The Crazy Switch

Every year there is a magical time toward the end of July or beginning of August during which the phenomenon occurs I like to call, “The Crazy Switch” day. While not an officially recognized holiday due to its inherent fluctuation from year to year, it’s one most of us in educational technology experience. It’s that one particular day when enough teachers and staff are back in the district(s) and it seems like a tidal wave of emails, phone calls, and other random requests come flooding in.

No matter how valiant the effort or advanced preparations taken, we all become engulfed by this wave and feel overcome with angst and sometimes frustration. For ESU technology staff our crazy switch is usually flipped a week or two earlier than our school-based counterparts. At ESU 11 I called it as being July 19 this year, which always seems to creep up by a few days each year.

But we work in education, so we have summers off, right? I have often said that we spend nine months planning so we can cram an entire year’s worth of projects in over the summer!

Learning the Phonetic Alphabet

One of my goals for this year was to commit the phonetic alphabet to memory. You know, when you’re spelling out a word and you say stuff like “C as in Charlie”. Yeah, that’s the phonetic alphabet. However, I found myself increasingly having difficulty coming up with names, and awkward pauses would ensue while my brain was churning to come up with a word.

Alas, I have learned the true NATO version of the phonetic alphabet. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I would say if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right! Not only is this an incredibly effective way to rattle off serial numbers to some unknown tech support person, but it really seems to command authority, as if you were authenticating a nuclear missile launch. I find that this technique will often get you past the first level support asking if you’ve tried rebooting the device. They know you’re not messing around when you’re calling in a level three strike on that failed hard drive.

Within a matter of a couple days reciting I had it down pat. Thanks to my wife for putting up with me that first night while she verified my accuracy. I quizzed her as well to see if she was retaining any of this high-quality intel.

Here’s a quiz for you. I once had a colleague refer to a malfunctioning router as “Tango Uniform”. Now the phrase is a common part of my equipment diagnosis vocabulary. I’ll let you think that one over. Until next time, this is Whiskey Golf, over and out.

Why You Should use the ISO Date Format

You’re familiar with the ISO 8601 standard, right?  The one that standardizes date and time formatting internationally? Of course you’re not!  That’s why I’m here to explain what the heck it is, and why you should be using it.

Firstly, ISO is the abbreviation for International Organization for Standardization. I know, it should be IOS, but do we really need to be competing with Cisco and Apple for yet another IOS acronym…I digress. The ISO group sets all kinds of standards for various things and their standards are recognized internationally, so it’s always a safe bet to follow them.

ISO 8601 is the particular standard the defines how we represent date and time data. Pop quiz! When you’re entering something in your checkbook register (do people still write checks?), how do you write the date?  Month/Day, Month/Day/Year, something else? There is a whole realm of possible ways to write a date, thus the need for a standard.

ISO 8601 states that dates should be expressed in the format of “YYYY-MM-DD”. This means that you will always use a four-digit year, a two-digit month, and a two-digit day. You will never drop the leading zeros. So, for instance, today is February 28, 2016. In the ISO format it would be “2016-02-28”.  Makes perfect sense, right?

So why should you be using this format? One of the main advantages of using the ISO date format is when naming and saving digital files. Computer file systems have a unique way of sorting files. If your files are all prefixed with an ISO date, they will automatically sort oldest to newest under the default alphabetical sort, which can be really convenient. Any other date-based naming convention would yield different results.

I have been using the ISO date format for naming any file that has a date associated with it. Bank statements, digital photos, home videos, letters, backups, you name it. Just about every digital file can benefit from being prefixed with an ISO date. I’m also a big advocate of substituting underscores where you would normally use spaces in a file name. This makes it much easier once you enter the web world, where spaces are substituted with the nasty “%20” character string.

Feel free to go back through your entire digital archives and begin adopting this standard. Don’t worry; most of my digital photos are still named DSC00001.jpg, but at least my folder structure honors the standard!