August 30, 2007, 12:57 pm
Another day, another annoying software feature, this time from Angel (which we use for our course management system):
This is only one of many annoyances I have with Angel. It’s bloated, slow, clunky… it gives the user zillions of options but no control. Even more annoying than this little graphic is the larger fact that Angel forces users to use its own internal email system. When you send an email, it goes not to the user’s normal email address but to a special “Angel email” account. (There’s an option for sending to the internet address, but it is hidden in the screen and left unselected by default.) Angel tries to reinvent the wheel at every turn; and it’s not alone, because every CMS system I’ve used does the same thing.
I could do the same stuff Angel does, with a WordPress blog for a microscopic fraction of the price and the irritation.
August 29, 2007, 2:45 pm
I’m in the middle of backing up my laptop hard drive to an external drive using SmartBackup. This is my first time using SmartBackup, and it seems like a pretty good piece of software, but there is something very annoying about the graphic it gives you for the status of your backup (click to enlarge):
Maybe this is something that annoys only me, but the percentage of the status bar that is shaded in should always equal the percentage of the job that has been completed. Otherwise this graphic is basically meaningless. Just give the percentage; that’s the piece that is actually conveying information.
This public service announcement has been sponsored by Edward Tufte. Carry on.
August 22, 2007, 8:31 am
One of the things I like about WordPress.com blogs is the built-in statistical features that show traffic levels, referring web sites, and so forth. One of the items you can view is what people entered in to search engines to find your site. I got some interesting stuff over the last two days:
(1) That person must have been sorely disappointed to get a blog about math and education… and I think there’s such a thing as too much information.
(2) Yes… it’s called an “exponent”. Look into it.
(3) I can just imagine somebody sitting around thinking, “I’d sure like to cast my family out onto the street. I wonder if there’s a web site about that?” Might be the same person as in (1).
And I think it’s funny that both now and in the past, by far the biggest source of traffic for this blog are people doing Google/Yahoo searches for casting out nines, the numerical algorithm.
August 21, 2007, 8:44 am
A friend sent me a tip about this new flavor of Ubuntu Linux that caters to Christians. It’s your basic Ubuntu distro, packaged with the GnomeSword Bible study software, BibleMemorizer, and something called the BibleFox theme for Firefox. I’m normally not a fan of Christian franchising (e.g. lame Christian ripoffs of famous T-shirt themes). But this case, why not? The whole point of open source software is that users can make of it what they want, and this seems like a pretty good instance of that philosophy. I can see the value of something like this, too, in getting inexpensive (well, free) and functional software to missionaries, churches in remote areas, and others who can neither afford nor obtain proprietary software. (And GnomeSword is actually a very nice piece of software, on par with the ridiculously expensive Bible study programs.)
When my friend send me the link, I emailed…
August 3, 2007, 12:26 pm
On the heels of yesterday’s post about the top 100 e-learning tools list, Jane asked me to submit my own top 10 list. It’s now up here, but I thought I’d reprint it. Take it in lieu of a Friday Random 10!
1. Wikipedia. I use it for everything — finding information about a topic on the fly, finding graphics related to a topic, doing initial research about something I’m interested in, even just a good old fashioned random article search. It represents a powerful paradigm shift in how knowledge is shared and stored, and it’s just plain fun for nerds like me.
2. Keynote. Apple’s presentation software is far more flexible and media-friendly than PowerPoint. I do almost everything in Keynote in my job as a professor.
3. LaTeX-iT. This is a small Mac app that allows you to typeset individual mathematical expressions one at a time, using the powerful LaTeX typesetting language, without…
July 5, 2007, 12:57 pm
I’ve spent most of the afternoon working on screencasts. I’ve made two of them, not counting one that I ended up deleting because it went too long. (I’m trying to stick to a 15-minute limit on these things.) I would love to share them, but…
1. The pixel resolution on Google Video is God-awful, even when I encode the screencast as high-resolution MPEG4 video. Here’s what it looks like (click to enlarge):
You can (try to) see the whole thing here. Like I said, that’s at the high end of resolution.
Update: By contrast, here’s a screenshot of the same frame taken from the original Quicktime:
The Quicktime is nice and sharp. The Google Video is illegible.
2. Both ecto and the native WordPress editor refuse to upload the original Quicktime movies. The small one I made was 22 MB, which is big but not so big it would make the server choke.
I’m certainly learning a lot about the technical …
July 1, 2007, 11:17 am
Let me recommend the web site X vs. XP for anybody who is trying to get a fair and balanced comparison of the OS X and Windows XP operating systems. There are point-by-point comparisons for dozens of different user and administrative tasks as well as applications. But the writers at the web site are not Mac or Windows zealots, and it seems for the most part that they rate OS X and WinXP pretty much equally highly, with some exceptions. OS X definitely does not come out ahead in everything, which from experience I believe is true.
I’ve found it valuable, as I have been rehabbing an old PC for the kids’ playroom, for figuring out how to do certain things on WinXP that I had gotten used to while using OS X. Or, as the case may be, I have learned that certain things that are easy on OS X — like restricting user access to specific apps — are simply impossible on WinXP.
Now if it can just …
June 27, 2007, 6:36 am
We’re finishing up a makeover of the girls’ playroom today into what I am calling “casual contemporary schoolroom” style. And OmniGraffle came in handy for making a scale drawing of the new layout (click to enlarge):
The room is 11 by 13 feet. Once I measured the room, I just drew an 8-inch-long rectangle and set the width to be 11/13 times 8 inches wide. Then I could go and measure each object we are putting in, and manually resize its drawing to have the right proportions using one of the inspectors in OmniGraffle. Conversely, and perhaps more helpfully, I could draw new stuff in the room with the proportions I wanted, then do the math to see how big they would be in real life, which helps me in shopping for that stuff. (For example, we haven’t bought the art table, but I now know from the drawing that it would need to be about 2′ long in order to look like it does in the layout.)