ePub Publishing with Audio

I am recording my thoughts about this process here because I will forget someday. Perhaps this information will help someone else.

The last two years my son’s school was offering books with a disconnected book interface. That is to say the website they were using to host to page turning books had a separate site to host audio. In the end it was very hard to for the kids and parents to use. This year they started using a new service that basically combines the two as a video. So my books aren’t being made any longer.

I took the PDF and .mp3 files they uploaded and (through a cumbersome process) I combined them into an ePub book. Each page had a separate audio player control at the bottom of the page. This was great because it made it much easier for kids to back up the audio so they could hear something again. The other huge benefit of this method is ePub files are portable, so many parents loaded their homework books up on their iPads and had them review on the ride to school!

I discovered that ePub files are an archive compressed in the ZIP format, and by changing the file extension from .epub to .zip I could view into the structure of a book. Download one of the last books from here for an example. I didn’t use any fancy software to create the books, I used a couple of AppleScript droplet scripts to speed my process (PDF2PNG, ePub_Zip, ePub_UnZip), but I hand edited the HTML and split the large audio file page by page in Audacity.

The process I used is very similar to this one by John Carroll University.

Here is an awesome video for Pages users.

LEGO Mindstorms vs LEGO WeDo

This post was originally part of a discussion I was having with other Junior FIRST LEGO League (Jr.FLL) club parents. I am sharing it here as a reminder to myself and perhaps to help other parents in deciding between these two terrific educational platforms.

Of course my 6 year old son is very excited by the idea of the Lego Mindstorms robotics kit. Who wouldn’t want to build a walking robot and carries out a series of commands on its own! I know his mom and I were very tempted to buy a set.

Mindstorms are what the older Riverview Robos team are using. They used Mindstorms to create and program a robot to accomplish a series of tasks at a First Lego League (FLL) competition recently.

Our kids are at the Jr. First Lego League (Jr.FLL) age level. Beginning Jr.FLL teams are advised to use a kit of Lego Technic parts that including a motor, gears, belts, rods, etc. Optionally Jr.FLL teams can add Lego WeDo programing functionality to their projects.

After some research, we discovered that WeDo is the lesser known sibling of Mindstorms designed for younger kids. While Mindstorms are available at many stores, WeDo is only available at the legoeducation.us website.

For the last two weeks my son has spent his time after school building (and rebuilding) the various WeDo projects. After his first 2 or 3 projects he decided he didn’t want to copy the software instructions out of the book anymore, he wanted to create the instructions on his own!

I am of the opinion that the WeDo system has advantages over Mindstorms for our kids, at least until they are almost 10 years old. Here is a list of the advantages of WeDo over Mindstorms:

  1. Slightly less expensive.
  2. Programming software is simplified.
  3. Build options are simplified because there are less sensor types.
  4. The software instructions do not need to be transferred to a separate “mini computer box” before you can see what effect your changes make.

Mindstorms has a “mini computer box” that runs the software that controls your project, while WeDo sensors and motors are ran directly from the computer. At first glance the requirement that the WeDo to being tethered to a computer seems like a hinderance. But this actually simplifies things a bit more since it removes the Mindstorms step of transferring the software to the “mini computer box” before you can test your changes. And besides, WeDo projects generally involve building things like Ferris Wheels and other things that don’t need to move away the computer.

If you have any other questions about Lego WeDo or Mindstorms ask away. I have some WeDo links to my Jr. RV Robos page which includes all of the links I have personally saved.

P.S. If you think your 3rd grader might be about ready for Mindstorms, you might consider waiting until the next version of Mindstorms (EV3) is available this Fall in August. Although, I will say the prices of the current Mindstorms NXT 2.0 are really good right now. 🙂

Lego Mindstorms EV3