Category Archives: technical skills

Watching Professionals Have Fun

I have enjoyed watching two sports throughout my life: tennis and figure skating. The end of January was a bonanza month with the Australian Open and the US National Figure Skating Championships. Thanks to the wonder of the contemporary world, I was able to watch a lot of both of them despite not having cable.

As always, I was inspired by their skills, strength and determination. And, when it was all over, I enjoyed watching them have some fun, too. The tennis fun happened at a Roger Federer Foundation fundraiser in South Africa where he played Rafael Nadal in an exhibition match. While they were clearly competing, they were smiling as they did so and even making jokes and a little trash talk. Clearly having fun playing the game to which they have devoted their whole lives:

For the ice skaters, the fun comes after the competition in the skating spectacular where they can dial down the pressure (no required elements, no worries about under rotations), put on some cool costumes and have fun with no thought to competition at all. Certainly, the best example of this was the ice dancing pair of Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker who skated to Swan Lake:

I wonder sometimes how top competitors keep up the motivation and commitment, and these moments of fun give us a clue: they really love their sport. We see a passion, sheer joy, that goes beyond any superficial desire to win.

Running Pi On My Mac

I’ve fiddled around a bit with my Raspberry Pi in the past but wanted to be able to run it using my laptop rather than having all the parts (monitor, keyboard, and mouse) cluttering up my workspace. Yesterday, in between Spring cleanup and gardening, I managed to get it to work. It took several chunks of time: I would work on it, get to a stopping place of either a roadblock or success, go outside and play in the dirt, then return with renewed energy.

I knew I wanted to do it via Ethernet as that way I could do demos without having to worry about connecting over wireless networks. And the two devices had to be connected to each other rather than through a router for the same reason.

There was a lot of trial and error but by last evening, I was playing with python via my mac. The steps below are NOT in the order I did them, and I wasted a whole block of time trying to get a small screen I have to display before giving in and setting up the RPi workstation. (The screen issues had to do with the screen and not the RPi.)

I tried the first option here and that at least got me as far as discovering and setting network addresses on the two devices. But, as the site points out, without having a keyboard and display, it’s tough to test. Once I gave in to setting up the workstation, I was able to have both devices talk to each other through ping pretty quickly.

I installed a VNC server via this Instructables site. The comments led me to the X11vnc as well as the missing code in the original directions. I figured I had to get X11vnc to autostart so I followed these directions. I never did get autostart to work, but the other issue that stumped me for a bit was the fact that I had to login to the RPi after start up before I could view it on my laptop, and I wasn’t sure how to do that without having the RPi plugged into its own desktop peripherals. I followed some directions for auto login but that seemed to take away my root abilities.  This was the point where I had to do some backing out, unediting a few files.

Finally, just as I was thinking it would have to wait for another day, I found this site by using the keyword “headless.” I had done a lot of the directions, but it was the ssh part that I hadn’t quite figured out. Worked wonderfully and left me wondering how much time I might have saved had I found this site first. But, I also learned a lot through the trial and error, getting comfortable with terminal windows and linux commands so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

Now, I use the terminal window on my Mac to ssh into the RPi. I start up the X11vnc server, start up the the RPi graphical user interface and then use VNC to interact with it since I get an error message when I try to connect via the server command on my Mac.

Lessons learned? The Internet has a wealth of information and I am grateful to everyone who posted all the links above. However, it was not always exactly what I wanted or needed so I had to pick up bits and pieces from here and there. I did things that needed to be undone so a little ongoing documentation helped. (I have a paper journal where I can jot short term notes.) Finally, as always, knowing the language of the project helps to choose the right keywords.


Coding Camp with the Kids

I bought a Kano last year and have done a bit of work with it. One of the things I like is the way they emphasize community, very similar to Scratch. Sharing of final products and code is encouraged.

They also encourage creativity by suggesting particular projects, providing some base code, and then offering ideas for how to personalize them that challenge you to write your own code. I find that it’s a nice balance of recipe and personality.  It reminds me a bit of the ds106 Daily Create. You get the germ of an idea to spark your own creations.

The past week, I’ve been participating in the Kano Summer Camp. Each day brings a new challenge  from camp flags to badges to tents. They use the Mark Art app that comes with the Kano and has a web-based version so you don’t need the Kano hardware to participate. The challenges get increasingly difficult. Today, I was able to figure out how to craft a pretty rudimentary star using polygons. It’s mostly trial and error, still, as I don’t completely understand how the code works.

I can’t help wondering the age of my fellow campers but then I decide I don’t really care. It’s a kick when I get a like or comment. And, I’m so impressed with the work they’re doing. I generally do my own challenge first before checking out the shares so I’m not intimidated or overly influenced. The creativity is amazing and I’d encourage to create an account and give it a try…it takes a few minutes a day.

Here’s my star badge:

Shine On Badge

The QR Code Game

I spend two precious weeks on gaming with my students: I introduce them to Scratch one week and then have them play games the following week.  Inspired by Matt Dunleavy’s augmented reality games, I decided to create my own game using QR codes.  While I do not believe they are going to revolutionize education, I do think they have the potential to quickly create interactive experiences for students to promote learning with a dose of critical thinking that comes from playing the game itself.

I tweeted that we were doing this activity and a few folks expressed interest along with the opinion that I was corrupting my pre-service teachers, so I will take a moment to share the pretty simple “rules” for the game.  The goal of the game was to learn a bit about gaming and education, be introduced to a few people I think are interesting or important plus just some fun stuff. Remember, my content is technology so showing them how to create and use QR codes is itself part of the objective of the game.

QR Code Game:

1. Students gathered in class and formed teams.  Each team received the first sheet in the game.  It included three QR Codes: one for the directions, one for the first clue, and one for the next location.  We used the directions code to test their scanners and do some troubleshooting. Then, they scanned for the first clue, used the Internet to locate the information requested and tweeted it to my attention. Finally, they scanned the next location which was somewhat cryptic (ie, the snack machines were billed as “cookies on a hook”).

2. There were five clue sheets in all.  When the completed the last clue, they turned the sheets over.  Each had a letter and they used the five letters to spell a word which was where I was located with the prizes.

Pretty simple.  It got them up and moving and even outside on a nice day.  And it showed these digital natives another use for their phones, something none of them had ever tried before. I didn’t give a quiz to see if they learned but I think they saw a particular activity that had lots of possible applications and did not require every kid to have a device.  One iPad that would scan and had internet access would be sufficient. You could find a work around for the tweeting part if that wasn’t available in the classroom. But I’ve been trying to get them to give Twitter a chance and this was another way to show them its potential educational application.  We tweet everything we create from Voice Threads to Scratch projects so they are shared with the group and the world and it makes it easy for us to display them.

21st Century Skills: Data Manipulation

These days, the world runs on data. In our class, we looked at how data drives geography, moving from creating a very simple graph of earthquakes in Excel to incorporating data into Google Maps and Google Earth. We saw how text data can be separated from its format in order to be read by an aggregator. I think learning how to manipulate data and create databases is an important 21st century skill.

Here’s an example from the real world, aka my own life: As part of the programming I’m doing, I use a lot of comma delimited files, which allow me to quickly populate tables or create merged documents. Formatting becomes important here in terms of learning to escape certain characters and making sure there are enough commas for blank fields, etc. etc. etc. I also had a “Microsoft moment” when we discovered that the reason the csv file couldn’t be read was because its first field was labeled ID and that causes an error message. Since most databases have an autoincrement field as the first field and that field is often called ID, this seemed a bit problematic. But we have discovered that Numbers, the Mac spreadsheet program, has no such problem so we can manipulate the data there.