About Anything

The personal blog of Al Stevens. Focus is overrated.

Archive for the ‘Technical Things’ Category

Thursday’s Reads

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David Biello summarizes two recent papers that conclude that within 40 years, we’ll add as much CO2 to the atmosphere as we’ve added since 1750 — a scenario that is likely to result in catastrophic climate change.

Tim O’Reilly’s and Sarah Milstein’s “The Twiiter Book” published in PowerPoint and previewed on slideshare.

The virology blog describes the three ways influenza virus’s can be transmitted: (1) by direct contact with infected individuals; (2) by contact with contaminated objects; and (3) by inhalation of virus-laden aerosols.

Written by Al Stevens

April 30th, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Friday’s reads

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Christopher Dawson argues that Second Life is “dead in ed” — time drain, bandwidth requirements, and proliferation of adult content make it a poor choice when compared to BlackBoard snd  Moodle.

Bill Thompson points out that most of us have become dependent on using computers to perform our day-to-day activities. Understanding how computers work should not be left to a small geek minority.

Shikha Dalmia argues that Obama is turning it’s back on principle in order to pay off the teacher’s unions and kill school vouchers in D.C.

Terry Anderson summarizes a new open-access m-learning book, Issues in Distance Education.

John K. Waters summarizes the issues about the future of Java and MySQL under Oracle.

StevenB’s post on the ACRLog advising writers to focus on critics who seriously question ideas.

David Munger summarizes recent research that shows the context in which we make moral decisions matters quite a lot.

Thursday’s reads

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A summary of the JISC e-books observatory project reports two surprises: e-book usage has no impact on print sales and e-book usage is widespread across all age groups.

Exploring Scitable, Nature Publishing’s new personal learning tool, which currently concentrates on genetics, evolution and variation.

Exploring Radar Networks’ Twine site.

Written by Al Stevens

April 23rd, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Monday’s Reads

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Tom Davenport concludes that we should unbundle the concept of “social media” because some, like Facebook will turn out to be useful, while others, like Second Life and Twitter will die.

John Sviokla and Chris Curran argue that because twitter is simple, has an open architecture and is easy to join will make it the duct tape of the Internet marketing space.

Katherine S. Pollard eescribes how a 118 base sequence of DNA remained unchanged for hundreds of millions of years of evolution — chickens and chimps differ by only 2 bases. It underwent an abrupt change — 18 bases — when humans split, suggesting that the way humans evolved from our chimp-human ancestors was by rapid changes in sites that make a important differences in how we function.

As reported by Dave Munger, there’s no relationship between SAT and ACT test-prep time/money and actual results. Test-prep companies are still likely to stay in business because there is a positive relationship with perceived improvements.

Who wouldn’t enjoy reading brief bios of fifty prominent atheists. The list includes Stephen Hawking, Mick Jagger, Linus Pauling, Jodie Foster and Mark Zuckerberg as well as the usually listed Richard Dawkins and Dan Dennett.

Written by Al Stevens

April 20th, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Friday’s reads

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Dean Dad writes about how libraries’ missions are changing, with young technies studying in groups and older students looking for a quiet haven. The discussion, particularly about how to choose the right set of resources,  is as insightful as the article.

Side-by-side timelines of the universe, one according to science and one according to the YEC’s (young earth creationists).

Pursuasive design for sustainability” summarizes the way that tools can pursuade.

Laura Devany describes why cost and flexibility are pushing libraries to use open-source library managment systems.

Another article about the potential of the semantic web, this time for e-learning. Written by Chris Daly. The more of these I read, the more I think that Tim O’Reilly has it right. The Semantic Web is a dead end.

A South Florida Times report on a new charter school with a heavy emphasis on computer-based individualized learning. Technology could yet do to education what it’s done to the news business.

Thursday’s reads

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Smithsonian American Art Museum’s 1934: A New Deal for Artists slide show, Flickr group and map show paintings done by artists sponsored by Roosevelt’s Public Works of Art Program. Many are stunning; many are moving. I’d love to see our current government fund an arts-based piece of the stimulus plan.

If you are right-handed then an eye exercise can help with memorization. A possible explanation is that the eye exercise increases inter-hemisphere activity in your brain. Left-handed people have a higher degree of activity to start with. The report is on Cognitive Daily, along with a link to an online handedness test.

Farhad Manjoo writes that the lack of appeal to advertisers and the cost of hosting user generated content on sites like YouTube, Flickr and Facebook threaten their long-term viability.

MG Siegler follows Peter Rojas’ tweet and argues that twitter should remove it’s follower count.

Scott Seider writes in Edutopia about Multiple-Intelligence Theory as a counterbalance to an educational climate increasingly focused on high-stakes testing.

Owen Edwards interviews the “father of multiple intelligences“, Howard Gardner in Edutopia. Gardner says in the interview, “The challenge in education is to help students develop valued areas of knowledge, skill, and values”.

Lucid Chart — Drawing made simple

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My needs for visio-style diagrams are rather modest. I keep track of our company network which includes a dozen servers at three sites and the necessary firewalls, routers, switches, access points and load balancers to keep it all accessible running. At home I have a couple of servers and a handful of printers, scanners, access points and laptops.

I’ve used SmartDraw in the past, but recently tried out Dia, and except for it’s quirky interface, found it quite adequate. Given my desire to move as many applications as possible off my laptop and into the cloud, neither SmartDraw nor Dia are options.

LucidChart (www.lucidchart.com) popped up on my twitter radar a couple of days ago, promising “attractive flow charts, org charts, and more for the web or print” so I signed up. A free account provides up to 5 megs of storage and gives you all of the editing features, including the ability to collaborate on drawings — something I’m not sure I need.

The javascript web-based editor took a minute to load, but after that was very snappy. Using elements form the four libraries provided — Flow Chart, Network, Electronics and Audio Equipment —  I knocked out a network diagram in only a few minutes.  The drag-drop interface is intuitive and easy to use and there’s easy access to both item and page properties so you can type in values for things like object width and height if you want to be precise.

 There are some how-to videos on the site, but so far I haven’t stopped long enough to view them. Once drawn, I was able to print the diagram easily to pdf — it was annoying that the background was heavily watermarked with “LucidChart Free Premium Trial Removes theis Watermark”. A free premium trial is free for 30 days and then $50 per year after that, which allows an unlimited number of users from your organization and 100MB of storage.

The intial libraries were minimal — I ended up using rectangles in several places, even for my simple networks. Each device seemed to have only four attachment points, so complex connections looked a little spaghetti like. I couldn’t figure out a way to add text labels to devices. My solution was to use text boxes placed above or below the device drawing. A group function would have made this much more reasonable. Without that the text became another object to manage.

There is an option to upload your own images. I’ve yet to try that, but that is still not a great substitute for a comprehensive set of libraries.

Overall, I’m planning to use LucidChart as my prefered network/flowchart package going forward. I’ll probably sign up for premium. I’ll definitely look forward to more libraries, more attachement points on the objects and a grouping function.

Written by Al Stevens

April 14th, 2009 at 11:06 am

Into the cloud — office apps first

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Since office apps are ones that get used a lot, and could be a make or break for this project, I’m starting with them. I’ve already experimented with Google Docs. For simple documents of a few pages, they’re fine. I’ve produced a few 3-5 page word docs, spreadsheets with a few cells and simple presentations.

Earlier in the week, I signed up for zoho and imported a 4-page word doc and a simple power point slide. I also created a simple 1-page, 100 cell spreadsheet. Overall it looks a lot more powerful than Google Docs.

Microsoft has announced web versions of their office apps, but it’s hard to believe they are serious. Besides, they aren’t going to be available until later this year.

My next step will be to take a hard look at Zoho’s word app. …but it’s late, I need to head home, heavy laptop in my bag. And the evening is spoken for. Tomorrow I’ll begin.

Written by Al Stevens

April 9th, 2009 at 5:10 pm

Into the Cloud — taking inventory

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Step one of the project to move my laptop data and apps into the cloud is to take a rough inventory. To help organize things, I’ve created a few broad categories. In some cases, where I thought it might help, I’ve also listed apps I use that are already in the cloud.

As I put this list together, I began to see a few challenges.

On My Laptop

Photo Apps and Data

Several thousand digital photos in jpg and psd format. Adobe Photoshop CS, Picasa 3, Panoramio, Silkypix Developer Studio 3.0.

Office Apps and Data

Several hundred Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. A handful of Access db apps. A handful of Publisher files. Access 2003, Excel 2003, Word 2003, PowerPoint 2003, Publisher 2003. A google calendar.


Ten years of email in Eudora format. Eudora 7.0.

IDE’s and development Utilities

SVN checked out versions of about a dozen java and php sites. PDT-Eclipse, Easy Eclipse Server Java, GNU Emacs 22.3, Macromedia Homesite 4.5, Cygwin, WinMerge, Stylus Studio 2007, TopStyle Pro 3.0, VIM 7.1, cygwin svn client

Drawing Stuff

Macromedia FreeHand 8, Dia, ImageMagick

Development Support

Several postgres and mysql databases. PostgreSQL 8.2, MySQL 5.0, JBoss 4.2.1.GA, Apache 2.2, Tomcat 5.5.


Navicat PostgreSQL, Navicat MySQL.

Other stuff

Website-Watcher, Seesmic desktop, twhirl, Blackberry Device Manager, WS_FTP Pro, Google Earth, Putty, Adobe Acrobat Standard, Password Manager XP.


IE 7, Firefox 3.0.7, Google Chrome 2.0

On my home server

Ubuntu, apache, ftp, mysql, samba.

On my virtual private server

About a dozen websites. Apache, mysql, php, sftp, wordpress, mediawiki, phpbms, phpbb, Joomla.

In the cloud already

Google calendar, Google news reader, Google docs, Gmail plus a few hundred messages, A few hundred messages on a squirrel mail server, a few Zoho docs, a few quickbase apps.


MS Flight simulator, Second Life client.

Excluded for now

My company’s hosted applications running on a set of Rackspace servers.

Written by Al Stevens

April 8th, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Moving my laptop into the cloud

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I want to cut the cord to my laptop. I want a lighter and cheaper one, one that I don’t need to worry about losing, breaking or having it fail.

It has way too much data and way to many applications living on it that I depend on way too much. It’s mostly backed up, but it would take me days to recover the data and reinstall the apps. It’s speced for development, so it’s heavy. Half the weight of my backpack is my laptop.

With all the buzz about cloud computing, plus some recent experience with a few cloud apps, I’ve come to the conclusion that it just might be possible to replace my Dell Precision with a little Dell, HP or Acer, maybe even getting ambitious and going for a diskless machine. My goal is to do evertyhging I do today, but on a $500 or less machine, weighing under three pounds, that could be replaced with a fully functioning one in less than half a day.

So, I’m embarking on an project to move everything possible into “the cloud”.

I’ve laid out a high level plan: 1) Inventory my current data and apps 2) Categorize them by feasability of moving into the cloud 3) Start with the easiest group 4) Move down the list 5) Once pretty far down the list, evaluate whether a netbook is feasable. I’ll document progress here.

Written by Al Stevens

April 8th, 2009 at 12:41 pm