Information and Communication Technology

Big Excel Spreadsheet Tip: Don’t Use Smart Tags to Convert Text to Numbers

Don't do this for big spreadsheets!
Don’t do this!

I often work with really big Excel spreadsheets (>500,000 rows) to do various types of data analysis.  And often I’m grabbing data from databases (how else are you going to get such big spreadsheets???)  And a common thing that can happen, is that numbers will be copied in as being in a text format, and many math and lookup formulas won’t work on them.  One tempting way to convert these is to use a “Smart Tag” where, when you select all the numbers that are being treated as text, you get an ! in a diamond, that you can click on, and it gives you the “nice” option to just “Convert to Number”.   If your spreadsheet is over 10,000 rows, DON’T DO THIS.  It will take forever to complete…  (ok, not really forever, but possibly several days to complete.) Instead you should do the following:

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Why any Emergency Alert System that has a Smartphone App Panic Button that only uses the Internet is a Death waiting to Happen

Our school has been researching various emergency alert systems so that if an emergency happens, we have a manner that staff can quickly and reliably communicate to our administration that there is a problem, and that we can then quickly send out messages as appropriate to our students.

Most emergency alert systems have a smartphone app with some form of panic button.  This is great, except for the fact that these systems all only use the phone’s internet connection, and if that internet connection is not working, then they fail.

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My Review of the Aspen SIS from Follett based Upon a Short Demo

Yesterday, I saw a demo of the Aspen SIS from Follett.  For full disclosure, Dylan Holcomb, the Sales Consultant who came out, was a friend of mine from high school, but honestly I wasn’t expecting it to be an SIS that we would be interested in, especially because the price tag is high for the size of school that Highlands Community Charter currently is.  But, after seeing how Aspen works, and how they addressed my blog article about the 3 features that SIS providers are missing, it is on our school’s radar as a potential. Here is a quick review of what I was impressed with, and what things I still think they could do better.

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Adventures in Android Accessibility: 3 Screen Readers Tested

Android logo with sun glasses and walking caneMy first “real” job out of high school was with an awesome company called Humanware.  At the time they were located in Loomis, where I lived, and I did technical support for their screen readers, which allowed blind individuals to hear what was on the screen.  This was still in the days before Windows, and the technology worked pretty well because every screen had only text.  Windows started to make things more difficult, because the interface was more complex, and dependent upon the mouse and visuals.  But with tablets and smartphones, with their simpler interface, it might be possible to have better solutions, but thus far the Android accessibility “solutions”  seeem to suck.  Here is my quick review of 3 I tried recently.

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My Graduation Address to the Sacramento Stride Center Graduates

Photo of Jacob J. Walker Giving Graduation Address at the 2015 Sacramento Stride GraduationTonight, I had the honor to speak at the Sacramento Stride Center graduation. Stride empowers economic self-sufficiency for individuals through technology training, and this year Highlands Community Charter School formed a partnership with them.  Here is what I said:

Stride graduates: today is a milestone on your road to nerdom. I know some of you never thought you would have that term used to describe you, but I hope you take the word “nerd� with pride, because as Charles J Sykes wrote “Be nice to nerds. You may end up working for them.�

For better or worse, technology is profoundly changing our world, including the economics. In fact, it can be argued that the biggest force that is leading to the greater disparity between the rich and the poor is the fact that productivity gains no longer lead to higher paying jobs for most people, but only leads to higher paying jobs for the few who have the knowledge and skills to work integrally with the technology.

As you know, Highlands Community Charter School, has a partnership with Stride, and at our charter school we have other career programs, including truck driving. I believe truck driving is a valuable job skill, as it is the truckers who currently keep the economy moving. There would be no Amazon, at this time without trucks. And I know that my driving skills are not at a place where I should be trusted behind the wheel of a big rig. But, I also see the danger in the future for the truck driving profession. While autonomous cars from Google are getting the headlines, with less fanfare autonomous trucks are being developed right now.

This is why your path to nerdom is valuable. You have now gone beyond being a user of technology to being a technician. You have the skills to solve basic hardware and software problems. And this may be enough for many of you, as technicians can make good money. But I want you to dream higher, I want you to know that you can do more. There are jobs that pay $90,000 a year that you can obtain. But it will require you to continue to learn, both formally and informally. And all of these jobs, require you to become more than a technician.

This starts with learning a programming language. Many of you know I am a fan of Python, but Ruby, PHP, Java, C, VB, and others are all valuable. This also means you must learn deeper not only about what to do when a problem happens, but to truly have an accurate mental model about why the problem is happening. And this means that you need to understand computer security at a deep level. Our nation is literally under cyberattack from Russia, North Korea, and China, and it will literally be the nerds that have the only chance of saving us.

So please, embrace being a nerd. As geek is chic. And strive to become an uber nerd, otherwise known as a “nerd of nerds”.

Thank you, and congratulations!

You say to-may-toes and I say to-mah-toes… You say kilo and I say kibi… A quick explanation about why it doesn’t matter too much for beginners…

Here is a picture of a computer nerd joke about kilobytes vs. kibibytes, which is completely farcical but points out the complexity by trying to show something even more complex.   While I’d like this article to make it less confusing, the best I think I can do is to say it doesn’t really matter that much unless you are a computer nerd.  But I’ll try to explain it anyways…

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The Web 2.0 Collaboration Tools Every Knowledge Worker Should Know

A tag cloud (a typical Web 2.0 phenomenon in itself) presenting Web 2.0 themes. From Wikipedia.Web 2.0” has matured to a stage where it can be seen which products have “won” or “lost” in the marketplace (although as I write this, I realize there are usually a few tools in each category that are prevalent).  Much of Web 2.0 has been about social media, including social networking services and blogs, but it has also offered many different tools that can be used to collaborate on projects, and the Free Culture / Open Content movement (including Free/Libre/Open Source Software) has been leading the way on improving methods of collaboration.

It would behoove any “white collar” job seeker to learn these tools.

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Minesweeper as a Technician Training Tool

A screenshot of Mines-Perfect, a close alternative for Windows XP's Minesweeper game. From Wikimedia Commons, picture by Dimitri Torterat, See Wikimedia Commons Page for Licensing Information: at least 2007, I have used winning the game Minesweeper as an assessment to determine whether adult students were ready to join technician training classes that I have taught.  And in 2010, I conducted a Minesweeper and Hypothetical Thinking Action Research & Pilot Study as my Master’s project, in which I found some initial indications that ones computer ability was correlated with their ability to play Minesweeper. (Although, the sample size of that pilot study was so small, it should not be considered as any form of proof)

And, as I prepare to start a new technician training program with Highlands Community Charter and Technical Schools, I am again using Minesweeper as a prerequisite assessment.

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