12 Jun

Geany on the computer

Having great tools to work with makes any activity more enjoyable. Recently, I discovered Geany, a text editor “with basic features of an integrated development environment” in my search for an editor that does syntax highlighting for reStructuredText documents.

On Ubuntu Maverick, I had syntax highlighting for gedit, but that doesn’t work anymore under Ubuntu Precise, and I haven’t found a way to make it work yet. As I don’t want to use Vim (its great for basic stuff, but I don’t want to write entire documents in it), which would be another alternative, I hunted the web further until I came around to Geany.

Granted, Geany can’t do syntax highlighting either, but it does understand rST besides a whole host of other markup and programming languages. That’s why I am sticking to this software for the time being because it is one step up from other editors I’ve seen.

Here’s what a typical Geany window looks like.

Geany editor window

Geany editor window

Selecting the correct language is easy: Go to Document → Set filetype → Choose your filetype.

You see the text document on the right-hand side and the structure of the document according to the headings on the left-hand side if Geany knows your markup or programming language. That makes jumping between sections in a large document very handy. All you have to do to get this “Symbol list” is to go to Edit → Preferences → Interface → Select “Show symbol list”.

Then Geany also highlights the line of text that you are currently editing / where the cursor is located. This is quite nice when you switch between documents and might have a longer one open where you want to find your position quickly.

Since I write text that can consist of longish paragraphs, line wrapping is quite important. I can’t have hard line breaks because they would show up in the user manual I am writing and compiling with Sphinx. However, always having to scroll horizontally would be a nightmare. In the beginning I just went to the menu item and set the line wrapping manually all the time, but got annoyed by this rather quickly because I had to do it every time I opened a document.

Thus, I went in search of a system preference because I thought that this should exist. And lucky me, there it was: Edit → Preferences → Editor → Select “Line wrapping”. While there, I also enabled the settings to get rid of trailing whitespace and will see how that turns out.

So altogether, it’s been a good experience with Geany so far, and I have only scratched the surface of functionalities included in the software. I hope that syntax highlighting for rST files will be added at some point. It is already on the wishlist to add support for Vim language files which should also solve the problem.

I like my Geany on the computer.

Genie from the bottle; CC BY-ND licensed by Loren Javier

Genie from the bottle; CC BY-ND licensed by Loren Javier

21 Oct

KohaCon10 – 4 days before the conference

KohaCon10 is finally coming closer and closer. We’ll be kicking off this free community conference on Monday, October 25, 2010. It is totally exciting because it is the first conference that I am on the organizing committee (though I stepped in late as I had only moved to Wellington in June) since the DGFF conference in Munich in 2005.

What’s it all about? The conference centers around Koha, the open source integrated library management system that was born in New Zealand 10 years ago. We have an entire week filled with presentations, an excursion to Koha’s birthplace in Levin, and a Hackfest. Yes, that is 7 days of Koha starting on Labour Day on Monday and finishing on Sunday.

Some conference participants arrived early and take a road trip from Auckland to Wellington to enjoy the sights of New Zealand and have more time to chat and cement the bonds they have formed over the years in the community.

We in Wellington are gearing up the preparations and see the light at the tunnel (I think). We will pack the conference bags for the 110 registered users tomorrow, the name tags are printed, our tech gear is gathered, audio and video equipment will be set up on Sunday.

As KohaCon10 is all about Koha, we will be using the software to register participants at the conference site. Everybody will have a QR code on their name tag that we scan with the Android App “Webscan“, that Reed developed. Every participant is an item in our conference catalogue site. If they allow us to publish their email address to other participants, they become a different item in the catalogue (we still have to test how to do that quickly during registration).

And of course, participants can scan the QR codes themselves and get the email addresses on their phones that way.

Now I better stop my enthused ramblings, finish some work, get some sleep, and continue the preparations tomorrow.

16 May

Aperture 3: First impressions

Some weeks ago I decided to purchase Aperture 3 after a long time of non-decision due to bad reviews of Aperture crashing, eating photos and databases etc. Lucky for me, I had no problems importing my Aperture 2 database and photos and everything went smoothly.

I updated to Aperture 3 not necessarily to be up-to-date with the latest software, but to take advantage of some of its features. The ones very high on my list were:

  • geotagging
  • face recognition
  • Flickr uploader

Geotagging

Up until this update, I have hardly ever geotagged my photos as the process was a bit cumbersome with an external software. It did work well, but was just not easy for the workflow. Now with “Places”, a browser view in Aperture that shows where your photos are on a map, geotagging became easy as pie. Of course, having the GPS coordinates committed to the metadata immediately upon taking the photograph would be even better, but I do not have that luxury. Thus, I go for the second best option: tagging manually.

Places works very well and you can easily see which photos you have already geotagged as they have a little red pin in the Places view.

Aperture 3: Places mode

Aperture 3: Places mode

Face recognition

At first I thought I would be finished with tagging the faces in my pictures very quickly as I hardly ever take photos with people in them (how wrong could I be?). Once I fired up the Faces browser mode, Aperture told me that it found over 10,000 (!) faces in my photos. First, I thought: Yeah, right. But then, when I saw some of the faces, it dawned on me that I indeed had a lot of photos with people in them. I just did not upload them onto Flickr. As I tend to document events like special seminars or conferences that we had organized, by default, these pictures featured mostly people.

So it took me a long while to sift through all my faces and label those that I wanted to have in my Faces browser and reject all others. As I rejected the majority of faces, Aperture was not so good in “learning faces”, but that was fine by me.

Faces is actually nothing more than a special tag for a photo with the name of the person’s face. I could have achieved something similar by tagging the photo with the name in the keyword field. However, then the name would show up as regular tag everywhere. In photos with a number of people in them, I would still not know who was who. The Faces tagging resolves that problem. In addition, I can quickly see how many photos I have of a certain person, and I only see their face in a close-up and not the entire photo. This is especially great for photos of small children. You can see their development in seconds by flipping through these close-ups.

Flickr uploader

I had hoped that the Flickr uploader that was incorporated would be FlickrExport 3 for Aperture or something similar. However, I got disappointed. The Flickr uploader merely takes photos that you have selected and creates a new album on Flickr for them. That is nice for people who start out with Flickr after purchasing Aperture, but not for all others who already have Flickr albums. The Flickr option in Aperture does not allow you to view your already existing Flickr albums and add photos to them. I learned that the hard way as I tried to upload a photo to one of my albums and another one with the same name was created in Aperture AND Flickr. In the heat of the moment, I moved the image to the already existing album and deleted the newly created one on Flickr. But alas, the album still existed in Aperture. And I can’t delete the album there. That is the only time when Aperture actually freezes me out.

Aperture still needs to do quite a bit of work on this Flickr uploader. Meanwhile, I use FlickrExport which works like a charm and does not give me headaches. 🙂

14 Mar

Recap of the TAO Days 2010

On Wednesday and Thursday, March 10-11, 2010, I witnessed my first software launch. After 8 years of development and already substantial use, TAO, an open source computer-based assessment (CBA) platform was officially launched. The development of this online assessment tool started as a partnership of the Research Unit EMACS of the University of Luxembourg and the CITI department of the Centre de Recherche Public Henri Tudor in Luxembourg in 2002.

TAO

The two days were filled with presentations about CBA in general, the partnership, the history of the development of TAO, and its use in international assessments such as PISA and PIAAC. Although TAO was not officially released as open source software until now, it has already been in use for some time now testing it thoroughly and improving it constantly.

Besides presentations, there were user and developer sessions dealing with all aspects of getting to know TAO. The workshops ranged from setting up TAO on a server to creating test items and running the tests. Thus, we could gain first-hand experience of the software.

TAO is being developed as a versatile and generic solution for CBA instead of being geared towards a very specific test. The aim was and is to create a system that can accommodate as many CBA tests as possible allowing also for the exchange of tests among the TAO users.

The launch did not only kick off version 1.0 of TAO, but also marked the beginning of the user and developer community for this open source system. The developers know that this official start is not the end of their work but the beginning of a more public development to improve the software.

In the user workshops which I attended we learned how to set up users, test takers, tests, test items, and the delivery of the test. I was very impressed by the possibilities of TAO, but also saw that there is a lot of work to be done in regard to usability. Being used to a great number of easy-to-use social media, some of the steps I had to take in the TAO system seemed not necessary and sometimes even annoying. However, I also learned that the usability guys and gals had not taken up their work until a few months ago and are working hard to make the software more user friendly.

During the final round of presentations, William Thorn, senior analyst with the OECD, brought the metaphor of haute couture vs. prêt-à-porter into the discussion. This metaphor was taken up by Marilyn Binkley and Romain Martin (both University of Luxembourg). Haute Couture was seen as where creativity goes on, where new developments are brought about to further CBA. At the same time it also signifies developments that have not yet been thoroughly tested and that cannot be applied everywhere, e.g. for technical reasons. On the other hand, prêt-à-porter assessment is well-tested, easier to administer, immediately usable. However, that does not necessarily mean paper-and-pencil tests, but can also be CBA. In contrast to haute couture CBA, it would only have little added value to paper-and-pencil tests. Just having multiple choice items on a computer screen instead of on paper is not very innovative. Like with elearning activities, the real added value must be something else, e.g. the use of multimedia, new forms of test items etc.

Altogether between 80 and 100 people attended this two-day event at the Abbaye de Neumünster in Luxembourg City. There were plenty of opportunities for discussions in the workshops and the breaks where developers, users and potential users mingled. The TAO Days were very well organized by the TAO team and also included a Walking Dinner for a selected number of guests (photos).

The coming months will show how quickly the word can spread about TAO and hopefully get the community to a good start.

18 Oct

A little help from…

It’s been some time since I wanted to write about my little computer helpers. Thus, without further ado I present (in alphabetical order):

Caffeine

During a seminar my colleague Bob Reuter and I gave, he switched on this little program to avoid having his Mac fall asleep. As I had 15 3-hour workshops during the past month, I came to value Caffeine. Previously, I had to make sure that my screensaver was disabled or the computer screen didn’t go into sleep mode (which I frequently forgot). Now I just activate Caffeine and the screen stays on and on and on, and the projector does not have to look for its input source or switches off entirely.

Evernote

Well, this is actually not just a little helper, but a big one. Many people have already written about Evernote lately, e.g. also Alan Levine in “More than notes in Evernote”. You can copy text from a website, use the browser plugin to convert it into a note for which the source URL is saved immediately, you can tag the note and put it into a folder in Evernote. The great thing is that you can sync your notes with the Evernote server and get all your stuff on the iPhone as well.

I usually use Evernote to take notes during an online event or while reading a text. Occasionally, I send a tweet to my Evernote account for save keeping or take a photo if I don’t want to copy the text.

Currently, a bit of a bummer are two things for me, but I guess, the Evernote team will get to them some time:

  • You cannot edit a note on the iPhone when it includes rich text like bullet points, bold, italics etc.
  • Shared notebooks don’t show up under “Notebooks”. You have to hunt for them.

Jumpcut

This little software is marvelous. As I do a lot of “copy & paste”, I depend on Jumpcut a lot. I can copy as much as I want (currently, I let the program remember 40 copied items), and then start pasting the text where I want to have it. Beware: as every text is copied, if you copy passwords, they also appear in the history. However, you can always clear the history.

Skitch

It is already easy to take screenshots on a Mac with the built-in snapshot functionality, but Skitch has some added value.

  • You can decide where you want to have your screenshots saved -> no more moving of files to the final folder.
  • The file format can be changed for each image.
  • The files can get individual names after grabbing (a portion of) the screen.
  • You can drag & drop your images wherever you need them.
  • The images you saved on the computer are also placed in a history from where they can be recalled for further editing later on.
  • You can add text, shapes, arrows etc. to your image before saving it.
  • The image can be saved on your computer, the Skitch server, MobileMe, FTP, WebDAV or flickr account.
  • You can take timed snapshots. They are particularly necessary when you want to show a dropdown menu.

Except for Evernote, my little helpers are exclusively for Mac.