New Computer Not Macintosh

Posted: September 3, 2011 in Technology

Honestly, I really want to get a new 15″ MacBook Pro, but it costs $1400 and on a humble student budget, I just cannot conceive of getting this.  Instead I purchased a Sony VAIO E-Series (VPC-EH12FX/W) for about $600.

My main activities that I would do with such a system is use MS Office applications ($70) and Adobe Creative Suite 5 ($150)  for college, use multimedia (movies, audio, photos, games, web), and experiment with various enterprise configurations using virtualization.

MacBook Pro (15″)

  • Processor: 2.10 GHz quad-core Intel i7
  • Memory: 4 GB 1333MHz DDR3
  • Hard Drive: 500 GB
  • Network:
    • Wi-Fi (based on IEEE 802.11n specification)
    • 10/100/1000BASE-T (Gigabit) Ethernet
  • Video (AMD Radeon): 1440 x 900

Sony Vaio E SeriesSony VAIO E Series VPC-EH12FX/W:

  • Processor: 2.1 GHz quad-core Intel Core i3-2310M
  • Memory: 4 GB)
  • Hard Drive (WD6400BPVT): 500 GB 5400 rpm
  • Network:
    • Intel WiFi Link 1000 BGN,
    • Realtek PCIe GBE
  • Video (Intell HD): 1366 x 768
  • Processor: Intel Core i3-2310M CPU @ 2.10 GHz (Quad?)
  • Memory: 4 GB)
  • Hard Drive (WD6400BPVT): 500 GB 5400 rpm
  • Network:
    • Intel WiFi Link 1000 BGN,
    • Realtek PCIe GBE
  • Video (Intel HD): 1366 x 768

This was interesting.  I was exploring courses at local community colleges, and I found that Ohlone College’s CNET courses that train students in material relating to Microsoft technologies are completely outsourced to Microsoft’s IT Academy.  The students log into an online course and learn the material through Microsoft, and interact with virtual simulated environment to practice what they learn. After the student completes the course, they get a grade on their transcript at Ohlone College, set by Microsoft indirectly.

Now on one side I encourage creative ways to save costs and offer more courses, but on the other side, the education has striking lack of integrity and screams of fraudulence, not to mention lowered quality standards by courses offered by the institution.  There should be courses developed by professors, not Microsoft setting the curriculum.  It seems that either the student, public, or both are getting taken for a ride on this one.  The funds from tuition and subsidized funding from the state won’t go on to develop more computer courses, as Microsoft is developing them.

There should be a clear separation between what is community and training courses that will never count as university credit, and courses that would transfer as credit, for true academic work and courses should be created by real qualified professors.  Otherwise the credit coming into a 4-year UC or CSU is suspect.

So you want to program computers?

Posted: September 1, 2011 in Technology

When I was a young whippersnapper, we (students of programming) would program with BASIC to learn the basics of programming, such as branching conditions, looping conditions, and arrays.  Later, we would move on to something like Pascal, where we could learn structured programming and design through what they called a modular programming language; we would learn concepts like functional decomposition, and top-down design.

This would lead into object-oriented programming smoothly.  Later we could get into pointer arithmatic, algorithms and data-structures using C/C++. In addition to all of this, students would learn Assembly language programming, so they could understand how memory works (stack versus heap) and how the processor works.

This is before the arrival of Java and smart-devices changed everything (another story).   I would prefer that people actually learn to program before jumping into professional tools, as the code out there in the wild is beyond scary.  Nevertheless, for those impatient, I wanted to recommend these tools (for mainstream programming languages) off the top of my mind to grab:

  • Free Tools:
    • Visual Studio Express – Microsoft offers limited versions of development environments for C#, VB.NET, C++, and SQL.  You can develop standalone applications, web-based applications, to mobile phone applications.
    • Eclipse – This is a set of tools with support for Java, Ruby, C++ and other languages.
    • Bloodshed IDE – This is a graphical front-end to free GNU compilers that include C, C++, Objective-C, and Pascal (Delphi).
    • Komodo Edit – This is just a text editor with support for Ruby, PHP, Perl, Python, TCL, and other scripting languages.
    • jEdit – This is a text editor with a huge free market of add-on tools.
    • XCode – For those wealthy enough to afford a Macintosh, or smart enough to have a Hackintosh, can use Apple’s free development kit.
  • Commercial Tools
    • Komodo IDE – robust set of tools with support for Ruby, PHP, Perl, Python, TCL, and other scripting languages.
    • PrimalScript – robust set of tools for developing Windows scripting environments that include JScript and VBScript as well as the new PowerShell environment.

iOS Annoyances I: Saving Web Pages

Posted: September 1, 2011 in Technology

Sometimes, there comes a moment where there is a good web page, but I don’t have time to read the whole web page at the moment.  I wish I could preserve the web page for off-line usage, with the formatting.

Safari Menu Options ImageUnfortunately, the I cannot do this with my iPod Touch.  There is simply no way to save the web page that I have found.  I tried printing to see if there was some Print-to-PDF option, but nope. Other than copying the text and then later pasting into Notes, I cannot retain the information.  Even still, with this solution, I loose the formatting.

Another annoying thing, if I switch out of Safari on iOS 4.2, and then open Safari again, the whole page is reloaded, erasing whatever data was there before.  So if you are off-line, the page currently cached will be wiped and all of the information is destroyed.  You’ll be left with a blank page.  This is like, um, failure.

That sad truth is that all of this is as designed, and these gadgets are suppose to replace netbooks or personal computers?

CA Community College Disadvantage

Posted: August 28, 2011 in Education

Though you can take the first two years at a CA community college and save over $35,000 in the process on tuition alone, there area  a few disadvantages.  I identified three potential problems: (1) Actual requirements for general education may vary, (2) Quality of Instruction Varies, and (3) the options for funding are less flexible and limited.

General Education Requirements

I did some research and compared De Anza requirements and SFSU requirements regarding GE (General Education).  The requirements for De Anza are actually more restrictive and do not match up exactly, especially between quarter and semester units. The GE is divided into two segments for the first two years: Segment I and Segment II.

The Segment I or Basic Subjects has the the following components: Written Communication, Critical Thinking, and Oral Communication, and Quantative Reasoning.  As many majors require a second level of English, many students take as their Critical Thinking requirement, which includes some sort of literary analysis, like close reading of poems and such.  This area is pretty straightforward and consistent between institutions.

The Segment II includes four categories: HCA (Humanities and Creative Arts), BBS (Behavorial and Social Sciences), PBS (Physical and Biological Sciences), and LLD (Life Long Development).  De Anza’s IGETC (Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum) doesn’t even document LLD, and they are quite strict on taking courses from different categories, where SFSU only cares that the courses have different prefixes, regardless if they are the same category.  Thus you can take two history courses, like ICS 32 Chicano History and HIST 1A U.S. History Survey course, where both count at SFSU, but at De Anza, only one would count.

The bottom line is that if you strictly follow IGETC as present by a CCC (CA Community College), you might be taking either unnecessary courses or miss not meeting the requirement.  You’ll have to consult with the institutions you are interested in for the exact requirements.  At De Anza or other community college, the advisers will only be trained to plug-in courses for their CCC‘s IGETC requirements, thus causing mismatches and unnecessary restrictions on course selection.

On a final note, if the CCC has a quarter system, you need to take a 5 quarter unit course to have it count a for a 3 semester unit courses.  A 4 quarter unit course will only count for 2.7 semester units, which require you to take an extra course some categories.

Quality of Education

The requirements to teach at a community college are less strict than a CSU or an UC.  This is not necessarily a bad thing or good thing.  There are some incredible teachers, and some really horrific teachers.  It really depends on your particular CCC.

If the institution has inadequate instruction, or no available course, for a competitive subject that is apart of a sequence like Calculus or Physics, education can be delayed for a year until the course roles around again.  Students can take the course at other community colleges, but they may use a different text book or have alternative topics in each course within a sequence.

I saw this actually happen at De Anza lost an instructor and could not open up enough sections.  One student complained about not getting enough material to survive the next course in the sequence.

Financial Aid Restrictions

This can be a show stopper for many.  The four year institutions have greater ability to grant financial aid.  If you are made an incredibly low salary, like over $3000 per year, you are not qualified for Federal Financial Aid at a CCC, but for a CSU, you can sign some document stating that you will not earn future income, and receive financial aid.  Furthermore, you can get loans from the college to help pay of tuition, where the CCC will defer this to third parties.

The other thing about community college, is that there are many scholarships, but these are typically are small and have a lot of  competition.  At the full CSU, they have less competition and larger awards for scholarships.  There are simply more resources available at the 4-year institution compared to a 2-year institution.

The other major disadvantage of a community college happens if you were taking courses at the community college, like wine tasting, before embarking on an academic journey.  All those non-academic courses count against you toward a maximum unit.

If you wanted to transfer with an Associates degree, and you petition to get the Associate degrees before completing all the GE requirements, you can be disqualified from receiving financial aid, as the community college marks you as completing your goal.  You’ll have to re-apply to the community college to receive your goal.  Some community college may be flexible in this area, but some like Foothill College are very non-supportive, unfriendly, and restrictive in this area.

Further Information

I thought I would do something simple, copy up some files on a DVD, so that I can use them on my more affordable non-Mac laptop.  This should be a simple process.

FIRST ATTEMPT. I first copy some files, and see that they are aliases, the Mac equivalent of short-cuts.  I thought that this is really silly.  Perhaps when I burn the DVD, real files are copied there.  Not.

SECOND ATTEMPT.  This time I use the OPTION (or ALT) key and drag the files there, and this time they are actually copied.  I then click burn.  After the DVD is burned, nothing happens and the DVD is not ejected.  I have to restart the Mac to get access to my DVD.  Once restarted, I do Get Info on the DVD, and the format says Mac OS Extended, which means some Mac only HFS format or something, and not what I wanted.

THIRD ATTEMPT.  So now I do the following:

  1. run Disk Copy
  2. create a CDR master disk image with non-Mac only format
  3. copy desired files to disk image
  4. umount the disk image
  5. burn the DVD from that disk image

After the task is completed, I do a Get Info on the DVD, and it says Mac OS X Extended.   Aaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!!

I later found the DVDs are in the UDF (Universal Disk Format) format, so I can use on Windows now.  Apparently the Mac OS X Finder program lies to users about the real format of the DVD…

CA Community College Advantage

Posted: August 26, 2011 in Uncategorized

Here’s the scoop: colleges are getting rather expensive with costs for tuition alone around $7000 at a California State University, and $12,000 at an University of California for an undergraduate (bachelor’s) degree.  You can take courses for the first two years at a California Community College for roughly $50 to $100 each term.  Specifically, if you are receiving Federal Financial Aid (which implies US citizenship) and you are a California resident, you qualify for the BOG (Board of Governors) waiver to tuition at a community college.

The first two years, called lower division, typically are the general education type of courses (Segment I and Segment II).  They can also include some courses required for your major, like Statistics, Accounting, and Economics for a business major.  To assess which courses count toward you major, you need to visit: http://assist.org.

So if you take the first two years at a community college (4 semesters or 6 quarters), you can save over $35,000 in tuition costs alone.  Many students transfer into a 4-year after completing the general education requirements, then take some courses on the side or in the summer at local community colleges to save costs.

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