“H” is for happiness!

The “Hour of Code” is an initiative to get all sorts of kids and adults to devote an hour during the 2013 Computer Science Education Week (CSEd), promoted by the Computer Science Teachers’ Association (CSTA), especially to draw attention to getting the activity to happen in the daily routine of school work. Lots of different groups have signed up to participate. There are hundreds of challenge activities which have been designed for every age group and for all sorts of contexts, in school and outside of the school setting.


This example is based on the Khan Academy activity at https://www.khanacademy.org/hour-of-code/hour-of-code-tutorial/p/challenge-h-for-hopper.

This was my first use of the Kahn Academy site. The Kahn Academy activity was well done, with lots of popup support from an animated character named Hopper which is similar to the infamous “Clipper” help system of Windows. Hopper worked, especially in this context. The site does NOT require login or an account to use the coding tool. There is nothing to download. You are free to play.

Are you planning to participate?

Screencapture of my Kahn challenge. Yes, I know that the expected result is just the basic large “H” outlines, but what’s the point of stopping when the urge to extend washes over? If you choose to complete the activity for the badge, you will want to set up an account and go through the steps without doing extensions. You are not limited to the planned activity, but the system is set up to get a particular result in order for you to earn official recognition.


Good resources all around us.


Is the shift from textbooks to Open Educational Resources anything more than a shift from one publisher to another?

Are schools simply shifting students from one resource to another?

I read articles like this one at Edutopia about how schools are substituting OER for textbooks.  Great, but really?

Are educators and their students really shifting the perspective from consuming information created by others?

Where are the schools which are asking students and their teachers to actually produce OER components, building upon and expanding and personalizing the knowledge?

Is yours such a school?
Are you such a teacher?
Let us know about it.

The MassCUE conference is tomorrow, Wednesday, and Thursday at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. You do not have to be a fan of the Patriots to get in, but it doesn’t hurt, of course.

I will be working the MassCUE information desk during the event. Drop by to say hello.

Promoting easy entry into open source (FOSS) software has been a hallmark of VALO-CD, a product of a Finish company. The CD focuses on providing “best in class” software for Windows users. The goal was to make it easy to select a program and install applications like LibreOffice and Firefox.

Times are changing. Version 9 is expected to be the last with the CD format. The plan for version 10 is a USB which may be called “LibreKey.”

You can read more at:

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.”


There is a celebration going on this weekend in Cambridge.  There are satellite celebrations around the globe.

My thanks go out to Richard Stallman (RMS) and to all the others at the Free Software Foundation who have carried the effort forward. I’m looking forward to the next 30 years.

Maybe education will soon see the value of Software Freedom.

What Free Software is in regular use in your school?


If you are near Boston, Saturday the 21st of September is Software Freedom Day, and there will be a gathering of interested people at Cambridge College in Cambridge, just across the Charles River. I’m planning to go and enjoy the talks and hope to connect with many people I know as well as meet others I have not met before. Hope you can make it.

More information: http://libreplanet.org/wiki/Boston_Software_Freedom_Day

If you don’t live near Boston, look around. There’s probably a gathering planned near you. If you don’t see something, call up a few friends and stage an event yourself.

More information: http://softwarefreedomday.org/

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 openclipart.org where Frankes uploaded it. All the work at openclipart.org 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 openclipart.org 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 openclipart.org 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