Monday, March 11, 2013

Three Years After The Adoption

Three years ago today Val and I sat in a courtroom to adopt Tanya and Nastya. Ten days later they were officially ours, and soon after they were in the US. 

Nothing worth doing is easy. But it has been worth it.

Nastya has learned so much and worked so hard. Her teacher this year didn't even know she’d been in Russia less than three years ago. 

Tanya, wow. The teenage years are hard enough. Watching her work through the frustration of everything and grow into a happy young woman getting ready to be independent is beautiful.

Alyssa? She grew up. We no longer had time to be helicopter parents, and Alyssa showed that she could do great anyways. One minute she can be an adult, the next minute turn around and act like a kid with Nastya.

Parents push their kids to do better, particularly when they don’t want to.

What I didn't know was that kids push their parents to do be better. I've never been pushed harder by anyone, including myself. And no one has been there for me more than Val. In another eight years the kids will leave, and there’s no one I’d rather spend the rest of my days with than her.

I think sometimes in life we focus so hard on where we’d like to be, that we forget to appreciate how far we've come. Nastya has had to learn everything a typical fourth grader knows in less than three years. Alyssa welcomed two strangers into her home as sisters. Tanya? She’s a typical high school student, defying the odds where half of all 15 year-olds that immigrate to the U.S. without English fail to even finish high school.

Please excuse me as I congratulate my family. Not everyone could have done that.

It has been a hard road, but we've traveled far and it looks like we have many miles ahead of us. Thanks to everyone that has traveled with us.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Pygame Tutorials

Learn to create games using pygame with this free on-line e-book.

Install Sphinx on Windows.

First, install Python 2.7. I've had no luck the the 3.x series.

Then, download and install easy_install from here:

Then, execute:

\Python27\Scripts\easy_install.exe sphinx

Saturday, December 29, 2012

I recently installed RhodeCode onto Simpson's server. Awesome program, but setup isn't quite as easy as I'd like. So here are my notes, in case anyone else is interested.
I relied heavily on the following sites for information:
Installation was done on a Debian Wheezy system.
First, become superuser.
sudo bash
Install pre-requisites.
apt-get install python-all-dev python-pip python-mysqldb rabbitmq-server python-virtualenv libmysqlclient-dev
easy_install -U distribute
pip install mysql-python
pip install virtualenv
Set up the message queue system.
rabbitmqctl add_user rhodeuser mypassword
rabbitmqctl add_vhost rhodevhost
rabbitmqctl set_permissions -p rhodevhost rhodeuser ".*" ".*" ".*"
I prefer mysql for the database. Set this up.
mysql -u root -p

create database rhodecode character set utf8; 
create user 'rhodecode'@'localhost' identified by 'mypassword';
grant all privileges on rhodecode.* to 'rhodecode'@'localhost';
flush privileges; 
Create a directory for installation
cd /var
mkdir rhode
chown www-data rhode
cd rhode

virtualenv --no-site-packages /var/rhode/venv
cd /var/rhode/venv/bin
source activate

cd /
pip install pastescript
pip install rhodecode

cd /var/rhode/venv/bin/
tar -zxf MySQL-python-1.2.3.tar.gz
cd MySQL-python-1.2.3
python build
cd ..

paster make-config RhodeCode production.ini
Edit production.ini so it looks like this:
vim production.ini
# -----
use_celery = true
# = localhost
broker.vhost = rhodevhost
broker.port = 5672
broker.user = rhodeuser
broker.password = mypassword

# Find this line and change to:
sqlalchemy.db1.url = mysql://rhodecode:mypassword@localhost/rhodecode
paster setup-rhodecode production.ini --user=rhodeuser --password=mypassword --repos=/mnt/hg_repos
/etc/init.d/rabbitmq-server start
See if celery works and hooks up to the message queue. If it does, hit ctrl-c and go to the next step. If it doesn't, debug before continuing.
paster celeryd production.ini
Start running. Then see if it works.
paster celeryd production.ini &
paster serve production.ini
I really wanted to use wsgi to serve stuff up. But I couldn't get authentication working. I am sad.
vim apache.conf
    WSGIScriptAlias /repo /var/rhode/venv/dispatch.wsgi
    WSGIPassAuthorization On
    WSGIDaemonProcess rhodecode user=www-data group=www-data threads=1 processes=10
    WSGIDaemonProcess pylons \
        threads=4 \

More wsgi stuff I didn't get working.
vim /var/rhode/venv/dispatch.wsgi
import os
os.environ["HGENCODING"] = "UTF-8"
os.environ['PYTHON_EGG_CACHE'] = '/var/rhode/venv/.egg-cache'


import site

from paste.deploy import loadapp
from paste.script.util.logging_config import fileConfig

application = loadapp('config:/var/rhode/venv/bin/production.ini')

To get the pass-through proxy working, this is what I did. First, enable the proxy mods:
a2enmod proxy_http
a2enmod proxy
a2enmod mod_headers
And some other stuff. I'll finish my notes later.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Computer Science – Simpson College

Rather pleased with the customization we've done four our website: Computer Science – Simpson College

Friday, September 21, 2012

Flipped Classroom

A "flipped classroom" is one where students watch lectures at home and do their homework in class. The Kahn Academy has done wonders in helping instructors with flipped classes.

I decided to try it with my class that introduces computer programming. My hypothesis: I could get more students to post excellent grades with this method than the traditional method.

Over the summer I worked on this website.

I put the lectures on-line. A total of 55 videos, over 6 hours of run time. Most videos are short. I used a graphics tablet to mark up the screen during the video. I got a good microphone and edited the videos to remove annoying sounds, mistakes, or other distractions.

The full text of the book is on-line. There are code examples and JavaScript animations that animate the code to visualize what is happening.

I created a multiple-choice quiz engine to test the students on-line. That helps make sure they actually went through the material.

The website got a lot of positive feedback from the community-at-large, I was helping more students learn programming on-line than I was in the classroom.

It seemed like everything ready for a full test of a "flipped" class this semester. The first real results would be from Test 1.

I started getting worried when there were students doing worksheets in class that had clearly not watched the lectures or gone over the material first. Plus my "draw a picture" lab had fewer images that really showed off the creativity of what students were able to do.

The results of Test 1 confirmed my worries. It showed a noticeable down-tick in grades compared to prior years. Was it terrible? No, there were still a lot of "A" grades. However there were more students on the C-F range than what I normally get. It seemed like a "flipped" class was allowing more students to slip through the cracks than before.

My conclusion, the data did not support my hypothesis.

Here are more hypotheses I have:

  • Students who don't want to do work outside of class still don't. They gain more from having the traditional lecture in-class and not doing the homework. In a flipped class they skip watching the lecture and just copy worksheets resulting in even less comprehension.
  • Fewer students will become inspired by the material and want to explore a career in that area. Students that aren't willing to ask questions about worksheets have little interaction with the instructor. Those students are less likely to be inspired by the instructor because they don't get to regularly see how excited he/she is about the material.
  • A flipped class will work well in an evening class. Evening classes with working adults have a high drop-out rate for an introductory computer science course. I think that teaching in a 'flipped' manner will result in higher scores for these students even if they result in lower scores for day students. Meeting four times a day, is better than a flipped class, which itself is better than meeting one time a week. 
  • The 'flipped' class scales well. It will still perform 'well' with an average instructor and will involve little work on the instructor's part if the material is already created. e.g., a teacher that doesn't understand calculus well can still do a good job teaching calculus with help from the Kahn academy. Or a teacher can have more students in a class and still teach them. But neither can match a great teacher in a small class.
At some point I'll do a survey and see if I can't get more information from the class. I'm going back to my traditional methods for now.

I am still reaching a lot of students who have never set foot at Simpson. So I don't think the effort spend on the website is a waste. But I'm not improving the scores of my class doing this.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Prototyping an Arduino and Nixie Tube clock

I finally got an Arduino I could dedicate towards my steampunk clock project. I have an LCD display and Nixie Tubes to pair up. Here's a video of what I have working as of tonight:

You can see that on the lower left are my four Nixie Tubes showing minutes and seconds. Eventually it will just be minutes and hours, but that doesn't make for a good demo video. On the right is the Arduino and LCD shield hooked up to a Chronodot. The Chronodot also has a thermometer.

In the background is the power supply. The project is pulling 0.38 amps at 12.1 volts.

I like the LCD shield from Adafruit. I had to solder the LCD shield together, which I wasn't big on, but I like the ability to change colors and the integrated buttons:

The circuit layout is pretty simple, courtesy of Fritzing:

The software uses this Nixie Tube library, and also this Chronodot library.