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February 8, 2011

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February 7, 2011

This is a test. This is only a test.

Open Source Maps for the Garmin

April 14, 2009

Recently I’ve been a bit frustrated by my GPS. I have a very nice Garmin Vista HCx that I had my City Navigator purchased for. But for some dumb reason I didn’t install the whole set on my GPS a few years ago when I bought it – only the areas where I was travelling at the time. After a new hard drive in my laptop, rebuilding everything and now a new Acer netbook I’m looking forward to travelling with, I can’t seem to find my original install software. The maps were still on my Garmin so I was OK navigation wise, but not on my computer to explore and mark waypoints. I got a new copy of Trip & Waypoint manager, but couldn’t move the partial maps back to my computer without the correct unlock code. (It is apparently different for the GPS and the computer.)

I went to Garmin’s website looking for some maps for South America – we’ll be taking a cruise in May, and I thought it would be a great way to explore a bit before we head there, mark some points of interest, and still be able to quickly find our way back to the ship when we’re done. Turns out they don’t have commercial maps for that region! But I did find some community created maps I was able to download with lots of points of interest.

But then I transferred them over to my GPS. Uh, oh. I wiped out my City Navigator data and the last surviving copy of my license. Now I no longer have my license AND I don’t have the cursed maps. Sure, I am set up for the Caribbean, but not for anything else I use my GPS for. This is where I start cursing Garmin and their ridiculous licensing and protection scheme. While I love my GPS’s hardware (which is unfortunately also showing its age as the glue holding the rubber strip starts to let go) I haven’t touched the maps on it in a long time specifically because the unit’s software seems so difficult to navigate. What good is a $300 GPS with only major highways on it? C’mon!

Lots of companies have built great maps now. And there is a community of other GPS users out there that have also had similar difficulties with Garmin’s maps, and lack of updates. So when I barked about my problems on Twitter I was happy to learn that there are now community supported OpenStreetMaps (OSM) available now in Garmin format, with FREQUENT updates, including routing!

Anyhow, after a whole bunch of searching, this is the site I came up with:

http://garmin.na1400.info/routable.php

Going to try to download some of the local tiles, see how they work, and then perhaps download up to date maps for our trip!

Council Shoulder Patches for Chase

April 6, 2009

This is NOT an urban legend. I personally (Dan Gross a.k.a. Vdub144) am organizing this for a friend and fellow Scout in need. I’m happy to vouch for the validity of this project personally. What’s more, I am back here begging because we really NEED YOUR HELP!

Here’s the story:

In late March 2009, 13 year old Tenderfoot Scout, Chase, from Georgia was hiking with his troop. He came home with a sore lump on his leg that everyone thought was some type of bite. It was hot to the touch and painful. A blood test revealed that Chase had Leukemia, a complete surprise diagnosis. He was immediately admitted to the hospital where doctors cleaned his blood to lower his white cell count and then began chemotherapy.

What bummed Chase out most was that he would miss Scouts with his troop over the summer. We’ve all been sick before, and one of the best ways to get better that I know of is to help keep spirits up and keep a positive attitude.

Thanks to social networking sites like Twitter and Plurk, I thought a great way to show support for Chase was to help start a Council Shoulder Patch collection from all around the country. CSP’s are inexpensive, colorful, and represent how far and wide support for Chase’s recovery comes from.

Chase has a twin brother, William, so we are asking for everyone who wishes to participate to send two CSPs from a council near them. To avoid duplication, we set up a spreadsheet on Google Docs so you can see what has been promised, and what Chase has received already. Please send all donations to Chase’s mom at her school (work) address:

Caroline O’Bannon, c/o Barrow Schools, 179 West Athens St., Winder, GA 30680.

You don’t have to be a Boy Scout to participate. This is something that a 13 year old boy is interested in, and therefore a great place to start. Just about any little small personal care item or a positive note can be sent to Chase to show him that you are thinking about him and wish him well. Scouts love patches – maybe a museum patch, a patch from the college or university you work for or attend, or some geocaching swag might be more your style? He has been extremely impressed so far in how well connected his mom is “in all the right ways.”

Here’s what I’m asking for…

I want to get TWO BSA Council Shoulder Patches from every council across the US sent to Chase. (The second for his twin brother William.) There are several hundred councils across the US, and many councils have more than one design for a CSP, so there is a LOT of chance to participate. Patches are pretty inexpensive – about $3-$5 each, and are available are nearby Scout shops, sporting goods stores, neighborhood hardware stores, and online from BSA Supply. Total investment might be in the $6-10 range, plus a little bit of your time. If a couple of people work in the same office and are willing to send a package, it might only cost each person a buck or two to send from the group. Again, any other personal little pick-me-up for Chase would be a great addition to the envelope as well if you are willing.

Please take a look at the following Google Docs spreadsheet. It will let you know who has already committed to send a patch, and from where. We don’t need to duplicate efforts, so if your local patch is already taken, maybe you can send a patch from another nearby council?

http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=p69S8eaBr9-aUavWSz5jieQ&hl=en

If you’re not sure what council you live in, a quick trip to http://www.Wikipedia.com and type in “scouting  <your state>”  will bring up an article letting you know what councils are near you.

Then you can visit a Scout shop, or talk to a nearby Boy Scout or Cub Scout unit near you to find out where you can get patches to send to Chase. If you want to buy them online and send them, you can do that at the BSA supply site:

http://www.scoutstuff.org/BSASupply/default.aspx?cat=01RTL&ctgy=PRODUCTS&C2=UNIFORMS&C3=CSHPATCH&C4=&LV=3

(I have noticed that the prices on the BSA supply site are pretty in line or even a bit less than what some of the local councils are charging these days!)

Don’t forget to go back to the spreadsheet again and mark off that you have sent the patches.

Please forward this message on and let everyone know. I don’t want to keep bugging everyone, but this project is really important to me as I do my own “good turn.” I hope you can help out and brighten the day of this young man as he makes this very serious fight.

Yours in Scouting,

Daniel Gross

Hello from Wilmot!

February 23, 2009

Today I am at Wilmot High School talking with area teachers. Its great to be here, and show them all about blogging and syndication!

Who will next steer the Wisconsin DPI ship?

February 18, 2009

Yesterday was the primary elections in the state of Wisconsin. Probably one of the bigger races I care about is the State Superintendant of Schools position. Our current Superintendant is retiring, so there were lots of new names in from both parties. The primary yesterday brought the field down from 5 to just 2.

One candidate served under the current Superintendant. Tony Evers is experienced & qualified. Despite how he claims he will be different, it is likely that we can expect that not much would change under his administration. Which in some ways is unfortunate, because the biggest complaint I have about our current administration is that it is often concerned with the issues of politics before the issues of children, and rarely if ever strays from the party line our Governor dictates. But Wisconsin schools, at least on paper – the stuff the politicians care about – are really good. And while other states have experienced teacher shortages, Wisconsin has historically always had an abundance of qualified, certified teachers. I don’t care too much about Evers one way or the other beyond that. In the next few weeks I suppose I will tune in a bit more and learn more.

The person running as a conservative bills herself as a “Mom on a Mission.” This morning on the radio I heard Rose Fernandez tearing down Milwaukee Public Schools – our largest single school system, and arguably the one facing some of the greatest and most difficult challenges due to its size & demographic. (A large number of students living in poverty in families that often feel powerless over their own destiny.) When the state teachers union, WEAC, backed the liberal candidate *as unions tend to do* she began blasting the teachers of our state and how parents are tired of “WEAC” (read “teachers”) running the Department of Public Instruction in our state.

As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel pointed out this morning in their election coverage at http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/39765042.html, there was little interest in the top post from anyone who had any REAL experience with K12 education.

By the way, it took quite a bit of searching to find any coverage on this at all. The day after the primary. Yeah. I’m not sure there is much interest at all.

While she doesn’t yet have the support Evers does, Fernandez interprets her advancing to the election is already “a victory for real people over the special interests.”

Probably not if you’re a child in this state Ms. “Mom on a Mission.”

You should probably know about me that in addition to having spent my personal and professional life in and around public and private schools and non-formal learning environments like museums, I am also an Adult Boy Scout leader. There is a high correlation between successful leaders in our world, and their involvement as youth in the Boy Scouts. “Scout” is derived from a French term which means “to listen.” In our programs we teach young leaders about listening, and service leadership. Our highest honor in the Boy Scouts is to earn one’s Eagle, a process which demonstrates showing outstanding leadership and service to one’s community.

If I could advise BOTH candidates between now and April I would tell them to not head down the slippery slope of making friends by promoting “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” But more specifically ~ Fernandez, in my view, needs to do a lot of damage control by already having attacked teachers as a “special interest.”

I’m not sure how well the campaign would go if one needed to be elected to run a hospital by attacking the Pediatric Trauma Nurses as special interests or not understanding how best to do their jobs. I guess that kind of reasoning only makes sense when highly trained and experienced teachers who excel at what they’ve dedicated their life’s work are “promoted” for their knowledge and competence to work in our state’s highest office of educational oversight. Perhaps Pediatric Trauma Nurses perform best when space issues force patients to remain in the hallway, diagnostic equipment is tampered with, and they’re unable to treat patients whose uninsured parents can’t cough up the nickel & dime fees at every turn because while saline is covered by State & Federal programs, the clean IV needles required to deliver it were diverted in earmarks.

Each day teachers work off of carts travelling from room to room maybe getting to decorate a bulletin board they can call home. Students sit in “relocatable trailers” in the parking lots, with less square footage per student than their highest earning unfortunate parents can muster in a 10’x10′ cubicle for the rest of their lives. Fast talking self-pretentious politicians tie school funding to one size fits all assembly line tests that can consume up to 20% of instructional time in a year. Then they fail to deliver on their promises proclaiming they are “just short” of what was promised and necessary. No problem. If we’re “just short” ~ let’s have a bake sale.

Maybe, just maybe, while my son occupies his 36 square foot of non-private instructional space equipped with a very comfortable hard plastic resin chair and work surface custom fitted to his growing physical needs his special interest minded teacher will use part of her daily allotment of 6 minutes per student to provide him with a piece of paper and a pencil so he can say THANK YOU and GOOD LUCK to both Evers and Fernandez as you each seek the glory that comes along with such a prestigious office such as heading up the Department of Public Instruction.

No wonder paper & pencils aren’t provided.

Thinking about what my Dream Computer would be

January 21, 2009

A discussion on Plurk about laptops got me to thinking about what my perfect next computer would be.

I’ve always struggled a bit with laptops vs. desktops – you get more and pay less if you can’t pick it up and move it around. Desktops are also much easier to upgrade ~ I do chip pulls on almost all my old desktop machines and frequently upgrade memory sticks and hard drives as they get bigger & cheaper. The expected life of a laptop is far less. Not only is the machine slightly behind the cutting edge in terms of speed & memory, and it is harder in most cases to self-upgrade beyond hard drives and RAM, and then you have to deal with the issues of theft and damage as well. Nothing is worse than that sinking feeling of losing EVERYTHING you’ve worked on when your laptop is stolen or breaks.

Needless to say, I have a fleet of desktop based machines. They work as media servers, guest workstations, and for hosting software that sometimes is somewhat mutually exclusive to other software.

But when you need a laptop, you NEED a laptop. Hauling desktops around for making presentations, or trying to get through airport security is a deal-killer.

Working on a strange machine, borrowing one when its needed, or dealing with changes in software and licensing between machines is usually not a whole lot of fun when you’re on the road.

It’s been almost 5 years since I bought my last real laptop. It was replaced once under warranty about 2 years ago.

I was hung up on the “bigger is better” thing, and got a machine with a 17″ widescreen and 12 cell battery! It was indeed a “desktop replacement” that did everything. These two laptops got hauled all over the place as big, bulky & heavy as they are through airport security lines and to & from many, many appointments. Once I weighed my bag in at around 15lbs.

I learned a bit by doing this. I want the POWER of a great machine – but I don’t want the bulk and weight. Giving up a big screen saves battery life. A smaller battery saves weight. Smaller keyboard, getting rid of optical drives – all things that make a great portable.

I’ve had a docking station for years. Not one of the USB port replicators, but a “real” docking station that allows me to leave my devices, power and Ethernet all connected. I kept typing away on my laptop keyboard and using my laptop screen while it was in my dock. It was “ok” I suppose.

Then I saw my brother’s workstation. A small but powerful laptop – two large monitors (22″ and 24″) connected – a wireless keyboard & mouse and many happy peripherals like a printer and scanner. WHY was I still trying to type on my laptop’s keyboard while at my desk?

It inspired me to pick up a nice 22″ widescreen LCD. I also set up a distribution amp so that my laptop in its dock could power my projector and SMART board on the other side of my room. I haven’t gotten the wireless keyboard yet, but it’s on my list. In the meanwhile, I’m still “wired.”

But I’m sitting upright once again!

My next move is to replace the computer and docking station with a lighter, more travel-friendly model. I know I no longer need to worry about having a giant screen or heavy battery. With a single push of the button, my comfortable desktop machine becomes a very portable laptop containing my files, settings and software.

We recently bought an Acer Aspire One for my son – a little 9in ultra-portable and the complete OPPOSITE of my very bloated but long loved Gateway M685. The Acer comes with solid state drives & long battery lives – but a real docking station is still missing from the lineup. (And my hands complain severely trying to type on it or to use the tiny track pad.)

The idea is somewhere in there, however…

  • I want an ultralight netbook – maybe an 11 or 12in model so my tired eyes can see while on the road.
  • A high end processor and plenty of memory, not the low end ATOM ones.
  • Add two solid state drives of at least 32G each so I can process video on the road, and at least two SDHC slots so I can quickly swap out my own media while editing. USB and Firewire ports on the laptop are a given as is a place to plug in a set of wired headphones while travelling.
  • Give me a real docking station I can easily drop in and out of easily. NOT a USB port replicator, but a drop in station that clicks in place providing power, monitors as well as connections.
  • I will equip it with an optical writable drive, a large capacity (1Tb) traditional disk drive that automatically backs up my documents from the netbook each time I “cradle” the device, a full sized LCD panel, and wireless keyboard and mouse. Of course I’ll keep my SMART board and the hardware necessary to make that work connected as well.
  • Bluetooth and cellular cards should be an optional add on ~ Wifi must be present.
  • Most of the netbooks also feature small cameras and microphones that make portable Skype on the road easy without needing to carry additional hardware. At my desk I will use my external camera.

Now, I just need to find the right components to build such a setup!

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