War is over

If we want it!

For this year’s Remembrance Day, I have revisited some memories in the past.   20 some odd years ago, I was quite influenced by John Lennon’s call for peace.   I was a kid and war made little sense to me then.   Since then I have learned about hate, and oppression, greed and lust that makes the world go round.   War still makes little sense to me, and that is a condition of the privileged life that I’ve been granted.   Thank you Canada, and all the Canadians that fought for my right to denounce war and hate.

However, the war machine will toil on, with or without my consent.   I am comforted by the notion by the Peace tower.  Everyday our members of Parliament walk through or use the stairs in the Peace tower as a constant reminder about the cost of war and that we must ensure that there is no room for it if we are going to survive as a society.   Yet still be proactive about ensuring that we work with our neighbors and other nations  to ensure that message holds true for everyone.   Even if it means standing up to bullies on the world stage.   Diplomacy is everything, and violence begets violence.

So back to John Lennon, we the people have the power, we have the power to say, “War is over”,   if we want it.

Obviously that is easier said than done.   To begin we each need to live a life of peace.   To root out those parts of our lives that bring suffering to others, to live in sustainable way, and to stop putting up with the corporate control over our government, and our communities.  We need to demonstrate compassion, and give a hand to lift those up who are in trouble.

So this Remembrance Day, I will be reflecting on my choices, and how my actions play a role in how we all contribute to the state that we live in.   Where hate and xenophobia seem to be trending, and greed and lust seem to be leading us down the path we traveled before.  We said “Never again!”, and it takes more than words, we have to mean it, and live it, otherwise we’re destined to succumb to the horrors of war again.

5853474105_08a91ffd3d_z_d

Advertisements

From Basic to Javascript

10 PRINT “HELLO BILLY”
20 GOTO 10

This amazing piece of code is the first program that I wrote on my Commodore Vic20. I wasn’t impressed yet, I carried on, I wrote many more programs that varied in complexity. Much of them were copied and modified out of magazines, but entered by hand at least.

What impresses me about my 10 year old programmer self was the accessibility to program simple games. Today there are many accessible programming languages for children and adults. As long as you know how to find them you can create fun little programs. Unfortunately they are not real programs that will stand the test of time.

When I graduated to DOS, I found Basic was different but still quite capable. Then Windows had VBScript that continues to exist today. Microsoft had done a good job at making sure all Microsoft Software understands Visual Basic, and I had built some great solutions with that software. However, the internet happened, and Microsoft was absent. Microsoft came out with .Net as a solution, but by then it was too late, I was lost to the open source movement, and the Linux platform.

I still use Windows occasionally, my family uses it aside from mobile devices. Which is really the crux of the problem. When I was 10 I had one device, a Vic20 that runs Basic. When the Commodore 64 came out I could transfer that knowledge easily. But with so many devices today, what programming language exists that crosses all of those boundaries.

There are many great programming languages to choose from today. Java, and Python seem to lead the charge, the days of having to learn C or C++ are fading into the background. One language does cross almost all of the boundaries though, Javascript.

Yes I know Javascript is not a real programming language, and its potential for abuse is being exercised thoroughly. Advertisments, malicious intent, and bad programming exists in all areas of the internet. Javascript is somewhat limited and slow as well. There is so much bad press about javascript one is tempted to ignore it all together.

What Javascript does bring to the table is an accessible language that can handle a large and growing variety of tasks. From animations on a website, to enterprise platform like Google Apps, or nCurses based CLI program in a Linux shell. As well it either exists by default or is easily available on all platforms.

What doesn’t exist for Javascript is an easy to access IDE. Modern Web Browsers Chrome and Firefox have development tools to use for testing and debugging. The Atom editor is a handy editor tool that I’m currently getting to know. (The Atom Editor is programmed with Javascript). So now that the ring is closing, I see Javascript as being the language to be competent in for the next generation. I will share practical examples of coding Javascript programs to demonstrate it’s utility.

Three steps to build my online presence

Step 1: Start a blog
Step 2: Write articles for that blog
Step 3: Rinse and Repeat step 2

That’s all there is to it right? Ugh, then how come I feel so overwhelmed.

WordPress.com is great for hosting my blog, as a technophile though, my ambition is to build an online empire that I control the strings to like a marionette. My ambition always gets in the way, to much dreaming and not enough doing. Sure I can setup a gitlab for my projects, but I really should get that project out the door first rather than worrying about what profile picture to put on my github profile.

All that and life tends to get in the way of any real progress. Kids have to get the schooling done, we need to sit for meals together, family needs to be visited, and Stranger Things 2 isn’t going to watch itself. Especially when my wife wants to sit with me to watch a show together, why would I say no to that. All work and no play makes Billy a dull boy.

I really appreciate this blog though. As long as I feel that I am contributing to it on a regular basis, then at least I’m producing something. My first project the Word Search tool is coming along well too. I’d like to make it available for November 11th, I’m afraid I’m not going to make that deadline though. So much to do before it goes out, like a nice profile picture.

The Distraction

Perhaps you’ve heard of “The Silence”, the Doctor Who boogie men that run things in the background that influence the parts of society that don’t make any sense.    Today I’d like to introduce you to The Distraction.   These beings (I need a better name) also exist in peripheries, and in plain sight.  Looking for any moment or opportunity to take advantage of your short attention span.

They’ve always been there, at least as long as I’ve been around.   They exist wherever work needs to get done.   Even in your sleep they work to lull you into the comfort of your cozy bed and catch up on that much needed sleep deficit that you’ve been working on.

Perfectly nefarious, The Distraction has always been there to keep me entertained and prevent me from doing what I was supposed to be doing.   In high school I couldn’t study, because there was always hope for something better on TV, or a high score to achieve on Tetris, anything to keep me away from my homework.

Last night I had that recurring dream that I was falling behind in my high school math class, because I had missed lessons and was behind on my homework.   My Kafkaesque turmoil fought me every step of the way to get to my math class, and I never did make it.  I had to give up my ride for my wife and kids so that they could make their classes, which are far more important than mine.

During my working career The Distraction has always been there too, perhaps a solitaire Vegas style, or the coffee room chat.   Even work can distract you from Work, would I rather fix this or go see if I can fix something else that is more fun.   The balance is never ending.

Recently, I read most of the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.   He calls the Distraction, the resistance.  The resistance however isn’t an external force, it’s part of you, and supposedly you are supposed to own up to this pesky lost puppy of your Super-ego.  Freud may have tried to illuminate this all with his Ego and the Id mumbo jumbo. I doubt it though, as I read in people magazine that he likely had Mommy issues.



It’s RAD using Google Apps

I agree… it seems like an odd choice, but developing solutions using Google Spreadsheets has a lot of perks.  My relationship with Google Apps started when my wife had created a tracking worksheet in Google Spreadsheets for her work.   If only there was a way to do some automation with it?  Oh look there is, and what I found was quite extensive.

As far as I’m concerned an application framework needs 3 things, a robust language, a user interface, data handling, and most important of all is documentation.  Okay maybe that’s 4 four things.

Like Visual Basic for Applications back in the day, Google has provided an event driven Javascript language that allows you access to all parts of the Spreadsheet and it’s data handling power.   Not only Spreadsheets though all of Google Apps is available through the API.  The user interface is made with the spreadsheets itself, and a lot of artistic license can go into that.  To finish it all off is the documentation, which is comprehensive, provides examples, and the whole thing becomes becomes accessible with the built in IDE and Debugger.

Okay that’s 5 things, the robust language, data handling, user interface, documentation, an IDE and the debugger.  Nut’s maybe thats 6.  Anyway you get the idea.

I’ve built several projects for work with it now, and it has handled scaling very well.   We’ve had 2000 spreadsheet managed by a central spreadsheet.   As long as there are no changes to the spreadsheets, then everything works great.    For a school this worked out fine, as anything that would be nice to have we saved up for the next version.

With the Google Apps API, handling email, producing PDFs, managing files all becomes fairly accessible with a little amount of development time compared to other solutions.

This weekend I sat down and wrote a Word Search puzzle generator that my wife can use to build her own Word Search puzzles.   The javascript language is a great blend of dumbed down coding with logical syntax that you don’t have to be too concerned about variable types or other gotchas.

In fact, it went so well I think I can bundle this up and offer it to other teachers to use to build their students vocabulary.  An amazing example of write once, use anywhere.    I have created solutions for Invoice submission, curriculum tracking, learner assessment reporting, Google form notification system, mail merge and sending, and work-flow scripts to assist management of tasks.

If you’re a school admin, and like to get your hands dirty (not like fixing a car, but more like washing the dishes kind of dirty) then definitely take a look at the power that Google Apps can bring.

It’s not all about computers

Yeah, working on computers takes up a big chunk of my life.   Most of my time is spent looking at a screen, and punching buttons on the keyboard.    There is much more to MakeMagazineTeknobillyme though,  I enjoy cooking, going for long walks, working with wood, photography, and other things that I can try to squeak into my busy day.   However, there is something missing, a certain aspect of me is missing that I used to have in abundance, but has mostly withered away.

I like to make things.   Yeah I know my veggie burritos are awesome, but I mean I used to make things.    I have a Microcomputer Electronics Technician diploma with my name on it. I constructed a Z80 motherboard and a roving robot to earn that degree.  I used to spend hours with Lego, I used to enjoy to code programs for fun.   But that has all been withered away.   Even my wood working projects have taken a back seat as of late.

It’s time to take back the Maker in me.

Busted…
You got me, I picked up a magazine and saw the glossy photos in there and pictured myself in the articles.    What a great magazine really to be able to convert me so quickly.   I actually went out and bought a subscription so I can share this rediscovery with my kids.

This does feed me though, it’s what I feel I need at this time as we go into the dark of winter.   Something to keep me going on into the nights.    I think my first project will be a simple drawing machine.     Something like a DIY Spirograph Machine.    I’ll let you know how it works out. 🙂

The Working Life Is For Me

I fell in love working 40+ hours a week for someone else shortly after finishing college. Getting up early in the morning rushing about to make myself presentable and cobble together some food for the day before I set off to get to my desk on time was always a crazy fun experience. The chuckle-heads on the radio usually gave me a smile, or at least let me hear some good tunes on my way. Starting work at 8am meant I would be finished by 4:30, and that also gave me a 30 minute break to enjoy my food I packed in the morning.

As time went on, I became fairly proficient at this process. I optimized my lunch break to boogie home in 5 minutes, scarf down some food, take a 15 minute siesta before rushing back to my desk all within the 30 minutes. This gave me an opportunity to visit with my wife and kids for brief periods during my day.

After a long day like that in front of the computer I’m tired, my brain doesn’t want to do anymore of that thinking work, and it’s all I can do to keep up with my kids. When it comes time to leisure time, I often find myself preparing meal, doing housework, keeping up the yard, or if I have the energy I’d work on that complex problem at work that has been holding me up from being as productive as I can possibly be.

Sometimes, employers can optimize their procedures so as to reduce costs, and when that happened I was given a grand farewell by my co-workers and sent on my way to find a new place to work.

I suppose if you squint and look at this whole process in a particular way it can kinda seem I might be taken advantage of, but really, it’s about what the employer needs to keep the business profitable for themselves. I was paid a good wage wasn’t I?  By meeting my goals I contributed to the most successful years for the company, they even gave me a bonus of several hundred dollars. And don’t forget vacation time, the employer held back 4% of my wages so I could take a summer vacation and continued to get paid during that break. When I got back, all my work was there ready and waiting for me.

Yeah, the working life has been good to me, my kids are growing up well and my wife is happy, I can’t really ask for anything more.

My preferred Operating System is Linux

Dang!  Facebook doesn’t have a setting where I can share with the world that my preferred operating system has changed from Windows to Linux.

I was introduced to MS-DOS 3.1 in 1988 in my High School computer class.   In 1991 I was introduced to Windows 3.0, and since then I used Windows as part of my everyday life.    It’s been a long relationship that has always been soured by the way changes were made.  Microsoft did not change windows to improve my experience, in many ways Windows did evolve to be a better operating system, but was always closed, and we did not have a choice about adopting their new standards.
Fortunately, I can say that I’m free of that tyranny.   I’m thankful for Windows version 7.   I keep my copy in a Virtual Machine on my Laptop for those couple of applications that are not able to run outside of it.

Enough about bad relationships though, lets talk about what is new.   Thanks to a work colleague, I found a Linux Distro that operates as Desktop manager well enough that I hardly notice the transition.   I recognize that what I need in an operating system is different than most, but I am hopeful that Linux is maturing at such a rapid rate that we will find it filling that niche more and more often.

2017 is the year I switched to Antergos Linux, a version of Arch Linux.   It’s a rolling release operating system, that means it always stays current and that I won’t need to reinstall or do a major upgrade every year.  I chose to use the Cinnamon Desktop manager, as it has keyboard shortcuts that I like, and that the overall feel is like a really well optimized version of Windows 7.   My other computer has Windows 7 on it still and it’s days are numbered, as I feel relationship crumble between us.

I have admired Linux for a long time now, since about 2001,   I have used it as server operating system since 2010, blowing my mind about what a server should be, and how it should function.  I have tried to install and use Linux as a desktop on other computers, but I couldn’t quite get the hang of it, and didn’t feel I could trust it to perform at a level that I could trust to be my daily driver.

Thank you to all the people who have contributed in some way to Linux, Arch Linux, and the Antergos Distro.   Your commitment to building a better operating system is very admirable, and I believe you will win over many others as the march towards open and truly free operating systems continue.

Check it out… About Antergos Linux

School Computer Lab Breakdown

Computer labs, you love ’em, and you hate them. On days when everything goes well, the lab is an awesome resource for teaching. Those other days though, boy, it makes you wonder why you even got out of bed in the morning. They can be a huge time sink, there are many ugly little gotchas that require serious time to sort out. I’m curious about the state of computer labs today. Let’s review some of the common computer labs types and dump on them a little, but we’ll come around and not be completely negative.

Please refrain from using the desktop computer as a grill
Please refrain from cooking with lab computers

The traditional computer lab

Usually made of Windows Desktop computers, anywhere from 5 to 50 spread out in a room. Smaller labs are great, they offer more flexibility, but can also become a pain as the software becomes outdated, and problems start to crop up. The larger labs are usually automated and locked down so the experience is uniform across all computers.

The mobile laptop lab

When your school doesn’t have enough space to host a computer lab the convenience of a mobile lab is very attractive. The Laptop computers can be put on a roll cart and offers many of the same conveniences as a desktop lab, that is until the wear and tear starts to set in. Keyboards, screens, plugging and unplugging all take heavy toll on the poor laptop. They are often not as fast as a desktop lab, but with today’s processor speeds that seems to matter less and less.

Everyone knows Macs are better

The Mac lab, I haven’t been in an lab of all Mac computers. I have managed a Mac XenServer before but for a different purpose. I see Apple has provided server software to make a mac lab possible. I’d be interested to hear about the benefits and trials of running a Mac lab.

But does it scale?

Networked computers offer relief of managing each computer separately. Learners profiles can travel with them as they move from computer to computer, gone are the shared passwords that foster problems. You don’t have so many problems with learners and users treading on each others profile. There is a greater level of privacy afforded to the Learner. The computers themselves can be locked down to prevent unwanted practices from causing problems. There can be a tendency to assume that all computers are exactly the same, but somehow there always seems to be an exception.   hopefully you find it before your students.
Each of the Labs are great in their own way, that is, until problems occur. Regardless of how well a lab is setup, things change, software becomes outdated, security is always a concern, as is privacy. Computer parts fail or are abused, Instructors laptops connecting to the projector, and Printers are a never ending chore. What about accessibility, different font resolutions and different devices are always keeping the technicians on their toes.

I put together a poll to find out more about the computer labs out there, could you take a minute to answer a few questions?
https://goo.gl/forms/QJvrVkLPLJ5Wcwnq1

I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

The band U2 played their Joshua Tree concert in Vancouver recently.  I heard their song “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”, it’s playing in my head right now.   That title though is a good theme for getting together a blog and start the process of my dream gig.

Truth is, I have found it, I’m sitting on the dream gig as I speak, but it’s enormous.  How do I fit it in an electronic bottle so I can share this with the world?   And what do I call it?

First off, I’m not much of a story teller.   I’ll need to practice that, perhaps there is a course on the line that I can take, a nice non-committal course that I can take the first few lessons become a pro and ignore the rest.

Next up, I need to write more.   How to develop the practice of writing.   I suppose that is obvious, I need to write more.   Make it fun.   Then I will want to write more.    That’s your job WordPress, make this task fun, and I’ll continue to do it.

Reduce my expectations, I’m not going to get immediate response, this is not going to land on the front page of reddit, and Ellen is not going to call me.  Nor are people going to start throughing money at me.    I need to do this because I am genuinely interested in sharing this behemoth with the world.  I love it, and if I love it enough, that will shine through.  People will eventually see it and if they like it, they’ll bring their friends.

So, more of this, more of it all.   Would you like to see a picture?