Lacking Confidence, We See No Others

Strange title, I agree.  However, I’m being to believe that the very foundation of a strong family, a strong community or a strong school is confidence in ourselves.

As a almost-to-be father, I picked up a parenting book in a Borders (in shopping center in Maryland), and read a few pages.  In very blunt terms, the book said that all children crave one thing in their parents.  It wasn’t leadership, or knowledge, or demonstrations of success– it was simply unflappable-ness (if that is a word).  The example they gave was the horrific TV show The Brady Bunch.  Despite my mental images of Jan cat fighing with Marsha, the book noted that the Brady parents were pretty much unflappable.  They didn’t rage.  They didn’t fly off the handle when Jan broke her glasses.  They took things in stride, kept their heads, and modeled how calm, non-alcoholic, mentally-balanced parents should behave.

For a parent to pull this off, I realize, takes some self-confidence.  Dr. Ned Hallowell was visiting and speaking at our school recently, and he had a very simple five steps to enabling kids to have great childhoods, which boiled down to basically one concept– the importance of “connections” at home and at school as being the key indicators of both happiness and future success in life.  One of my favorite recommendations– spend 20 minutes a week with each of your children individually, doing whatever they want and enjoy with you.  That investment is like money in the bank that will pay powerful dividends for decades.

As Dr. Hallowell noted, connections are free, there is no limit, and all of us crave and desire them.  Giving is the way to receive, but there is a catch.  There’s always a catch…  The challenge is that to connect with others, we have to have some confidence in ourselves.  If we have too much self-doubt, it’s hard to really connect or be friends with others.  Doubt leads to negative fears about oneself, and reflective fears of others– typically leading to blaming others or judging them to weak or bad or lazy or unneeded– basically all the things we worry about ourselves.  This was also reflected in Dr. Hallowell’s talk about previous generations of fathers really wanting and driving their sons to be “better than themselves.”  This led to misguided and sometimes harsh words and actions and attitudes, because it was all really a statement about how the fathers felt about themselves.

I believe Dr. Hallowell was correct on many levels.  If we think less of others, it’s time to be honest about how we feel about ourselves, and GET OVER IT.  We’re capable of doing great things, if we just acknowledge that, all the way around.


Some Success!

Okay, so the entire month of September 2011 slipped by without a post here.  It was a busy month, but we’ve also had some successes:

  • After four years of research and tweaking, we now have a fast and rather reliable enterprise wireless network
  • After four years of jams and breakdows, we now have an effective fleet of HP MFP printer/copiers humming away
  • Google Docs is taking off really well in MS and HS– already over 2,000 documents have been created by 600 users
  • A Macbook Air 1:1 pilot program is getting very good reviews
  • Veracross is off to a good second year start
  • Zimbra email is now nicely stable, after a very rough start on version 7.1
  • Even our Windows 7 images are working much better this year

Knocking on wood, I’m taking a moment to feel like we might be making good headway on the infrastructure issues.  More than anything else, I’d like to move back closer to the teaching and learning side of things.  I will admit that the collaboration we see happening with Google Docs is a nice addition to the learning experience here.

Cheers to everyone, and I hope everyone is having a good start of the year!



Getting Started with Google Docs and Apps

Helped introduce our 1315 new Google Docs accounts to MS and HS yesterday.

Best part was two HS teachers who shared some examples from their four years of use. I had no idea that the comments feature and versions feature could allow paperless exchanges between teachers and students for revisions. It also appears that sharing one document with up to 19 others has worked out (as long as they weren’t trying to edit simultaneously). Best recommendation for simultaneous editing was only two at a time.

We also did a test that was interesting– a PDF was uploaded into Google Docs, and then downloaded back out as an editable Word doc.  Interesting.

We’re using single sign on for all the accounts via Finalsite, which allows us to use existing usernames and passwords from AD, but it means the normal Google sign in pages can’t be used.  Maybe that’s more security, but it might be confusing for users to start (especially those with multiple Google accounts).


Backing off Moodle 2.1

I’m sorry to report that we needed to back off on our Moodle 2.1 migration. We had gone all the way to a hosted provider who migrated all of our 1.9 course material in, but we still found some issues that we couldn’t resolve in time. We needed to roll back to 1.9 local.

The main “gotcha” was the file management and backup issues. First, we found that our migrated 1.9 data worked correctly in Moodle 2.1, but then the backups of this data appeared scrambled and unreliable. We were able to fix this a bit by modifying templates and structures, but not enough to be confident. The zip backups are very important to us, because we run them every 48 hours for all classes, and they are also the way we finish one year (clear all data) and then reload courses for the following year (from the zip files).

We also found interface challenges with loading files into Moodle as a teacher and then managing them. There were enough changes triggered by the file restructuring in Moodle 2.1 to scare us a bit– enough for the rollback.

So, we’re stable and running fine back on our 1.9 local server, and we only had a 3 month commitment to the hosted server, so we’re fine for the start of school. It was sad, however,  to lose so much work on the migration to 2.1 that didn’t quite make it.


The Long Summer

Okay, I haven’t posted since March. As you might guess, it’s been a long summer.  I didn’t even remember my password to log back into this system…

Since taking on the roles of both technology and some school operations, I find myself working on computers and buildings at the same time. This summer we had about 50 different projects underway (my teams, that is), leading to a broad range of changes. Some of the largest:

  • Fully renovated sports pavilion
  • 22 Epson Brightlink installations
  • Expensive air handler for kitchen and servery
  • 100 Meru access points moved (new data and electrical)
  • New roof for Lower School reception
  • Zimbra upgrade 6 to 7
  • Google Docs and Apps roll out for 1500 users
  • 14 more HP MFP printer/copiers
  • A Palo Alto box installation
  • Macbook Air pilot
  • iPad2 pilot
  • New Veracross feature implementations

The list goes on, and I won’t mention the ten air-blade style hand driers.

Now, as others come back to work, I feel like taking a break and think about conferences to go to. Maybe NAIS in Seattle… Maybe ISTE in San Diego…

Let the school year begin.


Doing the Flip, or Reversing the Classroom

I wrote a rather long (13 pages) memo to the Admin Team after attending the NAIS Annual conference in February.  The main focus was on the talk given by Salman Khan of Khan Academy.  For those of you who weren’t there, this TED talk video is a good approximate of his NAIS talk:

I’m quite interested in the idea of flipping or reversing the classroom, in that lectures or content delivery is done at home via the Internet, and classroom time is maximized to enhance person-to-person communication and collaboration.  I think this could be a win-win situation, with both the content delivery being improved, and the classroom experience becoming more authentic.

However, I don’t think this will happen all by itself.  I’m almost jealous of the East Coast schools that tried flipping this winter simply because they had so many snow days.  It was a great reason to try, and it appears that some of the “emergency measures” have led to changes long after the school days ended.

To enable teachers to become content creators and publishers (on their own, from home if need be), the tools are going to change.  I rather like Haiku as a possible tool for this, and we’re also thinking about replacing our close to end-of-life Avervision Visualizers with Mimio document cameras, in part because they run all images through the teachers laptop, making it that much easier to capture images and materials to be put online.  This could make flipping easier.

Spring break has begun, and the wife and kids just took off for Heathrow.  I have three days at school next week, and then I’m off to visit Oregon as well.


School Auctions, and Kids on Bikes

Just completed another school auction last night.  It’s always fun to bicycle home at 2 a.m. in London.  The gates into Regents Park, where we live, were locked, but I’m able to take the sidewalk around them to get to the Inner Circle.

The auction went really smoothly last night.  The organization was done really well.  Two years ago we researched auction software packages, and there were one or more good options, but neither could support UK currency and other things unique to our location (such as very complicated tax receipts).  Thus, our custom FileMaker database for auctions (and our in-house developer) swung into to action once again and did well.

Another tech step forward was a much broader use of hand held wireless technology for bidding.  In the last auction, the super silent part was done via ID cards inserted into basic hand-helds that allowed everyone to enter a lot number and bid, with the lots appearing on screens with the increasing bids being shown.  Last night it was taken to the next step, with ALL lots (on tables, on silent, on super silent, and for a end-of-evening pledge) being done via the wireless hand-helds, and it worked well.  We had a slight data alignment glitch at the very end of the evening on some of the super silent items, but the team hired in with the hand held helped us resolve it in about 15 minutes.

The last item pledge worked particularly well, because contributors names (but not amounts) rolled up all the screens as the final “group participation” pledge took place.  Nicely done.

Tired this morning, but very happy to see both of our kids go out cycling on their own on the Inner Circle in Regents Park.  We are in this VERY WEIRD time as our kids are becoming more independent in their weekends, doing things on their own and with friends.  This true “growing up” phase could be the strangest thing we’ve experienced so far as parents, but I was really proud how my daughter learned how to use Presta valves and pumped up her own tires this morning, thank you very much.

If I can have a son and a daughter who are confident with doing schoolwork and mechanical things with their hands, I will be a happy guy.

Eve's Specialized Dolce 24


Design Thinking

I had two good meetings today with faculty members “leading the way” in Design Thinking.

In one case, we have a 2D Laser cutter being used to bring MS Science students’ designs to life (boxes, tea lights, three dimensional folded objects).  Our next move is to improve their software (to Autocad, and perhaps Autocad Inventor) and to think about 3D printers.

In the next case, we have students doing architecture work, doing drawings and drafting by hand, using Sketch-Up, building models and designs.  In this class, for next year, the plan is to increase the hand drawings and possibly decrease the Sketch-Up, because the imagination of the students is beyond the limits of the software– and having as few of limits as possible is the goal.

In another case, we have digital electronics, with both real and digital electronics work taking place.  This is in addition to a First Robotics program (robot recently shipped off) and a First Lego League that went to Nationals this year.

The development of our 1200 sq. foot Design Center has played a role in each of these, and it’s a heavily scheduled space this year.  It’s also the home of the HS yearbook, so there’s always a lot going on there.  The crank-up multiple height tables (for both seated and standing work) are working out well, as are the 18 24 inch iMacs around the periphery of the room.  We just ordered an HP A3 color copier, scanner and printer for the Design Center.

Design thinking– moving forward.


Tech Departments: sliding sideways, fading away

We’ve all heard of things going pear-shaped.  I’m more interested in when things go sideways, or maybe fade away.

Traditionally, a tech department has kept its domain limited to specific types of technology—desktops, laptops, servers, tablets, smartphones, networks, Internet access, printers, school databases, core office software suites, phone system, copiers, scanners and sometimes the security and access control systems.

If there isn’t a media department, the tech department picks up digital projectors, digital cameras and camcorders, digital recording hardware, televisions, display monitors and even sound systems for school dances.

In general, however, tech departments try not to pick up the responsibility for everything that uses electricity (such as electric pencil sharpeners and laminators), but I’ve seen that happen as well.  (Not fun.)

Specialized software and hardware has always created interesting problems for tech departments.  Sophisticated gear and software for art classes (Illustrator, Maya, large roll printers) shouldn’t be bought in isolation of the tech department (since it needs to spec the correct hardware and peripherals and file storage and backup, etc.), but overall it’s a department-specific need and is therefore more like a set of textbooks than a tech department purchase.  The same may be true for video production software and music production software (and USB keyboards, Midi devices, or similar).

The situation becomes even messier in Science, where probeware and related software is really a cross between the tech department and the science department.  The tech department has never spec’d and bought microscopes or Bunsen burners, but what happens when the microscopes are all digital, or a FLIR camera is desired, or a new suite of probeware?

The same can occur in Athletics with heart rate monitors, held-held computers for data collection, and advanced video analysis software (and the associated cameras and workstations needed to run it).  Tech departments have never bought balls or nets, and Athletics have never bought camcorders, video workstations, and hand-held computers before.

In a perfect world, a coalition of work needs to take place between the departments and the tech department to make the right decisions.  Grass root discoveries and requests from the departments themselves may always be the strongest, but sometimes those requests are limited to only one or two people (and sometimes they move on to other schools before a pilot project can take root).

What I’m considering, in terms of “going sideways,” is how a tech department can have a broad enough vision to carefully suggest new software and equipment to other departments (art, athletics, science, music, math, and others) in a meaningful way.  This is a tricky business, because the ownership of the tools needs to be with the departments in the end (unless the tech department is so large that they can be called to run a roll printer whenever it is needed, for example).  It is also tricky because the costs of the new gear are likely to come back to the tech department budget, since we’re walking into new digital realms in a lot of these areas.

One example is the rather expensive 2D laser cutter we spec’d with a MS science teacher last year, which was purchased and is now in use with MS Science, MS Design, HS robotics, and HS Architecture and Design.  Even more than a roll printer, this is a high tech and somewhat high learning curve device that was hard to budget for.  It is working out this year, primarily because of the hard work of the lead teachers who requested it, but it’s an example of some risk exposure in order to move forward (and the traditional MS/HS science budgets weren’t equipped to just add it to their purchase list).

As noted in an earlier post, I really see technology in education skewing to hands-on learning experiences (like the 2D laser cutter) as we go forward.  We are at a high plateau now with a well-used virtual learning environment (Moodle), a heavily used email system (Zimbra), extensive use of computers for writing and research, and a growing online portal for a variety of information straight from the student information system.  These are all great and part of the equation, but they are also virtual and mostly cerebral.

The counter-weight to this will be the technology that is more hands-on, such as my son doing stop-motion animation with our Nikon at home to post on his Youtube channel.  And the students building tea lamps using materials Illustrator-designed and cut by laser.  And the heart-rate monitors, and science probeware, and USB keyboards, and Lego robotics, and First robotics, and the recording studio…

To move further into those realms, tech departments have a role to play via collaboration, research and helping to find and responsibility use the budgets.  I consider that a somewhat “sideways” move, because it just blurs the boundaries of a tech department even more.

Who knows?  In the end, it may be that a growing percentage of the teachers themselves should be considered members of the tech department; i.e., the tech department itself isn’t really a department any more at all, but a state of mind.  I kind of like the idea of tech mavens all over the school in all departments.

How can I achieve that…

Meanwhile, it’s time to go to some sessions at the NAIS annual conference.  It was bright and sunny here in National Harbor yesterday, but it’s going to cloud up and rain today.  I still have a nice view of the Potomac.


So you want a career in technology?

I had about 20 eighth graders sign up for a short talk I did this week about my career.  It was one of those classic career day sort of things.  I started by saying that I remembered career day back when I was their age, and it was fun to hear about what architects and lawyers and accountants did, but I was more interested in how they got there (i.e., what were they doing when they were in eighth grade that may have led to their fates).

I noted that my generation was “rotting their brains” by watching too much t.v., just as their generation is “rotting their brains” with Facebook and computer games.  I confessed to watching a lot of t.v. at their age, but still I seemed to survive, and it wasn’t the only thing I did.

Here’s the Prezi I created for the little 15 minute talk:

Some explanation:

Having a passion— story about a very happy phone line installer I met in Philadelphia. Doing it for 13 years, wanting to do it for another 20 years. I admired his passion for a basic but fulfilling job.

Being Hands-on— the importance of taking things apart and building things. When I was 15, I bought two Morris Minor 1000s at an estate auction, and rebuilt the best one entirely. I learned a lot from working with machines.

Embrace change— Our iPhones are about the same as super computers 25 years ago. Think of today’s super computers on phones 25 years from today. Discuss.

Discover innovations— Innovation isn’t always technology. It may be simply bringing people and their motivations together in new ways, like Wikipedia.

Experience humility— technology can and will let you down. It is fragile and unreliable, but it is also becoming essential. Breakage and failures are part of the process, not avoidable.

Always learning— Because of change, you will be a lifelong learner with a career in technology, so get good at it. But it’s not just because of the change– my 1974 sailboat will take a lifetime to learn how to sail really well. Technology is similar, and lifelong learning is easy in any career ambition you are really passionate about.

To conclude, three recommendations:

Be passionate: right now, it can be able anything. Study it. Look it up online. See what others are saying and doing about it. Be passionate now about anything, and in the future you will find more to be passionate about.

Be hands on:
there is a risk of being all virtual and cerebral about things. Take things apart. Build things. Break things. Fail. Make something you are proud of. Get a bike and take it apart. Build with Legos, sew, paint, get messy.

Any job is a good first job:
babysit, get basic jobs, work for a summer when you are in high school, instead of just travel. All jobs are good first jobs, and your first jobs will continue right through college.

That’s it for now.


Images, Images, Images

Back in November my wife starting getting emails about some image galleries we built using her .Mac account in 2004.  We had posted about 11 image galleries about the restoration of a Cal 20 sailboat my brother and I bought off the side of the road for $600.

Well, we always knew these galleries were popular because their page hits were into many, many thousands.  Some emailed to tell us that they bought the same boat after seeing our galleries and how they could be fixed up.

Then, in November 2010, Apple decided that it wasn’t going to support the homepages part of .Mac anymore.  In fact, .Mac because Me.com, etc., and our pages were still there but broken– none of the images still showed.  Of course, they had no easy way to convert the sites over to the “new and improved” Me.com sites.

So, a few months go by, and we get about an email a week saying “geez, we really miss those galleries.”  So, being sick for the last four days, I rebuilt them all from scratch, converted all of our online galleries from Gallery 2.3 to 3.01, and then hacked the old .mac pages to show redirects.

Here’s the fruits of the labor:

Sailing, Travel, Life

And, of course, the famous Cal 20 Restoration Galleries.

Gallery 3.01 is pretty impressive– I like how I can now upload dozens of photos right through the web interface now (instead of using Gallery Remote client).  It is also suppose to fix the Google bot problem, because version 2.3 prevented the images from showing up on Google Images and in other searches.

We’ll see how it goes.

Restoring a Cal 20 Sailboat (in 2004)


Quality of Service– Apple.com Vs. ISP

We’ve had an interesting experience.  Our Meru access points are set to load balance the number of connected clients based on bandwidth being used.  One day as we are tracing access point performance, we tracked a user through a day where his/her Macbook would knock off all other clients from the access point it was associated with.  I.e., it alone was pulling so much bandwidth that the access point moved all other clients off (creating nice issues for us in certain areas in terms of coverage).

We politely talked to the user the next day, because at first we feared the Macbook was infected and was going crazy with p2p or similar software.  Instead, we found that the user had bought four or five HD movies over the weekend at home.  They didn’t download there, but then iTunes had a field day when she arrived at school with our 100mbit connection, N wireless at 300 mbit connection speed, etc.

Since then, we’ve downshifted the N wireless network to a max of 130 mbits (and we’ve also been having to upgrade the connections of the access points to gigabit, because the POE 100 mbit runs are overloading).

We’ve also trialed a Palo Alto appliance, which is less expensive than a Packeteer, but the first thing we tested was to limit www.apple.com to no more than 10 mbits of our 100 mbit Internet connection, which appears to work.  If we have more cloud-based backup users, we may have to do something similar (since home broadband upload rates are only .5 mbit, but at our school it can ramp to 100 mbit).

I think these types of issues are going to affect us more in the future, and we will need to work more on setting up QOS for different sites and services.


The Journey Continues…

I’m working with a project manager now on a restoration and upgrade of a sports pavilion.  He’s an experienced project manager, and he’s worked on much larger projects than this sports pavilion.  As he leads the project, he frequently refers to “the journey of the project” and “taking Joan on the journey” or “delayed steelworks will change the journey of the veranda.”

I find this phraseology refreshing.  A journey is going to have many twists and turns, and different traveling companions at different times.  It’s going to have some detours and delays, or its going to have some tense “rush to catch the ferry” moments.  Journeys also always come to an end, hopefully at the hoped-for destination.

Having driven across the US twice, and cycled across a few states, I can understand this well.  It’s an early and consistent way to acknowledge not everything will be know until the journey goes forward, and an acknowledgment that not everyone who starts the trip will end it. Also, we’ll do the best we possibly can when things go awry (a flat tire, a missed ferry), and we’re mentally prepared for that.

Maybe that’s the right approach for tech integration and project development as well.  Sometimes, we’re so focused on advocating the positive that we neglect to acknowledge the likely set-backs and detours.

There are cases of complete “crash and burn” projects (major investments that had to be abandoned 1 or more years after deployment), but I wonder how many of them may have been caused by not reading the writing on the wall and making an appropriate detour much earlier in the process.

Rainy here today in London.  Have the day off, but there’s too much rain to take the family to the boat yet.


The Holiday Diversion

Those of you who have seen the film “A Christmas Story” based on the writings of Jean Shepherd will have a pretty good idea of what I think of the holidays.  Those of us who have kids eventually find it inevitable that we become like the father in the film, stomping downstairs to conduct war on a broken boiler belching black smoke while our curses float out over Lake Michigan like a black cloud, to linger for decades.  Meanwhile, the kids wind up in a slight frenzy of positive stress as “the day” approaches.

In the past, we sought to bypass some of this railroad track by deliberately plonking ourselves in the woods for four nights just before Christmas.  For several years, our favorite retreat was a barely heated plastic yurt at Beverley Beach on the Oregon coast, where we could be guaranteed to have five days of horizontal rain direct from the Pacific Ocean as we had family time, explored the aquarium at Newport, looked at boats in the marina, and didn’t really think about xmas.  It worked on a lot of good levels.

This year we opted for a business apartment at a low rate in downtown Brussels, and for four days we wandered the old town and enjoyed the small shops, the remarkable comic strip museum, the surprisingly good and empty Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, and found out that Belgium wasn’t bad at chocolates, beer, waffles, and frites.  Manneken Pis wasn’t my daughter’s favorite statue, nor mine, but that’s how it goes.

It was a very special trip, and the kids brought home a TinTin and some other specialized comics from the shops we found.  The only downside is that it’s now early morning on Christmas Eve (the day on which my daughter Eve likes to be called Christmas Eve), and we have done nothing for the holiday at home.  No tree, no decorations, no food for a xmas meal, and London pretty much shuts down on Xmas day.

In fact, I’m not even sure if half of the kids’ gifts made it from Amazon while we were away, so I need to bicycle into work with a large, empty backpack to see if we’re going to be heros or cads come tomorrow morning.

So, it’s time to do something about it, after one more cup of java.  Maybe sometimes I wish the Bumpas hounds were next door, ready to charge in our home and shred Christmas for us (as in the movie), so maybe we could decelerate and have more family time…

However, I don’t have much time to moan.  The biggest success of the Belgium trip was the the kids broke in their new hiking boats (my real holiday present to them this year, given two weeks ago), so now I’m more confident about our return to the Lake District for some cold and perhaps snowy fell walking starting on Dec 27th.  It’s nice to have a holiday vacation, or two.

Happy new year.



If you like Apple products, don’t go to this page:

Apple Destroyed Products

Secondly, it appears that another Web 2.0 app may be no more:

Yahoo Shuttering Delicious

Meanwhile, we have our fingers crossed that Eurostar can brave the snow and get us to Brussels tomorrow morning.

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