Focus on Open Educational Resources with an Ubuntu Unity Lens

Search box of OER Commons Unity Lens

One of the most interesting features about the Ubuntu's Unity desktop is that it takes the focus away from just applications and files and moves it towards discovering content. It does this through an interface (called the Dash) that is largely driven by a search window. To enable this system to focus on different content (e.g. to primarily look for music files instead of applications) different tabs appear on the Dash called Lenses. These can aggregate in to a general lens that allow searching across local and remote items in one go. What if this idea could be extended slightly to enable the discovery of Open Educational Resources (OERs)? The user might not have even heard about OERs, so might not think to go looking for them, but having OER discovery built into the operating system gets around this issue and makes every search a chance to learn. So I had a go at building such a Lens.

A first look at Ubuntu TV

TV icon

It already looks like 2012 will be an exciting year for Internet connected TVs with a multitude of announcements at this years's International CES. One announcement that particularly caught my eye was by Canonical for Ubuntu TV, a version of the popular GNU/Linux based operating systems that will run on TV sets. Running Linux on consumer hardware is of course nothing new, quite a lot of gadgets in the home are Linux based and many people will be using Linux every day without even realising it (a couple of good examples are Samsung TVs and Bluray players and Humax set top boxes but there are many, many others). There is also no shortage of operating systems for Smart TVs. What is interesting about this announcement is the application of the Unity interface to a completely different context - the TV. Canonical have made the source code for Ubuntu TV available so I decided to check it out and take a look for myself.

Using the EEE Pad Transformer with the Android SDK on Ubuntu

New Android project wizard on EclipseJust a very quick post about how to get the Asus EEE Pad Transformer working with the Android SDK and Eclipse under Ubuntu 11.04. As the emulator for Android tablets can be a bit slow this could be a handy way to test out applications as you build them. The starting point is to follow the instructions under Using Hardware Devices page on the Android Developer website. Following these instructions I got the machine working on my machine so I thought I would share what I did here.

First edit a new file:

Should Unity really be the default Ubuntu desktop?

Part of an Ubuntu Unity desktopIt is probably fair to say that the Unity interface in Ubuntu 11.04 is quite controversial and has led to some mixed reactions. Last October Mark Shuttleworth, the leader of the Ubuntu project, announced that Unity would be the default interface on desktop as well as netbooks where it and its predecessor had become commonplace. I've been using Ubuntu 11.04 across three devices; a laptop, a touchscreen netbook and a computer connected to a television. I've decided to give up on Unity on the laptop and go back to the classic interface, but on the other two devices I quite like Unity. Here I am going to try to work out why Unity is a desktop no-go for me.

Fun with Ubuntu and MIDI

MIDI port connectorsRecently I treated myself to a new keyboard (of the musical variety), one that helps you learn how to play it, which is great for someone like me who has only just started trying to play a musical instrument. Despite not being very expensive it did come with MIDI connectivity. MIDI is a standard that is as old as the hills and is still very useful for connecting musical instruments to each other and to computers, it also provides a file format for MIDI data. Searching around online I was surprised to find a MIDI to USB cable for only a few pounds so I got one and started looking around for interesting software that would run on Ubuntu that would make use of the new connection. The results were interesting and I found that MIDI makes all sorts of things possible.

A test drive of Ubuntu Server in the Amazon EC2 Cloud

Cloud Computing is a hot topic in IT circles right now and many will be keen to try out some of the technology involved to gain an insight into how they or their organisation might be able to benefit from this area. One significant product is the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (also known as Amazon EC2) which offers the promise of a server image that can adjust its specifications to cope with peak demands on a website. Getting started with this product has previously meant a lot of preparation though, lots of reading up on new terms and new ways of doing things and that is before understanding a pricing structure which thanks to its pay as you go nature might work out cost effective, but also takes longer to understand. Fortunately Canonical, the commercial backer of Ubuntu has stepped in and introduced an offer where you can test drive an instance of Ubuntu Server 10.10 on EC2 free of charge for an hour. I decided to take up this opportunity and see what I could learn.

The Samsung NB30 Touchscreen with Ubuntu's Unity: an alternative to tablets

There is a lot of talk about how tablets might kill off netbook sales. I thought about buying a tablet to replace my broken netbook but then I found another rather interesting option. The Samsung NB30 Touchscreen in some ways occupies an uncharted land between netbooks and tablets. It is a netbook, but you could also think of it as a tablet with a keyboard. This machine fitted my requirements a bit better than a tablet and I felt that it would offer me a bit more flexibility. In my last blog post I examined how to set up Ubuntu on this machine, in this post I want to reflect on my first week using it.

Installing Ubuntu 10.10 on the Samsung NB30 Touchscreen Netbook

The Samsung NB30 running UbuntuThe Samsung NB30 is a great little machine and if you get the model with a touchscreen it can be a nice way to fully enjoy the new Ubuntu Unity netbook interface. I recently treated myself to one of these and now have Ubuntu 10.10 installed with (hopefully) everything working. I'll be writing much more about this netbook and touch screen interfaces in future blog posts but first to get the features working that don't work out of the box, or don't work well straight after installing Ubuntu. These include WiFi, the touch screen, screen brightness adjustment and the hotkeys.

Using Google's App Inventor for Android on Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid)

Recently I got my invite to try out the beta of Google App Inventor for Android, a simplified environment to enable people to create applications for Android based phones using visual building blocks instead of a programming language. Google have written extensive set up instructions to get your computer and phone set up: http://appinventor.googlelabs.com/learn/setup/index.html but also on this page is a bit of text that could cause us trouble: "If you are using GNU/Linux, then you should use Sun Java rather than OpenJDK. App Inventor does not work well with OpenJDK." Unfortunately OpenJDK is the default for Ubuntu 10.04 and it might not be obvious how to get the Sun version, so I thought I'd better document what I did to get it working.

Boxee and Ubuntu 10.04 LTS on the Acer Aspire Revo

I did a fresh install of Boxee and the newly released Ubuntu 10.04 LTS on my Acer Aspire Revo today. The process has not changed significantly since I wrote my post How to install Ubuntu 9.10 and the Boxee Beta on an Acer Aspire Revo (including 64 bit option) back in January. You can pretty much follow these instructions to get everything up and running. One minor difference is in alsamixer where the entry formally known as “IEC958 1” now seems to be labelled “S/PDIF” (see below for screenshot) - unmute this as before. I used the recently released Boxee Beta version which works with Ubuntu 10.04, at the time of writing the Boxee site doesn't state this. It is also possible to integrate Boxee with the new Ubuntu One Music Store.


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