A few days ago the Guardian published an article stating that "the UK's attitude to computer education needs a reboot" lamenting the lack of computing education in schools and saying that if this is not urgently corrected then the UK will suffer economically in the future. The article was not unique as many other similar articles and blog posts have been written along the same lines but sometimes I feel that such articles just feed into fears about the standards in the education system and the UK's place in the world and offer little in the way of practical direction. Yet there is hope - if we confront the issues and acknowledge the vital role of lifelong learning as well as computing education in schools.
The Raspberry Pi might not be a heavyweight in the specifications department but that is no reason why this inexpensive educational computer shouldn't help you learn more about some of the latest technology used to create web sites. The availability of some of the latest open source software in Arch Linux ARM introduces the exiting possibility of using the device as a mini portable web server (you could even battery power it). This could be very useful, not just for learning about these new technologies but also if you wanted to try your sites out with client machines that may not let you install server software locally, e.g. phones, tablets and set top boxes.
Three months have gone by since the release of the first version of the Scripting Layer for Android Tablet Remix. In that time quite a few changes have been made to the upstream version of the Scripting Layer for Android (SL4A) and I have had a few people asking me when these features are coming to the Tablet Remix. So just in time for Christmas I am pleased to announce that these changes have been imported into the source code for the Tablet Remix and it is now completely up to date with the latest SL4A features! Probably the most significant of these is the Full Screen UI.
I've been experimenting with SPARQL for some time and was lucky enough to have had some training at work on it, but on several occasions when reading Bob DuCharme's Learning SPARQL I found out something that this very powerful language could do that was new to me. The book provides quite a detailed overview of the capabilities of the language and takes the reader right from their first steps in constructing a query through to using it as a data source for programs. The capabilities of both SPARQL 1.0 and 1.1 are covered, with warnings when commands only work in 1.1. If you are looking to take your first steps in learning SPARQL, or maybe you are someone who can already write queries and would like to enhance your skillset, perhaps exploring topics such as creating, updating and validating data then you may well find this book very useful.
There was once a time when Google was mainly associated with search, but today many of us use all sorts of Google services. The latest of these to draw a lot of attention is Google+ a relatively new social network which could maybe be described as a bit like Tumblr crossed with Facebook. Google offer APIs to many of these services and recently added a read only API to Google+. They also supply client libraries that are designed to work with traditional desktop environments but with a bit of modification can be made to work with the Scripting Layer for Android (SL4A). We need to modify the code in one of the program files that Google supply and change the location of some of the files, but after that you can go ahead and integrate all sorts of Google services with your scripts.
*** UPDATE: The second version of this app has now been released. This page has been updated with the new version. *** A couple of days ago on the android-scripting Google group I was very pleased to announce the first release of the Scripting Layer for Android Tablet Remix also known as SL4A Tablet Remix. As the name implies this is a version of the Scripting Layer for Android that has been adapted for Android Honeycomb tablets, especially the Asus EEE Pad Transformer. There is still a lot of work to do on this app and a lot of improvements that can be made, but at last in is in a usable state and if you enjoy programming or want to learn about it this could be for you. The app builds on the fantastic work done by the contributors to the original SL4A project and extends functionality to being the Honeycomb look and feel to the app as well as extending the programming environment provided by SL4A to take advantage of some of the great features of the latest Android tablets.
Recently my evenings seem to have been disappearing in the blink of an eye. It is funny that when you get really into a bit of computer programming time can seem to disappear quite quickly. It can be quite a fun and mentally challenging way to spend time, not to mention absorbing. So I am hoping the project I am working on will enable more people to join that fun by writing small programs on their tablets. I am working on a version of the Scripting Layer for Android ("SL4A" – which used to be known as the Android Scripting Environment) and adapting it for tablets, especially the EEE Pad Transformer. The aim is to make the package work well on tablets and to adjust the user interface to make the most of the screen and new features such as the Action Bar.
Summer is an odd time. With no ice hockey matches to attend our thoughts turn to other subjects, such as why does RefSignals sometimes repeat questions? I've been asked a few times about how to stop it doing this, so here is a solution. RefSignals is an Android app built with Google App Inventor for Android that quizzes you on the signals made by referees during ice hockey matches. In February I wrote about this app and published the source code so that people could take it and use it as the basis for their own quiz apps. The response was great and the app has been remixed for all sorts of subjects so I hope this will come in useful.
If you would like to take your first steps in mobile app development then a book worth a look is App Inventor for Android by Jason Tyler. It is aimed at people starting out in programming and those who want to know how to get the most out of Google's innovative app creation platform of the same name. The book takes you from the basics to some surprisingly advanced applications. For me it it is a significant book too as I worked on it as the Technical Editor, my first time in such a role.
*** Update! See: RefSignals: A quiz app built using App Inventor - how to stop repeated questions for an improved version of this app! ***
I've been going on quite a lot about Google's App Inventor for Android to anybody who will listen recently. An example application I show them is one I built as a result of a conversation I had with my friend Georgina Parsons while we were sat in an ice rink in Gothenburg, Sweden watching a great match between the Frölunda Indians (the local team) and HV71. Ice hockey is a shared interest of ours but normally we attend matches in England so following proceedings in Swedish could be tricky. Fortunately the referees have a series of standard signals they make to indicate which penalties they are calling and our conversation turned to how it would be great to have a mobile app to help us learn those signals.