Lightning Maths released today

Last night, my second app got approved for release by Apple. You can find it in the App Store:

This is a quite clever app. It will ask you some to complete some operations (+,-,x,÷) with a range of numbers between 1 and 99, and if you get it wrong, it will ask you the same question at a later time until you get it right.

Questions on divisions will only produce integers, while the answers to substraction questions will always be positive. The app will save your answers and never ask you the same question again unless you provide a wrong answer.

For a true challenge, set the speed to 'rabbit', and try to beat your high score.

The reasonable App-In purchase unlocks all operations and removes all the advertising.

I hope that you will like it !

Adobe Project VoCo

Introducing Adobe's VoCo

This is a very interesting development in voice technology, from the company that brought Photoshop to us a few years ago.

VoCo is “Photoshopping Voiceover” software. Which means that you can not only edit audio, but you can also use tools to polish your edit, exaclty as Photoshop does with images. Of course you can use simple audio editing tools like the excellent Audacity , but Audacity is to VoCo what Paint is to Photoshop. It will do the trick, but the results are not going to feel "real".

VoCo is analysing someone's speech at phoneme (possible sound) level. There are 44 phonemes in the English language. Once you have collected them all, the possibilities are endless. VoCo is able to 'say' new words, using the correct sounds from other words. Which means in practical terms that in theory, I could create language from scratch, and sound like a real person. Truly impressive.

Just watch the video and hear for yourself...


Hello World

Sorry for the downtime. I had to get rid of Joomla, having totalled more than 20,000 spam comments that brought the website to its knees in terms of speed, fed on my bandwidth (about 4 Gb per month) and caused various errors 500 which made the site unusable.

I decided to give PageKit a go, as it is a stable and lightweight CMS that might just fit my needs.


Engage your classes with Socrative

Engage your students with Socrative Student

Prepare some tests and quizzes, and get your students to use their mobile device - whichever it is! to participate at their own pace, anonymously if you want.

I just love this website/service. First, because it is totally free (for now?), but more importantly because it does actually work . Students get individual feedback on their mobile device, they can participate with their own personal answers and then vote about the answers provided by their peers.

I trialed this with two classes already, and the kids absolutely love it.

A nice addition to the quizzes is the instant questions mode, where questions are pushed to the students' devices (without any need for prior preparation). For example, the teacher makes a statement and the students can decide whether this is true or false using their device.

If you are looking for something free, easy to put in place that will guarantee 100% students in lessons, look no futher.

Socrative is all that you need !


Camtasia for the masses !

So I decided to sign-up as an instructor with Udemy, and very soon, you should see my first course available on the platform.

There are a lot of video-production software available around, and I decided to go full throttle with TechSmith Camtasia 8. You can download a free 30-day fully functioning trial version here. What I found is that Camtasia, unlike Adobe products, will let you do what you want with the video. It is simple to learn, very intuitive, and it will do what you ask it to do without fuss. The green-screen Chromakey option works, the noise reduction works, and the special effects & transitions work too. The people at TechSmith programmed it with the end user in mind. I am absolutely in love with that software.

If you are a bit cheeky like me, you may want to also sign up as a instructor on Udemy, and then go to that page to get a special 50% coupon off the price of Camtasia. Ok, it did not work for me the first couple of times, but if you email david (email on the link), he manually sent me the discount voucher. Thanks Dave ! But good software is nothing if you can't use it, so I also signed up for a Camtasia Course on Udemy: by Ron Hogue; and this was a total revelation.

Screen casting and producing training videos is really very simple, once you have the basic tools. Ron takes you through the entire interface of Camtasia, and will help you become a master in no time. And he shares a lot of excellent and useful tips with his students. His course is very comprehensive, well structured, and is probably all that you need if one day like me you want to produce your online course. A definite recommendation !


Udemy - start learning today!

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered Udemy, the online university. I really wanted to get hold of some books for IOS development in Swift, and here in Dubai I could not find any; by the time you order them online, get them and realise that this is not what you need, it can get quite expensive. I like to have books for reference, but with Udemy, learning is becoming much easier and I would also say that it provides better value for money.

Let me explain this: when you sign up for a course, you sign up for a series of lectures and projects that, in real life, would be covered by one book. You get videos, stills, quizzes, but also access to the resources that normally come on CDs (or online) when you get one of those technical books. Udemy is different in the sense that you also get support from the author of the course and the community of people who subscribed for it; and this to me is invaluable. Questions get answered, files and projects get exchanged, and learning gets a real boost this way.

My typical setup is one laptop playing the video (that I can pause when I need to), and another one running Xcode, so that I can follow, play with the code, alter it in real time. And what you learn in that way really sticks.

When you first look at Udemy courses, they seem to be quite expensive. However, with a little bit of Googling, you are bound to find some coupons (try this one: INSPIRE 1010) that, when used at the checkout, give you substantial discounts (mine will make almost any course $10 only).

This is a true revolution for learning, where you can take your classroom with you everywhere you go: the Udemy app allows you to download the course (or part of it) so that you can watch it offline. Definitely one to try.


Interactive lessons with Padlet

Today I decided to have a go with to get my students to take ownership of their lessons.

The idea behind Padlet is very simple: they provide a virtual noticeboard, and once you know the address (such as for instance), everyone can contribute. This is an excellent idea because it ensures that everyone gets a chance to contribute in the lesson, without having to do so in front of all the others.

Now do the students make the most of this chance? Well it depends. I think that in the long term yes, they do, because the benefits of collaborative work is immense. But brace yourself for a period of learning where your padlet will be full of "lol" and other silly messages of the same kind. I found that an easy way to avoid this is to create a blank padlet for the whole class to try out for 5-10 minutes, before moving onto some more "focused" work.

The beauty of Padlet is that you can then export the contributions, either as pdf, excel (?!) or csv. Everyone then gets a copy of the global contributions. With Padlet, you can realise how much collaborative work brings to the students, both in terms of quality and quantity.

Definitely one to try !


Memrise - Grow your mind

I would like to introduce you to Memrise.

This is app (IOS and Android), as well as a website that will boost your vocabulary in the language (or topic) that you want to learn.

Memrise will not only teach you new vocabulary, but also relentlessly present you again and again with those words, until, well, you know them. The clever bit I think is that there is always a delay between the moment you learn a new word, and when you are tested on it. To begin with, it is counted in hours, and as you progress it changes to days, or even weeks or months.

Memrise is trying to mimic the process by which we memorise new words. And to some extent it works pretty well. I managed to learn about 1500 new words in Russian in very little time; considering that the lack of vocabulary is certainly the biggest problem to language learners, I would say that Memrise fills in that niche nicely.

One great feature for my students is that you can download the whole vocab set on your device to use it offline later (like on a bus or on a plane). There are thousands of contributors to the Memrise courses, so I am sure that you will find what you need. For instance, someone kindly posted all the vocabulary for our textbooks (in their relevant units!), and this makes an excellent learning tool outside lessons for my students.

Another great feature is that some courses come with some recorded audio too (that is downloaded with the course); I know that this is an invaluable feature for me and my Russian words. But the best feature is that it as absolutely free, so you should really try it for yourself!


The Pimsleur Approach to learning a new language

So I wanted to learn Russian. The obvious thing to do is to buy a book with all the grammar (did I say that it will make you cry?) with maybe a couple of CDs for a few listening exercises, and you are good to go!

Not so fast. This time, I wanted to try something different. Because I actually want to be able to SPEAK the language, not merely read it like I do for German, after studying it for 10 years.

The internet is a wonderful place where everyone can shout their opinion to whoever wants to listen to it; some people, without any language teaching background, kept mentioning how great "The Pimsleur Method" was. This "method" is simple. You only get audio. A lot of it. 30 lessons that last 1/2 hour each, very little reading or written material. Only speaking. And when you think about it, this is the way children first learn to speak a language. By listening and repeating.

So here is my setup: the 30 mp3s are on my phone, and when I drive the car or have free time at home, I do one lesson or two.

The Pimsleur people claim that you will be able to speak the language in 10 hours, and guess what ? it works.

Every unit is very well designed in terms of vocabulary and grammar, which is always revisited at some time later. Progress are fast and evident; this course would certainly give you the confidence to start speaking a new language. Grammar is very rarely explained, but instead, subtly introduced as you go; this makes the Russian declensions almost enjoyable; and it sticks!

The only reservation that I have is that some of the structures or vocabulary can be a bit old-fashioned, but that's beyond the point really.

Pimsleur will give you the confidence to want to learn more with the other tools available online, and this to me is invaluable.


Rick and Jenna's iOS 9 Adventure

Are you ready for an adventure?! Join Udemy's most enjoyable class and learn how to make your own freaking iPhone apps! No prior programming experience necessary.

They'll walk you through everything needed to create and submit your very own app idea to the app store, starting from scratch. They firmly believe in learning by doing, so you'll make 14 real world iOS 9 apps using Swift 2 and Xcode 7 together.

They run through every single step from installing Xcode (the program we use to make apps) down to how to make money with your apps. And they'll never talk over your head. They've experienced the harsh reality of complicated and wordy tutorials and online classes.

It's the first class to break everything down to the level that is perfect for "newbies" so that you never feel lost, and can excel and learn quickly.

I joined the adventure and never looked back !


First app on the way !

Speak4Me, will be submitted to the app store soon.

This is not the first app that I wrote, but it will be the first one that I will share with the world, and it will be free; no limitation, no ads, no in-app purchases, just free stuff.

As a teacher, I realise how difficult it is for students to pick up a correct accent when they speak. And I too leant that first-hand when I tried to improve my Russian accent. The main problem here is that when you want to memorise something in French for instance and you read it, you read it as an English speaker would do, applying the pronunciation rules of one language to another. And it simply does not work. What Speak4Me does is to read the text aloud to you, with the correct pronunciation rules, I did not come up with this idea; Google has been doing it for years ... badly. See, if you ask to read a foreign language for you, it will do it in batches of 100 characters, which means that you cannot control the flow. It pauses at the wrong times, and will ignore paragraphs, which is not a true reflection of reality.

iOS comes bundled with a beautiful Text-To-Speech (TTS) engine which is easy to put in place, does not need a network connection to work, so it looked like a better choice than using google. There is one drawback in that you cannot record the outputted text to a .mp4 file, that could be used outside the application. I am however investigating a workaround for a future version, because I think that this is an important feature to have.

The current features are:

  • it supports all the languages supported by the iOS TTS Engine, as well as Right To Left scripts (like English) and Left To Righ scripts (like Arabic). Basically, if you can paste some text into Speak4Me, it will read it.
  • it saves your texts for later retrieval.
  • you can pause, resume and stop the reading at any time
  • the mute option will just highlight the text at the correct reading pace so that you can practice reading aloud.
  • you can change the pitch, speed, volume and voice for the TTS Engine, and make it read text from a language using the pronunciation rules of another language. Very funny but very insightful too. Future version may include the ability to record yourself reading, and possibly the exporting of the read text to .mp4

Swift and iOS8 Apps in 31 Days: Build 16 iPhone apps - $10 only

I just signed up for one of those Udemy courses: Swift and iOS8 Apps in 31 Days: Build 16 iPhone apps The 'list price' is $199, which I think, considering the contents of the course and the support available is a fair price.

However, being the cheapstake that I am, I searched for one of those 'coupons' on the web and found one there: Now the course only cost $10 - not bad. It may last or it may not, so grab it while it lasts, and enjoy this course.

PS. The Udemy app on the iPad looks very promising too; it downloads the contents while online for offline viewing.


Swifty - Interactive Swift tutorial that works

Ok. Swift, Apple's new language for IOS and MacOS has been out for some time.

I bought the books, watched the videos, even read (some of) the reference book available freely on iTunes or the Apple Developer site if you prefer to read it online.

All of this is very good; Swift is easy to learn, and with the help of the playground in Xcode, you can try it out for yourself in real-time, without the need to compile first.

Except, Xcode does not work on the iPad or iPhone, and not even on a PC.

There are not many good tutorials in the App Store, but this one warrants a special mention. Swifty will take you step by step through the concepts that you may know from other object oriented languages, or from the Swift reference itself. First, it looks like some of those interactive forms that you fill in on the web, but when you look at it closely, all the questions are asked in such a way that you will make progress and fast.

Of course it does not cover the advanced features of Swift; but what it does, it does extremely well. I will use this app with my 11-year old son, and I am sure that he will enjoy using it as much as I do.