Archive for October, 2004


Me Teaching

October 29, 2004

The other day I gave an assignment to the young fellow who helps me in the Center for Teaching and Learning lab. “Grab a digital video camera and learn how to use it,” I told him. I figured he’d have to assist a lot of students and faculty as they attempted to create their video masterpieces in iMovie and MovieMaker. The more he knew about it himself, I explained, the more likely he is to be helpful to them. Luckily he’s very bright, this kid; there is little doubt that he will be very helpful to everyone. Anyway, he took the camera and then showed up in one of my classes to videotape, of all things, me.

Please bear in mind that I’m not a teacher per se. My teaching role involves training university faculty and students in the use of various software products. I strive to do so with an eye toward educationally sound applications of technology. I think I do the job fairly well, even if I do take the occasional opportunity to rant about my favorite topics (note the bit about AOL and Time/Warner as an example). But you don’t have to take my word for it! Now, in an attempt to prove that I actually do things at work, you can watch a couple of minutes of me teaching a class. In this clip I am teaching faculty how to use our new course management system. Specifically, I’m talking about web-based discussion forums. Check me out. (9.5 MB Quicktime file, 1.5 minutes long, get Quicktime here if you don’t have it.)

I have to admit that I watched this and was delighted. I’ve never seen me do this before. If you squint and suspend your disbelief for a moment, you can almost imagine that I know what I’m talking about! Who knew? Oh, and I can explain the coffee thing. The more caffeinated I get the more entertaining I am, so I try not to disappoint anyone.


I Voted, Caption Contest

October 29, 2004

I voted today. Over lunch. Where I live all you have to do is go to the city courthouse, ask for a ballot, fill it out and drop it in a box. So that’s what we did, Angela and I. Who did I vote for? C’mon. You haven’t been paying attention. I voted for Brian Kennedy for US congress, Russ Feingold for US senate and John Kerry for president.

It was sort of anti-climactic, though. I’m used to heading to my polling place on election day, looking around at all my neighbors and knowing that we are all deciding right then and there who’s going to lead the country. It’s a shared moment of importance. Now that I’ve cast my vote early I won’t get to participate in that moment. But on a positive note, it’s one less thing I have to worry about on a busy Tuesday.

In other news, I happened across an interesting video of George Bush the other day and I’ve been wondering what might be said about it. Then today it hit me – take the best frame of the video and use it for a caption contest. That’s right! You get to put the words in president Bush’s mouth. What’s he saying in this photo?

I’ll go first: “Well, Scott, here’s what I think of your vote.”


Employee of the Month

October 27, 2004

As a follow-up to this afternoon’s meeting and for those of you who were unable to attend, Scott Feldstein has been selected as the “Employee of the Month Lord High Executioner” for October all Eternity.

Scott has done a wonderful job with the recent implementation of the Desire to Learn (D2L) software his non-polluting water-to-entergy machine. He has worked hard at keeping Blackboard going taxes low while implementing D2L his plan to eliminate global poverty this semester, as well as holding numerous D2L training sessions for faculty awsesome carinvals. The D2L take over the world project reached a very important milestone last week by migrating crushing all user accounts resistance, receiving 14 courses Nobel peace prizes and rescuing 850 students elite ninja warriors from a hosted solution prison camp high in the Carpathian mountains to Marquette’s own hardware an undisclosed location near downtown Cincinnati. All these tasks have been accomplished on time without a single lost American life thanks to Scott’s dedication super-human strength and expertise ingenious mind-control experiments.

Once again thanks for all of your hard work during the semester and congratulations again all hail to Scott.

The management team.


One-button Mice: Context Is Everything

October 23, 2004

While we’re talking about the merits of the Macintosh, we really need to discuss that one-buttton mouse thing. Windows users think it’s approaching ludicrous that Apple ships computers with one-button pointing devices. Many Mac users can’t see what the big deal is. Windows users say “having those right-click contextual menus is indispensable to my productivity! If only you had them, you’d understand!” Which of course isn’t true. Mac users can control-click to produce a contextual menu in lieu of having a right mouse button.

I should clarify one thing, however: I use a two-button mouse on my Mac. Always have. I don’t see it as important as the Windows crowd, but I prefer it. Why is it that I see it as a convenience while they believe it is of the utmost importance? It’s simple, really. It’s because they use Windows and I don’t.

On a Macintosh the primary reason one would use a contextual menu is because the menu-bar-based function is inconvenient for you to get to – such as when you have a very large monitor and traveling from what you’re operating on all the way to the “cut”command in the menu-bar is a tediously long trip. Most people don’t use 30” Cinema displays running at 2560 x 1600 resolution, however, thus they don’t really mind the trip to the menu-bar so much. Besides, let’s face it: a lot of computer users aren’t terribly tech-savvy. There is some truth to the idea that having multiple mouse buttons can confuse some people.

Contrast this with the way things are in the Windows world. Not only do you have the too-far-to-reach-the-standard-control reason to have a contextual menu, you also have another reason, and a quite astonishing one at that: sometimes there just isn’t another way to do something. I remember the day I realized this very vividly. I was working with Windows NT Server and wondering where a specific function was hiding. A colleague of mine said “did you right click on it?” No, I hadn’t. Why would you have to? Aren’t all of those items just repeats of things in the standard interface? It seemed not.

This is an idea worth exploring. Why is it a big deal that interface items not be contextual-menu-only? Well, the problem with contextual menus is that they offer no visual cue to their existence. Menu-bar items do: there’s a word on the screen that says “edit” which you might click on to find something “edit-like.” If, for example, the “copy” command was hiding in a contextual menu what clue do you have of it’s existence? None at all. It’s just not good interface design. One of the criticisms of the Windows platform has always been the lack of uniformity in their interface guidelines; or rather the fact that nobody much follows them, not even Microsoft.

While I”m on the subject of bad interface design, has anyone else noticed Microsoft’s newest tendency to take menu items and just hide them on you? Just because I haven’t used that item in a while does not mean I want it to vanish! Is it too much to ask that my menu items don’t rearrange themselves behind my back? I can scarcely believe that this idea escaped usability testing in Redmond.

Unless of course there isn’t any. The thought does occur sometimes.

Anyway, back to mouse buttons. Yes I use a two-button. I think Apple should sell two-button mice. Like as standard equipment on the professional models and a $10 upgrade on consumer boxes. True novices aren’t going to bother and will avoid the confusion of multiple buttons, but those who know what they want will be able to get it easily. But I do not see it as an all -important necessity that everyone who sits down at a Macintosh have a two button pointing device.

Moral of the story: Apple should make a two-button mouse for pro boxes (and sell them as upgrades to the rest), but even more importantly, Microsoft should stop making software that relies too heavily on the use of the contextual menu.



October 23, 2004

I’ve really been enjoying Toby Lightman and Butterfly Boucher lately. In fact those two albums comprised at least half of my commuting music over the last week. But I need some new music and a few things have caught my attention recently. I don’t know if I’ll buy any of them, but I keep a “working list” of stuff I’m interested in. Here, in no particular order, are the highlights.

First, The Be Good Tanyas. They sound very rural and folksy without any of the overly romanticized bullshit that makes 99% of American country music totally unlistenable. I’m just not sure I like the sound of it enough to spin it regularly.

Then there’s another track off the Shrek 2 soundtrack that I want: Butterfly Boucher and David Bowie doing Changes. (I’d already bought Frou Frou’s “holding out for a hero” off that soundtrack because I’d fallen in love with their only other available work, Details. Perhaps I should have bought the whole album.)

Another artist I know and love makes the list: Bjork. This time it’s an unusual item from her body of work (I mean more unusual than usual): Gling-Gló by Bjork and the Gudmundar Ingolfssonar Trio. Judging by the 30-second previews it’s terrific. It’s Bjork doing jazz tunes, most of which I’ve never heard of and most of which are sung in what I take to be Icelandic anyway. But what a voice. It sort of reminds me of It’s Oh So Quiet.

If not those, how about Sarah Harmer or The Finn Brothers? I just don’t know.

What are you listening to? What’s your hot list of stuff to get? Suggestions appreciated.


Windows In 20 Minutes

October 23, 2004

“Microsoft’s biggest and most dangerous contribution to the software industry may be the degree to which it has lowered user expectations.” -Esther Schindle

We all deal with technology every day. We use it in our jobs, for our leisure and to stay informed. For some of us it is even the basis of our careers. But I invite you for a moment to take a step back from it, if you will, in an effort to try to gain some perspective. Front this vantage point, I ask you: what the hell is wrong with this picture? Why is it that we have to undertake herculean measures to keep our PCs from being devastated by malicious attacks? More importantly, why is it that we all just sort of accept this as normal?

How far have things gone? Imagine you’re just bought an un-patched PC (and today that pretty much means any PC that hasn’t received expert attention in the past few weeks.) Take it home. Hook your new machine up to the internet. Know how long you’ve got? How long before it’s infected by some kind of malicious security compromise?

Twenty minutes.

I’m not making this up, folks. You have twenty minutes. Twenty minutes to identify and download and apply all the necessary patches and protections. Otherwise you’re toast. But it gets better! According to the authors of this new study, twenty minutes “…is not long enough for a user to download the very patches that would protect a PC from Internet threats.” (My emphasis.)

Sure, there are those among us who are knowledgeable enough to make a pretty good go of this. We managed somehow to keep our machines functioning for many months at a stretch without malware- (malicious software) related incidents. But what about the tens of millions who don’t know how or who simply don’t have the time to learn? Since when did adequately maintaining a home PC require being a professional computer security nerd? I personally know people who make their living in the computer technology industry who have had to reformat their home computers every two or three months this year.

We Mac users get to feel pretty smug most of the time. While Windows users have to guard against tens of thousands of potential security exploits, we have almost none. I myself have run recent model Macs on a broadband internet connection with no firewall and no virus protection whatsoever. For weeks. Months. Opening email attachments willy nilly, going wherever I want on the web, downloading odd bits of software that i wanted to try. The happy result: a perfectly functioning and very secure machine. Just the way it started out. I can assure you that this is not a unique experience.

But that’s not fair! Microsoft is a far larger target! If Apple had 98% of the desktop market the Mac OS would be just as exploited by malicious software authors as Windows is. Right? Wrong. I’m sorry folks, it’s just not true. There is a real and meaningful difference between the way Microsoft does things and the way other OSs do things. These differences result in Windows being the equivalent of digital swiss cheese while the others (Mac OS X and Linux, most notably) being inherently more secure, marketshare notwithstanding. So if Apple suddenly did become the target of 98% of the worlds malicious software authors, we’d Mac users would still be better off than you Windows users are today. I can’t blame you for falling for this fallacy, however. Even David Pogue, technology writer for the New York Times, has fallen for it in the past. Luckily, his readers brought him up short and now he knows better.

Besides, it’s not at all clear to me why it should matter why a certain platform is more secure. It still is more secure and that’s what really matters isn’t it?

Look, I’m not saying you need to go out and buy a Macintosh. There are plenty of downsides to being a Mac user, I’ll be the first to admit: I can’t grab a software CD out of the discount bin at Wal-Mart and expect that it’ll have Macintosh compatible software on it – it won’t. I can’t expect to get a new Macintosh for $499 – Apple just doesn’t serve that downscale market. No, it’s not easy living in what I refer to as “the Mac ghetto,” but at least it’s clean. I never worry about malicious software attacks. I never have to reformat my machine because I can’t quite remove the latest pop-up infestation. I never wonder whether my email program has just sent out x-rated URLs to everyone on my address list.

All I’m asking is that whether you switch or not, stop accepting this state of affairs as normal and acceptable. Rise above your lowered expectations. Demand better.


Remember – It’s Your Patriotic Duty

October 21, 2004

Don’t click these if you have kids standing over your shoulder. Or your boss. Or your prude aunt Mathilda.

There’s some centrifugal force for ya.