Archive for the ‘rants’ Category

Creativity and How Students Dress

Monday, March 17th, 2014

I was thinking about school uniforms the other day as I got into mine. OK I don’t really have to wear a school uniform but my students do. So I wear pretty much like what the male students have to wear. It’s easy. I have a bunch of khaki pants, a bunch of blue shirts, a bunch of white shirts and a bunch of ties. No thought at all has to go into dressing. And I’m ok with that. I have a lot more important things to think about in the morning. Like my lessons for the day and how to make them interesting. And breakfast.

People have been telling me for years that uniforms don’t let students be creative in how they look. Fair enough but I really want them spending their creative energy on school work. Problem solving, creating interesting essays and computer programs. In short let them get creative on clothing other places. This usually goes over poorly. Apparently for some people looking cool is more important than being smart.

Regardless I started thinking about some of the more creative people in the world. Two who came to mind are Steve Jobs and Dean Kamen. Have you ever seen a picture of Steve jobs not wearing black pants and a black shirt? Few and far between. I’ve read that he had a closet full of identical shirts. It’s as hard to find someone who doesn’t think of him as creative as it is to find a picture of him dressed “interestingly.”

Dean Kamen (inventor of things like the Segway HT, FIRST robotics, and many more things) is always seen wearing jeans and a denim shirt. He seem to have lots of those as well. Apparently he thinks he has more useful things to put his creative energies to than how he is dressed. You should see his house by the way. VERY creative house. But clothing? Jeans and denim shirts.

I’m sure there are many more examples. Vera Wang the designer creates many creative dress designs but is usually seen in basic black. Again her creative energies are elsewhere. I think a lot of people are glad of that too!

I see uniforms as a way to save students time and let them focus on more important things then what to wear at school. In fact perhaps the question people should ask is “why is it more important to be creative about school dress than school work?”

Skiing vs. Snowboarding

Monday, February 10th, 2014

I was a downhill skier for many years. I wasn’t great but I did pretty well. I could go fast. I could do some jumps. Not into tricks or racing but I enjoyed myself quite a bit. And then my knees started objecting to the whole skiing thing. So I stopped. Then at some point my son convinced me to try snowboarding. And I did.

It’s fun and my knees do not object nearly as much. I’m a very poor snowboarder. No jumping. No tricks. Not very fast. And don’t even talk to me about Black Diamond trails. My son taught me on a hill around Lake Tahoe. Highly recommended as the snow is nice and soft especially compared to east coast snow. Oh trust me there is a difference.

That first week I kept running into a barrel holding a sign that asked people to move past the sign before stopping. I hit it so many times (turning was an issue) that one time the guy working the lift ran out and moved it out of the way when he saw me coming. He did it with a smile though.

As I learned (and continue to learn) have realized that the snowboarding culture is very different from the skiing culture.  The snowboarding culture is more relaxed. Maybe it is be cause snowboarders can easily stop on the side of the hill, sit down and chat for a while. Once one gets skies on there is pretty much no sitting except on the lift.  But snowboarders can sit. At my age I sit a lot.

The wardrobes are different as well. Snowboarding clothing is looser and less formal. Ski wear may be sexier with formfitting outfits that don’t catch the wind but I don’t do sexy.

Now I do miss skiing. I miss the speed and control that were second nature to me on skies but which I have never mastered on a snowboard. I keep thinking maybe I’ll try it again. I want to ski jump for example. I’m never going to try something like that on a snowboard. Big air and snowboards are not something that is likely to go together for me no matter how cool it looks when Shawn White does it.

I’ve been watching the winter Olympics and the snowboarders just seem like such cool people. They would be fun to hang out with. Probably the skiers would as well but they (the skiers) seem more intense (Bode Miller being a possible exception) and I don’t need intense in my life. The snowboarders just seem so full of joy doing what they do – win or lose! I like that.

Joy is what I am looking for in a sport. I have found some of it in snowboarding and so I’ll keep doing it.

Have you ever?

Friday, February 7th, 2014

I found this list on another blog and it looked interesting so I decided to see which of these things I’d done. About half of them which I think is pretty good.

I have bolded and italicized the things I’ve done.

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland

8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables

19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort

25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset

31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community

36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance

47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain

53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie

56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter

69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten caviar

72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job

76. Seen the Changing of the Guard in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle

79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper

85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous

92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a lawsuit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Read an entire book in one day

Easy Coding

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

I’ve been playing around with a toy program just for the fun of it since yesterday. I keep adding little things as I think of them. Sometimes I have to look something up because my memory isn’t always so great but really its all trivial. Its no tour de force by any stretch of the imagination. Its just fun.

While working on that I remembered (amazing how long forgotten things come when short term ones don’t) how occasionally in college I would get frustrated and feel inadequate so would write a simple program just to feel like I could make something work. back them my task of choice was to write a program to print out multiplication tables. Even then that was pretty easy but I know I wrote it a couple of times.

Today I like to think I am creating simple demo programs that I can use with students as either demos or assignments for beginners. And that is true. Mostly. But I am also having fun doing something easy. It relaxes my mind.

Occasionally I miss the days when I worked on hard projects. But I am not ready to go back to coding full-time. For now programming for fun is more rewarding. Well not financially but in most other ways.

Microsoft Store vs Apple Store–a biased review

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

I went to the mall today and while I was there I visited both the Apple Store and the Microsoft store. Of course I admit to being biased toward Microsoft and against Apple.

I loved the Microsoft store. It was fun. It was colorful. I liked the set up of the store. And I really liked some of the computers I saw. Dell is doing some great things with tablets (that Dell Venue 8 Pro looks like sometime I could enjoy), convertibles, and all in ones. I saw a really slick Sony convertible as well. I saw a 4G capable Windows tablet as well. I left wanting several systems that I don’t really need.

Then I went to the Apple store. It struck me as sterile and bland. Mono  chrome rather than colorful. The staff were all wearing the same color t-shirt and there were there in intimidating numbers. The Microsoft store employees wore t-shirts but they were wearing a couple of different color shirts. The Apple store had some areas on the flow that were roped off. Not sure why. I had trouble figuring out what was being sold at various tables in the Apple store. labeling was not so good and they seem to use iPads everywhere. And everything looks alike. The sizes are different but not much else. I found it boring.

There were people playing Xbox One games in front of the Microsoft store as well. All in all the Apple store left me feeling cold while the Microsoft store felt warm and friendly.

Out with the old Year in with the New Year

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

2013 was a year of transition for me. I returned to teaching at Bishop Guertin HS. I interviewed for a university teaching job and was really tempted but decided to stay in New Hampshire.  It took me a bit to adjust to not working at Microsoft anymore. It seems like it is hard to get used to not travelling when you really like to travel. And I do. Plus there is that getting up at 6AM thing that I didn’t used to have to do. On the other hand I had the summer off. Or as a friend of mine calls it “retirement practice.”

I missed a couple of conferences I used to attend regularly. SIGCSE, TCEA and ISTE to name three. I followed the statuses of friends who did attend and that sort of make it harder not to be there.  I’ve already made reservations to attend ISTE this summer. I’ll decide in the next few days if I’ll be going to attend SIGCSE. Time and money are both issues. TCEA is totally out though. First time in several years I didn’t make a single trip to Texas.

I had a few trips during the year. My wife and I went to Disney World. I did get to attend the CSTA annual conference in Quincy MA (a car ride). And the CSTA Board meeting was in Arizona. Did I mention that I was elected to the CSTA board of directors? Very exciting for me.  I also had one last trip with the CS 2013 committee in Las Vegas. Did you know there is a big hotel there without a casino? Yep, we stayed there.  I also trip to Indiana to visit Taylor University to interview and demo teach about possibly teaching there. Seems like a lot but still about half as many trips as I used to make in a year.

I’m enjoying the teaching. The students are especially great. You’d think that getting back to teaching would come back to you right away. In some ways it did. In other ways not so much. I really want to be good at it. Better than I am. I’m working hard at that.

One big milestone that I hit this year was reaching 60 years of age. I used to think that was old but I sure don’t feel old. Not mentally anyway. Well not most of the time. Retirement seems in range for the first time in my life. I’m figuring out how I want to prepare for that. And what I really want to do until then. I expect to stay at BG but I figure there are other things I can and should be doing. That is what I am thinking a lot about this time of year.

All in all 2013 was a pretty good year. 2014 looks like it might be even better. I’m thinking it will be until it proves itself differently. 🙂

Cuban Missile Crisis

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

My local NPR station has been running a month long series about John F Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. One of the things they have covered was the Cuban Missile Crisis.  This is probably little more than a historical footnote for most people under 55 but it is a memory for me. I was 9 at the time.

Now 9 is pretty young and I sure didn’t understand everything that was going on. I was pretty much unaware of the events of the Bay of Pigs Invasion that was probably part of the reason the Soviets were able to send the missiles to Cuba in the first place. But the news reports and the analysis on TV about the missiles was enough to get me concerned even at that age.

I remember coming home from school to watch the news everyday during the crisis. I listed to the president’s addresses to the nation. I listened to the analysis on the news. It wasn’t quite like the 24 hour over and over news and speculation that we have today but there was a good amount of talk.

These were the days when schools ran “duck and cover” drills in case of atomic attack so even as a young student the idea of a nuclear attack was real in our eyes and ears.  Atomic weapons were not quite seen as the weapon of last resort that they are today. From what I know now there were military advisors recommending a nuclear attack on Cuba at the time.  It was a different time.

So I did worry about atomic tipped missiles hitting New York City were I was living. I wasn’t panicked or anything that over the top but I was concerned.  There hasn’t been anything like that in my life since and I sure am glad of that.

Apparently This Matters

Monday, October 28th, 2013

Today Google’s doodle honors the 116th birthday of Edith Head. I wonder how many people under 30 even know who she was? I enjoy Google’s doodles as much as the next person but it seems to me they play it awfully safe. National days and days of independence are honored. Semi-obscure geeks are honored. It’s all fun.

But religious holidays are studiously avoided. “Happy holidays” for days around Christmas is as close as you see. And you don’t see politically related days honored either.  There is no September 11 tribute (at least as far as the years I checked).

I guess I can understand the logic behind it. Still given Google’s perception as a brave company willing to try new things it feels wrong. But it’s probably just me.

Are you a bad parent for sending your kids to public school?

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

When linking to this post ( the Huffington Post Twitter asked if sending your kid to a private school made you a bad parent.  Aggravating.

I suggested they ask   "does wanting the best possible education for your child make you a bad person?" Now of course I have some bias. I teach in a private school and sent my son to one for all but one year of his education.

Now I am not completely anti-public school.  After all my wife, son and daughter in law work in public schools. I’m pro-choice on education though. I believe that parents have an obligation to get the best possible education for their children. I think they owe that to their children AND to society as a whole.  If that means a public school – great. If that means public school – why not?

I attended two public schools myself. One ok and one incredibly good. The private schools I attended were more consistently good though and I would never had made it into or through the public HS I attended if not for the private school I attended for middle school.

A democratic society needs a well educated population. We have public schools because many people are unable or unwilling to spend money for their children’s education. They open doors for many children who would go without an education if not for taxpayer funded schools. We, everyone, should want those schools to be great. We should want them to be good enough for everyone. The facts are though that no one school can possibly meet the needs of every child. Even a super expensive private school can be wrong for many children. That is reality.

Public schools in most areas do not offer enough choice, enough options, enough different environments to meet the needs of every child. If a school charging $30,000 a year can’t be the right school for everyone how can a school spending a third or less per student be right for every child? It’s not possible.

So some parents who can and are willing to afford it will send their children to private schools that better meet their child’s need. Does that make them bad? On the contrary. That makes them good. It makes them good citizens as well. They are saving the taxpayers money and providing better educated adults. How is that bad?

Is it unfair that other children do not get that opportunity? Of course it is. Life is unfair. But the answer is not to restrict the opportunity of the child with motivated parents who has money but to increase the opportunity for students who parents don’t have the money. It is the people who oppose vouchers and other means of expanding choice who are acting contrary to the public good.

If education is important than keeping the best education from students and holding everyone to a lower standard is contrary to good public policy. And yet that is what people seem to be asking for when they attack people who send their kids to private schools.

My Microsoft CEO Wishlist

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Steve Ballmer has announced that he will be retiring once the board finds a replacement CEO for Microsoft. This is, I believe, wonderful news for Microsoft, its employees, its customers and its shareholders. Microsoft needs a change at the top. I have my own ideas about what they need and since this is 2013 and I have a blog I’m going to share them.

The first thing I want is someone who lives the values Microsoft says they believe in. What are they? From the Microsoft website

As a company, and as individuals, we value integrity, honesty, openness, personal excellence, constructive self-criticism, continual self-improvement, and mutual respect. We are committed to our customers and partners and have a passion for technology. We take on big challenges, and pride ourselves on seeing them through. We hold ourselves accountable to our customers, shareholders, partners, and employees by honoring our commitments, providing results, and striving for the highest quality.

Steve Ballmer had a “values coach.” While he didn’t go into detail at the meeting I heard this at my impression was that he needed help understanding when things he did violated those values. That scared me. The CEO of a company should be the living embodiment of the company values. Ken Olsen was that at Digital back in the day. People would say “if Ken knew about that he would fix it because it is unethical.” I never heard anyone say that at Microsoft. Illegal or against policy were clear no-nos of course. But “merely” unethical? Not so much. Now I am not saying that a lot of unethical stuff happens but rather that Ballmer was never held up as an example of a super ethical person. The company values should be a description of the CEO. No one looks at that list of values and says “hey that is Steve Ballmer!”

The second thing I want is someone who is open to small ideas. Ballmer pretty much rejected any idea that couldn’t clearly and obviously be a billion dollar business in a few years. The problem with this is that a lot of small ideas do turn out to be huge ideas even though they start very small. Who would have thought that a college facebook app would become what Facebook is today?

The third thing I want is someone who can inspire creative people to come up with things that are totally new. Things that are revolutionary rather than just evolutionary. Evolutionary is the way you keep a cash cow alive not how you create brand new cash cows. See also the second thing I asked for.

I’d rather have someone who came up though a technical track rather than a financial or marketing track.  I want someone who starts with problems and solutions rather than cost benefit or “what can we sell.” I want someone who thinks about creating stuff. Marketing people think about selling stuff. Financial people are all about the numbers. Creating solutions is the first task and that is where engineers start.

The question with a company like Microsoft is often – hire from within or from the outside? Outsiders in senior management do not have an outstanding track record at Microsoft. I wonder how much of that is the company culture and how much the fault of the senior long term managers. I don’t know for sure. I do believe that an outsider can do a good job if they find the right person. Ray Ozzie could have been great except that his personality was not the right type to overcome the Ballmer types who were already in power. Engineers liked him. I met him once in a meeting with Bill Gates and frankly was more impressed with Ray than Bill. Ray’s ears worked.

I think the right outsider could work as long as they are not from outside the software industry. Bringing in someone from outside the software industry is a long walk off a short pier.

Last thing (for now) is that I want to see someone who can think about the device as personal.  The consumer is where Microsoft started but that part of its business is a mess right now. All the thinking is about the enterprise. Robert Scoble thinks that the company needs to be split into two or more pieces.  See A letter to Microsoft’s board. I’m not sure it does but Robert is right about the consumer side needing to be fixed.

Microsoft probably needs a gadget nut for that. Someone who always needs to try and use the latest technology. Someone who thinks about the personal problems people have and thinks about how they can be solved. I believe that in the long term winning back the hearts and minds of the consumer is the best interests of Microsoft’s enterprise business. That is how Google is making its wins in the enterprise. I see that especially in education. Teachers fall in love with Google apps and so the school goes with Google’s enterprise for schools program. I suspect that will happen in more businesses over time as well. It doesn’t matter which is “better” what matters is which is easier and grabs the attention best.

I hope they find someone great and that they find him/her soon. There are too many really smart, creative and all round nice people at Microsoft to see it die.