Archive for January, 2020

Sometimes it is the simplest things in life

January 23, 2020

I have three monitors on my desk all plugged into one computer.  Being the IT guy for the school I need them. I have had these same monitors on my desk for a number of years.  Today I dropped a paperclip on the base of the right monitor. It stuck. The base is magnetic! What the heck! I did not know that.  So cool. Sometimes it is the simplest things in life.

Now I have to go grade semester finals.  Not so simple.

30 minutes with the Oculus Rift S

January 22, 2020

OMG!  Is that simple enough? 

I teach a game programming class using Unity.  It is mostly some original teaching ideas and a lot of YouTube.  We do some simple 2D and 3D exercises that can lead to very simple games.  Mostly we learn how to use Unity. (I use “we” because I am still learning Unity and the kids often show me interesting things on how to use Unity.)  Last week I borrowed an Oculus Rift S from the local university. I had to buy a high end video card and got it installed yesterday. After school I hooked in the Oculus.  If I did not have an appointment yesterday afternoon I would probably still be under the influence. This thing is a black hole. I cannot wait to start building for this thing.  I am very glad I cannot afford a new home computer. I would have to buy one of these things and then my real world life would be over. Matrix here I come.

Second semester I am offering a Game Making 2 course using the Oculus and Google Cardboard.  Having only one Oculus and only one computer capable of running it may cause a bit of a choke point but this is a Catholic school, we shall overcome.

Computer Science on the Cheap does not always work

January 12, 2020

I teach at a Catholic school.  We are small (158 in the high school) and for a private high school we are fairly cheap ($10200 is the highest tuition but it is prorated on income) so our budget is a bit challenged.  As a result the budget for my CS program is $0. All my computers are donations or come from the Montana State recycle warehouse. All the software I teach with is free or has a free version, i.e.  Python, Visual Studio, Unity and whatever else I use. This has worked for years with very few limitations on what I teach.  

This year I have hit the hardware limit wall twice, hard. The first time was with Android Studio.  It runs on the old i3 and i5 towers and laptops I have but the emulator is dead slow. Since most of the kids have iPhones I have to use the emulator to test an app.  So the app building class I was thinking of using Android Studio in is out. No great loss, I was not looking forward to having to learn AS as it seems to be a real steep learning curve.  Still, it would have been interesting.

Yesterday I hit the second wall.  The local university’s Graphic Design department loaned me an Oculus Rift S for my Unity game class.  One of the instructors is a friend and arranged it for me. The video card requirements far surpass anything the school owns.  Bummer. I was hoping I could get a little luck and it would run on some of the older cards I have but it is not looking good. The Oculus uses Displayport.  The few cards that have Displayport are really cheap and old. But I have a solution. I thought of having a bake sale but I am a terrible baker and do not want to poison staff or students so I have to get more clever than that.  So I am going to ask for money. I suck at asking for money because I have gotten really good at patching things together with old hardware. It had become sort of a weird personal goal, how cheap can I do a quality CS program. (I actually do a presentation at education conferences titled “CS on the Cheap” where I talk about how cheap it is to get a CS program going with free software and the Montana State recycle warehouse hardware.)  If the school does not have it I am going to hit the richer parents. I have a number of parents that work in the tech field and I consider rich. I hate hitting up parents for something like this, after all these parents are already paying the maximum tuition, but I really do not see a better solution at the moment. I will see what happens.

All of this does show the weakness of my present hardware acquisition system.  It is looking like a lot of the newer tech I want to work with takes newer tech to work.  Ten year old i5s work fine with a standard programming class, but as soon as I want to do something with modern hardware; cellphones, VR, AR, and whatever, I am hurting.  For next year’s budget I had requested six $1000 computers. All fine and good except I really need those computers tomorrow.

Is it all that critical that I teach a course involving the Oculus?  No, but I do think AR and VR are very important and besides it looks like a lot of fun.  And it is very important to find fun things for students to do in high school.