Amazon

A few recommended books, movies, games, and albums. If you want to look for more recommendations, feel free to look at the larger selection over at Amazon or my Amazon Store with more recommendations.

  • Man School: lessons on love, power, honor and purpose
    Man School: lessons on love, power, honor and purpose
    by Michael Bronco
  • Cryptonomicon
    Cryptonomicon
    by Neal Stephenson
  • Programming in Objective-C 2.0 (2nd Edition)
    Programming in Objective-C 2.0 (2nd Edition)
    by Stephen G. Kochan

    An outstanding introduction to the core of the Objective-C language.

  • DreamCypher
    DreamCypher
    Dancing Ferret
  • Tron: Legacy (Amazon MP3 Exclusive Version) [+Digital Booklet]
    Tron: Legacy (Amazon MP3 Exclusive Version) [+Digital Booklet]
    Walt Disney Records
  • Cocoa(R) Programming for Mac(R) OS X (3rd Edition)
    Cocoa(R) Programming for Mac(R) OS X (3rd Edition)
    by Aaron Pablo Hillegass
  • The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
    The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
    by Robert A. Heinlein
  • Hot Fuzz (Widescreen Edition)
    Hot Fuzz (Widescreen Edition)
    starring Jim Broadbent, Kenneth Cranham, Timothy Dalton, Julia Deakin, Patricia Franklin
Thursday
Jan302014

Learning

Recently, an article was published on the effectiveness of taking notes by hand on paper vs. via typing/computer.

I found it interesting in part because it reflects something that has been part of my learning and creative habits, that I always assumed were formed mostly by the unavailability of cheap portable computers, and the ready availability of pen, pencil, and paper. Even though typewritten notes were more thorough, there was effectively no impact on the ability to remember facts when questioned a short time later, but there was a noticeable difference - in favor of those taking notes by hand - in how well ideas were retained.

When the experiment was run again, with the results being measured by a test taken a week later, the differences were even more pronounced.

Why is this? I don't know. Part of me has long felt that the time taken to write things out - since writing is muscle memory - forces you to focus more on what you are writing, and that the need to condense the information simply to keep up as you're writing it forces you to re-work and better understand the information. You also have the aspect that repetition and/or greater sensory involvement (tactile and / or spatial when it comes to diagrams and notes) helps improve menory and understanding.

The upshot is that I realize I've always done something like this. When I want to concentrate and actively understand something, I don't type out the notes. I doodle, or write them by hand. Or simply don't take notes so I can utterly focus on a conversation (parent teacher conferences, for example). When studying for advancement exams as a mechanic in the Navy, my practice was to read through once (getting an overall feel for the main poitns presented), to read through with a highlighter annotating the most crucial information, and then to go through the hilighted sections and make my own annotated handwritten notes.

I scored quite well.

Additionally - and this is a habit I see in a number of digital and 3D artists who grew up with ready access to computer-only tools - drawings, models, and sketches almost always start out on paper or other physical media before being scanned in to use as a starting point on the computer. Many many artists only convert to digital after the work is finished. Yes, I expect to see some changes to this with some of the excellent tablet-driven sketching programs, but then these programs work hard to provide the feedback and feel of a piece of paper and pencil/pen/paint.

Finally - whether it's mapping out roles in a program, or the functions and hardware in a network, that almost always is first done on paper as well, regardless of what drawing tool (Viso, the google drawing app, Omnigraffle, etc.) is used.

Sunday
Sep152013

Chromebook Management and Wifi Networks: Devices vs. Users 

I've recently had some experience adding 30 or so Chromebooks to a school network, complete with device management licenses, and so far I am, overall, impressed.

One thing that is actually pretty cool because you can actually set available and auto-connected wifi networks for managed Chromebooks based on what organization or suborganization they belong to. That said, I ran into an odd bit while setting up the wifi settings.

FIrst of all, most Chromebooks are wifi dependent, so when they're first started up and enrolled, they have to be on a wifi network. I've found the easiest way to do this is just temporarily use or set up an "open" network.

Please note - I do mean enrolled. By default, if you want the Chromebook to be tied to a management license or system via Google apps for business (or education), you cannot simply sign into the Chromebook with an organization email address. Make that mistake and you need to wipe it back to factory settings. One option - if ordered directly through Google (with known MAC addresses) - you can to set up auto enrollment, and anyone signing in with an organization email automatically enrolls the Chromebook as well.

The option we took was to manually enroll the Chromebooks by hitting the key sequence CNTRL-ALT-e after attaching the chromebook to the open wifi network.

Once enrolled, sign in. Once it is online, the Chromebook starts picking up settings, including the aforementioned wifi settings.

Here we get into an oddity. In the network settings tab of the device settings (above) there are actually TWO sets of wifi settings that can be set or inherited at any level of the organization. Devices, and Users. You can think of "device" wifi settings as those that are available even when no-one is logged in. Since a new user needs to be on the internet to sign in for the first time, they either need access to an open network, OR valid wifi settings under "device" for a secure network provided via the management settings.

"User" wifi settings are used to manage what wifi credentials are pre-loaded and available to any user account that signs into that device. This can be an entirely different set of networks, or simply the same one that was used to log in.

Tuesday
Dec042012

Different Languages...

Sometimes I think it's a tragedy that two people merely think they're speaking English to each other, but in reality, they're not only talking past each other, but speaking completely different languages.

What?

Okay, I'm going to vastly oversimplify things here, but I've got another proposition. Engineering speak is not english. Neither is computer-geek speak. Neither is builder speak, physics-speak, contractor speak, architect speak, navy speak, or doctor speak.

Sure, the words sound like English. Some of them. At least until you hit that which we call "jargon" but is really your first clue you've left english as most people know it. Some of the words even share a similarity of meaning with their common origins.

An old joke to illustrate:

If you give the command "SECURE THE BUILDING", here is what the different services would do:

The NAVY would turn out the lights and lock the doors.

The ARMY would surround the building with defensive fortifications, tanks and concertina wire.

The MARINE CORPS would assault the building, using overlapping fields of fire from all appropriate points on the perimeter.

The AIR FORCE would take out a three-year lease with an option to buy the building.

It's hoary, and too-often told, but aside from what it illustrates about stereotypes of the various armed services, it also illustrates that while those services are using something resembling english, they have an entirely different set of assumptions and definitions for what appear to be the same sound symbols, when operating in a military context, than when using regular English.

Sure - look the word "secure" up in the dictionary, and you'll see enough different definitions to support all of those interpretations. This allows us to walk away secure in the knowledge that we're only speaking one language.

Of course, we are talking about the language that mugs other languages for spare grammar. Where Spanish, German, and French might use one word each to describe a range of nuances, based on context, English borrows a word from each of them, and uses each for a subtly different meaning.

It gets worse when you talk programming languages. Sure, the vocabulary is smaller, and the rules of grammar and syntax, while different for each, are fairly rigid and well defined. Yet, if you look at the actual words used - if, until, go, class, procedure, etc., they look like english. English with very formalized meanings.

A non-programmer looking at code from several languages like Ruby, Perl, Java, C, and Python might have a hard time telling that they're even different languages. Well, except Python, which happens to be pretty visually distinctive. And yet, while the languages have many commonalities, the subtle differences in between them, and between these languages and other languages like Smalltalk and Haskell, result in completely different metaphors and methods for solving the same problem. Completely different ways of thinking about things, different models of thought.

Each language, each set of restrictions, each context, each set of grammatical and syntax rules, that tells us how to interpret and understand these symbols which often look alike, result in you having to think in a completely different way to solve a problem. In much the same way that the different grammar, structure, and conjugation rules for German, Spanish, and Lithuanian require you to approach speaking a simple statement in completely different ways.

Learning to be a carpenter involves not only learning words you may have never heard of that only apply to carpentry, but definitions of words, and terms of art, that may have completely different meanings from those outside of that context.

And learning those multiple contexts and the different patterns and assumptions and metaphors behind them make it easier to find solutions that people who've only seen one of those concepts may never have spotted. Programmers are often recommended to learn several languages, especially oddball ones with completely different idea structures like Haskell, because even if they never make a living programming in those languages, it will help them become better programmers and problem solvers.

The same is true of learning a new skill like carpentry, painting, hiking, skating, or shooting. It gives you a new language (even if it sounds like english) and a new set of thought-patterns and symbols.

Which brings me to another, final thought.

Most of these "languages" I've discussed here are still, in the end, subsets of English. But, while the lessons and tools they give you may be different, just like a 'real' foreign language, they give you a very similar experience in mapping a new set of mental tools.

But it really does confuse communication when two people think they're talking "English" - and they're not. At least not the same english.

Monday
Dec032012

Not Very Wise Support

Perhaps I've been living in a standards-compliant web-design bubble. I've always been aware that one had to design around and account for odd quirks in page design when making sure websites look just as good in Microsofts Internet Explorer as they do in Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. I've even run across a few business banking sites that absolutely require Internet Explorer in order to manage the add-ons and check scanners.

That said, I think today is the first time I've ever seen a customer support site, even for a windows-centric product, that not only "required" Internet Explorer, but was utterly and completely unusable in any context without it. Unusable as in you could not even look up knoedge base and support articles.

Lest you think I'm kidding, check out the support FAQ page for the customer support portal for sage software. Under the question "What are the supported internet browsers for the Sage Customer Portal?":

 

Internet Explorer is the supported internet browser for use with the Sage Customer Portal.
If you use Firefox, Chrome or other browsers and encounter issues, we recommend using Internet Explorer instead.
If you use Internet Explorer 8 or 9, click the Compatibility View button  to the right of the address bar to avoid potential issues. To permanently enable Compatibility View for the Sage Customer Portal, go to Tools > Compatibility View Settings and click [Add].
First of all, there's several possible meanings for "we don't support other browsers." One is "We don't guarantee that you will see everything on the page, or everything the way we intended it to work." The other extreme is "nothing on the page works." The latter is something you get on specialized banking sites incorporating direct check deposit scanning through activeX extensions, and the like.
It's not something I expect on a customer support page. I'll grant that not all of their products have inaccessible support pages. The pages for their Act! customer relations management product work fine in other browsers. 
I also understand that the information in the support portal is tied to the products you've purchased from them, but this is also not a new problem for dozens of internet companies providing cloud-based services. I can even, understand restricting access to isntaller downloads and knowledge base articles to paying customers - Sage is hardly the only software vendor to do so.
But the only thing seen in Firefox, Safari, or Chrome, is a failed plugin message.
Making access to documentation and troubleshooting information completely unavailable in any other browser is completely unacceptable. 
Not bothering to update your site to be compatible with the last three versions of internet explorer, including versions nearly four years old, is icing on the cake. 

 

Tuesday
Nov272012

How to Guarantee I Never Watch Your Show (or read your book)

While the TV was on, during a commercial break, one actress was doing a teaser blurb on the series she's in. I have no way to tell how much of this was her, how much was prompted for her, but someone trying to pitch the show to new viewers thought it was spot on and approved it for the advertisement. 

So, what statement did she make that guaranteed I would have no interest in the show ever, whatsoever?

"There are no bad guys, and there are no good guys".

Let's take a look at that for a second.

First of all, those of you about to break out the pitchforks over simplistic storytelling or whatever, I'm well aware that not only is it possible to tell a kick-ass story without a single bad guy, by using rivals and "good" antagonists with their own goals, but some of my favorite stories are structured precisely around such conflicts, and some of my favorite "bad guys" qualify as good people who are rivals. Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" is an excellent example of the former.

The part I take exception to is the "no good guys." To me that says "no-one to cheer for."

Yes, I'm aware nobody is perfect, and everyone has flaws. if people didn't change, and grow, and overcome these flaws, stories would be really boring.

But if there's no-one that I consider a "good guy" - that I admire, either for what they are, or for what they have the potential to become and then grow into - then the story is about a bunch of people that I find despicable, screwing each other over, with one person being more of a "viewpoint" character than the rest.

It also helps feed into a nihilistic, nothing-is-worth-anything mindset.

I have better things to do with my life.