When I was first learning how to cook, I burnt my fair share of sauces. And stews. And beans. And most other things I tried to cook. You get the idea. Put a guy with no experience and no formal training into the kitchen and see what happens. Chances are not very good that the resulting dishes will be very edible. I (almost) always ate what I made and learned from my mistakes. One of the first lessons I learned was not to turn the burner all the way up for everything. Seems like common sense now, but then common … Read more
There's good news for parents who are tired of having their toddlers getting their grubby little paws on their BlackBerrys and other smartphones while they're not looking. Leapfrog has announced a product called the Text & Learn or--as it's sure to be known in the blogsphere--the "baby BlackBerry."
Now kids can mimic their parents and send text messages and check their schedules at all hours of the day. The device, which is a bit bigger than your average BlackBerry, is geared toward preschoolers who are just learning to spell and includes games that focus on … Read more
Apple's Macworld announcement about professional and celebrity music instruction as part of GarageBand '09 may have been impressive, but what might be a little more eye catching (and ultimately useful) is iPerform3D. This browser-based music learning system shows users how to play guitar in 3D, and works on both Macs and PCs.
iPerform3D eschews A-list music celebrities like Sting and Sarah McLachlan in place of guitar-playing veterans who have undergone motion capture recording of their entire bodies (fingers especially) to teach you various lessons. To learn, you get control of a 3D video player that lets you change vantage … Read more
Last week NBC quietly released a learning tool called iCue in conjunction with MIT. (See coverage on CNET TV's Loaded.) It's been designed as a "learning environment" using a large collection of news clips taken from NBC's video archives to enable anyone to catch up on news coverage and current events. This archived footage is put into context, as long as viewers are willing to acknowledge that the content is coming only from one source (NBC), and for now only with the focus on the U.S. presidential elections.
To get going, users can simply … Read more
BookLamp is a project that the people at Amazon.com would be idiots to pass up buying.
It's a machine learning tool that's been designed to go through books and analyze not only how they're written, but also help group together novels that share similar structures and styles. The hope is to help people discover books they may like based on previously read novels, or what kind of reading experience they're going for. Internet radio recommendation service Pandora does something similar, employing a thumbs up and down system combined with listening history.
Because BookLamp's system uses machine learning, it skips the three major aspects of each book that humans usually tally: story line and plot, the characters, and writing style. Instead, it figures out bits of these three items by using written cues and quantifiers like word density, pacing, action, character dialogue (as noted by quotations), and level of description. The system also blends in one to five star ratings from Amazon.com.
So far, the database has 179 books, but is tracking more than 700,000 data points over 30,000 scenes from those titles. If it were to scale to track more works, in theory the results for related items would be even more precise. In its current state, users can go in and pick from one of the titles and get recommendations for similar titles, or view the graphs of what the system has recorded for its pacing, density, and other characteristics.
One of the coolest features, and the one I think is the killer app is the pacing analysis. It will go through and figure out when the pace of a book speeds up or slows down.
In the video demo (embedded after the break), creator Aaron Stanton picks Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park as an example, and demonstrates that BookLamp was smart enough to detect when the pace ramps up, including on what page that change occurs. I could see this being a great way to check and see if you're wasting your time on a read that's off to an incredibly slow start and potentially going nowhere. Instead of giving up, you could simply give the chart a quick look.
The project has been around since 2003 and continues to build up its database. There's a sign-up form to request a work to be added. You can also play around with the browsing and stats tool by registering. Be sure to hit the read more button to check out the video walk-through.
Non-profit Innovations for Learning today launched the "Teachermate" in Chicago public schools, a $50 handheld device that it calls "the world's most affordable solution for providing one computer to every student in a classroom." It's obviously not the most powerful handheld, but it should be plenty for the kids in kindergarten through second grade for whom it is intended, with a 2.5-inch color LCD, built-in microphone … Read more
Parents on the lookout for carefree, unintimidating ways to urge the sprout of their young kids' creativity ought to take a look at Ten Amazing Fruits. As the product name suggests, Ten Amazing Fruits stars a sampling of botanical characters, including the frequently miscast tomato (hurrah!) These are not, however, your garden-variety fruits. Each outsize organic possesses arms, feet, and a blank face upon which children can attach, Mr. Potato Head-style, a variety of digital features and appendages. A posh voice recites object names when the cursor mouses by, but a quick trip to the options can put an end … Read more
At its Government Leaders Forum in Berlin on Wednesday, Microsoft plans to announce that it is reinvesting in its Partners In Learning program, a global effort to provide software and training to teachers, students, and schools. The company is committing to another five years of the program.
In its first five years, Microsoft said the program reached 90 million people in 100 countries. The company plans to spend $235.5 million over the next five years, bringing its total investment to $500 million, but reach twice as many people in the next five years as it did during the first … Read more
Wonderful things can happen when you are open to unexpected possibilities. That's one lesson I take from the story that starts with a software program called Singing Coach. Carlo Franzblau had wanted to learn to sing since he was an off-key teenager with musical theater aspirations. In 2000 he developed Singing Coach, software with an American-Idol-in-training vibe. Users sing karaoke-style into a microphone and the software tells them whether their pitch is too high, too low, or in tune.
While performing quality-control tests on Singing Coach, Franzblau received some unexpected feedback: one of the first testers was a middle school student named Ashleigh who happened to be a struggling reader, and her mother reported that the singing software was improving her daughter's reading.
Franzblau pursued this unexpected finding with gusto. He teamed up with literacy professor Dr. Susan Homan at the University of South Florida to conduct a research study to see if Ashleigh's finding represented a genuine effect. Dr. Homan found that struggling readers benefited greatly from the program, raising their test scores by more than a whole grade level after nine weeks of training with the singing program, which has been redeveloped specifically as a reading intervention called "Tune In to Reading." The kids who used Tune In To Reading sustained their gain, continuing to make progress six months later even when they were not using the program.… Read more
Far separate from RSS readers lays the land of news aggregators. One of the more well-known ones is Google News, but there are also social solutions like Newsvine that let the community decide what news items rise to the top based on what's coming over the wire. A new service named Tiinker (that's somewhere in the middle) opened its doors earlier this week. The site's been in private beta since late last year, and can most easily be described as a mix between Google News and StumbleUpon. It's not meant to replace a standard news page … Read more