Styling and Design

Growing up, my mother’s contribution to my style was a reminder never to wear blue and green together.  So, I never did.

I still have that ringing in my mind today but the rule doesn’t always apply.  If it did, I’d have a whole lot of shirts that I can’t wear because my blue jeans are, well, blue.  Plus, one of my favourite shirts is a blue and green checkered pattern.  Maybe rules were really made to be broken.  Can we just add “within reason”?

There are a lot of rules about web design that seem to be broken, or at least bending these days.  In the article “How The Web Became Unreadable“, author Kevin Marks talks about readability.  I understand a great deal of what he’s getting at.  I’m not a fan of those super slim fonts that Apple and Microsoft use on their websites.  If I’m going to be reading online, I think it should be easy on the eye.

I’ll admit, it took me a whole lot of time to break away from Times New Roman as a font.  After all, it was the font used in every book I’d ever read.  Plus newspapers.  it was just the way it was.  Of course, publishers didn’t have the numbers of fonts available to them that we do currently.

Grudgingly, I moved along; probably the biggest influence was a former superintendent who used Verdana for everything.  Memos from him just seemed to have that extra bit of zip to them.  So, I broke the rule about Times New Roman and have gone to sans serif fonts now for the most part.  They do seem easier on the eye.  This blog uses

and not because I went looking for them – I had a blog post open at one time and was just a bit bored and worked my way down the list of fonts until I found a couple that looked good and applied them.  I think colours need a great deal of attention as well.  Everything on this blog is driven by my sunset picture at the top.  Using Photoshop, I did some colour picking and got things the way that I like them.  I originally started with a stark white background but then was influenced by the reports that a softer colour makes for easier reading; especially in the evenings.  I’m not sure that I can best describe the colour here except that it’s #f2f1ef.

Why not another colour or font?  Well, I guess the answer is because I can change it, I did.  I’m also cognizant that a blog is for reading and I’m a big fan of a plain appearance just for reading.  This particular layout is clean and built nicely just for reading.  If you want the other nonsense that goes along with blogs, you can always click the gear above to see it.

It can by an annoying thing to see a page covered with badges and other things.

I started thinking of other annoyances that I run into on a daily basis.  Often, they’re done just because the designer “could do it”.

I think the person that designed this concept should be banned from ever going online.  There’s nothing quite as annoying as to be in the middle of reading something and this big message pops up and throws a message at you “Subscribe to me” or “Buy my book” or “Work with me”.  I’d like to know if that has ever influenced anyone?  If I want to do any of the things offered, I’ll go looking for it.  Thank you.

Newspapers are entities that have always struggled with the internet cutting into their business.  In the beginning, it was a simple move.  Just make the web version like the paper version and people will transfer their loyalties.  I don’t know if it’s because that didn’t work or just because “we can do it”, the landing page of any major newspaper seems to want to have every story on the landing page.  The paper version doesn’t do that.  I didn’t particularly care until they started crashing my iPad browser.  Now, I care.

I’ll admit to being old school on this.  Every book that I’ve ever read comes with usually black type on a white background.  Success online should come in the same way.  There’s nothing that gets me going more than a blackground and yellow, or even worse, red text on top.  The strobing is deadly.  Now, dark backgrounds can be effective if you’re showcasing an image or a product.  I just don’t want to read text on it.

I’ll be up front about this.  I don’t mind advertising.  Anymore, though, often it’s like walking into a theatre and everyone is yelling to get your attention.  So, I just shush them with an ad blocker.  There are a number of services that are now playing catch up.  Visit their site and they throw up a big popup covering most of the screen saying that I can’t read until I turn the blocker off.  For the most part, I’ll just move on.  There are a couple worthwhile services that I will whitelist.  There is another annoying trend to throw advertising in your face – make them look like news stories to bypass the blocker.  Grrr.

I’ll confess to teaching an earlier version of this.  You’d go to a web page and music would automatically start playing. I guess I’m getting paybacks now.  There’s nothing more annoying that visiting a site and a video starts playing.  Thankfully, most browsers have a setting that let you decide to play on your terms with a “Click to Play” option.  The ones that require Flash to do things now look so dated.

I guess that’s enough to get it out of my system.  I understand that things need to change to stay up to date.  Just check out the versions of the Google Logo.

It’s interesting to look at these and I can usually understand where they’re coming from.  For good, and for bad.

But, I’ll never understand Comic Sans Serif.

In one spot

How vested in social media is your school?

Do you have a Twitter account?  Many Twitter accounts?  Are teachers blogging?  How frequently?  Sharing activity picture via a picture sharing service?

Chances are, you’re doing it at varying levels.  Some contributors are more active than others.

How does the world or, at least the parents and students, know where to find the latest?  

No doubt, the class blog or other social media link was sent home in a September newsletter.  By continuous monitoring, anyone can get a picture at any point in time of what’s happening.  Digging backwards does take a little bit of effort.  And, you certainly don’t want to miss anyway.

Is there a better way to make sure that nothing goes amiss?  Is there a way to look at the “big picture”, i.e. everything that’s happening in the class or at the school?


Consider creating a Flipboard to capture all this (and maybe even more).

The net result is that, out of the great storm of information that goes flying by, you can curate what’s important to your class or, thinking bigger, your school.

A good question would be – isn’t that a lot of work?  Short answer – no.  If you’re reading it, it’s already on your screen.  Into your browser, add the Flipboard extension and you can tuck it away in a couple of clicks and it’s instantly posted.

Here’s what I see for my account – you’ll note that I have three pages of Flipboard collections.  (Including at least one that you see here that’s private)

Now, all that you need to share is the link to your class or school’s Flipboard.  Articles that are flipped there appear in reverse chronological order so it’s just a matter of flipping through to get caught up.  

Flipboard is available through the web or there’s an app for virtually every available platform.  Imagine how easy it is for student, parents, staff, administrators, the world to see what’s happening.  And, the articles are there permanently unless you elect to delete them.  Have you flipped a particularly good article that you’d like to individually share?  Social sharing buttons are available for every article.

The promise of social media is connectedness and the immediate sharing of information.  In today’s busy world, the easier it is to achieve these goals, the more effective you’ll be.  Flipboard may well be the perfect answer for you.

The Collatz conjecture

One of the recent reads took me down the mathematics path.  This is always a bit of fun.  The story was:

6 deceptively simple maths problems that no one can solve

I remember the Collatz conjecture from years ago.

Basically, it says to take any number.  If the number is even, divide it by two and continue with the result.  If the number is odd, then triple it, add one, and continue with the result.  The conjecture says that, if you repeat it enough times, you’ll eventually get the number 1.

During dog walks yesterday, I found myself mentally doing the problem.  When I didn’t lose track, the sequence of numbers always did end up at 1.

When I got home, I thought; this is silly to do all this mental math.  I should write a program.

Here it is in Small Basic.  I’ve tried to make it readable and over-commented to explain the steps.  I think it should be readable enough.


And, of course, I ran it to make sure that it worked.  I played a lot of “kitten on the keyboard” to test it out and sure enough, the answer is always eventually 1.

For simplicity, here are 6 and 7.



Another observation include that, in addition to the answer being 1, any number I tried over 6 ended in the sequence 10 5 16 8 4 2 1.  Of course, I didn’t try every number.  However, I did modify the original program to loop the original number tested instead of just working with a single input.

After writing the program, I like the programming concepts that it includes.

  • Asking the user for input
  • Looping until an exit condition is met
  • A little mathematics
  • A little branching
  • Displaying the answer
  • Enhancing the original by providing another form of input
  • A program doesn’t have to be huge and time consuming to have a lot of concepts
  • It’s actually a bit of fun trying to understand the mathematics while doing the coding

There will be a place for something like this in one of your courses or clubs.  The puzzle is intriguing because you can run it on a calculator or do it in your mind, in addition to writing a program.  It’s nothing so obscure that you can’t get your head around it.

A hugely mathematical explanation of the conjecture can be found here.  It doesn’t necessarily make it tougher to understand but it’s a nice confirmation that we don’t have the answers to everything.

Whatever happened to …

… that nice, new, clean, keyboard?

There’s always something glorious about unpacking a new computer although it’s been a while since I’ve had a chance around here.  There’s that wonderful smell of new plastic!  Then, over time, reality clicks in.  The smell goes away.  The keytops get shiny from repeated use.  Especially if you learned and practiced keyboarding properly, there’s that thumb print worn into the space bar.

And maybe a bit of a piece of toast that you had for breakfast sitting on the shift key.  If it’s your keyboard, it gets broken in and begins to take on your keyboarding personality.  I read once that you might even be able to guess a person’s password from the wear and tear on the keys.  In the above, you can clearly see mine which is ASTCN. 

I clearly need to work more Qs and Zs into my typing

But above and beyond that, there may be some germs that are lurking there.

In my classroom, I was always a bit concerned about that.  There, computers don’t belong to the current person typing.  It’s passed through many hands (fingers) during the course of the day.  There was a time before BYOD where, as a teacher, even you would contribute to the wear and the germs on a keyboard.  In addition to dropping your own, you may be picking up those of whoever used it before you.  Just don’t tell me that your students have never sneezed while typing.

Schools are a nice community of germs.  It never seemed to bother those buying or installing the computers or the administration of the school, for that matter.  I guess it was just seen as the cost of doing business.  I tried to promote safe computing and would buy my own disinfecting wipes and leave them in the computer room for myself and any student who was concerned.  After all, if it was good enough for hospitals, it was good enough for my class. 

I don’t know if it did a perfect job; I seemed to still get my own fair share of colds.  But at least it made me feel a bit better.  When I had a couple of labs for professional learning spaces for educators, I would repeat the process there before any workshop started.  It only took about five minutes to go around the room and wipe down the keyboards and mouses.  If I got there even earlier, I would wipe the screens as well.  In addition to the germs, it also made them a bit cleaner.  I remember a teacher telling me once that she monitored student respect for technology with clean computers versus the alternative.  She felt that the students treated the clean ones better.

Now, I don’t want to go all Mandel on you here but it was just a thing I did and always wondered about.  Cleaning and disinfecting keyboards is never on anyone’s job description.

Over to you on this Sunday…

Look down.

  • Do you have a nicely broken in space bar?
  • Do you have a concern about spreading germs via keyboard?  Do you have an approach?  Hoping to hear from teachers of primary students too….
  • How about your tablet or phone?  Can you use it as a mirror or does it track every swipe or tap you make

As always on a Sunday, I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

Please share them via comment.

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 idea.  I’d love for it to be an inspiration for a post!

Going beyond

This was to be a two part set of blog posts but This Week in Ontario Edublogs got into the middle of things.

If you think back a couple of days ago, I wrote a post titled “Why wouldn’t you use the tools you can?” where I discussed how I had encountered a problem upgrading my instance of Ubuntu.  I had this obscure looking error message

“Can not run the upgrade. This usually is caused by a system where /tmp is mounted noexec. Please remount without noexec and run the upgrade again.“

and basically had to solve it before I could go any further.

Rather than tinkering around, I copied the message exactly as it was displayed and pasted it into a search engine.  I got lots of hits for answers, found the one that made the most sense

sudo mount -o remount,exec /tmp

opened a terminal and ran it.  Problem solved.

As I continued to think about this, I realized that, while I had solved my problem, I hadn’t learned very much.  I had done what we tell students not to do.  How many times do we hear “Just Google it”.  Heck, it was even advice given in the latest presidential debate.

So to complete the learning process, I needed to dig a bit deeper.  

I could make some pretty good guesses about what happened.

SUDO – This is required knowledge when working on a Linux machine.  By default, many of the commands that could destroy your system are not available to the regular user.  Imagine a school computer with no restraints.  There does come a time when you need to do some major surgery and so you elevate the process with this – “SuperUser do”.  My time managing a QNX system paid off.  A complete discussion is available here.  ROOTSUDO

MOUNT – I knew what was happening here too.  Basically, in order to read and/or write to a drive or device, it needs to be mounted.  The key though, and why it applied here, is that you have to have the proper permissions.  In this case, I needed to make the /tmp folder executable.  The mount command includes the ability to add options (-o) to it.  That completed the puzzle.  A complete discussion is available here.  mount – Unix, Linux Command

Therein is my learning for this event.

If it happens again, I’d probably search and copy/paste like I did this time but my background knowledge means that I’ll be a little more confident doing so.  

It was a good time and thing to learn.  Without the actual need to solve a problem though, if I was in a class, I think I would be justified to be taking notes and asking “When will I ever need this?”


This Week in Ontario Edublogs

Happy Friday.  Check out some great articles from Ontario Edubloggers.

Tweeting as an Organization

I think I’ve been insulted by this post from Royan Lee.

I’m part of the group that he calls an “underground party of misfits”.  Well, maybe it’s a badge of honour instead of an insult?  I can remember fighting to get Twitter unblocked; I can remember trying to get people see the value of connecting and learning on Twitter.  I probably failed more than succeeded at the time.  I’ll bet there are lots of dormant accounts.  In a technology world, we expect to get immediate gratification.  I’m sure that not all people “got it” at the time.  Success only comes when you work it.

As Royan correctly continues, things have certainly changed over the years.  I have to smile when I see people who “don’t want to see a picture of what you had for lunch” now becoming active.  What does it mean as an organization though?  Used properly, I think that it is absolutely the sign of an organization that is growing and learning together.  But, to be effective, it has to be more than just retweeting thoughts of others.  Are members also reflecting and creating new knowledge?  Are they sharing their professional reading and learning as a result?  Are they recognizing the best practices?  Are they promoting the great things that their colleagues are doing?

We Just Clicked

And, if you want to see it in action, check out this post from Diana Maliszewski.

I’ve mentioned so many times about how it can be lonely within a school.  Going outside the physical walls, using social media and the power of its connections, can result in amazing things.

You’ve got to check out this post – complete with a collection of Twitter messages to validate her message – and use it to convince anyone who questions the value of being connected.  When you make stellar connections like this, there’s no stopping you.

Diana definitely reinforces the message that you don’t need to learn alone.

Is it time to innovate your staff meeting?

Maybe this is the place to start.  Jennifer Casa-Todd shares a blueprint for success that begins at the humble staff meeting.

How many of these will you suffer your way through during your career?  This is a plan for engagement of staff who perhaps expected another sit and git and listen to the reading of recent memos.

Could it change the culture in your school?

Could it model what could be done if you decided to bring the concept into your own classroom?

Could it be a lesson for a principal’s course?

Conversations about parent-teacher interviews

It really is the season.

Here, Sheila Stewart pulls together older blog posts from Nancy Angevine-Sands, Rusul Alrubail, and me about our thoughts on parent-teacher interviews.  There were some interesting points about the process.  It might serve well as an inspiration or refresher before the next event.  Most teachers are getting ready for them over the next few weeks in the province.

Design Process Thinking: Mind Mapping

I’m a big fan of Mind Mapping.  I’ve used many mind mapping tools over the years and have had a lot of favourites.  Maybe it’s the fact that I learned how to program and document coding with flowcharts but the essence of what can be done is so powerful.  Consequently, I really enjoyed this post from Colleen Rose.

What was so powerful about this post, after setting the context, was Colleen sharing some of the mind maps that her students created and then reflected on each.

These show real evidence of complex thinking and connections.  Check them out.

Analyzing a Bike Rim in 5 Days

Alex Overwijk is on a mission to bring the practical and just plain fun and engaging activity into his MHF course.  It involved a trip to the local bicycle store for manipulatives and he effectively set the table for the students to “discover and experience more of the Trigonometry in the course”.

My original intent for this activity was to redo the radian plate activity and the radian war activity from this site. This is where I have grown. I am thinking what else can I do with this (thank you #MTBOS for #WCYDWT) This post reflects my creative juices in squeezing curriculum out of an activity. Hope you enjoyed. Honestly – this activity feels like what I envisioned for a spiraled course and wrote about back in 2013. #makeitstick #spiraling #activitybasedlearning #interleaving

The post is, in effect, a very complete lesson plan for the activity.  It can’t help but be a great deal of fun and learning for the students.

Why 50?

Have you ever wondered why the Bring IT, Together conference has 50 minute sessions?  Read this post to find out.

How’s that for a start to your Friday morning.  Great posts and ideas from Ontario Edubloggers.  Please click through and read the entire posts.

Have a great weekend.

Why wouldn’t you use the tools you can?

You can’t know everything and nobody should be criticized for using the best tools to get the answer to your question.  

The tool that many people use is, of course, Google.  And, we know that’s not the only tool at our request – Lycos, Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo!, and so many more.  Go to your browser settings to see all that are currently available and how to add more if your favourite isn’t there upon installation.

People’s use of these things can generate answers and, perhaps at times, a smile.

For the smile, check out this story.  “How-To Questions Each State Googles More Frequently Than Any Other State”  It’s fun to take a virtual tour of the US and I feel sorry for those in Michigan.  And, for those in Florida, head north.

As I smirked and toured around, it struck me how we have come to rely on things online to generate answers for us.  Suppose you’re sitting in a train station and a question comes to mind.  Certainly, you can’t turn to the person sitting next to you on a bench for a guaranteed reliable answer.  You have no idea what level of expertise they might have.  They might give you a wrong answer.  Or, they might give an answer based upon a popular misconception.  

Of course, the same problem might exist if you go online but the joy of different searches and multiple results let you validate any answer before proceeding.  Try asking the person at the train station for a second opinion.

What brought all of this to my mind was a problem that I had yesterday.  Actually, two problems!

First, I’d been reading about people using Ubuntu 16.10, their experiences and how Unity 8 was now available for preview.  I found this kind of bizarre because I hadn’t even been notified that the update was available for my system.  It’s not that I wasn’t happy with 16.04 but I like to play around with new things.  What to do?  What to do?  

Certainly, I could go and download a copy, put it on a USB and try it/install it.  But, I shouldn’t have to do that.  One of the powerful things about Ubuntu is being able to upgrade in place.  (Then, go and install a fresh copy later if needed)  Why wasn’t I notified?  As I pondered, my mind was filled with screen shots and I remembered one.

Right at the very bottom is an option of when to be notified of any new versions.  With 16.04, I had explored this and somehow had left it to only notify me of any new long-term supported versions.  A quick change to the new version, run the updater again, and voila.  16.10 was indeed available for me.  I felt pretty darn good for problem solving, and even better that my memory was still intact.

Then, something more difficult happened.  As I ran the installer, I got an error message.  It was kind of cryptic.

Can not run the upgrade. This usually is caused by a system where /tmp is mounted noexec. Please remount without noexec and run the upgrade again.

This, I had no memory or recollection of.  Temporary directories exist on all systems and sometimes even within a directory of an application.  I most certainly would have had no need to go and mount it as noexec.  So, I wouldn’t have had a clue as to how to reverse it.

How would I solve this?

The only other breathing thing in the room was the dog waiting to go for a walk.  I had intended to do the download and installation while we were out and then be ready to go when we got back.  

I knew, from a high level, what needed to be done to solve my current problem.  It’s not major surgery but does require modifying attributes to the directory. 

So, like the folks in Nevada, I needed advice on how to survive this apocalypse.  Hello, my little online helpers.




I was concerned a bit about the last one figuring the answer would be to upgrade to Windows 10.

There were some areas of comfort here.

First, I wasn’t the only person who had ever had this situation.  There were lots of questions about it and the situation wasn’t new to 16.10.  

Secondly, the same results appeared highly (2730 in Bing, 1780 in Google) so the problem/results appeared to be validated.  

Normally, I would be cautious about doing something like giving a directory executable permissions.  But, Ubuntu wanted it and there were lots of articles to support the concept.  I opened a terminal, copy and pasted the text, and ran the upgrade.  

I’m here this morning typing this to let you know that I’m starting to catch on to this computer thing.

With help from the community of course.

So, in response to the questions asked in the original article, “There are no dumb questions”.