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Did you know that Cheetahs can't roar? No, nor did I- and here's how I found out.
While aimlessly wandering the web...errr... I mean researching for work(!) , I saw this site listed- I decided that it sounded like a fun site: a morphing program that allows you to swap bits of animals around- what more can you ask for in life? so off I went to www.switcheroozoo.com
There is a welcoming start- the home page is pleasantly set out, it looks attractive and has a good selection of options: a menu bar at the top makes these easily accessible too. There are sections for teachers and other educators giving ideas on how to use the site with children. The educators' page is actually just a list of links, but some of them were quite interesting. It is also worth mentioning that though the links are american biased, there are also some British links, and the site even allows a quote from "The Scottish Further Education Unit Learning Centre" which says: "Students with a variety of learning difficulties should find this site interesting and engaging. It is also a useful site for developing basic skills with the mouse and building confidence with students who are unfamiliar with computers and IT. Otherwise the site is not particularly useful but it's definitely great fun and worth a visit." I was pleased that they were honest enough to display the negative part of that quote too! There are of course, also the usual testimonials stating how great the site is, on the front page particularly. There are also stories written about the animals by two classes from an American school, though these aren't terribly exciting to be honest- sorry if any of their authors read this! There is also a gift shop- which is not there sadly, but promises it will be soon…..
The site does need Macromedia Flash Player, like many sites now do, and for those of us who still don't have it , there is a link usefully placed on the main page to go and get it. (Just click, and you open up a window with an obviously large get flash player button. The download is quick, free , and the program is very useful)
***************************************** Never mind that- what about the fun bit?* *****************************************
When you enter the site itself, you get an amusing little tune with animal noises bursting out of your computer- it gave me a fright, so be ready for it! You also get a selection of interesting animal facts while it loads in, which only took me 13 seconds on a 56k modem: I was a bit disappointed actually as I was reading the second fact about bison when it disappeared! (I've gone back and tried again, but each time I have had the same facts- the first one about polar bears , the second about bison, though I can't read it quickly enough!) Once you get there, you are given a choice of nine animals- Zebra rhino, monkey, pig, elephant, dog, cheetah, bison or bear. Select one of these and you will be taken to the appropriate 'enclosure', which is simply a page with a picture of the desired creature in suitable surroundings. As you load each different animal, you get another related fact during the loading process.
You can then choose from the variety of different animal heads to transplant onto your favourite animal, as listed above. Choose one and after a couple of seconds loading time, your animal's head will begin to morph into the new animal head, accompanied by an odd grunt/squeal/crunchy noise (from the computer, not you!) You can then repeat this process for the body and tail, with the same choices. Great fun, though as with many of these multimedia rich sites, it did seem a little sluggish on my computer: it is only a couple of years old, but I would expect more up to date systems could whizz through it! The graphics are good, with the morphing procedure looking very realistic (at least , as realistic as morphing can get!) and the results looking seamless.
I found that I had one major problem- I couldn't print the animals! Each time I tried the browser print command as it suggests, I checked with the troubleshooting from the site, and it only suggested I needed a more up to date version of flash- as it uses 4 and I have 5, I wonder if my newer version is causing a problem? If you visit, let me know what you found. As a result, I had to resort to the alternative method, which, to be fair, they do suggest: use the Print Screen button and paste the image elsewhere to be printed, in an art program, or even into Word. This is rather irritating though- I think that the main pleasure for the children (and adults) who use this site would be the instant satisfaction of printing out, and the rigmarole of cut, paste elsewhere and print would be a little off-putting. I would imagine this to be fun for younger children too, who might not find the process so easy. I have tried various sources to find the reason for this problem. Most people don't have a clue, and even Macromedia Tech Support aren't helpful: when a question was raised in a discussion forum for Flash programmers (see the trouble I go to to research these opinions?) they said : "The results of printing Shockwave Flash movies from browsers is inconsistent. Flash currently has no control over the printing of Shockwave Flash movies from the browsers. The printing of plugin content is a browser side issue, as the print engine is part of the browser software." So basically, it might work and it might not, there's no way of knowing and they don't know what to do about it. Not terribly helpful I'm afraid- I'll let you know here later in an update if I find out any more about this.
My only other complaint? I think it would help if the site also gave you the name of the creature you have made (i.e. eledog , dogbra or cheetaphant ) instead of relying on you to name it, or you could at least have somewhere to type it before you print it off.
So with these complaints, why use it? Well, simply because it's good fun. Most children , and many adults will love it, and if you are lucky enough to have a good system with a good connection that prints properly, it'll be a hit- at least for a good few visits. It does boast that there are over 6500 different combinations, but I doubt anyone will get that far! It isn't something you'll return to every day, but then the majority of the material on the internet is rather ephemeral isn't it?
My advice? Try it out- see if it prints for you, either through the right clicking 'Print' option, or via the browser button, and if it does, then you (or your children) will have great fun. If it doesn't, try it anyway with the Print Screen button as suggested. I'm sure lots of children will love it, even if you can't print easily!