I remember when Google was the new kid on the block, and I deliberately chose to use it as my primary search engine, simply because Google was the underdog. (Does anyone else remember AltaVista?) Well, no more. Now, I'd gladly eschew Google simply because the company is so powerful. But I can't.
Because Google is the best. Hands down. (Bing's not bad, but there's no point in avoiding one big company just to support another.)
When my husband has a question about one of his company's products, and searches the official company sites, sometimes we'll race: Usually I can find more information, faster, through Google. More and more often, if I need help on an issue I'm having with a particular piece of hardware or software, I skip the product's manual and official "help" feature and go straight to Google—because it does a better job.
Today we wanted the address of a friend from a previous church. We had been told that there was a directory online, but after a frustrating, fruitless time on their website, I resorted to Google, which quickly led me to the needed information.
It's not a comfortable situation, being so dependent on one, powerful company, be it Microsoft or no-longer-the-underdog Google. Mac and Linux users are a vocal and proud "we few, we happy few, we band of brothers" against Microsoft, but who provides a similar challenge to Google?
We need a paradigm shift, if only to provide some competition.
Okay, folks, the spam comments have really gotten out of hand. Heretofore I have always at least glanced at them, to make sure they truly were spam. But only once, ever, that I can recall, was a comment marked as spam actually something worthwhile. So I'm finally going to take advantage of the handy administrative button that says "Purge Spam" and delete it all without looking. If this ends up deleting a comment you make, please forgive me and try again. Comments from those not previously approved will still be delayed by moderation. Those, too, are almost all spam, but I always check them out in person. It's the comments the filters know are spam that will no longer be seen by human eyes. :)
It's not polite to think about items you didn't get for Christmas while we're still in the Christmas season. But hey—at least no one thinks I'm hinting for a gift as I ponder things.
Those who know me will be shocked at what I am about to reveal, almost as shocked as when I admitted that I might actually want to own a Wii. Oops, I haven't actually confessed that here yet. But I had such a blast with the Wii Fit over Thanksgiving....
I am a book-lover. That is, a lover of real, paper, take-'em anywhere, you-own-it-and-Amazon (or whoever)-can't take it away kinds of books. Books that smell like books. I dislike reading on a computer screen. Back in the Dark Ages of last century, I tried reading a book on my then-leading-edge Palm handheld device. Yuck.
However, the thought of owning an e-reader (Kindle, Nook, etc.) is slowly breaching my event horizon. For one thing, the price is coming down. I had dismissed Kindle early on, at the mere thought of holding a $300 "book" that would likely to break if dropped. But $100 is a little less scary. More than 2/3 less scary, for some reason.
Then this morning I was struck by two prods in the e-book direction. First, an e-mail from Janet inquiring about a certain book, which opened my eyes to the idea that one can give e-reader books instantly, without worrying about delivery time or overseas shipping charges.
My e-mail and blog activity will be curtailed, either somewhat or a lot, until we get a handle on some serious computer problems. Let me just say this about that: Computers ought to last at least long enough for them to become obsolete, which even in this fast-moving culture is more than 2 - 4 years. And laptops should last longer than their batteries.
All that to say, if you need to reach me, e-mail might not be the best medium for a while.
I started 2011 early, being at the time six hours ahead of most of my readers. But as I did not get back into this country until very late last night, I lost that advantage and then some. In an unusal and daring move, I did not take my computer with me this trip. (At each of the many airport security checks, I proudly answered, "no" when the agent pointed to my backpack and queried, "computer?") This step was not as meritorious, nor as risky, as it might seem, since I had three other computers at my disposal at my destination, but one must begin somewhere.
Despite the opportunity to indulge in e-mail and blog checking on an almost daily basis, real-life events (remember real life?) pared that to essentials. In other words, I returned home to an intimidating backlog for both. By eating the elephant one bite at a time I am making progress, but some areas are not getting their usual attention, so if you wrote something important and I haven't responded, feel free to try again.
And Facebook? I'm not even going to try to catch up. If I missed a major life event you posted only on Facebook, have pity on me, forgive me, and let me know about it some other way.
Being an avid reader of science fiction, I was sure that the big technological change to mark our time would be space travel. But it’s apparently an idea whose time has not yet come, because it never took off (yes, I meant to say that) the way the science fiction writers prognosticated.
Personal computing and the Internet, on the other hand, took me—along with most of the S-F writers—by surprise, even though they were part of my world from the era of room-sized machines and paper-tape input. I never imagined how drastically they would change our lives. Instead of exploring outer space, we have opened the inner spaces of our world. (More)
I am of the last generation to know what life was like before pocket calculators. Even that name is revealing; who calls them that anymore? Who remembers when “adding machines” were big, clunky things like typewriters? (Have you seen a typewriter outside of a museum or an old movie?)
I remember my parents doing their taxes with a nifty little plastic device with a set of numbered dials like a telephone. (Uh, who remembers dial phones?) There was a 1’s dial, a 10’s dial, a 100’s dial, etc. and you used a stylus to turn them to the correct numbers. You could add and subtract by turning the dials clockwise or counterclockwise. The device was handy for checking all those tax numbers, and lots of fun for me when I could get my hands on it.
As a science major in college, I had many tedious calculations to do, and often found it worthwhile to make a trek through the cold and snowy winter night to use one of the half dozen Wang calculators made available to students by the physics department.
When I graduated from college, I received a thrilling (and expensive) gift: A Texas Instruments SR-10 calculator! It was especially cool because it handled scientific notation. Take a look at the keyboard and note that it did a whole lot less than the calculators you can buy today for $10 at your friendly neighborhood Walmart. The last time I visited the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, I found my wonderful graduation present on display amongst the other relics.
I firmly believe that everyone should know how to do basic arithmetic functions easily and quickly, and think it’s deplorable that we have cashiers who can’t make change without a register to do the calculations. I’ve never forgotten Isaac Asimov’s prescient story, The Feeling of Power (1958).
I also believe that everyone should know how to make bread, but that doesn’t stop me from being thankful to be able to buy bread at the store.
Thus, without apology, I am thankful for the handy, portable, convenient, powerful, inexpensive, labor-saving pocket calculator.
I've removed the Feedjit live traffic feed from the panel on the right because of the ads that are now there. I didn't mind the ads for Feedjit itself, but I have no control over the others they are now showing. I have, however, retained the link (under Links/Other) so you can see the feed there if you, like me, find it interesting to see where people come here from and (sometimes) why.
MMG is one of my Facebook friends. I've known her since before she was born, so technically she's more the daughter of our friends than my own friend. Yet thanks to Facebook, in recent years I've had more contact with her, and know more about what's going on in her life, than with her parents.
This is a particular blessing, not only because it keeps up a connection that would otherwise have been lost, but because I enjoy her perspective on life. She and I differ and disagree in multitudinous ways, from thoughts about God to the importance of televised hockey games. As Hercule Poirot is fond of saying, she "gives one furiously to think." But best of all, she is adept at finding (and posting) links from all over the Web, some of which lead me down very interesting paths. Here's a recent one:
A cool presentation of part of a talk by Sir Ken Robinson.
And here's one more by Robinson, a second TED lecture that also overlaps a bit with the above . With all Robinson has been saying about education, this is the first time I've heard him mention homeschooling (very near the end of the lecture). He's neither positive nor negative, but acknowledges it as a legitimate form, which is progress, anyway. (This one is only about 18 minutes long.)
I've written about Robinson before, notably in: Sir Ken Robinson, Creativity, and Education, and also a review of his book, The Element. And of course I can't miss the opportunity once again to plug John Taylor Gatto's The Underground History of American Education, which confirms and elaborates on what Robinson says about the industrial model of education.
Here are a few side notes I've taken from the above talks.
- There are no school systems anywhere that Robinson knows of that teaches dance every day, giving it as much importance as mathematics—which he believes to be a mistake. Long ago I concluded that music should be given that same importance; that learning music should be no more optional than learning to read or to brush one's teeth. But I apologize to our dancing daughter for not recognizing the similar importance of dance. Sigh—if only the value of dance had been separated from silly little girls in frilly tutus, I might have been more understanding.
- "We still educate children by batches. We put them through the system by age group. Why do we do that? Why is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are? It's like the most important thing about them is their date of manufacture." Amen and amen.
- Since 1970 in America, spending on education has more than doubled in terms of real money, class size has steadily declined, but literacy has remained the same. Robinson believes this supports his thesis that the education system cannot be reformed but requires revolutionary change. John Taylor Gatto and John Holt gave much of their lives to reforming the schools, and in the end concluded it couldn't be done, instead throwing their support and work into alternatives. Robinson still has hope that the revolution can occur within the public educational system.
- The paradigm shift Robinson recommends is that we discard the industrial model on which our current view of education is based, and instead adopt an agricultural model. I believe he's right, but with all the diversions he took in his longer talk, I wish he had pointed out that many would claim our schools are indeed based on an agricultural model: that of agri-business and the CAFO. The agricultural model we need for education is that of Polyface Farms, in which the "pigness of the pig"—the individuality of the student—is respected.
- Robinson has many important things to say about schools. But for all that I agree with him, he is working from a view of humans—of life, the universe, and everything—so fundamentally different from my own that it's a wonder we have so much in common when it comes to education. He comes to his conclusions based on his belief that human beings are insignificant in relation to the cosmos, that people are basically good but wrong circumstances cause us to go bad, and that we have risen from a lower state and continue to improve. My own conclusions come from the Christian belief that human beings are of infinite value (importance being unrelated to size), that we have within us the potential to be far better than we can imagine, but that the evil streak within us is innate and cannot be eliminated by improving our circumstances. And yet those fundamental differences lead us to many of the same conclusions! Maybe we're right.
No, I'm not really leaving Facebook. It's too useful a tool for keeping in touch with people I would otherwise be prone to neglecting. I think it best to keep my participation minimal, however.
I've never done apps, for example, because I mostly find them annoying. Today's Wall Street Journal provides another good reason to avoid them, a massive security breach.
That revelation was enough of a push to make me rescind my previous decision to share my blog posts as notes on Facebook. Not that the recent breach had anything to do with notes; it merely makes me less comfortable with the platform and less willing to take whatever risks there might be when I've seen no discernable benefit. Having my posts duplicated on Facebook does make them more accessible to some people, but (1) Facebook usually posts them in clumps, so that most are hidden under a "see more posts" link; (2) there are few comments made, so if people are reading them I rarely know about it; and (3) I prefer to have all comments here, anyway, to keep the conversations in one place.
So, I apologize to the few of you who I know do read my posts on Facebook, but after this one posts I'll be stopping the feed. Please come here instead; you are more than welcome.
Can you believe I get tired of hearing that my blog is absolutly brilliant, and the commenter can't wait to share it with his friends?
Well, I do, and so I'm trying out comment moderation. If I'm going to have to spend log in several times a day to remove spam, I might as well spend that time approving comments.
The down side is that if you write a comment here, you won't see it right away, at least not at first. Jon has enhanced the moderation software to allow previously-approved commenters to bypass the moderation process, though you'll have to go through it again if you write from a different IP address.
I trust it will go smoothly, but if your comment gets lost, please let me know.
Not long ago, my lovely external monitor gave out completely. I suppose I could complain about how nothing lasts well these days, but it lasted a lot longer than the Gateway computer it originally came with, which self-destructed after 19 months of an 18-month warranty.*
One does not need an external monitor, and I was prepared to do without for a while, but Porter, God bless him, cares for his wife's desires as well as her needs...and an external monitor is especially nice when the regular one is a small laptop screen. So we ventured out shopping. (More)
It shouldn't have been so hard, though I'll admit I'm stubborn. Firefox has been nagging me for days to update my Flash player, but I have to check the box that says I've read the EULA, and every time I tried to download the pdf, it gave me an error at best—and sometimes crashed my machine.
I tried on another computer with the same result.
I don't mind skimming EULAs, and even fudging on the part that requires me to say I actually understand them, especially when half the agreement is in French. But I refuse to say I've read something when it's not even possible to get a copy of it.
After checking the Adobe site, forums, and Google to no avail, finally inspiration struck: I copied the url of the recalcitrant file out of Firefox and into Internet Explorer—and it worked. Then I could go back into Firefox and complete the update. Even that required several attempts and a couple of Firefox restarts, though.
And that was just for one computer. For the other I still haven't been successful, as the update refuses to download, telling me a plug-in is missing—without telling me what plug-in is missing, and when I search for the missing plug-in, nothing is found.
What a waste of time!
Having family all over the globe makes for an interesting life, but sometimes it's hard to know which end is up—or more importantly, who is up when. Enter FoxClocks, an add-on for FireFox, which has made that task much easier for me. There's also a version for Thunderbird, and I use both to my advantage.
My two favorite display formats are (1) showing the city, time, and day in the status bar:
and (2) a tiny icon in the status bar which pops up that information when I hover my mouse over it.
On Sunday, Firefox suddenly stopped working on my computer. It would open all right, but no matter what URL I used it would only display a blank page. Existing HTML files on the computer worked fine, but nothing online. The problem was not with my connection, as Internet Explorer worked, as did other network connections.
I have no brilliant solution to the problem—though mine is now "fixed"—but am writing it up because I appreciate reading other people's experiences online when I run into a problem. My Invisible Firefox post is also one of the most read on this blog.
I did find other folks out there with the same blank-page-only issue, but no clear solution. Suggestions included doing a system restore, creating a new Firefox profile, reinstalling Firefox, and/or making various changes to Firefox, firewall, and registry settings. In my limited research, I found no obvious reason for the changed behavior of Firefox, and no definitive evidence that the suggested approaches would work. Moreover, there wasn't a one of them that I trusted myself to implement, given that all this was taking place under the exciting and sleep-deprived circumstances of the home birth of my latest grandson. Thus I was reduced to depending on IE, which I dislike, though I must admit times like this make me glad it's there as a backup.
By Wednesday I figured I was in sufficient command of both my faculties and a few moments of time to tackle the problem. But before I could make any changes at all, Firefox suddenly started working agan. To all appearances it is back to normal.
As my father always said, I'm suspicious of inanimate objects that appear to heal themselves. I don't understand the fixing any more than I understand the breaking. But there it is.