October 2008

If you teach biology, you need to look at the information pulled together at The Encyclopedia of Life.

There are about 1.8 million known species of living things on Earth. It is the ambitious goal of this site to provide in-depth information about each and every one of these species. There are plans to create a “site” for each species. The individual species sites are all under the main site: http://www.eol.org/index so each is visually and structurally consistent. The information that populates the species’ sites comes from many authoritative sources, and there are institutional contributors including the Smithsonian Institution, Harvard University, Chicago’s Field Museum, and many more. Most of the information has Creative Commons licensing so it is easy to use in your educational materials, the ones you create yourself, the ones that enrich the classes you teach, what you do that goes beyond the textbook your school or district gave you.

This image of Cardinalis cardinalis, the common cardinal in the U.S. is provided without any restrictions on its use (and that’s why I included it here).

Beyond basic descriptions and images of the species, there is authoritative content about classification, behavior, reproduction, life history, morphology, maps of distribution, and much more.

Of course, for those of you who have researched a species, you can become a contributor, even if it is simply a good photograph, for example.

I do have one quibble about the otherwise excellent resource. When I entered “Cardinalis cardinalis” to look up the example used here, I was presented with an alphabetical list of 198 species that fit the words I entered somehow. It was necessary to page down (did you know you can do that with the spacebar?) until I got to the common Redbird link. It didn’t take me long to decide that wasn’t a problem, but you might want to warn your students about it. Actually, entering the common name “cardinal” automatically lead to a different list based on common names instead of scientific names used in the first search. The common “cardinal bird” was still a way down the alphabetical list, but that’s the same quibble.

For your information, the Kids Open Dictionary is progressing. Recently, the dictionary achieved the milestone of having 10 percent of its word list defined. The definitions are submitted by people like you and me who are willing to contribute without expecting to be paid for our writing. The definitions need to be accurate, simple, and NOT COPIED from another source to ensure that they can be used without copyright issue.

You will be able to generate glossaries of terms for your student projects without any problems. The glossaries will be exactly what you want, no more, no less because you will pick the words. You will even be able to generate the glossary in a format that you can modify once you have downloaded it to your computer. This is perfect for those of you who create lessons that go beyond a textbook your school/district has purchased for you.

Join in. Write some definitions for the dictionary so that the job gets done sooner, and feel good that you have made a contribution to the open source community.


Getting connected with Open Source Software isn’t an exclusive phenomenon for educators in the USA.

Find out what’s up in the United Kingdom by visiting this site:


They are new, listing themselves as Beta. October 2008 is planned to be an active month for the site, posting case studies of OSS use, success stories, etc.

Do you have any success stories we should highlight here?

Contact: algot.runeman – at – verizon DOT net [make the usual adjustments to the “spelling” of that email address.

The release was so successful that on the first day, October 14, the mass of traffic crashed the servers of OpenOffice.org! They sent out an email to registered OpenOffice users which included the following:

Oh, by popular, we mean it: figure hundreds of thousands of users, mostly Windows users, but also Mac OS X and Linux and Solaris users, all trying to download it all at once…..

The switch to Linux may not be as intense, but quality open source software like OpenOffice will pave the way.


Columbus took chances.

He convinced a king and queen to support his trip, one that most others thought was crazy.

He convinced his crews, on three separate ships, no less, to stay the course. It wasn’t easy. It took effort, resolution, and personal conviction that the goal could be reached.

When you celebrate Columbus Day, however you do celebrate, take a moment to consider whether you might be an Open Source Columbus.

Can you convince your principal, maybe your superintendent to take a chance on something open?

Can you convince your peers to go with you in your quest?

Is the goal worth it?

Happy Columbus Day.

NASA produces masses of educational information. Since it was produced at taxpayer expense, we don’t need to pay for it again. One of my favorite links is the “Astronomy Picture of the Day”. Always interesting, sometimes spectacular, the APOD images are accompanied by a professionally well-written explanation. The use in science classes at all levels is obvious.

Sometimes, though, the images have a broader value.

The image for today is a case in point.


The composite nighttime image of the earth is an astounding one.

  • Energy and social issues – What is the amount of energy required to make all that light per day?
  • Geography and population – Why are some parts more lit than others?
  • Economics – Does ease of transportation impact human development?

You will be able to create good discussion questions for your own classes.

By the way, you may also want to click on the image, which takes you to a larger image. You can download the larger image and then incorporate it into print formats, too. While these images are not under usage restrictions, it would be appropriate to credit the source…That’s good style, modeling correct process for your students and simultaneously helpful for those who want to find the resource.

The main Web address (URL) for APOD should be in your browser bookmarks/favorites.

Astronomy Picture of the Day http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html

Open an Internet connection. Go to http://www.ibiblio.org and you will find yourself at “the public’s library and digital archive”. They are currently “celebrating their 16th year of freedom”.

I love libraries, and this one is extraordinary.

Their stated purposes include these goals:

  • Expand and improve the distribution of open source software;
  • Continue UNC’s programs to develop an on-line library and archive;
  • Host and foster projects that expand the concepts of transparency and openness into new areas;
  • Create, expand, improve, publish, and distribute research on the open source communities;
  • Expand and improve the creation of and distribution of open source software and documentation;
  • Serve as a model for other open source projects

Ibiblio is worth a thorough examination, and while trying to do that, I had my chance encounter.

On any big site, especially one as full as Ibiblio, you will encounter occasional dead links. A broken link will create a standard code to send back to your browser instead of the expected page. It is called the “404 Page Not Found” error. I have seen many and even caused a few while developing the Web site of King Philip Regional School (former job…now retired and it’s somebody else’s problem!)

Well, I didn’t like to send the simple, standard message seen in the above paragraph, so I tried to let people know what to do if they encountered the inevitable link error.

Now, finally, the chance encounter. Click this link to a page that does NOT EXIST on Ibiblio:


You get the Ibiblio 404 page. I loved the effort they made to translate the message into language after language, including some dialects of English. You can read some of them without being a foreign language major. I hope the humor matches your tastes.

[[Please note: Don’t go looking for my 404 effort at King Philip. New people have taken over.]]

Windows remains the operating system of choice in the U.S.A. That is true in schools as much as in the business world. The good news is that while Windows is not Free Open Source Software (FOSS), there is an abundance of powerful, useful FOSS that runs well on a Windows computer. Don’t feel you must jump to Linux just to participate in the open source “craze”.

The OpenDisk group has made it even easier. They also sponsor “Software Freedom Day”, an event which encourages teams to spread the good word and the open source software, too. You don’t need to go to site after site on the Internet to get the individual programs. These folks have done the searching and vetting of FOSS for you. They compiled many of the most useful FOSS programs into a CD-ROM image. A good Internet connection is helpful because the image is almost 700 Megabytes, making a full CD of great software.


There are two versions of the disk. One is directed at educational users. Many of the programs are the same on both versions, but you will probably want the education version.


  • Open Office – word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, math typesetting, etc.
  • GIMP – image processing (make your pictures just right)
  • Firefox – fast, efficient, tabbed browsing of the Internet
  • Thunderbird – email client
  • Audacity – audio editor
  • …and many more

Once you get the disk image (an .iso file) on your computer, you must transfer it to a CD-ROM disk because you will install the software from the CD. You will need to have a CD-ROM writer (also called a “burner”) in your computer. CD Writers are generally standard in desktop or laptop computers that you have purchased in the last four years or so. Check the label on the drive’s tray.

Next you need a blank CD-ROM. Buy a package of 20 or more. Once you try some of this software, and you install it on the computers in your classroom, you will want to let your students have a copy of the programs, too.

Windows XP can burn CD-ROMs natively. Check out the Directions here:

Of course you can use commercial programs like Nero, Roxio, or the utilities that may have come with the drive, expecially if you installed or upgraded it yourself.

In the end, you will have a CD-ROM full of great FOSS software to install on your own computer, the principal’s computer, the superintendent’s, the computers in your school computer lab, the computers of all your students, and to give away to anyone you meet on the street. Well, maybe that’s going too far.