Healthy work culture

My morning smile came as I checked my overnight Twitter stream.  Then, it turned to a question.

At the Bring IT Together Conference last November, I attended a presentation by Sylvia Duckworth about how to create Sketchnotes.  I figured that, just by being in her presence, I’d somehow get the inspiration and skill to create my own.  I’ve got an idea that I would like to turn into one, just to say that I did.

As of this posting, it’s still a work in progress.  I’m trying; I really am.  It just isn’t coming together in any shape that wouldn’t embarrass me.  Fortunately, we have her expertise to keep us thinking and learning.

But, enough about my shortcomings.

Her latest offering appears below.

It’s part of my Sylvia collection.

After I enjoyed her work, I did my part and reshared her announcement of the Sketchnote.  It has been received well by others and I’m getting notices of it being liked and reshared.  That’s the good part of social media – good people recognizing and sharing good things.

Then, I sat down and took a good long look at the five links in her chain.  I think that the note is timely, coming a week after Bell’s Let’s Talk Day.

Why is there success about this day?  Because it’s not addressed openly and positively in the workplace and society.  Ask any employer and they’ll probably respond “Yes, we have a program.”  In fact, there may be a program or a mission statement within the organization for all of the links in the chain.  The program somehow checks off a box on a to-do list.

But, it must go further than that.  Take another look at the Sketchnote and Sylvia’s choice of words in the title.

She’s not identifying programs or statements; she’s identifying a culture within the workplace.

That’s an entirely different ball game. 

So the question and concern is this – take a look within your organization.  Are these links part of your culture?  Or are they just a program so that you can put a checkmark beside it and move on to something else.

Are you living it within your culture?

A return to ASCII art

Before there was real computer art, there was ASCII art.  If you’re old enough to remember, it was before printers could draw graphics, pixels, lines, etc.  They did a wonderful job of printing letters and numbers.  And, with artistic abilities you could actually create pictures.  Digital impressionism?

When I read about this feature in Facebook and Instagram, I just had to try it and it really did give me a flashback…

Take any image that you have posted publicly and saved as a .jpg file on the service.  Here’s my choice, this handsome fellow on his way to the beach.

Now, the key is to find the URL to the picture.

Here’s what I did.

In the Firefox browser, I clicked the right mouse button to get the context menu to get the location of the image.

The image ended in .jpg so that was great.  I opened a new tab and pasted the image location there.  The URL is really long and involved so just ignore it and have comfort knowing that your browser knows what it’s doing.

For a black and white image, go to the very end of the URL and add .txt and press enter on the keyboard.  Voila!  Check out how the characters create the image.  It’s nothing short of amazing.  Imagine doing that by design and by hand.

My image was actually really big but a few CTRL – keyboard presses later and it had shrunk to give the ASCII art.  I now have a ghost dog!

There is a second option.  Instead of adding .txt to the image, add .html for a full colour version.

Oddly enough, and I can be odd at times, I can already think of a couple of ways that I may use this technique in the future.

Go ahead and try it.


Close only counts…

…in horseshoes.  I remember that from my youth.  It’s a silly expression that today’s youth will probably never appreciate because the horseshoe pit is mostly a memory reserved for old people.  When I was younger though, it was a staple in just about every campground that I can remember.

It was a phrase that I used a great deal teaching computer science as the talk would inevitably get around to being one of precision and having your computer program generate the best possible answer.  It was closely related to the talk about Garbage In, Garbage Out.  GIGO.  They were cute phrases that, at best, made me feel good as the teacher and, at worst, reinforced the age difference between teacher and student.

But precision is an important concept and something that should be checked and rechecked with every program written.  Just because the computer says the answer is this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s right.  Computer science teachers will immediately recognize the look of success that comes once syntax errors have been swatted and the computer actually gives an answer.  Making sure it’s the right answer is another thing…

Yesterday, I ran across this old problem that I’m sure that you’ve seen many times.  “‘Simple’ maths problem stumps Boltonians – can you solve it?

Give the article a read.

Then, head over to Quiz World and see their treatment of the same problem.  There are some great mathematics in the comments.

Depending upon your understanding of basic mathematics, you could get a number of different answers.  I liked the discussion on the original article including how you can get the wrong answer by using a computer.

I’m sure that you’ve seen the articles “10 Things You Didn’t Know Google Could Do”.  One of them is how it can act as a calculator when you enter an expression.  I just had to put it to the test.  How would Google fare?

All right!  Google knows its order of operations.

How about Bing?

You can’t fool the programmers at Microsoft.  Yahoo!?

Winner! Winner! Chicken dinner.  I’m starting to tire but let’s check DuckDuckGo

There’s not an incorrect answer in sight.  And, I’m tired of checking but I am impressed.  It looks like they’re all honouring order of operations and not just solving from left to right.  I did find a couple of seldom used search engines that didn’t do the calculations.  Interesting.

It was also interesting to note how the search engines displayed their results.  DuckDuckGo just gave the answer.  Yahoo! displayed the question and answer in an online calculator.  Google and Bing both provided the answer, a calculator, and put parentheses into place so that you could visualize the order of operations.  That’s a nice touch.

Is it a concession to the fact that everyone uses an algebraic calculator?

I seldom do.

It was Statistics at university and a quiet conversation with Dr. Gentleman who gave me a demonstration of the difference between an algebraic calculator and a reverse polish notation calculator.  I was sold with how many fewer keystrokes that an RPN calculator requires.  I went out and bought myself a Hewlett-Packard RPN calculator and never looked back.  That calculator has long since expired (well the battery anyway) but I have an app installed on any device that I own or there are many online like this one.

Since you’re pushing and popping numbers onto a stack, the concept of a parenthesis key isn’t necessary.  You just need to know your order of operations and away you go.  Today’s sophisticated calculator feature every bit of scientific functionality and graphing that any student could ever possibly need so that bit of mental fun isn’t always there!

Have we lost the need for parentheses?

Certainly not in the computer programming world where you absolutely want to know that the answer you get will be the right one.  And, in the mental problem solving world, if you don’t understand PEDMAS, you’re in for a world of hurt.  Mathematics, Computer Science and Science have made the tools for expressions at least interesting, if not challenging.  Do you know the differences between parentheses, brackets, and braces?  If not, here’s a refresher.

There’s a great deal of thought that goes into being precise but it’s worth it.  Hopefully, our students aren’t satisfied with just being close.

A fine line

Every morning, during my private reading time, if there’s something that I think might be of interest to others, I’ll share it to my Twitter account.  Then, as I’ve written before, a bunch of things happen to it so that I don’t lose it.

At the same time, at 5am, I have my daily blog post made available and a Twitter message is sent out to that effect.  Anyone who cares is invited to click and read it if they wish.  If they don’t, it’s just another in a long line of messages that goes flying by. 

Periodically, I get comments about my morning habits – I like to call it my private learning moments – that I set aside for myself before the dog realizes that the sun has risen and it’s time to explore the neighbourhood yet again. 

Yesterday morning was like any other morning.  Reading and learning and sharing with others.  Every now and again, someone who happens to be up at that hour will retweet the message because they like the concept or dislike it and share their reasons why.  I think it’s just the contemporary educational thing to do. 

As it happens, one of the messages was retweeted with a comment.  It was interesting that anyone could take issue with our Prime Minister so I stopped to view the account and what they were talking about.  In fact, they had shared the story and that was a good thing.  What wasn’t so good was the fact that there was another URL in the message.  It turns out that it was a link to an adult website.  Ooooh.  That’s not nice.

From there, I went to check out this account.  It wasn’t just me that was getting the special treatment.  Every message from the account was a retweet of a message that someone else had shared – there didn’t appear to be any reason other than they were all done within minutes of each other – and they all had that extra link added to the message.  The word “spamming” came to mind.  Then “phishing”, then “slimey”, then “scummy”, and then a few others that I won’t share.

You don’t have much recourse except to use the tools that Twitter provides so I muted the account, blocked the account, and then reported the account as one that’s posting spam.

As I write this post this morning, I checked and my account still has it blocked.  I took a peek and the account is still sending out messages.  There are all kinds (I can’t be bothered counting) that were all sent at the same time so I suspect that someone has written a script to do the deed for them.

I often wonder what people think about my posting habits.  While this particular account is trying to sell a service or advertising or whatever, they’re using the Twitter service.  Since the account hasn’t been deleted, I can only assume that its actions are deemed to be operating within the Twitter rules.  My account sells as well.  i like to think that I’m selling ideas and inspiration. 

When you have two takes on essentially the same thing, it begs the question, what’s the line between the two of them?  Maybe it’s my background, but I clearly (in my mind) can see the difference between the two.  Am I wrong though?  Maybe I’m just over thinking this.

Every now and again, you will see that an account has been suspended for violations of the rules.  For all our safety, you’ve got to agree that’s a good thing. 

It does beg the question though – just where is that line?  I guess I’m glad that I don’t have to draw it for the bigger community but with “block” and “mute”, I can do it for my little part of the world.

Problems surface

My activities over the past 24 hours would be very predictable to anyone who really knows me.  I watched football, walked the dog, and woke up to do some reading.  I guess I’m just that boring.

I had to smile though; usually there’s a rundown of what went right for the winning teams from the previous day’s football game.  There was a bit of that but mostly the lead stories had a technology bent to them.

And I could go on and on but I think by now you’ve got the gist of things.

Of course, geeky person that I am, I had to read them all.  It was actually a nice collection of stories from sports sources and technology sources.  The most entertaining and, at the same time informative, came from the Reddit conversation.  There’s no surprise there.

I remember the announcers talking about it as it happened.  The whole bank of Surfaces on the Patriots’ side were down.  Of course, anyone who has even worked in a school and has seen one computer lab go down while the others are working, realizes that the chances of all the actual computers failing at the same time is about 1 in a gazillion.  Instead, you look for the kid closest to the ethernet connector to see where her/his hands are.

Reddit quickly identified the problem as a network one as the discussion turned to what model of Surface Microsoft had provided for the teams. 

On a personal note, my thought was that Denver shouldn’t have been able to use theirs until the network was restored.  I didn’t feel too badly – after all, these were the Patriots.

Now, I’m old enough to remember when physical pictures were taken and sent to the sidelines to review what was happening.  As a former coach, I recall portable whiteboards and dry erase markers (considered high tech at the time).

It’s just too bad for truth in reporting, that none of the titles identified the problem for what they were – networking issues.  A call to the Help Desk had them up and running 20 minutes later.  Try getting that response anywhere else.  Again, my geeky mentality wants to know just how big the support team is for the network and the Surfaces.

At least, as The Verge commented, they weren’t identified incorrectly as iPads as they were earlier this year.

Although, I’m sure that Microsoft wouldn’t have minded this time.

I found the problem

Like many people, I woke this morning, put on the coffee, turned on the news, and grabbed my computer to check out any messages that I received on Twitter last night.

Sadly, nothing.

That’s unusual because usually there are some interactions from my friends in Europe.  Oh well, maybe they had better things to do.

I decided to check the great and neverending Twitter feed.  Nothing there either.  Literally nothing.

My wifi indicator showed that I was connected.  I tried to hit the CBC News website and it was there with no problem.  Back to Twitter.  Nothing.

I check my news feed to read this.  “Twitter is down for some, and people are freaking out on Facebook“.  Wow.  OK, that would explain the no interactions.  Fortunately, News 360 and Flipboard were up and running so I did my regular morning reading routine.

What could bring Twitter down?

As any computer using person knows, it could be anything.  The thing is that, the more you need it, the higher the chances that it’s not there.  Sort of like setting aside time to do report cards only to have the system crash.

But, the computer savvy among us know exactly what it could have been.  Squirrels.

In fact, there’s a website devoted to infrastructure outages as a result of animals –

So, I filled in the blanks and got the answer.

If you take out a ruler, and line them up, you can see them pointing directly at my house.

Take a wander through time and see all the incidents that have been attributed to animals.  Click on the pin for details and a smile.  Lots of smiles.

So, there’s my theory.  Who’s with me?

Fortunately, squirrels can’t swim or they’d wreak havoc with the underwater cables that keep us connected.  After all, we have it nicely mapped for them.

It’s a fun look at infrastructure if nothing else.

Just embarrassing

My wife asked me a good question yesterday.  Why does the Windsor Star devote so much news coverage to Amherstburg and not all of the other communities in Essex County?

Now, I don’t know if it’s factually true; I’ve never counted stories and certainly she looks for local content when she’s reading.

My reply was “Because you never know what silliness you can expect”.

All of this conversation was generated by this recent story.  “Amherstburg budget meeting takes quirky twists and turns“.

The budget part actually appears at the bottom of the story.  The silliness part appears right at the top with councillors complaining about computer problems including a conspiracy theory that someone had taken control over one of the councillor computers.

Now, these are not cheap computers.  The report points a finger at the “Trackpoint” on the computer.  If you know computers, you know that the Trackpoint is a key part of Lenovo computers and now is only available on the higher end products.  I used to love my Trackpoint although I worked in a world of haters.  If you’re long of computer use, you’ll remember that that was the only pointing option on the very first laptops.  Now, you have trackpads as well or, on some of the less expensive models, only the trackpad.  My solution for the haters was to just pop the rubber cap so that they couldn’t see it and therefore bump it. Consequently, I always had a supply of caps so that I could be seen with a clean one.

Fortunately, in this case, the council had the services of the IT staff who took control of the situation.  The article is amusing to read and it was somehow comforting to know that the voice of reason was our mayor.  However, it wasn’t one of those stories that make you stand up and proudly say “that’s my hometown”.

Now, to the councillors’ defense, they’re probably not computer people.  They just want/need to use the technology for their position.  It’s the same in a lot of cases, including education, where technology is so prevalent.  It begs the question “How often do we just drop off this expensive piece of technology and just expect that people know all the ins and outs of it and the software that it runs.  Backups?  Malware scanning?”

The answer, of course, lies in education.  You don’t just dump and run.  Expertise is gained by providing continuous learning activities for the end user.  To not provide that, in this day and age, I would suggest is technology malpractice.

For the regular reader of this blog, I know that this is old news for you.  You read and learn constantly.  But, take a look around the staffroom.  Can you say the same for everyone?  If your school/district providing the opportunities to learn?  If not, you can hardly blame those who don’t fully understand and still believe in computer gremlins.

Oh, and it looks like taxes might go up too.