All posts by Sridhar Dhanapalan

http://www.dhanapalan.com/blog/about/

How to Create a Venn Diagram with Independent Intersections in PowerPoint

A Venn diagram can be a great way to explain a business concept. This is generally not difficult to create in modern presentation software. I often use Google Slides for its collaboration abilities.

Where it becomes difficult is when you want to add a unique colour/pattern to an intersection, where the circles overlap. Generally you will either get one circle overlapping another, or if you set some transparency then the intersection will become a blend of the colours of the circles.

I could not work out how to do this in Google Slides, so on this occasion I cheated and did it in Microsoft PowerPoint instead. I then imported the resulting slide into Slides.

This worked for me in PowerPoint for Mac 2016. The process is probably the same on Windows.

Firstly, create a SmartArt Venn Diagram

Insert > SmartArt > Relationship > Basic Venn

Separate the Venn circles

SmartArt Design > Convert > Convert to Shapes

Ungroup shapes

Shape Format > Group Objects > Ungroup

Split out the intersections

Shape Format > Merge Shapes > Fragment

From there, you can select the intersection as an independent shape. You can treat each piece separately. Try giving them different colours or even moving them apart.

This can be a simple but impactful way to get your point across.

New LinkedIn Interface Delete Your Data? Here’s How to Bring it Back.

Over the past few years it has seemed like LinkedIn were positioning themselves to take over your professional address book. Through offering CRM-like features, users were able to see a summary of their recent communications with each connection as well as being able to add their own notes and categorise their connections with tags. It appeared to be a reasonable strategy for the company, and many users took the opportunity to store valuable business information straight onto their connections.

Then at the start of 2017 LinkedIn decided to progressively foist a new user experience upon its users, and features like these disappeared overnight in lieu of a more ‘modern’ interface. People who grew to depend on this integration were in for a rude shock — all of a sudden it was missing. Did LinkedIn delete the information? There was no prior warning given and I still haven’t seen any acknowledgement or explanation (leave alone an apology) from LinkedIn/Microsoft on the inconvenience/damage caused.

If anything, this reveals the risks in entrusting your career/business to a proprietary cloud service. Particularly with free/freemium (as in cost) services, the vendor is more likely to change things on a whim or move that functionality to a paid tier.

It’s another reason why I’ve long been an advocate for open standards and free and open source software.

Fortunately there’s a way to export all of your data from LinkedIn. This is what we’ll use to get back your tags and notes. These instructions are relevant for the new interface. Go to your account settings and in the first section (“Basics”) you should see an option called “Getting an archive of your data”.

LinkedIn: Getting an archive of your data

Click on Request Archive and you’ll receive an e-mail when it’s available for download. Extract the resulting zip file and look for a file called Contacts.csv. You can open it in a text editor, or better yet a spreadsheet like LibreOffice Calc or Excel.

In my copy, my notes and tags were in columns D and E respectively. If you have many, it may be a lot of work to manually integrate them back into your address book. I’d love suggestions on how to automate this. Since I use Gmail, I’m currently looking into Google’s address book import/export format, which is CSV based.

As long as Microsoft/LinkedIn provide a full export feature, this is a good way to maintain ownership of your data. It’s good practice to take an export every now and then to give yourself some peace-of-mind and avoid vendor lock-in.

This article has also been published on LinkedIn.

CareerNexus: a new way to find work

The start-up that I have co-founded, CareerNexus, is looking for job seekers to take part in a product test and market experiment. If you, or someone you know, wants to know more and potentially take part, message me.

If we can help just a fraction of those people who have difficulty finding work through traditional means — people returning from parental leave, people looking for roles after being made redundant, mature workers, even some highly skilled professionals — we’ll be doing something great.

As an alternate means of finding work, it need not replace any mechanisms that you may already be engaged in. In other words, there is nothing for you to lose and hopefully much for you to gain.

A Complete Literacy Experience For Young Children

From the “I should have posted this months ago” vault…

When I led technology development at One Laptop per Child Australia, I maintained two golden rules:

  1. everything that we release must ‘just work’ from the perspective of the user (usually a child or teacher), and
  2. no special technical expertise should ever be required to set-up, use or maintain the technology.

In large part, I believe that we were successful.

Once the more obvious challenges have been identified and cleared, some more fundamental problems become evident. Our goal was to improve educational opportunities for children as young as possible, but proficiently using computers to input information can require a degree of literacy.

Sugar Labs have done stellar work in questioning the relevance of the desktop metaphor for education, and in coming up with a more suitable alternative. This proved to be a remarkable platform for developing a touch-screen laptop, in the form of the XO-4 Touch: the icons-based user interface meant that we could add touch capabilities with relatively few user-visible tweaks. The screen can be swivelled and closed over the keyboard as with previous models, meaning that this new version can be easily converted into a pure tablet at will.

Revisiting Our Assumptions

Still, a fundamental assumption has long gone unchallenged on all computers: the default typeface and keyboard. It doesn’t at all represent how young children learn the English alphabet or literacy. Moreover, at OLPC Australia we were often dealing with children who were behind on learning outcomes, and who were attending school with almost no exposure to English (since they speak other languages at home). How are they supposed to learn the curriculum when they can barely communicate in the classroom?

Looking at a standard PC keyboard, you’ll see that the keys are printed with upper-case letters. And yet, that is not how letters are taught in Australian schools. Imagine that you’re a child who still hasn’t grasped his/her ABCs. You see a keyboard full of unfamiliar symbols. You press one, and on the screen pops up a completely different looking letter! The keyboard may be in upper-case, but by default you’ll get the lower-case variants on the screen.

A standard PC keyboard
A standard PC keyboard

Unfortunately, the most prevalent touch-screen keyboard on the marke isn’t any better. Given the large education market for its parent company, I’m astounded that this has not been a priority.

The Apple iOS keyboard
The Apple iOS keyboard

Better alternatives exist on other platforms, but I still was not satisfied.

A Re-Think

The solution required an examination of how children learn, and the challenges that they often face when doing so. The end result is simple, yet effective.

The standard OLPC XO mechanical keyboard (above) versus the OLPC Australia Literacy keyboard (below)
The standard OLPC XO mechanical keyboard (above) versus the OLPC Australia Literacy keyboard (below)

This image contrasts the standard OLPC mechanical keyboard with the OLPC Australia Literacy keyboard that we developed. Getting there required several considerations:

  1. a new typeface, optimised for literacy
  2. a cleaner design, omitting characters that are not common in English (they can still be entered with the AltGr key)
  3. an emphasis on lower-case
  4. upper-case letters printed on the same keys, with the Shift arrow angled to indicate the relationship
  5. better use of symbols to aid instruction

One interesting user story with the old keyboard that I came across was in a remote Australian school, where Aboriginal children were trying to play the Maze activity by pressing the opposite arrows that they were supposed to. Apparently they thought that the arrows represented birds’ feet! You’ll see that we changed the arrow heads on the literacy keyboard as a result.

We explicitly chose not to change the QWERTY layout. That’s a different debate for another time.

The Typeface

The abc123 typeface is largely the result of work I did with John Greatorex. It is freely downloadable (in TrueType and FontForge formats) and open source.

After much research and discussions with educators, I was unimpressed with the other literacy-oriented fonts available online. Characters like ‘a’ and ‘9’ (just to mention a couple) are not rendered in the way that children are taught to write them. Young children are also susceptible to confusion over letters that look similar, including mirror-images of letters. We worked to differentiate, for instance, the lower-case L from the upper-case i, and the lower-case p from the lower-case q.

Typography is a wonderfully complex intersection of art and science, and it would have been foolhardy for us to have started from scratch. We used as our base the high-quality DejaVu Sans typeface. This gave us a foundation that worked well on screen and in print. Importantly for us, it maintained legibility at small point sizes on the 200dpi XO display.

On the Screen

abc123 is a suitable substitute for DejaVu Sans. I have been using it as the default user interface font in Ubuntu for over a year.

It looks great in Sugar as well. The letters are crisp and easy to differentiate, even at small point sizes. We made abc123 the default font for both the user interface and in activities (applications).

The abc123 font in Sugar's Write activity, on an XO laptop screen
The abc123 font in Sugar’s Write activity, on an XO laptop screen

Likewise, the touch-screen keyboard is clear and simple to use.

The abc123 font on the XO touch-screen keyboard, on an XO laptop screen
The abc123 font on the XO touch-screen keyboard, on an XO laptop screen

The end result is a more consistent literacy experience across the whole device. What you press on the hardware or touch-screen keyboard will be reproduced exactly on the screen. What you see on the user interface is also what you see on the keyboards.

Interview with Australian Council for Computers in Education Learning Network

Adam Holt and I were interviewed last night by the Australian Council for Computers in Education Learning Network about our not-for-profit work to improve educational opportunities for children in the developing world.

We talked about One Laptop per Child, OLPC Australia and Sugar Labs. We discussed the challenges of providing education in the developing world, and how that compares with the developed world.

Australia poses some of its own challenges. As a country that is 90% urbanised, the remaining 10% are scattered across vast distances. The circumstances of these communities often share both developed and developing world characteristics. We developed the One Education programme to accommodate this.

These lessons have been developed further into Unleash Kids, an initiative that we are currently working on to support the community of volunteers worldwide and take to the movement to the next level.

Published in Engineers Without Borders Magazine

Engineers Without Borders asked me to write something for their Humanitarian Engineering magazine about One Laptop per Child. Here is what I wrote.

The school bell rings, and the children filter into the classroom. Each is holding an XO – their own personal learning device.

Students from Doomadgee often use their XOs for outdoors education. The sunlight-readable screen
combined with the built-in camera allow for hands-on exploration of their environment.

This is no ordinary classroom. As if by magic, the green and white XOs automatically see each other as soon as they are started up, allowing children to easily share information and collaborate on activities together. The kids converse on how they can achieve the tasks at hand. One girl is writing a story on her XO, and simultaneously on the same screen she can see the same story being changed by a boy across the room. Another group of children are competing in a game that involves maths questions.

Children in Kiwirrkurra, WA, collaborate on an activity with help from teachers.

Through the XO, the learning in this classroom has taken on a peer-to-peer character. By making learning more fun and engaging, children are better equipped to discover and pursue their interests. Through collaboration and connectivity, they can exchange knowledge with their peers and with the world. In the 21st century, textbooks should be digital and interactive. They should be up-to-date and locally relevant. They should be accessible and portable.

Of course, the teacher’s role remains vital, and her role has evolved into that of a facilitator in this knowledge network. She is better placed to provide more individual pathways for learning. Indeed the teacher is a learner as well, as the children quickly adapt to the new technology and learn skills that they can teach back.

A teacher in Jigalong, WA, guides a workgroup of children in their class.

Helping to keep the classroom session smoothly humming along are children who have proven themselves to be proficient with assisting their classmates and fixing problems (including repairing hardware). These kids have taken part in training programmes that award them for their skills around the XO. In the process, they are learning important life skills around problem solving and teamwork.

Dozens of students in Doomadgee State School are proficient in fixing XO hardware.

This is all part of the One Education experience, an initiative from One Laptop per Child (OLPC) Australia. This educational programme provides a holistic educational scaffolding around the XO, the laptop developed by the One Laptop per Child Association that has its roots in the internationally-acclaimed MIT Media Lab in the USA.

The XO was born from a desire to empower each and every child in the world with their own personal learning device. Purpose-built for young children and using solid open source software, the XO provides an ideal platform for classroom learning. Designed for outdoors, with a rugged design and a high-resolution sunlight-readable screen, education is no longer confined to a classroom or even to the school grounds. Learning time needn’t stop with the school bell – many children are taking their XOs home. Also important is the affordability and full repairability of the devices, making it cost-effective versus non-durable and ephemeral items such as stationery, textbooks and other printed materials. There are over 3 million XOs in distribution, and in some countries (such as Uruguay) every child owns one.

A One Education classroom in Kenya.

One Education’s mission is to provide educational opportunities to every child, no matter how remote or disadvantaged. The digital divide is a learning divide. This can be conquered through a combination of modern technology, training and support, provided in a manner that empowers local schools and communities. The story told above is already happening in many classrooms around the country and the world.

A One Education classroom in northern Thailand.

With teacher training often being the Achilles’ heel of technology programmes in the field of education, One Education focuses only on teachers who have proven their interest and aptitude through the completion of a training course. Only then are they eligible to receive XOs (with an allocation of spare parts) into their classroom. Certified teachers are eligible for ongoing support from OLPC Australia, and can acquire more hardware and parts as required.

As a not-for-profit, OLPC Australia works with sponsors to heavily subsidise the costs of the One Education programme for low socio-economic status schools. In this manner, the already impressive total cost of ownership can be brought down even further.

High levels of teacher turnover are commonplace in remote Australian schools. By providing courses online, training can be scalable and cost-effective. Local teachers can even undergo further training to gain official trainer status themselves. Some schools have turned this into a business – sending their teacher-trainers out to train teachers in other schools.

Students in Geeveston in Tasmania celebrate their attainment of XO-champion status, recognising
their proficiency in using the XO and their helpfulness in the classroom.

With backing from the United Nations Development Programme, OLPC are tackling the Millennium Development Goals by focusing on Goal 2 (Achieve Universal Primary Education). The intertwined nature of the goals means that progress made towards this goal in turn assists the others. For example, education on health can lead to better hygiene and lower infant mortality. A better educated population is better empowered to help themselves, rather than being dependent on hand-outs. For people who cannot attend a classroom (perhaps because of remoteness, ethnicity or gender), the XO provides an alternative. OLPC’s focus on young children means that children are becoming engaged in their most formative years. The XO has been built with a minimal environmental footprint, and can be run off-grid using alternate power sources such as solar panels.

One Education is a young initiative, formed based on experiences learnt from technology deployments in Australia and other countries. Nevertheless, results in some schools have been staggering. Within one year of XOs arriving in Doomadgee State School in northern Queensland, the percentage of Year 3 pupils meeting national literacy standards leapt from 31% to 95%.

A girl at Doomadgee State School very carefully removes the screen from an XO.

2013 will see a rapid expansion of the programme. With $11.7m in federal government funding, 50,000 XOs will be distributed as part of One Education. These schools will be receiving the new XO Duo (AKA XO-4 Touch), a new XO model developed jointly with the OLPC Association. This version adds a touch-screen user experience while maintaining the successful laptop form factor. The screen can swivel and fold backwards over the keyboard, converting the laptop into a tablet. This design was chosen in response to feedback from educators that a hardware keyboard is preferred to a touch-screen for entering large amounts of information. As before, the screen is fully sunlight-readable. Performance and battery life have improved significantly, and it is fully repairable as before.

As One Education expands, there are growing demands on OLPC Australia to improve the offering. Being a holistic project, there are plenty of ways in which we could use help, including in education, technology and logistics. We welcome you to join us in our quest to provide educational opportunities to the world’s children.

HTML5 support in Browse

One of the most exciting improvements in OLPC OS 12.1.0 is a revamped Browse activity:

Browse, Wikipedia and Help have been moved from Mozilla to WebKit internally, as the Mozilla engine can no longer be embedded into other applications (like Browse) and Mozilla has stated officially that it is unsupported. WebKit has proven to be a far superior alternative and this represents a valuable step forward for Sugar’s future. As a user, you will notice faster activity startup time and a smoother browsing experience. Also, form elements on webpages are now themed according to the system theme, so you’ll see Sugar’s UI design blending more into the web forms that you access.

In short, the Web will be a nicer place on XOs. These improvements (and more!) will be making their way onto One Education XOs (such as those in Australia) in 2013.

Here are the results from the HTML5 Test using Browse 140 on OLPC OS 12.1.0 on an XO-1.75. The final score (345 and 15 bonus points) compares favourably against other Web browsers. Firefox 14 running on my Fedora 17 desktop scores 345 and 9 bonus points.

Update: Rafael Ortiz writes, “For the record previous non-webkit versions of browse only got 187 points on html5test, my beta chrome has 400 points, so it’s a great advance!

XO-1 Training Pack

Our One Education programme is growing like crazy, and many existing deployments are showing interest. We wanted to give them a choice of using their own XOs to participate in the teacher training, rather than requiring them to purchase new hardware. Many have developer-locked XO-1s, necessitating a different approach than our official One Education OS.

The solution is our XO-1 Training Pack. This is a reconfiguration of OLPC OS 10.1.3 to be largely consistent with our 10.1.3-au release. It has been packaged for easy installation.

Note that this is not a formal One Education OS release, and hence is not officially supported by OLPC Australia.

If you’d like to take part in the One Education programme, or have questions, use the contact form on the front page.

Update: We have a list of improvements in 10.1.3-au builds over the OLPC OS 10.1.3 release. Note that some features are not available in the XO-1 Training Pack owing to the lesser storage space available on XO-1 hardware. The release notes have been updated with more detail.

Update: More information on our One News site.

XO-AU OS 12.0 Release Candidate 2 released

Release Candidate 2 of the 2012 OLPC Australia operating system, XO-AU OS 12, has been released. We hope to make a final release in two weeks, in time for the start of term 2 of school in Queensland and Northern Territory.

To get started, visit our release notes page.

Installing the Release Candidate is no different from installing the XO-AU USB 3 stable release: extract the zip file to a USB stick and you’re ready to go.

The “What’s New” section outlines the changes in this release.

To provide feedback, please join our technical mailing list.

Following this, you can send your comments or ask questions on the list. The OLPC Australia Engineering team are active participants on this list, and we will reply. Remember, the better you can help us with quality information, the better we can make the product for you 🙂