The reference Garbage In, Garbage Out is a staple when teaching computer science.  It generately acknowledges that a processor or a processor might be considered as a black box where data goes in one side and information out the other.  The black box essentially contains the ability to do whatever it is programmed to do; the value of the whole process relies on a source for good data.

Note the excellently created graphic illustrating the process done by the graphics department of dougpete labs.

A good debugging process will include garbage data (nonsensical or testing the exceptional conditions) and having the logic or the processes handle the data appropriately.  This might be aborting or sending a message to the operator or some other action so that the process can be corrected, changes made and happiness ensues.  (or at least the program works properly)

Sometimes garbage gets through and unexpected results may happen.  This happened to me this past weekend.

On Sunday, the #ecoo13 committee was meeting at the venue in Niagara Falls and I knew that a 4.5 hour drive there and another 4.5 hour drive back wouldn’t give me the opportunity to blog on Sunday so I decided to do it Friday.  It was just a matter of scheduling it to appear on my blog at the regular 5am time and continuity would be ensured.

I wanted to do a review of the Hopscotch and so created the post.  One of the tools that I use for blogging on the Macintosh is Qumana.  So, I just blindly went ahead and wrote the post, scheduled it, and posted it.  Then, I had a D’oh!

Qumana was part of the black box process for me.  I’d had problems posting with it in the past and had forgotten.  It doesn’t post the time/date properly.  Now, what could go wrong?  Just change the time/date, right?

Bring on the Robots

If only it was that simple.  When I post to the blog, I actually have more going on in the black box process than simply posting.

  • First – DLVR.IT monitors the blog and sends a message to Twitter that there’s a new post;
  • Secondly – CanuckEduS monitors my blog and a bunch of other Canadian blogs.  The new post is noticed and an announcement posted to Twitter;
  • Thirdly – nick_chater uses IFTTT and then announces the new post;
  • Fourthly – WordPress sends out email messages to everyone who subscribes to the blog – hey, there’s a new post;
  • Fifthly – I have the announcement posted automatically to my Facebook timeline;
  • Sixthly – There are just good people that try to spread the word by retweeting my announcement of the new post!

Ack!  Realizing what I’d done immediately, I head into WordPress to change the scheduling manually.

I didn’t have a chance to save face.  The robots had followed their instructions to the letter.  I had fed them garbage and, by following the process, they had turned it into something embarrassing.  When you try to follow the announced link, it’s now broken!

Notice that the posted URL includes the date 1970/01/01!  Did they even have blogs back then?  It seems to me that the IBM 360 was king.  For the sake of eight characters, my garbage date had created a problem.  The robots working away feverishly in the black box had only served to amplify it.

My lesson was learned.  Now, I’m forced to try to determine the problem.  I know that I can write, schedule, and post directly to WordPress natively, with Scribefire, LiveWriter, and Blogio.  It’s just with Qumana.  It’s a shame because it had been such a great actor.  Of course, the first thing I do is check to make sure that I’ve got the latest revision.  Yes, I do.  Rats.

Fortunately, I have alternatives to use while I poke around and see if I can find a solution.

In the meantime, my apologies to those of you who read the announcement of the post only to find a broken link.  The good news is that it was released for public viewing properly this morning!  Thanks for reading.



A Couple of Days with Ubuntu 13.04

I had a friend try to grind my gears over the weekend.  If you’re such a fan of Ubuntu, why are you carrying around a Macintosh computer?  It’s a valid observation but the reality is that I have both a Mac and a PC (Sony Vaio) and it’s the Vaio that’s running Ubuntu.  At the time of purchase, buying a big hard drive for the Macintosh was too cost prohibitive.  Not so with the Vaio and it was the perfect machine to partition and boot into Ubuntu as well as the Windows 7 that it came with.  Due to its size, I view it more as a desktop replacement than a portable unit.  But, if I have my rolly computer bag, you know it’s in there.

The Ubuntu side has always been considerably quicker than Windows.  When you spend most of your connected time in a browser, speed and ease is appreciated and you can’t beat it with Ubuntu.  Ironically, it was over the weekend as well that I decided to upgrade Ubuntu to 13.04, Raring Ringtail.  I didn’t really have time to explore at the time – I did the installation and then just starting using it.

It was only when I thought about it that I was surprised that there wasn’t any big exciting change in the release.  It wasn’t like there was a new and refined Dash or anything.  It was just working.  But, as I think about it, it’s working pretty well.  Everything  was functional but noticeably faster.  I wondered – is there something I’m missing?  I ran across this article “Press Reaction to Ubuntu 13.04 Is a Muted, “Meh” Affair“.  Surely, there must be more.

My next read took me to this article. “Get More Out of Ubuntu 13.04 With These Awesome Apps” and this “10 Things to Do After Installing Ubuntu 13.04“.  I’ll be honest, many of the recommendations were already in place but “Geary Mail” was a nice new find.  Quite frankly, many of the things that I do, I do in the browser.  If it’s not in the browser, it might be LibreOffice, VLC, or Gimp that’s my go-to application.  And, of course, they’re already there.  There was, of course, the ability to manipulate the various search lenses in the Dash.  That’s always fun but not necessarily a life and death change.

What is kind of neat is social integration right in the Dash.  No need to flip to a new tab to see what’s up.  I really like the concept of the lens and there’s so much to choose from.


I’ve got to be missing something.  So, I watched a video.

I guess I wasn’t missing too much.  This release is just a snappier, nicer experience.  So far, on this end, it seems to be pretty solid.  It’s definitely more responsive.  I always found it a better actor than Windows 7 on this machine.  With the new release, it’s even more noticeable.  I’m a really happy user.

Distance to Mars – A Study in Pixels

Reference to this resource came through on my “Infographics” feed.  So, I checked it out and it’s a very interesting visualization.  When you click start, Earth is visualized as 100 pixels wide.  We all know what a pixel is so it’s an interesting and familiar reference.

Click the arrow at the bottom of the screen and a simulated trip to Mars takes off.  You see lots of stars and heavenly bodies in the background en route.  Of real interest, is that you stop at the Moon on the way.  By comparison, it’s 27 pixels wide.  Click the arrow again and you’re non-stop to Mars, which is red of course, and 53 pixels wide.  Statistics about your travel speed are there to entertain you on the trip.

Just playing the simulation a couple of times is interesting and, for me, a launch pad to some refreshing of my memory about planets.  For that I’m appreciative.

Now, every good blog post has an image.  I thought that it would be interesting to encapsulate the entire visualization in an image so I tried everything that I could on this Macintosh to try to get Earth and Mars on the same screen.  That was way too big.  I could capture everything as a movie with screen capture but you’re further ahead to visit and do it for yourself.

Let’s try a Plan B.  How about Earth and the Moon on the same image.  Nope.  By the time I get to the Moon, Earth has scrolled off the top.  I tried every trick I could think of.  I zoomed out as far as it would go.  No success.  I hid the Bookmarks toolbar and went to presentation mode.  The Moon was just out of reach.  I just needed a few pixels more.  1280×800  just wasn’t tall enough.

Man, if I was only writing this on my Ubuntu machine.  I could easily rotate the screen through a setting.

Then, from the back of my memory, I remembered that I could do the same thing on the Mac.  It’s a hidden option in the displays menu.  It’s one of those things that I don’t do regularly but it was something like standing on your left leg, bite your tongue, press some combination of CTRL, OPTION, SHIFT, COMMAND and then open the displays control panel.  I hit the combination and voila! I had options to rotate the screen in four orientation.  I rotated it to the left 90 degrees.  That part was easy!  The hard part was trying to navigate the mouse with the trackpad to confirm the orientation before the computer timed out and resumed normal orientation.

Persevere I did and got my screen capture.  800×1280 pixels gave me the height to capture the distance from Earth to the Moon.

Then, it was a matter of rotating the image back 90 degrees to see it as you do above.

The whole experience was a good one for me.  First, there was the wonderful review of space with the pixel being the scale.  By itself, this would be a fascinating discussion in the classroom.

Beyond that, the nerdy bit of trying to get the Earth-Moon distance (according to the legend of 3000 pixels) to display on a screen that’s 1280×800.  It took a little scaling and rotating but I got it!

Both bits of learning were a great deal of fun.  When I look at the related articles to this resource, I see that I wasn’t the only one playing around with it!

Powered by Qumana

So Smooooooth

There’s so much about Google Chrome that I like and it’s been my main browser for quite a while now.  There was one annoyance that happened when I sat at my desk, using a full keyboard and a scroll mouse.  The scroll action to the mouse just didn’t always seem right.

It seemed slow and jaggy at times.

But no more.  I read about and installed the Chromium Smooth Wheel Scroller.  There is a smooth scrolling option available if you’re brave enough to ignore the warnings and go to chrome://flags/ and experiment.  Sadly, as of the current release, it’s not available for the Macintosh.  However, this extension has you covered and more

Install the extension and then right click to head to the configuration options.



Then, quite frankly, it’s just a matter of adjusting the sliders until the scroll wheel does what you need.

The cool thing about Chrome is that you install the extension in one installation and, with synching turned on, it appears on them all.  So, I installed it under Linux where I use the scroll wheel and shortly thereafter, it appeared on my Macintosh.  I had spent some time configuring it under Linux and got it just right.  Fire up the Mac and Whoa!  It takes a little while since the trackpad has a different level of sensitivity so it was back to the sliders to get it just right there.

It was worth the time and effort.  Scrolling is even smoother on all the machines now.  It’s so nice.  There are other little niceties like having the screen bounce when you reach the bottom like iOS.

All in all, I just have to recommend this extension if you’re looking to customize your scrolling experience.  Be prepared to spend a little time adjusting it until it feels just right.  Once you get the knack of it, hide the button and never look back.


An Incredible Mathematics Application


This is an application that has me excited in so many ways that I think it’s a can’t miss for any mathematics teacher using a computer.  Calling itself a dynamic geometery application, Sketchometry is really something to play around with.

First – the geeky part.  This is a perfect example of where I think developers should be headed.  It’s an HTML5 web application which means that all the functionality is available inside a browser.  So, in my testing, I’m able to access it with Ubuntu, Windows, Macintosh, and iOS.  Everything is just there and works in the browser – no application or add-ons needed to get started.

Secondly – working in the environment.   This was quite a bit of fun.  As you’ll notice from the Help files, the Sketchometry application is well driven by gestures that seem to be very intuitive.  Simple icons access the various tools and it only took about 15 minutes to work my way through them and get a sense of just what was possible.  It very quickly had me reaching for my Wacom tablet connected to my computer so that I had really fine control.  As fine as that was, the ability to draw on the iPad really made for a nice mathematics experience.

When I saw the trig functions, I had a flashback to a math class where we discussed SIN, COS, and TAN.  I remember graphing each with pencil and paper.  Three graphs to try and learn the concepts.

What if I plotted all three on the same graph?  By grabbing a different colour, they graphed nicely.  I used f(x)=3*sin(x), to get amplitude to really see things.  Ditto for cos and tan.  As you’ll see below, by turning on an x and y axis, they do show up nicely.  I’m able to drop a point on the line.  Sketchometry handles things nicely.

Thirdly, I was intrigued by the way that it handles your finished drawing.  You don’t create an account on Sketchometry.  Teachers and students can just work with their documents without worrying about creating a logging in to an account.  In fact, for a lot of uses, you might just connect your device to a data projector and display your efforts.

When it’s time to save your work then, where does it go?

The save function pops up the following dialogue.  You don’t create an account and therefore storage with Sketchometry; instead you just add it to your existing cloud storage.  It makes so much sense.  Most everybody has a Dropbox account these days and if you don’t, here’s a good reason to get one.  Or Skydrive.  Or, and this was the very first one for me, your Ubuntu One account.

In so many ways, I really liked what I saw.  Written in HTML5, using Cloud storage, gesture based – doesn’t this just scream “made from scratch using the best of 2012”?  Support for the product and more details is available in Google+.