Sometimes, life hands you a banjo

It wasn’t just life, though. It was long-time friend Ken. We met for breakfast this morning and talked for hours about flame plate in fighter jets, great teachers, the colored water of the old Nashua River, adaptive learning, and Massachusetts politics. It was the kind of conversation that Ken and I have had since we were in Little League, drops of water bouncing and scattering on a hot griddle.

It wasn’t just any banjo. It was Don’s 5-string.

Not a day goes by that we don’t miss him. Not a day goes by that, knowing that we could have done better, we don’t wonder if it would have been enough to make a difference.

First steps will be tune it, learn a few chords, and plunk out a blues progression.


It comes full circle. That was me, back when we were living in the garage, my grandmother looking on.

Sometimes, life hands you a banjo, again.

Crime in suburbia

From The Landmark (subscription required):
[Ed. Note: there were 22 suspicious items this week.]
Monday, November 26
9:47 a.m. Public service, lock-down drill at school, Jamieson Rd.
1:55 p.m. Vehicle lockout, Main St.
2:29 p.m. Caller complaining about protesters in front of post office, Main St.
4:27 p.m. Person at station to have someone speak to his daughter about underage drinking, Main St.
9:55 p.m. Firewood stolen during daylight from home on Paxton Rd.
Tuesday, November

6:16 a.m. Dispute over shared mailbox, Main St.
10:00 a.m. Person at station regarding suspicious phone call, Main St.
10:36 a.m. Caller wants to speak with officer regarding suspicious vehicle, Stoneleigh Rd.
1:45 p.m. Police at post office for follow-up, Main St.
Wednesday, November

2:38 a.m. Suspicious vehicle pulled into construction site behind house, Autumn Cir.
9:12 a.m. Tire and furniture left on side of Bond Rd.
10:26 a.m. Police check on suspicious person, Stoneleigh Rd.
12:15 p.m. Red fox in backyard, Beechwood Rd.
12:42 p.m. Car seat installation, Main St.
3:43 p.m. Fox hanging around neighborhood, Nola Dr.
4:43 p.m. Suspicious vehicle parked all day, Mason Rd.
Thursday, November 29
8:24 a.m. Hydroseeding truck sucking up water from swampy area on Quinapoxet St.
8:59 a.m. Officer out with dog in road, Stoneleigh Rd.
9:55 a.m. Someone fooled with caller’s windshield wipers and mirrors while she walked on rail trail, Manning St.
1:40 p.m. Police check on fox, Nola Dr. Fox sent on its way
10:01 p.m. Two suspicious males hanging around area, Princeton St.
11:02 p.m. Car carrier unloading vehicles in driveway, Main St.
Friday, November 30
4:51 p.m. Police check on suspicious vehicle with four occupants, Parker Ave.
Saturday, December 1
12:37 a.m. Suspicious activity in area of Chapel St.
10:08 a.m. Report of hunters too close to property line, Preservation Ln.
11:13 a.m. Police investigate loose cat, Main St.
12:44 p.m. People at station regarding civil issue between two interior decorating companies, Main St.
Sunday, December 2
2:42 a.m. Suspicious vehicle, River St.
10:46 a.m. Caller concerned about illegal flea market in Jefferson Park, Quinapoxet/Princeton Sts.
1:12 p.m. Item found near entrance of rail trail, Manning St.
3:01 p.m. Assist citizen with deer, Reservoir St.
3:58 p.m. Two males in field discharging firearms, North St.
Tuesday, November 27
6:30 a.m. Person in woods behind caller’s house, Crystal St.
Wednesday, November 28
7:14 a.m. Caller struck dog, Marshall St.
9:02 a.m. Caller reports livery van crossing center line, Pleasant St.
12:45 p.m. Caller received letter form person in jail, Old Lantern Cir.
Thursday, November 29
1:25 p.m. Assist postal inspector with investigation, Mower St.
Friday, November 30
8:19 a.m. Request for police to check vehicle that twice drove behind building, Pleasant St
2:14 p.m. Truck and trailer on side Mower St., person went into woods with chainsaw
Monday, November 26
9:19 a.m. Suspicious vehicle, Mountain Rd.
Tuesday, November 27
8:59 a.m. Graffiti on buildings and sign, Boylston Ave.
9:03 a.m. Suspicious person, Gregory Rd.
Friday, November 30
7:57 a.m. Two suspicious white pickup trucks with campers on back acting suspiciously, Calamint Hill Rd. S
11:26 a.m. Vehicle vs. stop sign, Fitchburg Rd./Rte. 140 N
Saturday, December 1
8:37 a.m. Snow-covered vehicle parked on hill, Rte. 140
Monday, November 26
2:04 p.m. Caller regarding hunters on private property, Irish Ln.
Wednesday, November 28
7:05 p.m. Caller reports vehicle pulled in neighbor’s yard and did a “donut,” Brooke Haven Dr.
Friday, November 30
8:17 a.m. Person at station regarding suspicious activity at her home, Bethany Dr.
2:45 p.m. Horse caught up in fence, Central Tree Rd.
4:22 p.m. Mother at station regarding daughter smoking something given at school, Summerhill Dr.
11:52 p.m. Suspicious vehicle, Main St.
Saturday, December 1
12:30 p.m. Assist person locked out of vehicle, Pleasantdale Rd.
12:59 p.m. Woman walking on Edson Ave. looks lost
Monday, November 26
7:37 p.m. Caller reports suspicious male in dark green Army coat, Davis Ledge Rd.
Tuesday, November 27
8:58 a.m. Suspicious vehicle and male walking around, John Dee Rd./Redemption Rock Trl.
Wednesday, November 28
6:47 a.m. Black and yellow Lab missing, Redstone Pl. Dog later returned
9:36 a.m. Two loose beagle puppies almost hit by vehicle, Chocksett/Clinton Rds.
12:37 p.m. Suspicious male walking up driveway, ran when dog barked, Wilder Rd.
Thursday, November 29
3:11 p.m. Suspicious vehicle, Jill Ln.
4:08 p.m. Tan and white bulldog in area of Meetinghouse Hill/Stuart Rds.
Friday, November 30
4:40 p.m. Lost, long-haired gray cat, Redstone Pl.
9:57 p.m. Officer checks on person shining flashlight into school building, found to be custodian checking school, Boutelle Rd.
Saturday, December 1
11:55 a.m. Suspicious vehicle, Albright Rd.
Sunday, December 2
9:05 a.m. Suspicious person driving around Wiles Rd.
6:07 p.m. Female walking down road in dark clothing, Princeton Rd.
9:54 p.m. Suspicious vehicle in driveway, Village Ln.

Toward a theory of technology education

Impressive title for a blog, eh?

Well, I’m nowhere near that full theory, but I’ve got a few pieces that are starting to take shape. The ideas are based on my experiences providing technical support for many people over many years.

Smart, good people call themselves stupid because their computers and telephones block them from doing a simple task. We’ve created a culture of disrespect that’s the result of bad user interface and bad  software release practices (unannounced changes so that something that worked in one way yesterday doesn’t work today).

A generation was mocked by the flashing 12:00 on their VCR clocks because a) each VCR had a different way of setting the time and, more importantly, b) the manufacturers were too fricking cheap to include a 50¢ battery that would preserve the time setting when you unplugged the device momentarily.

It’s not likely that the industry is going to change its ways, so it’s up to us. That’s where this nascent educational theory is coming into shape. It has a few core principles that I’ll be developing over a series of blogs:

  • Language
  • Expectations
  • Community of learning
  • Context

I’ll touch on the first one, language, today.

If you don’t know how to spell a word, look it up in the dictionary.

How many of you, as nine-year-olds, stared blankly at your teacher when she told you to look up a word that you didn’t know how to spell? This moment may have been the beginning of your understanding that adults are nuts.

Second only to English language usage, English spelling rules are nonsensical and contradictory. (The phrase look it up, for example, uses the verb look in an archaic fashion as a transitive verb and sends us looking upwards. Perhaps a grammarian could help me diagram the sentence Look it up in the dictionary.)

The other day, a Mac user tried to explain her problem, that the thing with the pointer was missing from her desktop.

“I use it to navigate,” she said.

I asked about the mouse pointer, which seemed to be ok.

“I click on it to read the New York Times,” she said.

The icon for Safari was missing from her Dock.

If you saw the Safari icon in the wild, how would you describe it? A compass, right? How does that correlate with web browsing?

Once you make the association between an icon and the idea or activity, you’re most likely just to forget that you even know it. Trouble surfaces, however, when the icon disappears. Is the program gone? Probably not.


  • An icon dictionary that explains what each icon represents – what program it runs and what you do with the program. In the previous example, describing that icon as Safari wouldn’t have helped much.
  • People who work on the computer must document what they’ve done and why. The reason that the Safari icon was gone was that the Mac owner’s son preferred Firefox and wanted to make it the default browser for his mother. He didn’t tell her nor did he set it up so that she could get to the New York Times website as she’s previously done.

Google Drive nixed

It took Google a long time to release its Google Drive product. People had come up with work-arounds involving storing files as attachments to Gmail messages. When it was finally released earlier this year, it was almost too late. Products such as Dropbox, Box, and Microsoft’s SkyDrive (variously named Live and other monickers) had filled the file-sharing, synchronization, cloud storage void.

Google Drive is an evolution of Google Docs, an online authoring environment for documents, spreadsheets, and presentation. Spreadsheets can have a form-based front end. Recently, I used this form/spreadsheet interface to build an online survey used by a couple hundred folks.

By allowing any type of file to be stored in then-Google Docs, Google’s online file service became a handy way to store and share files among teams. You can share individual files or an array of folders, sub-folders, and files with one person, many, or the world. You can even use it to host your web server content.

In parallel, I decided to move back to Linux. There are some tools that I need to use and, I hope, develop, work that is more easily done on Linux.

To my surprise and disappointment, I discovered that I can’t access non-document files that are stored on Google Drive when I’m using a browser running on Linux. In this case, I had stored some executable files in a tools folder on Google Drive. I wanted to download them to my Linux installation.

No joy.

In order to download non-document files, you need to have an application running on your system. Google makes its drive application for Windows, Mac, and various portable devices, but not Linux. Note that the error message is so broken that the link to the image is missing.

For today, I’ll need to switch back to Windows. Longer term, I will have to move many of my files to Dropbox, which does make a Linux client.


How to get a window seat on the bus

I’ll be seeing some friends from high school this week. As we swap stories, sometimes we forget if events happened to us or someone else. It’s a bit like the bats in the Pogo comic strip, Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred, who often forgot who was whom.

Anyway, …

Our junior high science teacher wanted us to study nature. For our spring project, we were to collect 25 different types of bugs. A couple of boys asked if we could go fishing, instead. She agreed. One fish would equal five bugs.

I caught a couple of fish, probably a kivver and a perch, because those were the most easily caught at the camp. Matched up with the 15 bugs, I turned in my specimens and left them in the science project room.

We hadn’t thought this all the way through.. Within a day, the science project room equaled the gym locker room for odor and on the second day it won.

I tried throwing away the shoe box containing my project, but the janitor made me take it out of the trash bin and bring it home.

It was a 45-minute ride on the school bus. I had no trouble getting a seat for myself by a window.

The first of December …

20121201-071607.jpgWe are well on our way to a repaired home.

You may remember that the hurricane knocked down a tree that knocked down our chimney that broke the ceiling where Sandra sat. The chimney is fixed. A new roof is on. The ceiling will be replaced early next week.

We are, for the time being, nomads in our own home. The living room furniture is scattered to other rooms. We’re quite ok, though.

A thin layer of fresh snow may delay some additional repairs on another part of the roof that are planned for today. More snow and ice is in the forecast for the overnight and then a warm-up.

Happy 99th Birthday, Huck.

And, for people of a certain age, here’s that song that’s in your head today.

Crime in suburbia

From The Landmark (subscription required):
[Editor’s note: there were 16 suspicious items this week.]


Thursday — November 15

2:24 p.m. Request for officer at high school, unknown issue, Main St.
3:25 p.m. Assist person locked out of vehicle, Main St.
5:14 p.m. Person ticketed for parking in handicapped space unhappy. Claims not to have been in handicapped space. Advised of appeal procedure, Reservoir St.
7:24 p.m. Check on people in field house. All set, winterizing facility, Main St.

Friday — November 16

12:17 p.m. Complaint of loud music, Princeton St.
3:01 p.m. Multiple occupants of car arguing in parking lot, Reservoir St.
11:47 p.m. Suspicious vehicle, Reservoir St.

Saturday — November 17

10:05 a.m. Caller found black Lab with leash, Reservoir St.
12:17 p.m. Stray dog in yard, Reservoir St.
12:36 p.m. Crew at vacant house blowing leaves and debris into neighbors’ yard, Lexington Cir.
1:25 p.m. Neighbors hanging around building, Princeton St.

Sunday — November 18

1:40 a.m. Someone rang doorbell and took off,Salisbury St.
2:17 a.m.. Caller wants to speak to officer about previous call, Salisbury St.

Monday — November 19

8:32 a.m. Dead animal in Shrewsbury St.
1:06 p.m. Car seat installation, Main St.
4:22 p.m. Vehicle parked beside Rte. 68
6:14 p.m. Suspicious male soliciting door-to-door, Gail Dr.
7:55 p.m. Suspicious vehicle, Colorado Dr./Arizona Ave.

Tuesday — November 20

7:29 a.m. Vehicle struck deer, Bullard St.
9:36 p.m. Suspicious vehicle. Belongs to individuals involved in Asian long-horned beetle study, Salisbury St.

Wednesday — November 21

2:04 a.m. Suspicious vehicle, Salisbury St.
7:34 a.m. Assist with car seat installation, Main St.
8:05 a.m. Refrigerator in or near Chapel St./Ottoson Way
12:03 p.m. Suspicious pickup truck traveling up and down Wilde Willow Dr.
2:29 p.m. Suspicious person knocking on doors, Vicksburg Cir. and Ft. Sumter Dr.

Thursday — November 22

6:39 p.m. Report of male running and jumping in Fairhill Rd.
9:04 p.m. Assist person looking for family member’s vehicle, Main St.

Friday — November 23

9:30 a.m. Suspicious vehicle, South Rd.
1:10 p.m. Police out with person who reported an unleashed dog on Bullard St. that came after her dog
7:15 p.m. Suspicious vehicles in lot on Princeton St.
7:33 p.m. Caller reports upset carpenter,Shrewsbury St.

Saturday — November 24

9:39 a.m. Caller requests officer while carpenter removes his tools from her residence, Shrewsbury St.
1:44 p.m. Officer on drug investigation, Shrewsbury St.
4:56 p.m. Suspicious vehicle, Harris St.

Sunday — November 25

11:21 a.m. Vehicle lockout, parking lot, Main St.
11:57 a.m. Check on three youths in parking lot, Main St.
12:57 p.m. Vehicle parked in driveway, Mixter Rd.


Saturday — November 17

6:19 p.m. High school teacher reports a party will take place tonight with underage kids, Howard St.
10:14 p.m. Several cars parked across the street from vacant house, Howard St. Holden PD notified. Assist Holden PD at large party

Sunday — November 18

1:54 a.m. Caller’s neighbor setting off fireworks, Pleasant St.

Tuesday — November 20

2:10 p.m. Caller wants to speak with officer about dead skunk on her property, William Allen Dr.


Tuesday — November 20

7:00 p.m. Suspicious vehicle, Hickory Dr.

Wednesday — November 21

7:26 a.m. Two llamas in Brooks Station Rd. road near church
4:49 p.m. Assist person locked out of vehicle, child inside, Westminster Rd.
7:44 p.m. Suspicious male with flashlight on property on Rte. 140 N. Found to be a solicitor

Thursday — November 22

8:26 a.m. Officer removes large rock from Sterling Rd.
9:19 a.m. Loose gray dog in Sterling Rd.
1:21 p.m. Police find mailbox in Willson Rd. Returned to owner

Saturday — November 24

11:19 a.m. Caller received two letters from someone offering to buy her home, Beaman Rd.

Sunday — November 25

6:19 p.m. Suspicious truck parked on Lovers Lane since Friday
8:55 p.m. Car struck deer, Rte. 140 N


Tuesday — November 20

4:23 p.m. School requesting officer, child got on wrong bus and was dropped off without a parent present, Maple Ave.
7:20 p.m. Officer removes dog from residence, Stevens Way

Wednesday — November 21

3:22 p.m. Car parked at Rail Trail is sticking out in Pommogussett Rd.

Thursday — November 22

9:52 a.m. Suspicious male soliciting for gas at gas station, Barre Paxton Rd.

Friday — November 23

12:42 a.m. Suspicious vehicle parked in lot, Main St.
10:33 a.m. Stray coon hound at residence on E. County Rd. Dog reunited with owner
6:37 p.m. Black bear on porch and wandering through yard, Pleasantdale Rd.

Saturday — November 24

9:15 a.m. Person wants to turn in old ammunition, Charnock Hill Rd.
2:54 p.m. Caller reports loose horse in road by Rutland State Park


Monday — November 19

6:03 a.m. ATVs in the road. Riders stated a tree was down across the trail, had to cut into the roadway, N Row Rd./Heywood Rd. Advised to stay off the road
3:57 p.m. People walking out of woods and changing direction when cars approach, Greenland/Reed Rds.

Thursday — November 22

12:48 a.m. Loud noises from apartment for three hours, Patriots Way
4:13 p.m. Elderly female walking in Leominster Rd.

Sunday — November 25

12:15 a.m. Barking dog complaint, Princeton Rd.
9:55 a.m. Beagle chasing coyote in back yard, Beaman Rd.
3:11 p.m. Suspicious vehicle driving in circles, Kilburn Rd.
6:27 p.m. Missing Rhodesian Ridgeback dog, Clinton Rd.

Walking as a health hazard

I had my annual physical. Nothing much to report. I’m in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in.

We live about a quarter-mile from the doctor’s office, a nice walk on a cool morning. On the way, a neighbor drives past quickly. She’s talking on the phone and  drinking a cup of coffee. She waves a friendly greeting.

When I get to the office, I mention to my doctor that one of my riskiest habits is walking to doctor’s office.

When you need a disk drive on a Saturday …

One of the family desktop computers developed a problem. The disk drive was failing. After tinkering with various disk repair utilities, I determined that we needed to replace the drive.

We were coming in to the Thanksgiving holiday week, with only two days of school, so I didn’t hurry to order one online. I figured I could find one at a local store, install it, and set it up over the long weekend.

When you go to Staples, you discover that the disk drive product boxes on the shelves not only do not contain disk drives, but do not even represent disk drives elsewhere in the store. The message on the box says,  Please ask an associate for assistance. I asked. I learned that they don’t keep drives in stock. They could order one if I’d like.

After a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat and another day around the house, I thought I could pick up a drive at Best Buy and perform the aforementioned transplant.


A kind, blue-shirted sales associate pointed out several drives of varying price and capacity. I picked out one and proceeded to the checkout counter. Best Buy in the Greendale Mall in Worcester has an entrance/exit to the mall. We figured that we’d make our purchase and walk around a bit. The checkout was staffed by another blue-shirted associate who told us that we couldn’t check out at that checkout station, that we had to go to the front of the store, the side away from the mall entrance.


I brought the drive to the checkout. A loud, blue-shirted employee told us that we could use Register 8. The nice blue-shirted cashier took the drive and brought to another desk to remove the do-not-steal tag on the box. She brought the box back, scanned it, and waited for me to pay the $170 or so. I said that was not the price I was expecting, that the sticker on the shelf said $70. I wanted to go back to the shelf, check the price, and, if needed, pick up one that was truly the price I wanted.  The nice blue-shirted cashier told me to wait.  She told the loud blue-shirted employee who called loudly to unseen person to check the price. At this point, three people were trying to figure out if the scanner was incorrect.

There was a good chance that I’d picked up the wrong box. I was fine with that. I wasn’t fine with having to wait while they checked their inventory-scanner system. I left.

By the way, the tools on Hiren’s BootCD are very good. I was able to clean up the disk enough to muscle out the User directory tree. I have a disk on order from Amazon (next day shipping), but may be able to get a used one from a local repair guy.

This is the part that the retailers don’t get. Online shopping isn’t about price-matching. It’s about having the product I need and letting me buy it easily. A 10-year-old running a lemonade stand knows this. Staples and Best Buy, it seems, don’t.