Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Last one in the lab is me... :-(

This AP Java workshop has been a lot of work and a lot of fun so far. I can only say positive things about the workshop. I mean, after teaching ten or so years and going through grad school, well, you go through your share of experiences that can at best be described as "so-so". Not this workshop.

About the worst thing here so far has been
  1. My Java syntax
  2. My Java API knowledge
  3. My familiarity with all the various IDEs for teaching Java to students.
So tonight I stayed overtime, and it was time well spent. Python is much more natural for me to code, but I'm really learning some good habits here this week. So far the discussions of OOP have been very comprehensible for me--a heck of a lot better than they would have been back when I first encountered OOP.

Ate at a little cafe this evening. Pita bread with hummus , black bean soup, and iced coffee.

Monday, July 28, 2008

AP Java Workshop Report #1

I'm in Pittsburgh!

Got in yesterday, flying from Mountain Time to Eastern Time, so of course last night at midnight I was wide awake. Getting up at 6:30 this morning was a bit tough. Tip: set alarm clock far a way from bed, so you have to climb a chair and desk to get to it.

The photo on the left is the Tower of Learning at nearby University of Pittsburgh. I have this thing about tall buildings--I always want to go to the top, by stairs if possible. That's on my list of things to do before leaving Pittsburgh.

Some notes from the AP Java Workshop.

1. Discussed the implications of the upcoming elimination of th e AP Computer Science AB class (APCS A will remain).

2. Covered three very cool applications for teaching Java (and one even has a Python version):

3. Had a sub for lunch. Maybe I should have one of those big sandwiches before I leave Pitt.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Chicken or the Egg--Algebra or Geometry?

I'm going to do what a lot of edubloggers do: blog about other blogs.

Jackie from Continuities has started a good conversation on the order that we teach math in high school: must algebra come before geometry?

My gut reaction is: nope--we just do it that way because of tradition, and tradition is a dangerous thing to cling to. I guess it would be interesting to do a historical analysis of this issue.

I don't know why, but I'm always excited about change. If someone tells me tomorrow, "Hey, we're thinking of teaching Geometry before Algebra 1 at our school, would you like to come and try teaching with us?"--well, I'd probably sign up just for the experience.

Of course there are many types of change I don't like. If someone tells me tomorrow, "Hey, we're thinking of teaching 50 minute classes of about 30 students each class and we're gonna go with a good 'back to the basics' approach with either Saxon or Glencoe books, would you like to come and try teaching with us?"--well, I'd probably run the other way.

The change should at least hint of progress, whatever that is.

Tip: Taking your bookmarks with you

Okay, so tomorrow morning I leave for CMU in Pittsburgh.

Haven't packed yet. Haven't decided whether or not to take my laptop. Since they have Mac labs where I'll be going, I'll miss Linux but at least I won't have to use Windows.

Anyway, to make sure I can access all my favorite web pages, I went into Firefox under Bookmarks/Organize Bookmarks/Import and Backup/ Export HTML and exported all my bookmarks into one handy HTML file. Then, I go to Google and upload it to my Google Docs account. Now, if I leave my beloved laptop behind, I'll at least be able to access all my bookmarks.

I probably should set up some remote login or something to get at all my files, but I'm just not that ambitious....

I'll try to report in from Pittsburgh on my Java workshop from time to time.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Summer crunch time.

Yeah, I'm busy, but it's all good.

Yesterday I was awarded a grant from the American Immigration Law Foundation. I have a background of teaching math to English Language Learners (ELL), so I decided a migrant student blog project would be a cool thing. Basically migrant students at our school will be able to post about their experiences. Of course the grant proposal was much more detailed than that, but that's the main idea. I asked that the money be used for a Linux laptop, like the EEE PC. I'll try to find a student to be the maintainer of the blog, and that student will get to use the laptop 24-7 or close to it.

Also, I finally got off my butt and shelled out the moolah to register a domain name and have it hosted on the web. Our district has very strict rules regarding school web pages. I'll leave politics aside, but basically I spent the money to have complete control over web pages for my programming club and for my classes. I went with Dreamhost because they have a strong reputation in the Linux world, and that matters to me. They feature a big assortment of open source add-ons and support and run Debian Linux servers. I can now have blogs, forums, Moodle pages, all of that. Here's the domain name:

Pretty cool, huh? I was a little surprised that one was still available. You can visit that address, but it will take me and the computer club some time to get it all up and running....

...especially since I spend next week in Pittsburgh.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

More about the power of a good book.

My last post really was not about The Mist so much as it was about how incredible the act of reading is.

The picture for this post is about a memory implant, but I like to think of it as an interface between the brain and a computer.

You see, I've always thought early attempts at virtual reality were way too dorky. I mean, the goggles and gloves phase just did nothing to thrill me.

Nope, I wanted a simstim that I could plug right into my brain stem (and then plug the other end into a Quake video game or something). Maybe I'd be in one of those sensory deprivation tanks like in Altered States. Somehow I wanted the data going directly into my brain. Any tangle of wires and goggles or foamy gloves would just get in the way.

Well, today when I took a long bike ride in the 100 degree heat, it hit me: plain old reading is a closer, more intimate interface than any movie or video game could hope for. Really, the data just goes right from the page into your brain.

Or maybe the heat was just making me silly.

Book Versions vs. Movie Versions

Reading is such an incredible thing.

Although reading may seem quite basic, the fact is that reading a good story is a much deeper experience than any high def TV and 5.1 surround sound can deliver.

How else can you explain why there are so few movies that turn out to be as good as or better than the prose version?

I believe there are examples where the movie turned out to be better than the book--I just can't remember any of them right now. However, it's all to easy to recall a great piece of prose turning into a pile of crap on the big screen.

Take The Mist, for example. That was one of Stephen King's best novellas. The entire experience of reading it was like watching a mind movie that featured almost total immersion. Then I rent the movie, turn out the lights, and make a serious attempt to enjoy it.

Right away things start going wrong. The characters don't react like real characters, something I don't recall from the book. No, there's something wrong with the logic of their interactions early on in this one. Here's a couple examples:

1. When the mist first arrives, a guy with a bloody nose runs into the supermarket and says terrible stuff's going on. Just from that, and apparently the mist itself, all the people in the supermarket are convinced they can not leave the store. WTF? At least tiptoe out a few feet into the mist, ready to rush back into the store if necessary. Don't just accept the fact that you're stuck inside, no matter what bloody nose guy says.

2. When Ben and a few of the locals try to convince Brent that there really are large creatures out in the fog, the resulting argument is--somehow completely wrong. Brent becomes paranoid and they keep trying to convince him, when they could just go back into the back room, grab a shovel, and bring out the friggin' tentacle appendage that they chopped off the monster. This is the equivalent of keeping the blinds closed and trying to convince your lover that it's stopped raining outside. Try opening the blinds and showing him/her!

Oh well. Some people prefer movies and never even read a book. Can't imagine living that way. The monsters in King's novella were much more convincing than the computer-generated denzians that were in the movie....

Going to Pittsburgh....

I'll be going to Pittsburgh for a week of AP Computer Science training at Carnegie Melon University.

This could be a cool opportunity that would be very helpful in teaching my classes this next year. Or, if it blows....well, let's think positive!

I chose the CMU workshop because of the institution's strong reputation in computer science. They even run their own version of Linux there, and I'm hoping the workshop is Linux-friendly for people like me.

I'll have to bring along an Ubuntu laptop, and maybe a few Ubuntu live cds....

Also, recent talk on the APCS listserv shows a considerable amount of teachers using Visual Basic in introductory programming classes. They've gotta meet Python.

Not trying to force anything on anyone, or tell anyone what they should do. Just want to make them aware of the alternatives. Proprietary companies spend a lot of money on advertising. Open Source companies don't. That's one way they can remain free. It's pretty amazing how far some of the best OS applications have gotten largely by word of mouth (or word of blog).

Heck, I haven't even tried to convince my parents to switch to Ubuntu.

Humanity to others.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

The Exorcism of Emily Rose was one of those pleasant surprises. You know, you rent a movie and you think, "well, this will probably suck, but I'll give it a chance...."

It's increasingly difficult to know ahead of time what to expect from a modern horror movie. You can't go by the "critical acclaim" quotes on the DVD package.

Probably one of the best places to look is Rotten Tomatoes, but even then you may find a movie you really like that most critics panned--like this one, which only has a 44% rating.

Anyway, this is a good movie. Surprisingly good and very creepy. Don't watch it with a bunch of your friends on a sunny afternoon. Watch it in the dark and turn off the phone and the lights.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Summer Vacation with Dad

I spent a week up in Wisconsin's Rusk county this summer, with my father. We were fishing lake Amacoy and staying at the Wonderspot resort.

The weather was wonderful. Highs were in the 70s, and the nights were cool. A cold front on our first day killed the fishing a bit, but by the end of the week we had caught plenty.

There were certainly some memorable experiences, and maybe someday I'll write them out:

--Dad's first step into the boat
--The day I got to "sleep in"
--getting hit on by a drunk woman at the bar (don't ask!)
--the dumpster filled with fish refuse
--the mayfly hatch and crappie feeding frenzy, mosquitoes included

Yep, it was a great trip. Rusk county is really an odd place, in ways. I mean there are beautiful lakes there like Amacoy that are not very busy--good fishing lakes, in other words (leave the jet-ski at home, please). It really was like taking a trip back in time. I had no internet access--nor did I miss it much. I read a lot. Played games. Told stories. Caught fish. Listened to the radio.

Speaking of the radio--I was amazed at how good the djs were on the local Ladysmith station that played just the right blend of old country--70s and 80s country, mostly. Anyway, the djs were spectacular! Nowadays I don't even listen to djs anymore, and I'd forgotton how nice it can be to have a good dj say a thing or two between songs. Bits of trivia. Weather info. Sports updates.

When I got back to Colorado, I did some searching and found the station (WLDY) online. Now I can listen to it over the net whenever I want to.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Problem Solved!

I really want to move on to other topics soon, as there's a heck of a lot more to me than installing Linux on old computers.

On the other hand, I'd really like to have a lab of Linux computers for all my upcoming programming classes that I will be teaching, as Linux is IMO the best OS for development.

So I've been doing almost nothing else for the last couple days except inserting install cds and trying to get something to work. Was running into so many problems I thought maybe it was a hardware issue.

Perhaps it was. When I tried to install OpenSUSE, the only DVD I had, I was surprised when the whole process worked. I'm not a big fan of OpenSUSE, but it's WAY better than Windows for me, so I was relieved I'd have something I could use with my students.

Then I got to thinking--that's weird that the DVD worked when I was kinda suspecting a cd-rom drive failure in the works. Maybe, for some reason, DVD installs will work. I went to Borders and bought three current Linux magazines, each one having a DVD of various Linux stuff, including Ubuntu.

It worked. I've now got Ubuntu 7.10 up and running. Now for the rest of the old computers....

Back to blogging about other stuff now. Like cool magazines and books I'm reading.

Too many variables....

Okay so getting Linux onto one of the older Dell Optiplex computers is tougher than I thought it would be.

I've installed various Linux distributions on various machines in the past, so I knew there could be complications. However, this time I'm suspecting the fault is in the hardware, which is tough to deal with.

I've already spent more than 12 hours working on this one Dell, trying all sorts of things and taking as many detailed notes as I think I should.

Both Puppy Linux and Damn Small Linux ran fine on it, although they are not really meant to be installed--they serve a different purpose. All attempts at Ubuntu and Xubuntu, however, have failed. The only real desktop distro I got to install was OpenSUSE 10.3, which I may end up using. I was hoping to get a faster version to work, though--something like MEPIS Lite or Xubuntu, but I couldn't even get an XFCE version of Debian to install.

So what next? Well, more experimenting for a while. Too many variables. I'm starting to think the cd rom and the hard drive may have errors.

I'd rather be teaching. Or programming. Or turning water into wine.

[I'm too exhausted to put hot links in this post. Just google anything in here you want to know more about.....]

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Little Engines that Still Can!

Well, I'm back at it. Opening up old computers, cleaning them, adjusting them--basically giving them a few more years of life when they would otherwise be destined for a landfill.

This time the name of the game is Dell Optiplex GX240. There were millions of these made, it seems. They were not the sexiest computers around--they tended to be used for business applications more than for gaming.

However, my school received 15 of these recently from the Jared Polis Foundations Community Computer Connection program.

Technology is outdated all too quickly in our world, and these desktops are no exception. Look at their specs: 20 GB Hard Drive, 1.6 GHz processor, and 256 MB of RAM.

I turned one on today and it took a long time to boot up. The JPF puts a barebones form of Windows XP on these and then uses free open source applications for everything else. There is no Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop here. Instead, you have Open Office and GIMP. In fact, there's so much open source software on here it makes you wonder why they don't just put Linux on these instead of Windows.

Well, they do. Trouble is, however, you'll have a tough time finding a school to take in any computers that don't have Windows on them.

Which is too bad, really. Recent forms of Linux (especially the Ubuntu flavors) have made it possible to turn these old sluggish machines into sleek animals once again. Hell, even the 256 MB of RAM is enough for regular Ubuntu, not to mention Xubuntu, which can operate on even less.

I have one of these at home and will be experimenting on it this weekend--mostly deciding between Ubuntu and Xubuntu. I may be running a whole lab of these this year, so I need to choose the best OS for the job. One thing is clear, though: Windows has got to go.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What a waste of a good TV....

I've seen a lot of people that have high definition televisions and their picture looks like crap. It's either cropped or it's a low def picture stretched out across the whole screen.

You haven't really seen a good high definition TV in action until you've seen a true HD channel received via an antenna.

Antenna? No one uses an antenna!

That's sad but true. Most people already have cable or satellite and just hook there nice HDTV up to it. The problem is that few people actually get it set up correctly and pay the extra money for the HD feed. Thus, their image looks like crap.

Even when watching DVDs you have to know what you're doing. Although their are HD Bluray players, an upconverting normal DVD player will give an amazing picture, but only if you configure the DVD player and the set correctly. For a couple days I watched a cropped picture until I found out how to set the DVD players aspect ratio to the correct 16:9 setting.

If you have a true HDTV, try hooking up a tv antenna to it. You can go to this site in order to find out what stations you may be able to receive. [Note: the site is very good and legitamate--just don't enter any of the non-required fields and you won't get any ads from them.] It does not have to be a fancy HDTV antenna--older antennas will work. Once you see a true HD image from a true HD over the air signal you won't believe how good it looks.

The image above is an outdoor UHF antenna that I've recently purchased to use for receiving HDTV signals over the air....

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Programmers suffer from writer's block just like prose writers.

Ever since my week of fishing with my father, my code production is almost zilch. Granted, it's summer and I'm a teacher, so I can just call it "recharging," but holy man, I need to get going here!

So last night, when I turned out the light after reading, instead of just falling asleep I ended up refining an idea I have for a Python program. I should write it in Java, just for the practice, but Python is just so much better suited for this type of scripting.

The idea itself comes from a strange recollection I had before I fell asleep. I remember once I was hanging out with the students in the programming club and we were talking about inventions we'd like to see reach fruition. I mentioned a long-time wish of mine: to be able to access your brain's memories like you can access a computer database. I told my students, "wouldn't it be fun to be able to say something like 'what song have I listened to more than any other song?' and then get the answer, with all the cool stats.

For instance, wouldn't it be cool to get the real answers to questions like:

1. How many Big Macs have I eaten in my life?
2. How many times have I said "please" in my life?
3. How many movies have I watched?
4. How many hours have I spent playing video games?
5. How many different students have I had in my classes?

Well, my idea for a program won't help answer questions like that, but it will help answer questions like:

1. What's my favorite Steely Dan song?
2. Which book of Richard Laymon's did I like the most?

You may think, "but you should know the answers to those questions," but I don't know if we really do. Or maybe the answers change over time.

Anyway, I'm going to write a Python program that will do this:

1. Parse a text file that contains a large list of items that all have something in common. All 80s songs, for instance, or Steely Dan songs, or Richard Laymon books.

2. Associate an ELO rating with each member of that list.

3. From time to time, ask the user to decide between two random items on the list. For instance: Which do you prefer: "Aja" or "Reelin' in the Years"?

4. Adjust the ELO ratings for each of the two items just compared.

5. Keep doing this until over time you can sort the entire list by descending value of ELO ratings and find out which Steely Dan song (for instance) you really prefer.

I know. Strange idea. That's what comes to someone during that special time right before you fall asleep.... :-)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Spaying and Neutering should be free.

Today we took our little Hubbles (a yorkipoo) and got him neutered at a low-cost spay/neuter clinic near Fort Lupton. There are other alternatives all over Colorado for this.

I think it's funny that we live in such a strange county. The western side of Boulder county has Boulder, where some people will pay an arm and a leg to have their special pet pampered and fixed in comfort. Go east and cross into Weld county, though, and you see all these people taking animals in to be fixed in an RV trailer in a dusty parking lot.

Animals have all sorts of owners. I'm sure some of the pets that are fixed in the trailer have wonderful lives--like our Hubbles, for instance. In fact, none of the other pets brought into the low-cost clinic looked uncared for. Maybe that's the whole point: good owners will take their pets in to be fixed, whether they take them to the Taj Mahal or the RV trailer. It's the other pet owners we need to worry about.

If aliens did an anthropological study of U.S. culture, I'll bet they'd be pretty shocked at how inconsistent we are towards our pets. Some live like royalty. Others are abused and neglected.

Somehow, something like this should be a free service--and it almost is. I only wish that some of the money from those that choose to spend a thousand on their pampered pet could be redistributed to the less fortunate pets in our society--not to the owners, just to the pets.

[Note: we were a bit nervous about the low-cost alternative we opted for. However, we are quite impressed so far with their service. One nice thing is that, to keep costs down, you don't have to have your pet stay with them overnight. You have to take them in early in the morning and pick them up in the late afternoon. It's nice to have Hubbles here at home and comfortable as his groginess is wearing off.]

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Who would play them in a movie?

I've spent the last few days with my face buried in Joe R. Lansdale's Mucho Mojo book.

My wife always gives me a suspicious look when I use hyperbole and say something like, "now this is the best book I've read in five damn years!" Still, this time I mean it. This is one book that I will actually recommend to others to read, and that says a lot. You see, I'm a relatively slow reader. Always have been. Hell, I'm a prolific reader--just slow, like a big farm tractor pullin' a hay wagon down the highway and pissin' everyone off. So I don't really enjoy it much when someone tells me I "just have to read" a certain book. I think, well, if I have to read it that will keep me busy for a week or so. So I try not to tell people that they "have to" read anything.

But you have to read this book! It's that good.

Let's look at what makes this such a great book--and I'll do this without any real spoilers.

Setting. A poor black neighborhood in an East Texas town, with a crack house next door that seems to have evolved its own ecosystem.

Characters. Hap Collins, a crusty old Vietnam war protester and his sarcastic friend, Leonard Pine. These guys are classic. I read this book not knowing there are already five more "Hap and Leonard" books. I can see why. These characters are just too good to not use again and again.

Early in the book they attend a funeral. Having no good suits to wear, they go shopping at JC Penny. They get all dressed up and then ride in Leonard's big car, without air conditioning, through the humidity of East Texas. By the time they arrive they're all greasy and sweaty and cussing at each other about their lack of fashion sense. Really funny stuff.

Plot. This book would still be a classic on setting and character alone, but the plot is wonderfully suspensefull and also disturbing: someone is murdering children in this small town, wrapping them up in porno magazines and burrying them. Terrible. Sick. Nothing new here, as there are just too many disturbing thrillers out there, but this one beautifully walks that thin line that many novels must walk: only in the midst of true suffering can we appreciate true love and true friendship.

What a book.

[The title for this post comes from a comment by my wife. I was telling her some of the funny parts and reading a few quotes to her by Hap and Leonard. She asked me, "so who would you get to play them in a movie?" I won't answer that--as it would influence how you read the book--but it's a good question.]

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tomboy notes.

A few days ago I wrote about not using my Moleskine journals anymore. Well, thanks to Joey Stanford, I now have found what I consider to be an incredible alternative: Tomboy notes.

Tomboy is a Gnome Linux application, so if you use Ubuntu Tomboy is installed by default. Because Tomboy is open source, you can of course get all the source code. Tomboy is a nice little application to start looking at if you're interested in helping write code for open source applications. But you don't have to be a programmer: there are other ways to contribute.

You can also see a list of other great Gnome applications.

As I've been thinking more and more of writing fiction lately--I now have to consider the effects of using something like Tomboy to plan with. Heck, I may even use it for my lesson plans....

Nature is cruel.

Okay, this one bothers me.

Earlier this year a robin tried to make a nest above our security lights next to our main entrance. I discouraged her by temporarily taping a plastic bag up there and eventually she chose a pine tree that overhangs our (never-used) dog kennel. But the nest was made at a bad angle and when the wind blew you'd think it would fall out. Despite our trying to help stabilize the nest with a wooden support, the four baby robins in there ended up falling out, one after the next and my standard poodle killed them. I know, my dog isn't part of nature, per se, but the robin insisted in building in our yard rather than in the wooded open space that borders our property. I'm assuming she lost out some territorial battle and our yard was the best she could get.

For her second clutch of the season, the robin once again insisted on the security light location. This would not work, as it's two feet above our door and not a stable location. So, one rainy day she decided to build her nest above the southern drain pipe that leads from our roof gutter. It wasn't going to work. As soon as her nest got to a certain size, it would start falling off, bit by bit. So I went out in the rain and nailed up an impromptu wind shield and two supports for her. She watched me do it and seemed very pleased.

The only problem was the second set of chicks. We were out of town when they hatched and happy to see two of them when we returned. Soon, however, one of them fell out (or was pushed out) of the nest. We made sure our dogs didn't get it and put it back in the nest, as it was pretty immature. Nope. Ten minutes later it was out again. To make sure our dogs didn't get it, we put it over the fence into the open space woods behind our property. We don't know what happened to it.

That left one baby. I figured this was her last chance this year. For a week it seemed fine, although at times the chick did look like it was going to go jumping out of the nest prematurely. Overall, however, we were optimistic: this one might make it.

We found it dead in the yard this morning. Dammit.

The current stat of edublogging

I don't know what to think of edublogs. I sure seem to have a love/hate relationship with them, though.

My online personality has many facets. I'm one person to the Digital Comic Preservation group--generally a very thankful and amazed supporter of their goals. On the Ubuntu forums I'm a source of information on what I know about Ubuntu and open source applications--especially as to how they can be used in an educational setting. The Ubuntu code of conduct pretty much assures that we all get along, even when arguing. On the Python in Education special interest group I'm also very polite and thankful for the expertise that is so freely shared. It's on the edublogger front, though, where I've pissed people off in the past.

Part of the problem is the rate of change in different spheres. Most facets of my internet personality hang out in areas where change happens quickly. If a problem comes up, it's dealt with and all are welcome to jump in and help solve it. This is true of the DCP and just about any gathering of programmers.

As some have noted
, however, change in education takes a lot of time, and the edublogger community deals with this all the time.

Bud the Teacher
is a busy man. My job puts me in contact with him personally at times, but I know him more from his online persona than I know him personally. Still, what I'm always amazed at is how downright polite he is online (and also in person).

Me? Well, I've posted comments here and there that have done more harm than good, and that wasn't my intention. I'm still trying to figure this whole edublogger thing out. My positions in other online communities of programmers and Linux users really didn't prepare me well for the edubloggersphere. I'm still trying to determine what the purpose is. I guess I'm a bit too task-oriented and want to tackle a problem. In the edublogosphere I'm not really sure what the current task is.

Theres always a lot of talking about the importance of collaborating and sharing (which reminds me a lot of open source development priciples)--and yet there has to be more than that. I also read a lot of posts about a certain web application or product that teachers are really happy with. I've noticed that more and more these are open source applications, although the edublogger often will make no mention of that in their post. That's where I usually jump in and say something like, "...and the nice thing is that this is an open source application, made possible by a lot of hard work and collaboration among programmers with a common philosophy..." But then I blow it and say something like, "...and it sure beats the proprietary crapwhere Dreamweaver that too many teachers still use only because their district chose to waste a ton of money..." See? I write those things all the time.

My solution? I guess I'll just pretend the Ubuntu Code of Conduct also applies in the edublogosphere--whatever that is.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Computer Software in the 1960s.

Today I went with my wife to a number of thrift/junk/antiques stores and looked around for cool stuff.

My favorite find was a like-new copy of COMPUTER SOFTWARE: PROGRAMMING SYSTEMS FOR DIGITAL COMPUTERS, by Ivan Flores, copyright 1965.

Now this book is by no means rare--I think you could get it for almost nothing on many used book sites. Still--what a strange book to look at.

Computers in the early sixties were quite different than today's computers. For the heck of it I did some research on a typical computer during the early sixties.

The IBM 1401 was one of the first mass-produced computers to have no vacuum tubes--just the more modern transistors! It was the size of a large book case. It had a memory of 4 kilobytes. It cost, brace yourself, over one hundred thousand dollars.

Still, it would have been fun to try to make it play games.

Maybe I'll use this as the textbook this year for my Intro to Programming classes. :-)

Monday, July 7, 2008

So much to read....

Blame my parents--both of them. My father is a retired English teacher who always took me to the library when I was a kid. My mother is a prolific reader who is always reading a book--always.

I learned to read before anyone else in my first grade class--thanks to Mom. I remember feeling like I was the king of the world when I was exempted out of the Dick and Jane books and got to go independently read dinosaur books! Dad gave me the best gift ever: a light on the headboard of my bed. Ever since, I've read in bed every night.

Anyway, it was with my mom in mind that I decided to read the first of the Kay Scarpetta novels by Patricia Cornwell: Postmortem. Yep, it's pretty darn good. Reminds me of the time I read Red Dragon by Thomas Harris and thought it was the greatest thing ever.

So good that it got me to thinking of all these great suspense/thriller series that I haven't read. Damn, there's just so much to read!

So I've been doing some research and have come up with 11 series that I think I'll read. Of course this will take a long time, as most of these series have more than 15 novels in them. Some of these I've already had a taste of, as I've read a few of these novels here and there without realizing they were part of a larger series of books. Anyway, the choices are overwhelming, but I think I'm going to work on these:

1. The Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker
2. The Alex Delaware novels by Jonathan Kellerman
3. The Kay Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwell
4. The Jack Stapleton books by Robin Cook
5. The Prey series by John Sandford
6. The Myron Bolitar series by Harlan Coben
7. The Quincy/Rainie books by Lisa Gardner
8. The Women's Murder Club series from James Patterson
9. The Sunny Randall Novels by Robert B. Parker
10. The Jesse Stone books by Robert B. Parker
11. The Eve Duncan Series by Iris Johansen

Yes, that will keep me busy for a while. Especially since I have two other books currently waiting on my "read next" shelf:

Mucho Mojo by Joe R. Lansdale
Lifelines by CJ Lyons


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Tip: Easy Blog Backup

From time to time I'll try to include a tip or two in this blog that may be useful to other people. Here's today's tip:


Although I've used software to do complete backups of my blogs in the past, it got quite complicated, as each link was copied, along with the destination of most of the links, and they called three friends, and so on and so on....

For now what I do is configure my blog to show the last "n" posts on the main page, with "n" being any number up to 500. That way, it's all on one big page, even if it may take a minute to load.

Then, in Firefox, I go to "File/Save_Page_As" and choose "web page complete". This will save the entire page, including all the pictures.

Paper just doesn't cut it anymore....

As much as I love Moleskine journals, I just can't seem to use them much anymore. I mean, pretty much all my life I have been very prolific in writing--poetry, stories, journal entries, articles, lesson plans, programs, etc. I just visited my parents and my mom gave me some of my old stories that I wrote while in high school. It was fun to read them again, as I could finally read them as a plain old reader, not the writer/reader that I usually am with something I produce. Nope, these suckers were so old I'd pretty much forgotten them.

Returning home, I figured I'd journal about my vacation. I got out my Moleskine journal and noticed that my last entry was in December of 2007! The one before that one: May of 2007! Obviously I don't keep up with my journal anymore.

Or do I? If you look back through my physical journal from the past few years you'll find a whole bunch of links (certainly not hyperlinks, however) that refer you to some other media. Things like, "for more info from this period in my life, go read my Linux Journals...."

I think it's time to just give up on writing in my Moleskine altogether. Feels all slow and sloppy, whereas I can type really fast. Maybe I'll save the whole thing as one big textfile somewhere....