Fullscreen flashcard program

image I’ve put together the first version of a simple program for displaying flashcards in fullscreen, mainly as an exercise in WPF but also because its damn useful for all sorts of teaching environments. Flash cards are simple text files that anyone can edit – just load them up and hit spacebar to cycle through them. “Big Flash Cards” is now at version 0.1 🙂

It supports Unicode so is perfect for Japanese lessons, for which I designed it. Example flash card files are included – they are very easy to edit and are simple text files. This is a very early version so there will be bugs.

bigflash

Download Big Flash Cards (117kb zip)

Vista and Windows 7 users: just unzip and run BigFlashCards.exe
Windows XP users: You need at least version 3.0 of the .NET Framework. Download it here.

For those that care, this was developed in Visual Studio C# 2008 solely on a tiny little Dell Mini9 laptop.

Free pro Microsoft tools for students

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Wow. Microsoft has just launched “DreamSpark” – a programme that lets higher education students download pro Microsoft development tools – not the cut-down Express versions of Visual Studio, but the full Professional editions. UK Microsoft student champ Ed Dunhill sums it up the best on his blog here.

You get access to:

  • Visual Studio 2008 Pro
  • The whole Expression suite
  • SQL Server 2005 Developer edition
  • Windows Server 2003 Standard (and hopefully soon 2008)
  • The best bit is a whole years XNA Creators Club subscription FREE! This costs £65 normally with no real free alternative to get games running on the Xbox.

This is evidently a battle against pirated versions of the above products and this is the perfect way to do it. To enroll in the programme, your University needs to provide a Single Sign On authentication system to verify you or you need a ISIC card or NUS Extra card. Unfortunately, Oxford Brookes doesnt have a SSO Auth system (and I doubt they ever will – Oxford Uni does though) so I have had to order an NUS Extra card for a tenner to get in. Your status as a higher education student needs to be verified once a year, so students leaving Uni soon should sign up quick. Other than the XNA Creators Club subscription, I don’t think the products have time limits.

Expect Adobe to follow suit soon with their products if they want to get students hooked – although the academic discounts on Adobe CS3 stuff are great (only £400 for the Master Suite, down from £2500…) students will still pirate. Give students free access to professional tools and they’ll get hooked on them and buy them when they are earning a living.

Microsoft Inspiration Tour

IMAGE_113 Oxford Brookes hosted one leg of the Microsoft Inspiration Tour today, where Ed Dunhill and Busted-lookalike Ben Coley sent out the marketing message to Brookes students about the latest MS tech: Silverlight, Popfly, Windows Embedded, XNA etc. I had to leave halfway to get to work, but it was very interesting.

Unfortunately there was nothing new for people who already follow Microsoft news and tech such as myself, and the demos I had all seen before. This is the second time I have sat through the Fantastic Four Silver Surfer trailer on the Silverlight Fox movies demo site at a Microsoft event. Interestingly they had to bring a Xenon 360 devkit in for the XNA demos since they couldn’t definitely get an Xbox Live connection at the events they visit – which is required to run XNA stuff on a retail box. The presentation was a tiny bit out of date, for instance Silverlight 1.1 is now 2.0.

Around 70 people had signed up for the event, but just about 30 turned up. This isn’t the fault of the marketing or the presentation itself (although Wheatley campus no doubt had something to do with it), but because simply Oxford Brookes is not a Microsoft shop. They mentioned that all the technology they were showing has one thing in common – the .NET Framework powers all of it. However, try finding a computer in the Brookes computer labs even capable of running a simple .NET Framework app (seemingly none of them have any version of the runtime installed). Furthermore, despite having excellent fully-functional versions of Visual Studio now available completely free as Express editons, these are not on lab computers and no C# or .NET content is taught on any Brookes courses that I know of. Introductory programming classes are still taught in Pascal using Delphi – leaving students scrabbling around to try and find a free version of Delphi 6 every year. Brookes isn’t allergic to .NET though (my final year project uses it extensively for ASP.NET and XNA) and will let you use it when a programming language isn’t specified.

Maybe Microsoft should be giving an “Inspiration Tour” to the lecturers at the university instead, they could call it “Teach your students something relevant! Tour”. When the question “Who has heard of the .NET Framework?” was asked, 5 people put their hands up out of 30. These are meant to be computing students with an interest in technology – even my friend who is an Apple disciple knows about .NET.

PocketStackz (PocketPC) review

For Japanese language practice for my course I use PocketStackz by some chaps called “Minddate software”. Its an all-purpose language flashcard program with an emphasis on Asian languages (such as that an Asian Unicode font needs to be installed on your PocketPC).

What sets it apart is that you can immediately see what words you need to study at any point since the program sorts the words into “stacks” from “unknown” on the left to “known” on the right. If you get an answer wrong when testing yourself, the word moves towards the left, and visa versa if you get one right. This means when you have only a few hours until a vocab exam, you can quickly refresh the “most unknown” vocab in the quiz.

Vocab or kanji can be tested in pretty much any combination (romaji to kana, kana to kanji etc) and I find I get better results if I use it for short periods of time often. My test results even confirm this – weeks where I’ve spent 5 minutes a day with PocketStackz have seen perfect vocabulary test scores. You still need a drive to study, when when you don’t need to get your textbooks and pen and paper out (or those silly little “word cards”) its easier to find the time.

The software comes with a free PC application so you can make your own lists of vocabulary, but files for many textbooks and series of kanji (including the official joyo kanji) are available on the developers website. I had to make the kanji files for the Genki textbook series since they were not available, but this was painless using the PC software. Top stuff. 5/5.

Plus its only 19$ from Handango and they have a free trial (which I liked so much I bought it). Thats £8!

Buy or trial PocketStackz from Handango

Genki Japanese Textbook Vocab file for PocketStacks
Genki Japanese Textbook Kanji file for PocketStackz