Sunday, September 28, 2008

Tube Worms on the Ocean Floor

Had a lot of school work to do this weekend. Nonetheless, I still got to play with the GIMP a little and make some desktop backgrounds. I've been working on a certain technique I came up with almost at random, combining gradients, iWarp, and the Cubism effect. It produces things that look like tube worms embedded in the ocean floor. Click on the image for more detail.

Topic shift: If you like Old Time Radio, head on over to the Internet Archive and browse the collection of thousands of old radio shows available in a variety of formats (including mp3s). Some of the series on there are simply wonderful, like Dimension X or The Creaking Door.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Programming Turtles to Paint in good taste

My Intro to Programming classes are finally getting to be a lot of fun. Having learned the basic tools of functional programming (control flow, types, functions...), my students can finally reap the rewards using the turtle module that's included in Python--and learn some OOP at the same time.

Teaching students to program turtles goes way back, but for me it never gets old. The image shows what a turtle can do when it moves to a random location, puts down it's pen tip and draws a somewhat randomly colored circle. I say somewhat because the parameters are tweaked in ways to prevent total random ugliness that comes from choosing colors totally randomly. Here, you see some beautiful shades of blue and purple blending together.

It hasn't been all that easy in my first semester teaching Python to students new to programming. My ELL students really struggled with syntax errors. Now, however, all my students have some of the basic tools of programming. Now it's time to let 'em go and be creative. At this point it's fun to write 3 or 4 sample programs and then watch as the students copy them, run them, and then start to alter them. When I learned to program I never had a teacher give me code to alter. Not sure why. Seems like a natural form of communication between teacher and student. It's fun to put comments in code like:

## Okay, try messing around with these variable settings
## and see what you can come up with. If you find
## something cool, share it with others!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Scorching Through the School Year

This year is my busiest ever. Of course that means that the year is flying by at a speed approaching a Subaru WRX sizzling a rally course. [I was playing Colin McRae 2005 last night with CJTurt--hence todays blog theme].

Yesterday I worked all morning developing a scoring guide to use for students to grade themselves on their AP Java programs. I'm trying to use JUnit testing, but I'm not quite there yet. I also wrote a test study guide and worked on the chapter 2 test for the Java Software Solutions book.

But all of that work was just for one class. I still have IMP planning to do, and I need to write a test for my Intro to Programming class.

I only have three preps. So why am I so busy? Well, two of them are classes that I'm teaching for the first time ever, and the Intro to Programming class is my own creation, mostly. I'm also using technology like never before, so I have to keep class web sites up to date, answer emails, post student work, etc. In time this will make me more efficient--and I must admit that I'm doing more pre-class work this year, so my classes are going much smoother than in the past. Still...busy, busy, busy.

Okay, back to work. It's before 6 a.m. on a Sunday and I'm the only one up. Prime time to get some work done.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Rise of Ubuntu

Next weekend is the Ubucon in Boulder. Had to miss last years Ubucon, but I won't miss this one.

What an exciting year it has been on the grassroots level. Last year I had two or three students that decided to try Ubuntu and ended up staying with it as their main OS. This year, however, the growth is phenomenal. I've installed at least 15 copies of Hardy Heron that are being used by students to blog and to write programs for my various programming classes. Whereas last year I felt the need to show others what Ubuntu can do, this year I have more and more students coming to me telling me that they already have Ubuntu running at home.

Besides these students--those that take the Linux plunge--there are huge numbers of students abandoning MS Office and running Open Office or Google Docs instead. Also, the GIMP is really being used by a lot of students.

Our computer club meeting this week was awesome. Fonrus presented Beatesthesia, a cool open source java project for music mixing and visualizations. Then, Kaerulynn did two presentations on the GIMP and Terragen.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Strange Sense of Foreboding

Today I had a two hour annual meeting for the mentoring program that I'm part of here in our district. If you are a teacher, consider being a mentor to a new teacher. Not just to help out the newcomer, but also to help keep your own teaching fresh. I'm always surprised by how much mentoring (and that's with me as the mentor) makes me reflect about my own teaching.

When asked to pick one word that described my day today, I chose "foreboding." Why? Well, teaching is tough enough as it is, but this week is especially brutal. Tonight was the 2-hour mentor training, and tomorrow I have parent/teacher conferences from 2:45 until 8:00 pm. Now, both the mentor training and the conferences are good experiences and I enjoy them. Still, to lose two nights in a row has an effect on a guy. So today when I'd get done with a class or be sitting at my desk and feeling good--well, something in me always snuck up to say, "don't feel too good--it's hellweek."

Foreboding. It's why Saturdays were always so much cheerier than Sundays when you were a kid. It wasn't just the cartoons. It was because Sunday meant Monday was coming.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sunday Morning Java: Cold-Brewed.

Got an email from my Mom this week along the lines of "still waiting for the cold-brewed coffee recipe..."

I will never use our auto-drip coffee maker again--nor any other hot-brew method. The coffee produced in this cold-brew way seems to taste so much better, and it's not a lot of work. Here's how:

First, you need a large container, like a one-gallon jar. I like glass but plastic seems to work fine. Fill that container with 12 or so cups of room temperature water. Now float three cups of ground coffee on the top (see the photo).

Now leave it sit for several hours. I tend to make mine early in the morning and let it sit for 12 hours. Overnight would be perfect. You may be tempted to shake it up, but I don't think that's necessary--the grounds tend to slowly fall down one by one to the bottom over time. This gives every ground a good chance to let off its flavor. If I look at it after several hours and don't see much of it falling, though, I give it a shake to mix it. I tend to shake it a few times before straining it, also. Not sure if it helps or not.

Now, when you're ready to harvest the coffee, you'll need some kind of filter. You could, at this point, simply pour the mixture into a drip coffee filter over a coffee pot. I use a steel mesh coffee filter and a funnel I bought in the automotive department at Wal-Mart. I pour the mixture into the filter sitting in the funnel and let it drain into an empty glass jug. I get about three quarts of "coffee concentrate" from this process. It will look like very thick, black coffee. I store it in the fridge for a week, using it when I want. Here's how to enjoy it:

For Hot Coffee: Fill a mug one fourth to one third full with the concentrate. Boil water in a teapot and top off the mug with the boiling water, leaving a little room for milk or cream.

For Cold Coffee: Mix one part concentrate with one part cold water, adding ice cubes.

For Kathy's Favorite: Put several ice cubes in a large mug. Pour some coffee concentrate in, filling the glass about one third full. Now add chocolate milk to fill the mug two thirds full. Add a little skim milk and stir. This makes the absolutely best tasting iced mocha you'll ever have--trust me.

A few notes:

1. For best results you can use distilled or spring water. I don't, though, and it still tastes great.

2. Even cheap coffee will taste better this way than expensive coffee that is scalded in an automatic drip pot that is allowed to heat the coffee after it is brewed. Some say the coffee produced this way has less acid.

3. If you grind the coffee yourself, you can grind it a little coarser than usual. Or not.

Special thanks to David Adamson, who mentioned cold-brew coffee to me one afternoon in a little cafe in Pittsburgh. Thanks, Dave! You sure know your Java (both types).

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sunday Morning Java

Spent this morning drinking java and programming Java.

BlueJ and Greenfoot are great student IDEs for programming Java. Traditionally I would just use a good text editor (Geany is my favorite) and then compile from the command line. These IDEs, however, make it a lot easier in many ways to write simple Java programs. At first I had a real aversion to BlueJ, but I've become more comfortable with it over time.

The other java--as in the coffee--is the real delight. I learned how to cold brew coffee a while back and can't believe how much better it tastes. I'm no coffee snob--I just wondered why our coffee always came out bitter and tasting a lot worse than a cup you buy at Borders or Starbucks. Give me some time and I'll post my method here, along with photos of the process. If you like a good cup of coffee (and I do drink mine hot--even though it's cold-brewed) you'll have to give it a try.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day Weekend

Yes that's the Sneetch converter machine from the Doctor Seuss book. I'm using that image on a presentation for chapter 3 of Think Python, which is all about function calls in Python.

Had a busy Labor Day weekend. In fact, I'm tired. Vacations can be so ... rushed. We were visiting family and friends in Colorado Springs. Necrophagist was playing at the Black Sheep, but we had seen them in Denver less than a year ago with Cannibal Corpse, so I passed. Five Finger Death Punch will be at the Black Sheep for two shows in late September. I may go. Springs has long had a better metal scene than even Denver has, IMO.

Joe Haldeman is working on the Obama campaign. Haldeman has long been one of my favorite science fiction writers, and his online journal is always fun to read. While in Springs I picked up a copy of Cryptonomicon by Neil Stephenson. It's a bit intimidating at 900 + trade paperback pages--and we know I'm a relatively slow reader--but I've heard it's quite good. It was fun to open it up at random and come upon some PERL source code in there.

Checked up on CJTurt, who switched to Ubuntu a while back. Not only is he not having any real problems with Linux, he's also gone and installed Limewire on his own. I tend to go to the command line a lot, but Ubuntu has made living with Linux so easy that you can really almost forget it's there. Heck, I often use it now by choice, passing up on some GUI application just for old time's sake. Anyway, I ramble. The cool part was that CJTurt's wife has had enough of watching him happily surf the net using Firefox on Ubuntu, while her identical laptop slugged along with IE running on Windows and suffering from, well, something (viruses, spyware, bloat). By the time I left, her laptop had been properly Ubuntu-ized. Installing Hardy Heron has become a very easy process that takes under an hour. I just wish my friend Jim had more luck installing Ubuntu on his ASUS EEE PC.

Didn't get all my schoolwork done, which stinks. I've heard English teachers propose that they alone should be given a half-time employee to help them grade all their papers. Many people have the view that teaching math and computer science means I just have to correct multiple choice exams or have some fancy computer grader. Well, try teaching IMP math and a constructivist approach to teaching programming. Sheesh.

Haven't talked to my parents in days. Unforgivable. Gotta write to them tonight. I remember the Labor Day a couple years ago when they came out here and helped us re-shingle our house. That was a massive job. They'll be coming out soon. I'll take a rare day off of school to visit with them.