Archive for the 'Gadget' Category

Ultra mobile, ultra cheap - Netbooks

I’m returning to university and wonder if you could recommend a gadget for note taking? I’d like to use my MacBook - typing would be easier than writing - but I’m not sure it would be practical. Is there a device designed for note taking?

Guardian Gadget Clinic, 23rd August 2008

This question appeared in the Guardian Gadget Clinic recently and the recommendation by Bobbie Johnson was to stick with the MacBook because of it’s larger keyboard and screen or alternatively go for a low cost PDA or a smartphone. An alternative family of devices not mentioned in the article are Netbooks.

These devices are defined by Wikipedia as “small-sized, low-cost, light weight, lean function subnotebooks optimized for Internet access and core computing functions (e.g. word processing)”. The first modern Netbook* hit the UK market in November 2007 was the ASUS eeePC 701. I was fortunate to be one of the first to hand over £230 and get my hands on a 701 and it has been close to my side ever since. So 10 months on if I was looking for a Netbook what would I be looking for?

Operating system - go for Windows

The majority of Netbooks have the option of Linux or Windows operating systems. When I got the 701 the only option was Linux which for me was a great opportunity to learn a new operating system. I’ve found that Linux does need a lot of behind the scenes tweaking to get it to work with some wireless networks and Bluetooth devices.  My advice would be either to buy with Windows or go for the cheaper Linux version and install Windows (if your campus agreement allows it).

Connectivity - wireless + Bluetooth


There are a number of manufacturers making very small Bluetooth adapters

The majority of Netbooks come with your standard wireless 801.1b/g connection. Having a Ethernet connection has come in handy when in the office. Built-in Bluetooth is a bonus but if it doesn’t come as standard you can get a small plug-in dongle for less than £10. For a data connection when your in a wireless blackspot you can use a USB modem dongle. The latest Netbooks are now including built-in sim cards to give you a data connection over 3G networks. Personally, I don’t like the idea of been locked into a contract  and the monthly tariffs still seem very high. My solution is to share the data connection on my mobile phone. Windows Mobile 6 is particularly good at sharing an Internet connection via Bluetooth. Here are other ways to connect to the Internet via a mobile phone (I personally use a PAYG account with the ’3′ network who have a £5/month fair-use Internet add-on).

Screen resolution - at least 1024×600

As the majority of web pages are designed for a screen width of 1024 pixels I would recommend that this is the minimum resolution you should go for (Note: there is a difference between screen resolution and viewable image size. It’s possible to have a small screen with a high resolution, so check the devices specification). Screen height is often an issue with Netbooks because of the widescreen format. Space can also be quickly eaten up by toolbars and drop down menus. In Firefox this can be overcome with carefully selected themes and add-ons. I recommend Compact Classic theme and Glazoom zoom extension.

Storage - 8Gb SSD

If you are prepared to do some windows maintenance, removing temporary files, 8Gb is enough to install windows and office applications. I would recommend going for a solid state drive (SSD) because it has no moving parts which should make it more reliable.

Size - keep it compact (225x165mm)

If you have nimble typing fingers I find a width of 225mm is the most you need for a decent size keyboard. I recently got a chance to see some of the new Netbooks from HP and Acer and felt that there portability was compromised by a larger keyboard.

Cost - less than £250

I don’t see a Netbook as a replacement for my home PC or laptop, but as a device I’m happy to chuck in my bag for when I’m out and about. Consequently, its a device I don’t want to spend too much money on. My original attraction to the ASUS eeePC 701 was its portability but it was it’s price which made it a justifiable purchase.

Which Netbook would I buy?

So if I was going to buy a Netbook today which one would I buy (new Netbooks are being announced regulatly so the list will quickly become obsolete).

  • ASUS eeePC 701 - Screen too small and not enough disk space.
  • ASUS eeePC 900 - Enough screen resolution, disk space and a similar compact form of the 701. At around £260 I might be tempted but the batery life is supposed to be poor.
  • ASUS eeePC 901 - Again similar compact form of the 701 and 900. More performance from the Intel Atom processor and integrated Bluetooth. This issue for me with the 901 is price.
  • Acer Aspire One - This ticks all the boxes and with a Linux version with 12Gb SSD you can pick one up for £200. I was almost tempted to buy as a replacement to my 701 but when I went to see it in the shop it immedaitely looked too bulky for me.
  • MSI Wind - It has a 10″ screen but the maximum resolution is only 1024×600. The bigger screen just adds bulk and drains the battery quicker.
  • HP Mininote - While having a 8.9″ screen it boasts a screen resolution of 1280 X 768. At 1.3kg its too heavy and bulky for me. Your also paying a premium for the HP branding.
  • Elonex One - Hmm, at £100 the price makes it very appealing but the screen is too small and the spec reflects the price. One of the worst keybaords I’ve ever used. Not for me.
  • Dell Inspiron Mini - Released 2 days ago. Currently Dell are only offering the higher spec Windows XP version with 1Gb RAM at £300. Potentially this device has everting I want but the price isn’t right yet.

In summary my ideal Netbook isn’t available for the right price yet but I’m sure with such a competive market I may be retiring my 701 soon (possibly for the Dell Mini).

250 OpenCourseWare (OCW) and Open Educational Resources (OER) sites searched from 1 page

I came across this post by Zaid Ali Alsagoff the other day. Basically Zaid has compiled a list of almost 250 repositories containing free OpenCourseWare and Open Educational Resources. The list is billed as being for higher education including OCWs from MIT and OU’s OpenLearn, but there are plenty of resources which would be suitable for FE and schools (e.g. Jorum, Intute, TeacherTube, HowStuffWorks).

Tony Hirst had the brilliant idea of making the list of repositories searchable by creating a Google custom search (basically instead of individually searching 250 sites you can search them all from Tony’s custom Google search page). This has now evolved to Scott Leslie’s version which contains a wiki for people to add more OER/OCW links to another Google custom search.

This is definitely a great resource for staff and students!!!

Generating charts from accessible data tables using the Google Charts API

I was recently looking for an accessible way to generate chart data when I came across Chris Heilmann example for Generating charts from accessible data tables and vice versa using the Google Charts API. One of the limitations of Chris’s solution was it only generated pie charts. Having some time to kill over the weekend I’ve made some additions to Chris’s original script. The biggest change has been the inclusion of line charts.

The changes are probably best illustrated by this demo page. On this page I’ve copied Chris’s original pie charts and included the new charts generated by the script. Most of the changes reflect suggestions from the comments on Chris’s blog (i.e. alt tag [Ben  Millard], fixed 3 digit limit [Robin Winslow]).

The big addition has been the inclusion of support for line charts. This uses the same principle of reading data from a table but unlike the original script which only read the first two columns the new script now reads in the entire table. Table headings are read as the data legends and the y-axis automatically scales to fit the entire data range (so far I’ve only got it working for absolute numbers).

One feature I’ve removed from Chris’s original script is the function to create a table from a chart.

You can download the script with the demo page and have a play around yourself. If anyone else is interested in developing this further leave a comment.

[I should also point out that I'm a 'hack' programmer so if anyone would like to tidy up my revised code please feel free].

About

This blog is authored by Martin Hawksey e-Learning Advisor (Higher Education) at the JISC RSC Scotland N&E.

mhawksey [at] rsc-ne-scotland.ac.uk | 0131 559 4112 | @mhawksey

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