I’ve been trained

It was one of the expressions that used to get my dander up. It was a comment often made by teachers that were “going to be trained”. My response always was that you train dogs; you professionally develop teachers.

Yesterday afternoon, I was having a Zoom beer with a friend from UNI and the topic of Psychology and Teaching came up. Within reach was my university psychology text that I grabbed to show him – Psychology For Teaching: A Bear Always, Usually, Sometimes, Rarely, Never, Always Faces The Front Will Not Commit Himself Just Now Faces The Future. Mine wasn’t exactly this one but close enough. Over the years, I’ve used many of the ideas in here in my own classroom, in my role as a professional developer, and for training our dogs.

It’s the “training” part that was really important as I thought about how I, me, myself have been trained by my Chromebook.

I have a regular morning routine. I’m up about 4:30, put on coffee, grab some cereal and then sit in the rec room with the television on with the morning news and I do my own personal reading. It’s a routine that I’ve had for years and it’s my personal way of staying somewhat current. There was a time when I would arrogantly say “Stay on top of things”; these days it’s more to mitigate the distance that I’m falling behind. All of this reading is done on my Chromebook because it’s so light and the screen is small enough that it doesn’t block the television.

If you follow me in the morning, you’ll know that I share what I’m reading to my Twitter and Facebook networks and I like to think that the reactions and comments push my thinking beyond the original article. I so appreciate teachers for their tolerance. My kids just call me noisy.

As you might imagine, I end up with a lot of tabs open and I do my best to close them off to keep the Chromebook humming along. Since I typically have my Yeti full of coffee in my left hand, it’s my right hand that does all the work. So, CTRL-W is out of the question. My typical way of closing a tab is to navigate the cursor to the little X in the open tab and clicking on it. It’s not always easy, particularly early in the morning before the coffee kicks in. One of the things that appealed to me about Chromebooks is that the screen could flip over and become a tablet but I’m also one of those fussy people that don’t like fingerprints on my screen so that’s out of the question.

I’m a sucker for posts and articles that claim to offer ways to make yourself more productive with technology and, a couple of weeks ago, I read one about Chromebook shortcuts “you don’t know about and should be using”. I do know that titles like that are often click bait but I clicked through anyway and found a new intriguing shortcut.

Instead of navigating to that little X to close a tab, all you have to do is move the cursor anywhere in the tab and click the trackpad with three fingers simultaneously and it closes. To test the theory, I opened a disposable new tab and tried it. It worked as advertised. Why am I just learning about this now?

But, closing a tab isn’t something that a person should have to concentrate on to make it happen. That’s where I realized that years of moving to the X had become part of my training. I’d be hard pressed to call it professional learning though. I do it; I do it well; I’m rewarded when the tab closes much like Jaimie is when I ask him to roll over and then toss him a biscuit.

Clicking the trackpad with three fingers is harder (for me) that it should be. I’ve single clicked and two finger clicked for years and it’s part of my routine. I do them without concentration or thinking.

Three fingers is proving to be something very different. I look at my hand and my ring finger is indeed longer than my index finger so it makes sense to me that I should be able to do index, middle, ring all at the same time without a problem. So often, only two fingers manage to hit the trackpad when I’m doing it as part of my routine. If I stop and concentrate, I generally can get all three right. So, maybe I’m choosing the wrong three fingers!

As I’m experimenting, the mathematician in me is realizing the number of permutations that five, choose three, actually is! I’ve come to the conclusion that my thumb is very useless for this task.

Ever determined, I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I’m determined to master this click routine. I also refuse to allow a piece of technology to train me by instilling a routine in me that I’m having such a tough time changing. It’s actually kind of humbling to realize that I’m in this position. After all, man should master the machine and not the other way around.

It shouldn’t be such a big deal but I’m finding that it is. I will confess that, as I get closer to the bottom of the coffee cup, that I am getting better at it. But still.

Do you have any routines that you have engrained in your computer use that you know there’s a better way but you don’t, or even worse, the technology makes it difficult to change? I’d love to hear your story.

Stay tuned

I don’t know that I ever thought that an application like this would come, or be needed, but now that it’s here, I’m wondering why it took Google so long!

Google now has a guitar tuner!

All that you need to make this happen is:

  • Visit the site. D’uh!
  • Click on the microphone icon to turn on your microphone
  • If required, grant permission for your device to access your microphone
  • Play your string and watch the visual

It’s quick and appears to be pretty accurate. If you’re looking for a quick tuneup for your guitar, give it a shot.

How I sped up my Chromebook

A few years ago, it was time for me to delve into the world of Chromebooks. I didn’t want to get one of those really small ones but held out for one with a larger screen, the ability to have touch, and I went with the Acer Chromebook R13. It’s somewhat comforting to see that it’s still in Acer’s lineup. That’s not usually the luck that I have with technology.

It was meant to be something to experiment with and also something light enough that I could have it in my lap. And, it’s done the job.

When i first got the computer, it seemed lightning fast. It was actually kind of cool that Google and/Acer provide regular updates which gives one the comforting feeling that it’s well supported.

After a while, I started to notice that it was slowing down. I do a number of things to see if I could speed it up and really only had minimal success. I did a lot of reading and wondering. I know that traditional laptops perform better when plugged in but I saw no evidence that this works in the Chromebook world. It did, however, make the screen brighter.

Now, I will make some confessions here; I am one to often shoot myself in the foot as I experiment with this and that to see what would happen. I also noticed that there were three stages for updated capacity so I went with the middle (Beta) one and noticed a number of ongoing updates. I also added a bunch of extensions that would hopefully make it better and that kind of kept growing. I enabled Linux and installed Firefox on the Linux partition.

I still had a working computer but it was noticeably slow so I decided to start all over. One of the primary reasons that I had switched to the Beta Channel was to really use a dark interface. It has now become a flag that is available in the Stable Channel. With the rain on the weekend, I decided to give the Chromebook a fresh start, head back to Stable, and then judiciously add back extensions.

The Chromebook makes it so easy. Just do a Powerwash…

It was a little freaky when it rebooted and the instructions came up in French becaue I chose Canadian English as a language but high school French and no alternative made it easy.

Once booted into Stable Mode, I did a couple of quick things online and it was indeed much faster and also, boy, is the Internet ever filled with advertisements! My next challenge was actually logging in since I use a Password Manager to handle complicated passwords. That was the end of going Extension-less. I know that the common wisdom is that you should tay away from too many of these but they do add a certain functionality for me. But I’m going to be judicious in what I choose instead of chowing down and the all you can install Chrome store buffet.

I add…

  • uBlock Origin – my favourite ad blocker and it seems to do so efficiently
  • a password keeper – not going to tell you which one to maintain a bit of security
  • Diigo – my bookmark keeper
  • Privacy Badger – blocking those invisible trackers
  • Cookie AutoDelete – delete cookies when I leave a website except for a couple I whitelist
  • Shareaholic – my goto sharing utility for morning reads
  • ClearURLs – get rid of tracking element in a URL
  • Web of Trust – a little help to identify the good versus the bad
  • OneTab – great utility to tame runaway open tabs (and I’m going to be better about using it this time)

My extension are in the tool bar looks so bare now that it’s cleaned up to the bare minimum. One of the extensions that I used to have was HTTPS Everywhere which certainly was important for keeping websites on the straight and narrow. It’s now a setting in Chrome and so that’s pretty well made it redundant.

The final step was to go to the screen size setting and set it to Native Mode resolution 1920×1080. Of course, that made everything smaller so I went into the browser settings and upped the Zoom level a bit.

I have to really admit; my Chromebook really flies again. My biggest wonder at this point will be if I have the discipline not to go on an extension installing spree again! Speaking of which, are there extensions that I have overlooked and should go out and get?

Do you have any performance tips and tricks to speed up a Chromebook?

Applying a fix

Recently, I ended up purchasing an Acer Chromebook for my wife. She had been plodding along with an old Macbook Pro. I didn’t realize how much of a plod it was until I ended up having to do something to fix it.

The fix involved rebooting and I swear that I could cook supper while waiting for it to reboot. It’s hard to think that there was a time when that was my best computer. I guess my standards were lower then or, more likely, technology has become so much better.

It’s not the actually computing ability but the speed with which you can transfer data to and from the hard drive. Remember physical hard drives with the platters and moving head readers? Buying an SSD might have been a solution but it made more sense financially and functionally to upgrade to a new machine.

Right out of the box, this Chromebook just screamed. Plus, I was able to install the Android applications that she uses frequently on her phone to make it address two of her computing needs. Upon first startup, I also checked to see if there was an update to the Chrome OS and it claimed that it was up to date. I knew that wasn’t true but guessed that it would just kick in automatically.

If you’re a Chromebook user, you know that one of the endearing things about Chrome OS is that it keeps itself up to date. I asked her to let me know when it wanted to update but that moment never came. Actually, since the Chrome OS is essentially running the Chrome browser, it wasn’t a big deal. There were no complains on her end; the new machine was light and just screamed, doing everything that she wanted in a computer.

Still, though, when my own Chromebook updated itself to version 90, it kind of bugged me that her machine was still at version 83. I tried everything that I could think of which is really not much in the Chrome OS world. It’s designed to do everything that it does without user intervention.

This past week, she had to go away for a day and I warned her that I would be spending some intimate time with her machine. I worked my way through all the suggested fixes with no success. I’d worked my way down to the nuclear option – Recovering your Chromebook.

It reads like a simple process and certainly, I’d run enough live Linux distributions from a memory key to know that miracles can happen. But, it’s one thing to nuke your own computer and quite another to do that to someone else’s.

The process seemed simple enough; just download the latest version to a memory key and start with the memory key in place and let the machine do its thing. The only thing was that the instructions called for an 8GB memory key. I actually have a bag full of memory keys from places that I’ve been at over the years. They were a combination of 1GB, 2GB, and 4GB keys. Not an 8GB key in my collection. But there were some memories brought back as I checked out each in my Windows computer since not all of them had the capacity printed on their surface.

Now, in a normal world, I have a couple of buddies that I could drive over and borrow a key if they had one. Or, I could drive into Windsor to BestBuy or into town here to The Source and buy one off the shelf. As you would suspect, those were not essential services. I could have ordered and picked up a couple of days later. But, before I did that, I figured that I’d try one of the 4GB jobbies. After all, if Google and Chrome OS were so smart, they wouldn’t let me hurt myself.

As it turns out, the download to the 4GB key went rather quickly and I was ready to go to the next step and do the Recover. It took maybe 10-15 minutes (I wished I’d timed it) and there was a reboot and I was back to the initial installation dialogues. A few quick clicks later and I was starting at the Chrome desktop and then noticed that all her bookmarks, extensions, and her designed theme were back in place. Oh no, did I do all that for nothing?

Nope. A check of the OS and it revealed I was now running version 90. I actually should have been able to tell the difference just by looking.

I was kind of pleased to hand her an upgraded machine when she got home. I was even more pleased when she said that it felt like it was running quicker than before. It might well be or it might just have been her making me feel good.

But, the bottom line was that I was able to report that all worked out well and it really was a seamless upgrade installation.

Everyone is happy!

Choices for a perfect world

I had to smile when I came across this meme.

I was raised and loved mathematics, having been taught the bottom way. I still think that way. I know that this iteration of the “new math” works in the top way. The mathematics geek in me could actually write the above as equations and generate a proof for why it’s correct.

The bottom speaks for the reality of many parents who are working with their children at home during these times. Yes, it was heavy duty home schooling for a while and the pseudo-return to normal classes has a bit of normalcy to it. But it’s just not the same.

Beyond generating a smile, you have to feel for those parents who have to deal with curriculum support at home sans the two years of education at a Faculty of Education, the ongoing professional learning events, the new approaches to teaching and learning, and things that educators take for granted these days – manipulatives.

Today’s Ontario classrooms have a great deal of access to resources and support for learning. Yes, there are differences between schools and districts based on priorities but there’s so much there that we truly are light years ahead from when I went to school.

Many times, when you go to provincial learning events, some of the sessions actually look like trade shows. Great teachers are often demonstrating some of the latest and greatest that they’ve got in their classroom. They show how they can be used to address expectations and everyone gets excited – until they return to their classrooms and realize that they don’t have access to the same sorts of things.

My best context for this, of course, is educational technology. The premier event for a number of years as been the Bring IT, Together Conference and it’s the best/worst for doing this. There typically is a fabulous space for exhibitors to show what you need to be lobbying for in the next round of purchases of “stuff” for your classroom. There’s the Minds on Media area where teachers are showing off what they’re doing with the latest and greatest. I always walk away lusting after things to play with – robots, virtual reality, etc. And, then there’s the sessions themselves where you get to hear the complete story for 50 minutes and walk away realizing that you don’t have the same resources when you return to your educational “home”.

Sadly, there’s the actual home where parents and brothers and sisters have been picking up a second profession as occasional teacher. Programming / coding has seen a huge rise in popularity in education recently and it’s deservedly so.

But, it’s not my programming.

I learned the old fashioned way. I programmed a computing device and got excited with a correct display of results on the display or on a printed sheet of paper. Cooking with gas as my father-in-law would say.

Things changed when Seymour Papert introduced the Logo programming language which you could use to program a robot that drew on a sheet of paper with the pendown command. Inspired by this and the desire to introduce programming to younger and younger students, we’ve seen a flood of other devices on the market, marketed to education. Probably the most popular? is the LEGO Logo program but that’s just the tip of the iceberg for programmable devices that connect to your computer. Another very popular option that you can build a program around is the micro:bit which is a bit of an oddity since you can program a virtual micro-bit just as well as a physical one.

So, what does this all have to do with the parent at home?

Imagine being a student in a classroom where everything you’re doing is based upon having access to those manipulatives. Then, the rug is pulled out from underneath you. Class has to go on – but how? In particular, I’m thinking of the new, revised Mathematics curriculum which supposedly will feature coding. Imagine being the student who was excited that she could get this device at school to do exactly what it is that she wants it to. Now at home, unless Mom and Dad have the ability to run out to an educational store and buy it, you’re left with a Plan B. What does that Plan B even look like?

I’ve been following along a discussion in the ACSE discussion list of teachers dealing with secondary school student learning programming, typically in Python, and the challenges there. At school, all the computers would be configured for the learning. At home, students have a mish-mash of computers with some even having Chromebooks or have borrowed a Chromebook from school. As we know, typically the school devices are locked down so the workaround of installing an editor into Chrome OS’ flavour of Linux isn’t an option.

There’s no criticism to be assigned here. In no case is anyone taking a shortcut on the curriculum. They’re using what they have at their fingertips. Nobody saw the disaster that the past two school years are enduring. Nobody could predict that the Education Minister is considering options for more home learning.

Right now, teachers and struggling just to stay above water. Hopefully, those at the system level are aware of all these challenges and the potential impact on the future. When we get through this – who knows when – there needs to be some serious thinking and planning done. Teachers are great at Plan Bs. You do it all the time for occasional teachers or coverages. But when it comes to a rejig of an entire unit or course, it gets real.

At the system level, years of planning have gone into equity of access for things that happen in the classroom. We’ve always given lip service to equity at home but if anything the pandemic has taught us, it hasn’t been nearly enough.