Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Nominate your best tech or gadget!

Santa is just around the corner.  He knows where you live, and like stealthy ninja, is checking out best entrances and exits to your home!

We want your nominations for what you think is the best tech of the year and what you would like to see most under the Christmas tree.  It can be any kind of gadget you like, phone, camera, tablet, gaming machine etc. But you have to say why you think is so cool and briefly describe what it does so much better than any other kind of its class.

Or if you don't think anything worthwhile has been produced in 2012, offer suggestions for the kind of gadget you would like to see in 2013.  For example, I'm pretty keen to see what the Surface Pro can do.  And I would nominate the Surface RT for the gadget of the year in 2012.  Its a big departure for Microsoft and I think the new interface is very quick to use.  Plus, I think the keyboard in the cover lifts the tablet from just a fancy internet browsing and emailing device into a proper computing alternative to a laptop or desktop.

So come on.  Give us your nominations!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

I love it when a plan comes together!

so said Col 'Hannibal' Smith of the A team.  Or, as its described in tech circles: Convergence.

Convergence is all about the tendency of different  tech systems to come together in one device because they share some common characteristic. The smart phone is an excellent example of this.  Which because they all rely on digital data brings together telephony, email, still photography, video photography, music player and game players in a single device.

On the face of it, this seems a really good idea.  Just think of it:  all that stuff you can do on one piece of tech.    No more multiple cameras, music players, wrestling with all those cables, accumulated old junk or struggling to find that elusive adapter which only fits that old I POD.  All these things replaced by one small device which you can carry around in your pocket.  Talk about Star Trek tech: buckets more computing power in your hand, than that which put man on the moon. Its amazing!

Or is it?

By giving up all that other 'old'  tech and relying on that latest smart phone suggests that everything it can do, approaches the quality of what each piece of technology can do separately. But does it: does it really?

Was Skyfall filmed using an I phone 5.  Do you think the new Spidey was made using a Samsung Galaxy?  No I think not.  Judging by most of the content on You tube, your average phone video camera just about manages to film dogs saying 'sausages' or your least favourite Aunt doing the splits while getting out of that boat.  Funny it may be, but James Cameron and Avatar it is not.  At its very best, it might get you £250 on Who's Been Framed!, but it won't get you that Oscar.

David Bailey

What about the digital camera then?  Ha! that's just as risible.  I don't see world renowned photographers  David Bailey, Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz using the Motorola RAZR or the HTC One:  though David Bailey was quite a fan of pocket cameras for those candid party pictures.  Despite increases in resolution (number of mega-pixels) phone camera's still seem to be only good for pictures of yourself with mates at arms length.  Anything else becomes tiny dots in the far distance.  And if the new ads are anything to go by, the trend is for quality, faster DLSR's (digital single lens reflex) cameras with changeable lenses that offer more control and flexibility to the user:  Think of the Nikon 1 or the Canon EOS 600.
DSLR Canon 600D

Yes using them for email can be good but the emphasis is on the word 'can'.  Nearly everyone I know, including myself use 'smart' phones for reading emails.  But few use phones for actually writing emails.  They prefer to use larger screen devices like tablets, or proper keyboards for faster typing, than pecking around a tiny screen with two thumbs at the very best.

Phones as a music player would appear to offer a distinct advantage.  Speech, music its all sound isn't it?  True, but think of the storage.  My music collection, which is not that large is about 35Gb.  Not many phones have that amount of storage.  Anything less would require me to add, delete or edit the content of music on a continuous basis.  With a music player with a capacity of 140 Gb, I'm not going to have to worry about storage capacity for music for years, if ever.  Just load and play.

Call of Duty
OK, forget about cameras, emails and music.  What about game play?  Doesn't that bring home the Kevin Bacon for smart phones?  Yeah right!  Smart phones might be all right for Tetris or for that lunatic plumber Super Mario, but do you really want to play Halo 4, Bioshock 2, Medal of Honour or Farcry 3 on a tiny screen and loose all that amazing explode off the screen, graphic detail.  No, I didn't think so.  'Yes but', you may say, you can play while waiting for the bus or when you're out an' about.  But why put up with tiny screen and tiny experience just because you're out.  What's wrong with waiting until you're back home.  If you're really stuck for something to do: READ a book.

And mentioning books, what's wrong with with using phones as an e-reader?  Plenty, when compared to dedicated e-readers like Kindle.  For a start with Kindle, you get a bigger screens to save all that scrolling.  Then you save thousands of books without worry and you get clearer and easier print to read together with chance to change the font size.  And perhaps most importantly, the battery life is for days if not weeks when compared to only hours for a phone.

What about apps.  OK you got me.  But really how many of these apps are any good? Maps possibly, but the only app I've wanted is the whip sound from the Big Bang but only so I can annoy my friends in the same way as Sheldon Cooper.  Of limited usefulness and entertaining in their own way they're all so much froth.  You can live without them and when you can use a laptop of a tablet, the importance of those apps falls even further away.

Become a Master?
Even as a phone, smart phones aren't that good.  OK but not great.  Coverage isn't always 100% and signal strength comes and goes.  At Crinan, its always entertaining watching people wander up and down the canal side, arms stretched out,  straining to hold their phone up to the sun like an ancient Druid performing a bizarre ritual.  All in a vain attempt to catch a fragment of signal strength while a phone mast is positioned barely 600 yards away around a headland, and as if that extra 2 feet closer to sun is going to make the difference.  Of course what is needed for true coverage, is a SAT Phone.  100% coverage, all around the world.  A bit expensive maybe, especially when all you've got to say is 'WHAAAAATS UUUUUPPPP!'

So it appears, smart phones aren't that smart after all:  they can do some stuff OK, but they're a bit of a jack of all trades and master of none.  What you have to decide, is whether you want to be like a smart phone. Spread yourself about and do lots of things moderately OK, or become a master:  pick a few things to do really really well.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

New Metro Based Look

Hooray! Windows 8 is out at long last.  I know its been sometime, but to play fair, got to spend some time to look at it, to see how it goes.

Well it seems to go pretty well for touch screen devices.  If you've got desktop or laptops running Windows 7 I don't think there's too great a reason for changing.  Unless that is, you like the Metro UI (user interface for those not in the know) and I do.  It's especially great for touch screens.

In fact I like it so much, I've re-designed our Science Courses menu around it.

So what do you think?  Let us know what you like about it and what you don't.  What you want to see in it and what you want to drop.  We want your FEEDBACK!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The future's bright, the future's orange!

In the beginning, you could have any colour computer you liked, as long it was beige! I've no idea why why. It may be designers wanted computer's to blend into the background and offices being bland soulless places meant that computer's had to be beige. Or, it may have been something to do with chemistry - the only colour they could get to work with plastics, or more likely they simply weren't concerned with what computers looked like:  they were too busy trying to get them to work.

To think the world used to be this beige!
With the reliability of computer parts improving, laptops appeared on the scene and lo', a whole new world of colour was opened up - not!. Now you could have any laptop you like as long it was black, or various shades of dark gray.

At the same time Apple was falling into economic trouble while it was trying to launch the ill fated Newton hand held.  But then a saviour appeared.  Not Steve Jobs, but a true British hero Jonathan Ive, now head of design at Apple.  He looked around him and saw all was dark and he walked upon the face of the dark, and said 'let there be light' and the coloured see through IMAC was born.
Imac computers in their various colours

Known by some, as ladies' computers, because they chose them by the colour, they could have heralded a new age of colour, but then Jonathan Ive gave up on colour.  Now everything Apple, has to be abattoir white. But there is a rebellion under-way   Some computer manufacturers  are beginning to produce laptops in different colours and with lots of coloured covers for tablet computers appearing, we could be moving into a bright coloured future.
Which colour would you choose?

The thing is, what colour would you like for your device(s)?  Do you prefer the binary world of black or white or do you want a different future?  If you could design a cover for a tablet or computer what would it be like?  Produce it in Fireworks or a similar program, and have it featured on this blog.  Can you be the next Jonathan Ive?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Phones 4 Us

It’s not like I’m affected by advertising or anything, but the future’s bright, the future’s orange!  Things are changing!  Thank God 4 EE!  OK I admit it.  The last one I made up, but there really is a Kevin Bacon game called ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’.  Fun for all the family.  Go on ... Look it up!  Not now obviously.

There’s lot of new phones about, with new models appearing every six months or so.  What I want to know is what’s the best phone for teachers to have.  Mine’s an old, old  HTC  - An HTC Diamond I think.  The one with the big screen - running Windows 6 mobile.  Mr McGivern’s an old iphone which thanks to his action man lifestyle is looking a bit frayed around the edges.  So what phones should we have.

I was thinking about the new iPhone, but then I came across this ad.

I quite like the Samsung S3 apart from the outrageous cost.  Then there is Nokia Lumia running on Windows and HTC One X running Android.  And last but not least there are always Blackberry’s.

So which phone do you recommend and why?

Thursday, 1 November 2012

What's Yours Called?

Browsers! Love them or loath them.  All computers have them.  Without them we couldn't do even half of what makes computers useful; from watching catch up TV, films or ‘dogs do the silliest things’ on you tube; from internet shopping to catching up on gossip; from mixing with friends on social networks to researching for projects.  All of these need internet browsers.

Fortunately these programs are free and easily available.  Unfortunately not all browsers have been created the same and opinions vary as to which are ‘good’ and which are ‘bad’.  Luckily there are lots of people out there on the 'inter web' with many, many hours of experience keen to share their thoughts and save us a lot of pain and grief discovering all the problems they've worked out for us.

They are also very creative people and try to get across their experience by using info-graphics comparing programs with common familiar things.  Like the one that compares browsers to guns.  And yep! You might as well shoot yourself, if you use Internet Explorer, or repeatedly slam a car door on your hand.  Both cause extreme pain and achieve nothing

The other graphic compares browsers to celebrities.  You may not know who all the people are, but you can get a general impression. FireFox good, Chrome better, Internet Explorer very bad, everything else in-between.

Anyway which browser do you use and why?  What’s it good at, that the others aren't   Can you achieve world wide fame by creating a info-graphic comparing browsers to something, perhaps to cars or tv programs?  Ask yourself, which Browser would Sheldon Cooper use?

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Naked Computing

Nothing to do with using computers in the nude.- nothing against it, but it’s not for me - Instead it has everything to do with motorbiking.  I shall explain.

The term ‘naked computing’ occurred to me the other day as I looked about me in that excellent computing shop, Creative Computing in Shawlands, and I was reminded of why I got my particular motorbike; a Triumph Street Triple.

Back in the days of black and white TV, motorcycling was pretty dangerous thing to do:  it still is, but compared to those days, riding a motorbike is as risky as a walk in the park.  With drum brakes that had the stopping power of a wet sponge, suspension so primitive it made a penny farthing look sophisticated, zero protection and engines so leaky, bikes left behind a slick of oil that the Captain of the Exon Valdez would be proud of.  Respect must go to those ‘Ton Up’ guys who burst through 100mph (the ton)  limit on these machines.

Honda Goldwing 2012 49 2560x1600
Honda Goldwing
Gradually technology improved and more and more bits were added to the basic bike.  First hydraulic brakes, then disk brakes, improved suspensions, better engines: anything really that made bikes faster, corner better, stop quicker.  Then came extras which  focussed on comfort: fairing’s to give improved weather protection, electric windshields, heated grips and saddles. Finally, other extras developed like ‘on bike communications’, entertainment centres and soon before you could say Triumph Bonneville, overblown monstrosities like the Honda Goldwing emerged.

2012 Triumph Speed Triple R
Triumph Speed Triple

Then those smart chaps at Triumph realised that perhaps everything had gone too far.   It was time to go back to basics.  They stripped everything away that didn’t contribute to speed or better handling and produced the Triumph Speed Triple, the big brother to the Street Triple.  Essentially the Speed Triple is a big engine with wheels, horrendously fast and agile and so was born the craze for ‘Naked Bikes’ where hard core bikers wanted to get back to the original danger and less complicated, raw riding of the ‘Ton Up’ guys.

Liquid Cooled 'Beast' Desktop
It was this, that I was thinking of as I stood in Creative Computing, looking around at extreme machines like Alienware gaming desktops, complete with every single hardware  device you could imagine, including neon lights and transparent cases. There were even computers with processors cooled by huge cooling fans and mineral oil.  Perhaps its time to get back to the raw essentials of computing.

Lets go ‘naked’! Lets junk the over the top cases; get rid of the hair dresser colours, loose the unnecessary keyboards and put to sleep the rabid mice with more buttons than a TK Max fashion store.

Raspberry Pi Computer
Lets go back in time and join in spirit those original pioneers of computing who led the way in changing the way we live by thinking of new things and not bother with messing around with mere style.  Let’s create new content.  And what better way to begin, than with Raspberry Pi.  What do think?  Do you want to go naked?

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Move Over Nick Park

Everyone has got a talent.  For most mortals it takes time to find out what you have a talent for.  It might be for music, running, throwing the javelin or even doing maths or writing. Occasionally though, every once in while someone comes along whose talent is obvious and outstanding.

In this case the talent is Morgan Spenny who specialises in Stop Motion lego films.  Have a look at the film below.  In the words of the great Bruce Willis.  It has all the action you need: helicopters, car chases; man hunts and gun fights. Despite having no romance, nobody could reasonably ask for anything more.

From a technical perspective, the short film reveals a rich understanding of the film making process.  At its heart is a strong story that everyone can understand. It features tracking shots, over head shots and shots from different camera angles to re-enforce the impression of movement and add a dynamic feel to the film.  The film is further improved by the use of clever shifts in focus to give a feeling of depth, changes in perspective and by giving different points of view from each character to help develop the story.  A classic moment is when the villain escapes from the mail van and the camera moves to look over the shoulder of a member of the public half hidden by the building and  ringing the police.  The camera suddenly changes focus to give the impression of the villain moving off into the distance.  The film is brilliant.

More of Morgan's films can be viewed at his own website at  Its well worth a visit and it shows how he made it.  I'm sure, time allowing,  Morgan will only be too pleased to help others out and share his secrets with everyone.

His films also reveal personal qualities beyond just a technical understanding of how to make films.  I should imagine they require perseverance, a degree of patience, which I ashamed to say escapes me, almost obsessive attention to detail and a high degree of problem solving ability to get the effects he needs with just lego.

Anyway watch the film - it's well worth it.  What do you think?  What's your favorite moment?

Do you have a hidden talent that you want to show off.  Have you created a power-point, taken a photograph, sailed a boat, run or done absolutely anything at all that you want to show off.  If you have let us know.  After all, this page is dedicated to you and all of us have got something to show off.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Apples Are Not the Only Fruit

In an earlier post, the cheap and cheerful Sinclair Spectrum was mentioned as one of the  triggers for the rapid growth in popularity for home computing in the late 70's and early 80's; at least in the UK. A simple box with a built in keyboard, it came without a monitor and had to be plugged into a TV.  With only a few commercial programs about, most programs had to be written by users.

The lead that Britain had in home computing was quickly lost, as companies like Apple led the way in making easy to use, powerful, but expensive computers.  Putting companies like Sinclair and Apricot - another fruit - out of business.

Now though, those sunny upland days may be here again with the new Raspberry Pi  computer which costs only a measley £15 to £25!  Yes folks! You’ve read correctly: they really are that cheap.  Admittedly a screen and a keyboard is needed, but everyone has a TV and keyboards can be had for under £.5.  Compared to hundreds of pounds needed for smart phones, tablets and laptops, they’re cheap as chips. And Raspberry Pi’s only weigh 1.5oz (42.5 in new fangled grams ) so they’re light on your pocket in every sense of the word. See here for more specs

Linux provides the operating system which makes the Raspberry Pi work.  Some see this as a disadvantage, but I prefer to see it as an opportunity. Linux is, in my humble opinion, the best operating system around and free too.  But it does mean that  many programs and apps  have to be created by users.  An excellent way of mastering programming skills and as the country is short of programmers, becoming one, represents one the of best ways of guaranteeing a job as you can possibly get.

It strikes me then, that we have travelled a full circle. Moving from the Sinclair Spectrum through expensive bigger boxes running overpriced programs created by multinational corporations, back to cheap, small but still powerful computers - they work at around  the same speed as an IPAD - which have to be programmed by their owners.  So the future is Raspberry flavoured and the question is: If you were to invent a computer, what fruit would you name it after?

Monday, 19 March 2012

What does Justin Bieber, the Mona Lisa and Computing have in Common?

Okay.  I might have made a mistake with Justin Bieber.  Some might consider him a pop sensation with a shed loads of talent.  Others might think he artificial internet media construct created  by Simon Cowell wannabees to sell as much bland insipid music to thoughtless teenagers with no taste in or knowledge of music.  Me.  I couldn't possibly comment, but if you want to see real music made by a real band, check out the video below.

Anyway, wandering off the point. Which is, what do music, art and computing have in common?   The answer is of course, CREATIVITY.

What?  Computing! Creativity! Surely that's all wrong.  Not at all.  You might have been told by teachers and some of them, whisper it quietly, might have been computing teachers, that computing is a technical subject.  And that like all technical subjects such as maths or physics, things are either right or wrong.  Well in computing, the real answer on most occasions may be, Maybe.

Computers and computing software are nothing but tools created by programmers to help us do a job.  And like nearly everything in life, there is more than one way to solve a problem and whether one way is better than another, is often a matter of opinion.  Even programmers will disagree about the best way to write a program to solve a task.  And the best bit is, if there isn't a piece of software to help you, programmers will create one, perhaps even make up a new programming language to help them do it.

If you have any doubts about this, look at the huge number of apps appearing not just for the iPhone/iPad, but also Android and Windows devices.  They're all similar, but different, illustrating the creativity involved in making them and enabling the creativity of those using them.

But what do you think?  Do you think computing is creative?  Have you used software and computers to create something different?

And what about Justin Bieber.  Is he wunderkind and the future of popular music or what?

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Is Computing Unique?

In maths, two plus  two has always equalled four; at least in the real world it does.  In history, William has been known as a Conqueror  from 1066, when Harold couldn't see the point and lost at Hastings. And Wellington still gave Napoleon a thrashing at Waterloo in 1815, no matter what the French say.  In Geography, Paris has been where its always been since about 250 BC and plate tectonics has been with us for about 12 billion years.  And, although I'm waiting for the Tarantino version, Romeo and Juliet was still written by Shakespeare in around 1594.  So as you can see most subjects don't change a lot.

ZX Sinclair Spectrum 
Computing on the other hand, changes all the time.  Despite Mr Thomas Watson believing "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." (chairman of IBM, 1943. - Ooops!, got that wrong), computing has gradually taken off and started to move into the home around 1982 with the Sinclair Spectrum, one of the earliest home computers in 1982 which you had to program yourself.

From there, computing has experienced growth like nothing else. Moving from Spectrum, to the desktop, to the laptop, the palm top and now the smart phone and the tablet.  In fact, things are changing so quickly that by   the time any hardware and software hits the shops, its already out of date; the IPad 3 is just about out and people are already talking about what's going to be on the IPad 4.  This inbuilt obsolescence is also true of text books which, by definition can only illuminate past technology not what's happening today.  So, if you want to be part of an exciting rapidly changing subject, leading at the cutting edge of technology and social development, requiring mental flexibility and a problem solving approach to life - we have no problems, only solutions - you've got to choose Computing.

Or do you, prefer the old certainties of other subjects where nothing happens very much?

What do think?  What are your favourite subjects?

Thursday, 23 February 2012

A New Look

As everyone in Scotland knows, qualifications are a'changin:  out going is the Standard Grade and Intermediate's to be replaced by the Nationals.

To coincide with the change over, we in the Computing and Business Education Faculty at Johnstone High School are experimenting with a new look to our growing website at JHigh.Co.UK.

The current look is beginning to look old hat and in cutting edge web design there has been a move away from the old banner plus 3 column main content structure, which is still a very flexible and easily adaptable construction.

As you can see the new look is very different with broadly speaking two different panels.  On the left hand side is a picture of an urban street dancer, which is intended to convey a sense of dynamism.  Computing and technology is unlike any other subject in that it is so totally dynamic.  The age of a the 'dancer' is intended to indicate the main orientation of the site in that it is intended for Secondary School age young pupils.

some happy shiny and smiley folk
Although the image might be a bit gritty and urban for adults and educators, it represents an attempt to break away from the clich├ęd representation of  bright, shiny, smiley young people that most designers use in 99% educational web sites.  Not that they are not at bright and shiny at Johnstone High School, its just that the usual pictures chosen are orientated more towards parents and adults rather than young people who attend the school.  And we hope that the continued development of the site is going to be very much under the influence of those who use it.

The right hand panel contains category headings (plain boxes with text headings) and images.  The images are links to different courses. For example Computing contains links to Standard Grade, Intermediate and Higher courses.  The construction of the panel in this way allows great flexibility, with new courses just requiring a new image to be added to the page with very little HTML code.  The page will automatically adjust to the new link and not require a major revision.

Anyway that's fairly lengthy explanation as to why we've changed our look.  You can still gain entry to the old look through the about us link.

What we want know from visitors and everyone else who uses this site is "What do think of the new look?  Like or dislike?