Teaching Tech

October 22, 2014

A number of years ago, 14 to be precise, I was involved in a collaborative project aimed at teaching elementary school-aged children how to use a spreadsheet program.  The completed lessons manifested as a five-part instructional plan.

Spreadsheet Solutions

Due to the school district’s lack of technology funding, students in the year 2000 were still using Windows 3.11 and Microsoft Works as their primary software.  Although antiquated by today’s standards, these programs remain powerful enough to accomplish the task we set out to achieve even now.

The trick to teaching technology to younger students is not to give them information overload but to advance their knowledge incrementally.  These lessons were designed to be completed one at a time over a period of several weeks in half-hour sessions.

We were amazed at how quickly the majority of students acquainted themselves with the spreadsheet program when given a specific short list of tasks.  A few students did require extra tutoring, however.

Each lesson builds off of the previous lesson.  This helped to familiarize the children with the software and heighten their confidence level in successive steps.  Technology is only intimidating when we attempt to master its intricacies all at once.

The Spreadsheet Solutions lesson plans succeeded brilliantly!  Students were able to complete the final lesson and learned to go beyond by increasing their proficiency with a spreadsheet program through experimentation.

We demystified the software and gave them the tools to excel (Excel).

These lessons can be downloaded as PDF files:

Lesson One

Lesson Two

Lessons Three through Five

Feel free to modify these lessons as needed.  You may also use these lessons as a basis for creating your own lesson plans.  I only ask that if you create new lessons based on these files, please share them by allowing others to download your work.

Together we can all make a contribution to the eduction of our children and the betterment of our society.


ShieldsUP, Captain!

October 2, 2014

With all the software vulnerabilities and successful hacking attempts recently, it’s time to recheck the effectiveness of your firewall.

ShieldsUP! logo from - https://www.grc.com/

The Gibson Research Corporation offers a free real-world test.  Just click on ShieldsUP > Proceed > All Service Ports and run the test.

What you are hoping to see is your system in total stealth mode:

ShieldsUP! results for the Amped Wireless R10000G router

And what you are hoping to read in the results comments is:

Your system has achieved a perfect “TruStealth” rating. Not a single packet — solicited or otherwise — was received from your system as a result of our security probing tests. Your system ignored and refused to reply to repeated Pings (ICMP Echo Requests). From the standpoint of the passing probes of any hacker, this machine does not exist on the Internet. Some questionable personal security systems expose their users by attempting to “counter-probe the prober”, thus revealing themselves. But your system wisely remained silent in every way. Very nice.

A perfect score!

This was achieved through the use of an Amped Wireless R10000G router.  The router acts as a hardware and software firewall.  But not all routers respond in the same way.

Just because you have a router does not necessarily mean that you will achieve these same results.  It’s vitally important that you check your router’s security.

If your router does not pass the GRC ShieldsUP test, you may need to alter some security settings within your router to get better results.  Please check your router manufacturer’s website for more information.

Be safe out there!

The Automatic Log-in Conundrum In Linux

September 30, 2014

Automatic log in option during Linux installation

During the Linux installation process, users are given the option to either log-in automatically or to require a user name and password when the system boots up.  Which one you choose depends largely on how you use your system.

Requiring a password:

If your computer is being used regularly by other members of your household or business staff, then you will want to create a multi-user environment in which each user has a unique user name and password.  You may also want to assign these other user accounts as limited users with no root access.

The limited user account allows users to access and run programs, but not modify or install new software packages.  This sets restricted permissions and helps prevent against user errors that could potentially render your system inoperable.

Or for security reasons, you may simply want to deny anyone else access into your system.

Automatic log-in:

Convenience is the primary reason for enabling automatic log-in.  You can turn on your computer and instantly boot to the desktop environment.

As the only user, the required password you created during installation gives you full administrative rights.

You may also want to give a thief access to your system in the event that your computer is ever stolen, if you have anti-theft software installed.


https://preyproject.com/The Prey Project offers free anti-theft tracking software that can be used to trace stolen computer equipment once it connects to the Internet.  But the thief must be able to load the operating system.

The Prey software is available for Linux, Windows, Mac, Android and iOS devices.  The free version is limited by comparison to the paid version, but it is sufficient to recover stolen property.  You can protect up to three devices per email address.

Encrypt my home folder:

Unless you are an experienced Linux user, please don’t.  It sounds tempting, but it can lock you out of your own files if your system crashes or becomes corrupted.  Just a word to the wise.

The choice is yours:

You can opt to automatically log-in or not.  Linux is highly customizable, so if you change your mind you can always alter these settings within the operating system after installation.

It’s up to you.


It’s The Internet Economy, Stupid!

September 8, 2014

Recent headlines scream the news:

Best Buy announces list of 50 stores closing in 2012

Staples to close 140 stores as online rivals take sales away

RadioShack to close up to 1,100 stores

Sears to close 35 more stores as it boosts online presence

We’re all doomed!

Don't Panic!

It’s just the Internet economy.

We used to complain about the large brick and mortar corporations, like Walmart, putting the locally owned mom and pop shops out of business.  But now we get all bent out of shape when we read about the large corporate stores falling to Internet based retailers like Amazon.

The failure and closing of these stores is their own fault.

They failed to recognize that advancements in technology has radically changed the marketplace.  Your nearest competitor is no longer the store down the street.  The big chain stores need to come to terms with the fact that consumers now carry the Internet in their pocket.

Shoppers can compare prices from a brick and mortar store by simply using their smart phone.  Not only can they compare prices, they can order that exact item from an Internet seller while standing in someone else’s store.

I recently needed a fresh supply of blank DVD discs.  I checked my local brick and mortar retailer:

Local price for Memorex 100-pack blank DVD-R

And then I checked my online Internet retailer:

Online price for Memorex 100-pack blank DVD-R

Same exact product.  Huge price difference.

Given the choice, which one would you buy?

I could drive twenty miles up, pay local sales tax and drive twenty miles back.  Or I could stay home, save my gas, save a bundle of money and pay no tax.

Buy local and go bankrupt.  It’s a buyer’s market.

Your local mom and pop shops that attempt to compete by posting an e-commerce website will fail.  They don’t have the purchasing power to buy in bulk volume to qualify for the discounts offered to large national retailers.  Plus their website gets buried by search engines, relegating them to obscurity.

Yes.  Jobs will be lost in one sector, but more jobs will be created in other industries.  This is a natural progression of our willingness to adapt to changing technologies.

It’s the Internet economy, stupid!  Deal with it.


Windows 7 vs Windows 8 vs Logic

August 28, 2014
Advertisement for Windows 8

Advertisement for Windows 8 (click to enlarge).

There is no truth in advertisements.  We’ve gone from “buyer beware” to “buyer be damned” by abandoning the rules of Logic for the sake of selling a product and making profit.  Here’s a good example:

Advertisement for Windows 8 vs Windows 7

The advertising agency that put this together failed to understand one of the key components of marketing:  Never pit a company against itself.

Microsoft makes money by selling software.  The chart above clearly indicates that Windows 7 is inferior when compared to Windows 8.  So customers should purchase Windows 8 instead of Windows 7.  But both are made by the same company.

That would be like McDonald’s telling their customers to buy Big Macs instead of Quarter Pounders, because Big Macs are vastly better than Quarter Pounders.


From a marketing standpoint, McDonald’s wants customers to believe that both are equally delicious and tasty.  It’s up to the consumer to decide which one they prefer, while the company profits more by offering both.

Windows 7 is still supported until the year 2020.  It would be logical to compare expired, unsupported Windows XP to Windows 8, but not Windows 7.

Familiar Desktop:

Windows 95 through Windows 7 used a similar desktop environment.  The Metro user interface of Windows 8, however, was so radically different that it was considered unusable by many computer users.  Tech professional Brian Boyko created the best video analysis of  the Windows 8 graphical user interface:

Works with a mouse and keyboard:

True for Windows 7, not so much for 8.

As the video above demonstrates, Windows 8 was built for use on a touch screen enabled device.  Trying to mimic “swipe” gestures with a mouse is problematic at best.  The operating system can sometimes interpret the mouse movement as a finger gesture but often times not.  Which prompted many end users to initiate their own one-finger gesture towards Microsoft.

Works with Word, Excel, Outlook, and other familiar programs:

Which versions?  And what other “familiar programs” are they referencing?

Legacy support of older software programs is theoretically enabled in Windows 7 and 8, but not always functional in practice.

Games in particular that ran on Windows 98 though XP would no longer work correctly in newer versions of Windows.  Microsoft knew this and created Windows XP Mode for Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate versions only.  Little good this did the Home Premium version user, which was the default version of Windows on the vast majority of Windows computers sold worldwide.

Take note also that Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook are purchased separately.  Microsoft no longer includes such productivity software with new computers pre-installed with Windows, like they used to do with Microsoft Works.

Built for touch PCs and tablets:

As far as we have been lead to believe, Windows 7 was never “built for” use on a touch screen device.  That much is true.

The mouse is an input device.  The keyboard is an input device.  The trackpad on a laptop is an input device.  A touch screen is also nothing more than an input device.  So if the proper drivers are installed, there is no reason why someone couldn’t use Windows 7 on a touch screen enabled device.  Right?

Windows Touch—available only in the Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate editions of Windows 7—is fun to learn and easy to use. The Start menu and taskbar now sport larger, fingertip-friendly icons. All your favorite Windows 7 programs are also touch-ready. You can even finger-paint in Paint!

Faster startup times:

Faster than what?

This is a lie that has been foisted upon the consumer market since the release of Windows XP.

From a dead start (not suspend, not hibernate), from a completely off state, Windows 3.x would boot in the blink of an eye when loaded on the same hardware used by Windows 7 or 8.

The operating system has not gotten faster.  The hardware has gotten better.  This is easily proven by looking at the system requirements for past and present Windows versions.

For Windows 3.11:

The minimum client installation of Windows for Workgroups requires:

* 80286 microprocessor or better for version 3.1

* 80386sx microprocessor or better for version 3.11

* 2048 kilobytes (K) total memory for version 3.1

* 3 megabytes (MB) total memory for version 3.1 (2 MB with no network installed)

* 3 megabytes (MB) total memory for version 3.11 (4 MB is recommended)

* 6.2 MB of hard drive space (14.5 MB recommended)

For Windows 8:

If you want to run Windows 8 on your PC, here’s what it takes:

* Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster with support for PAE, NX, and SSE2

 * RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)

 * Hard disk space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)

 * Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver

Newer Windows operating systems could never run on the same hardware requirements as their earlier predecessors.   Modern software is increasingly dependent upon modern hardware for speed and functionality.

Apps from the Windows Apps Store / Mail, people and other built-in apps / Keep your settings and apps on all your PCs and devices:

Well, duh!

The implementation of “apps” only exists within Windows 8.  Users of Windows 7 would never miss these apps since they never had access to them.

People who use a specific operating system over an extended period of time become familiar with the functions and nuances of that software and with the available software packages for that system.  This true for Mac, Linux, iOS and Android users.

The idea that consumers would switch from Windows 7 to Windows 8 just to have access to the apps in the Windows store is a ludicrous argument.  The natural tendency for most people is to stick with what they know and what works for them.  This would explain why nearly 25% of all computer users are still running Windows XP.

Start Screen with live updates:

This is true of almost any operating system where the end user has enabled automatic login.  The start screen thus becomes the main desktop screen.  And if automatic updates are also enabled, the operating system would naturally update from the start screen.

So this is not an advantage of Windows 8 in particular.

Isn’t time for a change?

Windows 8’s uptake falls again, now slower than dud Vista

Microsoft wants you to forget Windows 8

Consumers vote with their pocketbooks.  The dismal sales of Windows 8 is a clear rejection of the operating system.

Even Microsoft can’t wait to put Windows 8 behind them.

The advertisement posted above is a total farce.  Don’t blame the company that sent it or the advertising agency that created it.  These people are just trying to do the best with what they have to work with.

Thank goodness that the buying public is smart enough to recognize the logical fallacies within advertisements like this one and make better informed decisions about what not to buy.




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