Think again before buying a Windows 32 GB laptop

With the power of hardware these days, it is tempting to just buy a cheap lightweight laptop. After all, you can cruise the internet, check your email, and watch videos on them. Windows 10 is a great operating system for all PC’s for light surfing or heavy duty gaming. No brainer.

A student of mine with not so deep pockets, decided a Lenovo Yoga 300 would suit him – a laptop that flips over into a tablet format. The 32 GB fast hard drive was great and he stored most files on an external drive. But it slowed down a bit. Then crawled and finally became useless. Returning to the shop to complain, the staff obligingly formatted it – it was a one button function that the student didn’t know about. Happy days again. Till it slowed down, again. Agonisingly. By the time I found out, he had given up on it and was looking for any cheap laptop that could actually work. He even considered an old 2007 Dell could be a better performer. That is when I found out his problem.

He didn’t know why it was so slow and had given up on it. A glance at his hard drive in Windows Explorer showed red – not enough space. The 32 GB hard drive only shows up as 28.5 GB in C drive. Presumably the other 3.5 GB was taken up by the Recovery drive? He said he had hardly any files in it. I doubted that but when I investigated, it was true. No videos and no pictures. I deleted every file that was outside the Windows folder that I felt was safe to get rid of. That increased the free space to about 3GB, with 25GB being used. It did run faster. The Windows folder itself was close to taking up all that 25GB! Wow! I thought that perhaps someone, or a virus, had dumped a lot of large files there – or he had somehow used it as his media folder. Couldn’t find any evidence of that, and when I checked on the internet, it seemed to be quite a common problem (see

We decided a reformat would presumably help a lot. But the laptop declared it needed more free space to enable the reformat to take place. After a couple of hours I had deleted enough files from within the Windows folder to enable the recovery option. It showed “error”. Finally I did a clean install of Windows 10 – no Lenovo software, just a straight Win 10 installation. That took up 15.7GB. Almost half the hard drive, and more than half the C drive. After the first set of updates, it showed as 12 GB free. This is with NO added software. No Word, Excel or PowerPoint. No Chrome or Firefox.

C drive in a clean install Win 10 on a 32GB laptop. No added software.

So how much of this 12 GB will the student have to use for himself? When it approaches 90% of the C drive, it will probably start to slow down, so that will take 2.8 GB from the 12GB. The Software Distribution folder in Windows is where a lot of update information and downloads land and it grows over time. It is now 767 MB, but before I had formatted the hard drive, this folder had grown to 2.5 GB. So that will be almost another 2 GB lost. After the installation of some software another couple of GB could be shaved off the remaining free space. Maybe 6GB for the user? Most smartphones have more useable space than this!

Chromebooks manage to leave more room for personal files and are geared towards cloud usage. Linux, especially those distros created for older PC’s and smaller drives, would make a smaller impact than Windows. The obvious solution would be to just add an SD card. But this solution is far less convenient than it ought to be with the Lenovo Yoga 300, as the SD card doesn’t hide snugly in the interior. It sticks out which means it would have to remove it every time you travel with it. In my opinion, this type of laptop is not fit for purpose.

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New quizmaker software: Swency

If you find Kahoot too much hype and over competitive, with too many options that you never use, then there is a start up that has produced a simple down to earth quiz maker. It is web-based, called Swency (

A great feature is that it is fully multimedia in that you can import images, videos, PDF’s and even upload audio files – which with Kahoot, amazingly, you cannot. Read some exasperated language teachers here!).

Another feature which makes it standout from most modern genre quizzes is that it allows short answer questions. Socrative also does this, but Swency actually marks the answers as well.

Below you can see the automatic feedback to a quiz which was made using Swency. The question about the First Fleet was a straightforward multiple choice question. You can see the student got the date wrong (in red) and the answer is provided. The next question was also multiple choice, but based on a video. The students got the answer correct so it is coloured green. The final question had a picture prompt (not seen in this view) and was a short answer question, which was marked correct. This provides immediate useful feedback to a student.

You can see the teacher’s view below. Green means it was right, red means it was wrong, and the number in the red circle is the option student wrongly selected. But, that isn’t all as here you can see another unique feature of this software. If you click on the red circles you can see the actual answer the student wrongly chose, not just the option number. Very useful if you can’t recall what the wrong option 4 was! And invaluable for the short answer questions. For example, you can see Alan had written Kev instead of Kevin, which is why it was graded as incorrect.

Swency teacher's view
Swency teacher’s view

The software was designed as a simple introduction for teachers to digitising paper tests and adding digital value such as immediate feedback, even for short answer questions. Reflecting that, the question creation page is probably the simplest there is. You have the option to choose an image, a video you have on your computer or one from Youtube, a PDF or an audio file. Or no media file. Then you choose to have 2, 3 or 4 options. Finally, you choose whether your next question will be a multiple choice or short answer question.

Few options – uncomplicated

All the quizzes can be tagged and shared with other teachers in a school or worldwide, as long as the creator allows it. The quizzes are stored on the Swency servers so everything is on the internet, just as with the other web-based quizzes.

For any teachers who want least hassle plus full control over multimedia, this could be an excellent option. Don’t be put off by the slogan of “Digital Workbook” – it is purely quizmaker software.

Disclosure: I was introduced to this software by someone associated with it. I decided it had merits so I have published this review. I have had no inducement to do so, and this review was not shown to the company before I published it.

Posted in elearning tools, Quiz, Vocabulary, websites | Tagged | Leave a comment

Macbook abandoned by Apple, embraced by Linux

Installing Ubuntu on a mid-2007 Macbook

For the last couple of weeks I have been fighting a losing battle trying to get Linux to work on an Macbook. I was happy enough to use the Macbook with the original software – Snow Leopard that I could upgrade to Mountain Lion. For Windows users, this is like updating from Win XP to Win Vista. However, when I tried to install Firefox, Chrome, and even the Opera browser, in my mid-2007 Macbook, I was informed that the software I was using was too old for them to work properly. If you can’t browse the internet except for Safari, and the software can’t get security updates, it has been abandoned. The hardware from this laptop is pretty impressive, so it was a shame that Apple had giving up supporting it.

Ubuntu running on Macbook

Ubuntu running on Macbook

The Macbook deserved better! After several fruitless evenings trying to install Linux via Linux Mint, Fedora, SuSE and Ubuntu, I was wondering if I was ever going to crack it. I could get the live disks to work and then complete the installation process, but I felt really challenged as I couldn’t get any Linux distro to install and reliably boot afterwards.

There were quite a few forums and youtube videos that provided some insight – but never enough. I had learnt that disks with 64 bit software didn’t get loaded, which helped a lot. My first try with Linux Mint got as far as installing and restarting. But it couldn’t be relied upon as sometimes the restarts never loaded up Linux. Blessedly, I found the one line of code I needed to get Linux to boot: bless –device /dev/disk0s1 –setBoot –legacy –verbose. My gratitude goes to bionicman2 who provided a long and clear set of instructions on how to install Ubuntu into a Macbook here: However, rather than following all his steps, I just used that one line of magical code.

For those who want a short version of how to install Linux in a mid-2007 Macbook:

1. Use a live 32 bit Linux disk or USB and run it in live mode.
2. Use whichever partition tool is available to edit the hard disk. Leave the 200MB EFI partition, create a Linux Swap partition and create a third partition for the Linux distro.
3. Click on the Install icon and choose to instal it in the 3rd partition let it run to the end.
4. Use the Mac OS disk (Snow Leopard in my case) to boot up to the stage where you can see the Mac OS Utility tab.                                                                                                                              5. Use the Terminal to instruct the Macbook to use the Linux bootloader using: bless –device /dev/disk0s1 –setBoot –legacy –verbose

That worked for me.

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Two more online clipboards worth knowing about

Since I move around a lot of different campuses and venues, I talk to a lot of groups that I want to give links to so they can see online resources I have created or want to share with them.  I don’t usually have access to their email accounts nor any LMS they use. In the past I have used It has also had short periods of not being available, but it is still my favourite, especially for iPad users as it produces clickable links, not just text that needs to be copied and pasted. has also been useful as I do not have to log in to use it, but the site has been down for the past week, so that is not reliable.  However, I now feel that I need a back up option.

So I have done some research for alternatives and come across two that are worth using:

This was designed for coders to share code and keep the code exactly as they had typed it. It works for links too so long as the receiver clicks in the box in the top to make links clickable. You are able to create a short custom URL which no one else can edit. Make sure you keep the URL for the editing page! Perfect for mobiles. Very easy to use.

Textsnip - a useful online clipboard

Textsnip – a useful online clipboard 

This website is similar to the textsnips website but it is not intended for coders, just normal users who want to pass text between computers or share with others. It also allows you to make a custom URL and the links can be made clickable. It is supported by ads, which is fine as they don’t interfere with the functionality I want.

When you get to you are met with the instructions on how to use it. One you click on the cross to delete it you are left with a blank page and a tool bar on the right side. As with Textsnips, make sure you keep the URL for the editing page! Very easy to use.

shrib tool bar

Shrib tool bar

If you have any other suggestions, please leave a comment.


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How to transfer Minecraft worlds between iPads

Transferring anything between iPads is traditionally a difficult task. I have used FileHub to in the past to transfer documents, photos and music. Google Drive and other cloud storage providers can do a similar job. However, transferring Minecraft worlds has not been nearly as easy because accessing the Minecraft application data folders in iPads is quite difficult.

Luckily, iFunbox makes this task very easy. It has been around since 2008, so it has taken me 10 years to discover it! It is a program that can run on Macs or Windows machines which will provide you with a Windows Explorer type of folder views so you can browse to the folders you wish and also copy and paste the folders.

I used a Windows 7 computer and downloaded the latest iFunbox and iTunes programs. You need to have iTunes for iFunbox to work.

  1. After installing the two programs, connect the iPad that contains the games you want to the computer via the USB charger.
  2. Go to Managing App Data
  3. Left click on Minecraft to bring up the dropdown menu. 
  4. Left click on the Open Sandbox option.
  5. Click on Games and then click on com.mojang.
  6. You will now see the minecraftWorlds folder:
  7. Select the folder then press Copy To PC
  8. Save it somewhere on the PC.
  9. Click on the iPad’s name at the top of the iFunbox program:
  10.  Select: Device Safe Removal
  11. Connect the iPad you want to add the games.
  12. Follow the above steps to get to the minecraftWorlds folder.
  13. Click on Copy From PC.
  14. Browse to theminecraftWorlds folder you copied from the first iPad and select all the subfolders. These are all games.
  15. Copy all these subfolders and paste them into the new iPad’s minecraftWorlds folder. This adds the games, keeping the original games as well.
  16. Click on the iPad’s name at the top of the iFunbox program.
  17.  Select: Device Safe Removal
  18. Refresh Minecraft in the iPad you have transferred the worlds to and you should see all the old and transferred worlds there.

Hope you have success in doing this!



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iPad fun with math calculations

Getting students to do enough practice at maths for it to sink in and be retained is quite a challenge. QuickMaths is an iPad app that has been around for a long time but is still worth a shout out. It provides a limited number of questions and times how quickly they are done. At the end, students are presented with a graph of how long it took each time they attempted the exercise. This provides an incentive for the students to beat their previous times.

One unique feature of this app is that the students have to use their fingers, or a stylus, to write in the numbers. They can write anywhere on the iPad, any size, and the app will try to recognise the number as it is written. This provides incentive to improve their writing so giving them kinesthetic learning as well as visual learning.  An extra feature is the music that accompanies it which changes when the student gets a correct answer – reinforcing the message that the answer was correct.

First, students select which maths calculation they want to do (or are asked by the teacher to do!).

QuickMaths select mode

Let’s look at multiplication:

All modes have 4 levels making it suitable for individualising the practice – great for mixed level classes.

Below is the view for intermediate multiplication. The students get to see the correct answer for the previous question as well as the current question and the next question. If the student writes the wrong answer, it briefly appears in the answer box in red, then the answer disappears and waits for the next attempt. Students can choose to skip questions if they want.

After the student has completed the set of questions they are shown a graph of their times:

The above chart has been done by several people which explains why it is not in what would be expected from a students starting out.

As with other apps that start out on iPads, this app has now been made available on Windows PCs.












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Youtube keeps offensive Youtuber, kicks out proven inoffensive creators.

New YouTube Partner Program (YPP) rules announced on 16 January 2018 will penalize the smaller and new video creators ( These new rules state that a Youtube channel needs to have 4000 hours of viewing time and 1000 subscribers to be invited to join the YPP. Any channel below that will no be able to be part of the YPP.

Random Robi's Youtube Channel. His most popular video - a flight review.

Random Robi’s Youtube Channel. His most popular video – a flight review.

Big deal? Yes – as the YPP is the way video creators get paid for their efforts. Youtubers cannot put adds on their videos unless they are part of the YPP. Youtube are at pains to point out that the smaller channels are not about to lose their livelihood and be forced to live on the streets as a result of this decision: “Though these changes will affect a significant number of channels, 99% of those affected were making less than $100 per year in the last year, with 90% earning less than $2.50 in the last month.” ( So, yes, the vast majority of Youtube videos are largely a labour of love, not income. Why should Youtube keep paying administration costs on accounts that are so small. After all, they are already generously providing unlimited free storage and a worldwide audience – fame is just a few enticing frames away!

My son has had a Youtube account since about August 2016. His most popular video – a flight review of his trip from Singapore to Helsinki on Finnair – has about 12000 views and is still climbing. Several other videos have over 2000 views. The analytics that Youtube provides are great. Thanks to them Robi knows that over 90% of his views are a result of being selected by viewers from the recommendations next to the video the viewer had watched previously. This sharpened Robi’s marketing mind and he spends many hours ensuring the thumbnails for his videos are the most attractive that he can make them.

Click below to see Robi’s channel – Random Robi – and please subscribe while you are there. Strike a blow for the small battler!

Which is why the new rules feel like an enormous kick in the guts. All his videos will presumably be removed from the recommendations as they will no longer carry adverts. His views could easily plummet by 90%.

Robi managed to get into the YPP under the old rules. This meant that the Youtube algorithms would place Robi’s niche videos next to viewers who would be tempted to click on them. Great for Robi’s viewer numbers and a revenue boost for Youtube (80% of the revenue that Robi’s ads earn go to Youtube. Robi has earned only $40 over the time he has had a Youtube channel). Under the new rules Robi will be removed from the YPP and Youtube will have no financial incentive to promote his videos to the recommended list alongside. Google will have no incentive either to even acknowledge his videos when people search for flight reviews. He just wants an even playing field to be acknowledged for his effort and creativity.

Part of the push for new rules is because one of the biggest Youtube creators uploaded a video that was declared to have violated rules of decency by showing offensive material. Youtube had manually promoted it as it trended, so its own staff obviously hadn’t found it offensive. Nope – tens of thousands of viewers couldn’t be wrong, could they? However, the public backlash swelled so much that they had to remove it. Logan Paul’s Youtube channel is still up (I’ve just checked), with Youtube profiting from his notoriety.

Ironic that Logan Paul, who has uploaded offensive material, still gets to keep his channel (and his share of the revenue from the offensive material?) but small, inoffensive Youtubers like Robi, who have already proven their worth, are about to be denied the breath of algorithmic publicity.


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Social Bookmarking With Diigo – never lose a web link again.

Never lose a web link again!

You can soon fill up the bookmarking links on your browser – Firefox, Chrome or Safari. Then what do you do? My solution to this problem is to use Diigo. It is a social bookmarking tool, but it also works as an excellent stand alone personal bookmarks organiser.

To understand the logic and power of social bookmarking, check out this video. It is a bit old, and refers to the Delicious bookmarking webtool, but it is an excellent introduction to the topic:

It can do a lot more than just create a list of bookmarks. You can tag each webpage so that you can find the articles long after you have forgotten their details. For example, you can find the IELTS reading you have created an exercise for by using the tags: Solar IELTS Reading. All articles with these 3 tages will appear in a list. You can also annotate and highlight the sections of the webpage that interested you.

To find out about the features of the Diigo social bookmarking webtool, look at this video.

If you want to explore some other similar tools, this is an informative read:

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Quizlet – new hotspot style quiz for visual learners

If you haven’t been following Quizlet for a few months then you may not have noticed that they have now included hotspot quiz technology.

Simply put, it means that you can create hotspots on a picture – for example a map, a diagram of a heart, a picture of a car, etc. If a student can click on the correct part they get the mark. It allows students to match positions with pictures or words – better than matching words with words, especially for students who have reading difficulties. I have used the following diagram from Quizlet diagrams for an Anatomy class.

Heart diagram

This sort of question could be designed by having a picture with numbers, but it is a lot more satisfying and kinaesthetically reinforcing by having to click on a location rather than select a number or letter.

Some quizlet diaqgrams

Some quizlet diaqgrams

Picture from:

In line with the Quizlet philosophy, you can use any of the diagram questions that have been created. However, if you want to edit them or create your own, you must upgrade to a Quizlet Teacher. Whether it Is worth it for you depends on how much you think you will use the feature – and the other advantages of becoming a Quizlet Teacher. You can see the advantages and the cost of doing so here:

Posted in Cloud Computing, elearning tools, Quiz | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Speed up Joomla 3.7.5 – a plugin that made my site crawl

In the past few days a website I administer became painfully slow. I am talking about taking 35 seconds to load any page on the website.  When I tried to get some idea of the problem using GTmetrics it took over 2 minutes to load, timed out, and wouldn’t return any analysis.

I searched Joomla forums but the only suggestion that seemed to be practical or relevant was to delete any large picture – and there were several candidates over 400 kb that had recently been put up by one of the authors. But even pages that had only text were just as slow. Baffled, so decided to send a message to the webhost I was using. To be specific with my problem I decided to carefully measure how many seconds it took to load. When I was staring at the blank white screen I noticed in the bottom left hand corner of my Chrome browser “waiting for WikiMedia” followed by “waiting for Extrawatch Live!” It seemed to take an age for these to load. ExtraWatch Live! is an analytics plugin that I had imported. Perhaps that was the problem? I disabled it and found the website loading speedily.

In GTmetrics my rating had increased from unable to be analysed, to category A with loading speed of 1.7 seconds.

Results from GTMetrics for my website

Results from GTMetrics for my website

Obviously I had solved the problem 🙂  The strange thing is that I had installed the ExtraWatch Live! plugin over a month ago, so it wasn’t something that readily came to mind as something now causing problems. Why should I suspect it?

While searching for the solution I also applied some server modifications which could have helped, particularly Gzip Page Compression. You can see the settings I changed here:

Joomla 3.7.5 server settings

Modifications to Joomla 3.7.5 server settings

I got the idea of modifying my Gzip Page Compression setting from this Youtube video by Joomla SEO & Performance .

I suppose the take home message for me from this experience is to watch out for the information at the bottom of the scree as the first line in tackling slow website problems.


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