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January 29, 2007

SQL join

What does it mean when SQLite database does not perform Right Outer Joins and Full Outer Joins? Is this important for me to consider when I want to eliminate two fields from the new entry form in my tracker? Wikipedia knows all about SQL joins.  Most of my queris require support for Inner Joins.  SQLite will work.  My next question - which SQLite manager should I pick?  There is a long list to choose from.

January 25, 2007

Quality Fair keynote

UMN Quality Fair today had Doug Lennick for a keynote speaker.  Here is what I took away from the keynote. 
There are four principles that are important to the sustained personal success:

  1. Compassion
  2. Responsibility
  3. Integrity
  4. Forgiveness

 A personal action plan for change includes these steps:

  1. Have a goal
  2. Have a plan
  3. Implement your plan
  4. Control your direction
  5. Throw off discouragement

Here are some links related to the keynote:
Emotional Intelligence Consortium
Lennick Aberman Group
Books:  "How to get what you want and remain true to yourself" by Doug Lennick and Roy Geer
Moral Intelligence: Enhancing Business Performance and Leadership Success by Doug Lennick and Fred Kiel
 

January 18, 2007

Why is Portable Thunderbird cool?

My job takes me around campus often not knowing where I will have to spend the extra half an hour between meetings. Logging a laptop around works, but gets heavy after a while. I found that I can leave the laptop behind, just bring a flash memory drive, and use the public computer labs. Since a lot the work I do happens via email, I need to be able to access my email reliably with the familiar interface and search functionality. This is where Portable Thunderbird comes in.

Portable Thunderbird allows you to connect to your email from the flash memory drive. Portable Thunderbird - don't leave home without it!

January 17, 2007

Roundup and RSS

We use Roundup tracker to track issues which is working out great. Roundup is primarily used by coders for bug tracking but it can be used to track all sorts of things.  In our case we use it to track customer requests.  Today I was looking into adding RSS feed to a Roundup tracker.  The code for this is already created as is handily documented by Michael Twomey.  There is even two ways to do it.  I  tried out the second path of creating a  template based .xml file. 

I did not succeed in my  creation of the RSS feed unfortunately.  I am not quite sure why.  Yet, in the process I learned something else.  It dawned on me that even if the RSS feed functionality would work, I would not be able to get information into the feed as our Roundup issues are password protected.  Most bug trackers are public and allow public to view the entries.  I modified our tracker to be private for the internal use only.  As such I effectively ruled out the creation of RSS feeds from it.

Why is Picasa so cool?

Ok, writing about Picasa photo editing software under "Work Related" is a bit of a stretch.  But perhaps not too big of a stretch.  Picasa is a photo indexing, editing and uploading software that many could use to simplify their image collection management.  

I downloaded and installed Picasa mostly out of curiosity.  What I found though, was a pleasant surprise.  Here are some things that make it a great application.

  • Picasa finds all images on your computer and makes them available in an easy to browse interface.   I had a problem of knowing where my images are.  I had stored them on my computers hard drive, then backed them up to an external drive. I had created many folder for my images, but I wasn't sure where I have what.  Upon launching Picasa for the first time it asks if I want to scan my computer for images.  Once you select yes, it find all the pictures and brings them into Picasa interface.  The default interface displays your images in their respective folders in a time line.  All images can be scrolled.  Images are presented with a large thumbnail that makes them easy to recognize. 
  • You can upload your images from Picasa to Google's web albums.  There you are given 250 MB of free space and more space upon paying a yearly fee.  What impressed me here about Picasa is how simple it is to upload photos and to share them someone.  There are two options for sharing your photos.  Both options would display your images publicly.  One option is to list your images under an easy to read directory.  This would make finding images simple.  The other option creates a unique code behind the URL of the listing that cannot be guessed which is only available to the account owner.  The owner can then copy this "private" link and provide it to those whom they trust.  Unlike many other online photo services the person with whom you share your images doesn't have to have web albums account in order to see your pictures.
  • Anyone can buy pictures from Google's web albums.  A person can select from two print providers and use their service to order prints.
  • Picasa allows you to create albums with your images.
  • You can easily edit, create a presentation and create a collage with Picasa.
  • You can easily include a images in Google's blogger from inside Picasa.
  • Picasa is available with an Estonian language menu!
The biggest advantage of Picasa for me was finding all my pictures and making sense out of them.

More on Moodle blog

Again, I had a need to look at Moodle blog as I had done in my last post. This time my scenario is different. I am working on creating community portal prototype site for UMN international students (https://moodle.umn.edu/course/view.php?id=413) . If you are interested in looking at the course, please send me an email tmikk@umn.edu .

I envision that there is a designated publisher for this site whose role is to involve other students in discussions, create new activities, and publish a blog. Ideally this publisher would be an international student.  Publishing a blog would be one of the ways in which energy could be created in the site. I imagine that other students may be interested in what goes on in another student's daily life.

I want this blog to be created in Moodle to keep the entire site self contained. For this I had to figure out a few things first. In order to add a blog to the course you need to add a blog block. One would expect that there is a blog activity in Moodle, but there is not.  This makes sense since blogs in Moodle are not related to the course, but instead are site wide or public. Once I had added a blog block to the site, I was able to create new blog entries. All is well and good, but how will these blog entries show up on the site?

I figured out that in order to do this, I need to first add a external RSS feed block to the site and then grab the RSS feed from my blog entries. Adding an RSS block was easy enough. Testing with Yahoo word of the day RSS feed worked seamlessly as well. But how do I find the RSS feed for my entries? This too was not too difficult. I clicked on "view, edit my blog entries" inside the blog block and was taken to the page with my blog entries. There I noticed an RSS button. I copied the link location and used it in my RSS block. Once, I added the RSS feed, I also configured my RSS block to include this feed to be displayed.

After all was done I fully expected my blog post to show up on the course site, but no luck. I posted to the Moodle support forum asking if this Moodle blog RSS feature was really working. A few days later I learned that RSS is not working currently in Moodle blogs.

I hope that this will be available in a future as my scenario, I think, for using Moodle blogs in this way is quite common.

Moodle 1.6 blog

I needed to figure out how blogs work in Moodle http://moodle.org. An instructor asked me how would be best to have students work on an assignment, then submit their assignment for grade, and later post comments about each other's work. My initial thought was that assignments could be submitted with the Assignment activity. Then an instructor could grade them and later make them available in the instructor's blog for commenting. Looking into this more, I found that this would not work well.

There are two main reason's blog's are tricky to use in Moodle:

  • You cannot limit access to the Blog based solely on the class. Access could be limited site wide, essentially University wide, or entries could be made public.
  • Moodle blogs currently do not allow commenting.

There is a long discussion on Moodle blogs that were introduced into Moodle with version 6 here: http://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=44830 (you will need to have registered at the Moodle site to read this discussion) and http://docs.moodle.org/en/Blogs_and_forums . The primary concern with adding commenting to Moodle blogs was that with commenting Moodle blogs would be too much like discussion forums. Then the question becomes on how to have a blog well integrated into Moodle that does not take away from features that blogs provide (commenting being one of the main ones).

Now that have learned that I cannot use blogs for this purpose, I am going to recommend using a discussion forum for letting students comment on each others' work. This should work OK as forum is limited to a class and allows commenting. An instructor can make an initial entry by posting a student's work and then ask other students to discuss it.

An alternative to using a forum would be to use a wiki. I considered this, but saw two challenges with that. Wikis require students to become used to a new syntax which can be a little too big of a burden for simply commenting. Instructor and students would have to agree on the format of the wiki and adhere to this format throughout the creation of the document.