Streaming my music library over the internet to work

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At home I have a Buffalo Linkstation NAS (network attached storage) box which has a backup of my iTunes library on it.  It shares this music library locally using its built in media server (mt.daap) and it always shows up in iTunes on my laptops, and on my O2 Joggler.I wondered if it would be possible to access this resource from anywhere on the internet (as the networked drive is always powered on).  The answer was yes, and this is how you do it over an encrypted ssh tunnel (it was quite simple once I had the right software).  It does rely on you having a device running openssh (you can add this to older versions of the Linkstation, or on a separate machine).  I haven’t exposed my network storage box directly to the internet because anyone could stream my music for free.

  • Make sure you know the ip address of the Buffalo linkstation on the local network (e.g. 192.168.1.3) and that streaming works fine from iTunes on your local network.
  • You need a copy of Putty (I won’t explain how to configure ssh and putty to work together).  There are some pointers on my blog post here.  Set up putty to forward port 3689 to your NAS box as shown below:

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  • Download the daap plugin for Songbird (you will have to edit the install.rdf file to stop it saying that it can’t be run with the current version.  Simply rename the installation package to a zip file, open the file and edit max version to 1.5, then save and rename the plugin package back to an xpi file)
  • Start up Putty and then Songbird.  From the File menu on Songbird add a new daap source at 127.0.0.1
  • After downloading a list of songs available, your library should be ready for streaming over the internet

Please feel free to comment/contact me if you have any questions. Tutorials for setting up SSH to connect to your own network are available all over the internet – please don’t contact me about SSH if you haven’t read a tutorial first!

Filmclub ??? bringing the power of cinema into your classroom

I’ve tried to choose movies that students wouldn’t have seen before, and have let myself be guided by the “Filmclub recommends” section on the website.  It is also possible to search for films by theme (e.g. bullying), by age range or by other criteria.Students have been very positive about our film club and I get asked questions about upcoming films several times a week.  There are films suitable for all ages (even some with a 15 certificate) and I would imagine students from primary, secondary and special education being equally enthused by this scheme.What next?As well as showing movies to students, we have a few ideas of what else we can do with our film club.

  • Joint parent/student screenings – to get parents into school and talking to staff
  • Induction of new students – getting year 6 students in from our feeder school for a shared screening, helping familiarise them with some of students and premises.
  • Oscars event – complete with red carpet and paparazzi outside, as part of an awards or celebration event.
  • Linking films to special events at school – e.g. book day, poetry day, anti-bullying week

Do you run a film club at your school?  Do you have any ideas of how we can expand film club to a wider audience or involve parents?

Software and websites I couldn???t do without

 

Windows Live Writer

Part of the Live Suite available free of charge from Microsoft.  This is a useful piece of software for writing blog posts offline (and publishing them to your website).

Other software/sites

Google Calendar (I’ve tried lesson planning again this year using Google calendar. I kept it up for a over half a term but still ended up going back to a paper diary).  The SMS reminders are useful for reminding me of appointments when I’m not near my email.

Twitter.  I have a PLN (personal learning network) on Twitter but I’m still not convinced that this is a must-have tool.  A significant majority of people I follow are broadcasters rather than being interested in a two-way conversation, and most don’t reply to tweets directed straight at them.

What software do you use every day?  What software couldn’t you do without?

It’s always good to know someone reads your blog posts

My friends ask me why I blog, and why I make the time for blogging.  Sometimes I wonder myself why I blog.  I’ve posted blog posts that have hundreds of hits, and ones that hardly register.  Sometimes I get an email or message about a blog post, but usually I don’t.   I carry on blogging, even when I don’t get any feedback, because I know somebody, somewhere will read what I have to say.This is a collection of extracts from my logs over the last few months showing some of the more interesting visitors to my site (I’ve removed the IP addresses myself).  The bottom image shows visits from Microsoft and Google following an Outlook web access vs Google rant I had (#GoneGoogle).

Free symbolised worksheets withdrawn following copyright dispute #facepalm

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I have had to delete a selection of worksheets from my site.  The worksheets in question all featured a small number of symbols to which the copyright was owned by Widgit.  Unfortunately due to their restrictive and inflexible licensing policies, I have been unable to reach an agreement with them over use of their symbols.  I apologise if you were looking for these resources.  It is my intention to replace them with Widgit-free versions at some point in the future.The backgroundWe have used a selection of software packages from Widgit software for many years.  The staple favourite amongst my colleagues is writing with symbols 2000 (WWS2K).  This product allows you to enter text with symbols above, and also to create grids of text with symbols.  The software was never very user friendly and was replaced by Symwriter and Communicate in Print.  When WWS2K was discontinued, our school was persuaded (some might say conned) to upgrade to Symwriter which was meant to offer similar functionality.  We also purchased a smaller number of copies of Communicate in Print to compare the products.It seemed we now needed two products to do what we had been able to do with one product before.  That isn’t progress – that’s software company greed!  Neither product was particularly intuitive to use and so symbol use at our special school dropped to lower levels as a result.As I’ve mentioned on my blog before I share my resources to help other teachers.  I also hope that some of them may serve as examples of good practice.  It’s easy to forget that software companies exist only to make money – as I found out in my dealings with Widgit software.The reasonI contacted Widgit software after reading copyright information from their site.  Not finding their site easy to navigate I’d searched Google for their copyright terms.  I then emailed Widgit to request permission to share 17 worksheets, most less than a page in size and containing a small amount of text (and thus symbols).  I was amazed to find that the copyright information on their site was out of date and amended immediately following my email.  (In fact it was changed again later in the week – that’s twice in 8 days).Emails went back and forth between myself and Widgit regarding my request to share (for no cost or profit) these 17 science worksheets.  In fact Widgit obviously liked the material because they said the following:“You do have some good worksheets here and we would be interested in working with you to make these available in Communicate: In Print as downloads on our website. We would use your ideas and do the work. We do work with a variety of people that make resources for our site who currently receive a royalty for their ideas. Would you be interested in this arrangement?”I offered Widgit the change to distribute my worksheets royalty free (I’m not interested in making money from my resources) if they would allow me to distribute the 17 worksheets I had already submitted for approval.  I tried to explain to Widgit that my worksheets served as free advertising but they seemed more interested in getting me to pay.   (You’ll see that my resources site pulls in a steady stream of downloaders – that’s free advertising!).

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I can’t blame Widgit.  Their software is clunky, unwieldy and difficult to use (say my colleagues) and the only unique selling point they have is the collection of symbols.   They maintain their stranglehold on the copyright of these symbols in order to stay in business.  It’s a pity that their licensing terms are so draconian and inflexible – but businesses who sell to education are in it for totally different reasons to the teachers who use them!(And for your information the symbol at the top of the page is facepalm – it seemed appropriate to describe Widgit’s attitude!)Update: Just to add these views are my personal opinion, formed after speaking informally to colleagues where I work.  As with all my blog posts they do not represent the opinions of my employer.

Nokia 5800 firmware update ??? still no iPhone beater, but a makes the 5800 a better phone

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Having read a couple of articles about schools using the iPod touch/iPhone in lessons, I decided to buy an iPod touch to see how the interface and app store works.  I was impressed by the interface and slick operation of the way the OS works, but I wouldn’t want to use this device in my lessons.  Kudos to those schools that have made it work, but I prefer a bigger screen and keyboard for this kind of use.  In fact my usage of the iPod touch has declined as the novelty has worn off, as I prefer using my laptop for accessing the internet/twitter.I installed the latest firmware on my Nokia 5800 (v 40.0.0005)  hoping for an iPhone style upgrade!  The improvements are worthwhile but how satisfied you are with it will depend on what you want from the phone.  In my opinion the update makes the 5800 a better phone, but does very little to address the limitations of the device when compared to the iPhone.For those who wondered what improvements the new firmware makes I’ve listed the ones I’ve noticed below:

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    New home screen as shown.  Contacts and application shortcuts can be added to the home screen (and you can scroll sideways through these contacts).

  • The audio widget is much improved and you can pause and play the current track/podcast from the home screen.
  • The dialler is renamed Telephone and pushed down to the bottom of the screen with Contacts, to make room for the extra information on the screen.
  • New incoming call screen when the phone is locked
  • When you are typing in text and rotate the phone sideways, the keyboard automatically changes to the qwerty arrangement (even if you were using an alphanumeric keyboard before).
  • Kinetic scrolling makes it easier to flip through long lists of pictures or music.
  • The phone feels slightly snappier than before (in the same way Windows 7 feels snappier than Windows Vista)
  • One or two new menu entries in the various settings menus.

The phone still lags behind the iPhone/iPod touch when it comes to applications.  Whilst the selection of apps available is growing, the pricing of many apps is totally unrealistic and so large scale adoption of Ovi store apps is unlikely to improve until this (together with the interface) changes.  The Apple Apps store is excellent and I’ve already purchased many games and utilities for my iPod, the likes of which either aren’t available or don’t represent value for money on the Ovi store.  Unfortunately I think Nokia have conceded defeat on this one, and their move away from the Symbian operating system suggests that this is likely to remain a stumbling block for some time.I’m waiting to see how Apple improves their next model before I change to an iPhone.  I’m hoping to see better text entry and multi-tasking, as these are the two obstacles at the moment that stand between me and an iPhone.  However no manufacturer can fit a full size screen and keyboard into a pocket device so I’m likely to continue using my laptop as my primary computing device.

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Health and Safety ??? whatever happened to common sense? (Local authority advice)

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I was forwarded a copy of the email sent to site managers/heads across my local authority.   It seems we live in an age when no-one can take risks, and common sense cannot be left to the individual.

These are some of the pearls of wisdom offered to site managers and heads:

  • Details should be drawn to the attention of all employees working on the premises so they are aware of the safest ways of entering and leaving the premises.
  • Arrangements should be made for access routes to be inspected regularly following the salting and gritting to monitor its effectiveness. It is recommended that this is done before the end of each session. PLEASE NOTE: TEMPORARY SIGNS DENOTING SAFE ROUTES MAY BE NECESSARY.
  • All staff should be reminded of the need to wear appropriate footwear when coming to work in severe weather conditions as it will seldom be possible to clear all snow and ice from a site. In particular, walking from a parked car to the nearest access path may be hazardous.
  • In the past, there has been at least one instance of pupils in a first school picking some crystalline salt granules off the playground and tasting them, thinking they were snow or ice particles. Heads of Establishments with young children are therefore advised to purchase salt/grit mixture rather than pure crystalline salt for treating icy surfaces. Children should be warned accordingly.
  • Suitable clothing, particularly for caretakers who will be working outside, should be used
  • Ensure that there is a suitable and sufficient risk assessment for snow and ice clearing activities

Do we live in a society where individuals have no common sense?  Do we live in a society where we want to remove each and every risk, no matter how small?  Do we live in a society where school managers (and the LA) are frightened of being sued?  I suspect the answer to all these questions is yes – and until there is a change of culture we will continue to be treated like a nation of children.

Examination fees ??? really a good use of public money?

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Image © ccarlstead @ Flickr CC BY 2.0

I work in a special school, with a small number of pupils.  This means we enter a relatively small number of pupils for examinations etc.  Earlier in the year my bursar came to find me with an invoice for well over £1000.  “Is this yours?” she asked me.  Being a stickler for financial protocols in school, I was sure I hadn’t spent that much money, until I noticed the logo on the top of the invoice.  The logo belonged to Edexcel, and the invoice was BTEC Science fees for the 18 students I had just entered.  Scale that ten times or more, and across multiple subjects, you start to get an idea of some of scale of examination spending by schools, but is this really value for money?

On the day we broke up for the Christmas vacation I received a message from a copyright officer at AQA concerning copyrighted materials on my blog.  Immediately my mind jumped to the science resources I had put online.  Did any of these contain examination questions or materials from AQA that shouldn’t have been there.  I have been extremely careful which of my resources I share, so I decided to investigate further.  A quick search of the logs revealed that someone with an IP address belonging to the Northern Examination And Assessment Board in Manchester had been following links from Google Images to my site.  In fact they had visited my site over a period of an hour and forty-five minutes so they clearly had nothing better to do a few days before Christmas.   Yes I had been very naughty indeed, I had linked to an AQA logo in a blog post of two years ago offering free resources to support the AQA exam.  Of course I removed the offending link from my blog, requested that Google re-index the page, and emailed the copyright officer to let them know.  It is strange that they didn’t have time to acknowledge my email given that they had an hour and forty five minutes of free time to keep looking at it!  If only AQA would invest more money in the format of their (atrocious) multiple choice core science exam and less money on red tape and copyright, our children might perform better in their examinations.  I’m glad to see they are putting our huge examination fees to good use.In a press release on the 7th January (and reported in the TES on Friday 8th Jan) the National Education Trust questions the spending of millions of pounds of pounds of taxpayers money on examination fees.  With the current huge levels of public debt we should be asking ourselves if it is still best value for money to pour money into the pockets of the examination boards’ shareholders.  Perhaps it is time to look at examinations at 16 (and their fees) afresh!Comments welcome 🙂

It???s teacher bashing time

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Image © Rob Gould @ Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

As snow falls across the country, schools have closed for a variety of reasons.  Frustrated parents are quick to blame the teachers (we all need a scapegoat) and discussion forums fill up with comments about lazy teachers.  Too soon the conversation changes from “why can’t they get to school?” to don’t they have enough holidays already.  I’ve even seen suggestions about teachers having inset days in their holidays (which is ironic since inset days did originally come out of teachers holidays).The press feel the need to join in with this teacher bashing, after all appealing to the public sentiment is what sells papers.  As I sat reading the Times today I read an article that made the hairs on the back of my neck bristle.  Not because of the subject of the article but the tone, and the glaring inaccuracies in the article that the times included.The article in question was a small ‘filler’ by their education correspondent Nicola Woolcock.  I managed to track down an online copy of the article here.  Apparently it is far too hard to dismiss incompetent teachers and so-called experts suggest that there could be 24,000 inadequate teachers, although Ms Woolcock declines to say which hat she pulled these figures out of.According to the article heads must give notice before entering the classroom for a formal observation, and can only do so for three times a year.  Of course Ms Woolcock is reporting the current agreed arrangements for performance management, many observations for which are not actually carried out by head teachers.  There is no limit on quality assurance observations which I am aware of, and I know of many heads who walk around schools and pop into lessons to see what is going on without giving notice.Of course there are teachers who experience difficulties.  One of my roles as an AST is to work with some of these teachers in my local authority.  It could be argued that it is difficult to sack incompetent teachers, although I suggest the true story should read it is far too hard to dismiss any incompetent public sector worker.However when I read I was struck by the lack of balance, and the emphasis on bashing teachers rather than on a balance discussion, but a balanced discussion doesn’t sell newspapers does it?

Copy and Paste Customer Service.

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For a long time I’ve seen lessons where staff have used the internet.  Teachers are getting better at finding ways of using the internet, but I still see lots of instances of straight copy and pasting.  Is this a good idea?Over the last week I’ve been patronised by two different companies who have responded to my enquiry by email.  I don’t think either company bothered to read my email properly, just scanned it for key words and then pasted a response.
Boots
I did a lot of Christmas shopping on the Internet at Boots, and am a sucker for their loyalty card points.  I’ve been to their ‘Advantage Card’ machines several times and points still haven’t been added to my account.  The first time I contacted them, the email I received had a few lines about my pending points and then a huge copy and pasted instruction set telling me visit a machine to collect my points.  Hadn’t they read the email I sent?  Perhaps it was just me so I tried my card again and contacted them once more.  I explained that I had tried my card several times in an Advantage machine and my points had not been added to my account.  This is the email I received:
Thank you for contacting us about collecting your pending points from our Advantage Card extra offers kiosks.

To collect your points you’ll need to insert your card into the Advantage Card extra offers kiosk in our larger stores, it looks similar to a cash machine. First it will find your name, and display that on the screen, then it will tell you how many points you have to spend, and they’ll be downloaded onto your card for you.

You’ll also have the opportunity to look through lots of exciting and exclusive offers simply by touching the screen.

How helpful!  Copy and paste customer service at its best.

Carbonite backupI’ve a problem in Windows 7.  Carbonite scans the Firefox profiles folder for changes and stops you installing add-ons for Firefox.  Disabling Carbonite or excluding the folder from backups stopped the issue so the problem was clearly with Carbonite.  This is the copy and pasted response I received from them.

Hello Rob and thank you for contacting Carbonite Customer Support.
Carbonite has been designed to operate in the background so as not to slow down your PC or interfere Internet connection while you are actively using your computer.It seems like the issue you are facing is not related with Carbonite, but with your system. We request you to please contact your local computer technician for the further assistance regarding this issues.
Please let us know if you need additional assistance.Sincerely,MaxwellCarbonite Customer SupportPerhaps it’s just me.  Perhaps it’s a generational perception? Teachers – join me on the quest to stop this abuse of copy and paste by teaching our students when it is appropriate to use copy and paste, and when it is not.  And be loud in your complaints when you receive this kind of response from a company – copy and paste customer service = poor customer service!