Inquiry-Teaching.com

Inquiry-Teaching.comOur work is changing, as is really the entire nature of what many of us call work.  Thanks to the World Wide Web, our ability to create and share resources has never been greater.  The Design Mission is going to be getting back to its roots and has started a new project for inquiry based curriculum; Inquiry-Teaching.com

Look for new and returning lesson plans with an inquiry and active learning focus to be live in August of 2017.  We’ll continue to update the site with new lesson plans and resources.  In two years, we hope to be doing nothing but curriculum writing as our work focus.

 

 

 

Managing Disruptions to Your Work

Not-Available-for-Work-iconI suppose it sounds funny — thinking about how to managing disruptive work. If it is disruptive, how can one manage it, right?  Most people have plans for their day, goals or tasks that they hope to accomplish, and many (perhaps most) people also have the kind of work that one simply cannot plan — things that halt, or turn sideways, all of those big plans you had for your day.

My place of employment has what is known as an “open environment” – no cubicles, an open floor plan, with lots of people in a common area.  The theory behind open environments is that with no barriers, there will be more communication, sharing and collaboration.  In theory, that’s how it’s suppose to work, and it may well do so for some.  For me, however, it means wearing headphones and listening to music or something to provide white noise as a sound blocker is now an imperative.  (This blog post, “Why Open Floor Plan Offices Suck, Hurt Employee Productivity & Satisfaction” nails it for me.)  I’ve consequently become a Ninja at managing disruptions.

Here are the things I find work for making a disruptive work environment less so: Read more

What are the Traits of a Problem Solver?

dealing with disastersWho do you go to when disaster strikes?  I’ve been told I’m a good problem solver, and am often a “go-to” person for others when there are difficult technical issues to resolve.  What am I doing to be tagged in this manner?  Note, I don’t know that I actually believe I am better at solving problems, I’m just aware that I do indeed work and get paid to do so, frequently.

I decided to put together a list of attributes that I think make for good problem solving in the technical world.  I hope this perhaps helps others.  I am more than open to feedback for improvement on this list – please weigh in if you see something missing or that can be improved.

Traits of a Good Problem Solver

  • Has A Good Memory
    If you can’t remember what systems are “touched” by a specific action, you’ll be forced to rely on others that do.  Or you will have to look up and research these dependencies on your own first, or discover them in a longer, even more painful path.
  • Has Persistence
    Solving a technical glitch can be difficult, especially when it is something that is difficult to reproduce.  The most difficult problems I encounter are the ones that appear to happen randomly.  The reality is that with a technical issue, this is really never the case; the challenge is in determining what conditions must be met to reproduce the issue.  Is it only happening on a specific server?  Could it involve caching?  Have we established the exact steps taken to create the issue?  What conditions in our testing environment might be missing in the production environment that could be part of the cause?  It takes persistence to work through all of these permutations.
  • Has Patience
    While similar to persistence, this is a different trait in my view.  Perhaps an example will help highlight why I think so.  Often in web development or other technical fields, we are working on custom code or at least an integration of something in a unique environment.  How long will it take to figure out what’s wrong when you are diagnosing something that perhaps has not been seen by others before?  It could be two minutes due to some clarity or luck, or two days, or even weeks.  Being patient and persistent is what will get you through these sorts of problems.
  • Documents Everything
    Very similar to having a good memory, being one who documents everything, including problems and their resolution, really helps problem solving.  Have we seen something like this issue before?  What did we do to fix it before?  There’s nothing worse to me than diving down the same rabbit hole because you forgot how your resolved an issue previously.  Write it down in a tool that has good search features, like a wiki, or Evernote.
  • Can Write Effective Search Engine Queries
    Learning to broaden or restrict your search query is a skill.  So is knowing what keywords to include in your search.  LetMeGoogleThatForYou.com is often used as a joke by me as a none-too-subtle means of poking fun at someone’s poor attempt to solve a problem, but there are skills to using a search engine for sure.  Develop them!
  • Has a Process for Change Management
    The first question I always ask when there’s a problem reported at work is “What’s changed?”  Having a good change management system in place with a code repository as well as a testing->stage->production deployment path for your code makes answering this question easier.  If code hasn’t changed, how about data?  If neither, is there a new browser or an update that has been rolled out?  Some other environmental variable change?  Stable systems don’t usually just “break” — something has been changed that caused a problem or exposed an issue kept hidden previously.

What other traits make a good problem solver for you?  Please let me know what you think.

A New Template – Responsive Design

A long overdue change to our site came about today; a new template. It’s been years since we changed our template and while keeping the same header and color scheme for branding reasons, it’s nice to finally have a responsive design and not a separate template for mobile users. The separate template path never felt very clean or simple. The mobile view bothered me.

Again we are also reminded of the power behind a solid CMS platform. Changing our site’s look and feel was a simple thing and quite painless. Long live WordPress!

Goodbye 1and1 Email, Hello Gmail

Google MailI’ve been with 1and1.com for hosting for many years and by and large have been happy with their services.  (Note, not necessarily their service, but their services.)  One thing that 1and1 had always done well was spam filtering.  Until recently that is.

Either they  have changed their real time blacklists, had a few points of failure or spammers are simply getting better — maybe all of the above, simply put, the amount of spam I was receiving on an hourly basis was greater than my legitimate email.  I contacted 1and1’s support staff on multiple occasions, tried different settings and such, but was still getting about 20-30 spam messages in my inbox every day.  Something had to be done to keep my email clean and return it to be a useful tool.

Spam adds up to lost time very quickly for me.  I check mail often at work and like to be able to respond in a very timely fashion to requests, issues, and such.  Spam makes me not want to check my personal email but every hour instead of continuously.  So many times the email notifications would be for nothing worthwhile at all.  Worse, I was losing legit email in the midst of all of this garbage, too.

I didn’t give up on getting email under control even though 1and1 wasn’t able to resolve the issues.  Instead, I decided to use Gmail; my domain’s email is now managed via Gmail’s Business Apps program.  Given I only need about 4 email accounts, I’m also able to get by with the free version.  I know other people who use all of the Google App features, but for me, getting a handle on spam is worth it all by itself.

 

UPDATE: As of November 2012, Google has stopped offering this free version.  We were very lucky to be grandfathered into the free setup.  If you’re having trouble with spam, the $5 per box per month charge is still a great deal in our view.

Mac OS X Lion Invoicing Software — “Invoicing”

As I have written earlier, I somewhat recently upgraded to Lion on my Macintosh and dumped my ancient version of QuickBooks for iBank.  One feature missing in this otherwise fantastic piece of software is the ability to create and print an invoice.  I sampled several invoicing apps in the Mac App store and debated even trying this rather inexpensive app simply called “Invoicing” but am really quite happy with it. For an application that is less than $5.00 USD, this thing is an incredible bargain and does all I ever need an invoicing program to do.

The latest version, 3.01, has plenty of features for my small business needs.  I can quickly enter line items, apply a discount if needed, bill for partial hours, customize which columns are displayed and choose from a few different templates for look and feel.  The app also has some reporting tools, which honestly I don’t see using, but they may be of value to others.  The application did not get a very good rating for its earlier versions and as such, is still rated only 2 out of 5 stars in the Mac App Store.   I’m glad I decided it was worth more than just a glance, it’s a great little app that does exactly what I need it to do.

 

Six Months of Using WordPress

WordPress LogoIt’s been six months now since I started using WordPress to run my website.  While familiar with it for many years, my decision to move from Joomla to WordPress was largely about wanting to learn to work in it better.  The focus of The Design Mission has also shifted to largely supporting our existing clients and doing pro bono work.  There is no need for a portfolio or sales oriented website any longer.

So far, WordPress has been a great experiment.  Learning to use the RocketTheme I purchased, customizing it and playing with widgets and such has been a good education.  See all that has changed in WordPress in the pass few years has also been helpful.  I’m impressed with the versioning capability and the auto saving of drafts.  WordPress has come a long way.

By far my favorite widget/tool has been WP Hashcash for spam prevention.  It’s awesome!  It validates that the comment being submitted is done from a browser, not a robot, and do so with some intelligent algorithms.  Coupled with Akismet, my site has been spam free.  So far, using WordPress has been a big win for me.