Signal strength

Just a warning that this might be something that:

  • you may already know
  • you don’t care
  • it goes beyond “it just works” and makes quantitative interesting (at least to me)

First of all, I’d like to point out that I didn’t start out looking to learn/relearn this.

I actually stumbled into it reading a story for some other information.  The story was “Review: eero Wi-Fi is a solid option for Apple’s outgoing AirPort“.  Darn.  I like my currently working AirPort.  Oh well, time and technology move on…

The story was interesting and might have had more relevance if I lived in a mansion and wanted to have wireless extended everywhere.  As I type this, I’m sitting right under my AirPort and if I opened the curtains here and in the rec room, I could see my other chair where I do what passes for remote computing these days.

Anyway, the article itself was interesting and, when I win the lottery, it might have a practical purpose for me.

What was interesting and sparked my learning (or relearning in this case) was the section that talks about the strength of the signal.

There was a time when that was important and I knew all that.  Sadly, I had forgotten.

But I was curious enough to continue.

These days, I’m lazy enough not to dig into that.  Like most people, I suspect, I use the little WIFI indicator to show signal strength as a divining rod.  The more little bars, the stronger the signal.  It gets me through the day and as long as there is a bar or two, I can connect and Play Words with Friends and write the occasional blog post.  Life is good.

Now I’m curious though – how good?

I go to take a look at what networks are available to me.  There’s the three that I’m broadcasting from my AirPort – two at 2.4GHz and 1 at 5GHz.  Why?  On a regular day, there are only two of us connected.  So, the answer is “because I can”.

I can also see the two networks that my one neighbour is broadcasting in his house.  They’re weak and they’re protected anyway.  The neighbour on the other side doesn’t have internet access so there’s nothing visible.  Depending upon the day, I can see the network from two houses over.  It’s really weak and protected.  We’re all good on this street; no unprotected wireless.

So, I come back to my own.  Where on the quality scale shown above am I?

I should be really good.  This computer is less than a metre from the AirPort.  I open a terminal and check.

I probably didn’t need to black out the AirPort details – if you come over, just ask for the password and I’ll give it to you.

The confirming key to me though is the signal strength.  In the scale above, that is “high quality”.  Life is indeed good.

If I get ambitious, I might just walk about and see what happens to the signal strength in various locations.

If I get really ambitious, I may dig into the other statistics to see what they are telling me.

As you would suspect, there are all kinds of browser extensions that let you investigate as well.  Utilities like WIFI Analyzer are very interesting.

I’m thinking that this would be a good learning experience for students. Perhaps it would help them with better placement of their access point at home.  In the original article, the author mapped out the various locations within his house.  Wouldn’t it be a neat exercise to have students map out the entire school?  Are there any dead spots that need to be reported to the support department for addressing?

In case of practicality, I know that there have been venues where I question the signal strength or I see more than one access point broadcasting under the same name.  This bit of information should give me a little more information to make an informed decision.

Unless I forget it again.

More related reading:

A duet

I have two musical goals in life.

  1. Play a piano duet with Sir Elton John
  2. Learn how to play the piano

Probably neither of these will ever happen.  I may even have them in the wrong order.

But that’s OK.  Google has me covered with a new “experiment” called A.I. Duet.

I’m fascinated with the intelligence that can be built into a computer and the results that we see and read about daily.  I think that we all know that we’re on the edge of great things as terrific programmers take on and understand concepts and create something new.  In particular, it’s impressive when it’s something new that the computer has created for us.

That’s the premise behind the A.I. Duet.  Watch this video; it may be the best two minutes of learning you do today.

I found the discussion of machine learning and neural networks fascinating.

Even more fascinating is playing with this experiment and watching it respond to my touch.

In the classroom, what a wonderful hands-on example to begin discussion.

  • How does it do this?
  • How does it respond to different tempos or combination of notes?
  • Does it do a better job with someone who knows how to play versus the “kitten on the keys?
  • Does your interaction with the experiment make it smarter or dumber?  How?
  • Can more than one player make it work harder or get better results?

I’m no better now playing the keyboard than when I first started playing around.

But, I do now have a partner to play duelling pianos with.

Whatever happened to …

… the Hypo Programming Language?

Have you ever had to learn a programming language well enough to teach it in a few weeks?  Memories and inspiration for this post came from last week when I talked about optical marked cards.

I did!

It was for my first teaching job.  Teaching Grade 11 and Grade 12 Computer Science was going to be a piece of cake.  (or so I thought)  The language of instruction was to be Fortran and COBOL.  Both of these languages had been a part of my university program so I knew the language.

But, it was the Grade 10 course that had me concerned.  Actually, this concern extended to Grade 9.  In the Business Department, the Grade 9 course was a collection of units in Accounting, Marketing, and Data Processing.  In the Data Processing unit, and in the Grade 10 course, we were to use the Hypo programming language.


I’d never heard of that before but how difficult could it be?  It was a pre-cursor to Fortran after all.

Well, it turned out that Hypo stood for “Hypothetical Computer”.  It was a language that got you to dig into the things that higher level languages just assumed that you knew or plain didn’t care about.  Things like how a computer does arithmetic.  Things like data going into a storage location of your choice.  Then, you’d load the contents from memory and push them onto a stack.  Once in the stack, you could do simple operations like adding, subtracting, etc.  Once you had performed the operation, you’d send it to be printed.  Instructions were simple; the computer could only do things one step at a time and you had to provide each and every step.

Instructions were coded by the programmer.  Each instructions had a two digit opcode (operation code) and a three digit operand (usually making reference to a memory location).  Speaking of memory locations, there were 1000 of them in this hypothetical machine ranging from 000 – 999.  I could bore you with the details but, if you’re interested, check out this document.  My entire course summarized in eight pages!

We did have a textbook.  It was authored by John Walsh from Western University and others and called “Informatics:  Introduction to Data Processing”.  So, at the conclusion of my successful interview, I asked to take a copy of the textbook home with me.  And, I read it from cover to cover over that summer and was ready to go for the first of September.  I felt I knew the programming language in its entirety without ever writing or debugging a line of code!  For the most part, I was writing the programs and assignments along with the students that fall and we all learned the language together.  Co-learning before co-learning was a thing.

I quickly became conversant with instructions like:



Like all of the courses at the time, it was expensive.  It was done on cards and five characters per card sure wasn’t an efficient use!

I had lots of students take that course and then followed up with “real” programming languages in subsequent grades.  The Hypo language itself eventually became a memory —- and then it became a project.  I would have students write their own interpreter in the real language we were using at the time.  We’d use arrays and stacks and talk about simple operations and brought them altogether for the purpose of the project.  I could kick myself for not hanging on to one or two of these excellent submissions.  They’d be fun to play around with today.

Hypo did indeed become a memory after a while.  Courses evolved with newer technologies and the opportunities they provided.  Eventually, we licensed Turing and used it as an introductory language.  Today, many students will use Scratch or Alice or Hopscotch or the like for their first language.  Many others use Python as an introductory language and some actually build complete programs right through Grade 12 around it.  It’s a nice choice.  It’s an interesting change from the good ol’ days.  Unlike Hypo which really required you to think about the computer hardware (albeit a hypothetical one), there are things like variables and higher level instructions that make learning about the hardware itself pretty much unnecessary.  The newer languages open up more opportunities; Hypo pretty much left you dealing with mathematics problems.  But, you could come up with interesting problems all the same.  I’d look for current ideas like this one – Library book returned 75 years late, with no fine.  I’d turn that story into a problem and the great emergent programmers of the time would dig into that with great enthusiasm.  What would the fine actually be today if it was collected?

These were the tools available at the time.  The choice was made by the school and not the teacher.  Probably, as Alfred Thompson says in a recent post “You’re Teaching the Wrong Programming Language“.  It’s an interesting observation if you’re focusing on languages.  But, if you are focused instead on the concepts from learning to code, I don’t think there is a “wrong” programming languages.  Education isn’t or shouldn’t be a training institution; it’s a learning place and particularly in computer programming, students will go through a number of languages in their career.

Your turn.

  • Were you ever a Hypo programmer?
  • What was your first programming language?  How did it impact the way you use computers today?
  • Did you ever program in an assembler language?  Do you still feel the love?
  • If today’s students start to learn to code in a block language, do they miss something by not understanding the hardware of the computer they’re programming on?
  • At what stage do you wean students off block coding and move to programming?
  • For computer science teachers, how do you address the concepts of memory limitations and subsequent things like programs crashing because of out of memory messages?
  • For those of you who might be programmers or who studied programming, how many languages have you actually used?  Do you have a favourite?

Please share your thoughts via comment below.

Do you have an idea or thought that would be appropriate for my “Whatever happened to … ” series of blog posts.  They can all, by the way, be revisited here.

Please visit this Padlet and add your ideas.  I’d love for it to be an inspiration for a post!

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

Happy Friday, everyone!  It’s time to take a wander around the education web as seen though the keyboards of Ontario Edubloggers.  And, once again this week, I had a discussion about what I had collected at that point with Stephen Hurley on Voiced radio on Wednesday.  He pushed me to do some thinking about the topics and you’ll note his influence, I’m sure.

Quebec City Vigil

The first post is on a serious topic.

Jennifer Aston happened to be vacationing in Quebec City when the attack on the mosque happened and it was so close to where she was staying.  The post should have you rethinking just what we are and who we are.

I can’t imagine what this parent with her family was thinking about at that moment.  Thankfully, she wasn’t at the wrong place at the wrong time.

There’s wonderful advice here.

But we have to do the opposite of that.  We need empathy not indifference to fight the fear mongering that is relentless in the news these days.  We need to build bridges, not walls…

Listen with Compassion and Act with Love

This post, from Debbie Donsky, will challenge your beliefs as an educator.  She sets the stage with this statement of her personal belief…

Every child who is in our care, every caregiver who steps through our doors, every staff member who supports the important work we do, has potential to change the trajectory of another person.

Into the discussion, she brings a different perspective dealing with helicoptering parenting.  She challenges an article and its take on parenting.

I found myself agreeing with her.

Hopefully, when you’re done, you’ll be checking your own sense of empathy.

Always Prepare for Teaching; Always Prepare for Surprises

This post from Enzo Ciardelli brought a smile to this Computer Science teacher’s face.  But first, his experience.

I do not want to downplay the importance of precise planning. I can recall a huge sign in teacher’s college that read: “Those who fail to plan also plan to fail.”

Trite advice from a Faculty of Education!

But we all paid attention to it.

How does it look in reality?  You’ll smile as you read his discussion of “reconciliation” with his students.  His amazement is a reminder that, no matter how hard he planned, he didn’t see the discussion coming.

In Computer Science, you plan thorough lessons.  There will be times when you work through a problem with a class, modelling what you think will be the best way and algorithm to solve the problem.  Then, you give them a problem to solve on their own and in a class of 25, you might end up with 26 different approaches.  Were they not paying attention?

The bottom line is to remember that you’re teaching students – not machines.  Everyone has their own baggage, er, perspective and good teachers will not be blindsided by those surprises.

What do you choose to learn about when you’re not at school?

Brandon Grasley starts this very short post with this interesting question that led to a discussion with one of his students.  It culminates with an appreciation for curiosity.

Every teacher is in a position to customize any lesson for students.  It’s what separates real people teaching from computer teaching.  Why wouldn’t you take the time to understand their interests and modify your lesson to embrace that?

But, let’s go further.  Why wouldn’t a teacher share with students just what it is that they’re learning when they’re not at school.  The easy answer would be to talk about lesson preparation for the next day.  But what about personal interests?  Why wouldn’t you want students to know that you’re studying for a Masters degree, learning how to curl, understanding how to knit, trying to understand how a new programming language works, …

Imagine a classroom where everyone is recognized as a real human being constantly learning – and not just at school.

Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You Had

I remember my Grade 13 Calculus teacher.  I’ll admit – hey, I’m proud of this; I did well in mathematics.  On one exam, I got 99%.  I missed one little thing that stopped a perfect score.  She took the time to comment.

“You Idot”!!!!!

Spelling mistake hers!  I guess that you can take a spin on what the intent of her comment was.  I kept that exam in a filing cabinet for years until a spring cleaning saw it head to the recycling bin.  Regardless, I always thought that if I got a chance to teach mathematics, I’d want to be like her.  But I’d check my spelling.  <grin>

Kyle Pearce takes the time to review this book written by Tracy Zager.  Actually, his review isn’t about the content; it’s about the author describing a number of different ways to read the book.  My first thought was that it might be a good book study for mathematics teachers.

In my discussion with Stephen Hurley about this, he made reference to a report that he co-authored for the Canadian Education Association. Teaching the Way We Aspire to
Teach: Now and in the Future.  It’s a very good read.

Of course, Kyle will want to teach the way that a certain university professor modelled for him.

Positive or Negative: There is always a choice

I now have confirmation that Jennifer Casa-Todd is a better person than I am with her recent post.  As the father of two girls, I took huge offence to the comment and hashtag #dresslikeawoman.

She notes, “The easiest response is to take offence”.  I guess I took the easy route.

We did share this thought in common “What does that even mean?”

Jennifer takes the time to put things into her own context and shares her own thoughts.  In the meantime, I was still stuck on the words.

The post has some interesting supporting likes and Jennifer created a Storify document to accumulate some of the comments from the hashtag.

The message from the top educational systems in the world

This was a new blog for me to read.

Bill Ferguson does a nice summary of the educational messages from his reading.

The countries I looked at are almost always near the top of the educational standards lists. Finland, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, China, Shanghai, Taiwan, and Poland among others. All have amazing similarities.

I found it a very interesting read and found myself agreeing with most of what is contained in the post.  It doesn’t come as a surprise since Canada was on the list.  It’s an interesting inclusion since education in Canada is a provincial responsibility.

The post concludes with some recommendations.  I’m not sure that I agree with all of them; they add great financial expenses onto teachers but if systems agree that they’re important enough to do, they should find a way to make them affordable.  Or, even better yet, as a part of the professional learning program.

The Teaching Hub: Week Six, Winter 2017

If you read my post yesterday, you know that I’m a big fan of being open with professional learning.

This post from Fleming College shows that they’re out in the open with plans for their upcoming Teaching and Learning Day.

Take a moment to check out their agenda for the day.  It’s got to be comforting to read that they’re dealing with the same issues that you are.

I always say this but it really is an interesting collection of reading from Ontario Edubloggers.  Please take a moment to drop by these posts, do a read, and then add your thoughts via comment.


Can I?

Use this in my classroom?

Copyright is something that everyone needs to know about.

If I find it on Google, does that mean I can use it?  The immediate answer should be “not necessarily”.  You need to know…

… about copyright in the Canadian context.  How many times do you hear people talk about “fair use”.  Do they really understand that that isn’t a Canadian legal term for the use of other’s materials?  Just ask them what “fair dealing” is and you have a great conversation starter.

Then, send them to this terrific website from the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada.

It’s designed to let you drill down with exactly the type of content that you wish to use.

But don’t just stop at the tool.  From pull down menus, you’ll find all kinds of original resources.  In particular, this presentation (in PDF format) really digs deeply into the concepts.

Knowing how different types of media may be used is very important and this is a topic all need to address.  In terms of students, they need to know where they stand as well.  I’ve always maintained that they should create their own content where possible.  As we all know, there are alternatives when that isn’t possible.

Most producers of content will show their expectations with respect to copyright wherever possible.

This blog?

You can find the details on my About page.


Safer Internet Day

Today is Safer Internet Day.

You can explore the events happening world wide by selecting a country from here.  And, of course you’ll want to check out Canada‘s contribution.  The link resolves to this page.

For home and classroom, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection offers a free downloadable booklet.  I won’t provide the direct link; you need to visit and get it for yourself.  I think you’ll find it very helpful, especially for our younger surfers.

I was reminded about his day with a post from Helen DeWaard that I shared in last week’s This Week in Ontario Edublogs post.  Her post is full of useful thoughts and resources for the classroom.  

At the same time, Jennifer Casa-Todd had written a post of her own complete with all kinds of resources as well.  Add the resources shared here with those from Helen and you’ve got a pretty comprehensive collection.

What I like about all of the approaches above is that they address safety in a common sense, constructive manner.  Unlike the fear mongering posts, these honour the fact that the internet is here to stay and that there are very productive things that can come as a result of being connected.  

The key to safety is an educated user behind the keyboard who keeps her browser up to date and uses discretion with those that she contacts online.  Many of those who would do bad things realize that the weakest point is the actual user.  That’s where education rises to the top.

You can follow the discussion today – it’s already started in Europe when you read this – by following these hashtags on Twitter.

Or, get involved with the Safer Internet Day page on Facebook.

So, answer Helen’s question – “What will you do today?”

Whatever happened to …

… the Hollerith Code? (and by inheritance, the punched computer card)

Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons – – Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic

It was the CSTA Conference last summer in San Diego.

I was sitting next to Alfred Thompson and he was showing off various things about his newest computer, including facial recognition to log in.  Then, he showed me a project that he was working on.  It was one where he was showing off the Hollerith Code.

Wow, that brought back memories!

When I got my first teaching job, I looked through the materials left to me.  One of the questions on the exam was to “give the Hollerith Code for the following characters”.  Seriously?

For those that remember, the Hollerith Code was invented by Herman Hollerith and was a scheme for punching holes into a computer card so that you could provide instructions or data to a computer for execution.  If you look carefully at the card above, you’ll see the digits 0-9 and then above a couple of rows.  The digits were easy.  You just punched the digit you wanted.  Letters were a different game.  They were created by a combination of a punch in the top rows or a zero followed by a digit.  The combination resulted in a representation of the letter.  If you look closely, you’ll see that a Z is formed by a 0 and a 9.  For a greater discussion and more information that you’d ever care to know about this, check out this link.

Essentially, your program was a sequence of cards – one per instruction punched according to the rules of the language.  In the example above, branded a Fortran card, columns 1-5 were for statement numbers, 6 was a continuation column if your statement required two cards, 7-72 for the actual instruction and then 73-80 to identify the card if you were so inclined.  My personal theory was that the original CRT displays showed 80 characters inspired by the punch card.  I have no idea whether that is true or not.  So, call that an alternative fact, if you wish.

I still can’t get over students having to memorize the punches and characters though.

So, a good question would be – how do the holes get into the cards?  Through a keypunch, of course.  My first keypunch machine was an IBM 026.  In high school, we had one and time to get on it was based on a sign up basis.  That was never enough time so there were times that lunches and out of school hours were spent in the computer room.  When I got to university, it was comforting to see that the 026 was there as well in addition to the more modern looking model 029.  No idea if there was an 027 or 028.

It was an expensive time to be a programmer and certainly not good for the environment.  You had to buy the cards although $JOB and $ENTRY cards were free (and in different colours).  If you made a mistake, the card was no good.  You couldn’t go back and fill in the incorrect hole.  Being the cheap person that I am, I attribute programming in COBOL (a very verbose language) to my mastering of keyboarding.

It also led to one of my favourite jokes that kept my students rolling in the aisles.

What’s the most expensive computer statement?

Anyway, I thought it was funny.

There were bad things about punched cards.  You had to devise some way to carry them, keeping them dry.  At university, after exams, it wasn’t unusual to see thousands of these things discarded on the grounds outside the Math and Computer Science building as the end of a course was celebrated by tossing them from the lounge.  The building itself looked like one giant punched card.

As noted above, my first teaching job involved using punched cards.  We had two keypunch machines for student use and they could buy their cards through the school store.  Now, every teacher recognizes there are opportunities for student fun/abuse here.  The little chads were collected in an easily removable bucket under the keyboard.  If you weren’t carefully about cleaning these regularly, they passed for confetti in the hallways.  Another form of fun/abuse was to reorder your elbow partner’s deck of cards when they weren’t looking.  Or go nuclear and just knock the whole set off the table.

Survival techniques are in order here!  We talked about numbering the cards (on the back where the reader couldn’t get to them) so that they could easily be put back in order.  1 2 3 4 5 worked well until you needed to insert a card resulting in 2b 2c.  I recall one student who planned for the worst and numbered them 5 10 15 20 25.  Other techniques like writing a diagonal with a marking pen on the tops could help keep them in order.

Another concern for the classroom teacher was being able to teach the concepts to be done in as few (read as affordable) statements as possible.

As a teacher, you haven’t lived until you enjoy the noise of a keypunch going on while you’re trying to remain on point.  The worse noise was the DUP key which allowed for easily duplication of a card.

The Hollerith Code led to other ways to thinking about encoding characters so, while the description above now reads archaic, there are modern lessons to be learned here.  But, memorizing them?

This Computer Science teacher embraced the day when punched cards in the classroom just became a fond memory.  However, coding characters remains a constant today.

Speaking of memories, if Alfred happens to read this post, I hope he updates us on his Hollerith Code program.

Your turn.

  • Have you ever used a keypunch?  Do you have any similar memories?
  • It’s not as obsolete a concept as you might think.  Where do you see punched cards today?
  • Do the terms ASCII, BCD, EBCDIC, ANSI, or Unicode mean anything to you?  What did I miss?

Please share your thoughts via comment below.

Do you have an idea or thought that would be appropriate for my “Whatever happened to … ” series of blog posts.  They can all, by the way, be revisited here.

Please visit this Padlet and add your ideas.  I’d love for it to be an inspiration for a post!