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Desk Pets - the gadgeteers favourite pet

As a Deputy Head Teacher of a primary school in Essex, I have become renowned for my cupboard of gadgets, electronic toys and gizmos. The collection started from a humble beginning, researching the interaction between young children and toys, looking specifically at the learning that takes place. It was a fun(!) research project and gave me plenty of scope to try lots of different types of toy.

Of course, the electronic gadgets now feature in my teaching, with Control Technology very much at the forefront of the ICT curriculum. With the children playing with iPads, building roller coaster simulations on the Mac, using Hex-bugs, roamers, bee-bots, and the like, there are always plenty of devices to explore.

The latest addition to my "collection" is the DeskPet which is an iPad / iPhone accessory.

The children have responded well to using the DeskPet which is essentially controlled using an iPhone app with a transmitter plugged into the headphone jack. This was a surprise and had anticipated something plugged into the Dock connector. I suppose using the headphone jack makes the DeskPet quite versatile and therefore not limited to iOS devices. Weirdly, I couldn't get DeskPet to function initially, but then realised that both my iPad and iPhone were muted. Control signals to the DeskPet must be in the form of sound waves, which are completely inaudible, so presumably operating at the very high frequencies.

The children have really warmed to the DeskPet and love setting themselves challenges of following courses and routes. This is not only a great addition to my cupboard, but one that is very popular too!

iPad Mini case

The iPad Mini is designed to be carried everywhere. It wants to just slip into a small bag. Now that my wife uses hers to read, it gets put in her handbag wherever she goes. As with all Apple products, they look gorgeous naked and dreadful when fully clothed in a huge unwieldy case.

I think we have discovered the perfect case which offers practical protection from scuffs and scratches whilst being carried, to enabling its natural beauty to be showcased whenever in use.

This is the Encase designed pouch in a charcoal wool finish. Snug, sleek and very well protected.

More iPad Mini cases can be found online here.

Wire-less Care-free Type-more Keyboard

For a while now, I've been searching for the perfect wireless keyboard. Not necessarily for any serious typing, a full size one is needed after all. However, there's something very neat about this particular keyboard, its size.

Originally I thought I'd use this for armchair control over my home entertainment system, a 24" iMac with wireless mouse. It means I can send commands and controls to the Mac using the key commands across the room using its Bluetooth connectivity. It works very well at this and I'm delighted with it.

I then tried pairing the keyboard with my iPad, iPhone, and now the latest, my little Raspberry Pi computer. The Raspberry Pi needs a bluetooth adaptor, but that was easy to source and hook up. Using an iPad 3 keyboard has made such a difference to typing information effortlessly.

What I love most about the keyboard is its function. It comes with a USB cable (for charging) and a small pouch with a lift-and-over end for securing the keyboard. A really nice device, perfect for use in the home and for traveling. Fab.


Proving a point, a stylus for iPad

Steve Jobs of Apple was famously quoted in 2010 "If you see a stylus, they blew it" when talking about stylus and handheld devices. Anything separate from a device is subject to failure, simply being lost, forgotten or broken. I think Steve is right.

However, I did consider what benefits a stylus might bring to the user experience and explored using some software called DocAS for capturing my notes on an iPad, during meetings etc.

The mobile phone stylus worked brilliantly, more accurate than using a finger and makes handwriting directly on the screen possible. There are adjustments you can make to the thickness of the writing which is important.

DocAS allows you to open a PDF document on the iPad screen and simply add sketches or diagrams directly onto the screen. Annotations are added in the same way.

The usual functions are possible, saving / exporting / printing as you would expect in any iOS software.

The stylus has a soft nib which makes contact with the screen. The material used means that the iPad's screen is very well protected and won't get scratched. The stylus is also very light, so doesn't add very much to the overall weight of carrying iPad and accessories

My initial view was not to bother with a stylus device, but I think having played with one, it certainly has its uses. I often attend conferences and workshops and where to put notes following these events is troublesome. Having all my notes stored in one place, particularly if these accompany the presentation slides or briefing document. I'll be requesting the presentation slides ahead of the talk from now on!


Apple iPad Case

At last I've ventured into getting the proper Apple iPad Case. It has many advantages, one being that it fits snuggly to the actual form of the iPad making it appear super sleek and thin.

I love the rubbery texture which makes the case very grippy.

I love the simplicity of the design too, making it possible to stand the iPad in a range of different orientations.

The best arrangement is set up with the screen standing on edge and a bluetooth keyboard connected making it a very portable and capable computer.



Using the iPad with the on screen keyboard is also very usable when orientated flat with a 15 degree incline. I love the way that the onscreen keyboard doesn't appear if a bluetooth keyboard is paired and active. Very intelligent thinking which is what makes Apple the great brand that it is.



This case for the iPad and also several iPad 2 cases can be found easily on the web.

Synology DiskStation Audio Station

I've had the DiskStation running for a week now and I keep finding a whole set of new features. The device is a fully fledged media server offering a streaming service for a variety of media types, photos, audio, video and even security cameras.

I'm interested in how this device can be used in the school environment to share both learning resources and the digital creativity work that the pupils produce. The latter is such a big issue for me because so much work is created by pupils, yet there are few opportunities where this work can be shared, nevermind even accessed by a wider audience. I think the Synology DiskStation is about to change all that.

Audio Station

Starting the Audio Station service is easy. Simply find the application in the Control Panel and check the box.

Files to be shared are uploaded using the File Browser window. You can establish your own file system should you wish, or simply point your upload to a folder containing the media you wish to upload and the whole process is managed efficiently and effortlessly.

A progress bar shows what items are in the queue and also upload progress.

Once uploaded, you can view the collection of folders and files through the File Browser window.

However, this is only the storage of this media. What about being able to play this media across the Ethernet or Wireless network?

The DiskStation software allows the media to be streamed to device in several ways. Using the web interface, the media can be played through the Audio Station software which is essentially presented with a similar interface to iTunes. A neat solution for cross-platform compatibility since the display will appear identical on a Mac or Windows PC. Furthermore, in a school setting, this requires less training in order to use the software.


What I REALLY like about the DiskStation however, is the way in which multiple devices can access this same playlist. Here is the view on my iPhone 4....



This is staggeringly good. It makes me reflect on how we can simply do away with CDs being used here and there, skipping and jumping because the scratches from heavy and continued usage. Plugging a computer, an iPhone, iPod or an iPad into a sound system would just work. All of this works across the WIFI network.

The DS audio app is the player for the iPhone/iPad/iPod and is a free download from the iTunes Store.

...and finally. What better way of accessing shared music from a central source, than to make it available to the iTunes Streaming Service?

Here is my iTunes application on my Mac listing the contents of the iTunes library...

...and below, accessing and playing the "Shift Happens" film. 


This DiskStation is staggeringly good and so effortless to implement, administer, control and access.

Already, I am uploading videos that pupils have made, films that pupils are watching for the From Screen to Page writing programme and audio that might be used around the school and across the curriculum.

Learning really can be this exciting.

I can't wait to begin exploring yet another feature, which will probably wait until the next blog update!

iPad Arc Aluminium Stand

I adore the iPad and there are plenty of websites, blogs and tweets confirming that I'm not alone. I shall spare you yet another repetition of why this tactile and accessible technology bridges the gap between the techno geeks and the technophobes. However, one essential addition to the iPad wealth of accessories is the iPad stand. I quite often use the iPad on a desk top, or more recently on a transatlantic flight, sometimes to watch films, music videos, gaming or just browsing. Whilst touch screens work are far more comfortable to operate when flat on a table top, conversely they are more comfortable to look at when stood horizontally.

This iPad stand works brilliantly on flight tray or desk top. It's not only stylish, designed and built using the same material as the iPad casing, but it's also incredibly light and easy to transport.

I wouldn't have travelled without it.

Protection better than reclamation! The iPad case

Using an iPad in schools requires them to be "bullet-proof" but not because they are deliberated harmed or mistreated, but invariably accidents happen. Quite often the accident could have been avoided with foresight, but since children are still learning about the laws of physics, gravity and being responsible, we have to be prepared for some things to go wrong.

As soon as our school had two shiny new iPads, I was quick to get hold of an iPad case. I wasn't sure which one to get, so I just ordered the one. This is a iPad Flip Case in black and is perfect for protecting the iPad.

The benefits include:

  • smart black design.
  • easy to remove the iPad from the case when you just want to 'show off'
  • solid cover protects the screen when closed, but also supports the iPad to stand upright when open.
  • clasp clip to keep the iPad safe when closed.

Definitely well worth looking at the variety of iPad cases available.



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