Amazon Echo

This may come as a surprise to readers of this blog, but I do like to stay on top of technology. Recently, Amazon unveiled the Echo. Of course, I had to try one out. What is it? Good question. Think intelligent radio (on steroids). You interact with the device almost entirely via voice. Yes, there is an app for your smart phone or tablet. However, the majority of time you talk to the computer. It arrived on January 23, 2015 and it took all of 15 minutes to set it up and have it working. This included 25 sentences of voice training. Let’s take a look at the device as well as the app. Read more »

Pebble Programming Fundamentals

Discussions at our January WebProfessionals and Adobe User Group meeting inspired me to do some more investigation into programming my Pebble watch. Brian – thanks for the nudge. I needed to get started on this. Most of the programming is done using the C language. However, there is also the capability of using JavaScript (based on Simply.js). In fact, there is a beta version of Pebble.js available. I used CloudPebble to develop my initial apps (which contains Pebble.js). In a manner similar to Adobe PhoneGap, one uses the CloudPebble site to create, build, debug and install your work. One can access their own watch and directly install to that device. Obviously you need a watch and an account at CloudPebble. You can then create a project. In my case, I followed several tutorials to better understand the fundamentals. I found these to be great resources and recommend others use these posts as a starting point.

  • Your first WatchApp (using the C language) – I found this to be an excellent starting point.
  • Your first WatchFace (again using C) – This was a continuation and includes the use of images.
  • Build a WatchApp with Pebble.js – this is the one I will focus on since students in the CMWEB program can leverage their JavaScript skills. Yes, knowledge of AJAX and JSON is required.

Read more »

Book review – guide to creating dynamic websites

The January 2015 issue of Choice Magazine published my review of Nixon, Robin. Learning PHP, MySQL, JavaScript, CSS & HTML5: a step-by-step guide to creating dynamic Websites. 3rd ed. O’Reilly, 2014. 700p index ISBN 9781491949467 pbk, $49.99.

Given that many readers of this blog may be interested in this book but may not have ready access to the Choice Magazine website, I thought it appropriate to paste a copy of my review here. As always, I look forward to your comments.

“Nixon (UK writer) packs a wealth of information into this new edition (2nd ed., 2012; 1st ed., 2009).  The book begins with an overview of dynamic web content and a description of how to set up a local testing environment (for Windows, Mac, and Linux systems).  A presentation of the fundamentals of PHP coding follows; more emphasis on object-oriented PHP would have been helpful.  Later chapters cover MySQL (including both command line and phpMyAdmin approaches to administering data stores).  Forms and session objects along with a review of HTML5 enhancements to forms are discussed, although additional information on making forms (and other objects) more accessible would have been useful.  Other topics addressed include JavaScript and Ajax, CSS (including CSS3), manipulating CSS with JavaScript, HTML (with an emphasis on HTML5), and HTML5 Canvas, Audio, and Video.  A social networking site is created in the final chapter.  Code examples (and updates) are available at the corresponding website.  Throughout the book, the author includes references to secure coding.  Given the numerous breaches one often reads about these days, it is refreshing to see security integrated into the text rather than being tacked on as an afterthought.”

Issues > Concerns > Problems

I have been debating whether to post this “rant” or not. Obviously, you know what I finally decided. Those who pay attention to detail should note that I first drafted this post in early 2011. Yes, 2011 – as in 4 years ago. It is now 2015 and I have decided that it is worth airing.

Perhaps it is my middle aged mind kicking in and being a curmudgeon. Perhaps it is a valid observation. Over the past months/ years, I have observed a change in a fair number of students in many of my classes. Those who know me know that I don’t just teach at one community college in central Illinois so these observations go beyond one school.

My observation is the following – it seems that many students (obviously not all, but sizable number) now seem to want everything handed to them. By this I mean that there is no desire to search out a solution. I can’t count the number of times I receive an email with a question that could easily have been solved with a simple search engine query.

There is no desire to take a couple of examples and stitch them together in a new way to solve a given problem. It seems like some expect a step by step explanation (complete with the finished assignment that can be turned in for credit). Yes, there have always been a few in this camp, but it seems that many more are joining (at least more recently). If you really expect me to do all your work for you, why don’t I just apply for the job you seek and then hand the paycheck over to you? Sure, that is going to happen. The check is already in the mail. Yes, I am being sardonic. If you don’t know what sardonic means… look… it… up…

I am curious if others have also observed this (or am I way off base). If I am on target at all, I fear this does not bode well for graduates entering the business world. Having worked in various industries (as well as government), I have always observed that those who rapidly (and creatively) solve problems on their own are the ones who go much further. This is a behavior I plan to help students develop this year.

As we start 2015, I ask the following of students – BEFORE sending me an email, have you done the following?

  • used a search engine to answer your question?
  • looked at online video to see if there is a step by step explanation (if you really need one)?
  • applied a rule of reasonableness to the answers you have found (to verify that it is not some “wing nut” providing a less than stellar piece of work)?
  • asked a peer via the course discussion forum?

It is imperative you make an effort to find solutions to your questions on your own. There will come a time (sooner than you think) where you won’t be able to ask your professor for the answer. Develop the necessary skills to succeed and thrive in business on your own.

What is web design?

I recently watched a new course on lynda.com – Mapping the modern web design process by Morten Rand-Hendriksen. In the initial chapter of the course, he makes an interesting observation. His thesis is that the term “web design” is evolving into an all encompassing term to cover the majority of aspects of creation and maintenance of websites.

In this alternate view there is no longer a clear dichotomy of web design and development (with a partial overlap). Instead, the single term “web design” is now an umbrella term covering all aspects of making content available via a web site.

In the more traditional view, web design dealt more with client side  technologies (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, for example) and web graphic design along with Search Engine Optimization, User Experience Design, Interactive Design and similar aspects. Web development deals with programming and software development. The focus is more on the server side (including information architecture and so much more). Note that I have included links above to both terms on Wikipedia for reference to the more traditional view.

My question to readers of this weblog – what does the term web design mean to you? Is it the more encompassing term to define all aspects of client and server design and development? Is it the more traditional client tools and techniques? Why? Yes, I could have set up a poll, but I really want to know your thoughts (more than just a yes or no vote). I eagerly look forward to your comments.

Competency Based Education

Students in our CMWEB program will soon be experiencing changes in the overall structure of our classes. I thought it would be worthwhile to provide an overview of why we will be making these changes and the implications.

Essentially, we will be moving our curriculum into a competency based format. This means that individuals taking a class must demonstrate they are competent in each of the topics presented in that class. Obviously there is much more to this. Read more »

Fall 2014 Semester Reflections

The Fall, 2014 semester is officially over. Happy Holidays to all who are reading this post. I thought it would be appropriate to dedicate this weblog post to my reflections on the semester which just ended. It has been an intense semester. We are also going to be making some changes to the way we teach classes in the CMWEB curriculum (that will be the subject of a weblog post in a week or two). First, I want to emphasize a few thoughts:

  • never stop learning and challenging yourself
  • always do more than is expected of you
  • continue to take responsibility for your education and career
  • network with your peers

Ok, let’s focus a bit more on each of the above ideas. Read more »

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