching eventual calm and tranquility and you have the scenery to admire.

Landing was awesome... a gentle glide downwards followed by an almost stationary landing. It was a terrific buzz and would recommend the jump to anyone who gets the chance. A bit pricey... and I probably subsidised the solo jumpers a little... but I'm not counting... I'm in New Zealand to be worked hard but to have a little bit of fun too.


Welcome to New Zealand, but we'll check you out first

Just arrived in Auckland, New Zealand and greeted by customs officers who did a more than thorough check of all my baggage and possessions. Luckily, I escaped having to drop my trousers and the full body search - phew!

It was an anxious moment as the officer pulled out a strip of paper which has some chemical property that is able to identify traces of drugs. A worrying thought... had I brushed past anyone while I was in Bangkok or earlier where traces of drugs could have transfered to my bag and worse... could drugs have been planted at any point during my travel.

In such situations this this we always tend to think of what could be worse... being accused of drug trafficking in Thailand was one of them! Still, these NZ guys were fairly rigorous...

My computer bag and luggage holdall were turned inside out... seams examined closely, pockets, clothes, all my CD's and DVD's were investigated and examined using a computer. I was asked all sorts of questions designed to intimidate... like, "This is your last chance, are you absolutely sure you are not carrying illegal substances?" to which I replied, "no" - I was then presented with a form as a last chance opportunity to declare anything I shouldn't have.

After determining I wasn't carrying anything illegal, nor was I trafficking any drugs, I was able to re-pack all my belongings and continue my journey towards Christchurch on the next available flight - having missed the original flight.

Digital Creativity Roadshow 2005, a moment for reflection

It's all been a bit of a disaster on the blog front - but here's the first blog entry since landing in Phuket, Thailand, two weeks ago. I have travelled here with Matthew Eaves on a project jointly supported by the British Council, Ultralab and Apple. The aim has been to work with children from Pattani on a digital creativity project with the intention of bring together communities of children as part of the Connecting Futures outreach work that has been very successful.

Matthew and I had intended to work in Pattani, but with the current unrest aimed towards westerners, it was felt safer that we move the venue to Phuket. Two workshops had been arranged during the two weeks we had been invited and used the well-respected SummerSchool format where the participants gained new skills with using digital video cameras and iMovie software. Of course there was more to learn than just the technology... this is about process and collaboration, judgements and decisions, planning, execution and performance.

Even though we already know lots about children making movies (our research in digital creativity work using the SummerSchool format stretches back over the past 6 years) there were still several surprises.

Curiously enough, the children's capacity to write their own soundtracks to their movies was staggering. We had emphasised how audio clues are significant in setting the mood of the film... and there are many examples in the films produced over the past two weeks to evidence participants using sound to amazing effect.

We chose to film a 'reflections' piece where individual pupils spoke of their experiences over the past 5 days. What was exceptional here wasn't just the comments the pupils made, but their confidence to speak in front of the camera. Quite astonishing really since children in England are often quite reserved and come across quite shy when confronted with such a situation.

One girl, Rus, commented, paraphrased below...

"I now understand how TV is made, I can now make TV"

We've had a fantastic learning opportunity here.. there is lots more to tell... and hopefully, as I venture further, to New Zealand, I will be able to piece that together in a more cohesive form. Matthew and I are just heading out to meet with Gerard from Apple Asia (flying in from Singapore as I type), a key individual who supported this event - and at the eleventh hour. He wants to know more about the work of Ultralab and the digital creativity work particularly, and explore how we might develop this relationship in the future.

The photograph on the left is pupils from the week 2 of the workshop. Take a look at some more photographs.


Now Get Out Of That - Scout Day Hike

Five boys from our scout unit, 3rd Billericay Orion Troop took part in the annual Now Get Out Of That district hiking event. This is an opportunity for boys to practice and demonstrate their map reading and on-the-ground navigation skills during a short 6 mile hike. Apart from the rather tricky navigation, the scouts have to prepare and cook a hot meal for lunch - our boys opted for a pasta dish in a bolognese sauce. Leaders were stationed at checkpoints along the route to monitor the boys progress.

It was a very satisfying experience watching the boys demonstrate all they know and understand with maps, compasses and grid references. Although this wasn't a competition, nor was it a race, our boys made it to the finish first despite being the second from last group to set off. They set themselves a consistent walking pace and showed great maturity. Well done!


Success! with Plone and Feedparser

Today (Friday) ended with the perfect start to the weekend. After weeks of misery, (well, okay, it wasn't that bad was it Richard?) together we solved the issue with Universal Feed Parser working as a module within Zope (Plone) using Python. Firstly, what is Feed Parser?

Feed Parser is a Python module that downloads and parses or processes RSS, Atom and CDF syndicated feeds. The Feed Parser module gives Zope (Plone) the ability to bring RSS feeds from external sources into its environment. So as we gear ourselves up for releasing the new Ultralab website, this is a significant step forward.

Our problems stemmed from an error message which Plone reported whenever we tried to access the Feed Parser module...

import of feedparser is unauthorized error message

This error only affects Mac OS X Server that has multiple versions / instances of Python installed. What we have discovered is that the Feed Parser module was installed using a version / instance of Python running on the server which was different to the version / instance that Zope and Plone use. A key learning moment is understanding that Zope modules must be installed using the same version of Python as the Zope environment is using.

Take a look at a sneak preview of the new website.

Ultraversity Team Talk

Mark, Greta and I (pictured from left to right) met today to discuss progress with Ultraversity's new Cohort 4 community / portfolio space. This is a new venture using the Plone 2.1 content management framework - configured 'out of the box'. We believe Plone has far more to offer than just managing content. Plone's major strength is the permissions and workflow model which underpins its operation. Understanding this rather complex model is a major feat in itself and probably demands a better user interface to be more useful. I dream of building a permissions model using a drag and drop Flash interface where users are moved into groups structured as Venn diagrams. Do Venn diagrams have any limitations?

Interestingly, Stephen Powell and I reflected on the complexities of Plone, and after some discussion, arrived at the conclusion that you can't have it both ways, simplicity and complexity, which sounds a bit daft. What I mean is - having a tool that can be understood and used by the masses, yet powerful enough to provide a solid set of permissions that is capable of niche and specific demands.


Ok, I just don't get it...

What is it about a pineapple that girls think they are to die for? Am I missing something?

If you've received a pineapple as a gift... I (think) I need to know about it!


Optorite Laser Mouse

Every so often I get the chance to play with some new piece of kit... call me geeky, but it's kinda fun. This time I have an Optorite Laser Mouse from Kinnovation to play with.

The mouse looks rather sleek and space-age. Although slightly bulky, it's not really a portable mouse as such, but one you'd have by your side on a work surface. However, from an ergonomic perspective, this one ticks all but one of the boxes. The thumb sits comfortably in the curvaceous groove, with a click switch just above it. The index finger and third finger rests beautifully above the right and left mouse buttons. A roller ball switch sits between the two mouse buttons.

I'm hoping Kinnovation begin work on a mouse for left-handed people... something that I believe is a essential - we simply don't do enough to cater for people's individual needs. Maybe the company have left handed mice for sale, but this isn't obvious from the website.

One other thing that I like about the mouse is its weight... it weighs very little. The lightweight design makes using the mouse a dream. Tracking is very sensitive, but this is easily adjusted by the operating system's control.


Little Britain Challenge Cup 2005

Between 8th and 11th September, COINS entered a yacht for the Little Britain Challenge Cup sailing event for companies involved in the construction industry.

Here are some photographs from the three days, though sadly most of it was spent waiting around due to a distinct lack of wind. The team consisted of employees, guests and clients of COINS, some with lots of sailing experience, some with very little. All in all, we learnt lots - with me in a new position on bow, I learnt how to set the spinnaker, gybe the spinnaker, prepare the genoa for hoisting, as well as on lookout for other boats during the start procedure.

Our best result was 3rd! (but that was for the quiz held on the opening night!)

Now that we have a good feel for the event, we are looking forward to taking part next year.


Gina's Endometriosis Fund Raising Barbeque

Gina Revill organised a fantastic fund raising event for the Endometriosis Society which took place yesterday afternoon till late at Lambourne End Farm.

A good friend, Ian Terrell ran the charity auction - it was excellent fun watching people bidding for items, some of the more popular items included a jar of Scrumpy cider, electric guitar, wine, scooter and a sheep's skin. The whole event raised £600 - well done Gina! A quiz night is being organised for early in the new year.


Hot fridge anyone?

I've always wondered whether fridges could be made more efficient...

This fridge uses excess heat from the condenser (usually on the back of most household appliances) and directs this to a 'hot plate' situated on top of the unit.


Google Talk

Okay, so Google have just released their latest service, Google Talk - this is yet another Instant Messenger chat service but with computer to computer voice telephony as well. I'm slightly concerned that Google is looking like another Microsoft or Tesco - a one place stop for all your needs. In some ways this is nice... take Apple's iLife suite of applications... I enjoy having them all work seamlessly together - but I'm not sure I'm ready for Google to rule the (Internet) world, just yet.

Interestingly enough, the uptake of IP telephony has been slow, apart from local telephone networks set up in offices, yet we've had Skype and Sipgate for some time now. If you remember the take up of Google's search engine several years ago, this could spark a real shake-up for BT and other telephone providers if the same success if achieved with full release of Google Talk.


Stephen Heppell's RetroBlog

Stephen Heppell has begun a RetroBlog... a blog that looks back at the past and places some of Stephen's thoughts and thinking into today's context.

Take a look at some of Stephen's writing over the last decade and his reflections on what progress, if any, has been made on topics including technology, learning, school design and the Internet.


Digital Creativity Bus, draft proposal

Last week I completed a draft proposal detailing some of my thoughts for the Digital Creativity Bus. I would welcome your thoughts, ideas and suggestions please. This is a great opportunity to build something so seductive and engaging for all who use the bus... we might only get one chance to get this right.

Download the draft v2 proposal paper

Ramsgate Regatta 2005

Spent last week sailing onboard Cracker. It was an eventful week-long event, starting the week tanked up with crew members, and by Monday, dropping like flies. This was partly due to getting hit across the head by the mainsheet block attached to the boom. It all became quite lively as the rescue boat was called and I was taken to shore where the waiting ambulance took me to A&E. All fine now - my head was glued together! ... but people don't hang about with head injuries it seems. In fact, it was all quite reassuring how quickly help is on hand if the need arises.

A few days later, I was back on board, meanwhile the team were doing very well despite losing Bill earlier in the week too. We won plenty of Ramsgate Regatta glassware, enough for one each, reaching the dizzy heights of second place on the final day.

Thank you Stephen, Carole and the rest of the team, including newbies Rob and Terry. It was another fantastic sailing event, despite everything! Check out the IRC Class 3 race results.

More photographs still to come...


You know you're a geek when....


King Danny I - of an as yet unnamed country

This is totally whacky... yet curiously, this website is the beginning of a new television series on BBC2

Kind Danny I, is looking for new citizens to join his newly formed country, so new, that it hasn't a name yet, though it does sport its own national anthem (which is very amusing!), with dance moves (!) and a national flag. Cool huh? this guy is off his head, but I admire him for what he's achieved so far. Some 23,117 citizens as of this moment.

So, what are you waiting for, Become a citizen, today and tune in next week for the launch Citizen TV!


UltraSMS and txt message to my blog site

I have spent some time installing and developing a web interface to UltraSMS. UltraSMS is a little application that reads SMS (txt) messages from mobile phones and stores them in a MySQL database. It runs on Mac OS X or Linux and interfaces with several phones using Bluetooth or a serial cable connection. Tim Ellis of Ultralab developed this software, well worth a look.

This application has been used several times, most widely known for its use in Pirate BBC Essex, a local radio station celebrating 40 years of Pirate radio.

You can experiment with this tool by sending messages to my blog entry by txting anything you like to 0044 7811 636 738 You should see the entries appear, almost instantly, in the sidebar to the right. Remember to hit refresh first!

Please don't worry, your number isn't displayed anywhere on this website and before you ask, it costs the same as it would to txt anyone else, there are no hidden charges!

The neat thing about the UltraSMS application is that it is very cheap to get going... all you need is a mobile phone with a SIM card, preferably Bluetooth enabled since then you don't have to worry about cables and connections, and a Linux / Macintosh computer. That's it!

I have used the application when speaking at conferences - useful for collecting people's contributions and for the audience to post their questions as I'm speaking. Simple but effective. Though this is a photograph of a SummerSchool presentation event, you can see how people's contributions are added as 'stickies'. This 'stickies' user interface was developed by another member of the Ultralab team, Alex Blanc, using Flash.


Plone 2.1 rc1 installed, working and Subversion

I'm really excited having just managed to download and install Plone 2.1 rc1 (release candidate 1) and all this after a long day yesterday with Richard Millwood and Matthew Eaves, working together on the new Ultralab website...

Plone is a content management system (CMS) or framework (CMF) as it is termed by the people at Plone. Essentially, Plone allows you to build complex websites where the data or content is stored within a database. This helps to organise your data or represent it in whichever way you please. Plone is particularly strong on building a sense of community, with a sound notion of Users and Groups and Privileges system, and is one of the defining factors why we are building the next Ultralab website and Ultraversity Portfolio/Community spaces using this tool.

Over the past 2 months, there has been an enormous learning curve to master - and we aren't there yet, but with each challenge, we seem to learn something new. Some things are still a mystery... like getting the FeedParser (RSS) to function from within ContentPanels (a Plone product) One of the most significant struggles is learning a new programming language, Python. Luckily, it is said that Python was a language developed to help people learn about programming. Shouldn't too hard then if you don't mind all the dots. !

So far we have been developing on Plone 2.0.5 and with Plone 2.1 (set for release on August 1st, now August 15th) - just around the corner, our recent concern has been, 'Will our development effort be wasted or lost during the upgrade process?' Currently, the latest version doesn't have a 'package installer' application and relies on downloading the binaries for install using commands such as

./configure; make; make install

Also, I've learnt about Subversion (a software application to manage version control) Thanks to Chris Davis, I've managed to make sense of the download and installation of Subversion. Thanks Chris. The web is just so handy for finding and learning new things.

This has led to me installing Zope 2.8.0, upgrading my version of Python to 2.3.5, installing Darwin Ports (whatever these are!) and using Subversion to download and install Plone 2.1 rc1

Now all I need to do is find out what happens to our development work when we import the site into the new version of Plone.

see also:


Routemaster Bus... on the road to digital creativity

Stepping Stones and the National Hemiplegia Organisation have recently purchased an old London Routemaster RM bus from

The intention here, rather like the Computer Bus on the Isle of Man, is to provide more opportunities for children to become involved in digital creativity projects, using video, animation, graphic design applications.

So far the bodywork has been re-sprayed, and work to the inside of the bus is set to be carried out anytime soon. The most pressing need right now is to brainstorm the layout for the inside of the bus. It will need to accommodate working spaces for children using computers, which are likely to be portable Apple iBook computers. The bus must also ensure that wheelchair users can access at least the lower deck and this means that the upper deck can't have an exclusive facilities or technology which isn't accessible from anywhere else.

So your thoughts please, we have a double decker bus to design and construct. This is an exciting opportunity and we want to get it right.

Sound Advice on BBC Essex

I have just returned from the BBC Essex Studio. If you are interested in what Matt and I had to say live on air with listeners talking about computer start-up issues, copying music from vinyl to computer and troubleshooting a computer which doesn't hold the graphics card setting, then download and listen (4.2MB) to the audio recording. (This is a heavily compressed .3gp file, you'll need QuickTime for it to play. To download, right click or ctrl click the link)

sound_advice.mp4 (4.2MB)

There were some quite tricky questions (!) from the listeners, and towards the end, the phone lines were heaving with callers wanting to ask their questions, pity the programme ran for just the hour!



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