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Bad Batteries

Hp battery We all know that even the best notebook batteries only have an expected lifespan of a few years, but a bad batch of HP batteries may not last even that long. They can overheat under normal use and are being recalled by the company. If you’ve bought a bunch of Compaq Evo, Pavilion dv or Presario systems, check with HP to see if your cells are affected. There’s an interface on the site to tell if your batteries are potentially bad.

WINSelect Takes a Big Step Forward

WS71console Faronics and has taken a good thing and made it better by releasing its Core Console version 2.4, which makes managing a school or district network easier. It's not an earth-shattering upgrade, but the big changes are that Core Console now responds faster, and users can now look for and retry tasks that failed as well as schedule future tasks. Plus, administrators now have the ability to print and email a variety of reports from the central console. It’s a free upgrade for users of Faronics software.


FRIDAY FREE-BEE: Windows 7, At Your Service

Windows7_v_print It may not be the quickest or easiest thing to accomplish, but you can get a free version of the upcoming Windows 7 to try out, evaluate and see if it has a place in your school. Technically, it’s a release candidate, although the actual commercial version of Microsoft’s new operating system won’t be officially released for many months. Still, it’s a free-bee and worth the effort to see what they’ve been up to in Bellevue, Washington and how it might fit into your school.

Sure it’s free, but there are restrictions. The software will remain active until June 1, 2010, which should be enough time to see how it works and whether it causes any problems. After next March, however, the system will shut down after being used for two hours. Personally, I think this is akin to blackmail to get you to pay for the  commercial version of the software.

Figure on setting aside a few hours to accomplish the download and installation. But, first it’s worth it to use the Compatibility Check to see if your system can work with Win 7. There are versions for 32- and 64-bit processors available in a variety of languages and, generally, the basic requirements are pretty rudimentary:
• Processor: 1GHz or faster;
• System Memory: 1GB RAM for 32-bit systems or 2GB RAM for 64-bit systems;
• Hard drive: 16GB of available disk space for 32-bit systems or 20GB for 64-bit systems;
• Graphics: DirectX 9 graphics processor with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver.

Next, make sure there’s nothing on the system that you can’t live without. Otherwise, back up everything.

OK, we’re ready to get down to business. The download page is confusing, but scroll to the bottom and pick the type of processor you have (32- or 64-bit) and the language you want to use.

You’ll need to have an account with Microsoft’s Live ID to get the software, so you might need to register at this point. They’ll send you an email with a link that will take you to the next step. Don’t worry if it doesn’t work at first, just give it a few tries. Finally, when the license key comes on screen, write it down or print it; you’ll need it later.

All told, the 2.4GB download took about an hour to download over a WiFi connection, but that’s only the start. It’s an .iso file that needs to be burned to a DVD to be useful. I used Active@ ISO burner to put it onto a disc.

When the installation process starts, you have the choice of starting from scratch or keeping your old OS in a folder called Windows.old. Using two notebooks, old and new, the automatic installation took about 40 minutes and went off without any problems on two systems, old and new, which is a happy surprise for any new operating system. Those going from Windows XP, 2000 or even 98 should wipe the disk clean and start fresh.

Win 7 While it’s too early to tell what the final version will be like, the Win 7 release candidate is solid and reliable and seems to be quicker, smoother and brighter than either Vista or XP. There are no major breakthroughs that will improve your ability to maintain or control a school full of computers, but there are fewer interruptions to ask your permission to do things and the taskbar (now called the Superbar) has smaller program icons that are more visible and that blend better with the main screen.

The good news is that unlike other OS upgrades, particularly Vista, most of the hardware and software I used worked just fine, even older programs that every school seems to rely on. I used a bunch of USB devices, WiFi and printers, but the system’s Web cam wouldn’t work properly.

Look for the final version to be released sometime later this year, possibly before the next school year starts. New computers will have it pre-loaded from the start. In other words, get used to Win 7 because soon you may not have a choice.

How Low Can They Go?

Geckoedubook2 When it comes to netbooks, the bottom might reach about $200 this fall, and that’s good news for schools looking to buy inexpensive notebooks for students and staff. NorhTec is expected to show a small notebook designed for schools at next month’s Computex show in Taiwan that undercuts similar machines by at least $100. Called the Gecko EduBook, the system is based on an XCore 1GHz processor, 256MB of RAM and an 8.9-inch screen. It won’t be the best equipped notebook around but with Ubuntu Linux it should do well in schools. Because it uses so little electricity, it can run on 8 AA batteries or a rechargeable power-pack. Look for it this summer.


Flash Card Two-For

DataShare_split Notebooks and desktops with flash carders are old hat, but they can only work with one card at a time. LaCie’s Data/Share can read from and write to Secure Digital (SD) and Micro SD modules. With the ability to move up to 480 megabits per second, the Data/Share works with USB 2.0 and 1.1 systems. The card reader costs $9.90 and works equally well with desktops and ntoebooks.


Instant Library

Booksfree1 With only a very small fraction of any classroom or school’s library actually used at any particular time, it seems like the perfect space to squeeze more room for instructional use. Don’t get me wrong, I love libraries and use several local institutions to their fullest. But, for some schools there’s an innovative alternative that brings the books to the readers.

BooksFree is a service that ships books on demand to where they’re needed, when they’re needed and for as long as they’re needed. It’s something like the NetFlix DVD service, and all you do is select what you want on the company’s Web site. BooksFree generally ships it out the same day.

Make no mistake, these are real paperback books and professionally recorded books on disc, not downloaded eBooks. With 170,000 volumes and books on disc available, it’s much larger and more thorough than all but the biggest school libraries.

On the downside, the selection tends more towards thrillers than young adult fiction or historical novels. Still, the catalog includes such classroom classics like Harper Lee’s “To Kill and Mockingbird,” George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and Dava Sobel’s “Longitude.”

BooksFree search engine is the equivalent of a library’s card catalog. It can find a book based on author, title or ISBN number, and the advanced search section has a variety of categories of fiction and nonfiction works for the closest thing to online browsing. The missing element is that you can’t physically peruse the stacks looking for a book and enjoy the instant intellectual gratification of sitting down and leafing through a book.

Booksfree 2 In a test of several books and stories on disc, it took two or three days for the items to arrive. The book can be used until the teacher or student is finished without any overdue fines or late fees. BooksFree pays postage both ways and includes an envelope for return.

Despite its name, the service isn’t free. The service costs $13 a month for paperback books or CDs, but at the moment, the service does not have a volume discount for schools. Overall, it’s not all that expensive, particularly for a book that the teacher would read to a class or a recorded work that would be played to the class over several days or weeks.

$13 per month

         + Excellent way to have only the books you need on hand 
         + 170,000 volumes and recorded books available
         + Postage paid
         + Good search engine

         - Takes two or three days to arrive
         - No volume discount for schools

Smile, You’re On Digital Camera

MOD-524096_redrock_dslr20 For schools that have invested in digital SLR cameras for art projects and documenting field trips, Redrock Micro can transform them into high-end video cameras. The company’s DSLR products work with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon EOS Rebel T1i, Nikon D90 and Panasonic Lumix HG1. On top of a support cage and frame for the camera, the Redrock hybrid cinema equipment includes two dozen accessories that can help teach kids about video making, including base plates, sturdy steel rods and follow-focus kits. Next stop, the Oscars ceremony.

Second Generation Netbook

S10-2_family_01 Keep an eye out for Lenovo’s new IdeaPad S10-2, one of the first of a second generation of netbooks. An upgrade to the S-10 model, the new system is a little thinner, lighter, yet has the same 10-inch screen. The big changes are the addition of an extra USB slot, a larger keyboard. At $350 for a system that uses an Atom processor, has 1GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive, it’ll be tough to beat. It should be available in a couple of weeks.


Easy Meals

Go picnic If running a nutritionally aware cafeteria is driving you crazy and busting the school’s budget, thing about using pre-cooked meals for your kids. GoPicnic can put an end to jokes about mystery meat by supplying pre-made meals for breakfast, lunch or dinner for about $5 a meal. There are more than 20 varieties available, from croissant and fruit to turkey and cheese. There are Kosher and glutten-free meals, and the company’s products use natural ingredients and don’t have artificial colors or flavors, high fructose corn syrup or MSG.


Integrating Population Studies into Earth Science

Population Think earth science and you think of rocks, water and the physical elements that make up our planet. But what about the people and animals that inhabit the earth. Population Education has a new way to teach about ecosystems by putting the focus on population. “The Earth Matters: Studies for our Global Future” high school classroom CD-ROM curriculum includes 16 units that contain 32 student readings, 43 classroom activities and a wide assortment of information about climate change, distribution of wealth and food as well as economic development. Everything can be printed for students to take home or work on in class. Produced by Population Education, the Earth Matters works with both Macs and PCs and costs $15.


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.