Techie Talk

Google opens URL-shortener to public

posted Apr 17, 2011, 11:44 AM by TexasTechies .org

Web-page addresses can be notoriously long, but even the normal ones seem absolutely huge in our age of Twitter and text messaging. Every letter counts when you have only 140 characters.

Now Google hopes to revolutionize the Web address shortening arena with, now available to the public through its website at was originally a proprietary way for Google to abbreviate its Web addresses within services such as Google News (for saving article links) or Google Maps (for sending a location).

The new website will abbreviate your links and store them for you to view later or share with others.

Google says it is also using special provisions to prevent blind links from leading to malware or dangerous websites.

But Google is entering a super-crowded arena. TinyURL has been abbreviating Web addresses for nearly a decade, and the advent of Twitter has encouraged more sophisticated abbreviators, like, which allow people to organize and search through their saved links.

Individual media sites have also created their own abbreviations: for The New York Times, for example, and for Twitter.

As ReadWriteWeb notes, the biggest advantage Google has over the smaller abbreviators is its massive size and the connection between dozens of its services. That may be enough to make it the top web shortener in short order.

Source: - Funny photos and graphics

posted Apr 17, 2011, 11:44 AM by TexasTechies .org image makers allow you to create your own funny photos and graphics - simply type in some text and choose from a few simple options. You can create your own church sign, make an official seal, have your own fire or police badge, and more. 

Once you've picked your options and created your image, you can use it for whatever you like - save it on your computer, upload it to ImageShack image hosting for use in blog or forum posting, or have it applied to a variety of high-quality merchandise from, including stickers, mugs, keychains, and magnets.

Prezi - online presentation tool

posted Apr 17, 2011, 11:43 AM by TexasTechies .org

 is a web-based presentation application and storytelling tool that uses a single canvas instead of traditional slides. Text, images, videos and other presentation objects are placed on the infinite canvas and grouped together in frames. The canvas allows users to create non-linear presentations, where they can zoom in and out of a visual mapA path through different objects and frames can be defined, representing the order of the information to be presented. The presentation can be developed in a browser window, then downloaded so that an internet connection is not needed when showing the presentation.

Best Free Ways to Manage Photos and Video

posted Apr 17, 2011, 11:42 AM by TexasTechies .org

By Adam Pash, PC World
Freshen up digital photos with freebies like PhotoPerfect Express and Skitch. Also, find and manage video with free downloads and services like DVDFlick and Wowbrary. You can use these five free offerings to decorate, detail and enhance your photos and screenshots.
For instance, with some of these no-cost services and downloads, you can upload a photo of your face and have it appear in an image of the Mona Lisa or in a museum frame, among other options; capture screens easily and share them; work with a Web service that approaches the abilities of Adobe Photoshop; and edit your photos to make them leap off the screen.
BEST BET: PhotoPerfect Express: You may not have the trained eye of a professional photo editor, but with this download, you won't need it. Create stunning images through simple point-and-click optimizations that make your photos pop.
Jing: This download captures screenshots and video screencasts of your desktop with elegance and ease, and then lets you share the results quickly and easily online. Rather than trying to describe to friends and co-workers what you're seeing on your computer, you can show them.

PhotoFunia: Plaster your skillfully superimposed face all over iconic (and not-so-iconic) images with Google's PhotoFunia service.

Skitch: This service (registration required) annotates images -- either screenshots you've taken with it or any photo you drag into it -- with attractive and readable text, arrows and shapes, just the thing for getting your point across with style. Once you're done drawing, you can share your Skitch creation on the Web with the click of a mouse.

Sumo Paint:
This impressive Web-based service packs all the layered image-editing goodness of Photoshop into one incredible Web application -- perfect for a little advanced photo editing from your cubicle.
Vital video helpers
In this group, you'll find nine innovative ways to discover, transfer and organize video.
You can learn to cut down YouTube videos so your friends don't have to watch the full six minutes to see the monkey throw the cream pie; create embeddable playlists of favorite videos; make DVDs friendly to PCs and set-top devices; and interact with a great media hub and player.
BEST BET: DVD Flick: Normally, burning video files to a DVD that you can run in your DVD player is notoriously difficult, unless you're ready to bust open your piggy bank. This no-cost download, however, burns virtually any video file to a playable DVD with ease.
Embedr: This simple but smart service creates embeddable video playlists, allowing you to fashion the perfect combination of online video clips into one long-playing video.

HandBrake: This must-have download converts DVDs to computer- and mobile-friendly formats so you can get your "Lost" fix during your commute, on your iPod or other video-capable portable device.

KickYouTube: Ever wish you could download a YouTube video to carry with you on your cell phone, iPod or PSP -- or just to save on your PC? This service converts YouTube videos to virtually any device-friendly format, on the fly. All you have to do is add the word kick to the front of any YouTube URL.
RerunCheck: TV lovers often ask, "Is my favorite show a new episode or a rerun this week?" Jump onto this site for the answer, or sign up for weekly e-mail reminders so you never suffer the heartbreak of a warm bowl of popcorn and nothing to watch.
Splicd: Feel bad about making friends suffer through a five-minute-long YouTube video just so they can appreciate the pratfall at 4:43? With this service, you can link straight to the good part when you share YouTube videos. Hulu's video service was big in 2008, but it now has some stiff competition from the CBS-owned This service is part Hulu, part IMDb, and all television-streaming goodness.
Wowbrary: Looking to save some serious cash on entertainment in the midst of this financial apocalypse? This service (registration required) monitors your local library for new DVDs (along with books and CDs) so that you can be first in line to get your hands on a fresh release.
XBMC: Originally developed to run on the original Microsoft Xbox (hence the name, XBox Media Center), this download is a robust media player and entertainment hub. It runs on Linux, Mac OS X, Windows and Xbox.

Create documents, spreadsheets and presentations online

posted Apr 17, 2011, 11:41 AM by TexasTechies .org

Create basic documents from scratch or start from a template.
You can easily do all the basics, including making bulleted lists, sorting by columns, adding tables, images, comments, formulas, changing fonts and more. And it's free.

Upload your existing files.
Google Docs accepts most popular file formats, including DOC, XLS, ODT, ODS, RTF, CSV, PPT, etc. So go ahead and upload your existing files.

Familiar desktop feel makes editing a breeze.
Just click the toolbar buttons to bold, underline, indent, change font or number format, change cell background color and so on.

Tips for eco-friendly computing

posted Apr 17, 2011, 11:40 AM by TexasTechies .org

The average PC takes 1.8 tonnes of chemicals, fossil fuel and water to manufacture and causes the emission of 100 kg carbon dioxide each year, but most of us simply couldn't live without one.

Unfortunately, computers are becoming more power-hungry as we expect them to perform increasingly complex tasks for us.

Power drain

Desktop PCs that are plugged in all day are especially power-hungry.

Unless you flick the switch on the wall or take the plug out of the wall a PC that is apparently turned off will still be using power.

If you leave your computer monitor on all night you'll waste enough energy to microwave six dinners.

A PC left running 24 hours per day would use £59 worth of electricity over a 12-month period and create 716 kg of carbon dioxide emissions a year.

Small is beautiful

Laptops need to be as energy-efficient as possible so that they can go anywhere.

The processors are designed to run on less power, the screens use as little energy as possible, all of which adds up to significant energy savings compared to a desktop PC.

Energy-saving tips

Unplug your PC when not in use, and don't forget the scanner, monitor, printer, broadband box and audio speakers all need turning off too.

Use your computer's energy-saving mode: you should be able to turn the brightness of the screen down, or set it to turn off if you haven't used it for 5-10 minutes.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has a guide to how to do this.

This article is based on an extract from Friends of the Earth's book How Can I Stop Climate Change? 

Free Virus Protection from Microsoft

posted Apr 17, 2011, 11:39 AM by TexasTechies .org   [ updated Apr 17, 2011, 11:40 AM ]

Get high-quality, hassle-free antivirus protection for your PC now.
Microsoft Security Essentials provides real-time protection for your home PC that guards against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software.

Microsoft Security Essentials is a free* download from Microsoft that is simple to install, easy to use, and always kept up to date so you can be assured your PC is protected by the latest technology. It’s easy to tell if your PC is secure — when you’re green, you’re good. It’s that simple.

Microsoft Security Essentials runs quietly and efficiently in the background so that you are free to use your Windows-based PC the way you want—without interruptions or long computer wait times.

Jing Project Software: Free screen capture

posted Apr 17, 2011, 11:38 AM by TexasTechies .org

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jing is a screencasting software launched in 2007 as Jing Project by the TechSmith Corporation.

It is currently in version 2.0.8353 released January 6 2009 and is free to download and use. The software takes a picture or video of the user's computer screen and uploads it to the Web, FTP, computer or clipboard.

A URL is automatically created and can be shared with others to view or access the uploaded file. Jing is compatible with Macintosh and Windows.

Users are required to sign up for an account before using the software.

Its simple format and the ability to quickly upload screencasts has made Jing useful for virtual reference in libraries.

January 6, 2009, TechSmith released Jing Pro, a paid premium version of Jing.

Zoom It!

posted Apr 17, 2011, 11:35 AM by TexasTechies .org   [ updated Apr 17, 2011, 11:36 AM ]

ZoomIt v4

ZoomIt v4
By Mark Russinovich
Introduction: ZoomIt is screen zoom and annotation tool for technical presentations that include application demonstrations. ZoomIt runs unobtrusively in the tray and activates with customizable hotkeys to zoom in on an area of the screen, move around while zoomed, and draw on the zoomed image. I wrote ZoomIt to fit my specific needs and use it in all my presentations. ZoomIt works on all versions of Windows and you can use pen input for ZoomIt drawing on tablet PCs.

Using ZoomIt:  The first time you run ZoomIt it presents a configuration dialog that describes ZoomIt's behavior, let's you specify alternate hotkeys for zooming and for entering drawing mode without zooming, and customize the drawing pen color and size. I use the draw-without-zoom option to annotate the screen at its native resolution, for example. ZoomIt also includes a break timer feature that remains active even when you tab away from the timer window and allows you to return to the timer window by clicking on the ZoomIt tray icon.

Download ZoomIt
(129 KB)


At-Risk Students Make Multimedia

posted Dec 1, 2009, 6:35 AM by TexasTechies .org   [ updated Apr 17, 2011, 10:40 AM ]


At-Risk Students Make Multimedia

by Barbara Tannenbaum

Credit: William Duke

It's no surprise that Crenshaw High School served as the backdrop for the 1991 movie Boyz in the Hood, about an impoverished, crime-plagued South Central Los Angeles neighborhood.

For one thing, since 2003, it's been designated a High Priority/Program Improvement School by the Los Angeles Unified School District [1] (LAUSD) because of low test scores -- only about 10 percent of roughly 2,000 kids are testing at proficient levels or above on federally mandated No Child Left Behind tests. Graduation rates hover around 50 percent, and about one-third of the teachers leave after three to five years of service.

But an emerging, national trend has the potential to change the picture for Crenshaw and schools like it. Increasingly, institutes of higher education are collaborating with K-12 teachers to help them use digital tools to get at-risk students excited about learning.

These well-endowed academic think tanks -- located at universities such as Indiana University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ohio State University, and the University of Chicago -- are creating local projects they hope will close the gap between students' frequent use of multimedia tools and the barriers that prevent teachers from employing these tools in the classroom.

At the University of Southern California, with its 37-year tradition of creating joint projects for its graduate students and the local community, a number of educators within the College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences are seeking new ways to combine their cutting-edge research with real-world practice.

"We want our undergraduates to create projects, not just write papers," says Holly Willis, director of academic programs at USC's Institute for Multimedia Literacy [2] (IML). "This is key to our mission of conducting research on the changing nature of literacy in the 21st century. It's crucial to our own goal that our undergraduates make teaching and learning happen at the same time; that they become peer mentors within the broader community."

A Rewarding Approach

You can draw a straight line from Willis's philosophy -- which was also cited in the New Media Consortium's 2009 Horizon Report [3] as one of five key trends that will impact K-12 educators within the next five years -- and Crenshaw's January 2009 launch of a small pilot program called GameDesk [4]. This pilot, which takes state-based standards for high school art and math and reimagines them through the multimedia platform of building video games from scratch, was conceived and created by USC professor Victor Lacour, associate director for game research at the university's Viterbi School of Engineering. The pilot was implemented at Crenshaw by Scott Spector, the LAUSD's director of educational technology.

In one sense, GameDesk is like any other math or history class. In the program, two teachers and 40 students in grades 10-12 read specially created workbooks that lay out the basic principles of, say, fractions, percentages, algebraic equations, or World War II battles and strategy. Their teacher -- Lacour or a USC undergraduate -- clarifies the material in classroom lectures.

Students are tested, too, but as a warm-up leading to the goal of creating a video game. The classes also cover the elements of game theory, computer basics (such as opening files and storing images), and programming skills to move images on screen. Finally, the students apply their new knowledge of math or history to build one of four types of video games.

According to Lacour, creating a video game confers pride of authorship on students. It is qualitatively different from simply playing them but just as rewarding. Working individually and then in teams, "they always have sight of a tangible reward," says Lacour. In this teaching model, students understand their math lessons in context; their ability to make a character move right or left onscreen was directly tied to mastering x-y Cartesian coordinates.

"We've never forced difficult information on them," Lacour says. "They actively employed strategic thinking and problem solving that is engaging, interactive, creative, and rewarding."

"That's the key," says Spector. In Spector's experience, he says, the schools most in need of big changes are often the ones most willing to embrace cutting-edge ideas. "When you've got a majority of students reading three to five grade levels below where they should be, a population of kids who aren't motivated, for whom homework isn't important and grades don't matter, you've got to try a new way of doing things." And it works.

"When I went into one of those classrooms where the kids are normally loud and disruptive, I could hear a pin drop," Spector notes. "They were intensely focused."

A Winning Combination

Spector will soon have the data to prove his claim. This fall semester, he and his team have expanded the program. Two high schools -- Crenshaw and Polytechnic High School, in the San Fernando Valley -- will offer 90 students the chance to participate in a 20-week tech-art class. In the course, students will learn state-mandated math and art curriculum requirements by building video games.

Cathy Garcia, one of the two teachers who participated in Crenshaw's initial spring 2009 program, highlighted a few extraordinary classroom moments. "Although these students often have a difficult time engaging with mathematics, they threw themselves into the task of mastering the programming in the Game Maker [5] software," she wrote in a year-end evaluation. "The normally rambunctious students were silent and engaged with their work -- enjoying themselves while working out problems on ratios, proportions, graphing, and conversions."

Screen shot of two cars racing each other

Really New Math:

To program this video game, a team of Crenshaw High School students mastered algebraic equations to make the cars accelerate.

Credit: William Duke

By March 2009, at the initial pilot program's halfway point, the Crenshaw students had completed their assigned game, so, working in teams, they chose new games to build. In April, the teams showed off their new games at the Information Technology Conference [6] (Info-Tech), a convention where 90-plus schools presented technology-based projects.

Spector remembers a ninth-grade student with mild autism who stood up at the convention and presented his team's game. "He suffered from communication problems, but in this class, he became the team leader," Spector says.

University Support

Spector credits both the inspiration for the program and its successful evolution to the faculty and philosophy of nearby USC, as well as to Lacour. The game-making software was free, but Lacour and his undergrad students trained Crenshaw's teachers for a week during the summer, developed the course syllabus, helped create the workbook tutorials, and provided support when either a teacher or student got stuck.

For Spector, the seed of the project was planted when a colleague found an article about Lacour online. "When I saw that you could get an undergraduate degree at USC in gaming, I was knocked out," he said. "After all, these kids are playing video games six, eight hours a day. Could we use video games as a project-based solution so my students can understand and learn the same content other kids are able to glean from a textbook or a lecture?"

At USC and other institutes of high education, the need to reach out to K-12 educators and address how literacy is no longer limited to reading, writing, and arithmetic is an increasingly urgent priority. For a person to be literate in the 21st century, he or she must master symbol systems -- the visual, electronic, and digital forms of expression so overwhelmingly present in today's culture.

"The issue of digital literacy lies in knowing what to do once you're connected," says Fran&cced;ois Bar, associate professor of communication at USC. When you consider the fact that, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, kids in the United States ages 8-18 spend an average of six hours or more using media each day, it becomes that much more urgent for educators to become fluent in digital literacy. And USC's Institute for Multimedia Literacy seeks to address the issue with a variety of programs.

In Bar's formulation, literacy -- whether it's achieved with pen and paper or with a video camera -- is the ability to tell and share stories; it is about authorship. "What happens to a story after it's been told?" he asks. "The audience members must understand the story, transform it, and retell it in their own way. Stories told in digital media have the ability to be copied and remixed and to cross geographic boundaries through electronic outlets."

Boy at laptop

A Crenshaw High School student applies his knowledge of fractions and Cartesian coordinates to create a maze game.

Credit: William Duke

According to Bar, digital technologies take us back to humanity's storytelling roots. What was true of the ancient Greeks who maintained a vast oral tradition of epic poetry through repetition and embellishment, or of medieval troubadours who spread songs across continents, with each new singer making alterations, is also true of content created in digital media.

"In our program," says Lacour, "we're no longer telling the kids to put their technology away. We want to embrace it. This is a major way kids understand their lives."

Game making, he adds, is not the same as game playing. "This is a nonlinear authoring process that emphasizes problem solving and critical thinking. It challenges students to sit down and create a complex system."

Universities Can Help

USC senior lecturers Stephanie Bower and John Murray have tapped into the IML's expertise to create a class for their undergraduates that builds digital-literacy skills. The college students partner with at-risk high school students at several continuation schools and a juvenile-detention facility in Los Angeles.

With a $5,000 grant from USC, Bower and Murray purchased a Mac laptop, hard drives, Flip cameras, and video-editing software the kids used in making documentaries relevant to their communities. As a writing teacher, Bower believes that visual forms complement traditional writing assignments.

"It's not one form versus another," she explains. "It's about recognizing how powerful images have become in our culture. It's about tapping into the power of storytelling and learning how to construct your own narrative. With YouTube and the Internet, we now have a powerful distribution method that allows stories to reach a much broader audience than they would if they simply appeared in the school newspaper."

Lacour and Spector want to expand the GameDesk program to all 34 LAUSD High Priority/Program Improvement Schools. For that, they'll need corporate and other sponsors.

"Having more financial resources will enable us one day to take this program to a national audience," says Lacour. "But my general rule is, the one thing that matters most is the individual teacher. You do need support from the administration. You do need technical tools. But if you don't have a teacher who believes in this zany idea -- that you can embed game-making technology into the curriculum no matter what the subject -- then it won't work."

Lacour encourages public school teachers to seek resources from their local university. "So much of the experimenting with new pieces of software and technology is happening on the collegiate level," he says. "We have the knowledge and often the budget to help local schools. We get to push the boundaries of these amazing interactive toys. It's our obligation to bring this knowledge to our local schools."

Lacour mentions a 55-year-old biology teacher who attended the winter tutorial. She had never played a video game in her life. By the end of the week, she had built three game levels. "It just takes a little time," he says. "The next thing you know, they've got a game."

Barbara Tannenbaum is managing editor of Edutopia.

Go to "Colleges and Public Schools Forge New Partnerships [7]."


This article originally published on 8/31/2009
Edutopia: What Works in Public Education © 2009 The George Lucas Educational Foundation • All rights reserved.

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