I need to stop making my kids sit

Oh man. There is a lot of truth in this:

Think back to a multi-day conference or long PD day you had and remember that feeling by the end of the day – that need to just disconnect, break free, go for a run, chat with a friend, or surf the web and catch up on emails. That is how students often feel in our classes, not because we are boring per se but because they have been sitting and listening most of the day already. They have had enough.

Two years ago I went on a conference that was heavy on information overload and so instead on the last day I “had enough”, and instead spent the day in a coffee shop where I met other teachers who were using some online tools that I knew something about and we shared. I remember the comments, and even took some of those and developed stuff based on what I saw. They were English teachers using Moodle, and it was the best thing that happened to me during the whole conference, and it happened when I literally walked away from it.

Sitting around all day taking in information is hard. I often complain to my wife about it when it happens, so I always think that I’m probably a bit more sensitive than others are, but I think we can all relate to having a PD day where it didn’t actually felt like you did anything, and when it’s over you are so completely wiped out from it all anyway.

Hopefully my use of humor in the classroom breaks up things quite a bit. But still, this post has opened my eyes a  bit. That’s it. I’m going to do a lot more drama in my lessons from now on. <grrr></grrr>

Google can’t be everywhere forever

On any given day, at my workplace, I use google services probably billions upon billions of times. Non-existing numbers like that is nice to have, though … isn’t it? … because what is really meant is that I use Google for very nearly every click of the mouse, a hit of the return, and I quickly lose count, and that’s the utility of using silly numbers (c.f. “zillions“).

Anyway. So I use Google services quite a bit. Our internal DNS server just forwards to Google DNS, so then I’m probably using Google Services 20 times per web access at least. In case that stuff right there just went over your head, I’m just pointing out that every time I visit a website (=1 web access) there are 20 additional “websites” that are accessed after that, because any one website has dependences on other services.

Which brings me (finally) to the article I just read, “Peak Google“, which points out that Google may well be like IBM back in its heyday, being really profitable and really scary, but in fact with its business model it actually probably has peaked, and we all know what happens when things peak. It’s a more sophisticated argument than that, so be sure to take a close read yourself.

It’s fascinating to me because to my mind the only truly sustainable software model is that of Open Source. I mean, they recently found a bug that was 25 years old and everyone just sort of laughs it off. Yes I know that’s a pretty unsophisticated summary of what happened with the Shellshock bug, but that vulnerability really is an 11 out of ten, but the world goes on because generally it’s a sustainable model. Imagine if Apple software had a bug like that. Babam.

With Open Source, no one gets fired, no stocks to worry about, just fix it, and get everyone to patch it. Probably it’ll cause adjustments in the community so that such a thing can happen again (alas, but it will!). On the contrary there are a zillion lines of Google code locked behind a company wall and what happens to those if-slash-when Google is just an IBM-of-today rather than the IBM-of-the-eighties?

Weighty stuff.

There are loads of “stupid” people

Early days, and all that, but one of the main threads that is coming out in the aftermath of the flight MH17 is that Putin provided these pro-Russian forces with some pretty advanced weaponry. Take a look at Josh Marshall, for example, whose key paragraph is:

The audio tapes posted by The New York Times might as well be from some future Russia-based version of Waiting for Guffman or Best in Show, a comical rendering of rustics and morons stumbling into an event of vast carnage and international consequence mainly because they’re hotheads and idiots – the kind of people no one in their right minds would give world class weaponry to. It’s like finding some white supremacist/militia types on their little compound in the inter-Mountain west and giving them world class missile launchers and heavy armaments.

Not sure what evidence there is that these guys are morons and/or hotheads, and that no one in their right minds would give weapons to, but America has been giving some pretty stupid people, like, say, Saddam Hussein, and any other pro-Whatever forces some weapons to do some stupid things with.

I’ll leave that train of thought, first because America didn’t directly give Hussein actual weapons, but instead arranged to make sure he had some, and secondly because the bigger train of thought is this:

All this weaponry that is laying around, eventually will be put into the hand of a “moron” or just plain troublemaker, who could do some pretty stupid things with it, including the initial act of a war that results in the death of our very planet.

Apple’s iWatch: My $0.02 Guess

So people are thinking that there will be an iWatch out from Apple come this October. I haven’t seen a picture of anything that I think:

  • I would wear, or
  • That someone else would wear, either (for more than a week)

If Apple is doing an iWatch, given their design process and philosophy, this is what it will be:

  • It will look more like clothes than a gadget.
  • Bracelet, or necklace-like. In other words, not a watch.
  • Water proof to x feet. Think swimming and showering with the thing.
  • No camera at all. Not in version 1.
  • Connects to your other devices, an extension of your other devices.
  • Minimal user interface, if any at all.

I don’t for a second think that Apple is going to release a product that will have an X or Y feature that everyone will want. Apple designs from the ground up, in other words, first and foremost it will be something smart that is worth wearing once or twice, and then after that there will be some killer functions that people will keep wearing it for.

“Intelligent life has just gotten started”

Mind, blown.

Turns out that there are real reason to cast doubt on the idea that the universe is probably teeming with intelligent life. Sure, maybe it has loads and loads of microbes, but human-like species? We may well be the first, and almost certainly the only one in our galaxy.

The argument comes from the observation that there just aren’t any self-replicating robots anywhere to be found in space.

Mind, blown.

Swift. Changes. Everything.

I signed up as an Apple Developer, because I had heard some really amazing things coming out of WWDC 2014. Apparently, and I’ll let readers find out for themselves, that conference pretty much ushered in The New Apple. The amount of stuff they unleashed to the world is just so comprehensive, and so futurist-looking, that if you’re a developer-minded person, you just have to open your mouth in awe.

Previously, I hadn’t been attracted to the Mac development stuff for one major reason: Objective-C. I just can’t stand writing C code. I know what pointers are, and I know why we’re always checking for nil, but my brain doesn’t like those sort of low-level stuff. That’s why I do everything I can in Python: It’s just the best high-level language there is. Plus, Objective-C has all those horrible names with NS prefixes all over the place, another thing that drives me mad. Reading Objective-C code just makes it so hard. I’m a teacher and anything I develop I don’t have spare hours unpacking stuff. Just let me code it up.

And now Apple has launched Swift, and like most Apple programmer geeks, I consumed the book, and, not only is it Python-like but it levels the playing field considerably. If you’re a guy that’s always wanted to enter the Mac development ecosphere (hand goes up real high) but has been traumatised at the thought of having to dive into unlearning everything you know just to start learning everything again, now is the time to do it.

It’s funny, because I got serious into Python when they launched Python 3, which was a similar situation.

I think this is my way of announcing to the world that I’m going to be making a Mac program within the year. Hmm.. I wonder what sort of project I might work on.

The internet has some ‘super pillars’

I never heard of MetaFilter, but reading about their imminent demise makes for interesting reflection. Think about it, entire ecosystems depend entirely on two Google services:

  1. Search
  2. Ads

And those services are:

  • Closed
  • Proprietary
  • Opaque

The other week a colleague was ruminating on the fact that they are starting to avoid Facebook because, well, it was getting to be just too much. Sort of like Google, entire livelihoods depend upon services that Facebook provides, but all it does is solve a fairly simple problem: Staying in touch with people. Google solved the “how do I find stuff on the internet” problem.

So, I coin here term ‘super pillar’ as an online service where millions of other services depend upon it.

The same colleague asked out loud “is there anything on the internet that is forever”… to which I replied “email”. However, despite email’s horrible reputation for millions of spam bots everywhere, it truly is one of the few things that is “forever” on the Internet. And email is:

  • Standards-based
  • Open
  • Free

Although it doesn’t quite qualify as Open Source, in a way it is the first successful “open source-ish” project that the Internet had, and it remains today as the foremost service the Internet offers. Interesting to think that both Google and Facebook have answers to the problems that email solves…

My password has finally been cracked

In college I remember going to the computer lab and firing up the message forums and email and having to log in with my username and password, which were provided to me by West Chester University. It wasn’t the beginning of my online connective-ness, but it is a fond memory because that signifies the time that I started checking the internet constantly for content.

To this day, that password, which was randomly generated, with a capital letter, a symbol character, and at least six digits, is my go-to password for low-security websites. I understand the wisdom in not using the same password everywhere, and I don’t, but for websites that I couldn’t care less about, I just use my old college one. It’s not a password based off of my last name or my birthday or any other such nonsense, and so isn’t easily cracked.

It was a solid password to use… for fifteen years.

Goes to show you, that … really now … you really, really do have to manage your passwords.

Setting the default printer with a script with Mac OS X

After looking around the internet, I couldn’t find the answer in a single place, but I figured it out and so I might as well publish it here.

If what you want is to make a script so that all the user has to do is double-click something or run a script and their computer will use “XYZ PRINTER” default printer whenever they print, this is the sequence that works:

defaults write ~/Library/Preferences/org.cups.PrintingPrefs.plist UseLastPrinter -bool FALSE
lpoptions -d XYZ_PRINTER

The way it works is that line 1 turns off the “Use last printer” system preference that is the default setting. Then the second line actually sets the default printer. You’d think that all you need is the second line, but the “Use last printer” overrides it, so if you try doing just the second line nothing happens. It’s not obvious, unless you see it right in front of you like it is now :)

You can make this into an AppleScript pretty easily. Note that you have to replace any spaces in the name of the printer with an underscore.

A bunch of journalists really wish…

…they could cover a mind-boggling once-in-a-lifetime story like the iPhone launch.

That’s why so many of them are crapping so often on the “lack of innovation” that’s supposedly not happening these days, despite the fact the clear evidence (as given by the many who disagree with that premise) is that in fact innovation is streaming along quite nicely.

What they really want to have happen is for a Jobs-esque figure to get up on that podium and blow everyone’s mind away. So they can cover it. Problem is, you can’t will that sort of stuff to happen.