Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A computer on your wrist

You know those conversations you have where your not always listening to what you are saying? Well, I had one of those a couple of months ago with the drummer in our band. Before I knew it, I had agreed to enter the Bristol 10k run in May this year. Yikes, better get training.

Now, I used to use the Nike + system with my old iPod Nano (foot sensor in shoe and another sensor on the iPod) and it was quite good. Then I got the iPhone app and used that for a while and it was good (GPS based so no need for a foot sensor) but its quite uncomfortable running with an iPhone strapped to your arm (they are quite heavy) and at the time, a heart rate monitor was pretty expensive so I bought a Garmin Forerunner watch. The Garmin is an ace bit of kit (I have a 705 GPS on the bike) and works with any ANT + sensors so I was happy and the IOS devices where retired from running duties. That was until this week when two monumentous things happened! One, the battery went flat in the Garmin and Two, my replacement iPod Nano arrived (Apple recalled the 1st gen Nano's due to dodgy batteries). The replacement Nano is 6th gen, built in radio and more importantly, Nike +. I also needed a watch and the new Nano has some quite nice clock faces so a Tik Toc watch strap was procured and hey presto! A computer on your wrist

A suitable watch face selected and time on wake up selected

A bit like Gemini man (painfully dull 1970's private detective/invisible man/crime solving hero type TV show). The best bit though is the Nike + data, accessible from your wrist

Now, I know I'm not the first person to wear an iPod Nano as a wrist watch. Neither am I the first person to use a Nano to track a run using Nike + but I still think its cool. I spent my childhood longing for the days when we had jet packs and tin foil suits (remember, I grew up in the 1970's) so a computer on your wrist! Wow!
I have always thought an iPod, or some such MP3 player, per-loaded with subject specific material (audio files/podcasts of key science concepts etc. a few PDF's) would be good for year 11. Well, how about a P.E specific Nano? Load up with media specific to GCSE P.E or BTEC Sport and then use Nike + to track your general fitness traing (running)? Oh, and you can wear it on your wrist.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A studio in a rucksack

It's been a bit hectic round Chateaux RNG, what with Christmas and all so I've finally got round to writing another post. Santa brought some cool toys this year, mostly centred around music and I've been having a play.

First up, he brought (or rather, I bought whilst Mrs RNG was away up the north) a YouRock guitar. If you haven't come across one of these, check out some of the demo's on YouTube, they are wicked. Essentially it is a games controller (for Rock Band and the like) that also doubles as a MIDI guitar. It has a bank of built in (cheesy, almost but not quite entirely unlike a guitar) sounds for you to practice with (with headphones plugged in or through an amp/iPad/iPhone/iPod touch/Android guitar amp sim via a jack lead like a normal guitar) or you can use it as a device to trigger MIDI enabled instruments (such as the various soft synths available for iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, Linux etc including the built in instruments in GarageBand) by plugging it into the iPad camera connection kit via a USB cable (provided). Cool, I am a hopeless keyboard player, now I can play a keyboard using a guitar (an instrument on which I am also hopeless)!

A rather lame picture of the YouRock guitar

Next up was an IK Multimedia iKlip. This device allows you to attach your iPad to a microphone stand.

iPad attached to iKlip

You can see a microphone in the picture above, that's an IK Multimedia iMic, plugs into the headphone socket and has a headphone through jack for monitoring. Works with Garageband and most other recording apps (including Amplitube which has in app purchasable voice recording modules like auto tune*, remember this for later!).

RNG studios recording suite!

I had already purchased a camera connection kit (needed for MIDI) and an IK Multumedia iRig (for connection of a guitar) and have several music apps on the iPad so time to give it a go. I used GarageBand to record a quick rendition of a new song my band (Poundshoplife, check us out on YouTube, Facebook etc.) are working on. I recorded a quick drum track using the drum kit that you play with your fingers, this is great as you can record the kick, then record the snare over the top, then the hi hats and so on to build up the drum track. It's also much easier playing it with your fingers than trying to play keys on a keyboard or program the stupid things in note by note! Then I got out the YouRock in MIDI mode and used the smart bass (Liverpool is the setting) to record the bass line. Then the YouRock again with a smart guitar (roots rock) for one guitar track and in proper guitar mode (via the iRig) for the second guitar part. I used a built in sound (it's supposed to be a clean strat!) and a GarageBand clean combo (blacktop) amp setting with a bit of overdrive. Then I used the iMic to record the vocals straight into GarageBand *(wishing I had used Amplitube so I could run an auto tune over them). All this recorded into a device about half an inch thick and 10 inches wide, clamped to a mic stand in my living room!
A bit of playing around, adding in a few sections and we are finished. What is nice about GarageBand on the iPad is you can duplicate sections of your song so it cuts down the amount of copying and pasting needed (note, I haven't used Logic beyond Logic 8 so this may be a feature by now). Also, splitting audio is nice with the multi touch screen.

Anyway, here is the finished article in GarageBand:

And here is the finished article on Soundcloud

(warning: contains a rather woeful vocal performance, listen at your own risk)

*see what I mean about auto tune!

So there you have it, a recording studio in your backpack (the neck of the YouRock actually detaches so you can just fit it in a 10 litre rucksack). More importantly for education purposes, for the cost of a single copy of Logic and a couple of plug-ins, you can have an iPad and all the kit I've used (including the apps). Oh sorry, I forgot, iPads are just toys, you can't be productive on one! Now, where did I save that spreadsheet...

No real instruments where harmed in the making of this track

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, November 20, 2011

If only (part 2)..

Having lamented the decline of ICT in UK schools, I spent the rest of the afternoon bugging Mrs RNG who was preparing for an interview tomorrow. One of her tasks is to teach crumple zones and she wanted to have a nice, simple way to demonstrate this effect (yes, I know there is loads of stuff like this on the interwebs but time and resources where somewhat limited). After much head scratching, it was decided to drop an egg onto (a) a plastic tray and then (b) the same tray covered in cling film (to simulate a deforming crumple zone) and so it was. We headed into the grounds of Chateau RNG armed with a clue of eggs, a tray and some cling film.

The iOS bit

Yesterday I finally upgraded my beloved, reliable and well abused iPhone 3G to a spanking new iPhone 4S. My main justification for this was the ability to film and edit high quality video on the go so this seemed like a good time to prove if this was a good enough reason. Armed with said iPhone and a copy of iMovie, I set about filming and editing our little experiment and ten minutes later, the results where loaded to my You Tube channel. Sweet, you can see the results below:

Now, this got me thinking (oh oh, here we go)

What if

What if we allowed the students to use there own ICT in class? What if we actually encouraged them to use the same communication methods they use to arrange a mob to smash up a phone box* and then post the results up to You Tube? What if, rather than write up an experiment, they filmed it, recorded there spoken conclusion rather than wrote it down? They could post it up to You Tube/Soundcloud etc and then share the link with you, kind of like modern ICT usage, the so of stuff we adults do.

This reminded me of one of my lesson last week, we where doing a worksheet about volcanoes and I saw an iPod Touch out on a desk. I approached the student and had a look to see which lame social networking site they where on. Up on the screen was a Wikipedia page about igneous rock!

If only...

*phone box, a kind of kiosk that may or may not contain a working telephone. Originally designed as a way for people without home telephones to communicate with others on the phone network. Now mostly used as toilets.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

If only...

I'm back teaching Science this term and it's quite an eye opener having spent three years teaching Project Based Learning (PBL). PBL was very ICT intensive, all students in year 7 where given their own netbook and where expected to use it most session. Now obviously a lot of time could be wasted with games etc. but a well managed lesson was a joy to behold. How different it is in Science. Our idea of ICT is to show a PowerPoint presentation or the odd video and getting the data loggers out. Lessons have structure and timings and generally, the teacher is in control. I teach a couple of groups I had last year and It is interesting to watch how the students behave. Generally, there is less time for being off task and students like the structure and knowing what they have to do but they lose out on some of the skills they where using in PBL. This is most obvious when it comes to report writing time. At my school, we use Attitude's to Learning (AtL's) as part of the report. We have 4 R's, Resilience, Resourcefulness, Reflectiveness and Reciprocity (based on Guy Claxton's Building Learning Power). When teaching PBL it was fairly easy to assign grades for these as they where built into the projects with plenty of scope to demonstrate them. In Science, we set the work so Resourcefulness is less easy to grade as little opportunity is given for students to be resourceful. Ditto with Reflectiveness so my task this year is to work on how to integrate more student guided learning into Science thus giving students opportunity to demonstrate Resourcefulness and Reflectiveness.

Off course, this would be an easy task if we weren't subject to quite large budget cuts in education here in the UK. We no longer have the money to supply all students with their own netbook. All that work on our Learning Platform and uploading resources, setting projects that require ICT etc. all for nothing. It's even worse when I think of how well my year 8 groups can integrate the use of their laptops into Science lessons. They will happily sit with a worksheet in front of them and use the netbook to look up words or complex processes like the Rock Cycle to help them answer questions. They will research uses of rocks for a mini project (we are doing rocks and weathering and I set the question " why are rocks so special" to run alongside the work in class) and share their research with me on Google docs as if it's second nature.

So what a shame then that the UK government have decided that a good way to cut the deficit is to slash education spending and cut ICT from the core curriculum. What happened to education being important for not only the individual but also the country?

Education, if only...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Virgin Superfast Broadband!

Apologies, I haven't been able to post for a while due to my moving house. For non-UK readers, this is a lengthy ordeal that involves many months of paying people to sit around and do nothing whilst you tear your hair out and wonder why a solicitor will charge you £75 for two phone calls you had to make.

Anyway, I have moved, 5 miles outside of the 5th largest city in the UK. This is relevant as for the last 8 years, I have enjoyed high speed Internet access via fibre optic cable. Well, those days have now ended. Even though I can see Bristol city centre from my house, I am stuck on Virgin Superfast Broadband (VSB) no cable out here in the sticks.

So, I moved and as requested, my VSB kit was waiting for me in my new house. I followed the instructions (basically, plug in a splitter on your phone line, plug half of the line into a combined ASDL modem/wireless access point and away you go. Indeed, away we did, it all worked swimmingly well for the first day or two. Two iPads, a MacBook Pro and an iMac sat nicely on the network, two Linux Netbooks where added and all was well, speed was down a little but this was to be expected. The fun started when I wanted to update a couple, of apps on on the iPad, I kept getting an error message saying the server timed out, strange. Then I ran software update on the iMac and got a similar error, hmmm. Then I started getting signal drop outs on all the machines, my network also had the speed and reliability of a message in a bottle, time for action, time to phone Virgin

Virgin where very accommodating and informed me, quite nicely but with a firm tone, that the problem lay with British Telecom (actual owners of the line). This was quite perceptive of Virgin given I hadn't yet told them what the problem was! Anyway, they where quite insistent so I phoned British Telecom (BT). They informed me that the line was state of the art (although they didn't say for which decade) and that the problem was most definitely with Virgin and not with them! A pattern now developed with each side playing one another off until I finally got fed up and decided there was only one way to solve the problem-Internet forums!

They long and short is:

1. To solve ASDL problems, find the socket that comes into your home,
2. Unscrew the faceplate and take it off to reveal a hidden phone socket.
3. Plug your equipment into this socket (it is the engineers test socket).
4. Wait a couple of days, it won't solve your problems but will p**s off your telecoms company who will send an engineer round and sort your line.
5. Take the supplied equipment (usually a combined Netgear job) and throw it in the bin.
6. Buy a proper ASDL modem and a proper Wireless Access Point.
7. Buy a proper splitter and cable.
8. Under no circumstances must you mention any operating system other than Windows* as doing so will severely delay any proper response to your problem.
9. Do not move to the country.

So, I bought a Netgear ASDL router (big up to PC World Cribbs Causeway who actually knew what they where talking about and gave me sale or return on the kit), plugged it into a new splitter and wire and connected it all up to my Airport Extreme and we now have a stable (ie. no dropping out) network and the line is a little faster too.

Anyway, I'm back up and running inn cyberspace and will post more soon, off to grab iOS 5 and have a play.

*when asked what computer I had, I stupidly said "an iPad". This was met with "ah, well there's your problem.." Regardless of the fact that my Win XP machine wouldn't play either (in fact worse really as its a Netbook with a rubbish wireless card), the official diagnosis was now "it's a Mac problem".

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A poll

using the fantastic polleverywhere:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Another day, another video!

OK, got the bit between my teeth now, so another video is produced! As I explained yesterday, I purchased a new point and shoot camera last week (the superb Fuji AV 180, plug it again as I'm really impressed by this camera) now obviously, as I had a new toy, so Mrs RNG must have a new toy also (she bought a Canon SX220, substantially more expensive than my Fuji) to complement her SLR and digital SLR. So, this afternoon, armed with new cameras, we set of for the local beauty spot known as Chew Valley Lake. It really was a gorgeous afternoon here in the South West of England and nature was in full swing making the most of what will probably turn out to be The summer.

Photos and videos where taken, on return to Chateaux RNG, the Fuji AV 180 was plugged straight into the iPad via the camera connection kit, photos and videos downloaded to iPad ready for viewing. One neat trick the Fuji has is the ability to take a 3 shot panorama, it's a bit of a novelty but quite nice and I used this feature to take the opening photo on the first frame in the slideshow (the panorama of the lake).

I made the opening title in iDraw (using the aforementioned panorama) and saved this to photos, them loaded it into PhotoPad to crop it to size and then saved it back to photos.

Once everything was ready, I opened up ReelDirector and began loading in my photos and videos to make the slideshow below. A few pan and zoom effects, altered timings (the default is 4s), closing credits and a soundtrack (apologies for the music, don't have a large selection on the iPad) and we are ready to go. OK, ReelDirector crashed (a sort of half crash, it closes but is still in the app switcher and when you tap it and open up your project, it is saved to the point it crashed. Weird) a few times along the way but no big deal. Video rendered whilst I cooked tea (it does take long time) and then uploaded to YouTube before being embedded into this post.

As I said in a previous post, I'm not the most creative person but I am loving the way the iPad encourages you to do things you wouldn't normally do. It doesn't do anything you couldn't do on a "proper" computer but it does it such a way that it feels way easier. I use Movie Maker a lot at school but it's no where near as nice to use as ReelDirector on the iPad (crashing and all). Throw in the Camera Connection kit/cheap Fuji camera combo with no stupid wizards trying to help and the whole experience is a pleasure. One that can be enjoyed whilst semi-reclining on the sofa watching antiques roadshow (sorry, I'm not even going to try to explain that one to non-UK residents. Just chalk it up as an "English thing").

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad