Know-How

From Hobbies to Trade Skills to Artistic Expression, developed knowledge and improved craft is the mark of accomplishment — Coding is no different.

– Darius Dunlap

I wish schools still had Shop, and Band, and Art. I believe there is a kind of mental development that’s missing without them. And I believe that these kinds of classes — focused on doing and making — support and expand the skills of reading, writing, arithmetic, problem solving, and other key skills we all want kids to develop.

These days there is a lot of talk about “Learning to Code.” And that would be great, except for this aura of magic around it. Because learning to code is really a lot like learning carpentry, or photography, or learning to cook. The basics are pretty simple, though that is not evident to the uninitiated. And full expertise is a lifetime pursuit. And most of us are content with a modest competence.

Learning to code is easier than it has ever been. Not because it’s become simpler, but because the tools have become better, specifically in that they allow you to do something useful more easily and with less knowledge and skill.

Photography is undergoing and transformation in a similar way. It’s not that the pictures we take with our phones and fancy digital cameras are better than film for the expert photographer, but that these new tools provide immediacy. You can take a picture and instantly see it. You can learn from every photograph taken, right there, right then, and take another and another until you get the photo you want. You take more photos, too. Your photography improves at a pace and in ways that would have required much more patience, organization, focus, and effort a couple decades ago when the turn-around was so much slower.

Deep expertise still takes years, but the basics are more accessible than ever.

It’s the same for coding.

Mastering coding, or more properly Software Engineering and Computer Science, is not something every needs to do. it’s probably not something every could do, even if they tried. It’s a deep field and the complexity of the most advanced techniques are beyond those without an aptitude. At the very highest level, it requires not just superior mathematics and problem solving, but also philosophy and compassion — designing systems requires thinking beyond the immediate technical problem to understand how the system fits into the world and how people are going to use it. The people who can do all of this well are rare.

But for the rest of us, our needs are simpler. We can create something that solves a straightforward problem, using the excellent tools developed over the last several decades, and never have to think about the mathematics of drawing the curve at the corner of our icon or the physics of making our animation look natural, or the details of setting up a server and keeping it reliable and secure.

So “Learning to Code” is a lot like learning to cook. It doesn’t mean we will all become master chefs with Michelin-rated restaurants. But it does mean we can learn to make a good loaf of hand-made bread from natural starter that’s better than what you can get off the shelf at the grocers.

Most importantly, learning to code, like taking shop or joining the band in high school, helps you get better at other things. It helps you solve problems in other domains, and it develops your mind.

Your Online Home

Big companies on the internet make it easy for you to just rely on them for everything you need online. But there’s value in having your own place independent of your Internet Provider (ISP) or other companies.

By having your own internet domain, and the basic services to go with it, you get at least a continuous place where your stuff lives, and where people can find you.

Your Own Domain, Step-by-Step

  1. Find and Purchase a domain name on Hover.com
  2. Setup email on Hover.com or G Suite.
  3. Setup a simple website with Squarespace.com or WordPress.com
  4. Connect other services to your domain.

Basics of setting up your own domain

Most essential is an internet domain of your own and a place to send and receive email. There are many outside services that do this, but I recommend specific companies below. The companies that get my recommendation all have excellent support and reliable service and work well for people who want an independent place of their own on the internet without having to become a web server and email guru.

Find and Purchase a Domain Name

When you buy a domain name, like dariusdunlap.com, you want to work with a reputable company that provides good technical support and an easy-to-understand system for buying and maintaining your domain.

Hover.com

My recommendation is Hover.com. It’s where I maintain all my domain names and the related administration stuff. They also have just about the best service and best technical support of any company I’ve worked with. Call them if you don’t believe me. They even have a concierge service for setting up or moving your domain.

Setup Email

Hover.com also has great email plans that make it simple to have your own email. This is what I use for my personal and business email.

Google also provides great email service in their “Google Apps.” If you like the speed, reliability and great features of gmail, consider using Google Apps for your domain. It’s a great service. As a non-profit, Square Peg Foundation uses Google Apps, including gmail, for free thanks to Google’s generosity. (If you run or are involved with a non-profit, I highly recommend Google’s non-profit programs)

Another service I should mention is Mailroute.net — they provide email filtering against Spam, viruses and scams, plus other services to keep your email secure and reliable. If you use Google for your email then Mailroute is not necessary, but for most other email providers, it’s a nice and reliable addition.

Setup a Simple Website

Lots of services have nice tools for creating your own website. I recommend Squarespace as a simple way to get yourself setup with your own website. You can even try it out without any commitment. For more advances uses, I recommend WordPress. You can use WordPress.com or one of the excellent WordPress hosting providers. I will write more on WordPress in another post.

Connect Other Services

Hover.com makes it easy to Connect various popular services to your domain, including Etsy, Shopify, Squarespace, and About.me. Their Technical Support team is also very helpful if you don’t see your favorite service on their list. Just select “Connect” in your Hover.com Control Panel for your domain.

More Info on getting yourself online

The principles of creating and owning your own presence online are well expressed by my friends at IndieWeb.org. I will be writing more on IndieWeb, Online Services, and the Open Internet in the coming weeks. I’ll also be updating and revising this article over time.

iPhone Changed Everything

iPhone and Tea

10 years ago today, Steve Jobs introduced the world to a new thing — the iPhone. Even if you are familiar with the event, have seen the video, or were there, it may not occur to you how weak the reception was in that room, that day.

With remarkable style, Steve Jobs setup the context masterfully, and then said,

… we’re introducing three revolutionary products….

(Polite clapping and a couple whoops)

Continue reading “iPhone Changed Everything”

Whiplash

My own book research has me reading even more than usual. Last week I received a new book that I had pre-ordered, Whiplash: How to Survive OurFaster Future, by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe. I set aside the several books I’m currently reading and finished this new one in just a few days.

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Hour of Code

Computers are not magical or mysterious. Their amazing abilities are built up from simple ideas. That’s what’s surprising. How did we arrive at today, with these devices in our pocket and a (nearly) global network connecting them, and with software running that allows it all to do so many useful and entertaining things?

Lady Ada, Countess of Lovelace wikipedia, was the first to get it. She understood, before any computers existed, that a machine with a few simple arithmetic abilities could do much more. (Notably, the men who were designing these calculating machines didn’t get it.) It would be about 100 years before the programmable computers she envisioned would be “invented”.

Continue reading “Hour of Code”

Advice on Computer and Software Upgrades

Keeping your computer software up-to-date is important for security, and also gets you the latest great features. Computer hardware is better than ever, which also means that a computer stays useful longer than ever and is more reliable because of better chassis, connectors and electronics, and fewer moving parts.

Software

Whether you are using macOS (previously Mac OS X), Windows, or Linux, keeping your computer up-to-date gives you the latest security updates and helps keep your computer reliable and fast. We can quibble over preferences and the track records of software vendors, but keeping your software updated is always the best choice.

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Hazel is a Great Tool

Hello world!

Email Apps

I’ve been using email for over 35 years (no typo) and I’m still surprised by the clever new ideas I see in the best email apps. Email apps can add an email to a reading list, or turn it into an item in your to-do list, or add an event to your calendar. Many have features for smart sorting of your email and to “snooze” an email for later. Many are beautiful and thoughtfully designed with gestures for touch-screen devices.

But what’s best for me is not necessarily what’s best for you. Below I run through some basics about email and make some recommendations for good apps to try.

Continue reading “Email Apps”

Thinking about product design

I had an interesting discussion this weekend about computers and devices and Internet of Things. I’m still sorting out how exactly to articulate this, and then this morning this great example from Marco Arment came to my news feed:

From Redesigning Overcast’s Apple Watch app – Marco.org:

It’s unwise and futile to try to shove iPhone interfaces and paradigms into the Apple Watch. Instead, design for what the Watch really is.

All these devices are testing the creativity and interaction concepts of designers and developers. Whether it’s the Apple Watch, some new “Internet of Things” device, or even something as straightforward, but polarizing, as the new Apple MacBook, Thinking about what the thing is for, and understanding the subtle ways that people will use the new thing — that’s where the magic happens.

Read Marco’s post about his app. The specific are interesting, and the more general lessons essential.

Turntable Repair Project Update

My old turntable may be back in action soon.

I roped my friend Cliff into giving me a hand figuring out how to repair the cracked and wobbling plastic drive belt pulley. It doubles as a strobe indicator, so repairing it is best. This turntable is a somewhat rare thing from the 70’s. Some parts are still available, but not this strobe pulley.

I think Cliff’s repair job is going to work. Here are a couple photos…

IMG_0882 IMG_0883

You can see the cracked plastic in the close-up picture above. Cliff cut a copper tube for the inner post sleeve, glued in the shards of the original part, and then packed it all in a special epoxy modeling clay. the larger outercopper tube then adds structure and also cut away a bit of excess clay.

Here is what it will look like in position, shown here with the drive belt pulled aside, since the strobe pulley repair is not yet set. it spins freely with no discernible wobble. I think this is going to work!

Pulley in position