Review of Telestrations

It can be hard to come up with a game that isn’t boring, that everyone in the family can play, and that doesn’t take forever to play. Telestrations is a game that fulfills all of these requirements and far more. My sister has said that Telestrations has turned into one of her favorite games and I must admit that I like it quite a lot too.

The basis behind Telestrations is simple communication. You get a word that you must draw on a pad that is issued to you. It actually helps if you aren’t very artistic. I don’t think the game would be quite as much fun with a group of artists as it is for those of us who are a little lacking in drawing skills. After you draw your word (not letting anyone else know what it is), you pass your pad to the next person. That person looks at what you have drawn and tries to guess the word. He/she writes the word down and passes the pad on.

The third person draws the word that the second person guessed. After creating this new drawing, the third person passes it onto the fourth. The cycle continues until you get your pad back. Because each person has come up with a different interpretation of your word, the results are hysterical. You go back through the drawings and guesses to see what sort of journey your original word has taken.

There is supposedly some means of keeping score and determining a winner, but we haven’t actually ever done that. The fun is in seeing what other people come up with. The results really are quite humorous at times. However, as far as I’m concerned, the best part is that everyone is talking to everyone else and everyone is having a great time.

Unlike a lot of games on the market, this one is completely reusable. Except for having to replace the drawing pens at some point, once you buy the game you have everything needed to have a great time. The pads are plastic coated and work like white boards. The kit even comes with some special swatches of cloth for wiping off previous drawings. If you’re looking for a good time at a family event where the event is held in the house, you really do need to check out Telestrations.

 

Missing the Chicken

Generally, we get the chickens into the coop at the end of the day before the sun sets to ensure that they’re safe during the evening hours. Many predators lurk in the darkness and I don’t know of many predators who will turn down a good chicken dinner. So each day, near sunset, we call to the birds and close up the coop. Everyone is safe for the evening because the coop really does lock up nicely and keeps out the predators.

We had guests over this last Saturday and time got away from us because everyone was laughing so hard while playing a game named Telestrations. We’ve played the game a number of times now and it has never lost its appeal. In the meantime, the sun had set and I saw that we were now in the subtle glow of twilight. So, I quickly rushed to the chicken coop to get our chickens up for the night. Fortunately, the chickens had already come in for the night and were resting on top of the nest box. That is, all of the chickens were there except one—a beautiful buff orpington that has a tendency to fly out of the run to peck at the grass on the other side of the fence. I counted the chickens several times and decided that I really must find this chicken before it got much darker.

After hunting around the run and not finding her, I started calling to her in the woods. She wasn’t anywhere to be found. The first thought that came to mind was that a predator had a chicken dinner on us. Even so, I continued to look.

By now it was dark. So, I went into the house and got out my flashlight. I decided to look once again inside the coop. The chickens were still roosting comfortably next to each other and were quite annoyed at me for disturbing their sleep with that obnoxious flashlight. A count showed one chicken still missing. However, that was when I noted a hump in the row of chickens. On a hunch, I moved the chickens aside (one of whom pecked my hand for my efforts). There under the rest of the chickens was missing buff orpington—quite warm from being under cover of the remaining chickens.

At that point, I laughed to myself and closed up the coop. The chickens went back to sleep and all was well with the world. The next time I’ll be sure to move the chickens around a little to ensure I’m not missing anyone who has hidden from view. Let me know about your interesting chicken stories at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Working with Data Using Maps

It’s hard for most people to visualize abstract data. The tables of information presented at meetings of various sorts provide information that people need, but often people don’t absorb the information because they don’t actually see it. The data doesn’t seem to have a connection to the real world. Part of the answer it so present the data as charts and graphs—making it easier to visualize the data. Unfortunately, charts and graphs have a certain level of abstractness as well, so they don’t fully perform the task of making the data. Fortunately, there are other tools in your arsenal, including maps. Creating a pictorial view of the data as it appears in context with the viewer’s surroundings often makes the data come alive. This is the reason I wrote “Using the Google Maps API to Add Cool Stuff to Your Applications.”

You can use the Google API to create data presentations that convey information that is more than the sum of the individual data components. The presentation of data as part of a map tells the viewer more than what happened, how much happened, and where it occurred. A human viewer can often see patterns that aren’t part of the data by viewing that data on a map. The right map can make it possible to understand the data in ways that the data itself doesn’t allow. For example, you might determine that most of your business occurs near crowded intersections during the 5:00 rush hour. Extending what you have learned might make it possible to optimize store locations so that more people will be able to visit during times of peak sales.

The creative presentation of data is important today because attention spans have grown ever shorter as more information sources clamor for a viewer’s attention. When you can make the data presentation interesting and also provide a means to derive more information than the information itself would tend to support, you have a winning presentation strategy. Maps provide such a strategy. Let me know your thoughts on data presentation at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Benefits of Shopping Locally

Self-sufficiency comes in many forms and exists at many levels. Many of my posts describe personal self-sufficiency. However, self-sufficiency also exists at the community level and that’s the level addressed in this post. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is a day when many people kick off their holiday shopping. An alternative theory states that Black Friday is also the day when businesses begin earning a profit; although, this probably isn’t a fact.

There is a tendency to view local stores as expensive. People who use cost as their sole motivation for choosing a particular store use this reason as the only one for shopping anywhere else. It’s true, if you check pricing alone, your local store might not be competitive with the big box store at the mall. However, there is more to consider than the actual price you pay for a product.

 

  • Cost of gasoline: When you check the price at the big box store, you also need to factor in the cost of the gasoline to go there. When the price of the local item varies by just a few cents, you might actually save money by shopping locally when you factor the cost of gas (currently between $3.00 and $4.00 a gallon) into the picture. Let’s put it this way, if your car gets 30 miles to the gallon and the store is 15 miles away, you need to add the cost of a gallon of gas to your calculation. (It would also be helpful to add the cost of wear and tear to your car.)
  • Your time: As I’ve spent more time working through self-sufficiency issues, I’ve come to realize that my time (all of it) has value. If I have wasted time driving somewhere, when I could have easily cut wood or grown something, then I’ve lost money for my time. Like most people, I have little time to waste. When you shop locally, you save time, which means that you save money.
  • Toll on your health: Driving, especially during the holidays, is a stressful activity. If you’re spending your time fighting with a lot of other potential customers for a product that may not even fulfill your needs, you’re spending your health. You only have so much health to spend—use it wisely. Viewed from another perspective—the stress you endure for a lower cost product today could very well translate into higher medical costs tomorrow.
  • Eventual cost of local jobs: You may not really care about your neighbor’s job, but you should. Jobs are important for everyone. When you shop in the local community, you support your neighbors and help them lead happy lives. Happy neighbors translate into a better community and lower stress for everyone. Everything from taxes to the availability of services revolves around the ability of people to earn a living.


Of course, these are all anti-repercussion reasons for shopping locally. Yes, they’re good reasons for shopping locally, but you really don’t get much of an immediate nature out of them personally. Shopping locally also has some significant benefits for the self-sufficient person that you should consider.

 

  • Individualized assistance: A local store owner, one who is part of your community, has every reason to learn the kinds of goods that you value most. The local retailers that work with me often order goods because the retailer knows that I’ll purchase that particular product and no other product. Big box stores service entire areas, states, or even the country as a whole. My wishes don’t matter—only those of the mob are taken into consideration.
  • Higher quality goods: I don’t like buying something and then having it fall apart a short time later. Because I shop locally, I can usually request (and get) quality products that have a long last time so that I don’t have to buy them again next year. The big box store is only interested in price and will offer the products that meet that sole criterion no matter how poorly made the product might be.
  • Better service: When I go into a local store, the owner knows my name, asks about my wife, and wants to know how my harvest was this year. I might get a discount because of past purchases I’ve made. In many cases, I want to visit that store because I don’t have to work too hard to find what I need; the owner knows I need that product and will provide it without my asking. When something does go wrong, I don’t have to threaten a lawsuit to get a proper response. In short, I get better service.


The bottom line for local shopping is that when you don’t use the local store, you end up losing it. One term that has seen a lot of use recently is food desert, a place in an urban setting where people can’t obtain fresh food. One of the reasons that food deserts exist is because people didn’t patronize the local stores; the stores simply went out of business from non-use. To keep your community healthy, reduce your personal costs, and get a better deal shop locally this Black Friday. Let me know your thoughts on local shopping at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

I Don’t Speak “Texting”

I really do try my best to decipher reader e-mail and, generally, I do a good job. However, lately I have received a number of messages written as if the person were texting me. Unfortunately, I don’t speak texting, so I couldn’t answer the e-mail without clarification. In at least one case, the person in question became agitated. I truly do want to answer your questions, but first, I must understand the question.

The incidents have led me to think through some of the assumptions I have made about language in general and the grammar we use to communicate with each other. Language changes constantly. Sometimes it changes more quickly and sometimes it settles down to percolate for a while. However, as with any living thing, language changes. I’m sure that texting (as it applies to cellphone usage) will contribute to some massive changes in our language.

It wasn’t surprising to learn that there are actually terms for some of these changes. For example, the combination of letters and numbers used to form a word is called wumbers and someone has actually written a book entitled, “Wumbers” about it. That this is a children’s book tells me that youngsters today are steeped in the language of texting long before they own a cellphone. An example of a wumber is “writ10” (pronounced, “written”). You might learn about a 2can (toucan) using wumbers, and always be sure to say 10Q (thank you) when someone does something nice for you. I’m surprised at the number of ways in which wumbers are used today.

On top of the wumbers, the texting devotee also has to learn a host of acronyms and abbreviations. I’m sure that some of these terms are standardized. You can find a sampling of them on Netlingo. There is nothing new about acronyms and abbreviations. In fact, I have used some, such as IAE (In Any Event), for years. However, the sheer weight of new acronyms and abbreviations that have become popular due to texting makes it akin to learning an entirely new language.

At issue is when people start using wumbers, acronyms, or abbreviations, mixed with slang, that other people can’t figure out, despite investing time and effort to do so. The creation of a new language is a painful process—at least, it appears that way from my perspective. There will come a point where a certain level of standardization will occur and texting will become a language onto itself. I’m not sure whether there is an actual name for the language yet or not, but I’m sure some linguist will coin a term for it.

Of course, the problem now is to determine whether texting has the staying power to become a bonafide language. There have been many language failures over the years. Some languages become extinct because the group that spoke them no longer exits; others become extinct because the language was impractical. In order to survive, a language must have enough standardization that people can understand it, it has to meet needs that existing languages don’t, and it also has to have enough flexibility to grow to meet new needs for expressing ideas and concepts.

It’s unlikely that I’ll learn texting anytime soon—partly because I don’t even own a cellphone (the preferred method of practice). When communicating with me, please try to use English or at least a language that I can translate with Google Translate. Let me know your thoughts on the texting language at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Gift Deer

Our friends are amazing! They see something we might need or want and give it to us if they have it to give. Yes, we reciprocate when we can, but it isn’t as if anyone is keeping score. So, it wasn’t completely unexpected on Saturday when one of the nicest doe deer we’ve seen in a long time landed on our doorstep. However, such a gift is always appreciated, especially considering we were almost out of venison. Our freezer is now packed to overflowing thanks to our friend’s generosity.

Of course, the deer was still on the hoof, so I as soon as I purchased some ice to cool the meat as quickly as possible, I got out my knife and skinned it. I carefully removed the hide and set it aside. Later in the day, I took it to town to give to the local sportsman’s club. They collect the hides and sell them for processing. One good turn deserves another.

After skinning, I cut the meat into pieces and put them in ice water to cool. Rebecca and I set up the meat grinder and broke out the meat saw next. After that, I brought in one piece at a time. Rebecca washed it and then I started figuring out how to process each piece. Some of the meat ended up chopped into chunks for stew, some was ground into burger, we saved the tenderloins to make tenderloin medallions for Christmas, and the ribs will taste dandy barbecued this next spring. Overall, we received 63 pounds of some incredibly nice venison.

Not everyone would view a deer left on their doorstep as a gift. After all, it was a lot of work processing the deer. However, for us, it was pure heaven. We’ll eat well this winter because someone decided to be generous with us.

My point is that the unexpected gift given out of sheer cheerfulness is the best gift of all. My friends knew they would receive nothing more than our thanks for their effort, yet they gave us the deer anyway. Sometime I’ll give them something they need or want. Friendships should work that way, but I must admit that they seldom do. All too often the question beneath the surface seems to be, “What’s in it for me?”

When was the last time you did something for someone simply because it gave you pleasure to do so? I treasure each of these moments and I know that they only make my friendships stronger. Do something nice for someone today! Do it because you want to do it and without any expectation of anything in return. I think you’ll agree with me that the grin you wear the rest of the day truly is worth the effort .

 

Looking for the Good News in a Bad News World

I spend a lot of time reading various news sources because I like to be informed about what is going on around me. Knowing about the world and what is happening in it is useful. However, too much of anything, even information, isn’t good. Sometimes I’m hit with information overload, just like anyone else—there is simply too much information for any one person to track today. So, I make an effort to limit my news intake to the kinds of news that I find most helpful and interesting.

The thing that strikes me about the majority of the media-generated news out there is that it’s all bad. Certainly people’s lives can’t be so terrible that there is only bad news to be had. Therefore, while I attempt to avoid information overload, I also attempt to find a least a little good news to go with the overwhelming quantity of bad news. If you try this yourself, you’ll agree that it isn’t easy. So, it was with great pleasure that I recently read “A Random Act of Kindness” by William Bridges. Green Market Press has been a constant source of interesting posts and a lot of good news over the years and I hope you’ll read it too.

Even if you choose not to read this particular source of good news, I encourage you to find a source of good news that you will read. I’m not saying we should take the Pollyanna view of the world, but constantly drowning yourself in bad news can only lead to negative consequences. Our world is a mix of the good and the bad, so the input you receive should also be a mix. Take time to look for a bit of good news each day and you’ll find that you see the world in a different light.

What are your favorite good news sources? Why do you find them an uplifting source of information? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Checking SQL Server Status

A number of my books rely on database access and one of the most common servers that I’ve used in the past is SQL Server. In order to access any server, the server must be running. It only makes sense that you can’t access something that isn’t listening. The problem is that SQL Server may not start automatically for a number of reasons on your system and that Visual Studio doesn’t always make it apparent that the server isn’t running. You may get a nebulous message when you try to make a connection that doesn’t tell you anything. (No, SQL Server doesn’t start automatically when you make a request for data.) With this in mind, a post of checking the status of SQL Server is important.

Normally, I would tell you to use the tools that come with SQL Server to check the status of the server. However, some versions of SQL Server Express Edition install without the standard tools now, such as SQL Server Management Studio. Without access to these tools, it may seem as if checking the server status is impossible. Fortunately, you have other options.

The best way to check the status of SQL Server on your system is to use the Services console found in the Administrative Tools folder of the Control Panel. The Services console is one of a number of Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-ins that Windows installs automatically for you. However, to use this console, you must have administrator rights on the target system. Without these rights, you truly are out of luck in checking the status of your SQL Server setup and will need to get an administrator to help you.

Open the Services console and you find a list of all of the services installed on your system. Scroll down the list and you should find one or more SQL Server entries like the ones shown here.

ServicesConsole

In order to work successfully with the examples in my book, you should have SQL Server set to start automatically. In addition, when you check the service, you should see Started in the Status column as shown in the screenshot. If you don’t see Started, then highlight the service as shown and click the Start link you see on the left side (not shown in this case because the service is already started).

To make the examples easier to work with, you should also ensure that the SQL Server Browser service is started. This service makes it possible for Visual Studio to find the SQL Server installation on your system. Without this service, you must correctly type the name of the SQL Server installation you want to use when creating a connection, which is both time consuming and error prone.

If you find that you encounter problems making database examples in my books work, please check the status of SQL Server to ensure the service is actually started. Contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com if you experience any other connectivity problems. I may not be able to fix every problem you encounter, but I often have a good idea of what problems you might be seeing on your system and will do my best to help you.

 

Celebrating Veterans Day

Yesterday was Veterans Day. I’m sure there are many activities going on today as well, but yesterday was the official holiday. It’s an important day because it honors every person who has served honorably in the armed services of this country. As a veteran myself (I served 10 years in the Navy from 1975 to 1985), I usually do something special to remember my time in the service. A lot of faces come back—all of the kids who served with me either on shore stations or on ship. We were all kids—wet behind the ears and way too young to have left home. I know where a few of my former shipmates are today, but I’ve lost contact with a good many of them.

Some people confuse Veterans Day with Memorial Day. The difference between the two is that Veterans Day celebrates the contributions of all veterans, while Memorial Day is specifically set aside to honor those who died while serving their country. If you want to thank a veteran for his or her service to our country, yesterday would have been the day to do it.

A number of people have asked why I joined the Navy. There were actually a number of reasons and I can’t say that any one reason was the deciding factor for me. I wanted to see the world and the Navy seemed like one way to do it. I did see a lot of the Orient during two deployments. My ports of call included: Japan, Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, and The Philippines (amongst other places). I actually did get to enjoy enough time in each port to at least get a flavor of the place. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have seen so much.

Another reason was education. As a Sonar Technician I received a lot of electronics training in all sorts of technologies. However, by the time I left the service, I had acquired enough college credits for a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science—free of financial encumbrances. I more than met my educational goals.

I also needed some order and discipline in my life. Obviously, the Navy is well equipped to offer as much order and discipline as any one person could ever want (or need). I grew up while I was in the service and I managed to do it without getting over my head in trouble. If I had stayed a civilian, I might not have fared so well. I managed to make it to first class petty-officer (an E6) during my time in service, which is considered pretty good during time of peace. (While I was in during the time of the Lebanon/Granada conflicts, I wasn’t actually called upon to serve in those areas.)

Most importantly, during this time I became distinctly aware of what it means to be an American and I gained an understanding of why our freedoms are so incredibly important. I was never called on to die for my freedom, but I know many others have. Even so, I was willing to die should anyone have ever asked it of me. During this time of remembering our warriors, it doesn’t matter whether you agree with the politics of the wars we wage or not. That someone is willing to lay his or her life on the line for your freedom is what matters. If you didn’t get the chance to do it yesterday, make sure you thank a veteran today.

 

HTML5/JavaScript Developer Beta Readers Needed

I’m starting a new book project for a book named HTML5 Programming with JavaScript For Dummies. I’ve always been excited about JavaScript because you can use it in so many places. This is the language you want to learn if you want to develop skills that transfer to any device, any operating system, and any environment that supports both HTML5 and JavaScript. This particular book will focus on applications that you typically run within a Web browser, but you can easily use the skills you learn here to perform other tasks with JavaScript.

This is a novice level book at the outset, but quickly moves toward intermediate level tasks. You won’t learn everything there is to know about JavaScript. Rather, you’ll get a great introduction to the language that will help you learn any additional skills you need at an accelerated rate.

I’m assuming that you’ve at least looked at a few Web pages in the past, that you have some idea of what tags are and know the basic tags for a Web page (such as <html>, <head>, and <body>). I’m not assuming very much. You also need to know how to use your computer with some degree of competency. I’m looking for readers of any platform that supports HTML5 and JavaScript. If you want to test my code on a cellphone, please do. I’m specifically targeting the Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms with this book, so I’d love to hear from developers in any of these environments.

It’s important to remember
that beta readers provide direct input on my books while I’m writing
them. In short, you get to help shape the final form of my book. Every
beta reader comment is carefully considered and I implement as many of
your suggestions as possible. Your input is incredibly important at this
phase and unlike many other reader suggestions, you’ll see the results
in the final product, rather than as a post on my blog after the fact.

Don’t
worry about me bugging you for input. You sign up, I send the
manuscript your way, and then, if you choose to provide suggestions on a
particular chapter, you send the suggestions back to me. During the
author review process (when I answer the questions of all of my
editors), I’ll incorporate your suggestions. If you have any desire to
work with HTML5/JavaScript and would like to be a beta reader for this book,
ask for details at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.