Monthly Archives: January 2014

Kenn Hayes @ WSYB: Thanks for Morning Chat!

On Monday, January 20th, Steve and I joined Kenn Hayes for a “Morning Chat”, which is also the name of his morning radio show on WSYB (1380 AM), from 9-10AM M-F.

It was my first time appearing on the radio, and Kenn made us feel welcome, and it was a fun experience.  Ken started by asking us a few questions about computer terminology and acronyms that we commonly hear and see these days, in the news or on our computer screens.  We even got a couple calls from radio listeners.

Kenn asked us about the word “cache”, as in browser cache.  Steve answered the question, and about clearing out the browser cache (here is a good article which explains for various browsers).

Kenn’s question about the word “cache” brought back an experience I had in one of my college computer courses.  The professor started using the word “cache” in his lectures (but he did not spell it out).  I knew what “cash” was, since I saw my tuition bill.  This college course did not include a textbook, just the professor’s handouts.  I didn’t understand what he was talking about whenever he said “cache”.  But finally, about two weeks later, I realized that “cache” was basically computer memory or disk storage for holding onto information for use later on.

So how about this acronym” TINSTAADQ: There Is No Such Thing As A Dumb Question.  I learned my lesson in that college class many years ago.  I should have asked what “cache” was, right away.  I might have gotten a better grade in that particular class, if I had only asked.

So please don’t be afraid to ask questions.  I’m hoping that the Rutland Tech Club can help folks to continue learning as computer technology and terminology keeps marching on.

We really appreciate that Kenn Hayes invited us to his radio program, and gave us the opportunity to talk about the new Rutland Tech Club we are trying to get started.

Thank You Kenn!  Best of luck with your Morning Chat show.  You certainly have interesting guests who are doing good things around Rutland County.

Ron

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Slideshow: Some Bits and Bytes of Computer History

Wow, time sure does fly, and computers keep getting faster and smaller!  It has been 40 years since I wrote my first computer program, in the BASIC computer language.  I took the only computer class available at my high school back then.

Teletype machine

I learned to program on one of these 40 years ago!

We used a Teletype machine.  While it did not have a display screen, it had a built-in printer with a large roll of paper.  This acted as both display and printer.  While it did not have its own disk drive, you could save your programs and data onto paper tape, with punched holes representing the stored information.  We used a Timeshare system, which was running on a remote computer at the county-level school district headquarters.  We would make a phone call to the Timeshare system, and place the phone receiver into a coupler on a dial-up modem.  Then we could log on.  There was some disk storage available on the Timeshare system, so you could retrieve your homework assignments and project files and programs.

For the fun of it, I created a “homegrown” slideshow (when window opens, please click the “View Slideshow” button in order to slideshow, which will display in full screen mode).

The purpose of this Homegrown DIY Javascript Slideshow is threefold:

  • To show some examples of computers (or similar ones) that I have used since I first learned BASIC programming language around 1974-75, back in high school.
  • To get you thinking about how far we have come with computer technology over the past several decades, and where technology might go in the future. We have already seen rapid change in just the last few years (smartphones, tablets, social media).
  • To show you that you can DIY (Do It Yourself), instead of only just relying on “plugins” and copying/pasting code from other sites. You can customize your own webpages, beyond the limits offered by some plug-ins.

As far as #3, as a long-time computer programmer, here is a bit of my own philosophical take on coding: While there are many benefits to Open Source software or using “free” pre-built plug-ins, you can learn more by trying to Do It Yourself (DIY).  Yes, it might take you longer, but once you’ve built something yourself, you can reuse it again (in full or in part), and you can share it with others as well.  By going the DIY route, you can have more control over your own programs and data.  In other words, you don’t have to always be using someone else’s “Cloud” or so-called “free” web service, where they can sell your personal information and profit off of your “free content”.

DIY typically stands for Do It Yourself. But it can also mean Dig In, You-might-like-IT!

These slideshow photos were obtained via Google Image, and handful came from from the Michigan State University website.

For more on Computer History, check out the Computer History Museum and the Smithsonian Computer History Collection.

Happy Coding,
Ron

the batphone rang and we were there to answer the call…

While Ron and I were describing the tech club at the brainstorm session to the throng that had gathered upstairs in the Fox Room at the Rutland Free Library (okay mostly Ron), my cell phone rang and there was a distressed damsel at the other end of the line.

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She described to me how one of the lanes on the Rutland Area Food Co-op’s newly installed, open source Point of Sale system was non-functioning.  I informed the group and headed for the exit.

A couple cups of kombucha, some soup and 3 hours later we had the lane back in action.  The tech who patiently worked with me on the phone was ready to give up and do a clean install but I remembered some tricks from a RedHat certification class I had taken about ten years ago.

It turns out that the filesystem had become corrupted and the brand new little computer with a very nice solid state hard drive wasn’t even able to boot into recovery mode from the GRUB prompt; it’s running Mint, a Debian based Linux variant.  So we booted Ubuntu off a USB and were able to mount the drive after issuing a series of low level disk commands as the super user of course.  The tricky part was finding and activating the logical volume group with a lvscan, pvs, and vgchange -ay “volume name”.  Once it was activated we could run the file system checker “fsck” (without much imagination one can see it’s profane origin) which was able to quickly repair the ext4 type filesystem.  After mounting and upgrading the packages all was well on a reboot.  It was time for a nice cold one.

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Next meeting, February 8: HOUR of CODE Challenge

Saturday, February 8, 2014, 1-3PM
Rutland Free Library, Fox Room (upstairs)
10 Court Street, Rutland, VT

All ages welcome.  Bring your laptops.  We will do the Code.org HOUR of CODE” challenge.

Learn the basic concepts of computer programming, using a fun visual approach. Using video-game maze theme, build short computer programs to make Angry Bird catch Bad Piggie, by snapping together Lego-like program code blocks on your screen. Later on you can make the Zombie find the Sun Flower in the corn maze.

In between the exercises you can view video messages from Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Black Eyed Peas founder will.i.am and NBA star Chris Bosh (he studied computer science in college).

Then print out your Certificate of Completion.  Proudly pose for a picture with your certificate. We will also create webpage slideshow of your HOUR of CODE photos.  We will start to talk about webpages and HTML, including the <image> tag (where the photos are displayed).

Others can choose to go “Beyond the Hour of Code“, or try out the Codecademy.com free tutorials.

Tell your friends and family about the new Rutland Tech Club.

Event also posted on Rutland Herald inViTe Calendar!

Social Media Surgery event in Rutland, January 15th

I would like to pass along some information that I received from a volunteer organizer for Burlington NetSquared.  This org is hosting an event highlighting different ways in which tech is being used for social good in Vermont, with the goal of building networks between nonprofits and the tech community, and increasing the capacity of nonprofits to use social media and tech in their work.

Burlington NetSquared has been partnering with the Vermont Digital Economy Project to do a series of “Social Media Surgeries” for nonprofits around the state.  These are casual, drop-in workshops pairing nonprofits with “surgeons” (people who are knowledgeable about social media) for a couple of hours so they can ask questions about their Facebook page, Twitter, etc.

There will be a Social Media Surgery next Wednesday in Rutland.  The Burlington NetSquared group is looking for a few “surgeons” for this event.  If you are interested, please consider attending.  If you know someone who might be interested, please pass along this information.

Rutland – Social Media Surgery
Wednesday, January 15, 2014 – 5:00-7:00 PM
College of Saint Josephs, Rutland, VT

Here is more information about this event from VT Small Business Development Center calendar.

Code.org predicts IT Job Gap

According to Code.org, which provides free tutorials on computer programming, they predict that over the decade 2011-2020, the U.S. will have an IT job gap of 1 million jobs.  Based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the combined available jobs (1.4 million) could outpace the number of Computer Science college graduates (400K) over this decade.

There are 33 U.S. States where a computer science course does not count towards high school math and science requirements.  Luckily, Vermont is one of 17 States that does recognize computer science as required course.

I was very fortunate to have taken a BASIC computer programming course in 1974, on a teletype machine with dialup modem, taught by a very good math teacher.  It got me started on a long and interesting career path.

Sadly, 90% of U.S. schools do not offer computer programming courses.  So, I was pleased to recently hear that Stafford Tech will be starting a STEM Academy program in 2014-15 school year.

Free Training Websites on Computer Programming for Beginners

Codecademy and Code.org are two websites which provide free tutorials on computer programming for beginners.

Codecademy has training for HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP, Python, Ruby, and APIs.  Codecademy uses an interface where you type in program code and commands on the screen.  This approach feels like one of the “Integrated Development Environment” (IDE) tools that are commonly used today (i.e. Eclipse and others).  The lessons walk you through the steps you need to take to write programs, and gives you feedback and hints along the way.

Code.org uses a more visual approach for developing programs.  They have an “Hour of Code” challenge that has 20 exercises.  Each challenge resembles a video game maze (Bird chasing Pig, ala Angry Birds, or a Zombie going towards a Sunflower).  This approach is different from playing video games, in that you are not using a “real-time” joystick or controls to move and react as you go.  Instead, the programming approach requires that you study the maze first, and then plan out your moves ahead of time.  Before you can run your program (strategy or plan), you have to assemble and sequence the program steps (snap-together code blocks like Lego blocks) to build or “write” the program.  You can “test” your program by clicking the “Run Program” button.  If you want to start over and try again, there is a “Reset” button, which puts the characters in the maze back to their original positions.

Actually, the Hour of Code programs are written behind the scenes for you, based on your assembled code blocks, which you can drag and drop to fit them together.  So unlike Codecademy’s approach, you don’t know which underlying computer programming language is actually being run.  But on the other hand, the Code.org approach is covering the basic programming concepts that are common to many computer programming languages (sequence, if condition, if/else, do loop or for loop, and do until loop).

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