Archive for the ‘Windows Education’ Category

What Language is That

Friday, October 28th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of Polyglot 3000

Has this happened to you? You're walking down the street, minding your own business, when all of a sudden somebody jumps out of a dark alley and shoves a sheet of paper into your hand. You look down and see there's text on it, but you don't recognize the language it's written in. How are you going to figure it out?

Polyglot 3000 is a tool that can take a chunk of text—a page, a paragraph, or maybe even just a single word or two—and tell you which language it's written in. It can recognize nearly 500 different languages and dialects, so your text is probably on their list. European languages, Asian languages, African languages, Native American languages, and more—they're all there; even Esperanto, if you're so inclined (sorry, no Klingon). To speed things up, you can set this app to check only for "popular" languages, or do dive deep and check against the whole database.

Polyglot 3000 is a free download for Windows. And no, I've never had anybody shove a piece of paper like that into my hand either.

Download Polyglot 3000

Check Your Carbon Footprint

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of Carbon Footprint

How big an impact do you make on the environment? Lots of communities encourage recycling, and there are many popular cars that get great gas mileage or are hybrids. But when all is said and done, there are still probably improvements that you could make to lessen the effect you have on Mother Earth. Carbon Footprint is a tool that could help you gain insight into how well you're doing.

By answering questions about how you live your life—miles you drive in a year, the average mileage of your car, energy consumption at home, even how much locally-produced food you consume—this tool helps you to calculate just how many tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) you generate in a year. Once you see how much you're responsible for, and which activities in your life generate it, you're better armed to try to reduce your impact on the planet, which will save you money as well as helping the environment.

Carbon Footprint is a free download. It's a Windows application.

Download Carbon Footprint

A new look for your old ancestors

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of PhpGedView

If you're into the whole genealogy thing, you've probably got piles of old documents, maybe a bunch of photos, and an inbox full of email sent by Cousin Susie and Uncle Fred. If you're totally old school, you've also got a bunch of forms and pieces of paper with notes and arrows scrawled across them, trying to keep track of who's related to whom, and how. Or maybe you're more high-tech than that and you're running some desktop app to try to make sense of it all. Once you get it all figured out and realize that Aunt Rose is also your second cousin, the only way to share all your hard work with everybody else is to once again print it all out, and hope it makes sense. Well, it turns out that your cousins have been doing the same work you have, so there's a huge duplication of effort out there. And maybe they found some important fact you missed, or vice versa. It would be nice if there were a collaborative way to work on this family tree stuff.

PhpGedView is an app that does exactly that. While you could probably run it on your desktop, it's really designed to be installed on a server out there where multiple folks can get at it at the same time. You can enter what you've found out, while other family members can add their information to it. When you're done, you've got the benefit of everybody's expertise and information, and it's easy for even non-contributors to see what you've put together, because the whole thing lives on the web. Realizing that there's some pretty personal stuff in there, security settings are a big part of this app. You can decide who gets to see what, and who can edit which kind of data. You can also add media files, like photos, voice recordings, and all to flesh your data out.

PhpGedView is a free download. To run it, you'll need a web server running PHP 5.2 or better, and a database like MySQL 3.23 or newer.

Download PhpGedView

Upgrade your sight singing skills

Friday, October 7th, 2011

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of GNU Solfege

On the piano, when you plunk the key that plays Middle C, you get Middle C. There's really not a lot you can do to mess that up—it's not going to be sharp or flat, it's just going to sound that note. With many other instruments, there is a similar expectation: on your trumpet, a given fingering will give you a particular pitch, allowing for overtones, adequate breath support, and all that. Instruments like the trombone and violin require paying perhaps even closer attention, as you really have nothing but the sound itself to go on—there's no valve or key combination that "guarantees" a given pitch. And when it comes to the human voice, all bets are off. You really have to hear what you're singing to be able to get along. Ear training is important to the singer, and one of the techniques often used to help improve singers' ears is solfège.

GNU Solfege is a tool to help you train your ear. Exercises help you to drill on hearing (and singing) intervals, chords, and scales. While it comes with a bunch of exercises, it's easy to add your own as well, letting you work on the particular skills you're trying to master. It also features extensive documentation, so you should be up and singing in no time.

GNU Solfege is available for Linux, Mac, and Windows platforms.

Download GNU Solfege

Fingerspelling Tutor

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of Fingerspelling Tutor

In this day of instantaneous electronic communication, it's sometimes easy to forget the importance of face to face conversation. We can take that ability to talk back and forth for granted, until issues arise that keep us from getting our message across to that other person. If you speak English but you're trying to talk to a Spanish speaker, you're going to have problems. Or what if one of you has a hearing issue? For years, many school teachers and Scout leaders have run units on fingerspelling, that most fundamental of ways to communicate with the deaf. Typically this has included diagrams that show how to form each of the letters, maybe even printed on a little card you could carry in your pocket, but for the most part, that's about as far as it has gone.

If you'd like to move on to the next level, Fingerspelling Tutor can help you learn and practice your fingerspelling. Rather than a series of static images, this tool uses animations to show not only what the individual characters look like, but how you move between letters as well. Along with learning how to form the signs for individual letters, you can also start putting them together to spell words. Then the Tutor moves you on to seeing words spelled, and gives you the chance to "read" what they say.

Fingerspelling Tutor is a free download. It runs under Windows.

Download Fingerspelling Tutor

Free typing tutor

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of Rapid Typing Tutor

Back in the day, you could take a dedicated typing class in your local high school or community college. Along with learning the various letter formats, you got to practice—a lot of practice—in the art of touch typing. Back then, it didn't seem very exciting, and not everybody took advantage of the opportunity.

Fast forward to today. Now everything we do requires that we interface with a keyboard of one type or another, yet actual dedicated typing—"keyboarding"—classes can be few and far between. You can only get so fast with the "hunt and peck" or "two finger" approaches to typing. If you think you might like to take advantage of learning a thing or two about good old fashioned two hands on the keyboard touch typing, you might want to check out the Rapid Typing Tutor.

This app includes several lessons designed to make you a whiz at the keyboard. You can also design your own lessons if you know areas you'd like to improve in. It automatically tracks your progress, so you can see how much better you're getting with repeated practice. It supports multiple users, tracking individual learning. And it's easy enough for kids (or non-tech savvy adults) to use.

Grab your copy of Rapid Typing Tutor for free. It runs on Windows systems.

Download Rapid Typing Tutor

Learn vocabulary and improve your spelling

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of VocabTest

So, how's your vocabulary? Would your life go any smoother, or be any more interesting, if you had more ways to express yourself? If not, then I guess you're dismissed; but if you'd like to work on that, the next question is how to go about it? Reading more newspapers and books would probably help, although that's not the most concentrated or efficient way to be exposed to new words in new contexts.

VocabTest is an application that can help you increase your vocabulary. Whether you're just trying to improve yourself, or you're working on a specific goal, like upping your SAT or GRE scores, or even learning English for the first time, it may just be the tool you're looking for. It comes pre-loaded with a bunch of words, but you can add your own as well. Testing comes in the form of multiple choice quizzes, or you can fill-in-the-blank, helping you with drilling on the spelling as well as meanings of the words themselves. You can track your success and keep working in areas where you're weaker.

You can grab your copy of VocabTest for free. It's a Windows application.

Download VocabTest

Language learning tool

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of EasyWords

It's hard to get along in the world if you can't communicate. Back in caveman days, a few grunts sufficed, but now that you're working with folks around the world, knowing more than a single language is going to make your life a whole lot easier. If you didn't have the foresight to pay attention in foreign language class in school, maybe it's time to catch up.

EasyWords is an application that can help you with learning a language, or with remembering at least some of what they threw at you in school. Just fire it up and it sits there in the System Tray, and every three minutes it will pop up a question for you about your target language. It comes with English, German, Turkish, and other languages already installed. Your responses can be in the form of fill-in-the-blank or multiple choice, whichever way works better for you. And it's smart enough not to waste time asking you what you already know; rather, it will drill you more on the stuff you mess up.

EasyWords is a free download. It's a Windows application, and requires version 3.5 of the .NET Framework.

Download EasyWords

Plant a virtual garden with VeggieSquares

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

runs on Windows
screenshot of VeggieSquares

Some hobbies you indulge in for the sheer joy of it. You're never going to get rich singing with the community choir, or collecting thimbles from World's Fairs. Sometimes, though, there is another benefit to be gained through a hobby. Gardening, for example, can give you a chance to play in the dirt and wonder at the miracle of life, but if you're growing veggies, you can also put some food on the table. Gardening can also be a family activity. Even the little ones can plant a seed and pull a weed.

VeggieSquares is an application that teaches kids about planting a vegetable garden. It's simple to drag little vegetables into the garden area. As you drop them in place, the app gives the user feedback about which plants work well together, and which might be better separated in the garden. And it's also a way to keep playing in the garden, even if there's an unexpected rainstorm that comes along.

VeggieSquares is a free download. It's a Windows app.

Download VeggieSquares

It's not your father's math class

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

runs as Online Serviceruns on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of GeoGebra

If you had a rough time with math in school, it may be because it all seemed just too abstract and because there really just wasn't any way you could gain hands-on experience in working with it. That means you probably didn't have access to GeoGebra.

GeoGebra is a tool for teaching and learning mathematics. Rather than just dry lecture or lifeless paper and pencil exercises, the user interacts with the program, allowing you to really understand what's going on when you lengthen one side of a triangle or change the angle of a vertex of a polygon. Grab a point or line and drag it across the screen, and you'll see locations and lengths updated in real time.

GeoGebra is a Java application. You can run it as a desktop application, or you can access it as a Java applet through your web browser.

Download GeoGebra