Google + now has improved photo editing

Google+ Instant Upload is a great feature – in fact it’s a good enough reason on its own to use Google +. I used it every day on a recent three-week tour of the Peloponnese: whatever photos I took on my Android camera phone were automatically uploaded to my Google account whenever I connected to a wifi network. Since most accommodation now has free wifi, uploading the hundreds of photos I took was absolutely painless.

Where Google + has fallen short in the past has been the editing tools, which have been so limited that it’s usually necessary to move the photo first into a separate photo editing package. But Google has now added Picnik editing tools into the Google + photo library page. See the screenshot on the right for what’s available.

The Halloween menu doesn’t interest me, and the Effect menu is somewhat limited – I would probably still choose to add effects using Android software on my phone such as Vignette or Little Photo. But the Basic Edits menu provides a very useful set of tools to fix the commonest problems. For example, the rotate tool now has a free rotate option to straighten photos as well as simple 90° rotation.

Editing photos in Google + was previously very limited but the set of tools imported from Picnik make this a much more effective package now for managing photos.

 

Education reform: we need robust debate

BooksI strongly support the move to more open education and the need to critique the role that educational institutions play within society. But some of the debate seems to lack any real rigour.  For example, the UnCollege Manifesto seems well-intentioned but it doesn’t really present a strong argument. Take this recycled quote on its home page:

You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for a buck fifty in late charges at the public library. Will Hunting

Now admittedly this is a quote from a fictional character, but if this somehow represents the uncollege.org approach, it’s problematic. It seems to me there are two possible reasons someone might express such a bleak sentiment:

  • The university they have experienced was no better than a pile of books or a one-way stream of information. I’m reminded of a catch-phrase from the 1980’s when the early adopters of computers in schools were confronted by teachers who thought their jobs might be lost. The response? ‘Any teacher that can be replaced by a computer ought to be’. Likewise, if a university could be replaced by a pile of books it should be.
  • They are under a misapprehension about the nature of a university. In that case, perhaps universities are failing to communicate what they really do?

UnCollege makes a show of espousing a radical approach: ‘join the learning revolution’ and ‘success … without setting foot inside a classroom’. But elsewhere the site belies this, such as the page on UnCollege’s two advisors which makes a point of highlighting their university qualifications. Proponents of ‘hacking’ the education system need to better acknowledge aspects of the education system, such as its role in awarding qualifications, if they want to have any real impact.

How to remove MyBlogLog tracking code from WordPress

Have you used MyBlogLog in the past to track readers of your WordPress blog? You probably either used a plugin to do the tracking, or perhaps a short snippet of code added to your theme. Although it’s preferable to use the plugin approach, sometimes adding the code was necessary in the past to avoid incompatibilities with other plugins.

Now that Yahoo’s MyBlogLog is no more, you should disable the tracking, no matter which approach you used. If you don’t, your WordPress site is likely to slow down alarmingly, driving away readers. Note that since the tracking code is not normally included in admin pages, the poor performance may only be apparent when viewing the blog, not when using the dashboard.

If you used a plugin, uninstalling the MyBlogLog tracking plugin in the normal way through the dashboard should be straightforward.

If your WordPress site used the code approach to MyBlogLog tracking, you will need to manually edit the theme files to remove the code. Here’s what I did to remove the tracking code:

  1. Take a backup of your site :-)
  2. In the dashboard, click on Appearance > Editor in the left sidebar
  3. Choose the Header file (header.php) in the list of files in the right sidebar
  4. Scroll down until you find the tag. Just below that you will probably see the tracking code as highlighted in the sample below:
  5. Delete the highlighted text – ie all the text between and including the script tags. (Note that the id code will be different from that shown. Also, the code may have been inserted in a different file – if you can’t find it in header.php, you will need to browse the theme files to find it.)
  6. When you are confident you have made an accurate edit without deleting any other code, save your changes.

Disclaimer: since every site is different, I make no guarantee that this will work for your site. This is what worked for me. Remember that manually editing theme files is risky, so make sure you have a back up first and be very careful if you are not familiar with this process!

Zapd: fast and easy websites

Zapd Screenshot
Teachers and students often need a fast and easy way to create a simple website to share text and photos. A full-featured blog can seem too complex or unwieldy for some situations. Zapd is an app for iPhone, iPod touch or iPad which has a limited set of features but which makes it really easy and fast to create a good looking site.

Once you’ve download the app and set up your profile, you can quickly create a new site using one of the supplied themes. The themes are generally clean and clear and can be changed at any time. Then it’s just a matter of adding content – note from the screen shot that there are only 3 content types available: text, photo or link. Content items are normally added to the bottom or top of the page, but you can drag the items to re-order them.

Each site created in Zapd has a unique and short URL – my test site is located at http://59x.zapd.co. It took me about 10 minutes to make my simple online portfolio of photographs – that is, about 1 minute to add the photos and text, and the rest of the time playing with the themes :-) Fun.

The bottom line

Why use Zapd? I do like the flexibility and much greater feature set of Tumblr, but I would recommend Zapd to any teachers who want an entry-level tool for creating simple sites. It lowers the barriers to creating online content for both teachers and students.

Android for Teachers: easy APA referencing

QuickCite is a simple app which uses your android phone’s camera to scan a barcode from the back of a book. The app then looks up the barcode in an online database and emails you a reference to the book in a standard format.

What I like about QuickCite

  • The app is generally fast to scan the barcode and return a result.
  • The app seems mostly reliable in returning a result for non-fiction books.
  • QuickCite is very simple and it’s easy to set set up. On the configuration screen you enter your email address and select one of the four available formats: APA, MLA, Chicago, and IEEE.

What I don’t like about QuickCite

  • QuickCite is not so good at returning a result for fiction books. If you need to create APA references for lots of novels, you might be disappointed.
  • The app doesn’t always behave as you’d expect of an Android app – eg the back button on your phone does not work when a scan is completed.
  • The only option for sharing the reference is via email – one of the strengths of Android is the ability to easily share content with social networks tools or cloud services.
  • The only option is to receive each reference as a separate email. A much better option would be for the app to save each reference into a file which you can then send via email at the end of a scanning session.

Overall, the QuickCite app seems a little unfinished for a paid app, and it doesn’t appear to have been updated since its initial release. But if all you need is a simple app that scans a single book and emails you the reference, it could be for you.