Archive for Software/desktop

Marking Imported School Calendar Dates as “Free”

For many school administrators, the start of August means that it’s time to prepare for the new school year in earnest. One practical, though vexing annual task is to reconcile one’s personal and school calendars for the year. I like my personal calendar to include the school’s key dates, so that I don’t accidentally schedule meetings opposite key school events. However, our school uses Microsoft Outlook, which is notoriously challenged at reconciling multiple calendars in a useful way. If you use Google Calendar or Apple’s Calendar app, you may be able to just subscribe to your school’s calendar events.

Imported calendar files typically show all events as “busy,” making it difficult for others to accurately see when I am free for meetings. For example, if I import “blue day” into my calendar to note the school schedule, I shouldn’t look booked all day! With a small technical change, I can import all school events into my calendar as “free” and then mark the ones I want as busy.

1. Download your school’s calendar to an ICS file. In the example below, I changed “webcal://” to “http://” in order to download the content in a file.

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2. Open the ICS file in your favorite text editor.

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3. Insert “TRANSP:TRANSPARENT” into all VEVENT entries. To do this, I replaced all occurrences of “END:VEVENT” with “TRANSP:TRANSPARENT” + new line + “END:VEVENT.”

TRANSP:TRANSPARENT
END:VEVENT

 

4. Check time zone compatibility. For example, my calendar file used “TZID=America/Los_Angeles,” but Outlook only recognizes “Pacific Time (U.S. & Canada).”

5. Test import: make a copy of the ICS file, delete everything after the first week of calendar appointments, and then import the test ICS file into your calendar application. Check for errors and make additional adjustments to the full ICS file as needed.

6. Import the full ICS file into your calendar application, inspect the results, and mark selected items as “busy.” I used Outlook for Windows to conduct the import.

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Dragon Box: Learn Algebra In a Visual Game

A few weeks ago, Wired published an article about a University of Washington professor’s experiment with algebra learning using an app called Dragon Box. Developed by a Norwegian company, the app comes in two versions, one for ages 5+ and the other for ages 12+. I bought both apps and invited our eight year-old to try them out.

Try them out he did! Perhaps not unusually for a boy his age, he completed the activities in the first app within three hours and moved on to the second app. After an additional three hours on Sunday, he announced that he had “finished” the ages 12+ app as well. Not so fast! Dragon Box invited him to “Side B,” which apparently provides about a hundred practice problems, still in the interactive environment, in traditional categories of pre-algebra and algebra problems. He still has plenty to do.

Indeed, the apps are very engaging. They provide a fun, exploration-based learning environment through which our son progressed when he correctly applied algebraic principles. Instruction was minimal. The app explained a few simple rules at the start of each set of challenges, using very simple, non-math language. Our son swiped and tapped his way through simplifying equations and solving for the unknown. Gradually, a few additional rules and more complex problems are presented until the player is multiplying by common denominators and solving complicated equations.

Ingeniously, the app starts with a sparkling box to represent an unknown variable, fantasy animals to represent numeric values, and a bar dividing right from left to represent equivalency. As one completes levels, eventually the box becomes x, the animals become numbers, the bar becomes an equal sign, and additional operands appear. The solution methods stay the same. The game is entirely faithful to the mathematical principles. Knowledge and skills learned transfer into solutions for algebraic equations.

Additional information:

We Want To Know (the Norwegian company)

Dragon Box (the apps, $6 and $10 for iOS, other mobile and desktop versions available)

Center for Game Science (University of Washington)

Kids Like to Learn Algebra, if It Comes in the Right App” (Wired)

DragonBox: Algebra Beats Angry Birds (Wired, detailed app info)

 

iTunes Match

iTunes Match is a paid service that, in my opinion, is very worthwhile althoug it flies under the radar. For $25 a year, Apple will host your personal iTunes music collection on their servers, irrespective of whether you purchased the music through them. I uploaded my entire music collection, nearly all imported from CDs, and now all of my songs and playlists are available on my work computer, phone, and tablet. Music used to use up the most storage space on these devices. Now, I have bought less storage in all of my new mobile devices: 16GB iPhone, 16GB iPad, and 256GB MacBook Air.