Tag Archives: Tech

One Thing Computers Cannot Do

The most creative innovations of the digital age came from those who were able to connect the arts and sciences. They believed that beauty mattered.

Steve Jobs Speaks At Apple Web Developer Conference

This short essay from Walter Isaacson is well worth reading. I believe he’s right about the necessary intersection between art and science. I like to say that science makes our lives possible but art makes them worth living.

Wired at the Western Wall

Western Wall

Western Wall

This strongly reminds me of TS Eliot’s “Choruses from The Rock”.

The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to GOD.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from GOD and nearer to the Dust.

I’m a humanist and would replace GOD with Essential Humanity, but I think Eliot and I would agree on the principle and phenomenon he’s describing here. I don’t think this technology necessarily interferes with our essential humanity, but it currently does for most of us.

Prayer App

Prayer App

We have been using communications technology for millennia to store our ideas and express ourselves, but we are in the infancy of using technology that’s so compelling and pervasive it threatens to overwhelm us and cause us to withdraw our humanity from the world. I hope we learn to control this new technology.

There are only two options for the masses. We will learn to control this technology and use it to augment and extend our humanity, or we will let the technology (and those who control it) to enslave us.

Download and Install a Clean Copy of Windows with Valid Product Key

This article gives you the information you need to download a clean copy of Windows from Microsoft. All you need is a valid product key.

How to Get Your Product Key
If you don’t have your product key handy, you can get it from your currently installed copy of Windows using either this tool or this tool. I’ve tested both with Windows 7 and they work well.

Why You Might Want to Do This
There are a number of reasons you might want to download a clean copy of Windows and install it over your current version. All you need is a valid product key for the version you want.

One good reason to do this is to replace your crapware burdened laptop or desktop from Dell, HP, … with a fresh and clean one with just the Microsoft components. You’ll need to install the drivers for your PC, but this is usually pretty easy if you have any experience with Windows, or know a friend who does … 🙂 … Major companies like Dell and HP usually have a page that tells you what drivers you need for your exact model and has links to download them. 

Warning About Malware Disguised as Helper Tools
Just a heads-up. If you decide to install a clean version of Windows, do not download a driver installer type program from anywhere but your computer’s manufacturer. Some of those “tools” are really malware installers and will install all sorts of unwanted software on your PC. A colleague at work took her laptop home to install a workstation image I gave her and brought it back full of malware. Rather than worry about how this happened, I just wiped the disk and installed the image and drivers she needed. I’m 95% certain she installed a “helper” tool to get the drivers she needed. It helped her all right … 😉

Another Option for Removing Crapware That Comes with New PCs
Note that if you just want to remove the crapware that often comes with new PCs, there are free tools that make this pretty easy, such as The PC Decrapifier. I’ve used this and it works well. I still prefer a new, clean Windows installation but using a tool to remove a small amount of crapware is much easier and requires very little PC knowledge.

If you have any questions, just ask in the comments!

A Song of Lost Work

A Song of Lost Work


All those backups seemed a waste of pay

Now my database has gone away

Oh I believe in yesterday



There’s not half the files there used to be

And there’s a deadline

hanging over me

The system crashed so suddenly.


I pushed something wrong

What it was I could not say

Now all my data’s gone away

and I long for yesterday-ay-ay-ay.



The need for back-ups seemed so far away.

I knew my data was all here to stay,

Now I believe in yesterday.


I adapted this from several versions on the internet, taking the best of each, and then posted it on my door and sent it to my team, with the message “Let’s all do our backups so we don’t have to sing this song. If you aren’t sure what you need to back up, where you should put your valuable files, how often to do a backup, or anything else, please ask for help.

My sister in law Denise Gets a New iPad


My sister in law Denise, pictured here, just got a new iPad for her birthday. Sorry for the photo quality. It was taken at a restaurant and looked better on my daughter’s iPhone screen. If I find a better one, I’ll post it.

Over the last several years, we’ve gotten a Windows 7 laptop and an iPad for Denise, on my recommendation. The PC was just too complex for her to use and her parents refuse to learn current technology, so it’s been a source of frustration for her. The iPad generally allows her to use it without too much trouble and we can often troubleshoot any issues over the phone. She cannot read or process much complexity so the fixed, simple, and symbolic UI of the iPad is pretty ideal for her. She likes to type simple letters to people using words and other patterns she’s memorized or written down.

Denise has an iPad 2 with 16 GB of storage and she wanted a new device for her birthday. I suggested that we all get her a new iPad Air with 32 GB and a keyboard case, so she can have the impression she’s using a laptop. She loved the idea. Her other family members bought the iPad and I just need to find her a good keyboard case. This new device should be easier on her eyes due to the excellent screen and the extra storage will allow us to load it with soap operas and other content she likes so she can enjoy it whenever she wants.

Before anyone asks, I’ve thought about trying an Android tablet with Denise, but this is one case where Android is sub-optimal. She loves to see me use my Nexus devices, but the complexity of Android would cause her grief and you can only hide so much of it. I develop for, use, and recommend Android devices for many people, but for someone who just wants a device with a rich ecosystem and a straightforward symbolic user interface that presents one simple path to accomplishing any given task, iOS is the best there is.

I recommend iOS devices as much as Android because many people just want stuff to work and they’re happy to live within the confines of the Apple system to get that. This preference is a matter of personality and priorities rather than intelligence. If you want the freedom to choose from a wide range of options for every major use case, then Android is your best bet for a mobile device. For the rest, there’s iOS.

Feedly Behaves Badly

Image Source – http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/feedly-was-stealing-your-content-heres-the-story-and-their-code/

Feedly has just been caught engaging in very bad behavior and whoever made those decisions needs to be fired for both poor ethics and stupidity at thinking no one would notice the change.

I have all my RSS feeds stored in Feedly, though I only sporadically make time to catch up on them, and I’ve gone back and forth on whether I should pay for the pro account for my use. I like paying for services I use a lot, so they’ll stay alive and grow ever better, as long as the price is reasonable for what you get.

I don’t know of a better service than Feedly, so I’m not inclined to jump ship to another RSS service yet. I’d probably just restart using an open source RSS tool on my hosting service if I did, but don’t want the headache. Hopefully this will be Feedly’s Netscape Moment, when they went temporarily insane, then smacked the people who made the stupid decisions and got back on track. Time will tell.

Diagrams are our friends

Simple Flowchart: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flowchart

Simple Flowchart: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flowchart

The linked article is not a particularly strong one, but I agree with the basic premise that making diagrams can be a fantastic way to communicate your ideas. Also, it got me thinking of how I use diagrams at work and home.

I deal a lot with complex systems, most of which don’t exist when I’m dealing with them because I’m helping someone design them, translating their system requirements into sets of software (and often hardware) components that will not only fulfill their requirements but function as an optimal system to fulfill their mission goals. Those of you who’ve worked with customers designing systems, especially complex and expensive ones, know that considering only written requirements is a recipe for a very suboptimal system and often a disaster. IBM is now infamous for this practice. See http://www.cringely.com/2013/08/07/fulfilling-customer-requirements-is-a-weapon-at-ibm/ for high level details.

Many humans can only grasp complex relationships (i.e. systems) when they’re presented in a visual format. Even for those of us capable of wading through a huge mass of documents and discerning the purpose and critical requirements of a system, it’s usually very helpful to create diagrams of what we think the system’s properties are, so we can communicate this to both colleagues and the customers, to be reasonably sure that we all end up agreeing on the same architecture.

A mistake in understanding here can be costly in time, money, and reputation, since it’s often easier for a customer to blame the engineers than accept responsibility for a mistake. It’s just human nature to point fingers when something big goes wrong.

Okay, I really just wanted to say here that it’s worth the time to draw a diagram, structural, flowchart, whatever is appropriate, to help you understand and follow through on tasks, especially if you need to coordinate with others on a project. I often put off making architectural diagrams because it’s a pain in the ass, with Visio at least (thanks Microsoft), but I never regret putting in the time to create a diagram once it’s done.

There are advantages to creating diagrams even apart from communicating with others. Creating a clear representation of an idea or set of related structures (i.e. the diagram) forces you to clarify and often refine or substantially change your proposed architecture as you see things that sounded good in your mind but on “paper” are obviously suboptimal or unworkable.

Finally, you’re already using diagrams. A task or shopping list is a simple diagram, as is an itinerary or schedule. These tend to more text based than visual, but as you’ve probably experienced, even these simple diagrams can increase your understanding when you add order, time, and spatial (e.g. a map) relations to them.

I hope this was helpful. I started out to write a much simpler article but a lot of new thoughts jumped out and demanded to be included.