Python and Windows 10

A number of Beginning Programming with Python For Dummies and Python for Data Science for Dummies readers have written to tell me that the installation instructions for Python in these two books don’t appear to work well with Windows 10. Unfortunately, Windows 10 wasn’t available during the writing of either book, but the operating system does seem to present problems for a number of people—not just developers. Microsoft’s enforced upgrades are just one source of woe. Of course, Windows 10 has its supporters as well who are trying to tell you not to worry about these issues. I’m not here to tell you whether you should use Windows 10 or not—that’s a topic for another post. However, I also understand you need a fix for the installation process for these two books if you are running Windows 10.

For the most part, all you really need to do is install Python 3.x for Beginning Programming with Python for Dummies and Anaconda for Python for Data Science for Dummies. The problem doesn’t appear to be the actual installation (given there are no error messages when the installation completes), but rather accessing the applications after the installation. To ensure you can access the applications, you need to be sure they’re part of the path. You may also need to open a command prompt to start the applications, rather than rely on a Start Menu entry to access them. Given that I don’t have Windows 10 installed and don’t plan to install it for now because I need to support the documented configurations for the books, the best I can do is direct you to a site where you can discover how to perform these tasks under Windows 10. The article I suggest is: Setting up your Windows 10 System for Python Development (PyDev, Eclipse, Python). You don’t need to setup Eclipse or do anything else fancy. Once you have Python installed, you should be ready to go.

My feeling is that Windows 10 is going to create more than a few problems for developers because the forced upgrades will mean that you can’t ever rely on your setup being stable. The moment you get one set of Microsoft induced problems fixed, the operating system will automatically download a new set to your machine. For this reason, I can’t recommend using Windows 10 for development purposes. You’ll be better served with Windows 7 or Windows 8, with Windows 7 being the optimal choice. It could be that I’m wrong on this issue and I do plan to explore it further, but for the moment, I’m not offering Windows 10 support directly. I’ll do what I can to get you up and running with your Windows 10 system, but I can’t guarantee results because my books haven’t been written with the vagaries of Windows 10 in mind. Please let me know about your book-specific questions and concerns at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Hen Decorated Eggs

My hens, it seems, are now into crafting of a sort. They’ve started decorating their eggs for me. Now, I’ve seen speckled eggs aplenty and even banded/striped eggs are somewhat common. I’ve seen eggs in a multitude of colors as well. However, what I’ve never seen before are eggs with swirled lines on them like those shown here:

 

Two blue eggs with a swirled green stripe on them.
Blue Eggs with an Artistic Green Stripe

Just one pullet is laying these eggs and she seems to want the world to know it. Right now they weigh in at a small egg size. I keep hoping that she’ll continue to lay these incredibly unusual eggs from now on, but something tells me that she probably won’t and that I need to enjoy them while I can.

Given a chance, laying hens can prove to be quite entertaining and add interest to anyone’s life. Artistic eggs are just one of many ways in which my hens do their best to make my life happy. What sorts of unusual hen behavior have you seen? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Review of The Last Great Halloween

Nostalgia in all its forms presents us with a colored view of the past that is both wonderful and comforting. The Last Great Halloween is a Trudy McFarlan novel by Rootie Simms that reminds the reader of what it was like to be young in the 60s and 70s. Although the book seems to be written for youngsters, anyone who reads it knows that it’s really meant to let adults remember their childhoods once again. In fact, the idea is actually presented in the book in a manner that I found quite gracious—that Halloween parties for adults let them become children again for just a little while. I’d be surprised if the adults reading the books to their children didn’t end up spending an interesting afternoon or two reminiscing in a way that children actually find attractive. The book is about building bridges, even though it hides its goal in the clothing of historical fiction.

The writing style flows quite well and I quickly found myself caring about the characters—not just Trudy, but all of the children in the story because they all had a distinct role to play. The characters are quite believable, not by today’s standards, but by the standards of children from that time. The cares, concerns, activities, ventures, and prejudices are all firmly rooted in the time. It’s the issue of prejudice that some readers might find a bit off putting, but I found it quite true of the time. There weren’t any societies of the politically correct at the time—people tended to say and act upon what they really believed, right, wrong, or indifferent. For this reason alone, the book truly is more than good fiction, it’s also good history.

A good book entertains, a great book educates—this one does both. However, I found the discussion of sex education as it was presented in the past a little out of place during my first read. I still think the author could have potentially covered some other topic because the sex education incident never appears again and doesn’t actually add anything to the plot of the book. However, the girl’s view of sex education—a ham handed attempt that usually failed to meet its objective, worked well with the boy’s view that I remember from my school days. The incident does serve to remind those of us who grew up then that education of the time wasn’t everything we keep making it out to be. Even then, some things just weren’t covered very well (and sometimes not at all).

Other than the sex education scene (which you can easily skip if you’re easily offended), the book focuses on Trudy’s party. It doesn’t seem at first that a child’s party would make good fodder for a book, but Trudy is at that age where she’s not quite a child anymore and yet, not quite a teenager either—a tween by today’s reckoning. In addition, her friends add some interesting plot twists and the adults chime in to make matters even more complicated. The book is an incredibly interesting read and I can truly say that I didn’t put it down. I can’t often say that I get quite so immersed in a book. (It also helps that this book is a relatively short read.)

By the end of the book, everything is as it should be—Trudy’s party is an amazing success. Of course, you know that before you even turn the first page. It’s the journey that makes the difference in this book. Everything from collecting and turning pop bottles in to get a little extra cash, to the kinds of puzzles that kids gave away during the time are authentic. It’s a happy book. I finished it in a truly good mood.

Is this a good book or a great book? I feel it’s a great book because it does educate as well as entertain. The author has really done her homework about issues of the time—the political forces and upheaval that people faced during the time that we’d find incomprehensible today, all viewed from the perspective of an eleven year old who isn’t sure whether she really wants a party after all. The book does have a few flaws, but they’re easy to overlook because of the entertainment value the book provides. You do need to read the book with an open mind. This is historical fiction so the characters are products of their time. You can’t judge them by today’s standards.

 

Harvest Festival 2015

Harvest Festival is one of my favorite holidays of the year. What, you haven’t heard of Harvest Festival? Well, it happens each year sometime during September. The date isn’t precise because you just can’t hold Mother Nature to a specific time to make the majority of the fruits and vegetables ripe. That said, the harvest does happen every year and it’s a time to celebrate, even though it also means hard work. I’ve presented Harvest Festival in the past:

What made this Harvest Festival different is that I did the majority of the work on my own. There was lots to do, of course, and I plan to talk about some of the things I did in future posts. This year the Harvest Festival included getting some of my wood for the winter into the basement. My friend Braden helped me get the wood down there—it’s a big job even for two people. I now have five cords down there and two cords outside. Seven cords will take me through most winters, but I’ll cut another cord just in case things get extra cold. The wood you see in the picture is mostly slab wood, with about a cord of logs underneath.

John and Braden standing next to a huge pile of wood.
Getting the firewood stacked in the basement was a big job.

This year the apples ended up as chips for the most part. I also saved some for eating. The larder already has all applesauce, juice, pie filling, and odd assorted other apple products I could use. The remaining apples ended up with friends. I did make up pickled crab apples this year and did they ever turn out nice. I also made a crab apple vinaigrette salad dressing and canned it. The result is quite nice. For once, my pears let me down. The weather just wasn’t conducive to having a good pear crop. I did get enough pears for eating and a few for sharing as well.

Every year is good for something though and it was a banner squash year. The squash vines grew everywhere. At one point, the squash was chest high on me—I’ve never seen it grow like that.

 

A largish squash patch with chest high squash plants.
The squash grew like crazy this year!

The picture shows the squash about mid-summer. By the end of the summer they had grown into the garden (overwhelming the tomatoes) and into the grass. The squash also grew larger than normal. I ended up with a total of 700 pounds worth of squash (much of which has been preserved or distributed to friends). Here is some of the squash I harvested this year.

 

The squash patch produced three kinds of squash in abundance this year.
A cart full of squash.

The largish looking round green squash (one of which has a yellow patch on it) are a Japanese variety, the kabocha squash. So far, I’m finding that they’re a bit drier and sweeter than any of my other squash. I think I could make a really good pie with one and they’ll definitely work for cookies. Unlike most winter squash, you can eat the skin of a kabocha squash, making it a lot easier to prepare and it produces less waste. Given that I received these squash by accident, I plan to save some of the seeds for next year. The squash I was supposed to get was a buttercup squash. The two look similar, but are most definitely different (especially when it comes to the longer shelf life of the kabocha).

Canning season was busy this year. I’ve started filling in all the holes in the larder. For one thing, I was completely out of spaghetti sauce. Even though making homemade spaghetti sauce is time consuming, it’s definitely worth the effort because the result tastes so much better than what you get from the store. I also made a truly decadent toka plum and grape preserve and grape and pear juice. I’ve done hot water bath canning by myself before, but this was the first year I did pressure canning on my own. Let me just say that it all comes down to following the directions and not getting distracted. My two larder shelves are looking quite nice now (with Shelby on guard duty).

 

The larder contains two shelving units and a freezer.
A view of the larder from the front.

The right shelving unit contains mostly fruit products of various sorts and condiments. Yes, I even make my own ketchup and mustard. Of course, some of the squash also appear on the shelves, along with my cooking equipment and supplies. Let’s just say there isn’t a lot of room to spare.

 

Fruit products dominate the right shelving unit.
Fruit products dominate the right shelving unit.

The left shelving unit contains mostly vegetables and meats. In years past I’ve canned venison, pork, and chicken. This year I thought I might try canning some rabbit as well. Canning the meat means that it’s already cooked and ready to eat whenever I need it. The meat isn’t susceptible to power outages and it lasts a lot longer than meat stored in the freezer. Even though canning meat can be time consuming and potentially dangerous when done incorrectly, I’ve never had any problem doing so.

 

The left shelving unit contains mostly vegetables and meats.
The left shelving unit contains mostly vegetables and meats.

Harvest Festival 2015 has been a huge success. The point is that I have a large variety of different foods to eat this winter, which will make it easier to maintain my weight and keep myself healthy. I had a great deal of fun getting everything ready. There was the usual music, special drinks, and reminiscing about times past. What makes your harvest preparations joyful? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Reviews, Darned Reviews, and Statistics

A friend recently pointed me toward an article entitled, “Users who post ‘fake’ Amazon reviews could end up in court.” I’ve known for a long time that some authors do pay to get positive reviews for their books posted. In fact, some authors stoop to paying for negative reviews of competing works as well. Even though the actual technique used for cheating on reviews has changed, falsifying reviews is an age old problem. As the Romans might have said, caveat lector (let the reader beware). If there is a way to cheat at something, someone will most certainly find it and use it to gain a competitive advantage. Amazon and other online stores are quite probably fighting a losing battle, much as RIAA has in trying to get people to actually purchase their music (see Odd Fallout of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for a discussion of the ramifications of IP theft). The point is that some of those reviews you’ve been reading are written by people who are paid to provide either a glowing review of the owner’s product or lambaste a competitor’s product.

Of course, it’s important to understand the reasoning behind the publication of false reviews. The obvious reason is to gain endorsements that will likely result in better sales. However, that reason is actually too simple. At the bottom of everything is the use of statistics for all sorts of purposes today, including the ordering of items on sales sites. In many cases, the art of selling comes down to being the first seller on the list and having a price low enough that it’s not worth looking at the competitors. Consequently, sales often hinge on getting good statistics, rather than producing a good product. False reviews help achieve that goal.

I’ve spent a good deal of time emphasizing the true role of reviews in making a purchase. A review, any review you read, even mine, is someone’s opinion. When someone’s opinion tends to match your own, then reading the review could help you make a good buying decision. Likewise, if you know that someone’s opinion tends to run counter to your own, then a product they didn’t like may be just what you want. Reviews are useful decision making tools when viewed in the proper light. It’s important not to let a review blind you to what the reviewer is saying or to the benefits and costs of obtaining particular products.

Ferreting out false reviews can be hard, but it’s possible to weed out many of them. Reviews that seem too good or too dire to be true, probably are fakes. Few products get everything right. Likewise, even fewer products get everything wrong. Someone produces a product in the hope of making sales, so creating one that is so horrid as to be completely useless is rare (it does happen though and there are legal measures in place to deal with these incidences).

Looking for details in the review, as well as information that is likely false is also important. Some people will write a review without ever having actually used the product. You can’t review a product that you haven’t tried. When you read a review here, you can be sure that I’ve tried out every feature (unless otherwise noted). Of course, I’m also not running a test lab, so my opinion is based on my product usage—you might use the product in a different manner or in a different environment (always read the review thoroughly).

As you look for potential products to buy online, remember to take those reviews with a grain of salt. Look for reviews that are obviously false and ignore them. Make up your own mind based on experiences you’ve had with the vendor in the past or with similar products. Reviews don’t reduce your need to remain diligent in making smart purchases. Remember those Romans of old, caveat lector!

 

Pullets Eggs and Cookies

The chicks have become pullets and are laying what I would term as pullet bullets—smallish eggs that are sort of bullet shaped. I’m talked about pullet eggs before in the Pullet Eggs post. They’re quite tasty as a snack or even as a breakfast, but you don’t want to use them for baking unless you find it acceptable to weigh the eggs carefully.

I recently started experimenting a bit with pullet eggs because they’ll be a part of my life as long as I have laying hens. A large egg usually weighs between 2 and 2¼ ounces. Pullet eggs sometimes don’t even register on my scale, making them smaller than the 1 ounce peewee eggs. By using a really accurate scale, however, you can gather enough pullet eggs to work for baking purposes. For example, one of my cookie recipes calls for 5 (nominally large) eggs. What it really means is that you need between 10 ounces and 11¼ ounces of egg. In this case, that actually added up to eight pullet eggs (a total of 11 ounces). Because of the extra shell involved, you want to err on the high side of the needed weight.

Initially I was concerned that the yolk to white ratio wouldn’t hold up when working with pullet eggs. After weighing the yolks and whites for several recipes separately, I’ve found that pullet eggs provide slightly higher amounts of yolk, which may make a difference for really sensitive recipes, but hasn’t affected any of the cookies I’ve tried so far. To date, I’ve tried pullet eggs in chocolate chip, oatmeal, and peanut butter cookies, and haven’t noticed any difference. However, I’d love to hear from anyone else who has used pullet eggs for baking at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

As the chicks, now pullets, lay more eggs, the eggs slowly become larger. That’s why it’s important to keep weighing the eggs out if you need a precise amount for a recipe. Always keep the larger amount of egg shell in mind as you perform your calculations and the fact that you get slightly more yolk. The difference is really quite small (it varies) and I don’t know that it actually matters, but it could. For me, the real test will come when I make homemade tapioca pudding, which uses the whites and yolks separately.

The older hens are laying few eggs right now. In fact, three of them look downright horrid because they’re moulting. I’ve noticed that the hens require more time to recover from moulting as they grow older. They most definitely don’t lay eggs during this time. One of my older hens has taken upon herself to sit atop the pullet eggs, so she also isn’t laying eggs right now. Some hens, such as my Buff Orpingtons, are especially prone to being broody. The shorter days are also taking a toll on the egg production of the two remaining older hens that are laying. In short, most of the eggs I’m getting now are from the pullets, which is why I’m inclined to experiment a bit to find the best ways in which to use them.

Now that the pullets are mostly full sized, there is peace once again in the coop. My 13 hens and pullets will spend their first winter together soon. On warmer days they’ll go out in the run, but colder days mean a lot more time in the coop, so I’m pleased to see everyone getting along better.

 

C++ Data Type Usage

The Going Overboard section on page 43 of C++ All-In-One for Dummies, 3rd Edition talks about the problems that can occur when you try to stuff a number that’s too large into a specific data type. The problem with the example shown:

    cout << 8762547892451 * 10 / 2 * 3 + 25 << endl;

is that it doesn’t actually result in an error. C++ accepts the large number by using a data type that can hold it automatically, rather than using a default data type of long as would have happened in the past. It’s nice that C++ automatically fixes ambiguous code for you, but it also means that the example doesn’t work as described in the book. In order to see the example as originally intended, you need to change the code to read:

    long MyLong = 8762547892451 * 10 / 2 * 3 + 25;
    cout << MyLong << endl;

The code will now produce an error, just as described in the book, because the data type isn’t ambiguous any longer. The error message does differ slightly. What you’ll see is an error message of:

warning: overflow in implicit constant conversion [-Woverflow]

Except for having to make the code less ambiguous, the section should continue to work as it did before. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns about this example at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Beta Readers Needed for Machine Learning for Dummies

Do machines really learn, or do they simply give the appearance of learning? What does it actually mean to learn and why would a machine want to do it? Some people are saying that computers will eventually learn in the same manner that children do. However, before we get to that point, it’s important to answer these basic questions and consider the implications of creating machines that can learn.

Like many seemingly new technologies, machine learning actually has its basis in existing technologies. I initially studied about artificial intelligence in 1986 and it had been around for a long time before that. Many of the statistical equations that machine learning relies upon have been around literally for centuries. It’s the application of the technology that differs. Machine learning has the potential to change the way in which the world works. A computer can experience its environment and learn how to avoid making mistakes without any human intervention. By using machine learning techniques, computers can also discover new things and even add new functionality. The computer is at the center of it all, but the computer output affects the actions of machines, such as robots. In reality, the computer learns, but the machine as a whole benefits.

Machine Learning for Dummies assumes that you have at least some math skills and a few programming skills as well. However, you do get all the basics you need to understand and use machine learning as a new way to make computers (and the machines they control) do more. While working through Machine Learning for Dummies you discover these topics:

  • Part I: Introducing How Machines Learn
    • Chapter 1: Getting the Real Story about AI
    • Chapter 2: Learning in the Age of Big Data
    • Chapter 3: Having a Glance at the Future
  • Part II: Preparing Your Learning Tools

    • Chapter 4: Installing a R Distribution
    • Chapter 5: Coding in R Using RStudio
    • Chapter 6: Installing a Python Distribution
    • Chapter 7: Coding in Python Using Anaconda
    • Chapter 8: Exploring Other Machine Learning Tools
  • Part III: Getting Started with the Math Basics

    • Chapter 9: Demystifying the Math behind Machine Learning
    • Chapter 10: Descending the Right Curve
    • Chapter 11: Validating Machine Learning
    • Chapter 12: Starting with Simple Learners
  • Part IV: Learning from Smart and Big Data
    • Chapter 13: Preprocessing Data
    • Chapter 14: Leveraging Similarity
    • Chapter 15: Starting Easy with Linear Models
    • Chapter 16: Hitting Complexity with Neural Networks
    • Chapter 17: Going a Step Beyond using Support Vector Machines
    • Chapter 18: Resorting to Ensembles of Learners
  • Part V: Applying Learning to Real Problems
    • Chapter 19: Classifying Images
    • Chapter 20: Scoring Opinions and Sentiments
    • Chapter 21: Recommending Products and Movies
  • Part VI: The Part of Tens
    • Chapter 22: Ten Machine Learning Packages to Master
    • Chapter 23: Ten Ways to Improve Your Machine Learning Models
    • Online: Ten Ways to Use Machine Learning in Your Organization

As you can see, this book is going to give you a good start in working with machine learning. Because of the subject matter, I really want to avoid making any errors in book, which is where you come into play. I’m looking for beta readers who use math, statistics, or computer science as part of their profession and think they might be able to benefit from the techniques that data science and/or machine learning provide. As a beta reader, you get to see the material as Luca and I write it. Your comments will help us improve the text and make it easier to use.

In consideration of your time and effort, your name will appear in the Acknowledgements (unless you specifically request that we not provide it). You also get to read the book free of charge. Being a beta reader is both fun and educational. If you have any interest in reviewing this book, please contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com and will fill in all the details for you.

 

Source Code Placement

I always recommend that you download the source code for my books. The Verifying Your Hand Typed Code post discusses some of the issues that readers encounter when typing code by hand. However, I also understand that many people learn best when they type the code by hand and that’s the point of getting my books—to learn something really interesting (see my principles for creating book source code in the Handling Source Code in Books post). Even if you do need to type the source code in order to learn, having the downloadable source code handy will help you locate errors in your code with greater ease. I won’t usually have time to debug your hand typed code for you.

Depending on your platform, you might encounter a situation the IDE chooses an unfortunate place to put the source code you want to save. For example, on a Windows system it might choose the C:\Program Files folder (or a subdirectory) to the store the file. Microsoft wants to make your computing experience safer, so you don’t actually have rights to this folder for storing your data file. As a result, the IDE will stubbornly refuse the save the files in that folder. Likewise, some IDEs have a problem with folder names that have spaces in them. For example, your C:\Users\<Your Name>\My Documents folder might seem like the perfect place to store your source code files, but the spaces in the path will cause problems for the IDE and it will claim that it can’t find the file, even if it manages to successfully save the file.

My recommendation for fixing these, and other source code placement problems, is to create a folder that you can access and have full rights to work with to store your source code. My books usually make a recommendation for the source code file path, but you can use any path you want. The point is to create a path that’s:

  • Easy to access
  • Allows full rights
  • Lacks spaces in any of the path name elements

As long as you follow these rules, you likely won’t experience problems with your choice of source code location. If you do experience source code placement problems when working with my books, please be sure to let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.