Blog tinkering

It’s windy and cold outside, so it’s a good day for tending to long overdue housekeeping chores on this blog. I’ve turned off email updates to help avert a flood of new posts and bizarre errors that we’ve seen in previous    tinkering sessions.

For some email subscribers, blog posts may be arriving through a new service, FeedBlitz. You’ll have the usual options to adjust how frequently you receive the mailings and to unsubscribe if you so desire.
For those of you who care about such things, I’ve resumed with Blogger. I’ll discuss the reasons for the change in a future post.

Feeding birds by way of ice

A few weeks ago,we had small amount of snow and ice. We also did not have any sand or ice melt. Son Mike and his crew were making repairs on our house. Mike used bird seed to give some traction. It worked pretty well.
Last Monday, we had more ice, so I tossed more bird seed on the ramp and driveway. The ensuing warmth and rain washed away the ice, leaving the seeds. Birds large and small are taking care of the rest.

All the news that’s fit to throw away

We get the Sunday-only option, currently costing $7.80/week. As with all print subscriptions, we also get their All Digital Access service, providing web, iPad app, and other mobile options, for no additional charge.
The All Digital Access costs $8.75/week.
To read the Times online on all of our gadgets, therefore, it is cheaper to buy the Sunday print edition and throw it away, rather than buy just the digital editions by themselves.

The New York Times recently sent a letter announcing new rates for print subscribers. Depending on your selection, a subscription will cost 40¢ to 70¢ more per week in the new year. Ours will increase to $8.20. The Gray Lady hasn’t said whether there will be a price increase or not for the digital products.

More on Digital Nomads: Panera Bread

Panera Bread was one of the first restaurants to offer free Wi-Fi. It was a good thing. People would use the restaurant as adjunct office, holding meetings or just working for an hour or two. The restaurant would shorten the amount of time you could be connected during the busy lunch period, a condition that seems reasonable.
Of late, however, the Wi-Fi service has deteriorated to the point of dial-up quality.

Even in Leominster, where cell phone coverage is thin, my phone was getting better results on two-bar 4G service (921kbps) than on the store’s Wi-Fi (896).
Add to that their use of Flash on the Wi-Fi login page and you have an unfriendly, unworkable setup.
Granted, we’re supposed to go to restaurants to eat, not necessarily to work. If your business is offering an additional service as an attraction, it’s a good idea to make it something you’d want to use. If you advertise air-conditioning, and can only keep the summertime temps at 80F, you’re not delighting your customers.
Dunno where I’ll try next, but I’m out of here.
By the way, the mall where the Leominster store is located is called the Mall at Whitney Fields, not the Searstown Mall. The mall was known as Searstown when it opened 45 years ago. It was renamed in 2004 when other anchor stores didn’t want to be subservient to Sears.

About the Connecticut school shootings

A lot will be said about the recent tragedy in Connecticut. Most of it will be an expression of grief and bewilderment. Much of the commentary will be thoughtful and heartfelt. Some of it will be positioned, consciously or not, to advance an agenda. Intertwined with all of it will be observations from people whom we respect, but who are making statements that are passionate, stupid, and wrong. That’s who we are, and that’s how we have to live together.
Let me add just a couple of quick thoughts based on early and likely to be inaccurate information.

  • It appears that the guns used in this shooting were purchased and owned legally by the assailant’s mother (now dead by those same guns). Gun control legislation of a type that would pass muster under the recent Supreme Court rulings on the Second Amendment probably wouldn’t have prevented these guns from being used in these crimes.
    There may be reasons for considering stronger gun control laws, but this case doesn’t appear to be one of them.
  • Much will be said about identifying people with mental illness in an effort to prevent future shootings. Our predictive powers regarding the behavior of anyone, mentally ill or otherwise, are nil. We have statistics that will show that a certain percentage of people who exhibit certain behaviors or who have been treated for certain conditions are likely to cause problems. There is, however, zero chance that we can then say with certainty that any specific individual matching that profile will offend.
    Two members of my extended family have done time in jail as the result of their mental illnesses, one for what he did and the other for what he said and that others feared he might do.
    • The one who did the crime did so as a complete surprise to all of us.
    • The one who said the wrong thing to the wrong person as the wrong time only learned how not to say those things to anyone, including a therapist, again.  Anyone who has been committed to a hospital under a Massachusetts Section 12 knows the magic words not to say. As a result, the person’s illness goes underground even further.

    Even as we discuss identification of people likely to offend, we make it more difficult to get the kinds of sustained mental health and family services that might give us a chance to heal what is badly broken.  A person who kills his mother and her kindergarten class isn’t going to be made whole by a Prozac presecription. 

There’s no question that gun violence and mental illness are causing grave problems in our society. There’s also no question that there are some things we can do to make things better. I keep thinking, though, about our invasion of Iraq. The Septemeber 11 attacks deserved a forceful response to confront terrorists in this world. That we chose, under the guise of responsing to 9/11, to invade and occupy Iraq squandered left us neglibly safer at a enormous cost of lives, money, and good will. 
I hope that we’re better than that this time around.

More on Charter

You bring your laptop from home to work in a coffee shop. You connect to the Wi-Fi service, start the web browser to check the news, and then go to Outlook to check email. You read what’s arrived and write a quick note to a friend to make plans for lunch next week.

Up pops this message:

Task Throat-Warbler - Sending' reported error (0x800CCC61) : 'Your outgoing (SMTP) e-mail server has reported an internal error. If you continue to receive this message, contact your server administrator or Internet service provider (ISP).  The server responded: 571 imp09 NzAuMTkyLjE0Ljcw You must connect from Charter IP space.  E1110'

A normal, English-speaking adult would see a block of more than 700 undifferentiated ASCII characters.

If you happen to guess that that it might be related to your Charter email account and stumble over to the Charter online help, you may find a message such as this:

571 You must connect from Charter IP space. E1110  Sender attempted to relay email while not connected to Charter IP space. Charter subscribers may receive this message if their client IP address is not recognized as a Charter owned IP address.If the IP address the customer is sending from is a Charter owned IP address then this should be escalated to Charter Customer Support and should include the client IP address.

Do you feel helped?

The short explanation is that Charter has a stupid policy that doesn’t allow people to send mail through Charter email servers when they are not connected to the Internet through Charter.

If you go to one place around Worcester, you might be lucky and find that they use Charter for business, in which case you can send your message. Most places, though, have their own national ISP configurations and so block connections to Port 25 used to send email.

The workaround is to use Charter’s webmail service, the one that welcomes you with email that includes the following message about the message:


If you have a VPN back to your home and can make a connection through a service there, you might be able to connect.

The other alternative is to use the mobile device settings ( and SSL for the IMAP and SMTP servers.. These settings are intended for smartphones, but appear to work with Outlook.

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.