Geek

WordPress Upgrade

Having been warned,  I upgraded WordPress today (the engine that drives this site).  Because I hadn’t upgraded my “automatic upgrade” plugin either, I had to do it manually.   Meaning it took a little while, and looked funny in the process.   So, if you stopped by this afternoon and it didn’t look right, that’s why.

All done now.

PS: Delta is listening to Kansas as she does her homework in the next room… not too different from how I did my homework in high school, except that she’s better at it.

Scribus: software review

For several years, I was a proficient user of Pagemaker, having responsibility for a number of different desktop-publishing projects for clients.

I no longer do much of that for work, but still have a volunteer commitment or two that requires it.  Unfortunately, when I lost my hard drive last year, I never was able to find my PageMaker CD.  It’s an older version (6.5), but it did what I needed done.  So last year, my volunteer publications were constructed on my OLD laptop (now relegated to the youngest child).  Unfortunately, over this past Summer, it required a total reformat, so my only surviving copy of PageMaker was lost.

This week, it’s again time to put together an orchestra program… and I had no software.  I can’t justify $499 for something that I’m going to use four times per year (and donating my services at that), so I set out to see if there’s a comparable open-source package.

Scribus is it.  Although different from PageMaker, it has all the same functionality, and even seems a bit less finicky about working with imported images.  For example, PageMaker wouldn’t directly import from Photoshop (even though both are Adobe products); Scribus does.

Although it took me a little trial-and-error to figure out how to do the things that I’d learned over the years with Pagemaker, for the most part, it was a seamless transition.  If I’d had the time to actually order the manual before embarking on my first publication, it might have gone even more smoothly!

One of the attractive features of open-source software is the availability of a broad support community, rather than just a manufacturer’s site with paid support options.  There are wikis and message boards with more experienced users, so answers are just a few clicks away in most cases.

If you need to do professional-looking desktop publishing, I highly recommend Scribus.  And no one even paid me to say it (though the software was free, as it is for everyone).

Virus Panic

No, not the H1N1 piggy flu… although there’s a rational discussion on that subject over at ACT.  This virus, or viruses, is of the variety that infects machines.  

Specifically, Delta’s laptop.  I’m not sure what happened; she was running McAfee, but some little nasty slipped by and disabled the antivirus software.  I loaded a copy of AVG Free and ran several scans, eliminating nearly 200 threats, but the problems quickly returned (even though I’d disabled System Restore).  Following advice from techie boards, I ran a few scans with ComboFix in safe mode.

We’re now on about day five of fighting for a cure; if it were the real flu, the patient would be getting over it by now.   My next attempt is to run a full scan with Trend Micro, as I’ve had good luck with that in the past.

How many hours is a 6 year old laptop worth?  Well, the only reason it’s survived this long is that there’s one program on it that I need about 5 times per year, for which I no longer have the install CD.  But, when I need it, I REALLY need it.  So, considering that a new copy of PageMaker would set me back about the cost of a new (kid-edition) laptop, I’m willing to try a little longer.

Once this is fixed, HWTFM’s old laptop is scheduled for open-heart surgery on the kitchen table.  He’s already got a new one, so this one can be redirected to Gamma (who now despises being locked to a desktop).  Just a few months out of warranty, it suffered a spill when the cat knocked over a glass of water.

With woes like these, swine flu looks like just another bug in the wild.  HWTFM is on a plane for the west coast as I write, and Beta is at a music festival in Memphis.  I told them to wash their hands, and sent them on their way.

So now the house is mostly empty, and I can tend to the wounded electronics in peace.

Geekery Test

I’ve been pondering on a piece for days, but looking for an elusive code snippet that will let me put part of the post out for public view, while keeping part of it available only to a chosen few.

So this is a test of that new plugin.  I’ve been learning a new language along the way, because while there’s a ton of good open-source stuff out there, there are a few things I’ve wished for that just don’t seem to exist.  Or, at the very least, I’d like to be able to modify some of what’s already out there.

I’ve already accomplished some of what’s been bugging me, but here’s the test of this new toy:

[hide]You should have to register to read this part.  Because the next post is the one where I’m going to speak what’s been bottled up for a good two weeks now, some things will make more sense. [/hide]

 

There.  I feel better already.

The future of school

After a couple of intense days at the T+L Conference, one thing is clear: the future of school includes some online courses.  That’s not to take anything away from teachers, or their ability to help our children learn and grow… but the way that’s accomplished is going to change.

It has to.  Already, schedule compression (more and more requirements, no more hours in the day) has reached the point where some students are forced to give things up, in order to fulfill requirements.  Once example of that is that Gamma will have to take economics next year, and to do so during the school day, she’ll either have to give up Orchestra (which she’s been in since 4th grade), or German IV (necessary for her to be able to take the AP test, which she very much wants to do), or Calculus (not an option).

I don’t consider any of those to be an acceptable trade-off, so I’m exploring the possibility of enrolling her in an online course through Roane State, which she could hopefully do over the Summer.  

I don’t know, but I’d be willing to bet that there are quite a few students faced with giving up something they’ve invested years in.  The reality is, you can’t take four years of a foreign language AND be in the band, orchestra, art, career academies, or any number of valuable classes, and still meet all the graduation requirements. 

What if we could offer online courses, to be completed at home, for things like Economics, Government, Personal Finance (a new requirement beginning next year), Wellness A (essentially, what we used to call "Health") and such?  Those are pretty standard classes, which most students could learn independently with the right online curriculum.

Further, what if we could waive the PE requirements (currently one semester, going up to two semesters next year) for those students who are part of school athletic teams, who already put in at least the same number of hours?

Next year, two more courses will be required for graduation (Personal Finance and PE).  In my opinion, we need to do something this year to prevent the schedule compression from getting worse.

There are already a lot of online courses developed that adhere to our State standards.   Partnering with community colleges, such as Roane State, is another option. 

I’ve gathered a lot of information, which I’ll link to in another post (when I can have all my papers and wireless access in the same place).  But for now, what do you think? 

Cool Find

I got a new phone today, mainly so that I could give my old one (but still working, thank you) to Gamma, whose phone was smashed in an unfortunate fall on a frozen lake last Winter.  It still makes and receives calls, but there’s no screen, and therefore no missed calls notice, no texting, etc.

Alpha needed a new one too, so we just spent half the afternoon in the cell phone store.  But, we lucked out and got a college kid working with us, and he was gracious enough to share a wonderful secret:  ringtones from Myxer.  The kind you can have sent to your phone in a media message and save to your phone, absolutely free.

Sure, I knew how to download ringtones on my phone for a small fee — except that you had to also have network service enabled ($10/month per phone) or pay the network charge at about $1.50 per minute.  Because I have teenagers, and a limited budget for cell phones, I have the network service disabled.  They can still send and receive texts — unlimited texting, even — but they can’t send pictures, browse the ringtones or games shop, and stuff like that.

Today is the first time I’ve found a way to expand the ringtones offering without the risk of forking over a lot of the green stuff.  So, in light of the good mood, I thought I’d share the love.

I’ve still got the Rolling Stones as my primary ringtone, but can flip over to Clapton or Heart with a couple of thumbstrokes.  Love it.

Technical Difficulty

So, why hasn’t anyone alerted me to the fact that the links are broken in everything I’ve posted since upgrading to Firefox 3.0?  There’s apparently an incompatibility with my Chenpress plugin; I’ve upgraded, but messed up more than I fixed at this point.

My blogroll has disappeared, along with my links.  And the background is wrong.

I needed to practice some anyway. 

*  *  *

Links and stuff are back.  Chenpress is upgraded.  The links button is still broken, but I do know how to fix them manually (it’s just slow to do it that way).

 

Counterproductivity

Back in August, I wrote (here and here) about Anderson County’s internet filtering of all computers within the courthouse.  At the time, my primary objection was that the filtering was (and still is) selective — not based on appropriate content, but more along the lines of political thought.

Today, I learned that it’s actually hindering job performance in some cases.  An employee whose primary responsibility deals with overseeing the status and progress of children who are involved with the legal system, was attempting to access the legislative website of our congressman, Zach Wamp.  The employee knew that there was a paper there with information needed to better perform the job at hand.

The legislative site was blocked by the County’s filtering software.

Later, the same employee keyed in another well-known URL inadvertently using the wrong suffix (you know — dot-com instead of dot-org or dot-gov), and a full-fledged porn site popped up on the screen.  Unfiltered.

*  *  *  *  *
Content filters don’t work very well.  There are instances — in schools, for example — where it’s mandatory (i.e., required by the federal government as a condition of receiving e-rate funds) to have some filtering in place, but in the workplace, it’s just as likely to hinder productivity.  What would be far more useful is a tracking system so that it’s possible to see the sites where employees are spending their time.  If recreational web surfing is a problem, deal with the problem.

That just makes too much sense for government, though.

Customer Service: AT&T

Most anyone who’s ever asked me about internet service knows my low opinion of Comcast; I’ve been there, done that, and use the t-shirt for a cleaning rag.

For about seven years, I’ve been a DSL customer through Bellsouth (now AT&T).  Service interruptions are almost nonexistent.  Yesterday though, we had a power outage from about 6:50 a.m. until sometime around 9 (judging from the time on the blinking clocks throughout the house), and the lights on my modem had been blinking in an ominous fashion — no internet connection — ever since.

When I got home after 5 yesterday, I called AT&T.  After a brief review of my troubleshooting steps, they issued a service request, and the technician was here before 9:00 this morning.  In contrast, RealtorChick’s last call to Comcast resulted in their scheduling a service call about a week later (she switched to DSL instead, which has been working beautifully).

It took him about 5 minutes to get a new modem, put it in bridge mode, test it, and leave.  That’s good service.

Cool stuff online

Educate yourself and others:

Carnegie Mellon University has developed an interactive computer game dubbed Anti-Phishing Phil, which helps teach the player how to discern real websites from fakes. I breezed through the first level, but was surprised to get tripped up by one in the second round. I highly recommend that you check this out, and if you have children in the house who use the internet at all, have them play it too.

I plan to send the link to my parents, as well as to my kids. And my friends. Sure, the graphics are targeted to children, but the lessons are extremely good for all of us.

Then, have some fun:

I do like music — a lot — but I am a little particular about what I listen to. Last week, a good friend (thank you, T.) dropped a fabulous find on me — RadioTracker! Unlike most music subscription-based services I’ve found, this one actually has what I’m looking for.

You can download the software for a free trial first, just to make sure. I think it’s cool.

Next »