Demo post for internal linking

There is a great tool built into WordPress to let you link to other things that you have already written.

I might want to link to another blog post, or maybe to my about page. It works like this.

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Non-Traditional Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has never been my favorite holiday. On a scale from the first Monday back to work after a 3-week vacation and Christmas or a 21st Birthday, it ranks someplace between Arbor Day and Flag Day.

After today, I’m a bit concerned that I might be labeled as un-American. Aside from listening to Alice’s Restaurant on the radio today, I don’t think I did anything that most citizens of the USA would consider traditional.

I didn’t spend any of the day with friends or family. (I’m not a jerk, I did talk with my parents on the phone.)

I didn’t watch a single play of football. The closest I came was inadvertently seeing a few tweets. (Just how did the Lions do against the Packers today? Never mind, it won’t affect me unless the football board I joined for a coworker’s fundraiser miraculously tosses a few dollars my way.)

No movies, no television. My entertainment for the day was a mountain bike ride (10.3 miles on the trails, with another 13 riding to and from the trailhead).

After my ride I was cold, hungry, and tired when I got home, so dinner consisted of a clementine and some rapidly scrambled eggs.

The closest I came to a turkey was about 30 feet. I saw a dozen wild ones standing in a small clearing by the road as I started my ride home from the trail. They must have sensed that the immediate danger was over for another year.

Despite my early Scrooge-ism, it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t grateful. I was glad for beautiful weather. I very much appreciated my bike and equipment. I’m grateful for the people who work at the small store where I bought most of it. I thought about all the people who maintain the trail I rode. I acknowledged the jobs that have allowed me to have such toys. I am grateful to live in a country where I have the freedom to make my own choices, which includes the right to drop out of the mainstream once and a while.

I spent the day mostly in solitude, by choice. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy spending quality time with friends, and sometimes even with family.

I do not like the pressure of trying to appear to be someone or something I’m not. Today there was no pressure. For that, I am deeply grateful.

My takeaway for the day is that just because “everyone else” does something, it isn’t necessarily right for you.

I will leave you with the best advice I ever received from my dad.

You have my permission to change anything in your life that isn’t working for you.

Posted in Life | 1 Comment

When Smart, Funny, and Nice are Not Enough

The tweet read, “Oh my, I think I followed this guy on twitter…” with a link to a local newspaper article. I nearly fell out of my chair when I read the name and realized that I knew him. Not well, but I had met him.

We had tweeted extensively, I had interacted with him and a few other guys on Skype, and I met him once at a bar with a group of buddies to discuss business ideas.

He died young, tragically, in a manner that makes for uncomfortable newspaper headlines.

He was smart. He was witty. He was motivated. He was respected. And underneath the veneer, something was horribly wrong.

I realized that I had not seen him on Twitter in months. I learned from a mutual friend that things had gotten rough for him lately. He was going through a divorce. Perhaps he faced the prospect of losing his son. I don’t know about his job.

I don’t know what was going on in his head. I don’t know the pain he was feeling, the depression he faced as his life seemed to crumble around him. During darker times in my past I wrestled with similar demons.

I could wail in pity for the friends and family left to wallow in their sadness.

I won’t, because I know their grief will abate and life will go on.

I could rant about the stigmas associated with mental health and the inadequate treatments available for its victims.

I won’t, because I believe there is a deeper, more fundamental disconnection that can’t be treated by Prozac or therapy, and life will go on.

I could bemoan a bankrupt and broken society that squashes the spirit of people who have much to offer in return.

I won’t, because that is not productive and I can offer no solutions to “fix” it, and life will go on.

I will pick my daughter up from her mom’s house in the morning.

I will grin when she comments on the colorful sunrise over the lake as I drive her to school.

And I will be grateful for my beat up car, the colors in the sky, and especially for the 15 minutes I have with the #Cuteness every weekday morning, for love is enough, and life goes on.

Posted in Life | 4 Comments

PC to Mac Part 2: The Exploration Continues

Apple Snow Leopard

Apple’s Snow Leopard is beautiful. It’s logical. It’s painfully consistent.

However, its keyboard and mouse commands are NOT intuitive.

They’re easy to remember, but only after you RTFM.

Intuitive means you should be able to figure things out without searching through help screens or websites for answers. More about that later.

Now that I have had time to dig into my new paperweight toy laptop, I am finding a lot of things things to like. There are, however, a few annoyances.

Hardware

Physically, it’s a sleek, beautiful device. The lines are clean and it’s nice to look at. It’s much smaller and thinner than my previous laptop (a Dell Inspiron 1521 with a 15.4″ display), but without weighing them I can’t tell much of a difference. Perhaps the aluminum case adds back the weight I would expect a smaller device to lack.

The display is clear and sharp. The 13″ screen is smaller than the 15.4″ Dell I used previously, but the resolution is the same (1280 X 800 pixels). It’s fine for working at arm’s length, but used as a secondary machine on the desk is a bit harder, but not really an issue.

The hinge for the screen is solid, and it firmly stays where it’s placed. When you close the lid, a magnetic catch keeps it from opening accidentally. Opening the lid with one-handed takes a bit of practice.

I’m a touch-typist, and I have often looked at friends’ Macbooks and wondered how hard it would be to get used to the square-topped keys. The keyboard is pleasant, with a nice travel and a soft clicking sound. The telltales are pronounced enough to get find the home keys easily. It will be interesting so see how it holds up, since I wear the bump off the “F” key in about 18 months.

The aluminum case has a few drawbacks. Sharp edges cut into my wrists while typing on my lap. It’s less of a problem on a desk, but I suggest wearing long sleeves to prevent awkward questions about a failed suicide attempt.

Other features include:

  • The mag-safe power connection is very well thought out. A magnet holds the connector to the side of the laptop, so if the cord gets yanked it just pulls away.
  • Built-in Bluetooth connected to my mouse quickly and with no complaint. It’s even kind enough to tell me when the mouse is ready to go to sleep from inactivity.
  • The SD card reader quickly recognized the card from my camera. There were no annoying “Would you like to open these…” popups, and performance was snappy. It also ejected cleanly and quickly.
  • It has a Fire Wire port that I’ll probably never use.
  • There are only two USB ports. It should be fine for day-to-day use, but some people might need more.
  • I’m going to take a moment to complain about the video connector. It’s not blue (standard VGA), it’s not white (digital), it’s tiny (proprietary). My projector is useless until I visit an Apple store for an adapter.

Mousing Around

Mouse to Mouse

Mouse to Mouse

The touchpad is large and responsive. There are no buttons to press, instead the whole the trackpad functions as a mouse button. Pushing near the bottom of the pad is easy, but if you try to press near the middle or top of the pad your hands will quickly become conditioned for doing Jack LaLanne-style fingertip pushups. Did I mention that I would NOT have thought to push on the whole pad without instruction from a friend a few months ago?

The lack of buttons is a bit of a cause for frustration for a PC user. A lucky guess let me open right-click menus by pressing the control (not command!) key while clicking. It’s awkward and requires two hands and mental energy.

After I had poked around, I discovered a myriad of trackpad options. I’m impressed by the video demonstrations built into the options screen for the trackpad. Simply hover the mouse over an option and the video changes to clearly demonstrate what the settings do. Nice touch.

To say that the multi-touch functionality in the trackpad is nice is a gross understatement. I won’t go into the details here, but if you are new to the Mac environment, open System Preferences and select Trackpad. It will save you hours of frustration. Again, easy to use, easy to remember, but NOT intuitive.

In one last bit of oddness, the two-finger scroll seems jumpy with my right hand but works smoothly with my left.

Keyboard Layout

Macbook Pro Keyboard

Macbook Pro Keyboard

This is by far my biggest complaint. Apple’s relentless drive to make things pretty made messing with the classic 101-key arrangement inevitable. I’m an engineer at heart, a function over form kind of guy, but whatever. Experienced PC users will struggle to learn new keyboard habits.

The key combinations for moving around a cursor around a screen full of text are very different. If you use the Ctrl+backspace or Ctrl+Delete combinations on the PC you will find yourself swearing as you inadvertently trash yet another line of full text. Fortunately, Undo works if you remember that Ctrl (PC) = command (Apple).

It’s going to take a while to get used to not having a dedicated home or end key, and I think my productivity will be hindered by not having separate backspace and delete keys.

Compatibility Concerns

I haven’t taken the Macbook out into the wild yet. I still rely on a few critical pieces of my Windows-based infrastructure, and I haven’t looked for alternatives yet.

Password Management

I have used Password Safe for a couple of years. It’s not integrated with a browser, but it’s secure, reliable, and free. The password file lives in my Dropbox folder so it’s backed up and (was) synchronized between my tower and laptop. There’s no Mac version, so I will have to find a replacement. 1Password looks promising (it also claims Android compatibility), but it’s expensive.

Microsoft Office

I don’t want to spend the money for another license for MS Office, I haven’t played with this yet, but I have heard that Excel for Mac is on par with a broken abacus. I’m not doing hard-core engineering calculations any more, so this might be OK. However, I have several presentations developed in PowerPoint, and I’m not sure how well they will port to Keynote.

Accounting

As much as I detest the software, I liked the ability to run QuickBooks from my Dropbox folder from both computers. I won’t give Intuit another dime even if they make a Mac version. I may just have to do my bookkeeping at home.

Intermediate Conclusion

I haven’t done any “real” work with it yet, but the Macbook Pro has passed the risk-of-flight test: I’m no longer inclined to throw it at a wall.

I could see myself surviving without an external mouse, but I don’t want to try editing graphics without one. I’m wondering how long it will take to build effective keyboard habits. Seriously Steve, the cancer hasn’t gotten you yet, would a separate delete key kill you?

Posted in PC to Mac | 2 Comments

Moving from PC to Mac: The Background

Unboxing my "new" Macbook ProI’ve been using a PC since before Microsoft released Windows. I worked on Windows 3.1, played a bit with Windows ’95 and ’98, and didn’t even mind Windows ME (even though it didn’t have proper USB support). Windows XP was good to me. I managed to dodge the hell that is Vista, and I am quite happy with most of Windows 7 (although I still think XP did a few things better).

I have managed high-end CAD installations on Unix (HP-UX and AIX) and toyed with Ubuntu Linux at home. I would probably still be running a Linux version if I had been able to find a driver for the wireless card in my old laptop.

However, Apple and I have never gotten along terribly well. They just think differently. My first bad experience occurred in college when I was trying to help a church group manage some files on their fresh, sparkly little Apple. I think I made things worse, and they ended up reinstalling the software.

Over the years, my opinion of Mac users solidified: They must be mentally deficient, and Apple sells mice with only one button because their users can’t tell right from left.

More recently, I have struggled with the interface while helping clients configure email. Where is the right click? How do I switch between open applications? It was frustrating.

Fast forward to 2009-2010, when I started getting into doing websites. I kept seeing video tutorials created on a Mac. Friends who develop software are more in your face on the “Mac experience” than a 64-year-old grandmother with pictures of her first grandchild. Speakers at conferences appear to seamlessly jump back and forth between editor and webpages on their Macs. I would find software with great developer tools that only run on a Mac.

The seed was there. It was finally planted when the motherboard in my Dell laptop finally went toes-up in December 2010. My buddy assured me that it wasn’t worth the money to fix it, and I started hunting for a replacement. I didn’t have the cash for a new laptop right away, so I made do with a loaner.

A friend asked me about my budget, then connected me with a friend of his who was selling his gently used, still-with-original packaging 13-inch Macbook Pro.

I did some research. I asked on Twitter and Facebook for input from people who had switched from a PC to the Mac. Amidst the obligatory fanboy replies (“Once you go Mac…”) I received a few helpful pieces of information.

On Facebook:

Joe: JUST. DO. IT. I made the switch a few years back and I now use my pc laptop as a cross between a paperweight and a glorified / over powered netbook.
Me: Joe, how was the learning curve? I know you weren’t 100% productive out of the gate.
Joe: Honestly, once I got used to the gestures. I was in it to win it. learning curve was pretty short. Apple has tons of stuff online to answer any questions when you have them.

That was helpful: It acknowledges that people have questions.

Another friend replied on Twitter, “I’ve gone back and forth for years. PC –> Mac gets frustrating if you’re a skilled Windows user. You feel a bit hobbled.”

Hmm, that’s me. This could be interesting. Then I found that the price for this particular machine was very fair, and I figured I could probably resell it for what I paid if it doesn’t work out. I took the deal, then sat back to wait for UPS to knock.

Three days after clicking “OK” on PayPal, Twitter brought me a link to someone else who recently made the switch. Jeff wrote about his thinking, the steps he took, and the annoyances he faced. The comments, especially the later ones, are filled with suggestions for add-ons and applications and tweaks to improve the software. (Careful readers will note that the Mac OS-X is not perfect out-of-the-box).

New Macbook Pro. Now what? My new toy tool arrived in the middle of a very busy week. It was late evening before I could open the package, but it booted. I tweeted, ‘It’s here, it’s sleek, and it boots. It’s also missing keys (no Home/End,PgUp/PgDn?), and WTF is “Finder”?’

Now I have to figure out how to use it. Come back to read my adventures.

(Written on a PC)

Posted in PC to Mac | 3 Comments

Hello P2PU!

In January 2011, a tweet from a friend introduced me to something called P2PU.

I knew that I needed to fill a hole in my skills by learning JavaScript, so I signed up. The first assignment (a course application, really) was to watch a couple of videos, write a blog about what I learned, and create a very simple script.

I didn’t have this blog in place yet, so I created a stand-alone .html page and pasted the code (including the script) into my application form. That experimental script is the reason you had to dismiss that silly box to read this in peace.

Following is what I wrote and submitted in my class application.


Application to Javascript: 101

Todd J. List

21-Jan-2011

I’m a little unclear about the directions (just WHERE do I write my application blog? I’m guessing that’s what this box is for) but I’ll just plow forward. Also, where do I put create my HTML page and submit it?

The video was informative. The slog through some of the history of the JavaScript didn’t do much to remove my suspicions that Microsoft is either evil or stupid. I also learned that I bought the “wrong” JavaScript book.

After he started talking more about language specifics, I learned a few things. I have been learning (mostly self-taught) PHP and I found some significant differences in the ways variables are handled between the two languages. PHP is also a loosely-typed language, so I shouldn’t have too much trouble getting used to that in JavaScript. It may take some time to keep the functions from getting confused.

Although I’m an inexperienced programmer, I like the idea of everything being an object, and I hope this helps me learn more about using OOP.

A couple of immediately useful things I learned from watching the video included using the “+” operator to concatenate strings. This differs from PHP where I would use a “.” to do that.

One last thing: Even if I am not accepted into the class, I know about the videos now and this will be a very useful tool for me.

About the program

The script creates two variables, num1 and num2 and gives both of them the value 2. A third variable, sum adds the other two variables together. The result is displayed in the Alert Box. It’s annoying, but it works.
<script type=”text/javascript”>//

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