Subscribe: Eric Mack On-Line
Preview: Eric Mack On-Line

Eric Mack On-Line

Last Build Date: Tue, 19 Jan 2016 19:02:17 -0700


Building my own persons of interest "watch list"

Tue, 19 Jan 2016 19:02:17 -0700

As a patron of magic, student magician, and member of the Academy of Magical Arts, I want to know when certain magicians will be performing at the Magic Castle.

So, I've been thinking about building a performer of interest "watch list" to alert me when specific performers will be at the castle.

As a business and technology professional, I routinely design systems to solve problems for my clients; however, I no longer do much coding myself; I must rely upon others for the coding of the systems I design.

The source information are already public knowledge and it appears that the show schedules are updated weekly for several weeks out.

So what remains is to determine how to solve this problem. Let's break this down a bit.

The first step is to define the scope of the problem: The solution must take as input a page URL and a list of keywords (performers) and then check that page on schedule (e.g. 1x every 3 days). If a keyword match is found, send me a notification.

The closest solutions I have found so far are for web site monitoring and the one that appears to be most feature rich is Website Watcher. I'm certain this would work, but I prefer not to leave a task running on my PC.

I also noticed mention of some free and fee based on-line services that will apparently do the same. I know there are also some browser plugins that may be adapted. Ideally, I want a set it and forget it solution.

As a technologist, my mind is spinning with more ideas than necessary about ways to solve this, including many beyond my coding skills. The most elegant I could come up with would be a Raspberry PI inside a custom 3D printed case. This would run some kind of app to monitor the AMA web site for keyword matches and when found, send an alert, flash the LED beneath a glowing AMA logo
Eric Mack's personal blog

Originally posted on Eric Mack Online

Back from a DIY marriage retreat

Tue, 19 Jan 2016 11:00:00 -0700

Kathy and I recently had our own 3 day marriage retreat in which we worked through "A Biblical Portrait of Marriage" by Dr. Bruce Wilkenson. Last year we celebrated our 50th year in marriage (for the 26th time) and over the years we have encountered our share of delights and challenges, sorrows and joys together. This was a powerful time for us as a couple to review and refresh our thinking and actions with what the Scriptures have to say about marriage. It was also helpful for us as we continue to raise our four daughters and equip them for the future.

We were introduced to these materials many years ago in a small group study and then again a few years later when we were able to attend a live event. This time, however, we decided to buy the DVD and workbook and go through it at our own pace. This allowed us to skip past the topics we felt comfortable with and take more time on the topics as needed.

There are a few marriage resources that we have found helpful over the years and this one certainly deserves a top spot. We like to alternate between various resources, including the excellent Love & Respect conference series among others.

I cannot recommend highly enough the value of taking a few days away with your spouse to focus on your marriage. And for those who want to know what the Scriptures have to say about this topic, I can unreservedly recommend these materials.

Disclaimer: I have no connection to these materials and receive no compensation for my recommendation. I'm simply happy to recommend what works f
Eric Mack's personal blog

Originally posted on Eric Mack Online

I love this time of year - 50th wedding anniversary

Wed, 14 Oct 2015 13:43:00 -0700

Tonight, Kathleen and I will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary for the 26th time... I love my my princess bride.

Thank you, Kathy, for being my wife. I love you with all of my heart!
Eric Mack's personal blog

Originally posted on Eric Mack Online

Does your GTD toolkit have support for your cognitive artifacts?

Mon, 15 Jun 2015 17:15:00 -0700

Recently, a coaching client asked me for some recommendations for paper-based resources that would help him implement "Getting Things Done."

I coach executives and professionals who use a variety of systems and tools. No matter how elaborate your systems, I find it's always helpful to have at least a few physical tools: solid reminders of ideas and tasks can be extremely helpful. Plus, the physical act of writing can help your memory and creative thinking.

In light of this, I recommended that he consider the following for his personal GTD system, all of which I've found helpful:

  • Notetaker Wallet: This lets me quickly and conveniently capture ideas anywhere. It's important to have this capability, whether you use the wallet or something else

Disclaimer: I don't benefit from the sales of these products: these links are provided solely as helpful resources for your consideration.
Eric Mack's personal blog

Originally posted on Eric Mack Online

CS Students: Don’t let someone else eat your lunch

Fri, 5 Jun 2015 10:41:00 -0700

Disney recently outsourced an IT department with 250 positions to overseas workers—but first, they required the people who would lose their jobs to train their replacements. Amazing.

For now, I'll leave the ethical and economic discussions to someone else. What I want you to take away from this, Computer Science student, is this question: how are you equipping yourself to create value in the workplace?

Students, this is not meant to discourage you, but to make you aware of the changing landscape in the IT field. Highly motivated people like you, some studying twice as hard as you, many willing to work for much less than you, are looking forward to the opportunity to eat your lunch.

What are you going to do about it?

Any position that can be reduced to a commodity-level responsibility is likely to change dramatically by the time you graduate with your degree. Offshoring used to be limited to labor-intensive jobs, but now (thanks to technology) it's expanding to "thinking" jobs as well. These are the jobs you're preparing for.

So, how should you respond? Learn to create value and solve problems. Be extraordinary. Whenever management makes the decision to keep or let go of personnel, they always consider the value that person brings to the organization. Since people with Computer Science degrees are plentiful, it's going to take more than just a diploma and a high GPA to succeed. It's all about working for your employer, customer, or client to create value that goes beyond your job description.

How will you prepare yourself to think critically, create value, and solve problems?
Eric Mack's personal blog

Originally posted on Eric Mack Online

So much for starting a job productively (or sanely)

Wed, 3 Jun 2015 09:12:00 -0700

I was scanning the job board of a client that I serve and found this embedded in the description for an employment position:

I would expect this in a job listing for a juggler at a circus, not for a desk job. This is a position for a knowledge worker—someone who "thinks" for a living.

Thinking to create value requires concentration. Concentration requires focus. Both require minimizing distraction both from internal sources (e.g. multitasking) and external (interruptions, distractions). That's just how the mind works most effectively.

In my personal knowledge and information management (PKIM) seminars and workshops, I teach that focus is what you shut in and concentration is what you shut out. These are essentials skills and powerful tools for any worker.

So why would you set up a work environment that makes these things more difficult?

I realize that the HR person who wrote (and misspelled) that description was probably only trying to cover themselves, but I see this all too often. It still makes me wonder: when will leadership and management get the fact that it takes concentration to create value?
Eric Mack's personal blog

Originally posted on Eric Mack Online

CS Students: Think of yourselves as problem solvers

Fri, 29 May 2015 11:39:00 -0700

To my Computer Science students: your field is changing rapidly, and you need to be able to adapt. To do that, you need to stop thinking of yourselves as "programmers" or "IT guys" and start thinking of yourselves as problem solvers.

Here's an example of a potentially big change on the horizon: IBM Watson, a cognitive computer that draws conclusions based on semantic context of meaning (rather than rigid logic tables). It's not a solution to every problem, but it's a novel approach: click here to watch the 8-minute breakdown.

If it's not Watson, it will be something else. The tools of computer science never stay the same for long.

What does this mean for you?

Thinking of yourself as a "programmer" is like a carpenter calling himself a "saw-user" or "hammerer." The saw and hammer are only the tools he uses: what he does is solve problems.

It's the same for you: because of your training, programming is one tool in your toolkit that you can use to solve problems. In the same way, Watson's purpose is to augment decision-making (i.e. problem solving) capabilities. It's another tool in the 21st-century toolkit.

I teach a Technology for Business Decision-Making course that covers topics like this. I teach those students how knowledge and method are used in conjunction with technology to solve problems. These three things -- knowledge, method, and technology -- are all crucial in every field. The tools don't make the techie.

My vision for Computer Science majors is that you would all start thinking of yourselves as problem solvers. I would encourage you to keep up with current methods and tools for problem solving in your field. Your field is changing rapidly, and you need to be ready for it -- beyond the diploma.

Image credit:
Image by geralt [CC
Eric Mack's personal blog

Originally posted on Eric Mack Online

How IBM Verse works (based on their marketing video)

Wed, 20 May 2015 14:00:00 -0700

:: Abstract not available ::

My girls’ first and last day of school

Thu, 7 May 2015 12:18:00 -0700

This Tuesday was the last day of school for Amy and Wendy. I drove them to their first day of nursery school almost 20 years ago . . .

. . . and this week I drove them to their last day of school.

I'm very proud of them and all that they have accomplished. It's been a privilege for Kathy and me to home school our daughters and watch them grow into the lovely women they have become. It's been a delight to watch them the past four years as they have grown and matured further at The Master's College. While this chapter of their academic studies has come to an end, I know that they are life-long learners and their education will never be complete.
Eric Mack's personal blog

Originally posted on Eric Mack Online

Best Practices for Robotics Competitions, Work, and Life in General

Wed, 6 May 2015 15:29:00 -0700

I really enjoy consulting and coaching executives and other professionals, because it allows me to make a difference in the lives of others. There's nothing like that moment when their eyes widen and they say "I get it!" or "That's cool!"

I also get to experience this same thing with students in my Intro to Robotics course. This course isn't just a bunch of computer science geeks doing geeky things: I use it to prepare my students to work well, both in their personal and professional lives, by teaching them essential life skills.

I know teaching life skills through robotics sounds far-fetched, so I'm going to prove it below.

In this course, one of the exercises I teach is the After-Action Review. This consists of five questions:
1. What was supposed to happen?
2. What actually happened?
3. Why did it happen?
4. What did we learn?
5. How can we do better next time?

On Monday, as I lead them through an After-Action Review, I wrote the answers to the final question on the board (as you can see on the left). The action under review was the students' preparation for their final in-class competition (which involved designing and building a robot in teams), but the answers they came up with also translate to work and life in general.

Note that these are not in order of importance or priority. They're all lessons learned. Here's what my students had to sayplus applies to best practices for life:

Eric Mack's personal blog

Originally posted on Eric Mack Online

The Final Robot Competition — well done, students!

Tue, 5 May 2015 16:25:00 -0700

:: Abstract not available ::

Technology alone won’t fix how we work (and work together)

Mon, 4 May 2015 16:45:00 -0700

:: Abstract not available ::

Beyond Sci-Fi: Master’s students building robots on campus

Fri, 1 May 2015 15:51:00 -0700

A Master's College student recently wrote a very nice article about the Robotics course I teach. She hit the nail on the head: critical thinking, creating solutions, analyzing problems, and communicating effectively are the real core of this class.
Beyond SciFi: Master’s students building robots on campus
By Emily Rader

By 9:30 p.m., the end of class had come on the first night of professor Eric Mack’s Introduction to Robotics course with hardly any notice from the students. The 17 computer science majors were so engaged in the course that to stay late to work on test robots in the lab was a no-brainer.

The opportunity to learn about robot application programming, make functioning robots and battle in robot competitions might intrigue anyone. However, a robotics class that simultaneously trains students in problem-solving and life skills from a biblical perspective makes this class unique to The Master’s College.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Thank you, Emily, and all my students!

More on Robotics:

Eric Mack's personal blog

Originally posted on Eric Mack Online

26 years of piano have lead up to today

Thu, 30 Apr 2015 15:24:31 -0700

26 years ago, I purchased this baby grand piano for the purpose of hacking it into a computer-controlled player grand piano. Before I could begin that project, however, I married the lovely Kathleen Mullen, who promptly put a stop to the notion of piano hacking, saying that we would need that piano someday for our children to play.

I'm glad I listened to Kathy, as all four of our daughters grew up plunking or playing that piano in one form or another. I believe that having that piano in the center of our home provided endless opportunity to satisfy musical curiosity and encourage musical skill in my children. I never tire of my daughters playing the piano, and I appreciate the special relationship that I have with Wendy as she will often play hymns or other songs to encourage me when I am in my office.

I am so very thankful for the many teachers who played a part in Wendy's musical education along the way. Each gave of themselves as they invested in Wendy and encouraged her along the way. Some even volunteered to do so. All made a tremendous impact on Wendy.

Tonight, we will celebrate the culmination of four years of study in Music as Wendy presents her senior piano recital. Soon, she'll graduate from The Master's College with a Bachelor of Music in worship music ministry and a Bachelor of Arts in music and communication. I am so proud of our Wendy, for her focus and determination and for the lovely woman she's become.

Not pictured: about 120 people in the audience.
Eric Mack's personal blog

Originally posted on Eric Mack Online

Don’t "like" this post

Wed, 8 Apr 2015 16:02:18 -0700

A few days ago, I was talking to my Robotics students about the posts made in our Facebook group. I didn't want to come across as the old guy bashing social media, but I told them I was surprised at how little discussion was actually taking place online. Students would post, but usually others would only respond by "liking."

If my students were only posting cat videos, I wouldn't have a problem with people clicking "like" as cat videos lend themselves to that behavior. On the other hand, because most of the posts were intended to start a discussion or get feedback clicking "Like" is less useful, in fact it's often meaningless.

Before Facebook and Twitter, if you wanted to engage with somebody's post, the only way (on nearly all platforms) was to make a comment. Writing and posting a comment takes at least a little thought and effort.

I'm not saying that "Liking" is bad and everyone should stop it. What I am saying is this: think about what your "like" means.

Eric Mack's personal blog

Originally posted on Eric Mack Online

Two of my students master the Towers of Hanoi with a robot

Tue, 7 Apr 2015 18:00:00 -0700

:: Abstract not available ::

If I may brag for a moment...

Sat, 28 Feb 2015 16:58:16 -0700

That's Amy in the pink dress in front of the symphony orchestra last night. She's narrating George MacDonald's classic story of The Light Princess, which she adapted into a narrative performance accompanied by a complete orchestral score, all written by her.

She also designed and commissioned the paintings on the screens so they could be displayed while she presents this work. It was very well received, and 700-800 people attended the world premier of The Light Princess.

Not to brag, but Kathy and I obviously have the most talented and hard-working daughters in the world.

For more highlights from the concert, you can check out Amy's blog here.

And a couple more pictures for good measure:

Eric Mack's personal blog

Originally posted on Eric Mack Online

Of Tunes, Tales and Truths -- and The Light Princess

Wed, 24 Feb 2016 14:28:43 -0700

One of the personal projects that has taken quite a bit of my time lately has been helping our symphony orchestra prepare for their mid-winter family concert.

This year, the all of the music including the featured work, The Light Princess" was written by my daughter, Amy, who is a music composition major at The Master's College.

Amy has been working for years on the arrangements for this concert which is called "Tunes, Tales, and Truths." The concert will feature the World Premier of “The Light Princess,” an adaptation of George MacDonald's beloved fairy-tale into orchestral music and narration.

The concert will also include a sweeping suite of original music: pirate legends, great awakenings, swinging jazz, and powerful tales of redemption and new life.

See that painting above? That's an original painting -- one of 10 -- that Amy commissioned for the concert. Working with the artist, Jay Wegter, Amy designed the theme and sketch for each piece of art which Jay then masterfully painted. These will be presented on giant screens during the concert. After the concert, the original score and the 10 paintings will be available in the lobby for closer inspection.

Eric Mack's personal blog

Originally posted on Eric Mack Online

Why I love teaching at The Master’s College

Tue, 27 Jan 2015 11:00:00 -0700

Imagine returning to your old college – seeing students learning what you learned so many years ago, maybe even from the same professors, getting the same education you did. Imagine returning to be part of their journey!

That's just what I've been doing for seven years as an adjunct professor at The Master's College. Obviously, I have the best students in the world, and I love my subjects and the school's commitment to Biblically-based teaching.

The Biblical perspective shapes everything about teaching here, from how the material is presented to how professors engage with the students.

Eric Mack's personal blog

Originally posted on Eric Mack Online

Throwback Thursday: Robotics isn’t just for computer nerds (TMC student article)

Thu, 22 Jan 2015 10:45:00 -0700

Not long after my Introduction to Robotics course started, it got its very first press coverage!

Three years ago, I was interviewed by Jason Cremeen, a student writing for The Master's Piece, a student publication of The Master's College. What I love about this article is how Jason emphasizes that this course is not an engineering program for computer nerds only -- it's a hands-on critical-thinking course for anyone.

You can read Jason's article here.

Eric Mack's personal blog

Originally posted on Eric Mack Online