Doctor, it hurts when I do that


It’s been an interesting week in blogging.  I need to follow that advice.

I thought it was just me that noticed and that I had damage control kick in.  But, once again, I was wrong.

The first inclination that other noticed was a message from @DavidFifeVP asking me where the message went and could I send the link to him again.  Then, last night at dinner, my daughter asked “Has your blog been screwy this week?”  I read your posts and it seems like I get an announcement that a new one is up but I can’t get to it.

Both of them are right.

Last weekend, I had given a presentation using Google Slides so it was only appropriate that I use Google Chrome as the browser to deliver things.  No problem there, and it worked like a champ.

I’m not one to turn my computer off so it just went to sleep and when I got home, opened the lid and away I went. 

As per my normal routine, I started a new blog post in ScribeFire and posted it to WordPress for publication the next morning at 5:00am like I normally do.  After it was posted, Brian Aspinall had sent me a link that I wanted to include so I logged into WordPress on the web and made the change and saved it.  I happened to glance at the screen where normally, you’d find a “Scheduled” button and saw “Updated” instead.  That was bizarre.  Maybe there was a change and I didn’t get the memo.  My next step is then normally to preview and proofread and then I noticed that the title of the post had changed to one that I had used in the past “It’s the Little Things”.  Now, that’s tres bizarre.

I flipped over to Hootsuite to see that the post had been announced to the world.  Wow.  Next step was to undelete the Twitter message and then I needed to also go to Facebook and delete the announcement there because the robots had done their work faithfully!  I updated the title of the post and made sure to change the date and time to the next day and updated.  Darned if the same thing didn’t happen again.  Now I’m starting to wonder about my sanity.  I do what every sane person does.  Repeat the process and click harder.  Same thing.

I open Firefox and repeat the process – do you know how hard it is to type with your fingers crossed – and everything worked well.  It’s all scheduled to go as planned.  Sadly, those who subscribe to my blog probably got a couple of bogus notifications of a new post.  I’m here to say I’m sorry.

The next day, I did my posting routine like normal and happened to be at my Windows computer with Chrome open and I noticed a spelling mistake.  I fixed it and republished and holy deja vue.  Fortunately, I had my Firefox backup scheme thought through and fixed things.

So, what does a good computing citizen do now?  Of course, I retrace my steps.  What had happened since the last time that I didn’t have a problem?

Actually, it turned out a few things.  Chrome updates itself automatically as it does with its extensions.  So, it could be there.  But then, I’d also had been doing my diligence with the HeartBleed situation.  I had gone and changed the passwords as I was notified by LastPass, including LastPass itself.  Check this, trace that, have another coffee, try this, it was like trying to find something in the dark.  Oh, and I had bought a new mouse and installed a new driver under Windows.

The good news was that Firefox needed updating on my Macintosh and the beta channel is now shipping with the new user interface. 

But, I’m no clearer to figuring out this particular puzzle.  Because it was replicated on both Macintosh and Window using exactly the same tools, I have a feeling that it may well be an issue with a tool or program that I’ve installed and that time will allow for an upgrade. 

It’s not the end of the world but I thought that I owed you who where the unfortunate recipients of bad notices an explanation.

And, just a heads up…I upgraded to Ubuntu 14.04LTS yesterday so look out!

Bleeding


Staying aware of things is always the best advice for anyone who connects her/his computer to the internet.  We were really made aware of this over the past week with the announcement of the Heartbleed bug.  It’s scary stuff, especially when you think of how long it has been in existence and how we’ve come so accustomed to relying on the supposedly secure connection between your computer and the website that you’re visiting.

At the bottom of the wikipedia article linked to above, you’ll find a list of websites that have been affected.  The common sense approach would be to change your password on those sites – once they are patched.

Other articles offering advice include:

A really good resource for all things Heartbleed:

Today’s Naked Security Podcast offers an audio insight into what’s going on:

Users of LastPass have a built-in bit of confidence.  Just head to the Tools menu and run a Security Check.  All of the sites that you have saved in this utility are checked.  You’ll determine if the site has been patched or not, along with a recommendation to get over there and change your password if the site is ready to go.

Or, if you’re not using LastPass, they offer

And, for the truly concerned browser, the Chromebleed extension keeps an eye on the sites that you browse to and warns you before you visit.

This issue is going to take a while to resolve.  I read one report that indicated that 66% of the web could be at risk.  That’s a scary thing.  In the meantime, it’s a good idea to do some research and stay on top of what’s happening.

For the really technical minded, read some code.

And, if that’s too deep, take it in as only XKCD can describe it.

A Thimble Full of HTML


In the beginning, there was Notepad…

Everyone just had to have a personal webpage – it was the upcoming thing to have.  So, I bought a book about HTML, roughed out what my first webpage would look like and then began the process of creating a webpage.  It took a long time and when I was done, I had a crappy looking webpage.  It was OK because most everyone else had a crappy looking webpage.

So, it was off to find other alternatives.  At the time, Netscape Composer did a nice enough job and my personal webpage started to look better!  In fact, we used Netscape Composer for the Women in Technology program and the grade 7/8 students did a pretty decent job composing their own.  Later on, the Ministry of Education licensed the Macromedia Suite of web tools and moved along to the Adobe Suite.  With a lot of practise, it was relatively easy to create a decent enough webpage and website.  The nice part was that the graphical user interface took learning most of the HTML out of the process.

Now, most people use a wiki program like PBWorks, WordPress or Google Sites to develop their online presence.  They do an exceptional job of writing the HTML in the background as you compose/edit in the foreground.  If you wish, there is always a tab or link to let you lift the hood and look at the code underneath.  Most people probably don’t.  After all, it requires a knowledge of HTML and most people don’t know the code.

It’s a contentious issue for those who teach web design in a computer science classroom.  Some camps are OK with graphic developers, other camps insist that students learn to write using HTML.  It’s much like the discussion about whether or not students should memorize the multiplication tables.

I would suggest that, no matter where you stand, there is a middle ground.  There is a need to at least having a passing interest in HTML code and how it drives your content.  This blog, I would offer as Exhibit A, is one of them.

On Friday, I show off some of the best that Ontario Edubloggers have to offer.  The post will have three or four blogs and a long time ago, I used to use 6 = signs to separate one from the other.  It looked like this ======.

One day, I stepped back and thought … that looks really ugly especially when HTML supports a divider that would go from the left side of the screen to the right.  You don’t need to count the number of characters – it just works.  All that you have to do is insert the horizontal rule into the page at the right spot.  Problem is that the WordPress editor and the Scribefire editor which I use almost exclusively don’t have a little button to click and insert the code.

Instead, you have to switch from editing visually to editing the code.  It’s just a click away.  When you do it the first time, you’re immersed in at least a bit of HTML.  You then need toidentify the exact spot in the page where to insert the code and then key


to make it happen.


When it works, it works well.  Or, you might want to insert a code generated by an external program.  For example, a Twitter message.  When you ask Twitter for the raw code, you get something like this.

Tweet

Kind of cryptic if you don’t understand HTML.

So, back to that middle ground.  What’s the best way to teach this?

“Best” is in the eye of the teacher and her professional judgement.  But, I would suggest taking a look at Mozilla’s Thimble.

Unlike traditional web development environments where you have to throw out the visual to get to the code or throw out the code to get to the visual, Thimble gives you the best of both worlds.

I know it’s a little small in the blog post but open the image and you’ll see it regular size.

On the left, you have an editing environment.  Computer Science teachers should be immediately drawn to the colours used to show various components of the code.  Using Thimble is easy.  Just type your code in the left panel and the results appear instantly on the right.  Talk about your immediate feedback.

This old coder had a whale of a time playing with Thimble, wishing that I had an excellent tool like this when I was writing my first webpages.  It would definitely have helped flatten the learning curve.

If you’re looking for a tool to teach HTML, I’d recommend having a good look at this and kicking the tires on it.  It think you’ll like what you see.

Five to Keep


It’s hard to think but there was a time when a web browser didn’t have tabs.  You could browse a single website and that was about it.  It made using a lot of the up and coming Web 2.0 activities a bit of a challenge since you could only do one thing at a time.  Fortunately, browsers evolved to the point where you could have multiple websites open.  It was possible at that point to open one tab with one website and another with another website and move content from one to the other.  Copy/paste or export/import were valuable skills. And if your basic browser didn’t have the desired function, you could extend its functionality with add-ons or extensions.  That single feature moved me years ago to make Firefox my default browser.  Of course, all of this is ancient history in the digital timeline given the modern browsers that we all enjoy.

In particular, working with a document in Google Docs was a big example of this for me.  I would often start with something in one tab, develop it, and then bring it into my document in another tab.  Doing so made you feel so cutting edge!

Now things have changed.  Recently Google upped the game by adding add-ons for use right in your open document.  This is an incredibly valuable feature.  With the right add-on, there’s no need to even move to another tab – you stay right in your document, create your content and then use the add-on as needed.

As you might expect, people were right out of the blocks writing posts about the “Top 10 Add-ons” for Google Docs and essentially picked some of the best for a post.  (Go ahead – Google it)  I started poking around adding, removing, based upon what I could see myself using and/or recommending to others.  At the end of the testing, I settled with five that I feel really comfortable with now.

To install, it’s as simple as selecting Add-ons menu and then “Get add-ons”.

The option to “Manage add-ons” as you would expect lets you have control over what’s installed and to delete the ones that you don’t want anymore.

Adding opens a menu of what’s available.  

My first visit was overwhelming.  I need this; I need this; I need that….

So many options.  As you add one, you have to give permissions for the add-on to access your Google information.  It’s worth noting every time you give any application access to your account.  Check to see if you’re comfortable with the permissions that you’re granting.

As I explored, I just knew that I had to keep things under control.  Which ones to keep?

From my perspective, here are my keepers.  I know that I’ll use them often.  Each of the add-ons make a “call home” and then opens on the right side of the screen.  No more tabs or windows browsing.  I’m really liking the functionality at my fingertips.  Just like extensions for the browser itself, extensions to the documents just extend the functionality and increase my productivity.

Here’s the calculator.  So often, I end up doing calculations when working in a document.  This tool now makes one instantly available.

At this point, here are the five that I have decided to keep.

  • Calculator
  • EasyBib Bibliography Creator
  • Lucidchart Diagrams
  • openclipart
  • Thesaurus

Other add-ons can be added on a whim.

I’m excited about this addition to Google Docs functionality.  These five definitely are keepers from my perspective.  I’ll keep checking the menu and looking for more exciting tools.  First to write an RPN Calculator wins my heart!

I’m interested in hearing from you.  What add-ons have you found to be keepers?

Why I Haven’t Downloaded Office for iPad…


…although at 12 million downloads, I appear to be definitely in the minority.  One of the reasons why this blog is “Off the Record” is that I give myself the right to change my mind.  If you’d like to convince me, go ahead.

I’ve never really been a big user of Office on any platform.  My needs are meagre, I would guess, and so never needed a copy to put me over the top.  I work interchangeably on Windows, Macintosh, and Ubuntu.  It’s important to me that I can exchange among the platforms and, probably the tipping point for me was installing my very first version of Ubuntu.  It came with OpenOffice and I never looked back.  It was all that I ever needed, at the time, and the LibreOffice fork of the product stays on top of everything.

The only time I strayed away was to investigate Kingsoft‘s office suite.  I liked what I saw and will admit to having a copy installed on my computer in addition to LibreOffice.

So, back to the iPad version of Office…

I’ll admit that I was tempted.  In fact, I might even go as high as $1.99 to have that functionality!  When I found out it was free, I thought…wow!

I’ll admit that I had a hard time finding it in the iTunes store.  I was looking in the store for Office but couldn’t find it.  After poking around, I finally realized that Word, Excel, and Powerpoint were separate downloads.  And, at 259MB for Word alone, that’s quite a download.

But the description stopped me in my pursuit.  The download only lets you read for free…you need to have an Office 365 annual subscription to get full functionality.  That’s something that I don’t have and not likely to get in the near future.  According to the website, the subscription for Office home is $99.99 and $79.99.  That’s quite a bit of money to be paying for annually.  Perhaps there are 12 million others that find that valuable.  Not me.

There are alternatives though.

Increasingly, my documents are stored in Google Drive.  As it turns out, Google has a Drive application that does the job nicely.  Edits and saves are done right on the document as it’s stored in Drive.

For the local use, I’ve always had a copy of QuickOffice on my iPad.  It has the functionality to fully edit documents stored locally or in Google Drive.  That’s always been the application that I go to in order to get the job done.  Price – free.

But recently, I was looking for something on the Kingsoft website.  I had missed it completely and so was pleasantly surprised to see that there was an iOS version in addition to all of their other products.  What was really interesting was the cloud support.

And the price was free as well.  Plus, it only is 100MB to get all three pieces of office functionality.  Check out this recent article from Cnet about Kingsoft. “Kingsoft Office 3.2 for iOS: Better than Microsoft Office?

As I work with the sort of documents that I use, I find that both QuickOffice and Kingsoft Office do it all.  The price is certainly right for the classroom as well.  And, if all that you need is word processing, don’t forget Scrawlar.

So, at this point, I will pass on downloading Office for iPad and buying the Office 365 license.  It’s your turn now – convince me that I’m wrong.

68% of Statistics are Worthless


I’ve always wanted to say that.  But, if they make you think, it’s probably all worthwhile.

The title of this article caught my attention, no, grabbed my attention when I read it.

IE easily beats Chrome, Firefox, Safari in malware detection

That’s quite a statement to make.  It certainly goes against what I would have thought so I dove into the article immediately.  It cites research from NSS Labs. I’ll confess – my nerdy inner person loves stuff like this.  In the computer (or actually any classroom), it makes for fascinating discussion.  There’s just so much content available on the internet that we’ve just become used to clicking and running.  And yet, social engineering has become more sophisticated in its tactics to entice you to click that link in the first place.

The overall results are displayed in chart form.

From the results, Internet Explorer clearly stands out.  There undoubtedly are web browsers there that you may not recognize but you might want to poke around and take a look at them.

In fact, Internet Explorer stands so far out, you can’t help but want to read the rest of the report.

The report is definitely not written at a level for all grades. However, for older students, they should be able to understand the concepts and relate it to their own activities on the web and through the use of social media.  How do they know when they’ve been attacked by social malware?  Should they rely on their browser to keep them safe?  Should they install extensions like Web of Trust to beef up their protection?  Should they always click on links from email sent to them?  Does this reinforce the importance of operating system and browsers updates?  Are they comfortable with just taking the first browser that they see and heading off to the web?  In a school with shared devices, can one student affect another?

The final paragraph puts this into perspective and gives the reader the common sense call to action.  The best protection is education and knowing how to recognize the would-be attacker’s actions as they come along.

Did it!


I got 2048!

and no … I didn’t get it by cheating or by digital editing.  It was done legitimately, and with a great deal of work and effort.

It just wasn’t with the original game.

As I blogged yesterday, the 2048 game is a very addictive time consumer (waster) game that had its code released as open source.

So, I was investigating an intriguing mathematics Tumblr site called “Visualizing Math” which is a fantastic resource for animations and visualizations in mathematics.  This is well worth the time, effort, and exploration for such visualization.

In the middle, there’s a discussion of the 2048 game.  It was here that I read about the 9007199254740992 game!

Let me see here:

2

4

8

16

32

64

128

256

512

1024

2048

and so on and so on.  All made easily available through the benefit of open source.  The only problem is that the 8×8 grid is too large to display on the screen at default.  I had to do a few Command – keystrokes to make it all visible.  I thought, just for a moment, that I had a rationale to purchase a higher resolution screen!

It begs the question – there undoubtedly are more variations of the game available.

Do you have one to share?

The 2048 Game


And now for something completely different…

I’m posting this on the weekend because it just wouldn’t be fair to get you started on something and then have to go to work.  The game is based on multiples of 2 – I wish that I could say that you could use this to teach binary numbers or something but that wouldn’t be right.

I put this game in the category of Flappy Bird.  Simple, easy to get started, easy to play, and it will have you addicted.  Can you hit 2048?  I started with the web version and was hooked.  Poking around reveals that there are many copies as well as portable versions.  The original is located here and can be played on your portable device so it really isn’t necessary to download a mobile version.

2048

As the instructions say, just move the tiles with the arrow keys on your keyboard (or swipe on the web), merge the tiles, and try to generate the highest score.  Can you hit 2048?

As I started to poke around, it’s not without its controversy.  The original author attributes the design to the game THREES.  iOS Android

The authors of THREES share their thoughts in a blog post and their comments to those who they claim have ripped off their original concept.

It is there that I do see room for classroom discussion.  Where does original work end and rip off begin?  Are we better off with only one variation of a theme?  THREES…2048…1024…Numberwang 2048.  What about WordPerfect…Word…Pages…LibreOffice?

It’s a great discussion to have – provided you can put this addictive game down long enough to have it!

The code is open source and you can download to make your own or add to the project.

In the meantime, I’ve hit 256 but I have a plan…

Brand Monitoring


Last week, I had first hand experience with brand monitoring on social networks.  It was interesting to see it happen.

======

The first came as a result of a blog post I made sharing my experience with a new (to me anyway) mind mapping brainstorming product called Stormboard.  Read the original post here.  Notice that “Stormboard” didn’t appear in the title.  However, the folks at Stormboard are monitoring their brand and acknowledged that I was talking about them…

I found this to be great and made a reverse contact to let them know about the Bring IT, Together conference.  It would be nice to have them on the exhibit floor and to donate a door prize!  It just might happen!

======

Later in the week, I took my daughter to a new restaurant in Windsor, The Lone Star Texas Grill.  After enjoying a bunch of “welcome y’all”s, our server, Cheyenne, took our order.  As I tend to do, when waiting, I decided to check in with FourSquare.  It drives the other kids nuts that they weren’t invited to lunch when they read it.  Bubby decided that she wanted to tap into their free wireless only to find that she was required to “Like” their Facebook page first before she could connect.  Interesting concept which she took a pass on. So it reads,

What I found out later was that @lonestartexmex had favourited my luncheon announcement and was now following me on Twitter.

======

Finally, it’s not just organizations that were monitoring their brand.  My coffee drinking Twitter friend Linda Aragoni had recently written a very good post on her blog about using games to teach about grammar.  Skip Zalneraitis had retweeted my post.  It caught Linda’s eye and she responded…

======

I think we’ve all given the advice to others – “Google yourself” and see what kind of footprint you have.  It’s an interesting activity but really is a “one of” activity.  If you’re serious, you might be interested in a more persistent solution.

A while back, I had mentioned about how I monitor myself on Twitter.  Within Hootsuite, I just keep an eye on things by having a column that keeps an eye out for mentions of “dougpete” and “dougpete.wordpress.com”.  More and more people seem to be getting away from commenting directly on blogs but take to Twitter instead.  I wouldn’t want to miss anything and I certainly don’t want to sit around doing search after search to find things.  Why not put the power of the software to work?

But that’s just Twitter.  How about other places on the internet?  In that case, you might be interested in setting a Google Alert.  Designed to keep an eye on topics, what if YOU are the topic that you want to monitor?  Set up the rules and get the results mailed to you according to your timelines or rules.

Another really helpful monitoring tool is IFTTT.  One of the useful rules that it provides applies to Facebook.  Wouldn’t you like to know the moment that someone tags you in a picture on that service?  Monitoring does the trick.  Dropbox can alert you to new items – in this case, the rule will actually take the picture from Facebook and give you a copy.  No more excuses “I didn’t do that…”

There’s a great deal that can be done with the proper tools and a bit of setup.  If you’re interested in what people are saying about you, why not be like the people above and monitor yourself just like they’re monitoring their own brands?

There are so many examples that come to mind – one important one for education that springs to mind – if I’m a principal of a school, I want to monitor social media so that I know the minute that my school is announced in the local newspaper or on the radio.  If a parent posts a frustration online, monitoring comments could be just as important as knowing that people like the fajitas at their restaurant.

What do you think?  Do you monitor yourself or your organization?  Or, do you belong to the que sera, sera crowd?

Fixing the Broken


If the snow ever goes away, there’s quite a bit of maintenance that needs to be done around here.  Things that get broken over time just scream for maintenance.  If you leave it alone, it just goes from bad to worse.  Once it hits worse, then it’s next to useless.

Now, I could be talking about the branches from the trees out back or I could be talking about websites.  Let’s focus on websites.  (You know how to pick up broken branches…)

The impetus for this post came from a conversation with a friend of mine.  He was looking for something on a big website and couldn’t find it.  He did, however, find a broken link.  Between the two of us, we started digging and found all kinds of broken links.  In fact, it was a school district website with teacher webpages that were created by a facility that the school district decided that they wouldn’t use any longer.  But, the links remain just appearing to be dry rot needing to be pruned and cleaned up.

It happens all the time.  You know that.  You create a webpage or a directory of the “Best things to do this” and it’s terrific the moment that you publish it.  All the links work and you point people to that page.  They use it and send their friends who send their friends.  Then, a link will get broken.  The visitor to YOUR webpage gets frustrated because there’s just nothing worse or frustrating than a “Page not found” error.  We get used to one or two odd ones but a big collection?  Surely, some maintenance is in order.

There are a couple of ways to fix this – you could get a cup of coffee and warm up your clicking finger and go to it.  Or, a technique that I used to use when I managed a bunch of directories was to encourage people to report errors.

That works well when I had access to do the updates.  Now that I don’t have, I have no idea how it’s maintained.

But that can be a slow, painful process.  Surely, in this day of automation, there’s a better way.

Of course, there is.

I use a wonderful program called Xenu Link Sleuth.  It’s so simple to use.  Once installed on your computer, run the program, and provide the URL to Xenu and say go!

Xenu then faithfully does its best to check every link from the URL you submitted on down.  It’s comforting to watch the green URLs go by.  See a red one and you know that you’ve got some work to do.

Xenu runs great under Windows or using Wine in Ubuntu.

Got a Macintosh?

Then, you probably want to check out Integrity.

It’s the same concept.  Give a starting URL and a shove to get started and let Integrity do its thing.

Could you imagine a web where everyone’s responsible for their webpages and checks them periodically?  No more links that go nowhere?

Wouldn’t that be nice?