Sunday, September 27, 2009

Free font creation: Use your own handwriting

I have such bad handwriting/printing that I almost always use a keyboard. But sometimes I find that a personal note in Arial or Helvetica seems too "sterile" or stuffy for the context. And I've tried using some of the various handwriting fonts out there, but I know that they are not really my style.

Lo and behold, along comes a great little website that solves the problem. "FontCapture" allows the user to write out the letters of the alphabet once on a sheet that you can download, scan and upload the result and then get a font library that s/he can download and use to create truly "personal" messages. Printing/saving your manuscripts to PDF format gets around the problem of the recipient not having your unique font installed.

Some users have reported problems with the scanning, so you may need to fiddle with your settings before it works perfectly. Although, once you get your own unique font ("gordon" bold), it's all worth it!

For a student with written output problems, this might be a fun application that makes them feel like "one of the gang."

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Web-based Sound editing - Myna

I'm always on the look out for interesting web-based applications, and when Bob W. from my district sent out a link to I was quick to take a look. This site offers a complete suite of graphic editing software (image, effects, colour, vector): it's really quite amazing. I was really taken with the audio editor Myna (...everything is named after birds!) and found it to be remarkably like Garage Band. The layout and controls will seem very familiar to Apple users. For kids who are turned on by music editing, this is a great free app. (One caveat with this site is that you are able to see and hear other users' image and audio creations. Depending on the age level of your students, it might be problematic.)

There are great demo videos that show the power of these applications. Here's a teaser:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Text to Speech (Web based)

For those of us who have enormous quantities of text to read, the dream of being able to convert documents to mp3s and then being able to listen to them on an ipod is a compelling one! Yes, there is software that will do this for you, and there are packages that have uncannily human sounding voices to choose from. But what about web-based applications? SpokenText is a handy little site that allow you to upload a document, or paste in some text and get an mp3 output file. Very handy. The voice quality is not "stellar" but depending on what you're planning to to with the audio file, it's actually not bad at all! I can imagine a scenario where you have a reading-challenged student who needs to have a paragraph read to him, or you would like to send a kid home with a practice file, or you want to create a listening station in your class. SpokenText will take English, French, Spanish and German text. It could be another great tool for your teaching toolbox! (NB: You will need to sign up to use the service - it's free for a demo - and your files are only kept for a day, so you'll need to download them right away. Each demo account is only good for 7 days and 6 recordings. If you like it, it's $30 a year for a "real" account.)

ReadTheWords is another site with similar limitations. (Although, you can only have 30 seconds max.) There is a wider choice of voices, including a female French option in addition to a male voice. I've uploaded 2 samples in the audio players below.

En fran├žais!!

Monday, September 7, 2009

TidyRead - for a cleaner page

Here's another bookmarklet that will help clean up webpages and make reading and/or printing much easier: TidyRead. What I like about this applet is that you can resize the margins or font size on the fly. (There's a menu that appears across the top of the document.) It's really handy for projecting an article on the big screen, without all the "extra" visual clutter. Using it is simply a matter of dragging the icon to your menu bar. When you want to "tidy-read" a site, just click on the link! (There is also a way to use this on the iTouch/iPhone as well. Just follow the instructions on the site.)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

eBooks on the iTouch

Recently, I went out and picked up an iPod Touch. Despite all the fun tools and crazy apps you can acquire, the real reason I bought my device was to read. (At least that's what I'm telling everyone!) We went away for our regular "holiday week by the lake" , and I usually bring a box of books with me. (Usually 20 or 30 titles.) This time, I went the ebook route. Using Stanza for the Mac, I first opened a number of titles on my laptop which then I transferred to my iTouch. The Stanza app on my iPod allows me to view the book in either portrait or landscape, change the font size, and even read at night with the handy "reverse" colour setting. The desktop Stanza will open just about any format: txt, pdf, .lit, epub, etc, and allows you to resave, along with any cover art you might add, into the standard epub form. (I reviewed Stanza in Oct 08, but really like the version that runs on my iTouch!)

What about titles? All the major bookstores sell e-versions of their titles, but I find the prices are still too high for a product that I can't share with friends or read on multiple devices. There are lots of "classics" for free, and I have friends that search the torrents for "epub novels" in order to get their fix. But a great source is "Fictionwise". This e-vendor offers monthly specials on great titles for just a few dollars per title. I subscribe to their e-bulletin.