Book Review: Hello World by Hannah Fry

Hannah Fry is a delightful speaker and mathematician, a native of England, and really good at breaking down complex concepts into digestible chunks. Which is exactly what she does in her book, Hello World.

As usual I chose to listen to the audibook version of this work. Hannah narrates the text herself adding a layer of personalability to a very potentially dry subject.

The subject at hand is how computers and their formulaic models for creating their output intersect and impact human interaction. Hannah’s perspective is wonderfully hopeful. She articulates downfalls of our reliance on algorithms balancing these hiccups with an overall positive view of a world with human/machine interaction.

I loved the book. Nerdy without being unapproachable. Thoughtful and positive. Certainly a read I’d recommend to others.

Actually, Microsoft

A few months ago I had written how I was able to move all of my apps and workflow over to Linux. It was a proud moment and I loved getting to that point after years of trying.

This last week though, I nuked Linux.

Part of the reason for this was work. While I had adjusted my personal workflow to use only Linux (KDE Neon is awesome), my work workflow was very much based on MS Office and the work issued laptop was not as comfortable as some of my personal machines. So I started doing more work on the home machines and then it dialed up several notches as I started to have to coach people through solving problems on their machines.

So, I nuked Linux.

One reason for doing this is it’s not the same Microsoft as a few years go. You can easily see this in Microsoft’s communication applications. Skype for Business is arguably the worst app I used in 2018. It doesn’t integrate with anything well, doesn’t keep it’s chat history (except inside of MS Outlook), and doesn’t even use a modern codec to be able to do screen sharing.

In contrast there’s MS Teams. It’s modern, remembers your chat history, and integrates with lots of other applications. Teams is where Microsoft is heading, and it seems to be a pretty positive direction. Microsoft now seems to want to play nice with others. That wasn’t always the case.

The other area that’s seen some significant improvement is the ability to run Linux on Windows. The install Ubuntu via Hyper V works pretty dang awesome. So, now I’ve nuked Linux, but I’ve actually installed it twice on this Windows Machine. I’ve got Ubuntu’s command line via Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) and I’ve got full Ubuntu desktop using Hyper V.

I’m probably not going to stick with this long term, but I am going to give it a go for a month or so. Microsoft doesn’t just seem to be telling users how to use their computer anymore. They seem to be actually enabling people’s workflows.

This doesn’t mean the transition is perfect. I’m not a fan of the desktop layout though it is functional. The interface in general has artifacts from previous versions of Windows whenever you try to do anything close to what a power user might want to do on the machine. So it’s enabling, but it’s not an elegant design. KDE had both it was enabling and had an elegant design. Let’s see what Windows is like for a while.

Fortnight–A Technical Challenge

One way to overcome NOCZ (Near Optimum Comfort Zone) is to engage in a fortnight technical challenge. Try something different for fourteen days!

I’ve been doing this challenge for years but especially since I started working with my new employer. The tool set available at work is not insignificant and often times there’s two or three applications to choose from. At first I took the road less traveled on a few of these just to see if it would impact my work flow.

It didn’t.

Then I started realizing that my position had me as the bridge between an off-site contracted workforce and the traditional employees at the company. Every two weeks I would make choices to use tools and technology that more closely resembled their tool set. Recently it paid off–big time!

We transitioned from Wave 1 of the project to Wave 2. That transition included changing a lot of the project team. More of the workforce was further away and not as familiar with the company’s policies and tool set, but to be productive they needed to be.

A lot of what Project Management looks like from the outside is managing Gantt charts and running numbers to communicate Scope, Schedule, and Budget. In my world it’s much different (though I can do those things). I found myself needing to coach/train the project team on the tool set for the project.

Had I only be familiar with the intended company experience from my onboarding I would not have been in any position to help them through the steps needed to be functional. Because I had challenged myself (two weeks at a time) I was able to support them through the learning process and get them up and running efficiently and effectively.

If you’re on the Microsoft Office 365 suite here are some suggestions to try:

  • Ditch Outlook and try the online version. The interface is clean and capable. I’ve gone up to 7 weeks without using native Outlook–and the only reason I had to use it was because Skype for Business doesn’t have the setting I needed built into the app.
  • Ditch Skype for Business (SFB) for MS Teams. Not only is SFB the worst app I used in 2018, it’s so bad Microsoft is switching it’s biggest SFB clients to MS Teams. MS Teams is designed to compete with Slack and it involves a different perspective on communication. It will take time to adapt to its work flow but it’s a powerful tool for anyone who has the need to communicate.
  • Try the online versions of Excel, Word, and PowerPoint. When there’s a feature missing opening the file in the native app is just one click away (so it’s pretty good training wheels). Find out what you can and can’t do.

If you’re doing this as a team make it a fun challenge to come back to the team and report what you’ve learned. This doesn’t have to be a full-fledged team activity, but something that could be discussed a couple times a month over lunch. There will be challenges in doing this, but if you can create a space where those can be shared you should see a shift from it being a gripe session (complaining about the software) and turn into narratives of overcoming the challenges of learning.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Ice Cream Philosophiser

“Dad, if you think about it everything in the world is either made of ice cream, or not made of ice cream.” While this is a bit odd it does show a propensity for binary thinking.  I didn’t quite know how to respond, but in my head I’m thinking 1’s and 0’s aren’t going to scare this kid. Oh, and to be clear, he’s correct.  Things are either made of ice cream, or they’re not.  I wonder which things aren’t made of ice cream that probably should be.
person holding icecream
Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

Martin Wimpress is a Genius

Often times it takes a while for society to realize the impact of one of its members before it chooses to honor them for their contributions.  It’s easy to search for lists of artists who aren’t appreciated in their time.  We will never know the name of the garbage man at Disneyland that essentially invented the Dorito.  Thanks to the myriad of inexpensive devices and inexpensive communication tools we can talk about those otherwise underappreciated artists now while they are still making contributions.

 

Martin Wimpress is one of those individuals who deserves recognition.  He is changing the world, but we might not see by how much for some time to come.  Martin Wimpress is a programmer responsible for Ubuntu MATE and it’s perfectly ok if you don’t know what that is.  Ubuntu MATE is an operating system project that uses very little resources while delivering a very quality experience.  The cost is a recommended donation of $2.50.  It makes fast computers faster and makes inexpensive computers usable.  I’m not talking a $200 computer either.  Try a $35 machine.

For $35 you can purchase a computer just about the size of a credit card that comes with an ethernet port, four usb ports and HDMI out.  That might not be enough for your computing needs but the price point makes it just right for a slew of automated projects from christmas light synchronization to an automatic cat feeder.  By having such a low price point hobbyists can take their ideas out of their head and make them a reality.   

The Pi needs a low weight operating system and Ubuntu MATE is the perfect match for the little board.  While some of the Ubuntu MATE powered Raspberry Pi projects are on youtube not all of them are there yet, nor should you expect them to be.  Let me tease you with a man who built a smart mirror and then I’ll trust you to find more on your own.  

The next generation of inventors are using this free operating system and this $35 computer to explore creating devices that will change the world.  It could be another 5, 10, or 20 years before we see these results in the business space, but regardless of when it happens, it’s my opinion that it’s going to happen.

Martin, and the team he leads at Ubuntu MATE aren’t necessarily paid for their endless hours of coding.  A lot of what they take in from donations goes to server costs and upstream development.  This guy still has a family and a regular day job and one of the most popular linux distributions on the market.

There’s no corporate logo behind his effort.  He won’t become the next tech billionaire for Ubuntu MATE and without a handful of the thousands of people who use his operating system stopping for a few minutes to tell you about him, you’d probably go on your merry way never knowing.  

We generally give teachers a lot of credit for the work they put in with students in the classroom and we don’t thank the contractors that build it because they were paid a fair wage.  Ubuntu MATE on the pi is a digital classroom for all kinds of projects and while Martin isn’t exactly a teacher, his team of unpaid contractors have built an amazing schoolhouse.

Go Dance With A Penguin Part 1

I’ve written earlier about how prototyping with open source can save thousands of dollars and in this post I’d like to make the case that even if you’re not prototyping now is a good time to go dancing with the penguins.

As those familiar with the community know linux’s mascot is a penguin named tux.  There also also those in the community who could make the case that this post is a bit premature with the momentous events on the horizon.  I refer to ZFS and Ubuntu which might just be described as the marriage of the file system responsible for NETFLIX size data repositories with the kernel that powers more than half the world’s servers.  

You may not have any interest in running a server, but you can imagine how efficient servers have to be in order to stay competitive.  Now imagine if you can take that level of efficiency and apply it to the computer you’re working on right now.  That sluggish little machine you’ve got lying around can get a new lease on life.

For businesses this improved performance of older hardware can translate into some massive savings.  Imagine that you can extend the lifecycle of current hardware by 18-24 months?  What project have you put on the back burner?  An efficient desktop doesn’t just help at the end of a lifecycle.  In quite a few cases enterprise level IT purchasing can’t afford the latest new hardware, but with a good linux desktop they can still have a comfortable and productive working environment.

There were years when we believed the sales pitch coming out of Redmond about how bad it was to change people’s software interfaces and how much that would cost companies.  Then Redmond released Office 2007 and introduced us to the ribbon.  Later they would remove the start menu.  So much for the productivity cost of changing interfaces, right?

We can comment or organizational integrity later, but suffice it to say that interface changes don’t appear to be as costly as we might have been lead to believe.  If you can figure out how to use a smartphone you can figure out how to use any major linux desktop interface.  So when you run Linux on your desktop expect an interface change.  You’ll start calling that windows key (or the command key) the super key.  Tapping that button in a linux desktop usually does what you expect, opens up a menu that gives you access to your files.  Expect it to take some time learning where things are, but expect your machine to run faster while you’re discovering the wonderful treasures just under the hood.

What will you do with a faster machine?  Better yet, what will your employees feel about having a machine that’s more responsive as they try to get their work done?

 

Size Matters

Growing up with my dad was an experience, and for every experience there’s a story to tell. Dad has always been a gadget guy.

When it was time to go Christmas shopping I remember going to Toys R Us. It was a big deal for us to be in a store with that many toys. It was a big deal for dad as well.

Dad used to detour to the calculator section (no computers back then). It was only after some prodding that he’d come join the rest of the family at the register. Dad’s always been a gadget guy.

Now from what mom tells me, dad does the same thing with the Mac store. This video is dedicated to the gadget man that’s never grown up.

Dad gets these blogs emailed to him. So if he wants to see the vid he’ll need to click here.