XAMPP

XAMPP

I am exploring a new (for me) tool to play with at home, called XAMPP. This is an open source web server stack that contains Apache HTTP Server, MySQLPHP, and Perl, along with some other goodies. At my current job I interact with SQL fairly regularly, and I wanted a way to learn more at home, to deepen my knowledge, and advance my skill set. I am also interested in learning PHP and Perl, along with my ongoing Python studies. XAMPP is great for home development.

If you are into this kind of thing, or interested in learning about it, you should check out XAMPP. It is very user-friendly, and compatible with Windows, Linux, and Mac.

Get Yer Code On…

Python
Have you ever thought you might want to learn some programming, but were hesitant because you didn’t have any of the prerequisites (or the funds for outrageous tuition)? If so, this course might be for you:

Programming for Everybody

I just completed a different course by the same professor, Dr. Charles Severance of the University of Michigan. I liked it so much I have enrolled in this one as well. Dr Chuck (his preferred moniker) has a way of taking really complex ideas and breaking them down into understandable chunks without sacrificing the integrity of the information.

The textbook for this course is offered under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License, which means it is free, and can be adapted by anyone as long as it is not for commercial purposes (which is cool, IMHO).

The course begins on October 6th, and is 10 weeks long. This is being offered on Coursera (the best platform for MOOCs that I have found).

Introduction to Linux on edX

Tux

I am gearing up for the Introduction to Linux MOOC being offered by the Linux Foundation on the edX platform. Since I am currently studying for the LPIC-1 certification, I feel this course will be useful as supplemental training. The course begins on August 1st. Enrollment is still open. There is no fee. That’s right, this is free (who says there is no such thing as a free lunch). The course has the support of Linus Torvalds, the principal developer behind the Linux kernel (He released the initial kernel back in 1991, and it continues to be developed, along with many other tools and utilities, by the ever-growing community of GNU/Linux enthusiasts). As its name implies, this particular course is an Intro course. It promises to give a solid foundation to build upon. From the description on the edX site:

Upon completion of this training you should have a good working knowledge of Linux, from both a graphical and command line perspective, allowing you to easily navigate through any of the major Linux distributions. You will be able to continue your progress as either a user, system administrator or developer using the acquired skill set.

So, grab a distro of your choice (a good place to look is here), install it on your system, or run it through a Hypervisor like VMware Player or VirtualBox, and sign up for the course. Perhaps I will see you in the discussion forum?

A General Note about MOOCs
I have been exploring several MOOCs since last year and have found them to be helpful in terms of continuing education. Now don’t get me wrong, some MOOCs are better than others. It really depends on several factors. First and foremost is the mindset of the student. Are you a self-motivated learner that doesn’t need a lot of hand-holding? Are you disciplined? Does time management come relatively easy for you? If so, you might be a prime candidate for a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course).

Another factor that comes into play is the platform offering the MOOC. My favorite so far– hands down–has been Coursera, where I have successfully completed four courses as well as auditing several others. I am currently enrolled in several courses there at the time of this writing, and will continue to go back again and again as long as I keep finding subjects of interest. They have a wide selection, not just technology, math and science either. They are one of the few I have found that also offer humanities courses.

I have also tried Udemy. This platform is alright, but not really what I am looking for. It has a mix of free and paid courses. What I have found is that the free courses are often very general, to give you a taste in hopes that you will then be willing to pay for the higher level courses. There is not much of a discussion forum to speak of, and that is important to me (see below). Though if I want a general overview of a topic and I can’t find it on another platform, I’ll check Udemy to see what is available. I have never paid for a course because I haven’t been all that impressed with the free courses, so I don’t know if the paid ones are worth the cost.

Lastly, I have tried edX. To be fair, I only attempted one course with edX, so my experience there is limited. That said, the course I took had some technical issues that ultimately led me to discontinue the course and write off edX as a lost cause. One of the driving factors behind a MOOC is the discussion forum. This is where most of the action happens. In a sense, one can think of the discussion forum as the virtual classroom where students, instructors and TA’s gather to discuss the lectures, exchange ideas, and engage more fully with the coursework. Without a stable and active forum, a MOOC is little more than a series of video lectures. My first experience with edX was that the discussion forum kept crashing.  It is possible this was just an issue with that one course. That is my hope, because it was very frustrating. I know it was not my system. I have plenty of RAM, a large hard-drive, and a fairly powerful CPU. My Internet connection is fine as well, and I have not experienced any similar issues on other platforms. This all adds up to it being on edX’s side. Yet I am going to give them a second chance. They are offering a course on Linux, so they got my attention (I’ve been looking for one on Coursera with no luck).

Do Over!

After some thought I have decided to reorganize this blog and bring it back online. Rather than being focused exclusively on writing (as it was in its previous incarnation) Graphomania will now be a general purpose blog. I have deleted several posts and updated my About page to be more in line with these changes. You should see semi-regular posts from me soon. Thanks for your patience.

Non-attachment and the Monkey-Mind

Monkey Trap

In a world where so much importance is given to “image”, posturing becomes the norm (yes, even among various subcultures. Sometimes even more so!). Bright-and-shiny (or dark-and-spooky) objects can be fun to look at and play with, but if there is no substance behind the image it quickly melts away, like a sugar skull discarded on the steaming asphalt of an open stretch of highway in the dirty dirty south in the sweltering summer heat.

I am not your products. I am not your anti-products. I am not your job. I am not your clothes. I am not your house. I am not your car. I am not your haircut. I am not your Facebook profile. I am not your manufactured desires, and neither are you.

But you knew that already.

Enjoy the images, yes, but do not mistake them for more than they are–phantasms, spectacles, mirages.

My monkey-mind sometimes wants to grab the treat and not let go, but if I try to hold on to it my hand will get caught in the jar, and the hunter is just around the bend. In those moments when I am able to cultivate mindfulness I tell myself “Silly monkey, just let go!” If I release my grasp, liberation is attained in that very instant.

Reading and Writing – A Love Affair

Keyboard and Book

Two pieces of advice I hear most often from accomplished authors, when asked by novices like myself how to become a better writer, are 1) read constantly and 2) write something every day.

There is a strong connection between reading and writing. This seems obvious, especially to most writers, as most of us happen to be avid readers as well. Reading for the pure enjoyment of it is a pleasure all its own. And I certainly still do that. However, I have also found that doing a close reading of a text yields a wealth of insight that can be added to my tool-set as a writer. Sometimes I will do two readings of a text–one simply as a reader, enjoying a text, immersing myself in the story, loving and hating the characters, etc., and another as a writer. Reading as a writer is something different than reading as a reader. What I mean by “reading as a writer” is reading and paying close attention to the author’s use of  style, word-choice, language, themes, pacing, dialog, plot points, tropes, story arcs, imagery and a whole slew of other literary elements and devices–all the “magic tricks” of a good writer, or rather, tools of the trade. We learn these by reading, and paying attention to what we are reading, and then practicing on our own. Close reading is fast becoming a lost art in this digital age of click, click, click, short attention spans, and 140 character limit twitter feeds. Yet it is an art I hope to preserve in my own life.

Writing is a craft, a skill. It can be learned. It can be improved upon. It takes practice. It takes effort. So the second point–to write something every day–also makes a lot of sense to me. I have learned enough humility to honestly assess my skill-level as a writer. I have a long way to go. Yet, I keep at it, keep banging away on this keyboard, building my writer’s muscle, practicing what I find useful from those other writers that I admire, exploring on my own, sharing my work with my peers and allowing them to tear it to shreds so that I may come back to this keyboard and try again, and again, and again.

On the Death of a Loved One

Aunt Jeanne

Aunt Jeanne

I learned that my aunt passed away last night. Aunt Jeanne was 84 years young (she would have turned 85 on July 23rd). She was a wonderful, loving, and fiercely independent woman, the oldest of six siblings on my mother’s side of the family. In addition to a preexisting heart condition, last year Aunt Jeanne was diagnosed with cancer. She died peacefully in her own home, where she wanted to be.

I had the great pleasure of visiting with my aunt last October, and spending time with my cousin and her awesome family as well. Aunt Jeanne was undergoing chemotherapy, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at her, or being around her. She had that shine in her eyes, and her mind was as sharp as a tack. Aunt Jeanne appeared to be more concerned that everybody else was alright, and not wanting anyone to make too much of a fuss over her. For the visit I brought some information I had collected about my grandmother—a few photos from when she was a teenager, and some documents I obtained about her early life. Aunt Jeanne and I sat together going through the information. She told me she learned things about her mother that day that she had never known before, and she shared some details with me that I didn’t know. It was a wonderful exchange that I will never forget.

I have so many fond memories of my aunt, and while my heart is heavy with mourning, I also want to celebrate her life. Aunt Jeanne had this way of talking to you, where she would look you directly in the eye with full attention, and speak honestly from the heart. This always made a strong impression on me. She taught me not to beat around the bush, but to be true, honest, and forthright. She taught me to say what I mean, and mean what I say. She taught me to live my life with integrity, and a healthy dose of humor. Her smile would light up a room, and her laugh was truly contagious. I don’t care how down you might feel, or frustrated about some difficulty going on in your life, if you were around Aunt Jeanne and she got on one of her humor streaks (which was often!), and you heard that laugh of hers…there was no way to resist, you couldn’t help but lighten up and laugh with her. I hear it now, and despite my tears, a smile emerges.

As I pack my bags and prepare to travel out of town to be with my family, I am reminded of the delicate nature of our human forms, the impermanence of our lives, and the importance of family and friends.

These brief words don’t do my aunt justice, yet they are all I can summon up at present. I love you Aunt Jeanne. May you rest in peace.

“Death is someone you see very clearly with eyes in the center of your heart: eyes that see not by reacting to light, but by reacting to a kind of a chill from within the marrow of your own life.”

(Father Thomas Merton)