Student project suggestion:

Create public domain clipart for #OER for ANY topic in any class. Share on

Handouts, whether they are traditional paper or online creations, benefit from topical images. Why only search for suitable ones made by others? Make some yourself (model good process for your students), or alternatively, have your students make them and provide them a grade bump for their effort.

Physic diagram: positively charged pith balls repel

Make images for your subject, to illustrate a concept.

Calendar Icon

Make icons to help focus the mind while reading a worksheet/student guide.

Encourage students to contribute the images to make them easy to access for you, other classes in your school system and for the benefit of all. is a site which accepts original artwork created with the vector graphic tool, Inkscape.

Inkscape is a Free Software (AKA “open source”) tool you can download and install on your computers at school and at home. There are hundreds of good tutorials to help you and your students get started.

When you or a student publish a graphic to, give your school credit, too. Simply add a tag with a version of your school’s name that will let other teachers search the site for work done by the creatives in your district. There is no cost to set up an account, and the work submitted can also be used as part of a student’s portfolio and resumé, a great component for a college application. All the submitted graphics are, by rule, in the public domain. That makes them totally accessible.

It is easy to export graphics from openclipart to add them to a document in png format, perfect for word processing documents. It is just as easy to get the link codes to include the image on a Web page the way I did above with the physics illustration and calendar icon. You can even download a graphic in original Inkscape (svg) format to remix, modify, simplify, enhance to your specific needs.

If you decide to try this suggestion, please send links to graphics you or your students have created. Your success will encourage others.

I visited a family’s website recently. It looks nice. It appears to be done as a WordPress site. I did notice one glitch. On one page, the last paragraph contains what probably are dashes or double dashes. I’m guessing the writer pasted from Microsoft Word into the WordPress editor used for the site. Unfortunately, Word uses a character code for the dash which html does not properly display.  My browser displayed – instead of the dash. The WordPress editor allows you to look directly at the html by selecting the “Text” tab instead of the “Visual” editor view.


If this happens to your site, I would recommend you edit the page and substitute the html entity code —  for whatever you see there.

Looking at the technical bits: Most current html coding and browsers are set to use a character coding called “UTF-8” or “Unicode.” It is the international extension of the older “ASCII” from the early computer days. You can actually have a lot of fun exploring Unicode. I have done a few pages on it, as it turns out (in case you have not seen them yet).

Happy exploration!

Copyright and plagiarism and the effective use of Internet resources are vital elements of creative assignments in schools. Access to digital versions of books, magazines, audio and video resources have changed the nature of what a student can do when constructing a school assignment.

It has been common practice to ask students to write about a famous person, for example. The writing part may actually be the focus of the assignment. The person being used isn’t the real focus. Typically students get to choose from a batch of people and then gather resources to learn what they need in order to begin writing the essay.

A teacher’s common practice has been the recommendation of resources, sending children to the school or town library to access encyclopedias, books, newspapers, etc. A rough draft frequently follows so the teacher can comment on style, grammar, spelling and such along with proper use of quotations with adequate citations. The final draft gets a grade.

The Internet has given teachers the task of adding online resources to the mix. That means each teacher must add some online/digital expectations to the assignment and rough draft evaluation. Teachers need to incorporate an honest discussion of fair use, copyright, remixing. The vetting of resources which was once passed off to librarians now must become part of a teacher’s routine. Teachers need to make very few assumptions. Some students will have their own computer/tablet/smartphone and good support at home. Some students will be better than others at search strategies. The assignment needs to become more broad so it can include a student sharing of those skills. Each school year, as student move ahead, the discussion needs to become more rich and nuanced like any other phase of helping studnts learn.

With that in mind, a discussion about and use of Open Educational Resources is important. Teachers need to have a good personal understanding of the digital issues involved. Plagiarism has long been part of the discussion. Now, when we talk about copyright compliance, it is not only valuable, but vital to highlight the distinction between restricted and open usage of all the easily accessible materials a student may want to incorporate in an assignment.

I would recommend you read and refer others to the article, “Teach kids about copyright: a list of resources from Creative Commons” by Jane Park. Develop your own skills to become as strong in resource selection as possible. Understand the alternatives yourself. That way you can be the best guide you can be for this year’s students and keep exploring to prepare for the next year and the next. In fact, you will be modelling the process for your students. Revealing your process may actually help them understand how you see that fabled goal, “life long learning.”

Here’s a new idea for Inkscape, the Free Software vector graphics program.

Get your high school or middle school students involved in making dot-to-dot creations for the kids back in grades 1-3.

This example, by Frankes, comes from where Frankes uploaded it. All the work at is in the public domain, so it is ready for you and your students to put to use.


In fact, it looks like Frankes remixed another person’s witch image into this larger product. Remixing is encouraged at because sharing is GOOD.


Halloween is just a little bit ahead of us, but there is certainly still time for you to organize this project. Even if you are slow about it, there is a whole year ahead with lots of graphic-rich holidays to use as your focus. Inkscape is open source software which can be installed at school and at home by you, by your students, by anybody. You don’t need permission to get started. It won’t cost you anything but your own effort.

Please leave a comment here if you do this project and can give links to your students’ work.

Even better, submit the work to where a collection can be organized.

The ePUB file format is one of a few ebook file formats. The Nook from Barnes and Noble uses ePUB. The Kindle from Amazon uses Mobi. For a general comparison of ebook file formats, see the Wikipedia Article. The demo for the NatickFOSS meeting will concentrate on ePUB for a few reasons.

  • I own a Nook
  • ePUB is an open standard.
  • ePUB is the format with which I have the most experience.
  • ePUB files are often available without DRM (Digital Rights Management or Digital Restrictions Management). See Project Gutenberg. That means we can look inside. That’s the plan for the meeting.

The ePUB format is an open standard with wide ereader support. Apple’s iBooks for the iPad and Barnes and Noble’s Nook use ePUB formats. Granted, the books they sell are commonly encumbered by DRM. The ePUB format does not require DRM. Some publishers have decided to abandon DRM. The technical publisher O’Reilly and Baen Books, are two examples.
Any more you recommend?

O'Reilly Logo Baen Logo

We will take a look at a simple ebook to keep our effort uncluttered, but the current ePUB version 3 enables all sorts of great features, including the ability to embed movies…Wait. It’s a “book”, isn’t it?”

The format is based on the same elements as the web. In some ways, ePUB software is a modified browser. The core of ePUB (and also of Mobi) is html code with cascading stylesheets (CSS) and some descriptive elements in XML files. All of these are common on the Web, too. Almost every web page has words and images kept in html code. The layout and color scheme are controlled by stylesheets. Extensible Markup Language (XML) is intended to be “meta” information, not usually displayed as part of a web page or ebook. XML contains code for the ereader, to identify file sources, author, title, table of contents, and other such things which a librarian might find especially interesting.

Linux has a good open source ePUB tool called Sigil which takes in text files or html files, formats them to the requirements of ePUB, adds the descriptive XML file automatically. Sigil also has Macintosh and Windows versions.

The following image shows the layout of the Sigil window. Click to enlarge the image and look closely. You should notice that it has many buttons that look very much like the ones in a word processor like LibreOffice Write. There are options specific to the ePUB format, but you would be able to immediately start work on your “Great American Novel” with Sigil.

sigil image

A very detailed exploration of ePUB by Elizabeth Castro EPUB: Straight to the Point is worth buying if you plan to really dig in to making them on your own. She writes about the kind of information you need to make a good-looking ebook. She begins with a section on Adobe InDesign as the development tool, but the details further into the book are useful with Sigil, too.

If anybody wants to explore the Dwarf Planet short story, you can download it and transfer it to your Kindle [mobi] or Nook [ePUB]. If you just want to be perverse and read it with your browser [html], go ahead.

After you have created and saved your work, you can also make conversions to other formats. The excellent open source ebook management tool called Calibre makes converting from one ebook format to another very easy. There are also on line tools for doing conversions. See the resources list at the end of this page.

Calibre Logo

Kindle and Mobi

Mobi is Kindle’s file storage system. The image below shows the file structure. It looks similar to the ePUB file structure we saw while looking in Sigil.

Mobi Files

What if I want to read an ebook on my computer?

I love to see these questions. Keep them coming.

Kindle-PC – [ Mac ] and Nook-PC – [ Mac ] applications are available for Mac and Windows along with iBook and Android devices like tablets and phones. Linux users can use the Kindle CloudReader, though you do need a Kindle account. Remember, most Kindle and Nook ebooks are encumbered with DRM.

The dawn of ebook availability was a while ago. The day has fully begun and the sun shines pretty brightly on us. Publishers of paper-based books are struggling to deal with it. Book stores are struggling. The Borders bookstore chain closed a couple of years ago.

Firefox has an extension which organizes and lets you read ePUB books right in your browser.

epub extension

Self Publishing

Writing is only one step. If you want to “publish” your options are wider today than ever before. You can go the way of famous authors and get an agent who will send your book to publishers, you’ll get involved with editors and contracts, etc. There are alternative paths available. A good place to start to understand the options for self publishing is the author J.A. Konrath who has successful experience with traditional publishing and doing it on his own.

Project Gutenberg
Getting DRM-free ebooks

gutenberg logo

A long time back, Project Gutenberg began converting out-of-copyright works from their paper format into digital text files. More recently the project has been converting the works to ebook formats, html and PDF. These works are often out of print, hard to get. But they are in the public domain, with their copyrights expired. The project is a service to all who love books, the reading part, not the physical tomes.

Electronic files like these ebooks can be legally downloaded to your computer and then can be easily transferred from your computer to a dedicated ebook reader like the Nook or Kindle. Check the manual of your device for the appropriate directions.

As an example of long fiction, here are screenshots of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens which is available in both ePUB (Nook) and Mobi (Kindle) formats.

Link to the book

Tale of Two Cities

ePUB file contents

This information was part of a presentation given at the NatickFOSS User Group, located in beautiful Natick, Massachusetts (Metrowest Boston). You are invited to attend.

Other Resources:
Online ePUB converter
Python Mobi Extraction Scripts

Do you have a binary clock?

Do you use it in your classroom?

Here’s an activity you might try with your students.

Intead of focusing on the time initially, see if students notice when interesting shapes show up in the pattern of LED lights.


This next image looks like football goalposts to me. Would you agree?


How about this pattern as a house?


This next one looks like a small dog…maybe if you squint.


There’s an Inkscape clock blank to do your own shapes.

There’s a worksheet you can give your kids to try figuring out their own interesting shapes.

Get some more details at

In my small network, Windows is only on one machine. My daughter needs to connect to her work which has some programs which can only use Internet Explorer. She’s happy enough and doesn’t need more.

The rest of the computers run a form of GNU/Linux and share a network printer. So does the Windows machine.

Recently printing started to act up. I suspected that the print server was the problem and purchased a new one. Trendnet makes a small print server with a single parallel port which fits inside my HP laserjet printer. No extra desk space is needed.

Such print servers have a default IP address which doesn’t match a typical network and Trendnet delivers a CD with a small Windows program that discovers the print server directly and lets you change the IP to a fixed address that is part of your IP range. Most small networks use numbers in the range of to The broadband router uses the 1.1 address and connects to your cable or phone company line to get connected to the Internet.

This time, I took a shot. I put a copy of the program from the CD on my Kubuntu machine and used the Wine emulator to run it. It worked perfectly.

All that is needed is to enter your desired IP number, the network mask (which is almost always and the address of the router. In the following illustration you can see what I got after entering those numbers for my situation.

Program Window

The final step, depending on how you chose your IP address, might be to check the printer setup of each computer that uses it. If you simply retired an old print server and set up the new one with the same address, you’re all set. If you changed the IP address, you’ll need to set up the printer settings on each computer.

That turns out to be easier on a GNU/Linux computer than on Windows. With GNU/Linux, just change the address for the printer you had set up before. On Windows, you need to create a new network printing port and then delete the old one.

Thanks to the Wine developers for solving another problem for me.

Wine is normally an option in the package manager, but you can also get it directly from the Wine website:

I’ve taken on a task for the end of summer.

A friend of a friend has been allowed to try to make some use of a cart of laptop computers. He wants to use them with Google Docs. JavaScript capabilities are therefore important in the browser.

The computers are Dell Inspiron 4000 laptops which have 128Mb of RAM in each machine. Windows Millennium Edition. That wasn’t going to cut it. I hope a version of Linux will solve the problem. Floppy drive module. Was able to swap the floppy for a CD drive from a Dell Latitude laptop (hooray for parts compatibility).

First try: Damn Small Linux. 4.4.10 – DSL specs say it works great with low resource hardware.  It installed easily and fairly quickly. It recognized the wireless card, attached  working driver software and connected to Google Docs, but the browser wasn’t new enough to handle the job. After about an hour, the mouse pointer started to wander and finally got “stuck” in a screen corner. Move on…

Next: Puppy Linux 5.25 – It installed with a bit more work, but didn’t connect with the wireless, even when I used the exact same driver that had worked with DSL. Move on…

Xubuntu 11.04 – SLOW install. Gave up the first time while the screen stayed blank at the networking hardware stage. Tried again and walked away for errands for two hours. When I returned, the wireless card had been detected and the install went forward, though still slowly. Mouse pointer stable, I think. Firefox 5.0 is the current browser with software updates applied. Wow! Modern browser. With 128Mb of RAM an actual Google Word Document almost works. Doubling to 256Mb, grabbing a memory module from another laptop, makes it work pretty well. The issue is the space required for the JavaScript that makes Google Docs work.

I’m now searching for more RAM. Dell’s page says the machine maxes out at 512Mb, two sticks of 256Mb. The first two I found weren’t recognized by the laptop which shut down right after turning on.

Anybody got ideas?

Anybody have compatible memory (PC100, SDRAM CL=2, non parity, 3.3V according to the Crucial Site) who would be willing to donate it? (Couldn’t get a PC133 chip to work. Would a BIOS update matter?)

128Mb memory modules would be enough to make the system workable. As it is now, the 30 laptops will supply enough RAM to have 15 working units. Clearly it would be nice if all 30 could be deployed. Class sizes are big at the school.

I’ll report on progress.

Release early and often.

There’s always something new going on in my brain. I enjoy experimenting…lifelong learning, I guess. Hence “betty ‘n’ bob.”

I recently came across a simple cartooning idea. Basic characters in a simple comic format. Just add the dialog and…there it is, a cartoon. Thanks to Leo Loikkanen at All Filler, no Killer for the idea and inspiration. He created and released a cartoon template called “American Efficiency” using the CC0 “Creative Commons Zero” license. That makes the template essentially public domain. Anybody can use the template. Just download it to your computer. Print a copy and add your own dialog to make your own cartoon.

cartoon by Leo Loikkanen
Click on the image to see the full-size original.

I’ve been exploring graphic ideas using Inkscape, a free open-source program for drawing vector graphics. I am NOT very artistic, and find that my limited talents are harnessed better by using a vector graphics tool than a freehand sketch/paint program like Krita (both on a GNU/Linux computer). I decided to try out the idea from Leo Loikkanen in Inkscape. Along with a basic template, I created a series of mood-showing characters, one male “Bob” and the other female “Betty.” Here’s my first effort.

cartoon of betty 'n' bob

To make the process of creating a variety of cartoons a bit easier, I put together a page with a few mood images for each character. I’m releasing it as CC-Zero as Leo did his. Perhaps you could use it with students in your school or with your own children. Inkscape is a great tool for all sorts of things.

Inkscape Template 2x of betty ‘n’ bob. Use a right-click and “Save link as…” for all templates. Otherwise the template, an SVG file, may just display on your browser.

In spite of the lack of popular demand, I’ve reworked the design template to be a three-panel design in two formats. One is just like the two panel, just on a rotated page. [Inkscape 3x Template] The other is an expanded template with a first-cut set of cartoon development instructions built into the template. [Inkscape 3x Instructions] Feedback is requested.


betty'n'bob May 16, 2011

Keeping Busy

Last Monday at the Norteast Regional Conference on the Social Studies, sixteen social studies teachers attended a working session about some online “cloud” tools. The session ran the full day and was designed to give the participants a chance to explore. It wasn’t a “presentation.” Each person got the chance to sign up for a mailing list, Twitter for a professional learning network, a blog, a wiki, collaborative note-taking and Google Docs. Each person made choices and spent time actually working. It wasn’t listen-and-learn; it was playful exploration.

People enjoyed active, differentiated professional development. By making individual choices and doing real exploratory activities, the participants took away more than notes and a handout.

The presentation and handouts are available. The materials are free to reuse and modify under the Creative Commons Attribution license. I would love to hear about any use you make of them.

Next year’s conference is going to be held again at the Sturbridge Host Hotel, Sturbridge Massachusetts sponsored by the Connecticut Council for the Social Studies. Perhaps I’ll see you there.

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