After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working. Kenneth Grahame The Wind in the Willows
My mom, who worked for the Commonwealth for more years than I care to think about, had a huge amount of vacation time accrued to her. As far as she was concerned, the ideal vacation was to take a trip to “Porchville” with a stack of books and a fresh pot of coffee. I think that that must have been something genetic; it is pretty much my ideal too.
One vacation that stands out in my mind had, as its destination, Key Largo. I won’t bore you with all the details, including a canceled flight, lost luggage, and a substitute rent-a-car, uh, make that rent-a-truck. We traveled for the better part of a day, and finally got to where we wanted to go, no thanks to the fates! The vacation itself was enjoyable, and the trip home uneventful. But I will never forget getting there.
I hardly live in the garden spot of America, but the section of Trenton where I do live is OK. My neighbors are nice and, the traffic keeps the crime down. I think. At any rate, I am looking forward to my summer vacation—two weeks at the end of August. If you need me for anything during those weeks, stop by the porch! But bring your own coffee.
The man who does not read a good book has no advantage over the man who can't read.--Mark Twain
I’m a reader. I don’t really have any other hobbies; I don’t fish, don’t hunt, and I certainly don’t play sports. To my mind, there is nothing like curling up with a good book, maybe a nice cup of coffee and a smoke, and losing myself in a world created by someone else.
Although I like all types of writing, I’ve recently rediscovered kid’s books, especially two particular ones.
The first was written by one of my favorite adult oriented authors, John Grisham. The books are a series, and they deal with a character called Theodore Boone. Theo is 13, and both his mother and his father are lawyers. The books are well written and somewhat suspenseful. I’ve enjoyed reading Grisham since he published A Time to Kill in 1988. The Theodore Boone novels don’t disappoint.
The second kid’s book that I read was Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. Like the Grisham novels, this is part of a series, a trilogy actually. The first deals with the adventures of Silvertongue, who can bring parts of stories to reality by reading them aloud. He, unfortunately, has brought some nasty characters to life; the book deals with his struggle against these evil folks.
Read these books and others. Give them to your kids and grand-kids, read them to them. Take them to the library, give them books for special days like birthdays or Lincoln’s Birthday or Labor Day. Make sure that they receive the gift of reading.
Microsoft has recently released its newest and greatest operating system: Windows 8! Wow! Are we ever lucky! Not really.
If you buy a new computer today, you really do not have much choice. It is going to be running Windows 8. Good luck with that. I am far, far from being a Luddite, or even a Philistine, but I don’t want anything to do with this new system. I was perfectly happy with XP, and saw no reason to upgrade to Vista when it was released. Never mind that problems that existed with the OS, I just saw no reason to upgrade. When Windows 7 became available, since I also teach it as the professional desktop system, I did not wait long before upgrading my old XP machines, at least the ones that were capable of handling 7. I admit that it is not a bad system, as Microsoft products go. But Windows 8?
Based on everything that I’ve seen and heard, Windows 8 is a great system, if you happen to have a tablet, like Microsoft’s own Surface. Maybe even if you have a laptop with a touch screen or a convertible or slate type tablet. But for a desktop system, I suspect that it leaves much to be desired. In addition, it is totally different from XP, Vista, or Windows 7. People who are not really comfortable working with a computer, those who rely on familiarity to perform tasks and even to move around the system, are totally lost and often confused.
For my part, I am using Ubuntu more than ever. Since I loaded it on an old laptop last year, I am discovering more and more to like about the system. Add to the fact that it is free and open source, and that most of the applications that I want to use are also free, I suspect that I will me using it for more and more.
There are many games out on the street. My wife, for example, is a dedicated game player. She currently plays Words with Friends on her i-Phone, which is an interactive Scrabble game, as well as an on-line version of Yahtzee, that old standby dice game. She delights in playing live card games, like Uno, and board games. These I can take or leave.
My own personal preference is for computer games, games that I can start and finish quickly. My favorite is the Microsoft game of Jewel Quest, which you can start and stop and lose rather quickly. I also like FPS (First Person Shooter) games, like Doom and Heretic. My all time favorite was Pain Killer, but I eventually got bored with it. Which is the fate of most of the games that I play. This I understand. Since many computer based games seem to be playing the same thing over and over, with just different maps, they quickly become boring. Very much like reading the same plots in stories or seeing the same types of movie scenes over and over and over and over…
Which leads me to the main purpose that I’m writing about games. I truly don’t understand those people whose entire lives are wrapped up in games. There are several that people claim to be addictive. These include World of Warcraft and EverCrack, eh, EverQuest. There are people who play these games, literally, for days at a time, with little time out for sleep or food or bathroom breaks. Their entire lives are spent in front of a screen, reacting and interfacing electronically as an avatar, that is, a construct. I am constantly reminded of the New Yorker cartoon of two dogs talking, and one says “On-line, nobody knows that you’re a dog.” This is too true. Which, of course, brings up the whole issue of cyber-predators and stalkers, but that’s for another time.
For some time now, I have been working on a graduate degree in Education. Now I admit that I have not had a great deal of experience in the field of education. I must admit that, until 1995, I had never been in a classroom or prepared a class. I had spent the last 20+ years working in the field of accounting, as a controller, an inventory auditor, and, more importantly, as a public accountant. I’ve audited companies from bakeries to large car dealerships, done personal, partnership, and corporate tax returns, and advised clients about their finances. Now, I was looking for a job teaching accounting, because that was what I knew.
That was not what I was fated to teach! The School did not hire me as a full time instructor, but a few weeks later, the dean called and asked if I would like to teach a class in Electronic Spreadsheets. At the time, the main program on the street was Lotus 1-2-3, which I used in my accounting practice, so I agreed to teach it. The following term, I was offered a full time job, teaching Personal Finance, Small Business Management, and Intro to Computers. The rest, as they say, is history!
Here I was, a teacher with absolutely no background in education. I had never even had an education class in college, because, God forbid, I was never going to be a teacher. Perish the thought.
When I finally got around to applying to graduate school, the natural path seemed to be education. At last, a chance to learn about my chosen field. Mistake!!! My education had been, first in English Literature, then in Accounting. A debit is always a debit, and depreciation is always depreciation. There are exacting standards, and, once you learn the standards, they pretty much stay the same. After I had been working as an instructor for a few years, it was decided to develop a networking and a Web program. Networking is like accounting; an IP
Janine and I were at another seminar, several months ago. This one was sponsored by Google, and started with a very nice continental breakfast, was followed by several presentations, then wound up over lunch. All in all, a very good day. What I learned that day was, to say the least, astonishing.
Google, it seems, has the fantastic email client that is know simply as Gmail. Now, this was not in itself a revelation. I’ve known about Gmail since it was first introduced. After all, I consider myself to be a computer professional and manage to stay in touch with many developments in the field. But I saw it as another free email service, much like Hot Mail or Yahoo Mail. It is so much more.
To begin, I have used Outlook for years to manage my mail. I’ve always had it installed on my local machine, and it has been a decent application which I have learned to use over the years. OK, it may not be the best solution. I tried Thunderbird, but found it a bit lacking. Then I went to the Google seminar.
Virtually everything that can be done in Outlook can be done with Gmail. Of course, there are probably some things that I can’t do, but, since I did not do them in Outlook, I don’t miss them with Google. Gmail manages my contacts, inserts the ones that I send emails to frequently, and applies rules to the boat load of spam that we all receive daily. I try to keep my Inbox fairly lean, but when it gets ahead of me, Gmail allows me to go through, delete, archive, just about anything that I could have done with Outlook. I don’t have any experience with Office 365, so I don’t know how Outlook behaves in the cloud, but I do know how Gmail works there, and, so far, I have no complaints. I can access my mail from anywhere, on any computer that has an Internet connection.
The amount of space that Google grants its users in insane. I have 10,247 MB, which for those who are a bit numerically challenged, is over 10 Gigabytes of storage. So far, I’m using less than 1%, after about six months. If you move to a paid account, the amount of storage is increased, but the free amount is good so far.
Of course, this discussion of Google says nothing about Google Docs, which seems, at least to my mind, to be a combination of a killer app and cloud storage. But more on the other aspects of Google at a later date.
I hate to say it, but very often when I’m working on a operating system, especially one from the Boys in Redmond, I feel as though I’m a beta tester. Now this is not necessarily a bad thing; beta testing is necessary. It is how good programs make it to market. In fact, there are a number of students in my classes who voluntarily test certain games before the final version goes on sale. In return, they receive advance copies of these games that they can play and critique before the general public has to buy them. And this, to me, is a critical difference. These people are compensated for their time and effort.
For the average beta tester, broken software is expected. That’s the reason that they agree to be beta testers–so that they can help fix, and improve it before it is released to the general public, where people have to part with their hard earned coin to buy it. By the time an application comes out of the beta phase, one assumes that it works!
Enter some of the contemporary operating systems and applications. When you go to the store and plop down a couple of hundred bucks, it is with the knowledge that it is not going to work properly. Perhaps the biggest example of this in recent years is that thing that started with a V, and it didn’t stand for Victory! It replaced an OS (read operating system) that was fairly stable and solid. And it did not work! Not as badly as the older one, from the turn of the century with the major memory leak, but it still did not work. And what did we, as users, do about it? Waited for the Company to release the fix or an updated OS. But we still paid for the initial release. Of course, there was an application that allowed you to communicate with them, telling them what was wrong, what happened, what you were doing on your system, all of it automated so that you did not have to do anything but click a “Submit” button. Beta testing at its finest.
Personally, I’ve started using Linux as my operating system of choice, that great project started by Linus Torvalds late in the last century. It is free, and has incredible support. My preferred system is Ubuntu, which is supported by a company named Canonical. In addition to the OS being free, most of the applications are also free, and work just as well as those other ones. I use Open Office, which is an outgrowth of a program called Star Office, which I first became familiar with in about 1998. By the way, it does not have a ribbon, although I imagine that one is planned for a later release. I’ve started using G-mail as my mail client, and all of my e-mail, from all my accounts, now lives in the cloud. My preferred browser is Chrome, although I switch back and forth with Firefox. I still have my MacBook Pro, and that runs OS-X, which is based on a flavor of Unix. I still use the other O/S, largely because I work in an environment which is not going to change, and I need to use it to see how it effects what I’m teaching. Maybe, someday…
A while ago, my wife Janine and I attended a one day seminar/class presented by an artist named Edward Tufte. His whole premise for the class is that information really needs to be presented in a fashion that is not just usable and coherent, but attractive. One of the most memorable images from his brochure advertising the class was a timeline of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, both in terms of the original invasion and the retreat from Moscow. It was, and is, an absolutely stunning visual.
I’ve told you this to discuss a new book that I’ve acquired that concerns the design of dashboards. You know what those are–the collection of gauges, speedometers, and charts that are supposed to be meaningful and relevant, but often are merely confusing and nonsensical. This book, by Stephen Few for O’Reilly press, deals with “The effective visual communication of data.” Wonderful! I truly can’t wait to begin working with some of the concepts, as well as some of the things that I’ve learned from Edward Tufte. I will keep you informed!
I’ve been missing in action for while, for which I find that there is no good apology. If you are going to post a blog, then, dammit, post. This is my way of getting some of my thoughts out to the world at large, and sharing what I’m currently thinking about. The fact that I have not posted in some time does, indeed, indicate that I have no thoughts, that I’m not thinking.
I also try very hard to to be critical of those things nearest and dearest to me–my job, my school, my wife, and others. Oh, well, I mostly succeed, but sometimes I slip. For these slips, apologies in advance, but I am who I am, and that’s all that I am.
Check back, and I promise that I will post more frequently, and try to give you something to think about, and maybe even something to argue about. If you have a comment, don’t hesitate to leave it. I need to moderate the comments, because spammers have found this site and think that I really can’t wait to sell Canadian Viagra! Woohoo! So I have to moderate them and accept them. I get around to it eventually–right, Tony?
Bought a new scanner. It is a SnapScan from Fujitsu. What a nice little device. It was recommended by several website that specialize in reducing paper usage, and, even though I’ve only had it for about 24 hours, I’m quite happy with it. It is quick, scans various sizes, does duplex scanning, and just seems like a little workhorse. I must admit that I miss my old Canoscan, but, if Cannon is not releasing drivers for Windows 7, they deserve to lose dedicated users!