Should Have Done This Years Ago

Years ago, maybe five?, I had a Lenovo laptop with a whopping 2 MB of memory.  At the time, I wanted to try out Ubuntu in a dual boot situation.  I already had purchased the Dell Netbook that came with Ubuntu and I really liked it.  So, off I went to the Ubuntu website and downloaded Ubuntu and made the machine dual boot.  One side was Windows XP and the other side was Ubuntu.

Of course, I had to download the 32 bit version of Ubuntu with the limited memory that I had in place.  The computer was OK on the Windows side but just screamed on the Ubuntu side.  It was just so fast; it was hard to believe that it was the same computer.

When that laptop died, I indulged myself with this computer.  It has an i7 processor and 4GB of RAM.  Windows 7 was OK but like most Windows installations slowed over time no matter how many times I tweaked it.  I’m sure that it’s self-inflicted.  So, I decided to make the computer dual boot to Ubuntu.  Now, when you have the slow internet that I do, you really have to pick and choose your downloads wisely.  I could go somewhere and download on their high speed – but I still had the Ubuntu DVD from my previous installation.  I was just going to test for proof of concept anyway – so I installed it and started to use it.  Darned if it didn’t make this computer fly.

I kept using it, and when updates came along, I would just apply the updates.  I was totally happy.  The last update was 14.04LTS and I was very, very happy with it.

Until I tried to install the Opera Browser.

Oh yeah.  That other decision has come back to byte me.

Opera only comes in a 64 bit version so I couldn’t install it.  I went online seeking advice and there was no natural path from the 32 bit version to the 64 bit version.  It calls for brute force installation from scratch.  Just backup your Home Directory after revealing hidden files so that you can resume Ubuntu life.

I looked at my face mirrored in the monitor.  You dummy.

Right out of the box, Windows 7 was running 64 bit.  That was only half a hard disk away.

The timing was right.  Ubuntu, which updates itself every six months, has just released version 14.10.  Why not?

So, I started the download and went to take the dog for a long walk.  There’s no sense in sitting at the keyboard watching the download process inch along.

Sure enough, when we returned, there was a disk image sitting on my desktop.  I just need to burn it to DVD, reboot from the DVD and then install.  Wait!  Do I have any DVDs?  It’s been so long since I’d burned one.  Fortunately, having a son in the television editing business means that there’s never a shortage of video stuff.  I walked down the hall and got a blank.  Of course, I needed to dig into the ol’ brain cells to remember how to burn a DVD…done!

I rebooted and was so impressed with the installation screen.

I could:

  • Run Ubuntu from the DVD (nah, I’m here for the duration);
  • Erase the entire hard drive and install Ubuntu 14.10 (goodbye Windows);
  • Erase the petition and install Ubuntu 14.10 (yes, but that would remove everything and I’m not that radical);
  • Do something else; (I was totally intrigued by this but passed…)
  • or, the preferred solution – you have Windows 7 and Ubuntu 14.04LTS installed – upgrade Ubuntu to 14.10.  Yes!

Half an hour later, I’m done.  During the process, I noticed that Ubuntu had archived certain things and then restored them.  On first boot, I hit Firefox to see that my theme (Puny Weakling) and all of my extensions save.  It was just a matter of copying my Home Directory and I was back, good to go.

I had bookmarked a couple of upgrade advice resources:

Some I had planned on doing anyway, some were new and some were ignored.  After all, Ubuntu is all about open ideas and concepts – even in its installation.

I installed Ubuntu Tweak and messed about.  I think we all have an idea of what our computer should look and act like.

And, I’m back in business.  No stopping me from trying out Opera on Ubuntu now!

If this works out well, maybe I’ll buy more RAM.

I’m never completely computer happy.

Time, Visualized

One of the things about being connected to educators online that might be frustrating occurs when they’re not necessarily in your time zone.  I sent you a message – why haven’t you responded?

It might be that you’re boring or it may well be that it’s very late where they are and they’ve just gone to bed!  There are definitely conversion web sites to help you out with that or just ask Google.

Heck, with Google suggestions, you don’t even need to finish your question before you have your answer.  

What if you want it all?  What if you want it visualized?  Then you need to head to the Earth Time Clock.

Staring down from space, at the moment, see our beautiful planet and just where the sun is shining.

On the right side of the screen, you’ll be able to see the current times from locations around the planet.

The resource also features a simulation so that you can see the sun rise and sun set for a particular location.  Don’t forget to click on the moon status as well!

Take a few moments to play with this simulation.  I’ll bet that you get all kinds of ideas for how you could use it in your classroom to address curriculum expectations.  If you like simulations, I’m sure you’ll be fascinated by it.

This Has Potential

My wife and I were talking mathematics the other day.  She wanted to know why teachers were getting beat up over the teaching of mathematics.  In Ontario, it boils down to one thing – EQAO scores.  This is big media news as schools are compared to other schools; school districts compared to each other.  And, teachers take the brunt of the scrutiny.  Despite trite phrases like “Not the same way, not the same day”, students are expected to reach a certain level in grades 3, 6, 9 across the province on the same week, on the same test.

I reflected back to my own journey with mathematics.  I have a degree (BMath) focussing on Combinatorics and Optimization and Computer Science.  I love mathematics; I love problem solving; I love visualizing things.  I’m the guy that goes to a restaurant and mentally determines the best value on the menu.  I convert Celsius to Fahrenheit and kilometres to miles just for the heck of it.

But it wasn’t always that way.  I distinctly remember in elementary school breaking down in tears over some of the mind numbing things that we had to do.  One specific thing that sticks out was a multiplication table.  In class, we worked the grid to go as far as 10×10.  For homework, we had to extend it to 12×12.  I spent a great deal of frustrating pain doing it and never got it.  When we got to school the next day, we were expected to lay open our notebooks and we were checked to see how many got it right.  Those of us who didn’t got additional pain by having to go to the blackboard and have our stupidity explained to us.  For years, it seems, I just couldn’t do anything right when it came to mathematics.  True story.

Then, it changed.  My ship had come in, it seems.  I think it was grade 6 or grade 7, I had a complete turnaround.  I don’t recall whether it was explicit in the teaching or just an insight on my part.  I became a mathematics genius.  (Or, at least not the dummy that I was…)  Calculations became just patterns; Geometry became puzzles; somehow I finally got mathematics.  From that point on, every mathematics question became just another puzzle to be solved.  I remember in Grade 10 how calculations became just measurements.  We all had to learn how to use a slide rule for calculations.  I remember one of the kids in the class had a $500 calculator (which today would be powerfully contained on a keychain).  Our teacher impressed upon us the value of our tool and we were able to do calculations quicker than this calculator.  Of course, this technology has been solidly dated but it was cool at the time.

I remember at university a professor talking about how important it was to appreciate those who loved mathematics.  He used this example…

What do you do if you’re good at football?  Practice, Practice, Practice

What do you do if you’re good at a musical instrument?  Practice, Practice, Practice

What do you do if you’re good at baseball?  Practice, Practice, Practice

What do you do if you’re good at mathematics?  Do the odd numbered questions on page 37 and then go outside and practice baseball

Think about it for a bit.

It’s how so many people think and feel about mathematics.  It’s solely about getting the right answer.  It’s all or nothing.

As a student teacher, I remember my first mathematics placement.  It was important to give a lot of homework every night and the logic was that if you did enough of the same problem, you’ll commit it to memory.  I supposed it did commit an algorithm to memory.

On my second placement, I had a little more experience under my belt and I remember the first day going around the class asking if the students enjoyed Mathematics.  The answer was surprisingly “yes”.  When I asked why, the answer was “Because Mr. C. doesn’t give homework”.  Interesting, I thought.  I’ve got to see the end of this class.  Well, it turned out that homework was assigned.  But, it wasn’t doing the odd numbered questions…  The instructions were simple – take one of the problems that we did in class today and redo it differently.  The next day was interesting.  Taking up homework was more of a discussion rather than doing more problems.  These kids were actually talking mathematics.  I had to learn more.

During our preparation period, I asked Mr. C. about it.  He had an interesting philosophy.  His logic was that kids hated mathematics because they were assigned to do problems that they were having challenges with in class.  What do they do when they get home?  They didn’t have him to ask for help.  By reassigning a problem that they knew the answer to, the goal wasn’t to just solve another problem.  It was to think deeply about something that they already knew.

That moment made me completely think about what I thought I knew about homework and it stuck with me forever. 

Obviously, that particular technique doesn’t fit every day but it does make one reflect on the value of homework.  Do you want to amplify a problem?  Is the goal of mathematics just to get the right answer?

So, on to the scene recently we have this new application “PhotoMath“.  Essentially, the app lets the camera take a picture of a problem and it solves it for you, including “showing your work”.  How many times have you heard that in your mathematics life?!

Brian Aspinall and his students kicked the tires on the application and this generated a post from him here.

There have been various reports of people having success with the application and others delighting in finding a problem with its operation.  I would suggest to anyone that it’s new.  It can only get better.

Fast forward and imagine a mathematics classroom with this application in place.  In the beginning, there will always be the question “Is this program doing it right?”  What does it mean when it does?  There are those already touting doom and gloom for teachers and the teaching of mathematics.  Take a look at some of the CNN quotes that Brian pulled for his blog post.

There was a time when we forbid calculators in the classroom because it stole from the learning of mathematics.  Then, we accepted them but banned graphing calculators because it was stealing the need to learn to graph.  Now, they’re accepted and the discussion becomes not one of the value of them, but which of the ones on the market is best! 

In the process, we haven’t killed the process of doing calculations; we’ve made it better.  We haven’t killed graphing; we’ve made it better.  I would suggest that PhotoMath or any of the applications bound to follow, understood and used properly, could make the problem solving process better. 

Who wouldn’t want their own personal tutor at home?  Who wouldn’t like relief from the dull activity of applying the same algorithm over and over until you get it?  What teacher wouldn’t want students who think deeply and talk the story of mathematics instead of just doing the same problem over and over again.

This has real potential.

Lego In Your Browser

I don’t know about you but this news report is disturbing.  From the Toronto Star, “Lego shortage leaves toy stores between a block and a hard place“.

Oh, the humanity!

Fortunately, your browser comes to the rescue.  Check out “Build with Chrome” and be like a kid in a candy Lego store.

You have a whole collection of Lego blocks to choose from – along with colours – 

Just pick them up and drag them to your workspace and click to place.  I’ll admit to a bit of a spacial challenge when I first started because I seemed to be one row away from the perfect placement!  However, you can easily remove a brick and then place it back properly.

And, what would a Google product be without integration across services?

If you’re so inclined, you can log in with your Google account and post your masterpiece to a Google map for the world to enjoy your efforts.

As I write this post, I don’t see any published efforts from Essex County but there are some from our neighbours to the north.

It makes sense – head off to Silicon Valley if you want to see a great deal of early effort with this project.  There is a whole World of Build to allow you to snap in and extend the building.  As you might expect, there are some experiments that may be abandoned but getting the right people together could build something momentous.

There’s a lot of creative people with Lego.  Will you or your students be one more of them?


Cats, Eyesight, and Photo Editing

Right up front, I’ll admit it.  

I’m a dog person.  I have no use for cats or cat videos.  

Now, you can’t beat a good dog video…

I once worked with a gentleman in the Program Department who was quite fond of saying “There’s got to be a workshop in there somewhere.”  We’d drive to places together and between the two of us would see the darnedest things and somehow work them into a workshop, not necessarily in the traditional means.

I had that moment last night when I read this report on a research study – “Cat Watch 2014: What’s it like being a cat?“.

Photo Credit: ucumari photography via Compfight cc

This report is one of three and its purpose is to show how cats experience the world around them.  In the article, they explore sight, movement, hearing, and smelling.  

Much as I’m not a cat person, I did find the article extremely interesting and the videos very engaging.  

In a traditional class dealing with animals, certainly there’s a great deal of immediate use.

But, could you use it more?

I’m thinking Gimp or Photoshop or any of the photo editing software that you might have at your disposal, as applied to cat sight.  In the article, they talked about “muted colours”.

A common classroom learning activity is to adjust the colour and the multitude of options.  I remember using these words myself – “make it an old time picture”.  The context makes sense if you’re old enough to remember “old time pictures”.  To today’s digital youth, that might mean an old digital camera versus their latest and greatest smartphone camera. 

What if the context was to edit an image so that this is what a cat sees?  In fact, the sight video asks and demonstrates the answer with its split screen.

Using your editing tools, can you turn “Human vision” into “Cat vision”?  

As I write this post on a cool Saturday morning, I’ll confess to having Gimp open as another application, playing around with it.  It’s not as easy as it might appear.

Yep, there’s at least part of a workshop in there.

Google Forms Really Mature

I’ve been a user of Google Forms forever, it seems.  They’re a great way to collect opinions, quick testing, gathering observations, going paperless, …  Entries come in with a timestamp and you can ask for identifying information or just keep it random.  Things are done at the user keyboard and I think that, properly done, it’s one of the better electronic activities that you can use right in your classroom.

There are a couple of really neat features that you can use to make your work look and act even more professionally.  Google continues to work at their offerings to make them mature and just add additional functionality.


Of course, there’s nothing better than a great looking form.  But, don’t stick to the boring default – choose a cool theme.  Select “Change Theme” from the menu bar and select from some looks that range from fun to professional looking.

Even the best theme can sometimes use a little tweak!

Within each theme (or the blank default), select the “Customise” option and change to your hearts content!

Once you have the perfect customised theme, you may not want to use it just once.  In fact, you may have a theme that you’d like to use consistently throughout that class or that subject area.  

Copy and apply that perfect theme to your new form!  With a background or header image, you can have a consistent display (or even class messages) that appear every time you use that theme.  Lots of ideas can be incorporated.

Mix It Up (but not too much)

Now, I don’t want to say that I went to school with a bunch of cheaters, but I can remember paper tests that were labelled “Test A” and “Test B” and even duplicated on different coloured paper.  They were distributed such that even if you decided to take a peek at the person beside you the questions, while the same, were in a different order.  That functionality is available for your Google Form.  Of course, you could create two separate forms – but that’s old school!  This is 2014.

Just click the “Shuffle question order” and each visitor to the form will have their questions shuffled.  You’ve got to like that.

While you’re at it – there may be people trying to “game” your form by submitting multiple copies of it.  Supposed you’re doing a little quiz and you don’t want to take the best results for an individual making multiples in the hopes of getting one that’s right!  If they have and are logged into a Google account, check “Only allow one response per person”.

If you’re a Google Forms user, check out these features.  Your forms will look, and work, awesomely.

You’ll look like the professional you are with these features.

A Great RPN Calculator

We were having company for supper last night. 

To make it special for the little ones, we decided to serve Kentucky Friend Chicken.  Now, there hasn’t been a store in Amherstburg in years so guess who got to drive into Windsor to get it?

As I stared at the menus, I remembered the good old days when they served chicken and cole slaw.  Things really have changed.  The menus are huge.  So, I’m standing there doing a little, actually a lot, of mental math to try to determine what the best value would be.  I selected and ordered.  There would be a fifteen minute wait while they cooked the chicken!  I looked at the clock – it wasn’t anywhere near one o’clock, the traditional end of the lunch hour!  How could they be out?  <grin>

Well, we wanted to do it so I decided to order and wait.  To kill some time, I pulled out my phone and started doing some math with the pricing on the menus.  It wasn’t a horrific task; there were math questions all over the place.  What’s the best value?  Is the price of a bowl of cole slaw the same with every order?  What’s the best value for pop that’s available in three sizes? As my kids would point out, these are the reasons I sit alone in public places.

There were so many things to calculate, I soon find that I’m doing the math on the standard calculator that comes on my Android and realize that it wasn’t efficient use of my time.  Then, I clued in.  I was using an algebraic calculator.  I could be much more efficient with an RPN Calculator.  You may recall that I’ve blogged about this before and before.  I thank my university statistics professor for recommending my original HP21 calculator. 

Chicken isn’t cooked so I’m off to the Google Play store to look for an RPN Calculator to download.

It turns out there were a LOT of them.  One in particular caught my eye because it was the spitting image of the HP products that I was so fond of.



I became really engrossed with this program.  It’s such a nice and faithful copy of the original – even to the LED display that couldn’t be read in bright sunlight!

Other than just using the calculator, the whole experience brought back a few problems from my computer science classroom.  First, you have to teach students just what RPN is and then have them write the code.  The HP 21 had a nice rolling stack of 4 which led right into another sort of topic that you’ll only find in a computer science classroom.  And, the nice thing about writing your own calculator program is that you can add feature after feature, including printing graphs.  Function keys extend the function of any of the buttons.  It’s just a shame that we had to use a mouse to press the buttons at the time.

Sir, your chicken is ready.

Well, the moment has passed but I’ve been inspired to get the application and play with it.  Who says mathematics can’t be fun?