Saturday, February 28, 2009

smArtHistory Reloaded!
Oh, ho! Look at the sweet upgrades to!

On occasion, we've shown you some of the gorgeous video podcasts from the group. The podcasts were rich and deep; yet their website was pretty much just a blog with video.

No more! Check out this timeline of Art across the years. Beautiful!

Wait, wait!! Before you click, let me tell you not to let text put you off! Many of the art stories have a video to go with! If the first one you get doesn't, finad another. The smArtHistory videos are great short looks at what the artists were doing and what stories they tell.

I want to come back to this. Beautiful as it is, there's lots of possible improvements. It should be fun to explore.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Cool Encounter!
Can't not mention this here. Noonish today found me at Panera, writing away on Another Blog, when I heard behind me an intriguing comment. "We were working with the government of Senegal, trying to hep them organize their Education system, and ..."

'Organizing an education system'? Mind you, I'm taking a break from my programming to engage Deb Meier, Diane Ravitch, and others on the very topic of organizing an ed system. I had to butt in.

"Oh, yeah, we consult with different governments" says my neighbor. "Really?" says I. "And have you tried helping Cleveland or Dayton?"

Which obviously lead to an interesting discussion.

Over at Education Gadfly, Checker and Mike review the President's 'Day of Reckoning" and his spending plans in re education. Its a lot of money.

Teachers, when you hear us groaning, its not because we want you to do more with less. We just think you could do more with more...if the processes were a bit different.

It took me and my new acquaintance 5 seconds to understand each other on why he is welcome in Senegal but not Ohio.
The Joys and Sorrows of Programming
How do you build web software?

I promised some words on that part of life here at the conglomerated jobs of Ed. Just what does it take to build a web app?

To get my little history application (you might soon see it) up and running, I've had to teach myself nearly a dozen languages and frameworks. This would be fine enough if I had any significant programming experience. But I'm just too stupid to know that I shouldn't be trying this.

There's HTML, of course. That displays words in a web browser. If you saw the web back in '92-96, you might remember the ugly nature of raw HTML; CraigsList still does serve it up mostly straight and nasty.

To make things look better, CSS pretty's up how the words and images appear-all those solid backgrounds, lines and colors, and things positioned anwhere yeyond the left column.

To complete the package we send to your home or office, JavaScript tells your computer to do anything more active than a magazine page. Popup window? Javascript. Menu that drops down when you pass your mouse over it? Javascript. Interest rate calculator, MS Office Document editing, the nice charts that adjust to tell stock prices over 1 day or 5 years? Javascript.

That completes what we send over the wires, wherever they may go. Ooh! I should add Adobe Flash, which drives many of the Interactives cited on this blog. I only use it in the animation on this home page - the book being flung over the mountain? It's code, too, that runs in a special plugin in your browser. Many more such plugins exist; however Flash is the most widely distributed by far.

OK. How do we create the package we send you? There are special authoring tools, some to edit HTML, some to make CSS easier, etc. We also send you images, which means learning how to use several image programs--Photoshop, Fireworks, GIMP, etc. Image creation and editing has its own natural language, and its amazing how hard it can be to learn how to do something you can describe very succintly-say, "make his face brighter". At least if you're teaching yourself.

None of this so far is programming, save Javascript.

What about data? A good app will store and retrieve lots of info for you. I use MYSQL, but there are many others. SQL is the language to talk to the database; I've had to learn some, but blessedly little.

Which brings us to Rails. Or Ruby on Rails to be precise. Rails helps me not speak SQL. Magicly loaded (for free) on my laptop and also the server, Rails does a huge amount of work with very little adjustment (well, for a non-expert like me, its time consuming. But it really is very little code written on my part).

Which brings up Ruby! I love Ruby! Ruby is a real and genuine programming language. Unlike HTML and CSS which mark up documents, or MYSQL which issues commands to a database, Ruby has lots and lots of command for adding and subtracting and pulling strings of characters together and a host of other actions you might tell a computer to do. Ruby is very powerful and very flexible. Too flexible for some--you wouldn't ask it to fly a passenger airplane. Not because it couldn't, but because it lets programmers do stupid things! Which is cool.

So, as history, I've studied a bit of 40 some computer languages. Ruby is the most human. Who couldn't love a language that easily does this:
>> "Jimmy" * 5
=> "JimmyJimmyJimmyJimmyJimmy"
or this:
>> 40.to_s.reverse
=> "04"
or >> [12, 47, 35].sort!
=> [12, 35, 47]

Dang! Its 4:32, or tea-time, on Friday, and I didn't get to all the additional toys it takes to make a web app. We haven't even mentioned AJAX! Or CGI! OK, more later.

Have a good weekend.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Where is Ed?
Though we're fast approaching our sixth anniversary at this blog, its mighty skimpy here. Why? Will things get back to normal? Improve? Inquiring minds ...inquire.

Its that money thing, though not entirely about our money. While I've continued to write toward the same goals, the location has moved a bit.

You could find me much at Classroom 2.0 in late 2007, at FiresideLearning for most of 2008, and writing quite a bit at Bridging Differences for the past couple months. And a number of other places. Plus, writing grant application. And writing Master Plans for a new park district.

...And writing Ruby code. Well, not so much writing new code as struggling to integrate and make work the nearly dozen languages, frameworks, and packages which I'm pulling together to make into a new learning app. Its going very slowly. There's something to be said for live teachers. I've taught myself so much over the years, I kind of forgot there are limits to what one can teach one's least efficiently.

Maybe I'll write about that in another post.

And what of history interactives? Is anyone doing them anymore? There are a few I've tagged the past couple months; just never written up. They weren't that exciting. PBS certainly got tired of them; that institution was a major player in the early years. BBC seemed to still work them. And a couple private companies; you had to pay them annual fees to see them.

Social networking seems to have killed much of the innovation of the web. Not that much of it isn't great; it is. Yet kids need to learn more than what they can learn chatting. Some people at Fireside and other places are quite tired of hearing me say that.

So, when Eduweb 3.0? I asked that two years ago, and its worth rephrasing here.

I'm working at it, when I'm not repairing Windows for people, or pushing leaders to build a heritage trail. I truly hope we can release something in the next month. A middling programmer would have released it a year ago.

It's a good platform, though. It'll be nice to bring kids back to rich content.