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Updated Flash Player 17 and AIR 17 betas available on Adobe Labs

Adobe Labs - Wed, 2015-02-04 14:45

Updated Flash Player 17 and AIR 17 betas, code named Octavia, are now available on Adobe Labs. This beta release includes new features as well as enhancements and bug fixes related to security, stability, performance, and device compatibility for Flash Player 17 and AIR 17.

Learn more about Adobe AIR 17 beta
Download Adobe AIR 17 beta

Learn more about Flash Player 17
Download Flash Player 17 beta

As always, we appreciate all feedback. We encourage you to post in our beta forums or create bug reports or feature requests on our public bug database.

Flash Player Beta forum
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Crossing the Streams Audio Recording and Speech to GDocs

CogDogBlog - Tue, 2015-02-03 22:00

Originally published by me at The CogDog Show » Syndicate This (see it there)

Sometimes I get lucky and two ideas on different paths cross paths right in front of me. It’s a matter of just reaching out and grabbing them.

Brian had an idea for our You Show Audio unit to add (or maybe replace?) the instructions for the activities with an audio explanation. This is the kind of approach I like to use a medium or technology to explain the medium or technology.

I wondered somewhat about the downside of not making the content accessible, which is not a direct concern, but one of those things that one should keep in mind.

At the same time, in an email group, my colleague from Maricopa, Alisa Cooper, shared a link to an interesting tool- a speech recognition add-on for Google Docs.

My stream crossing idea was to record the audio at the same time running the add-on to see how well it did with transcription. I’ve had the usual mixed bag experiences of garbled YouTube annotations and yelling corrections at Siri.

The tool adds itself to an Add-ons menu in GDocs. I almost gave up, because it never showed me the promised “start” link, but it showed up when I saved the doc, closed, and re-opened it (once again, the Old Reboot Trick works).

I set up my Samson Meteor mic, turned on Audacity to record, then activated the Speech Recognition add-on. I put all of this behind the web page for the activity so I could focus on whatever unplanned commentary I would make (hey I am just testing this out).

It was interesting to see what it came up with:

View of the speech to text right after stopping the recording.

There is no response to end a sentence or change paragraphs, so you get the blob of text. It got a good amount and messed up maybe 20%? 25%? Even at that, I sure prefer that than trying to transcribe from the audio (if you have ever seen me type, it may have been an instigating reason for my marriage ending).

Here is the blob that came out before editing it:

okay I’m going to try explaining the first assignment for the new show the unit for I’m recording this but I am also using a new add on to Google Docs has actually transcribing this to text that is not essential force activity sounds of your work the idea is to capture two different kind of sounds that you can use inside of your project next week so this could be the place you work or could be just special place at home but the idea is to think about the environment of the place so I do a lot of my work here Cincinnati are you in my apartment what kind of empty right now usually I have something on the TV I would it on CNN large can background music it’s pretty empty but listen very closely there’s a small low taking excess old fashioned analog clock on the floor and my fridgerator ambient sound so the suggestion that something MySpace which what I would do for my Simon is just recorded it without me talking it’s just to hear the background sound set environmental sound your sound like a perhaps a more noisy office in my feet in a library might be inside of a laboratory somewhere the idea of the same it is to get something that you can use it later today to perhaps a background as you talk about your work but it sounds pretty sure I’m Beyonce or sense of the environment second summer assignment something completely different phones idea I’ve never done this life it’s interesting the promises to record one sound one single sound get something with an inhaler and we’re just recorded just a little bit sound this week it won’t mean much hope for the child’s health Decatur many times space it out make it go up make it go down make a change pacemaker be like a river runs layered on top of its off to make that one sound beyond most like corpus and it’s just an experiment to see how much you can pimples with a single sound like a single note longest time trying to learn how to play harmonica so I’m just going to play a single product keratin out and see what I can do with that and perhaps edit favorite tracks put it in the sound pull up reps upload it to my blog and just keep it for next week so we’re just grabbing raw material this week that’s all I’m doing and I just want to have this is a record

And you can compare it to my post edits in the doc (which I guessed more at than trying to match perfectly to the audio).

In Audacity where I recorded it, I trimmed the in and out points. To demonstrate some techniques, I decided to put some music in as a background, using “Perspectives”, a creative commons licensed track from the most useful Incompetch Royalty Free Music Collection — by the way this site does a stellar job of providing attribution text:

“Perspectives” Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

In Audacity I use one of my favorite bits, the envelope tool to fine tune the audio to duck it under my un-dulcet mumbles. My voice is the top track (I again was too close to that mic), and the music in the lower track.

In the You Show page I am able to embed the audio, add a download link, and a link to the transcript I did in Google Docs

DownloadGoogle Docs transcript

It’s not perfect, but was worth experimenting with.

While looking for more information, I stumbled into Online Dictation, a web based speech to text generator. I was fascinated to watch how the words morphed and change as I spoke. It seemed to do a little better, and I was able to have it end a sentence by trying “dot” (or was it when I said “period”)? Here is a little screen cap of my test.

Actually this would be pretty neat for doing some mashup type videos.

Stuff just happens all the time, crossing streams and everything. On the net, its more than fine to cross the streams

The CogDog Show » Syndicate This is a portfolio site build for my time as an Open Learning Scholar at Thompson Rivers University.

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Alan’s Way of Audio Recording Presentations

CogDogBlog - Tue, 2015-02-03 19:36

Originally published by me at The CogDog Show » Syndicate This (see it there)

For today’s You Show Prime Time event, TRU’s Jon Fulton did a great session on audio recording techniques and equipment. I’m usually thinking about ways to archive, capture such sessions for those who could not attend due to time or distance.

This was something we did plan for (ahem the operative You Show synonym is improv), so I did what I often do- just pulled out my iPhone and fired up my copy of iTalk. I also try to do this for my own talks, so my presentation site (well it needs to be made into a site) includes not only slides, but also audio, and related URLs.

Here is the final audio:

Jon Fulton on Audio Stuff

Jon said the iPhone mic is not so great, but I’ve had pretty good experience for small to medium rooms, and for spoken word, the quality can be okay. #BetterThanNothing. This post describes what I did today to record, transfer, and process this.

The choice of app likely does not matter, since it’s your hardware on a mobile device that does the work. I use iTalk because… well it works for me on iOS. There are plenty of options for Android like Smart Voice Recorder.

iTalk has a Nice Big Button ;-)

The free version is just as good; I paid the hefty $0.99 to go pro because you get options to send your recordings to dropbox and SoundCloud (the options for the free version are share by email).

But you can also quickly transfer the files by connecting the device in iTunes; way down in the bottom of the apps section, you can find which ones let you transfer files. Select iTalk, and the files on it appear on the right pane, and you can just drag them to your desktop.

The files are in .AIF format; if they are of me doing a presentation, the mic proximity is pretty constant (I usually just sit it on the podium), so I can go to the steps below where I trim and export it from Audacity.

But for audio like today, I was in the front of the room, but maybe 10-15 feet from Jon, and we also had people speaking from other parts of the room. So the gain levels of the audio are uneven.

That’s a job for my not so secret weapon, The Levelator, a free tool designed by the people who use to do podcasts through the Conversation Network:

So what is The Levelator®? It’s software that runs on Windows, OS X (universal binary), or Linux (Ubuntu) that adjusts the audio levels within your podcast or other audio file for variations from one speaker to the next, for example. It’s not a compressor, normalizer or limiter although it contains all three. It’s much more than those tools, and it’s much simpler to use. The UI is dirt-simple: Drag-and-drop any WAV or AIFF file onto The Leveler’s application window, and a few moments later you’ll find a new version which just sounds better.

Have you ever recorded an interview in which you and your guest ended up at different volumes? How about a panel discussion where some people were close to microphones and others were not? These are the problems the post-production engineers of Team ITC here at The Conversations Network solve every day, and it used to take them hours of painstaking work with expensive and complex tools like SoundTrack Pro, Audacity, Sound Forge or Audition to solve them. Now it takes mere seconds. Seriously. The Levelator® is unlike any other audio tool you’ve ever seen, heard or used. It’s magic. And it’s free.

It does wonders for audio like today’s.

You end up with a copy of the file (nice, non-destructive) with sound levels much more optimized than the original.

I then open this file in Audacity, and trim off any excess at the beginning or end sometimes using fade in and fade out effects to smooth it. And then I just export it to an MP3 file to upload on my site.

In WordPress you can upload mp3 files like images, and it creates a slick MP3 player – note the display option in the bottom right for “Embedded Media Player”

This gives you something like a bit of an Arizona thunderstorm:

document.createElement('audio'); Download

What I do not like is that it does not provide a download link, so if you open Add Media again, select the same audio file, and use the Link to Media display option

You can get the HTML to put below the player as a download link…

And one more bonus trick- if you edit the HTML for the link to include a download parameter in the HREF tag, when a visitor clicks the link, it should just download rather than loading the audio in a browser window:

<a href="" download>Download</a>

You cannot always be the one who moves the mic around the room!

cc licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

The CogDog Show » Syndicate This is a portfolio site build for my time as an Open Learning Scholar at Thompson Rivers University.

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Sitting in on Stormy Mondays Blues Radio Show at CFBX

CogDogBlog - Mon, 2015-02-02 18:40

After last December’s visit to the CFBX radio station on campus here at TRU I signed up for their program to be trained as a DJ. While my time here is likely too short to put the name on the schedule, I wanted to learn some about how it works. Brant and station manager Steve were more than willing to let me get trained. Heck, I might be back some day.

Last Saturday I got the overview of the “board”

cc licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Today I did one of the required sit ins to watch an experiences broadcaster work. Brant was more than willing to let me in the booth for his Monday afternoon blues show– and he was okay with my doing a live #ds106radio broadcast of our conversations as he ran his show.

cc licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

I did set up my laptop back in my room to archive the broadcast- this as done by setting my system output to a Soundflower 64 channel, playing the radio via the web player and setting the input to Audacity to this same source.

The quality is pretty poor, I should have set Papaya on my iPhone (my transmitting app) to use something higher than 32k for stream bit rate. But oh well, because futzing. I did get a recording, and ran it through The Levelator to even out things.

My Visit to CFBX

Since the station’s mode is to play all non hit music, everything Brant played was new to me. I liked to raw sound of “My Own Holiday” a band of just 2 dudes- electric guitar and drums:

I also enjoyed the sounds of the Lucy Hammond Band (video has some goofy animation)

It was a great hour to watch how everything flows, there’s logs to be kept, PSAs to be read, station IDs to be played, and a clock to be watched.

cc licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

It’s quite more organized than DS106 radio! I’m grateful to Brant for the time and answering my peppered questions. Even if I do not go on the radio here, I do have a chance to do some community radio back in Payson, AZ.

top / featured image cc licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by cogdogblog:

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Introduction to Silla: Korea's Golden Kingdom

© 2000–2014 The Metropolitan Museum of Art. All rights reserved.
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Highs and Lows of Technical Problem Solving

CogDogBlog - Sat, 2015-01-31 21:31

Originally published by me at The CogDog Show » Syndicate This (see it there)

By Ipcc7.1-mann-moberg.png via Wikimedia Common via Wikimedia Commons

There is little like the satisfaction, no that is to tame a word, the exhilaration of solving a problem that you had never addressed before, or thought you could not figure out. That is no great revelation. In the realm of technology, such small peaks are commons. Maybe some people do not make a big deal out of it.

But when things you try go south, do they ever do deep down the ordinate axis. When this happens to me, even if it is not super consequential, it continually grates at me, and erodes away at the fragile layers of confidence I try to stay atop of.

So here is a cycle, but I actually first want to show an illustration of it via today’s You Show Daily Create Your Story as a Historic Constrvtion Cit.

Use the Historic Tale Construction Kit to generate an image that depicts a challenge you have overcome or something else you might place in your portfolio or online representation as a metaphor for something you have done. The elements in the tool are from the Middle Ages era Bayeux Tapestry that depicted the 1066 Battle of Hastings.

Challenge! I had an epic victory that make make the Battle of Hastings look — oh who am I kidding. But still:

(I have to say I had quite a few downs trying to use the tool, the text editor gets really funky when you hit the delete key, I had 4 times where it actually sent the browser back to a previous page, wiping out my work).

So here is the story. Last year I did a web site redesign for a nifty organization in North Vancouver, the Edible Garden Project (EGP); it involved transferring an older site to a new hosting provider, doing a complete make over, but most importantly, setting them up as clients so that I become not needed.

I set up their site as a WordPress multi-site, which means its easy for them to spin out new sub sites (they have done at least two since my part ended a few months ago). They contacted me last week because that had done this to create a site for a smaller affiliated non profit group, so the new site was sitting at But what they wanted to was to make their current domain point to this new site hosted at EGP.

They thought all they needed to do was to change the name servers on their domain registry, but I did know that would not work.

This should not be too difficult.

But any time I deal with a DNS change, my guts go queasy, because it seems like my understanding is like looking into some mystery box of magic. I have vague hunches, I spend extra time sorting out the conflicting kinds of information you find online, and rpetty much use a time honored solution– just keep trying til it works.

I know with multisite there is a way to do it via domain mapping, it was running on the site, Jim Groom has blogged about his adventures with it.

I found a pretty clear tutorial on how to do it.

But I thought maybe a simpler solution, one that avoided trying something new, was to export the WordPress site EGP had set up as a multisite, and make it a standalone install. That way, I could just set up the new domain as an add-on one in cpanel, and everything would be ok.

Easy. Well, on the cpanel I am used to.

The one for EGP seemed to not be set up to allow add-on domains. This plunged me into the world of WHM, which is the broader site manager. It looks like the cockpit of a 747. I fumbled around for a while, not quite finding the right place to enable this.

Zig, than zag. So I went back tot the codetuts tutorial on domain mapping, conferred a bit with D’Arcy Norman who was here visiting (he confirmed it was not hard to do). It was not too difficult to do, but how would I know it would work? The domain needs to know to look for a new server.

Ah this is one i do know. If you know how to edit the hosts file on your computer, you can test out a new host before you have updated its nameserver entry (this is the big magical box that takes a request for alphabetic domain name, like and tells it to look for it at its real IP address, a numerical one like

Every time you go somewhere on the internet, the browser sends a request to look up this address from the nearest nameserver. But you can fool it locally, and bypass this process by editing this file, if I add an entry:

if is the numerical IP address where the new site resides.

Then if I enter in my web browser, it uses the server address i entered, which might be different from its current address everyone else sees.

This worked. So I deleted the entry from my hosts file, so I could test it like everyone else would see it.

To make it work on the EGP site, if I understood correctly, I could “park” the domain at which means when name servers are updated to point the domain at the EGP nameservers it would say, “Yup. That site is here”, in essence the new domain points to the same web server (WordPress Multisite) that hosts EGP. The domain mapping plugin than connects it to the correct subsite.

So I told the folks to switch the nameserver.

And I waited 24 hours.


I got the dreaded cgi-sys/defaultwebpage.cgi URL, which means I *****ed Up the DNS.

Rechecked everything. Confirmed the DNS Zones. Clicked a something that said Renew DNS Zones.


A few hours later, I checked. It had to be like 36 or maybe 48 hours. Still not coming up. Just for grins I restarted the web server. Hey, it works for most machines.

And the next day… well it worked.

I think it was a matter of time.

In just relaying this back, it seems almost trivial. But the aspect of having something remain broken that I feel I should be able to fix, just slowly gnaws away. It starts stabbing down into my subconscious.

And getting it to work (or just waiting), zings me way up that curve.

It’s more than just balancing the ups and downs.

You just cannot beat the ups.

Except when you are down.

The end.

For now.

The CogDog Show » Syndicate This is a portfolio site build for my time as an Open Learning Scholar at Thompson Rivers University.

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ENHANCED: The Changing Landscape of Higher EdTech

From political forums to pundit roundtables to the family dining room, education is a hot topic. Many perceive growing deficiencies in access, affordability, and the value of education. Some argue that modes of education should be more student-focused, rather...
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The Changing Landscape of Higher EdTech

From political forums to pundit roundtables to the family dining room, education is a hot topic. Many perceive growing deficiencies in access, affordability, and the value of education. Some argue that modes of education should be more student-focused, rather...
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NEWS & UPDATES: Video: Fall 2014 RewirED Faculty Showcase at CUMC

The Fall 2014 rewirED Faculty Showcase celebrated innovative uses of technology in the classroom and online. The event featured lightning talks from three of CCNMTL’s faculty partners at CUMC.
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NEWS & UPDATES: Register for Eric Foner's Third Course on edX

Eric Foner teaches The Unfinished Revolution: Reconstruction and After, 1865-1890 on edX.
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The Making of You Show Episode 3

CogDogBlog - Wed, 2015-01-28 21:51

If you thought our series of videos was a bit strange, this one goes way off the rails and down the canyon, into another dimension. Maybe. Episode 3 introduces our Unit on Visual Design. In the video, hosts Brian and Alan pay a visit to Nancy White– inside the world of her sketch pad.

The seeds for this were planted before the You Show had started… The intro video and format was set in Episode 0, produced in mid December, 2014. The following week, I visited Nancy at her home in Seattle, and she was willing to take on a role in a future episode. Sort of proof, you can see my Samson Meteor mic next to her hands:

Nancy’s hands, sketch pad, and my microphone.

I recorded about 20 minutes of audio into my iPad, with the idea I would later sit down with Brian to record our side of the conversation asking the questions I did of Nancy at the time of recording.

In addition, I asked her to let me record a short loop of “sketching pen sounds” (the background sounds you might hear of a pen moving on the page).

document.createElement('audio');[download audio]

I also got a short clip of her sketching Brian and I “on the couch”

I left her a copy of the audio, and she then drew me some sketches I could use in the video. Nancy sent them as a flickr set. I think she even set up a video to imitate the transportation of us from the “set” to her locale. I ended up not using the dark shaded versions (though I thought they were splendid).

And I tucked them a way until it was time to film this video. For a set we used the Innovation Lab at TRU Open Learning; it has the nice seating corner with a solid orange wall and two low seats.

cc licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

That little rolling table that was out in the hallway worked nice to prop the iPad up, so the camera angle was more level. I moved it close so we filled the space more. I wrote up the “script” more as an outline / flow (see it as an google doc) as we felt we did better when we improvised and were not too stressed about memorizing lines.

Harry helped me set up the framing for the first sequence, and also he did all of the side video shots using my iPhone; I use these as short cutaway cuts in the final editing.

I realized as I went to edit that I had no sketches of Nancy herself! I tried to find some ones other visual artists like Giulia Forsythe might have drawn, but figured, hey, I could stand to learn a bit. So I used Nancy’s method of drawing “star people” to represent her. This was about 10 minutes of me using Paper 53 on the iPad

I also sketched quickly a version of the camera logo and quasi formatted text, to represent the logo from the site (also done in Paper 53)

Some things I have learned for using stills in iMovie. First of all, the Paper 53 files come in with an off white background, so I did a bit of Photoshop editing to remove the background in one layer, and put a clean white background behind it.

But also from previous experience, the imported images work better in iMovie if their dimensions are proportional to the HD video dimensions I am editing in, a safe size for images then is 1280 x 720 px (720p size) or at least something in those proportions. This means your stills wont need to be cropped in iMovie (unless you want to) and can fill the screen.

The other thing I do now is I make a JPG version of the images, for use as a single track, but I also make a PNG version with background transparency– when used in the overlay track in iMovie, you can then get a slick overlay effect, as you will see below.

Opening sequence in iMovie

So here is the opening sequence in iMovie. The main track is one of Nancy’s sketches of Brian and Alan on a couch. I have a very slow pan using the Ken Burns effect. The logo is a PNG image in the upper track, so we see through it. I split it into 4 sections, the first and last ones have a bit of Ken Burns zoom in and out. The movement is gentle.

The audio track has the dialog Brian and I record, and sits above the background music track, which is Great Kiskdee, a ccMixter track by Gurdonark (Yes, my on screen character calls it “CC Mixture”, perfectly off).

After the countdown intro, we have a short opening sequence. I have two short segments (shot by Harry at a side angle) in a cutaway shot, with a black and white video effect. The trick is always to get them lined up in time.

Transition from Front Stage to Back Stage

The transition to the backstage characters is done by splitting the clip of the front stage characters right near the end of their portion. That goes into a top track clip, with audio on, using the picture in picture effect over an equal clip of the backstage duo fiddling equipment. It’s just enough to finish Brian’s sentence. Then we have the clip of the backstage banter, and the picture in picture is the “gesticulation” of Brian and I waving arms goofily with its audio muted.

We just used the other side of the lab with the white wall background, and the computer screens in the lab. Brian brought in the Traktor mixer from his office and other tech bits (the headphones I am wearing belong to Harry).

Then a lot of small edit bits to manage the transition where Brian and Alan disappear from the set.

It starts with Brian and Alan (Front Stage) are talking about Nancy telling them to draw their names on the doors of the magic pad of paper she sent. I slowed down the speed of the next clips, split into 4 small chunks with a color altered video effect. In between is the ripple transition but extended over several seconds so you see a lot of distortion. In the audio track is a bit if theremin sound from the iMovie effects library.

The tech guys talk about hearing weird sounds (more theremin in the audio track), and talking about the camera going blank, e.g. they are hearing the Front Stage voices but not seeing them in their monitor (this was a short clip of the opening shot w/o Brian and Alan). They switch their monitor so show the outgoing video feed, and see the Nancy drawn sketch figures.

This is how we move into the next segment of the conversation with Nancy. I decided to edit the audio sequence in Audacity, since it called for cutting up and slicing out my voice form the interview with Nancy, and re-inserting the lines Brian and I recorded as if we were asking her questions. I might have fine tuned this a tad better, it’s a bit of an art to leave enough spacing between voices to sound like natural conversation. This is how it looks in the audio editor:

To have ambient sounds, I added a low volume track of lab noise, a public domain licensed track found on free sounds called aiju Lab Interior Ambience #1. And as an addition, I added the sketching sounds Nancy recorded for me. The latter was only 22 seconds, so after importing, I copied the clip and pasted it after the first one. I then use the Audacity filter to reverse the audio track. In this way, I get a 44 second track that loops cleanly back on itself, and I then repeat it all the way through the audio segment.

The conversation with Nancy is almost 10 minutes long and I had only some basic drawn shapes (decided to use a small number); 2 ones of Brian and I as star people on the couch, and the four versions of Nancy I drew. I won’t explain every little method, but I mix them up by sometimes using the video effect to flip the still horizontal (that doubles the pool of shots). I use the Nancy image sometimes in the upper track as a PNG so you can see around her, sometimes in the main track alone as a JPEG so you see a white background.

I did a few popping of small drawn images as picture in picture to represent the drawing examples she describes. Or sometimes the star person of Nancy is done as a picture in picture, so I can scale and move her around on screen. And I have at least two returns to the tech guys watching her image on the monitor, while we hear her talking from the audio track.

It’s not really as well done as a animated sequence (Nancy tried to talk me into adding more drawings after I edited). But it was a worthy experiment to see how many different ways I can mix things up from a small number of props.

The way Nancy helps Brian and Alan return from her Sketch World is the magic door she draws, referring to the story of Harold and The Purple Crayon (this was Nancy’s idea). I more or less redid sequence of how Brian and Alan entered, with the long ripple transition, but instead, used this drawing Harry did on the white board in the computer lab we shot the video in.

cc licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

And we close with Brian and Alan a little spacey, and boom, closing credits.

This video was a bit more intensive on editing than the first three, and at 18 minutes much longer then we aimed for, But the points Nancy said in audio felt worth keeping in. This was a chance for me as well to push more on what I can get iMovie to do; getting to do the top track and use PNG files in both still and moving tracks is some new techniques I can use again. The method of switching the views so the audio continues across is easier to do now that I have done in a few times.

It’s all a bit whacky, but hey, it’s a show, and the show must go on. There will be at least two more episodes, as the units move to two week length in February; two weeks on audio and two on video.

These syndicated post are from blogging I am doing as part of the You Show open seminar project at TRU. I am syndicating just this category of posts I have authored.

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On Theme Shopping

CogDogBlog - Wed, 2015-01-28 14:32

Originally published by me at The CogDog Show » Syndicate This (see it there)

cc licensed ( BY-ND ) flickr photo shared by

“What’s the best theme for my WordPress site?”

Is there a equivalent to the “Best Camera is the one in your hand” assertion? Probably not.

In our work on The You Show open seminar and providing sites for TRU staff and faculty on our sandbox site I’ve been trying to think about ways to help in this decision.

There’s over 3000 free themes offered by WordPress and maybe millions more depending how you parse the google results.

When “shopping” for a theme for most people what they see there in a preview / demo is the end point. They are looking for something that will provide them the design and options to do everything they want their site to do.

For sites I develop, I am looking differently at themes- they are just the starting point since nearly every site I design I end up changing the underlying files, adding my own templates, hacking away at the code. I am looking less at how it looks, and more at the way it structurally organizes information, or what functionality it provides.

That of course is what I never would expect of any other rational person who just wants to make a web site.

My first major WordPress theme hack was for an NMC site back in 2008. The structure of themes then was almost primitive looking back. The theme directory may have had less than 20 files. I have seen modern WordPress themes that include 100s of files.

New themes vary wildly in terms of what you get from the inside to configure things. Many have multi-tabbed control panels with gobs of things to modify; this is for Virtue, a theme I am using for the You Show site. You find this under the Appearance menu in the dash board.

Others put the interface into the WordPress Customizer (which is nifty because you see previews of the changes as you try them out), as in the Moesia Free theme

Many premium themes, like Woo for example, add themselves as entire sets of Dashboard menu options (this is for the Editorial theme we used on Thought Vectors in Concept Space)

A lot of themes want you to install extra Page Builder plugins, or Types and Views plugins to add capabilities for things like portfolio content. Or there are these new kind of Build Your Own themes where we can move stuff around, and create almost any layout. With great flexibility comes some (to much) complexity of configuration.

And for any theme that do things beyond the “regular blog” look of a vertical stacking of posts, and pages with sidebars, the preview you see in WordPress will not really match what they theme can do, because they rely on either these custom settings or having content beyond one Hello World post. Some theme sellers allow you to import test content (Woo does this and it can be used in any theme) so you can see a site with more than that stellar default awesome Hello World post.

And then there are featured images. Nice looking themes have front page layouts with images that represent posts, and will thus require / make use of having featured images defined for your posts. Some themes will make the first image you add to a post the featured image if not defined (plugins can add this feature). Some themes, not all, will let you designate a default image. One theme I struggled with required a plugin that set up multiple featured images (one for the post, one for the header banner slider thingie).

So if your posts mostly lack images, and featured images, well the first cut at a graphic driven theme that relies on featured images, amy leaving you saying, “W T F?” (Wheres The Fruit?)

My suggestion when theme shopping is to look for a link to a theme preview site, and to look carefully at ways different kinds of content is shown. Look beyond the front page view in a demo. I see a lot of themes that have gorgeous front landings, and the single post page is the same old header, post on one side, sidebar on the other.

These days I skip themes that are not designed for Responsive layout, which means that content readjusts and resizes based on the size of the screen. Some theme previews offer multiple views so you can see it, but you can also just squeeze the width of your browser to see how / if a theme responds well.

The more you dig in, the more you find to consider. And I have not even gotten to the part where you find that most themes do not responsively deal with embedded videos (“there is a plugin for that“).

What I am trying on the TRUbox site is to have a demo site that allows a visitor to experiment with something that has a batch of content and presets in the demo themes — (it’s named of course of one of my past dogs)

When I link it’s URL here, you should (if you read URLs) notice something extra:

That’s right, I am specifying what theme to use on a public display. I am using the WordPress Theme Switcher Reloaded plugin. The plugin gives you a widget that auto lists all themes on a site as a menu; I found though on a multi-site it was listing disabled themes, and some of the special child themes I use for sites that are not really useful to see.

But what’s cool is I can generate a theme switch option via URL, and thus, I have put the theme options under a menu:

So you can see the site in the theme I like but also:

  • Chun more of a bloggy look
  • Asteria Lite and Guardian where you can make more like a one page landing site
  • Fukasawa, Garfunkle give flexible grid display of posts, or more stylish like Marla
  • Moesia (the theme I am using on this site), lets you set up a big welcome screen.

It’s not quite perfect, but helps me do demos. If you set a header image on one theme, it may not work on another. Some of the themes seem to eat the menus. Others need more configuration.

Which brings me to Anders Norén, a Swedish students, web designer, and coffee appreciator, who also provides some amazing, elegant, responsive, and un-bloated WordPress themes. Most of are free and in the wordpress themes collection:

What is lovely about these themes, beyond their looks, are that they are not crazy complex, they lack giant configuration options screens, and for me, as a theme hacker, very amenable to child theming (do not get me started how many theme developers do not know the difference between get_template_directory() and get_stylesheet_directory()).

I first came across the Radcliffe theme when building the TRU Writer. That’s on our box. But then I found Baskerville (primary theme on Mickey) and Fukasawa (which I am using on Image Pool).

These themes are again light weight (no options panel at all), responsive, and very amenable to the kind of site building I do.

In the end… there are more than a few tons of considerations when trying to find a theme. At least the positive thing is that you never lose content. But you might have to recast menus or widgets. If you go with a theme that relies on content in a social custom post type (Portfolio, Skills, etc), those are likely not counted for in another theme.

And some themes have so much to configure, it’s like another operating system. It’s also a challenge to support; when having to help someone with a theme issue, I literally can do best if I can jump in and see where things are stashed.

And you know what? What matter’s most is that you like your theme. Once you find it. And set it up. And ….

The CogDog Show » Syndicate This is a portfolio site build for my time as an Open Learning Scholar at Thompson Rivers University.

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Building a Portfolio By Not Trying to Build a Portfolio

CogDogBlog - Tue, 2015-01-27 16:22

Originally published by me at The CogDog Show » Syndicate This (see it there)

Doth I blog in riddle?

I doth do.

Any assertion made here is a squishy subjective question. But I’ve been coming to grips with this in the first weeks of the You Show Open Seminar I am running with Brian Lamb at TRU, where many of our participants are hoping to use blogging platforms to make a portfolio.

Having that as a goal is useful, reasonable but it also gets in the way.

cc licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Dead Air

Before you start tossing your research studies and dissertations about ePortfolios at me, hear me out. We are asking people to not only assemble artifacts showpieces of their accomplishments- the typical blocks of a portfolio, what we call “front stage”. We are asking participants in their process of developing a portfolio, and hopefully as an ongoing practice of narrating their ideas and practice, to use the blog functionality to create the “back stage”, making off, reflections.

Many of our participants are going about this as their first blogging experience, so there is an entry level barrier of learning many of the mechanics of writing in this kind of space, sorting out pages versus posts, tags versus categories, how to link, how to embed video, how to customize their space.

I really wanted to ask people to not even bother with themes and designs for the first weeks, maybe use the default themes. But that’s not enforceable, and is a bit draconian. But I have hoped we can have people work on the basic mechanics of blog writing.

The challenge is that doing this narration in a blog, and seeing how it looks on a site, well it does not look like a portfolio. Many are a river flow of posts, or smorgasbord of images and blocks of text representing the chronological flow of posts.

So if I was told I am to build a portfolio and it does not look like one, well there is disconnect.

If you have or can organize all the neat piles of your portfolio content- your paper, your presentations, your videos, your art work, then a well defined cubbyhole portfolio platform works. It is an exercise of filling in form fields.

Portfolio software provides you a manufactured home

“Caravans at beer devon arp”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Then you decorate the walls, put your furniture in, but the basic shape and layout is done for you.

We are setting you up in an empty lot, giving you a pile of 2x4s and other material, a few how to books, and asking you to not only build your own home, but document it.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by

I think I slid down that slimy slope of bad metaphors. And blog building is much more forgiving and less risky than pouring foundations and framing a structure.

What I have been hoping to convey to You Show participants is to engage a few weeks on more or less the back stage narration as they learn and build out potential web-based portfolio artifacts that use media (images, audio video). They are producing some raw materials in a blog (flow format).

Then as we go or towards the end, we can introduce some ways to reconfigure the site they are working on away from a blog format (recent post, recent post, recent post, recent post, recent post…). I can see several two ways this might work:

  • Theme Choice. I’m busy trying to research (WordPress) themes that change the front view to either by more like a single landing site (different sections for skills, artifacts), or where the things that bubble to the front or perhaps by category/tag, not just recent date.

    Themes get very messy (another pending post). Many of them have oppressively complex options interface that end up being like an operating system of their own.

    Many have built in content types designed for portfolios. So the blog flow might be like a draft, and bits can be harvested out later as portfolio content types.
  • Static Front Page One way to subvert the blog structure is to create a fixed Page that has perhaps all of the information someone wants on the front of the site, linked to maybe more pages or post categories. This is a matter of creating the page, and then switching the setting in Settings -> Reading. Blogger and tumblr do have page content types, I am not sure if you can make them the blog front view.

    This means that the blog flow can be pushed to secondary link (again using Settings -> Reading). Or it can just be left off, so it stays a private thing. Or if people use categories to subdivide their blogging reflections, they can make menu / sidebar links to selected category views.

    Or like in today’s discussion I suggested that if people do not want their current experiments and playing to show up in the final portfolio, there is no need to delete them (NEVER DELETE YOUR REFLECTIONS). Just mark them as Draft, and they vanish from the public site.

There are other ways to subvert the front page blog post orientation (mine is usually having the theme and or changing the database query).

But the point I am trying to make is that you can take over and manage the front entry and where the blogging/reflection shows up.

You are not limited to the way the themes work out of the box.

It’s just that in the approach we are taking, the portfolio shall evolve from the reflections / blogging, not be prebuilt from the outset.

Doing it opposite-like.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Felix Francis

I am quite certain there are flaws and counters to be made for these assertions. Heck I might have them. But in my mind, starting out trying to make a blog platform a portfolio from the start does not work unless you have its structure and components already mapped out.

Of course, if you follow my advice, you might end up with this house

“HangNgaCrazyHouse3″ by Kelisi – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The CogDog Show » Syndicate This is a portfolio site build for my time as an Open Learning Scholar at Thompson Rivers University.

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The Really Useful #EdTechBook and my small part in it

Way back in July/August 2014, David Hopkins (@hopkinsdavid) approached a number of people involved in EdTech, myself included, about an idea he had to collaboratively write a Really Useful EdTech Book. The book is now available for download and will be published on proper paper within the next couple of days.

To find out more about it, and to download your copy, visit It's a fabulous collection of chapters from practitioners, researchers and professionals in the area of EdTech, and has a foreword by our own Catherine Cronin. There are some very positive reviews already on this site, including one from Steve Wheeler.

David has done an amazing job in bringing this all together. I don't know about the other authors but I don't think I met a single deadline. His patience is beyond belief, and he still seems to be talking to me!

For me, it was a great opportunity to be part of such a collaboration, which includes some people that I know quite well from twitter, one or two that I've actually met in person, and some others that I'm just getting to know.

One part of the whole process that I particularly enjoyed was being "interviewed" by David back in October. Using a google doc to support communication, David put questions to me and I responded. As it turns out, I was travelling at the time, so it was a great opportunity to really use google docs on a collaborative project. The interview was published in November.

It also gave me a chance to reflect on the topic of my own chapter, which asks if the work of the learning technologist is having any long term effects on the culture of the university. While we can "measure" our productivity in terms of numbers of workshops, numbers of people trained, support tickets closed, projects brought to completion, etc, how do we know if we're making a longer term impact?

I'd really like to thank David Hopkins for including me in this collaboration. It has been an exciting and novel experience. I think we can all be proud of the Really Useful #EdTechBook.

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NEWS & UPDATES: Eric Foner Teaches Free Online Course on the Reconstruction Era

Eric Foner teaches The Unfinished Revolution: Reconstruction and After, 1865-1890 on edX.
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NEWS & UPDATES: Eric Foner Teaches Free Online Course on the Reconstruction Era

Eric Foner teaches The Unfinished Revolution: Reconstruction and After, 1865-1890 on edX.
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ENHANCED: In Conversation: Librarians Add a New Dimension to Online Learning at Columbia

Published eight days after John Brown’s execution, this Philadelphia newspaper features engraved portraits of the protagonists and a depiction of the “scene of the execution.” From the Sydney Howard Gay papers, Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library Shadowbox.init();...
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In Conversation: Librarians Add a New Dimension to Online Learning at Columbia

Published eight days after John Brown’s execution, this Philadelphia newspaper features engraved portraits of the protagonists and a depiction of the “scene of the execution.” From the Sydney Howard Gay papers, Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library Shadowbox.init();...
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Reversing Course Again, Doing it Dudley Right

CogDogBlog - Sun, 2015-01-25 09:52

Originally published by me at The CogDog Show » Syndicate This (see it there)

In a post on my approach to building The Daily site am not thinking I was wrong about being wrong… does that make me right? And in a process of working on projects, does, does being right even matter?

To recap, I have been working recently on building another WordPress Theme as a template anyone can use to create a site like the DS106 Daily Create to make a Daily _______ (hence calling it “The Daily Blank”). A limitation of what we did on DS106 was that it limited submissions to media sharing sites and tagging them there- like flickr, SoundCloud (creating more than one group not allowed), YouTube (tags no longer work in search).

My idea was to go back to The Daily Shoot (archive link, current site is DOA where people responded to a tweet from @dailyshoot with a link to their photo and a hashtag specific for an assignment.

The logic was:

  • Making a site you provide credentials for the twitter account you will use to announce and participants respond to, for us, @youshow15
  • Each new challenge was identified by a tag pattern not used in twitter, #ysdailyXX. These are published as scheduled posts, so they go live the same time each day. It gets tweeted every day using which looks for new items via the RSS feed of my site.
  • The site regularly (through a wordpress technique to run a task on a given interval, here every hour) uses the twitter API to check the mentions time for the specified twitter account.
  • It steps through all recent tweets, and keeps tracks of all of them that have a hashtag matching the base pattern (#ysdaily_____).
  • For each of these it checks the one previously saved to see if it exists (each tweet has a unique ID, which is stored on my site, if it does not exist, it saves the new tweet as a Response custom content type. This uses the tweet text as a title, and saves the tweeting author and its unique URL as meta data. It adds as “tags” for the content type all hashtags used in the tweet, and any twitter accounts mentioned as tags as well.

    Because this is a custom content type its data exists outside the scope of normal blog posts.

The way the saved tweets are stored a a custom post type

As described last week things were not working quite well. The script was missing a lot of tweets, plus it seemed like too many things to ask for. Plus another problem is people confused the required @youshow15 account in the tweet and insert a #youshow15 tag (note to self, use a different name for the account than its hash tags).I was requiring a URL for the response to be in the tweet.

I though I was making it too complex and that I could make submissions be on the site via a web form, or essentially, bend the function of the comments to work as a submission.

But in a way, this seems just the same old way to collect responses, a web form. I really wanted something where a response could be a single tweet.

In a fit of curiosity, I gave myself one more go back at sorting out my code logic. The first finding was by removing the logic that checked the API response for links on the URL, I picked up many of the missing tweets. I am pretty sure the way I was testing was wrong, the existence of the array in the data that held the tweets. But it also made the required elements 2; it does mean it might pick up conversational tweets, but oh well.

The other thing I discovered was my logic to match hashtags was problematic, since I started trying to make them stand out by using a pattern like #YSdailyxx. What I noticed was in string matching in PHP I was not taking into account the difference in upper and lower case- in code “YSdaily12″ is not the same as “ysdaily12″. So I made sure that internally in the code and storage of tags on the site, all are converted to lower case.

I am feeling better now that its working as I intended; see Take a photo that metaphorically represents contrasting ideas #YSdaily10 (you can always respond to a past Daily, the site will look for any responses). It even picked up this one

@YouShow15 for @smstagner: Contrasting ideas assgn #YSdaily10 (needs to go to acct not hash tag) (I hope)

— Alan Levine (@cogdog) January 24, 2015

Sheila has actually used the #youshow15 hashtag rather than the account @youshow15 but by retweeting and editing, I was able to nudge her response into the stream.

The current code for the theme is available ongoing at github; it’s not quite complete, and maybe worth considering how github provides an ongoing look into the development process of its contents, not just the final bits. It’s not quite ready for use, and I have yet to write documentation, but it’s in motion.

I added in my usual touch of randomness, this is a page template – a blank page named “Random” is all that is needed to trigger this

And another nifty trick, a widget I use to display recent responses across the site, needed help, because listing the information in wordpress form is not useful, so I have a script that redirects a link like to the tweet it represents. Want code? Got it here.

So I think the site is back in business. I have loaded it up with a batch of challenges for this week’s topic in the You Show of design, some drawing tasks, and working with graphics.

Get in on The You Show Daily at

And thus, there is really no right or wrong ways in things we try to create, just the paths you choose, or abandon. And this can change along the way.

The CogDog Show » Syndicate This is a portfolio site build for my time as an Open Learning Scholar at Thompson Rivers University.

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Birthdays Without Brothers

CogDogBlog - Sat, 2015-01-24 09:12

In some alternate universe, this past Tuesday I was visiting my brother to celebrate his 62nd birthday. I am likely teasing him for being so old.

This is just my imagination wandering.

David never made it to his 36th circuit around the sun, and mentally, I was told his brain might have made two laps.

There is never quite the right store card for this.

So I retry once a year, to find one more scanned old photo, or memory shred to revive, if but for a moment. Just in this writing, I jump out of my own center of the me universe flow, one where even with an electronic calendar reminder of David’s passing earth entry date… I forgot.

cc licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

What does one make of the fragments, the half filled baby book my parents likely did not have the heart to continue filling in (or which lacked the appropriate questions to ask for a mentally retarded child)? His rocking chair, sits as a marker in my home (now far away).

A photo of my Dad, being a Dad to his son inside a horrible institution called “Rosewood”?

Dad and David, maybe 1970?

His name, most likely from our grandmother’s father, who passed away before we were both born?

cc licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Yes, that’s about what I can do. Invoke his name.

My brother, David.

Top / featured photo is mine. Self attribution? Why not.. cc licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by cogdogblog:

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