Oct 12

SNL Takes on Westview U.

… or is it some other school with a similar logo? (via Inside Higher Ed)

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Sep 30

HD Goggle Camera

Category: Geek Stuff, Technology

OK.  I predicted that people would wander around with video cameras attached at all times, but I didn’t expect this great small camera now. 1080P!

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Sep 30

The Troops Want iPhones

Category: Geek Stuff, Technology

This is cool.

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Sep 20

Microsoft Offers Deals to College Students

Click here to find out about the $29.99 deal on Windows 7

Click the picture for the $29.99 deal on Windows 7

College students can get Windows 7 Home Premium for only $29.99 by going here.  The Office Ultimate Steal is also still available for students at $59.95 for Office Ultimate 2007.

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Sep 19

The Boss Speaks About TSTC

He not only the President of TSTC Waco, he’s also a graduate!  Click below to see the local news interview with Elton Stuckly:

Go to the interview.

(Clarification: The anchor is talking about the Community College Week number one rating for TSTC Waco in Engineering Technologies.  My post about that is here.)

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Sep 19

We’re Number One!

Note: For some reason I started this post some time ago and then forgot to post it!

Did I mention that TSTC Waco granted more Associate degrees in the engineering technologies than any other two-year college in the country?  Read about it here.

We are also are also 4th nationwide among two-year schools for Associate degrees in computer and information sciences and support, 12th in precision production, and in the top fifty in agriculture and sciences.

All of this is according to the June 15 Community College Week.

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Sep 18

Technology Saves Lives

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

I like old cars and I hate to see an irreplaceable ‘59 Chevy destroyed.  It does illustrate what may seem counter-intuitive to some, though.  Crumple zones make cars safe.  Good, solid, stiff metal simply transfers the impact to the passenger compartment.

As you may have learned in high school physics, the time of a collision is very import to the force of the impact.  Intelligent engineering makes cars much safer with crumple zones and airbags which ’slow down’ the negative acceleration. Crumple zones are explained here. The money quote from that article is this:

Cutting the deceleration in half cuts the force in half. Therefore, changing the deceleration time from .2 seconds to .8 seconds will result in a 75 percent reduction in total force.

I have been hectoring my kids about this for years. There is a good physics discussion here.  If you read and truly understand the equation, you will never ride a motorcycle again.

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Sep 16

The Joy of Technical Education (10)

As I was attending the ceremony opening the new Clearview data center in Waco, I ran into the young man pictured below.

Matthew Pevey greeted me and reminded me that he was a student of mine.  He is now a graduate of the Computer Networking & Systems Administration program at TSTC Waco.  He is also the Operations Supervisor at the new data center!  He has several other TSTC graduates working for him and hopes to have more before long.

I love what we do!

The Clearview data center opening is another reason to love what we do.  TSTC and the Texas Workforce Commission partnered to meet their personnel needs. Clearview is very happy with the graduates they hired after interviewing at the college.

Waco Mayor Virginia Dupuy cuts the ribbon surrounded by the Clearview partners and Sarah Roberts from the Greater Waco Chamber. (best snap ever from an iPhone 3G - I think it was the lighting)

This interior shot shows a room ready to be packed with super-dense blade servers.

The building, an old fallout shelter, is perfect for safe data storage.  They have ramped up the power (5 MW from 4 different circuits plus 2 backup generators - expandable to 15MW) and the cooling.  The fiber connections are ready to go.

For more about the new center, please read here.

UPDATE: KXXV Channel 25 has posted video from the event, including a short interview with TSTC high performance computing guru Walton Yantis (warning: an advertisement comes first).

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Sep 15

Igniting a Desire to Learn STEM*

Watching this video from the NBC evening news will help you understand the post that follows.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

Yesterday, we had the privilege to visit the founder and board of the IGNITE program in Fredericksburg, Texas. The high school rocketry program, founded by teacher Brett Williams in the mid-nineties, has spread across the state and is moving across the borders.  TSTC is looking for ways to partner with the IGNITE/SystemsGo program as it grows.

The learning is entirely project-based.  Students work in teams to design working  hybrid rockets that meet the specifications for each part of the curriculum.  It has been very successful.  To quote Mr. Williams:

This is a whole new way of teaching. We really are working on not just educating our students, but developing them for the workforce. Coming out of this high school program, these students will understand design and development, testing, analysis, and program management - all things the industry needs in the workforce of tomorrow.

Here are some pictures from our trip (warning - low quality iPhone snaps ahead):

Brett Williams (right) in his classroom discussing rocket science with TSTC System Chancellor Dr. Bill Segura.

Another view of the Fredericksburg High School “rocket room.” TSTC Waco President Elton Stuckly is pictured facing the camera next to Dr. Segura. You can see from here that the room is part of an old auditorium which has been divided into rooms.

Redbird 10, designed by high school students,  which will be launched at White Sands.  They are hoping for 100,000 feet.

Redbird 10 fin detail. The legs behind give you an idea of scale.  This a big metal bird.

The nosecone, designed and built by the students, will likely carry a university research payload.

Access to valve area where the N2O (nitrous oxide) oxidizer will be released to facilitate the burning of the otherwise inert solid fuel.  This system is much safer than a standard solid fuel rocket in which the fuel and oxidizer are permanently mixed together.

Failure IS an option!  These are the remains of a rocket that crashed at White Sands, possibly due to a failure in the system which releases the oxidizer.  The students have been doing a failure analysis.

All of the technologies required to build a rocket are vital to the United States as a world power.  Here we see an increasingly rare sight - a real machine shop in a high school.  A consortium of local machine shops also help the students with their projects.

Some thoughts about the program:

  • It works.  The students involved are going on to study engineering and engineering technologies in college
  • There was a lot of inspiration and determination to do the impossible on the part of Brett Williams
  • The Fredericksburg Independent School District and the entire community had great courage and confidence to make this possible
  • It can be, and is being replicated

As Mark Long of TSTC Publishing said while we were there, “It would have been a good idea anywhere, but it happened here first for a reason.”  Kudos to those visionaries who were willing to put hard work behind their visions.  Lives are being changed because of it.

*STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

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Sep 15

Florida Teen Loves to Fly

See a great article about a Florida teen who chose technical education - in Texas!

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Sep 11

Remembering 9/11

There is a great guest column in the Waco Trib today written by one of our Automotive students who was working at the Pentagon on 9/11.  Let’s all pause and remember on this day.

BTW - A lot of people would find it hard to understand why a retired Colonel would want to study Automotive Technology.  I don’t.  There are a lot of intangible rewards in working with your hands.  Also, it’s something he has always wanted to do!

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Sep 4

Congressman Visits Aviation at TSTC

The story and photos are in the Waco Trib.

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Sep 4

Student Appreciation Day

Here is my video of the TSTC Student Appreciation Day lunch where we serve our students free burgers.  It is all a part of the big Welcome Week activities.  Unfortunately, this was my first shot at editing HD and I need to update my tools.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

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Sep 4

Amazon Response - Late But Appreciated

Category: Geek Stuff, Technology

In my farewell to the Kindle, Down the Memory Hole, I complained about Amazon deleting Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from my iPhone Kindle app.  Turning it into an ‘unbook’ was ‘doubleplus ungood.’ The deletion occurred in July and they are finally getting around to cleaning up the mess.  I had already been reimbursed for the very small purchase.  Today I received an email which repeated Jeff Bezos’ apology and offered the following:

As you were one of the customers impacted by the removal of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” from your Kindle device in July of this year, we would like to offer you the option to have us re-deliver this book to your Kindle along with any annotations you made.  You will not be charged for the book.  If you do not wish to have us re-deliver the book to your Kindle, you can instead choose to receive an Amazon.com electronic gift certificate or check for $30.

That seems more than fair, although I don’t feel any more inclined to buy a Kindle.

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Sep 3

More on the First Week

As I walked around this morning to catch up on what was going on, I ran across these scenes:

Automotive students intently watching their instructor do a demonstration.

Mr. Jerry Shaw teaching students about Photoshop

—- And on the not-so-positive side:

Enormous lines at the bookstore.  A big increase in enrollment and trouble with the computers have us well behind in getting books to our students.  I think we began to turn the corner this afternoon.

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Sep 2

V-Logging the College Experience

There is a first-semester Computer Science (game programming) student at TSTC who is video logging his experience day by day.  Checkout the videos by clicking here.

Talking with new students over the last few days has reminded me of just how great a stride this is for them.  Just like me so long ago, many of our newbies are first-generation college-goers and find ‘normal’ college practices bizarre (and sometimes they are right). One student looked intently at his schedule and said, “I just realized that not all of these classes are in the same building.”  Why would he know that?  A lot of high school ‘campuses’ are really just one big building.  Another student asked if he was allowed to go home between classes!

Freedom, responsibility, heightened expectations, and no buffer between them and hard realities - no wonder it is such a difficult transition.

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Sep 1

The Thin Line Between Love and Hate

Category: Geek Stuff, Technology

I’ve had my iPhone 3G and the accompanying onerous data plan for about five months. I needed email and calendar access 24/7 and the iPhone provided that in the slickest package. I like the iPhone interface, and most of the irritations that I did have with it were fixed when OS 3.0 was installed. The technology in the phone fulfills the promise of usefulness in a way that the old “PDA” technology never quite achieved.

I expected to dislike the way AT&T does business. I’ve been using their service since it was Cingular because of superior coverage in my area. What I did not expect to find is that I really dislike Apple – not the products but the company. I feel the Apple noose tightening around me and my phone. That control mentality will get them in trouble if they continue to take share in the digital music and smart phone spaces.

Every other memory device I have ever attached to my computer via USB allowed me some access to the file system. Apple only allows iTunes and some extra-cost apps that still don’t give real access to the directory. Apple ties their app store, their music store, their email application, and their browser tightly to the device in a way that would have caused Steve Ballmer to blush when Microsoft was at its monopolistic apogee. That alleged corporate miscreant always allowed other browsers in Windows even as they promoted Internet Explorer. Apple does not allow ANY applications that duplicate ‘core phone functionality’ such as browsing and email. Where are the legions of anti-IE complainers now?

A good example of this behavior can be seen in the recent rejection of the Google Voice application. Apple says:

The application has not been approved because, as submitted for review, it appears to alter the iPhone’s distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail.

It’s my phone. If I want to replace something Apple put in there I should be able to do so. Apple is just afraid of losing control.

In March of this year, it was reported that iPhone browsing had reached 50% of all smart phone web traffic. If they reach the 60% - 70% market share of Internet Explorer, will we see anti-monopoly action against Apple? I’m a Firefox user on my PC and enjoy having alternatives. There is no doubt that browser application makers would quickly put alternatives in the store if they were allowed, but Apple doesn’t want us to have choice. I do want to test alternatives to Safari and I can remember when tying a browser into an operating system was evil itself.

Apple iTunes already has an 87% market share of the legal music download space, and the company is making it hard to load that music into any non-Apple device. As soon as Palm announced that the Pre had iTunes connectivity, Apple scrambled to ‘update’ the software and kill that access. Doesn’t allowing other devices to load content from iTunes help Apple sell even more music? Yes, but it also makes it easier for an Apple customer to switch to another device.

Apple gets a pass on lying, obfuscating, cheating, and poor customer service. The press does not pile on. Apple product users give blank stares if such bad behavior is even suggested. Internet posts on these subjects tend to attract lots of filthy frothing Apple fan comments. I provided the links above so that interested parties could see the evidence.  There is much more, but that is not the crux of this article. My point is that Apple has its best interests at heart, and not yours or mine. If we allow them to have unusual levels of control because they are not Microsoft and therefore somehow sinless, they will use that power to help themselves and not us. I hope that when it is time to renew my commitment,  Google’s more open Android or even Microsoft’s more open Windows Mobile will have improved and be ready to accept iPhone lovers who are not so fond of Apple.

NOTE: For an interesting take on Apple’s disturbing tactics, please see Apple’s Animal Farm at the Fortune Magazine Big Tech blog.

Update: More than 60 applications won’t run or have functionality issues on Snow Leopard.  This rates as a serious issue on a percentage of apps basis. If this had been Windows, would it be reported as an epic FAIL?

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Aug 31

From Mermaid to Wonder Woman?

Helen Ginger is the author TSTC Publishing has tapped to write many of the books in our Tech Careers series. There was an article about her last week in the Dallas Examiner with the catchy title, Helen Ginger goes from mermaid to Wonder Woman.  She gives some details about the hard work she puts into researching and writing each one of these books on a three month deadline.

Although I have met a number of our authors, I haven’t had that honor with Ms. Ginger.  She sounds like a very interesting person and she’s also a blogger!


Aug 31

More TSTC Life in Pictures

The 2009-2010 Student Government Association Officers (from left) Vice President Aaron Jones, President Jay Hicks, Treasurer Joshua Norvell, State Host Representative Jessica Skinner.

The first of many New Student Orientation groups for the fall 2009 semester. (Photo by M. Jordon Pollock, MCI Student)

Hispanic Student Association members watch as Avionics student Fernando Lopez flips burgers at the HSA free burger event held at the gazebo. (Photo by M. Jordon Pollock, MCI Student)

Summer 2009 Commencement at the Heart of Texas Coliseum

For more TSTC Waco pictures - visit the Flickr page.

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Aug 30

What is GIS?

Follow this link for a video explanation from TSTC’s GIS expert Lee Hilliard.

GIS is a very cool and underexposed area of study.  A lot of great jobs are available in the public and private sectors.  In my waning days of teaching database management courses I loved my GIS majors.  I had several distance and hybrid delivery students who were active in the field.  They turned in fascinating projects.

For more information on GIS, start here.  For more on GIS at TSTC, check out this link.

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Aug 29

Achieving the Technical Education Dream

Via Micheal Bettersworth, please take a look at this piece from Inside Higher Ed about Kellogg Community College’s efforts to provide skills training that is flexible and customized.  Also, be sure to look at the college’s Program Builder program all done up in ASP.NET.  They will sell training in increments like .17 or .58 credits. What great way to deliver technical education!  No more “one size fits all” philosophy at Kellogg!

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Aug 29

Popular Mechanics on SpaceX

Category: Technology

A great article at the magazine site with a whiteboard talk on the Merlin engine by propulsion engineer Tom Mueller…

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Jul 24

Down the Memory Hole

I have to agree with this editorial by Michael Gartenberg - two strikes is out for the Kindle.  I have the Kindle App on my iPhone and I was one of the users who had my copy of Orwell’s ‘1984′ deleted from my device without notification.  It was the only book I actually purchased for the app.  All my other content consists of sample chapters for books I was considering for Dead Tree format. I read ‘1984′ on my iPhone as an experiment.  Now the book is gone.

My other strike involved getting my hands on a Kindle DX.  I just wasn’t that impressed.  The Kindle DX is bulky, has a clunky interface, and doesn’t have the color to make many educational graphs and illustrations usable. It was easy on the eyes for reading, but so is paper.

I think that there is a future for ebooks, but that future is multi-platform and doesn’t involve getting your materials deleted without permission or notice. When the world goes into electronic textbooks in a bigger way, we shouldn’t lock anyone into a particular device.

UPDATE: The New Yorker takes on the Kindle and the future of reading in this article.  Nicholson Baker doesn’t like the Kindle either.

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Jun 23

A Visit to the Future of Spaceflight

I recently went with a number of my colleagues from TSTC on a visit to the SpaceX rocket test and development center in McGregor, Texas (about 30 miles from TSTC). SpaceX is arguably the leader in commercial space development and having them in our area is quite an honor. As I have mentioned before SpaceX has also hired some of our graduates.

SpaceX chose the McGregor site because it has 14,000 acres that was once a Naval Ordinance site, then a private/military missile test and development site. The acreage and the infrastructure couldn’t be recreated anywhere else economically. For example, the tripod pictured below was built for rocket engine static testing.


My memory is that we were told it had the capacity for up to six million pounds of thrust. I’m not so sure that I heard right. The first state of the Saturn V had a little over seven and a half million pounds of thrust. Since the SpaceX Merlin engine makes around 100,000 pounds of thrust, and their biggest rocket has nine Merlins in the first stage, they should have plenty of room for error!

This tripod was used to test the Merlin 9 last November. It caused quite a stir in the area because it happened after dark and could be heard and felt for many miles. The tripod and tower on top can clearly be seen in the YouTube video of that test:

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

Other useful ‘leftovers’ at the site include this bunker, now filled with computers (running Windows and National Instruments Labview) to monitor testing.


We also got to look at this airframe stress tester.


I wasn’t sure about snapping the picture. We had been told not to take pictures of things “that looked like they might fly” (especially the engines). Our guide pointed out, though, that this test stand was right next to the road! The rocket is filled with inert liquid nitrogen to test the strength of the whole system. It seems like a good idea not to use the actual liquid oxygen and RP-1 kerosene for this test.

Speaking of liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen, it should come as no surprise that SpaceX has a lot of cryo tanks around the property:


All SpaceX engines are built in California and shipped by truck to Texas. They are tested and assembled into vehicles at the McGregor site. They are sent out from there to the launch sites (like Omelek Island in the Pacific or Cape Canaveral).

Conclusions about technicians from our visit:

  • SpaceX has a great need for technicians electrical, mechanical, and aircraft technicians with good computer skills.
  • We currently teach almost everything needed for a well-rounded aerospace technician, but we need to rearrange and combine some curriculum.
  • These folks work hard long hours. If a test takes 16 hours, they work through it. Dedication and work ethic are very important.

Having been privileged to visit NASA in Houston a couple of times with higher-level status (we got to sit in the REAL shuttle simulator and meet astronauts), I was struck by the difference at SpaceX. Their “Vehicle Assembly Building” is a steel building that looks like any commercial building or barn. They are doing on a shoestring what NASA did with billions. (The picture below came from the Wikipedia article on SpaceX):


Despite the relative lack of resources, we were told that Mars was their ultimate goal. Satellite launches and International Space Station resupply missions are just steps toward that goal. I hope I live to see them make it!


Jun 23

More Photos of TSTC Campus Life

Instructor Bryan Necessary helps a student in an Electrical Power & Control lab class. (6/2)

Student on his way to class through the TSTC mall. (This scene has changed - now it is torn up to install new chilled water pipes).

Instructor of the Year Deann Graham celebrates with her students in the Web Club. (I should point out that Deann was voted instructor of the year by the Student Government Association - a REAL honor!)

Walking on water? A student takes a leap off the diving board at the SRC pool. Photo by M. Jordon Pollock, MCI student (The SRC is the Murray Watson Student Recreation Center)

Student Chad Pate plays golf with his son on the Golf Course & Landscape Management four-hole practice course. Photo by M. Jordon Pollock, MCI student (This course is in addition to our on-campus 18-hole golf course - really. The small course is intended to be a student lab, so playing it is FREE.)

Aviation Maintenance student, Christopher Mitchell enjoys the warm weather during a class break. (I’m glad that Christopher is enjoying the ‘warm’ weather, I’m burning up!)

A student works out in the Student Recreation Center. Photo by M. Jordon Pollock, MCI student (I’m thinking that we should try to keep this guy happy.)

Automotive students Kayla Roberson, Esteban Trevino and Tom McKinley watch as their lab partner Lonnie Robinson works with a drill press in AUMT 1305. Photo by M. Jordon Pollock, MCI student

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