About this blog Subscribe to this blog

Friday Freebee: How Healthy Are Your School’s PCs?

Pc checkup The results of Norton’s State of PC Health survey of more than 1 million computers are in and they point to a blatant disregard for the necessary maintenance that keeps a PC running at top speed. With 70 percent of systems suffering from a lack of basic maintenance, there’s a lot of room for growth. For example, 14 percent of machines’ hard drives were not defragmented, 41 percent were using unsecured WiFi routers and 4 in 5 PCs were not backed up. Norton offers a free online checkup that looks at everything from viruses to firewall integrity in order to keep your school’s systems running at peak efficiency.

Norton dns One way to keep a school’s worth of PCs running at top speed is to keep out hackers that use connected computers as zombies that attack others is to use Symantec’s new Norton DNS service. The service augments other protections by routing all Web requests through remote servers that can not only keep users on the straight and narrow but verify the address of the destination and hide the school’s IP address. It works by adjusting the PC’s or the router’s domain name service settings. It works with Macs and PCs, and is still a beta service, which means that it’s free – at least for now.

It’s all part of a new product line from Symantec called Norton Everywhere, which attempts to protect all manner of modern gear, from smartphones to game machines.


Friday Freebee: Judging Books by Their Covers

50 covers One of my favorite places to buy books online is Abe Books, but they have outdone themselves with the 50 most iconic book covers for works of fiction. They range from Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” (a sunset as seen from a train track) to Larry McMurtry’s “Horseman, Pass By” (an open corral). For those reading a beat up paperback copy of “Invisible Man”, click on its cover and see what a first edition might cost. Don’t freak out because they are arranged with the most expensive first.

Drum Roll, Please

Roland octapad Now that we have that out of the way, Roland has revolutionized drumming and how it can be taught with its Octapad SPD-30 digital drum pad. The 8 sensitive pads can be independently programmed to any of 30 different types of drums from 670 different instruments. Great for a variety of band and orchestra uses, Octapad weigh 8.5 pounds, so it travels a lot easier than a kettle drum or snare kit. It costs $700.

Thief’s Worst Nightmare

LockItBarrel Projectors Have your projectors, monitors and A-V gear been disappearing? You’re not alone because theft happens in schools with remarkable frequency at the schools that can least afford to replace the equipment. Premier Mounts’s Lock-It barrel hardware can help make sure that projectors stay put. The key is that the gear can be locked down so it won’t move, unless thieves have a hack saw because it’s held in place with either a pad lock or a steel cable.

Small Wonders

Think outfitting a school with computers is a choice between thin and portable notebooks and clunky stationary desktop computers? There’s a new generation of micro desktop PCs that make older cases look gargantuan – and expensive. At as little as $250, they are not only among the least expensive systems available but most are about the size of a paperback book, energy efficient and can be attached to the back of a flat screen monitor.

Often little more than netbooks repackaged as desktops, these micro systems are more than powerful enough for Web kiosks and library systems, but might lack the performance needed for math and science classrooms, however. Here are five of my favorites.

Asus-eee-box Small is small, but the Asus EeeBox doesn’t skimp when it comes to putting high definition programming onto a monitor or projector’s screen. That’s because the EeeBox B206 can show 1080p high definition material. Based on Intel’s Atom N270 processor, 1GB of RAM, 160GB hard drive, the system comes with 10GB of Asus’s online data storage. While the EeeBox includes a stand, the system’s dimensions of 8.7- by 7- by 1-inch, mean it can be screwed into the back of just about any flat screen monitor. The B206 runs Windows XP and costs about $350, but it uses only about 20 watts of power, meaning it can save hundreds of do llars a year on power bills.  

15266_350w279h The newest of the new micro PCs is Viewsonic’s VOT125. At 5.1- by 4.5- by 1.5-inches it’s tiny and can sit on its own or be bolted to the back of a flat-panel monitor with the included hardware kit. The system uses the choice of several ultra-low voltage Intel processors, like the Celeron ($500), Pentium or Core 2 Duo ($679). Inside is 2GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive. It can connect with the rest of them with four USB connectors as well as ports for DVI and HDMI. It’s got wired and wireless networking, Windows 7.

Q150_02 It may be small, but Lenovo’s IdeaCentre Q150 is a powerhouse for the classroom or computer lab. Inside its 6.7- by 6.0- by 0.75-inch black case, the Q150 has an Intel Atom D150 processor, Nvidia’s Ion 2 graphics and the choice of Windows 7 Home Premium or Basic software. It comes with a stand, can be mounted on a monitor and can hold up to 2GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. The gem is the wireless handheld multimedia remote, which has a mini-keyboard up top and a trackball at the bottom. Pricing for the system starts at $300.

Zboxhd-id11-image1 At $250, Zotac’s ZBox HD-ID11 is a bargain that can save a school thousands of dollars. A square that measures 7.4-inches on a side that’s 1.7-inches thick, the ZBox HD can be screwed onto a monitor or sit on its own stand. It has a 1.6GHz Intel Atom D510 processor, Nvidia Ion graphics and all the comforts of a full desktop PC, including 6 USB ports, wired and wireless networking.

Zino hd Priced at $250, the Dell Inspiron Zino HD offers a lot for the money, particularly when it comes to style. The system is available in six colors and three patterns, making it a must for any classroom décor. Zino comes with the choice of four AMD processors: Athlon Neo X2 6850e or 3250e or Athlon 2850e or 2650e models. The system can hold up to 8GB of RAM and up to a 750TB of hard drive capacity. Unlike many of its peers, the Zino comes with a DVD drive and it has wired and wireless networking covered. It measures 7.8-inches square and 3.4-inches thick.

TNT for Acrobat

Nitropdf Ever been frustrated with Adobe’s Acrobat Reader? There’s now an alternative to Adobe’s Reader software that goes so far beyond it and should be the standard for schools. NitroPDF Reader looks like Acrobat Reader 9.0 and can read a wide variety of .pdf files, old and new, but adds the ability to save documents, fill out forms, highlight, underline or strike out any text. If you want to personalize lessons and letters home, you can put your signature (or any scanned image) on the file and even password-protect its use.

My favorite is that at any time you can extract the text or images of any .pdf file, which is a huge help in customizing pre-made lesson plans. NitroPDF does something that the Reader 9.0 software wishes it could do. To convert a Word file into a .pdf document, just drop its icon onto the Nitro icon; the software does the rest.

While it’s as fast as Reader 9.0 at starting up and opening files, the company says they’re still working on increasing the program’s performance. The 22MB NitroPDF Reader is available for 32- and 64-bit PC systems but not for Macs or Linux computers. That’s a shame because it will mean that many IT administrators won’t consider it in light of the Reader 9.0 software’s ability to run on a wider variety of platforms.

Like the Reader, it’s free for the download, but the company really wants you to buy the $99 Nitro Professional, which adds the ability to combine multiple documents into a single .pdf file, scan a page into a .pdf and turn a .pdf into a Word file. Give it a try

Chock Full of Projector Patterns

PG-VGA_PC[1] There’s nothing like a digital pattern generator for making sure a projector is properly tweaked and running a peak efficiency. Unlike other devices, Black Box’s VGA Pattern Generator fits in a pocket and can run on its rechargeable battery, making it perfect for going from classroom to classroom to adjust projectors. It’s good for devices that show resolutions from 640 by 480 all the way up to 1,680 by 1,050 with 34 different test patterns. It costs $400, there’s a $500 version for HDMI devices and includes a one-year no-questions asked warranty.

Power-Friendly Color

C330dn_34_2nd_tray_eu It’s no secret that outfitting a school with color laser printers can mean spending less on ink but that the school’s electricity bill goes up. After all, many of these devices use so much power when they’re working that the lights can dim and can even require a separate power outlet of their own. The latest color lasers from OKI Data Americas go against the energy grain with color laser printers that use low-power LEDs to form the image.

The C330dn and C530dn are both Energy Star certified and offer an Eco Mode that uses less energy without sacrificing speed. Rated at 23- and 27-pages per minute, the C330dn and C530dn are able to churn out prints fast enough for everything from letters to parents to homework assignments and tests. While the C330dn uses 480 watts when being used and 14 watts when idle, the C530dn consumes 540 watts when printing and as little as 1.1 watts.

C530dn_34_2nd_tray_jp The good news for the crowded classroom or front office is that both are less than 10-inches tall, so they can fit in a bookcase yet still put high resolution 1,200 by 600 dot per inch images on paper. The best part is that they each come with built-in duplexing so that you can print on both sides of sheets to save on paper costs. The C530dn adds an SD flash card slot that can work with 16GB cards for holding fonts and forms.

A big bonus is Oki’s Color Access Policy Manager, which can lock users or certain document types out of printing in color. It also has a log that can document who’s using the printers the most. They will both be available in June and cost $400 and $500 for the C330dn and C530dn with a one-year overnight exchange warranty.

Playing the Insulin Game

Prnphotos092093 It’s a sign of the times that more and more kids have to monitor their sugar levels during the school day due to diabetes. A good way to get these kids to actually prick their finger to get a blood test is for them to use Bayer’s Didget monitoring sensor, which connects to a Nintendo DS or DS Lite game machine. While it looks like a game with points, the unlocking of new levels and an online community, it is deadly serious business because it monitors the student’s blood sugar and insulin levels. All it takes is one diabetic child eating too much sugar at lunch and not checking his blood to have a life-threatening incident. It’s for kids from 4- to 14-years but doesn't include the game machine.

Friday Freebee: A New Eye on Digital Photos

Eye-fi center Schools who have been using Eye-Fi’s unique SD card for moving digital images wirelessly from camera to PC know it can not only speed up art projects and field trip mementos but keep kids from losing the expensive SD flash cards. The company has new software that does the image hauling from camera to computer. It not only as a new name (Eye-Fi Center, not Eye-Fi Manager) but lets you load images directly to an online image account for sharing or printing and lets you sort your recent uploads with a calendar of when they were moved. It’s free, works with all Eye-Fi cards and there are versions for Macs and PCs. On the downside, you’ll probably have to update the software on the card as well to get it all to work.

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