Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Fond Farewell

   Yesterday marked my 12th anniversary at ITT Technical Institute. It was a day that should have been filled with nothing but happiness at reaching a milestone that does not happen to very many people today. In fact, according to some US statistics, the average employee will stay with a company for only 4.6 years; I, obviously, beat the average. I look back at this time as having been a fantastic period doing something I love. Being an educator has fulfilled a deep desire inside me to help others learn, grow, and become excited about something.

   All told, these past twelve years have been pretty fantastic! This is primarily due to my coworkers and me being absolutely focused on one thing and that has been trying our best to do whatever it takes to help our students realize dreams that they thought were impossible. We have had the opportunity, together, to help literally thousands take their first step - perhaps become their family’s first son or daughter to do so – towards earning a post-secondary degree and enjoying all the benefits and responsibilities that comes with it. Additionally, I have seen hundreds of graduates get well-paying jobs and, a few, even earn the titles of vice-president, president, and CEO at their respective organizations. These successes feel very personal to me.

   Because of no fault of my own, as of today, I am no longer employed at ITT Tech; I am off to do something else. I have no clue what is in store for me next, but I know it will be great. That is why I wanted to take just a few moments to write down my thoughts and thank each and every past student and graduate who has made this crazy journey possible. Also, I want to challenge each of you to reach out and help others learn something new this holiday season and beyond. It feels good to share something you are passionate about with others.

   I wish you a very merry Christmas and a very rewarding new year. If you have an idea of what my next journey should be, please leave it in the comments section below. Maybe this could be the start of a new idea - crowd-based employment.

   Thanks again, and happy, happy!


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Holiday Gift that Makes You a Super Hero!

We all know the vast amount of information, whether it be fact or fallacy, that exists on the Internet. And we know that it takes a little bit of "know how" to make your own website. Well here is a great way for anyone one from "one to ninety-two" to get started.

My friends over at are constantly working to bring the latest happenings to us from the side of the computer world that offers huge opportunities for free. Today they sent out an update letting everyone know a new use for a Raspberry Pi - a device so inexpensive that everyone should have one. If you do not already have it, head on over to my previous post to learn a little more: More Raspberry Pi to Love.

Then have a look at this intro video about a new initiative called Coder for Raspberry Pi. I think it will whet your appetite.

Borrowing from the Coder for Raspberry Pi originators; "Coder is a free, open source project that turns a Raspberry Pi into a simple platform that educators and parents can use to teach the basics of building for the web. New coders can craft small projects in HTML, CSS, and Javascript, right from the web browser."

Check out the article describing how to use Coder for Raspberry Pi here: Raspberry Pi and Coder by Google for beginners and kids and look directly at the Coder for Raspberry Pi website here: A simple way to make web stuff on Raspberry Pi.

Thank you, Google, for yet another great opportunity to learn!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Very Large Windows Bug!

If you use almost any release of Microsoft Windows operating system, this bug is affecting you!

In a nutshell, this issue creeps up whenever your computer attempts to create a secure connection with another machine or network. The bug can allow cyber criminals to get into your machine and cause you heartache.

Please, read the following article and run updates on your computer ASAP! Thank you.

Windows SSL / TLS Bug

P.S. If you are still using Windows XP or prior, you must consider upgrading to a newer version of the operating system. There will, likely, be no fix for this.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Seven "P"s In Information Technology

Here is an excellent article I found dealing with a situation new IT professionals make. It will take a few moments to read, but it is worth the time.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Raspberry Pi B+ ... More Pi to Love!

There is a new Raspberry Pi in town; the Raspberry Pi B+. This is purportedly a great way to experiment with tiny computer, programming, and Linux.

According to the adafruit website, here are the features associated with the new model:
 New Specifications:
  • Dual step-down (buck) power supply for 3.3V and 1.8V
  • 5V supply has polarity protection, 2A fuse and hot-swap protection (so you can plug/unplug USB without resetting the board)
  • New USB/Ethernet controller chip
  • 4 USB ports instead of 2 ports
  • 40 GPIO pins instead of 26. The top/first 26 pins match the original layout, 9 additional GPIO and 2 EEPROM Plate identification pins
  • Composite (NTSC/PAL) video now integrated into 4-pole 3.5mm 'headphone' jack
  • MicroSD card socket instead of full size SD
  • Four mounting holes in rectangular layout
  • Many connectors moved around
Not New:
  • Same basic size, 85mm x 56mm
  • Same Processor, Broadcom SoC running at 700MHz (can be overclocked)
  • Same RAM, 512MB soldered on top of the Broadcom chip
  • Same power connector, microUSB
  • Same software - be sure to run the latest Raspbian/NooBs but otherwise the overall Linux software is the same
  • First 26-pins of GPIO are the same
  • Same HDMI port
  • Audio part of the A/V jack is the same
  • Same Camera and DSI Display connector

In a nutshell, this new Raspberry Pi B+ is the same single-board Linux computer that started the trend but with a new neater layout that should make it easier to use.

Get your copy here:

Free Digital Magazines with Coupon

For me, there is very little more exciting than receiving the current issue of my favorite magazines in the mail, but then I am left with mounds of old magazines that I just cannot bring myself to throw out.

So, over the past couple years, I have looked into several digital magazine services.The only service that I can recommend is NextIssue. They have two pricing levels; $10 per month for monthly issues and $15 per month for monthly plus weekly issues. As long as you have a Windows 8, Android, or iOS product, you can read these magazines in all their glorious grandeur.

Check out the service for 60 days for free... On me. Thank you!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Help! Windows Drivers Will Not Reinstall...

Countless times I have found myself trying to reinstall the Windows operating system just to figure out that not all the drivers loaded.

Typically this means using the Device Manager to figure out what drivers did not install and, simply, going to the manufacturer's website and downloading those drivers. However, manufacturers tend to use whatever hardware they have handy on lower-end computers. This means there might be five or six different sound or graphics or network drivers from which to choose. What do you do?

Have a look at this very good article from PC Pro and see how they lead you through being a kind of Sherlock Holmes to force the operating system to tell you where to look.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Udemy Courses

Have you thought about taking an online course to learn something new or sharpen your skills?

Look at Udemy and see all the great courses they offer. I have taken several and find them very enlightening.

Here is a $5 coupon for your first course at Udemy:

Kindle Paperwhite - Easy on the Eyes!

Hey, everyone! If you haven't checked out the new Kindle Paperwhite e-reader, please do so today.

Amazon has really upgraded this beauty and, I can tell you from experience, you will want to take it everywhere. The compact dimensions and less-than-8-ounce weight will let you toss the device in your backpack and not slow you down.

The Paperwhite has been engineered to provide you with the best reading experience by starting with an e-ink display that looks like printed paper and which can be easily seen in direct sunlight. Plus, there is a newly designed light to make sure you can continue to read after dark.

Isn't it horrible when the battery runs down? Well, with the Paperwhite, the battery can last for weeks, not hours. You see, the e-ink display only needs power when you change from one page to another.

I can honestly say that I only charge my Kindle Paperwhite about every-other month and that is with me reading for about a half-hour every evening before going to bed. I wish my Android tablets could do even one-tenth that well on battery power!

This device easily holds approximately 1000 books, plus you have nearly endless storage in the Amazon cloud for more books. Remember, not all Kindle books cost; everyday Amazon offers a ton for free.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Intro to Linux Progress

For everyone who is presently taking the "Introduction to Linux" course online, how is it going?

I have noticed the pace is just about right for a first-time Linux user. For those of us who have used Linux before, it is a great review with several tidbits of new information thrown in for good measure.

Please join me in this online course. It is free and self-paced.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Linux Sucks! - Funny Video

Everyone who is taking the edX course, "Introduction to Linux" - LFS101x - Introduction to Linux, please spend a little time and watch this video on YouTube. It helps you understand the Linux culture. Let me know your thoughts...

Linux Sucks! Video

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Introduction to Linux Course

A lot of people who know me have had to endure my various soapbox discussions about one thing or another. One of those topics deals with modern operating systems (OS) for personal computers and whether I think any particular OS is better than another. This post is an invitation to learn more about a relative newcomer to the OS field; Linux.

To backtrack just a bit, an operating system is that piece of software that sits between the computer hardware and its end-user. The OS is the one main item that makes a particular computer easier to use or more appropriately paired with a certain use than another.

Prior to the mid '70s, personal computers were quite the adventure. Not only did the buyer need to solder the machine together, but then would have to spend countless hours programming the resulting computer to be able to perform some task. Worse yet, if the user wanted to change from one task to another, a complete rewrite of that software was necessary. Thanks to Bill Gates and his Microsoft company, an operating system called MS-DOS was made available to install on personal computers and, suddenly, the machine became useful to more end users than ever before.

MS-DOS was pretty good at separating the hardware and user, but there were many drawbacks to it. For instance, the interface was strictly text-based and the OS could only do one thing at a time. Take the example that if you were writing a thesis in a word processing package, but needed numbers from Lotus 1-2-3, you would have to exit the word processing software, load 1-2-3, get your data - usually in printed format - and then load the word processing software again to continue with your work. Obviously, this was not ideal. This was where another big company in the industry was able to take a big leap forward and give us more flexibility in using computers.

In 1984, Apple introduced the world to the Macintosh. It brought a graphical interface - based on Xerox PARCs work - and the ability to multitask. Now it was possible to get those number from Lotus 1-2-3 and never have to leave the word processing package. By the mid '90s Microsoft started offering their version of the graphical user interfaced OS in the form of Windows 95. Finally everyone had access to an operating system that was easy to use.

Both the Mac and Windows operating systems are quite good, but they are what we refer to as closed-source. This means that their respective companies are totally responsible for updates and they charge money for that service. In 1991, Linus Torvalds developed the key component to what was to become know as the Linux operating system. With Linux, the entire OS is open-source; we can freely download, use, and make changes to the software with very few constraints. This is an OS that has really started to gain more supporters as it is extremely powerful and easy to use, but it requires a bit of work to become proficient.

Now comes the main reason for my post. I want to invite everyone to take advantage of a free online course that is starting in just a few days on August 1st. This course will deal with everything a beginner needs to know about Linux and lead into an appreciation of some of the more advanced topics. I will be following along in this course and I hope you will join me. Please create your free edX account at the following link and signup for the LFS101x "Introduction to Linux" course. Thank you!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Pork Rinds

Here is an interesting snack item that one of my students made me aware of.

For years I have enjoyed pork rinds purchased in a bag like potato chips, but they are cold and stale by the time they hit the shelf. This is where Lowrey's Bacon Curls enter the scene. These are sold in packages similar to microwave popcorn. In fact, these are prepared in the microwave exactly like popcorn, but they do not pop. You just have to watch the bag and when it no longer expands, the pork rinds are ready. 

Give them a try and let me know what you think!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Audio Compression Techniques

Sound is nothing more than a vibration in the material (usually air or water) surrounding us that we can recognize as such. These vibrations need to happen between 20 times and 20,000 times a second for us, as humans, to hear them. To make it easy for us to speak about, we refer to these vibrations in either cycles per second (CPS) or Hertz (Hz). The fact that humans are sensitive to this range of frequencies is where the golden yardstick for audio equipment comes from; we can hear audio between 20Hz and 20,000Hz.

For years, audio was recorded in its original analog format in the form of records and, later, magnetic tape. By the early '80s, there was a real push to produce a more portable and reliable format for audio storage and, through the miracle of digital, we have that in the form of audio CDs.

For a more in-depth look at the state of audio, read through this book by Ken Pohlman.

In the jump from analog to digital, certain things must happen. The first is to sample the analog audio and then digitize it. With CD audio, this sampling takes place 44,100 times every second with each sample being represented with a 16-bit digital word. The resulting digital file tends to be pretty large; a one-minute stereo sound file, at CD-quality, eats up about 10MB of storage. Upon the release of the original audio CD, there were rumors that it was designed to hold 74 minutes of hi-fidelity music which corresponded to Wilhelm Furtwängler's recording of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony from the 1951 Bayreuth Festival. In later years, this rumor was squelched, but it still makes a pretty good story. With later updates to the audio CD format, present audio CDs hold 80 minutes of audio.

For those of us who lived through the early days of digital audio, we remember what it was like to try and carry a portable CD player as gently as possible. We needed to make sure the player was not subjected to any bumps because that would cause certain skips and pauses in the music. For that and several other reasons, portable digital audio started to take shape as a purely silicon-based item. Some of the digital audio players from the late '90s only had 32MB of storage on-board. Without extra help, those little players could only hold a little over three minutes of audio; enter the idea of data compression.

With data compression, there is an attempt made to reduce the size of the digital data. Grossly oversimplified, there is lossless compression and lossy compression. Lossless compression looks at digital data that is repeated and removes that data after having made a note that it exists. This type of compression can reduce an audio file 50% to 60% in size. When reconstructed, a lossless file will be mathematically the same as the original file. FLAC files are an example of a lossless compressed audio file.

Lossy compression goes a step or two further and, with the help of psychoacoustics, tries to predict what sounds would be either outside our hearing range or those masked by other sounds happening at the same time. For example, many people cannot hear frequencies about 15,000Hz, so the MP3 format simply throws that data away. As I mentioned in an earlier post, and demonstrated with photos, the MP3 compression format really negatively affects an audio file. For a much more meaningful explanation on compression, have a look at this research paper: Introduction to Data Compression, by Guy E. Blelloch .

Psychoacoustics is a process best explained with a demonstration. Assume for a moment that two people, Phil and Bob, are standing within 20 yards of a Civil War era cannon. Just as Bob starts speaking to Phil, the cannon is fired producing a deafening BOOM! As is predictable, Phil is not able to hear what Bob says. This same theory is used with psychoacoustics to predict what sounds in an audio file would not be heard and, therefore, could be removed from the data file. Typical sound files, e.g. MP3 and AAC, use psychoacoustics to create files that are approximately 1MB in size for every minute of audio present.

An inexpensive way to find out more about the sound quality differences between lossless and lossy files would be to purchase a SanDisk Sansa Clip+.

Friday, July 25, 2014

NuForce NE-600X Final Impressions

In January 2012, Nu-Force introduced their new NE-600X earphones. Roughly a month later I took delivery of a pair of these very affordable phones and here were my initial thoughts about them.
The first thing that surprised me was the hard plastic case in which the earphones were packaged. It protects the item very well, but was extremely easy to open, unlike most packaging these days.
Right out of the box and into my ears… I am using my iPad to feed music to these earphones since that is a situation in which these 16 ohm devices are most at home. My initial reactions are that the sound is very bright, almost metallic and a bit forward, constrained, and nasally. There is very little warmness to the sound. I would go as far as calling them “clinical” at this time. Honestly, I would say they work very well on jazz music at this time, but not on much else.
For good measure, I will allow these earphones to play-in for several hours before making my next critical listen. From past experience, I expect this NuForce item to develop a much warmer demeanor. We shall see.
Specifications as listed on NuForce website:
Driver Size: 11mm
Impedance: 32 Ohm (16 Ohm according to package)
Frequency Response: 20 to 20kHz
Rated Power: 10mW (1mW according to package)
Max. Input Power: 40mW (3mW according to package)
Sensitivity: 100dB+/-3dB
Connector: 3.5mm 3-pin stereo plug
Weight (without packing): 12.5 grams
Length: 110 cm (43.3 inches)
Package Contents Include
S,L spare tips (medium tips already on earphones)
1 Year
After 12 hours of play-in, the NE-600X earphones were already sounding much less metallic. Much of the harshness of the upper-mid frequencies had reduced, but there was still a pronounced sibilance.
Bass took on a much fuller, heavier feel that had a certain amount of texture in the upper-bass registers. Some of this might have come from either the placement of the speaker armature inside the earphone body or, perhaps, there was a bit of body resonance showing through.

Replacing the standard rubber tips that come with the NuForce NE-600X earphones totally changed the overall demeanor of these phones.
With some effort it is possible to install the Comply T400 foam tips. These helped create a much better seal in the ear canal which dramatically warmed the upper bass frequencies and created a tauter, more full lower bass sound. Mid-range frequencies became a bit more recessed.
Sibilance was no longer a problem, maybe because of the additional warmth in the bass or the play-in period.

As the earphones continued to play-in, I had the following to say:

The earphones have been playing-in for about 36 hours now and the overall sound quality has taken a turn from being brash and shouty, to being warm and laid back throughout all the lower end and up through the upper-midrange frequencies. There still appears to be a bit of texture in the higher frequencies, perhaps around the 8KHz level.
Overall these earphones are sounding more like $100 devices than the sub-$25 level at which they sell.
And, again, at the 48-hour point:
After 48 hours of play-in, the NE-600X earphones sound almost identical to their older, more-expensive, and discontinued relation, the NuForce NE-7M. To me, that is a quite a compliment.
The sound quality is very warm, but detailed. After this much burn-in time, nearly all the harshness is gone, but the shimmer of the high frequencies is still intact. One area these earphones differ wildly from the NE-7Ms is in their sensitivity. These phones are much more sensitive; to the place that instead of running my iPhone or iPad at three-quarters volume, I can only go half-volume before the sound pressure starts to become too much. This all but eliminates the need for a headphone amplifier.


In order to get a better idea of the abilities of these earphones, I subjected them to some quantitative testing as evidenced below.
The NE-600X earphones have now fully played-in.
For clarification, my standard play-in cycle is this: 48 hours playing music at normal listening levels, 24 hours resting period, 48 hours playing a complex synthesis of tones available below, and then into service.
A couple notes about this sound file… This is a highly compressed and shortened version of the original file. I developed the original file several years ago with the intention of creating a single sound that would have several layers including a background of white noise, a low-pitched thump intended to cause the driver to travel a great distance, and a varying signal that is very difficult to hear but which spans the full spectrum from 20Hz to 20,000Hz. This sound should never be played very loudly as it includes frequencies down as low as 1Hz which will not be well-tolerated by most audio equipment. This is nearly the equivalent of holding the speaker terminals to a battery and letting it stay there. Warning given…
The version of this file that I have available here does not extend much beyond 15,500Hz as evidenced by a comparison of the compressed file to the original file.
The above capture shows a relatively smoothed image of what the original signal looks like. Notice that the high frequencies are clearly emphasized. One reason I designed the sound this way is that most speakers are very capable of recreating the frequencies above 1KHz but then lose their abilities starting around 15KHz. Also, I have heavy emphasis on the bass and mid-bass frequencies because I think one characteristic that really ruins an otherwise good driver is muddiness. By burning in a speaker with a lot of activity in the lower ranges, I believe the muddiness works out quickly.
In this capture of the MP3 compressed file, it is easy to see the effect the compression has on frequency distribution. Notice the overall flattening of the sound pressure and the brick wall cutoff above about 15,500Hz. If you ever wondered why MP3s do not sound like the original, here is a clue. In an upcoming post, I will do more comparisons and thoughts on different audio compression algorithms available.
Back to the NE-600X earphones, after all the play-in, I can say that the overall sound is warm, somewhat laid-back, and very tube-like. These are not clinical phones and they do not over-emphasize faults in the music source. In fact, I would say they do an excellent job covering up imperfections in the source material.
Would I buy these earphones again? Absolutely! Remember, I am in no way affiliated with NuForce and get nothing for saying nice things about their product. I just like to tell people when I have a good experience with a product or service.


After two years of use, I am still extremely happy with the NuForce NE-600X earphones. One issue that is important to note is that, when you adopt the use of the Comply foam tips, it is imperative that they be replaced every month or so. The foam simply breaks down and then the acoustic isolation ceases to exist and the overall sound signature changes.

For less than $35 for the purchase of the earphones and foam tips, this is a steal of a deal!