Quintura Search Engine

This has been around a while and a few people have recommended  Quintura to me, I have not actually used it until this week. I was looking for a new search engine that used clusters or the tag cloud concept.

I tried a search on the Middle ages. This is the main era for study for the year 8 history classes. The students can chose an aspect from that era on which they must do some in depth study. Some know exactly what they want to work on and others are less sure. I have spent a lesson with the classes working on refining their searches to achieve the best results.

I also try to encourage the students to define the means and applications by which they are able to employ their sifting and refining strategies. There are many and ever expanding number of ways in which they can explore the digital universe. Many like the visual searches.

iBoogie and Mooter have been used in the past to show clustering and they offered some visual leads to information but Mooter no longer mets our requirements. Many students need help in refining searches or thinking through topics so this is where Quintura can be used. It is a visual search that uses word association to refine search results.

Like iBoogie, Quintura splits the screen with the traditional (google-like) information on the right and a tag cloud on the left.

quintura1

If the mouse hovers over any word in the cloud search added related terms appear. If you hover for a legth of time or “click” on the term, it is added to the search bar at the top and a new tag cloud appears.  

quintura2

Hovered over "middle ages" and it appeared as a phrase in the seaarch bar

quintura4 

This picked up the hundred years war. I like the fact that there are not too many tags on the screen at the one time, so it is less confusing.

Another bonus is that the the query results are very easy to share using email. This can be sent to a teacher as the student is working on his research, allowing the teacher to better understand the some of the searching stategies of the student. It would also be good for group work, where each member of the group might take  a different aspect of the same topic.

The tabbed options at the top also make it very easy to switch to image or video searching without changing the query.

Middle ages - Image search

Middle ages - Image search

A different option is that you can easily convert any query results page into embeddable code for display on another web page.

The search results for Quinturawere quite good accuracy wise and it is viually easy to read/use. The searching was a bit like a journey of discovery at times. It was fine but, for myself, I really like to narrow things down right at the beginning of the search and, at times, it seemed to be a little bit slower at searching than some of the other search engines. Students did not find this a major quibble (just me!). Another search engine that is worth informing students about

For the younger researchers, there is also a Quintura for kids with an explanatory video.

quintura4kids

It offers similar options to Quintura but you have a short results page with icons and large text. Results here seemed to be accurate, informative and more importantly, age-appropriate.

Making web use easy for everyone

The Ishihara Test for colour blindness

The Ishihara Test for colour blindness (Image taken from Wikipedia.)

I have been busy today with students working on research projects and with an English class learning about the science fiction genre. Both are topics close to my heart. I will post some ideas about Sci Fi at a later date.

One site that I did come across was Wade Preston Shearer’s. He had a post about designing for colour-impaired users (Saturday, Feb 07, 2009).  Those of us who do not have this problem rarely think about the trouble we can, inadvertantly, cause those who do. The best idea in this post was simple but effective. It was the idea to differentiate action buttons not only by colour, but by shape as well.  He also provides a link to the useful Color Oracle utility.

This is a free utility that can be used to test prototypes. It is built by Bernhard Jenny at the Institute of Cartography in Zurich. It allows you to alter your computer’s color display for the entire system in such a way so that you see it in the same way as a color bind user would.

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Uploaded to Flickr 04092008 by Will Lion

Uploaded to Flickr 04092008 by Will Lion http://tiny.cc/Vx6XA

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Backup your gmail

gmail_backup1

My Gmail has become the other email service, the one that I use when I want an account other than my school account. Google is relatively stable, and all the Google apps have been great, but there is also a risk that you can lose everything if something goes wrong. This was brought home to me again this week when the email system at work “fell over”.  For 2 days we were all “in the dark”. I had to tell students to use my Gmail account to send me some documents, and I also had no access to important information from my local library network.

Today I tried out Gmail Backup which is a excellent software option. It  allows you to backup your entire Gmail account offline. Thanks to a post by Patricia Donaghy in her Using ICT in Further education blog.

Gmail Backupwill allow you to download all the emails and attachments to your local machine. Another useful feature in Gmail Backup is that it stores the backup in Microsoft’s eml format which allows user to easily import the messages into other mail clients.

It is really a very simple tool to use. After installing, you just enter your GMail username and password, select the folder for storing backup and then click the backup button.

It is also important to note that it is not just a one time process as it provides you with incremental backups, where only the emails that have not yet been backed up to your computer will be downloaded. This can save a lot of time. You can also specify the dates from when you want to backup your emails  and you can also specify a time interval so that emails that come in during a certain period of time will be only backed up and not all of them.gmailbackup1

Due to the filters at our school I had to download it at home but I think it was worth it and I like the tool, especially if it allows me to easily save any email attachments. 

If you want to use Gmail backup, before initiating the backup, make sure to enable IMAP in the Gmail account settings. The software works on Windows, Mac and Linux.

Patricia Donaghy ties in with another utility backup to email. This tool allows you to backup files to your email account. (There is a very handy Backup to Email user guide and a  Flash Tutorial how-to to follow.)

These emails can then be backed up themselves. I have other backup options and have not used this tool, although it looks reasonably straightforward and offers a valuable backup option.

Illustrated Books – A new series of classics

Arthur Rackham illustration from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Arthur Rackham illustration from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

The world of children’s literature is a vital and amazing one, and one that often uses wonderful illustrations. There’s something very special about any beautifully illustrated book. The simplest picture books can speak volumes, to young and old alike, in a way that simply text cannot. Illustrated/picture books can capture the layers of a story/text.  

I loved my picture books when I was young and, now that I am older, I look at picture books with a more discerning eye.  What I see still pleases my senses, my imagination and I love sharing them with my 4 year old niece. Over the years I have collected picture books that I liked. For a while I obtained  quite a few that used reproductions of Arthur Rackham drawings. He was one of my early favourites.  My niece is just beginning her journey and loves nothing more than sitting next to you and “reading”. In fact I have never come across a young person who did not enjoy the closeness that comes from examining a picture book. Working in a secondary school, I notice many times that the illustrated book gets its fair share of use. It can be in the form of a graphic novel, a beautifully photographed non-fiction work, an optical illusions book, Where’s Wally or an imaginatively drawn fantasy.

The Caterpillar (From Alice in Wonderland)-Sir John Tenniel (1865?)

The Caterpillar (From Alice in Wonderland)-Sir John Tenniel (1865?)

Illustrated books work marvelously well with young people.  For children, who do not relate well to abstract things, thoughts and people, they can develop these skills by using/reading illustrated (picture) books to begin their learning. They work as visual aids for the eye and mind. Younger children need the visual and concrete to examine, study, and understand the abstract. Even as we grow older, we are still drawn to images often using both text and illustrations together, as visual aids for the eye and mind, to explain something.  We are visual beings and are constantly deciphering visual signs, symbols and images, without even thinking about it. When something catches our attention because of its beauty, our particular interest for whatever reason, we are stopped in our tracks. 

So I have been looking for examples of illustration (with some commentary if possible) to explain to students about how to use images to create a feeling/atmosphere. This is all part of gathering a range of resources for future work with storyboards for digital storytelling.

There is a new series of illustrated books. Walker Illustrated Classics is a series that began with Wind in the Willows, illustrated by Inga Moore. They are planning 12 in all, with a new title published each month throughout 2009. Walker seek to ” retain the high quality design and production values of the original hardbacks, but in a stylish, collectable new format with a specially designed logo.”

The Guardian offers a selection of illustrations, from 6 titles, in a gallery format. There is a commentary, on each of the images, from the illustrators responsible. The commentary offers a fascinating insight to the thoughts of each of the illustrators. It is always useful for students to read how professionals choose particular images or how they attempt to portray ideas and feelings in their illustrations.

The titles include:

  • The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame), illustrated by Inga Moore
  • Classic Poetry,selected by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Paul Howard
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll), illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
  • The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett), illustrated by Inga Moore
  • The Jungle Book (Rudyard Kipling), illustrated by Nicola Bayley
  • Don Quixote (Cervantes), illustrated by Chris Riddell 
  • Another interesting post about book illustration was in Jrpoulter’s Weblog on March 18th. Angel Dominguez – Spain’s leading illustrator in the tradition of the Golden Age was an interview with the illustrator and also contained images that he created. It is another interesting insight into the world of an illustrator.

    From Twilight to Wuthering Heights

    Wuthering Heights

    Uploaded to Flickr by lu lu

    Uploaded to Flickr by lu lu

    Like the Harry Potter stories there have been added bonuses to the publication of the Twilight Series by Stehenie Meyer. It has captured the imagination of younger (and older) readers and there have been spin offs, some expected and some unexpected. One of the unexpected bonus is that the classic, Wuthering Heights,  has become popular in France.

    The Guardian reports that French teenagers are discovering Wuthering Heightsafter picking up on Bella’s references to Emily Bronte’s classic in Eclipse.

    The article,  “Twilight’s teen vampires boost French sales of Wuthering Heights“, is interesting to read and documents how some of the French bookstores are helping the link along.

    “Sales went up 50% last year and since the start of 2009 they have continued to rise,” said a spokeswoman for the book’s French publisher Le Livre de Poche. She added that French bookshops have been selling Wuthering Heights alongside Meyer’s Eclipse, which has helped to drive sales.

    And in another section of the article

    Not all readers were impressed by Brontë’s masterpiece, however. One Amazon.fr reviewer said she decided to buy the book because of Meyer’s references, but found it was “very heavy to read and digest”, and that it was “written in the language of my great grandmother”. She continued: “The more the pages go on, the less you feel that the story is advancing,” deigning nonetheless to give it three stars.

    I like the fact that young people are reading, and commenting about, a classic novel. It is fine if they don’t like it and can articulate why. I have listened to some great and lively discussions about what is a “good” book. One class of year 7 students. in particular, I wish I had recorded. 

    I often use ties between novels on similar themes, to television programs, films, on-line games, in fact anything to create a link to the student’s interests/world – To involve our students’ imaginations in their reading matter at our school. Long live these unexpected coincidences.

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    Useful Links (weekly)

    Uploaded to Flickr by Will Lion http://tiny.cc/VAV6D

    Uploaded to Flickr by Will Lion http://tiny.cc/VAV6D

    Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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