Friday, December 30, 2016

I bought a Chromebook! Here's what I did with it.

I bought an Acer 13 R, 64 Gb edition.

Why?  I have used chromebooks at work and I liked their simplicity and long term battery life.  In a lot of ways, this is the computer I always wanted.  It's pretty much just an instant on web browser in chrome os mode (more about that later).  It get's such good battery life that I can go days between charges.  In particular, I really like the screen on this model. Things are very crisp and bright, though the viewing angle is slightly worse than I expected for an IPS screen.  It also has multitouch.

But I bought this particular model for 2 big reasons.
1)  This model let's you use android apps, which is in beta right now but I have no encountered any bugs.  In fact, even full screen gaming with a joystick has worked pretty well.

2) This has a really big hard drive for a chromebook, which is useful because I installed a side by side linux distribution called crouton.  With this distribution, I am able to fairly easily run the grading software I need for school.  Though it runs slowly, it's good enough for my needs.  The linux installation also allowed me to install my printer and print things the normal without needing to use google cloud print.

So the rest of this post will be a log of the things I did to set up both those systems both in case I need to set things up again or someone else out there is curious.

The following instructions are going to be in the order that I think makes the most sense for me, though they were not the original order I did everything in.

1)  Put the chromebook in developer mode.
The instructions I used for that were here.

I found this was pretty painless, and since ChromeOS syncs your settings, getting back up and running was a piece of cake.

2) Put your installation on the beta update channel  and install the google app store for android apps.(step one might do this automatically, but I am not sure since I actually did this first, it just seems more logical in retrospect to do it second)
I installed lego star wars, and some other useful programs.  In particular, the brother printing app for android worked and let me print things.

3) Install crouton
I used this guide, I liked it because it reviews many common options.

The install command and options I used was
crouton -r yakkety -t xfce,extension,xiwi,touch

This installed an installation of the newest version as of this writing, of Ubuntu (16.10) , with the xfce interface (I tried unity and it did not work well on this model), and the xiwi plugin.  I tried the x11 interface and that had some weird touchpad bugs.  Graphics and video ran more smoothly but programs themselves did not load any faster.  There is also a way to switch easily between the two.
sudo startxfce4 -X xorg

sudo startxfce4 -X xorg
sudo startxfce4 -X xorg lets you run with the full screen good video mode,
sudo startxfce4 -X xiwi uses the plugin.
For the plugin, you need to download the crouton extension from the play store.
Once in crouton, disable the screen saver, apparently it causes bad stuff.

4) One crouton was up and running I wanted to get two things to work.  One was java so I could run my gradebook software, and the other was printing.
There are some other programs I installed using apt that helped do this.
sudo apt-get install firefox
sudo apt-get install icedtea-plugin

Getting the printer to work was slightly more complicated.
Here's was I did.
First start cups
sudo service cups start

Then I needed to make myself part of the printers group.
sudo adduser ben lpadmin

Then navigated to,
From here you can install the printers, the method will vary depending on make and model.
I knew my printer ip, so I entered that directly and it found the printer,
I used the printer driver
Brother HL-2250DN - CUPS+Gutenprint v5.2.1

And that's about it.
There's probably more stuff I did that I am not remembering, one thing I am not sure yet is how to get the cups service to start automatically, but I'll figure that one out.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Nate Silver was less wrong than you might think

A difference between 2 degrees can mean 2 inches of rain 12 inches of snow.  It's a nonlinear system, and the hallmark of nonlinear systems is that small chances can have big impacts.

The electoral college makes the US election a nonlinear system.  A small change in vote numbers here and there, concentrated in the wrong way, can make a huge difference. 

Clinton won the popular vote by about 1% point.  538 had Clinton up about 3% points.  The total error of the polls was pretty small, but the errors themselves were in critical areas.  In particular, Clinton did really well in states that she had no chance to win or lose, like Texas and California. 

Nonlinear systems are just not very intuitive and just don't seem fair, but they are all around us, and we need to understand them to view the world in a more complete way.

Monday, November 7, 2016

If Nate Silver's model is correct, he should get a few states wrong

On Wednesday, there will be articles written trying to decide which pollster got the most right.  They will add up all the states Silver and 538 are called correctly and come up with a final score, and then use this score to decide whether or not Silver's model works.

This is wrong.

Silver and the 538 forecast have a number of states very close, between 50-50 and 60-40 for a number.  If his model is correct, that means that the odds are that he will get at least a few states wrong.  In fact, if he were to clean sweep, that would mean that he either got very lucky or his model was actually wrong and was overly cautious.  Especially considering his 50/50 call in 2012, it is almost certain that Silver missing a few states would be considered a failure, but now you know better.

Monday, October 31, 2016

the new macbook pro

The standard PC argument against the Mac was always price.  In the 90s until the early 2000s, it was not hard to price out a PC cheaper than the equivilant in specs to a Mac or one with better specs at the same price.  This changed once Apple switched the Mac to Intel chips, which made the comparisons much more direct.  But for the first time in a while, the new Mac book pro reverses this trend.

Check out a comparison here.

This is the most surprising thing to me from the recent Apple event.

here's another comparison

Friday, October 21, 2016

Probably Wrong Mac Pro prediction

I am probably wrong but I wanna get credit if I am right. Hence this post.

I don't think we are getting a new Mac Pro.

Instead, I have two thoughts.

1)  Apple introduces new prosumer apps on the iPad and Mac that leverage cloud computing to speed up computations.  There are already apps that do similar things, the iTunes store sorta works this way, as does Siri (or at least it used to, not sure if it still does).  This way, every single Mac and iPad out there becomes the "Pro" model.

2) Introduce the new Mac mini as a beefed up "thin client" (thick client?), the job of which is mainly to connect to cloud servers that again speedup computations.  This requires some more software magic than I understand but I think it is workable in theory.  There is no reason the Mac mini, with up to date hardware, couldn't be a competitive computer.  It has a cute form factor and space to put in decent parts.

Why would Apple do this, well Amazon and Msft have done well in this space, and it makes them a lot of money. It's more portable.  I really don't think Apple wants to be in the brick that sits on your desk all the time business anymore. This is a solution that can be applied to every computer they have.

The biggest hitch here is latency and privacy, since alot of information would have to be sent to Apple's servers.  Privacy can be handled through encryption, though I am not sure how efficiently this would work.

Monday, October 10, 2016


I've defended Samsung copying Apple's designs in the past but this just takes the cake and is idefensible (I feel like Paul Ryan).

New Samsung Pro

The other stuff they copied were at least Apple's good ideas.  When you copy something that is logical but someone else did first, at least you can claim it was a tried and true design and so why not deviate from something you know works.  But when you copy bad design, it just makes it blatantly obvious that you are copying for the sake of copying.

The evolution of my musical taste (part 1)

I've had this idea for a series of blog posts for a long time and I've had some small mentions, but I want to get the whole thing done.
What I want to do is cover the major evolutionary moments of my musical taste.  This is going to be the punctuated equilibrium version.  By that I mean that I will not review every single band I ever listened to liked, and some of these bands or songs might not even end up being ones I still listen to or even liked very much, but they are the ones that moved the course of my musical taste the most.  Where did I start, where do I end up?  What were the turning points?

I think an appropriate place to start would be around age 12, when I got my first walkman.  (technically that is cassette player, as walkman is trademarked by sony, but whatever).  Until then, all the music I ever really listened to was what was on mainstream radio.  I really liked a lot of this stuff, at the time it was grunge and early adult alternative (which was grunge for people who were afraid of loud music).  But before the walkman, I had no real control over what music I was listening to.  It's hard to have real tentpole musical tastes when you are just getting whatever is coming over the radio.

I had only a few tapes, so I listened to them a lot.  But that just bred familiarity a lot of those songs never really grabbed me even though I enjoyed them.  I think the one tape that really was a first tentpole worth mentioning on this list was some recordings I made from a Simon and Garfunkle CD.  One of the first songs I ever loved was the Sounds of Silence.

What did I like about this song?  Hmm, it's a minor key song, starts with some simple triads. It sounds sad and mysterious, but somehow warm.  It's a song that's going to make you sad but it's going to be ok.

Then the first lyric, "Hello Darkness my old friend"  What a great opening line!  You are drawn into the song right away.  As the song builds, strains of major keys come into the bridge, but never quite make it.  It has a great repetition structure.

Where this song put me on the musical plane.  It's a mature song. It's not in a major key.  It isn't the sappy stuff you usually hear in pop music.  It isn't about love or being in love, or wanting to party.  Considering where I ended up musically, I think those were big factors.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Advice to new teachers

I am a wise old veteran of two years, and as such I feel qualified to give advice.

Here is my advice.

Find your own voice as a teacher, don't try too hard to emulate the teachers around you.  Find what works for you, and get good at that.

Observe good teachers, see what they are doing, feel free to borrow their techniques as needed, but recognize that not every technique works for everyone and that not all techniques are needed for each class.

Don't beat yourself up if things don't go well, but recognize that this is a sign that things in your classroom need to change.  That change starts with you.

Don't give up on a technique or practice too early, some of them take a bit to learn well and for students to get used to.

Your supervisors don't expect you to be a brilliant teacher right away but they do expect you to be receptive to criticism and to be willing to work at becoming a brilliant teacher.

Lastly, "Know your students"---quoted from the teacher at my alternate route course whose named I totally can't remember, but maybe it will come to me.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Using Agile Mind on a Phone

Agile mind is not supported on smart phone but I have gotten it to work reasonably well.  It is still kind of buggy.

The trick is to use the Chrome mobile web browser, and then click on the settings options in the upper right corner (the three vertical dots) and click request desktop site.

This isn't perfect but for students without a computer, it is better than nothing.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Putting effort into the wrong solutions

T.G.I Friday's is revamping its signature look by removing "Flair" from the walls of their restaurants.  They claim this is going to help them compete with restaurants like Chipotle, which have a cleaner more industrial look. This move will also help them save about $20,000 dollars for new franchises that won't have to buy all the novelty items.

This is the a textbook example of ignoring the real problem by tackling one that is either minor (or sometimes not even real) because it is easier.  I've watched many episodes of Kitchen Nightmares and eaten in plenty of restaurants and if there is one thing I agree with, it's Gordon Ramsay's notion that the number one reason people enjoy and keep coming to to a restaurant is the food. It seems almost silly to even point this out, yet episode after episode of Kitchen Nightmares, as in T.G.I Fridays, show people desperate to change anything about their restaurants except the food.

Are there really people out there having this conversation in their heads:  "Hey let's go to Fridays!", "No way, there's all that crap on the wall, let's go to Chipotle and admire their exposed ductwork"
Maybe this could happen between two interior design grad students...but I doubt it's happening very often.

So why did Fridays do this? It was probably just easier or less expensive than any other fix they could think of.  And this is a very human trait.  I do this all the time.  Sometimes the right choice is not even harder physically, just mentally.  Take clutter for example. Physically, there's not much easier than just throwing something into a trashcan, and we know this can have it's own positive feeling of accomplishment.  But we also know that throwing out something we have a nostalgic attachment to can be one of the toughest things in the world.

So I've been trying to figure out how to sum up this idea in a neat pithy package.  It's something I could put ona classroom poster. Something like,  "Do it the best way, not the easiest way"

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Using Linux Subsystem for windows as an ssh server

I want to eventually get to use the Linux subsystem for windows to act as a vpn server, but as a warmup I tried to get it to act as an ssh server.  I tried the most obvious steps and ran into some trouble, but google helped me out. I found this article which discusses a few technical details that you need to be aware of and how to fix them.

And then I used this to setup my RSA keys.

Now I can run an ssh server through Linux through windows, all using stuff built into Windows.  Weird, but it works.

Next stop, going to use this tutorial to try to setup the vpn.  It's intended for Raspeberry Pi computers so I will have to modify it, and I am not sure if I need to vary my ssh config, but I will learn as a go. This is more about the learning experience than actually needed to get any of this stuff to work anyway.

Note to self, tried the thing, got stuck on step ten because ipv4 forwarding is not implemented yet.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

What can a PC workstation get you if you can't wait for the new Mac Pro

The ATP podcast talked about the aging Mac lineup a few weeks ago, the most egregious of which is the Mac Pro, which is essentially a 3 year old computer.  So I wanted to see what was out there in terms of PC to get an idea of what you are missing out on if you bought a new Mac Pro today.

I found this article which describes basically that.

In short, the newer PCs have more cores, better graphics chips, DDR4 RAM compared to DDR3, better expandability, and better ports, especially Thunderbolt 3 compared to Thunderbolt 2.

That being said, the clockspeed on individual CPUs has not changed much, so at very least single threaded processes wouldn't be sped up very much by new machines.  On many tasks, a new PC similarly configured to the Mac Pro would have similar benchmarks.  However, anything that could benefit from more cores, data transfer rates, and gpu power, would be benefited by the new PCs/

Ideas for classroom posters

I'm going to update these as they come to me, but here's a few

Take a deep breath and drop the rope.

You can't control your feelings, but you can control your react

Struggle with math now and it will payoff later

Using matplotlib to get graphical plots in Python in the Windows Subsystem for Linux

The first anniversary update for Windows 10 includes the ability to install a Linux subsystem (LSW).  The technical details are a little beyond me, but the bottom line is it lets you run Linux programs inside Windows.  For more information on that, you can check out this link.

Since I am trying to get to know Python, and in general programming Python in Linux is easier than on Windows, I thought I could use the LSW to support my Python workflow.  I need to use the scipy libraries, including matplotlib for plotting.  Ideally, I'd like to see the plot.  I googled to see if other people had this figured out, and saw a few message boards where people asked this question but had no luck.  After some searching though, I got it to work, and here's how.

These directions are adapted from this PC World Article.  I assume you have already installed all the relevant Python packages.

Step one.

     Install xming, using the default settings.

Step two.

    Start the xming server

Step Three

     Start the Linux shell and type :"export DISPLAY=:0"

Step Four

     Start Python, and now you should be able to see all your matplotlib plots.

adapted from from

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import numpy as np

t = np.arange(0.0, 2.0, 0.01)
s = np.sin(2*np.pi*t)
plt.plot(t, s)