Travel Computers

May 21st, 2014

I’m heading out later today for my first business trip in six months. Seems like a long time between trips after all the travel I did for a bunch of years at Microsoft. It’s a trip long in distance (California) and short on time (leave on Wednesday and return on Friday) so I want to travel light. I’m used to traveling with a carry on bag for my clothing and the like and a backpack for computer stuff. The backpack is the heavy part. I decided I didn’t really want to carry two bags this trip. I thought about not traveling with a computer at all but that seemed extreme. So what to do?

I have a lot of options. I have two regular laptops, a Windows 8 Slate, and a Surface RT. I have an iPad mini as well but have trouble taking it seriously for more than games and light web browsing. I don’t have a keyboard for it and I haven’t paid for an Office subscription (yet?). The laptops are sort of heavy and awkward in confined spaces. The slate is not but I don’t have a keyboard for it and I really need a keyboard for some things. The Surface RT is small, light and has a keyboard. It just doesn’t run all the software I like to use. But I’m bringing it anyway.

I’ll get by without Windows Live Writer for blogging. If I feel the need write anything to I’ll use Word. I’ll get by without running Visual Studio for a couple of days. Everything else? Pretty much there. But I do wish I had those two pieces of software running on the Surface. I’m sort of drooling over the new Surface Pro 3s that were just announced. Seems like having ones cake and eating it too.

I keep a lot of other things in my computer bag besides a computer or two. All sorts of cables, thumb drives, power cords and other supplies. For a different trip, longer or with different type of activities, I’ll probably still bring the bag for all that other stuff. But I like the idea of keeping the computer light.

My Issues with Linux

May 15th, 2014

My big problem with Linux is not that it was based on UNIX although in all honestly I would probably have adopted it to some extent if it had been based on VMS or any other DEC OS. UNIX was never my idea of an OS done right.  My real concern though is that OS development has become, with the exception of Microsoft, little more than tweaking Linux. One can do this because the source is available.

Having the source available is not completely bad as it can be very educational to read and play with source code. It’s a good tool for education. But it seems to me that it has made developers, in a sense, lazy. There is little to no incentive to start from scratch or the make major changes when most short term goals can be reached by tweaking Linux.

It used to be that companies had an incentive to create new and better operating systems. They needed them to make their hardware useful. Now that they can just tweak Linux there is no real incentive to do more. Also since one can’t easily make money off improvements to Linux AND one has to share what one developed with everyone there is no incentive to differentiate your hw/sw combination at the operating system level.

Apple moved to a UNIX core some years ago. Based on FreeBSD I believe. Why? Well it was too much work to continue to develop their own OS from scratch. And software was not their core strength either – though they have had some really good coders there from time to time. Apple is more a hardware company and using free OS code was a natural for them. It was cheap and easy. Not always an indication of best or innovative.

And then there is the mono culture risk that so many people are concerned about. It concerns me as well but the answer is not to replace a Microsoft mono culture with a Linux mono culture. I’d live to see three or more major OSes “in the wild.”

Is Twitter More Reliable Than Email?

May 1st, 2014

I received an email today with a most interesting idea that was centered around the following statement:

Because email is becoming increasingly unreliable, we will be making all major announcements and updates on Twitter.

I’m not sure that I understand how or even if email is becoming increasingly unreliable. Perhaps what they are worried about is being caught in SPAM filters which I find are getting better all the time. Better about not having false readings as well as better at catching real SPAM. Moving to Twitter though seems a poor choice regardless.

I suppose if your audience is following a very small number of people Twitter may be a good way of reaching them. Sometimes. But if they are only following a few accounts they are probably also reading twitter less often.  One hopes this organization is not moving to Direct Messages on Twitter. That would truly be annoying at least to me.

I follow a lot of people (that is to say they are listed as people I follow) but most often use a Twitter list to filter out a majority of the traffic which I just could not keep up with. I scan the full feed, look more closely at a select list, and look closely at notifications of people referring to me or taking action with my tweets. I don’t have time in the day to read every tweet by everyone I follow. It’s just not possible.

So do I miss a lot? Of course. But there is still plenty of interesting things to read. No one has to drink the whole output of a fire hose to get all the water they need. And that brings me back to the idea of using Twitter as the communication path of first resort. A lot of people are going to miss a lot of what one sends unless they are closely watching that one particular account (or perhaps one particular hashtag) all of the time.

At least with email people tend to at least scan the subjects of everything that comes though. People miss a lot on Twitter. The way Facebook handles things it is not much (if any) better. Only a small percentage of friends will see every post one makes on Facebook.

Seems to me like email is still the best way for things you want to reach everyone whose contact information you have acquired. Just don’t SPAM them and get into trouble with filters.

Creativity and How Students Dress

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

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?

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

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

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

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

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.