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.

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?”


A tale of three contracts

Collective agreements between worker groups and their employers have been in the news at various levels this past while.  Every employee wants to be compensated fairly and the agreements ensure that, as well as ensuring that the employer can count on effective and reliable work.  Agreements outlines the conditions of work, level of pay, and benefits.

I find it very interesting to read the news stories and the message from the media about each.  The newspaper also has the option to comment on the story and that can be interesting in itself and telling of the local community.  Used properly, it can be a place to get thoughtful discussion.  Used improperly, the trolls appear.

Here are three that I followed with some interest.

FCA workers vote in favour of new deal; Ford next

A huge employer with a huge workforce in three Ontario locations, including Windsor.  Ratification on an agreement happened over the weekend giving raises, signing bonuses, and a promise of a $325M investment in updating a paint shop in Brampton.  This will ensure that products will continue to be produced in Ontario.  Lately, a big investment was made in the Windsor plant to build the new Pacifica.  As a former owner of two Caravans, it’s a beautiful update.  You’d think that the workers would be pleased but the agreement only had 70% agreement.  The comments to the article give a public forum for workers and also people in the community to have their thoughts on the agreement.  Not all is postive.

Catholic school board strike disrupts some classes with picket line delays

On the heels of the successful agreement and ratification of the FCA deal, comes news that custodians, secretaries, clerical workers, technicians and maintenance workers for the local Catholic School Board have withdrawn their services.  They have been without an agreement in place for a couple of years and have decided that enough is enough and have moved to the next level.  In advance of the withdrawal of services, the board indicated that any student who didn’t cross the picket line would be marked absent.  While there are no talks scheduled, management will be doing their best to keep the facilities clean but they can only go so far.  

County treasurer projecting budget surplus for 2016

Normally, you would think that this is a good news story until you read why.  Some of the surplus comes from the fact that the county librarians have been on strike since June.  For residents, it’s been a summer without a place to get your traditional summer reads.  There doesn’t appear to be any end in sight over this one; even an attempt at mediation of both sides have failed.  As part of the public awareness plan, the local library is on the list for rotating strikes by librarians.

Now, nobody denies that anyone should be compensated fairly for their efforts.  It’s interesting that big business can somehow find a way to reach a collective agreement and also invest heavily in infrastructure to ensure continued success.  Literacy and education, things that I and I know many hold near and dear to our hearts, isn’t treated nearly as well.  Obviously, we won’t know the final details as negotiations are technically ongoing, but I’d be willing to bet that the librarians aren’t asking for a $325M new library in one of the communities to ensure jobs into the future.

I don’t like your title

Huffington Post has a new feature that I think has a great deal of potential.

How often do you see a title that doesn’t really do justice to a post or might be interpreted by some as “click bait” and ignored or perhaps it doesn’t pick up on the title at all?  However, you do want to share it.

Now, there are ways that you can do it now but it requires a little more work than I’m prepared to do.  I know that I’m skilled at copying and pasting but not for this.

Take this recent story.  “ESA Lander Prepares For Historic Mars Landing“.  It really is an interesting story.

If I was to do my regular sharing of this, I’d send it to Hootsuite and it would look like this.

But, in the body of the message is content that I think might be better information for those people looking for interesting things to read.  That’s where this new feature comes into play.  

Just highlight the text that you’d like to include in your message instead of the default of grabbing the title.  You’ll note that the logos for Twitter or Facebook appears. 

These are actually buttons.  Click the sharing service you desire…

The Twitter message becomes  populated and ready to go.  Well, it’s ready to go if I get rid of those extraneous characters.

It’s a nice feature and I hope that it’s one that catches on.  I think it will allow us to make our reading and sharing better.


Whatever happened to …

… morphing images?

It was one of our first trips into the realm of multimedia.  Our goal, at the time, was to do more with multimedia applications that simply taking pictures.  Our authoring program of choice was Hyperstudio.  Then, they came on television as a commercial.

Remembering the California Raisins!

One of the ladies that was part of our team had been to a MACUL Conference and had attended a workshop inspired by the California Raisins and the animation techniques used to create them.  And, more importantly, how it could be brought into the classroom.  That took us down the path of clay animation.  This led us to purchasing Clay Animation kits – there was only one one the market at the time.

It wasn’t a totally new concept – we all grew up playing with Play Dough – but somehow having the coloured clay and the sculpting tools inspired us to do more.  The best part was the software that allowed us to “stitch” pictures together using the technique of frame animation.

It was tedious work.

You would take a picture and then change the character a bit and then take another picture.  Do this enough time and you could then make yourself a movie.  There was another aspect to this.  The software could actually create additional frames between the pictures that you took.  You would pick focus points and the software would do its best to make a smooth transition between the frames.  Repeat until your movie was complete. Some of the best products could be as long as 30 seconds!  Mine would typically be shorter; it was real work.  But, in the hands of students, they would create very inspirational pieces.  Part of the kit included “googly eyes” that seemed to make their way into every production.

By today’s standards, the software was pretty single purposed but it did the job for us.  For a while, every computer project had some sort of morphing aspect to it, it seemed.

As usual, my kids would be my guinea pigs for new ideas.  Here are a couple of pictures from a movie my daughter created and eventually became “Bub’s Rose”.  In post-production, obviously we cropped out the background noise but she had created this rose that was closed and leaning to the left.  A bunch of pictures later and it had straightened itself and opened itself to reveal what was inside.  Kudos to green pipe cleaners (chenille sticks).

Your thoughts?

  • do you remember the California Raisins?
  • have you ever created something with frame animation?
  • where do you see the elements of morphing today?  (I can think of all kinds of examples)
  • in these days of “making”, do you see a place for morphing images?
  • have we lost the desire for this with the ease of doing other things with cameras and tablets?

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?

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