What device should I purchase?

One of the most popular questions that are asked as soon as someone finds out that I work in the technology-related field relates to which device the person asking the question should purchase. An answer in the most basic of terms can be found in the form of a question back to the person. What do you plan on using the machine for on a regular basis? The positive of living in 2020 is as consumers we have a plethora of devices and operating systems readily available for purchase that just 10 years ago wasn’t reality.

When I was looking for a new device recently the question of not only what I would do with the machine but what I would need the machine to do on a regular basis. I knew that probably 95% of my work is all web-based and can be accomplished through a web browser. I also knew that I needed a device that would have a decent battery that could easily get me through the day if I wasn’t near a charger. There is one task that I need a Windows operating system based machine for which involves playing the game Planet Coaster. In my situation, playing this game wasn’t make or break for me in purchasing a machine because I haven’t had a machine that could support the game. I have an old Windows machine that can satisfy my need for roller coaster simulation through Roller Coaster Tycoon 2.

The machine that I ended up purchasing was an Asus C425 Chromebook in September 2019. I had reviewed a number of machines but it ultimately came down to numerous positive reviews, hands-on videos, and ultimately a sale that led to the purchase. I selected the Chromebook over a Windows machine or Mac machine for a variety of reasons but the main criteria were cost, long term support, and achievement of the tasks I need to do on a daily basis. I know that many will argue that comparing a Mac, Windows, and Chromebook is not an apple to apple comparrison but I evaluated the machines on what the machine could do for me based on how I was going to use it on a daily basis and the cost to accomplish that task. The Chromebook checked the boxes for the criteria I set forth in my initial evaluation and it was the lowest cost option.

A benefit of living in the the year 2020 is that we have access to numerous reviews, hands on videos and more that let us see the product along with understanding how it feels, looks, performs, and more. These videos and reviews from ChromeUnobxed were very helpful in my decesion. Additionally, I looked at other sites and sources to collaborate my initial impression of this machine.

Chromebook C425 Review (chromeunboxed.com)

Chromebook C425 Unboxing Video (chromeunboxed.com)

My other machines include a 2015 Macbook that is primarily used by my wife these days but was my work machine for three years before I upgraded to my current Mackbook Pro in 2018. I also have an old machine from 2010 that is running Windows that I use primarily for playing Roller Coaster Tycoon 2. I am converting my old Chromebook that reached the end of life support from Google to a pure Linux machine and will likely add Ubuntu as the operating system. Additionally, I have the ability through Amazon Web Services to spin up a virtual Windows or Linux machine when the need arises. Those machines have a fixed monthly cost or a fixed monthly cost with a low per hour cost without the need to buy a physical machine.

It is certainly a great time to be alive and a consume of technology. Tasks that were not capable 10 years ago whether it was due to limitations in technology or cost of entry into the market are now achieveable today. All of this results in us being ever more connected society then we were just 10 years ago.

App Exploration and Best Device

As we are settling into a new normal due to the restrictions in place because of COVID-19 we have an abundance of time with limited entertainment options. I have been gaining exposure to a few new applications, two of which come courtesy of Ryan Collins over at eduk8.me. The plan is for a more in-depth review of each of these applications down the road but I wanted to share a quick summary of them now. In the future post for each product I plan to provide additional information and why I’m using these applications.

  • Bitwarden – Open source encrypted password manager with a web presence, Android, and iOS version with popular browser extension.
  • Standard Notes – Encrypted note application with presence on the web, Android, and iOS. Similar to Evernote or Microsoft One Note but different.
  • Nebula – Nebula is an open source network management application that produces a secure connection between machines spread out across multiple networks.

The ultimate question that everyone seems to always ask is what is the best device out there today. The question typically stops there and the person asking the question isn’t prepared for what I ask next which should be the first questions you ask. What do you plan to do with the device? What applications are you using? Are there applications that wouldn’t run as expected in a virtual environment? This post is going to look at my setup that answers those questions.

Continue reading “App Exploration and Best Device”

Kindle Highlights

I am a fan of reading books on my devices and use the Amazon Kindle application in order to read and also highlight areas of the book which are of interest. The challenge with this has been finding a way to take those highlights from the book and create a file which can be used to reference the highlights later. Searching high and low for a solution has led me to a variety of options but I recently located a solution that was simple to the point that I wasn’t sure it actually worked despite reading the PDF.

The solution that I stumbled upon is called Go Snippet (www.gosnippet.com). The application is able to run as an extension within the browser and connects automatically (I was already logged in so you may have to login) to Amazon Kindle and downloads all of the highlights for the books you have read. The highlights can be further sorted by placing them into folders that you create, tags, change the highlight color, share the highlight and more. Another option is the ability to integrate with Zapier which can automate different tasks with the notes including posting to Slack, Twitter, or a WordPress blog as a few examples.

The major feature that sold me was you are able to download all of the snippets from a book into a single file (PDF, Word, Excel, or Text) or create a shared collection (creates a link to automatic highlight changing). The PDF option though for me is exactly what I am looking for and achieves the goal I set out searching for in a program. It also provides the option to format the quotes in specific styling formats. The file below is a copy of the highlights from the book titled “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.

The file and highlights are also being hosted on GitHub which would allow me to have versioning control so as I add more highlights it is shared with those and they can download the changes.

A Tale of Two Repairs

In the last six months I have had the pleasure with my washing machine and dishwasher both having issues. I’m a person who enjoys tinkering and problem solving which meant I met this challenge with both excitement and dread. My wife on the other hand was not necessarily as thrilled with the prospect of a machine needing repair or replacement and the associated costs.

The excitement for me was in learning something new and troubleshooting an issue. The dread was the cost of the repair versus buying new debate that waged. Where did I turn in a time such as this to solve the problem? It was a combination of YouTube, a local appliance repair store, and my father.

The first step in solving any issue is determining the issue and the symptoms. In the situation of the washing machine the machine would fill with water, go through the cycle, and drain. It would not how other spin or agitate which left the clothes soaking wet. This provided enough information that I could begin a search on the Internet for resolution of the issue. I had a guess as to the issue based upon listening to the machine but I needed evidence and validation in order to confirm the issue.

One possible issue could have been a bad switch and clogged line. This switch and line tell the system when it is time to turn off the water and move to the next stage. Through testing we confirmed this not to be the issue. The next possible issue could have been that the motor needed reset after a power surge. This involved turning the power off, back on, and lifting the lid rapidly five times in thirty seconds. This did not resolve the issue.

In talking with my father we both thought that the issue was the motor had gone bad (washing machine is 12 years old). In talking with the local appliance store they thought the same thing but they wanted me to check one more uncommon item. This is where having a local and honest store is an attribute to a town. The motor cost $300 and a new belt was another $30. They could have sold me a new motor and belt right then and there but there was a chance it wouldn’t have solved the issue.

My washing machine includes a wire that has a built in fuse which could have gone bad. They recommended cutting the fuse out and splicing the wire back together and see if it worked. We went home and tried this but it didn’t work. This meant that the next step in the troubleshooting process was a replacement of the motor.

The instructions provided for both the removal and installation of the motor were slim. I was able to locate a YouTube video the detailed this process with ease (it is always easier in the video). My father in law came over and helped put the belt on and the washer was repaired.

I tell this story in order to demonstrate how technology and human interaction must coexist in the world today. In the few hours I spent searching online trying to resolve the issue no resource had mentioned the fuse. The fuse could have saved me $350 and a few hours of work. It was through an experienced person in the field which mentioned the fuse as a courtesy when he could have sold me parts for $350 on my first visit. Life and the skills we learn are a series of experiences which all add value. We must learn to embrace technology but not quickly cast away the local store or the person with multiple years of experience.

AWS Connect

The upcoming weekend weather forecast is calling for inches of rain in the Ohio area. It would appear that we will be staying inside this weekend unless someone has a boat we can borrow. There are many activities which can occupy time when stuck in doors but I am plan on researching and building out an AWS Connect setup for fun.

AWS Connect is a call center offering from Amazon Web Services. Additional information can be found here. I am particularly interested in this service as a way to setup a voicemail box that doesn’t ring my regular phone. The idea is that you keep the cell phone number assigned private but instead could sign up for services which may sell the information without worry of the robocalls. Another example would be a number that would handle phone calls if you were in an accidental and the ambulance chasers kept calling.

Another question is how could I use this in my work or personal life? Stay tuned.

The Year of the Certification

As a lifelong learner I am constantly learning in an informal manner. The professional learning I focused on in 2019 centered around project management, regular expressions, and Python. These courses were completed through Udemy (www.udemy.com) and are of high quality. The Udemy courses created a just in time learning model which benefited me greatly. I took a course for Amazon Solutions Architect course in Udemy which was taught by the team over at acloud guru and I plan on purchasing a year subscription.

There are numerous resources online where I could have learned this information but the Udemy model stood out to me for a variety of reasons.

  • User Reviews
  • Question and Answer Forum
  • Quizzes
  • Videos (pause/rewind/rewatch)
  • Different “instructors” for the same topic

If I was in a Career Tech school setting I would be seriously looking into how Udemy could supplement the existing curriculum. This leads into the core subject of this post which is certifications .

In my experience, whether it is a fair assessment or not the real world values higher education diplomas and/or industry certifications for a job. If I’m hiring someone a diploma or certification may assist in helping me pair down candidates but there are other skills I’m looking for when doing an interview. A few of these skills are listed below:

  • Communication – How do they communicate with peers to explain an issue? This includes how do they explain an issue in a technical manner with their peers but also how do they explain that same issue in a non-technical answer?
  • Teamwork – How do they work in a cross functional team? Do they listen to feedback? How do they handle feedback?
  • Critical Thinking – We rely on standardized tests to determine how a student or district measures against another. The issue with relying on a standardized test though is that there is always a right answer. We know though in life there may not always be a right answer. When the answer for an issue isn’t a standard response how does a person react? How do they arrive at a solution?

The diploma or a certification certainly indicates commitment and understanding to a topic but in my opinion it doesn’t tell the entire story. In recognizing both sides of the equation my goal for 2020 is to obtain certifications in the areas listed below.

September Projects

Hello and welcome back after yet another long gap in posting. Here is an update on what I’m working on at this time.

  • Amazon AWS and UDEMY – I am continuing work in this front but was side tracked by another project which is explained below.

Current Project:

I do Erate consulting on the side and this involves a fair amount of paperwork and records retention for a defined time period. Over the last 12 years this has taken on a variety of forms from the classic Erate binder to a more digital approach. The approach I go back to at the end of the day though as always been the paper approach.

The challenge with the paper approach is you have this paper you print that ends up sitting in a binder on a shelf at the end of the erate year. Another chllenge is collecting the artifacts (bills, bids, evaluations etc.). I thought there has to be a better way but have not found a solution that works well for the client or for me at the end of the day.

Proposed Solution:

  • Electronic upload of documents by all parties involved. A solution might be a form accepting an uploaded document or SFTP server.
  • Client can easily download version of funding year at any time
  • Versioning of documents if more than one document of same item is uploaded (signed contract etc.)
  • Long term storage as the current requirement is that documents for a funding year are saved for 10 years after the funding year has finished.
  • Versioning control on my end through Git.

I am currently working on a solution that will solve these problems at the end of the day. More to come in a future post with the full solution. This all ties back into my last post because the goal is to use AWA services to achieve the solution.

Additionally, I am also working on refreshing my Python knowledge and expanding beyond my basic understanding of the language.

Cloud Computing/UDEMY

I’m currently working through a UDEMY course on Amazon Web Services. As I work through this course two thoughts have crossed my mind.

  1. Are schools taking advantage of Cloud Computing and integrating it into their IT infrastructure?
  2. How could a school leverage UDEMY and have students take advantage of UDEMY for learning.

If we look at the cloud computing the most obvious use in a school setting would be for off site backup (encrypted both in transit and at rest). This is what I’m doing with Arq and backing up my personal data. What else could we use to either enhance our existing IT infrastructure or offer a new solution at a reduced price?

I have taken now three UDEMY courses with two of them focusing on my job. The first course I took was on SCRUM project planning and how that process works. The second course was on REGEX (Regular Expressions) and it has paid off for me in my job while working on issues.

What could we do with UDEMY if it was unleashed in a school? What if the a final project for a student involved creating their own course based upon what they learned?

Learning Environments of the Future

A text message alert on my phone from a friend alerted me to an episode from Getting Smart (gettingsmart.com) with Tom Vander Ark (Getting Smart) and Randy Fielding (fieldingnair.com) that discusses why learning environments matter.

Full Episode: Learning Environments for the Future (via gettingsmart.com)

This led me to discover the the designsare.com of which Randy is the founder and also co-author of The language of School Design: Design Patterns for 21st Century Learning. This led to the discovery of Blueprint for Tomorrow: Redesigning Schools for Student-Centered Learning by Prakash Nair.

The purpose of this post is to serve as a reminder for me to purchase these books in the near future and also come back here to report on these books.

Learning Space Design

Learning space design is an area that interests me and is an area that I would like to study further. The theory of learning space design revolves around the design of a learning space or office or building. When we think about room design, we know that the same room can be designed in many different ways and create different atmospheres simply based on the design. If you think of a mall for example, you have multiple stores in a single space all with different designs. Take a minute and think about the experience of walking past Bath & Body Works. What do you experience? Bright lights, music, people at the entry, free samples (at times), and at times an over powering sense of smells that can make eyes water or for some a lure to come inside. Now if we take that same experience but instead we walk past an Auntie Anne’s pretzel stand. Now we experience the aroma of pretzels, the different flavors of pretzels, no people out front (except for the occasional free sample), and finally a small store front that is focused on making a transaction.

The goal of Bath & Body Works is to bring you deeper into the store and they achieve this through friendly people at the front of the store, free samples, bright colors, and scents. The goal of Annie Anne’s pretzels is to bring the person into the line which is achieved through the same methods as Bath & Body Works but the two organizations achieve this through different approaches. Annie Anne’s achieves this through free samples and aromas with some locations having the product made in front of the customer. Bath & Body Works achieve this same goal primarily through smell but also through touch. If they are giving out a free sample at the front of the store, you can not only smell the product but also feel the product.

The design of a learning space is simply not limited to the items we discussed but extends further by looking at the components which make up the learning space. The walls, windows, doors, and many other items all make up the shell of the learning space. What attention do we give to these components? This article I found on LinkedIn provides details of how these components that we may over think do play a role in our learning space design. Article: How to perform better at work by changing your indoor environment

After having worked at home for nearly the last four years, a change in my work environment was needed. I explored co-working spaces in July 2018 and landed on the Idea Foundry. The Idea Foundry is located in an old factory in Columbus that is now home to a Makerspace on the first floor and co-working on the second floor. The building has been designed with big windows which allows for the natural sunlight to come through and illuminate the area. There are groups of desks that you can work at or a mezzanine area where you could go for more focused work or smaller group meetings. I have been able to work here with a client who is from the area and brought in a new co-worker who also lives in Ohio for a day of training. The main point that both of these individuals made on different occasions was the realization that work was being done in what appeared to be an unstructured environment because the people who are working at the Idea Foundry have been empowered by their organizations or self-motivation to make a decision on where and how to work that best fits their personalities.

My favorite spot is on the mezzanine in a corner with the large windows mentioned earlier providing an Eastern view with plenty of sunlight but more importantly a view of an active rail line that has trains coming and going on a regular basis. I position a chair so that as I work I can look up and see the trains coming and going. I also enjoy working on the lower level of the second floor amongst the other people but having the ability to change my spot throughout the day to fit my need at that time is worth the monthly membership.