Friday, December 07, 2007

Sync out of Range issues with new Fujitsu-Siemens donated computers

Last summer I got word that the German Consulate in Los Angeles might have
some computers to donate to our school. 25 Pentium 4 computers to be exact, and while I didn't know all the specs on the machines, knowing that they had P4 processors was enough for me to know that we needed those machines as soon as possible. Unfortunately the German Government is apparently as bureaucratic as the United States' and it wasn't until this Monday that I was able to drive up to Santa Monica to get them. The good news is that there are indeed 25 P4 Fujitsu-Siemens Scenic N600 computers and better yet they are running at 2 GHz, more than fast enough to power a few thin clients, so that is a plus.

The minus came on Tuesday when I tried to install Edubuntu on them and discovered that nearly every monitor I had gave the "sync out of range" message when edubuntu tried to boot. I'm guessing it is a driver issue with the onboard display adapter, but it was puzzling that certain monitors showed things just fine. Even stranger was the fact that one monitor apparently worked fine, but another of the exact same make and model didn't work at all! It was a very disheartening and frustrating discovery and basically sapped my entire Tuesday trying to solve. Eventually I got so frustrated I wrote an irate plea for help on the Ubuntu Forums. Alas, I received no reply.

That night I had an idea for how to fix my problem. Since Ubuntu has pretty good video card support I would just purchase 25 cheap AVG video cards and use them to show the OS. I tested the theory on Wednesday with some old cards I had and it seemed to work so I started shopping around. Eventually I came across and ordered 26 8MB video cards for about $50. What a deal!

So now I'm waiting for my video cards and RAM to arrive so I can start putting these babies to work! Let's hope my $50 solution works. -joe

Saturday, December 01, 2007

From the Obvious Department: Updates help Ubuntu

Well, I'm kind of disappointed. I was all set to whine and moan about Edubuntu screwing things up on my LTSP in the outside lab and how it made me reinstall the entire OS again but then a funny thing happened. After I reinstalled the OS I noticed that it not only worked exactly as it should, but it also had solved one of the most annoying changes from Feisty to Gutsy. So now I guess this is going to be more of a fanboy post than I originally planned to do. Oh well.

So there were basically two problems with the outside lab. I'm not sure whether they were both due to a faulty install or not, but the first was really strange. I have 24 computers in the lab including the server. Therefore I set up 24 user accounts numbered "student1" through "student24" and gave them all the same password so as to make logging on as easy as possible for the students. The only problem was for some reason the server would not accept a few usernames, like "student11" and "student15" for example. I tried looking around the file system and saw that there actually were directories for the malfunctioning user accounts, but I still couldn't get the server to accept the user IDs and couldn't log on to any of the thin clients using any of the malfunctioning IDs either. Really strange stuff.

The second problem was with Flash. Feisty used to require every individual thin client to install its own version of the flash player. Annoying, but not a big deal since it was just a matter of clicking through the plug-in prompts. At least there wasn't any password or authentication required. That changed when I first installed Gutsy. It kept asking for a password and I couldn't figure out which one it wanted. Was it the admin password, the root password, or the user password? Did I need to make the user an administrator and then install flash player? In the end I just decided it was better to leave flash uninstalled. After all the outside lab is too underpowered for anything but research and word processing.

So due to the user problem I decided to just reinstall the entire thing (during which I wrote the previous post). Upon updating and checking out the above mentioned problems I noticed that my user account issue had been solved and worked just as it should, while the flash player issue was not only fixed, but no longer required each thin client to install it on its own! Once I installed the player on the server, all the thin clients had it as well! Super-sweet.

I assume that the updates since the initial release of Gutsy had done something to solve at least the flash problem if not both issues, which brings me to the point of this post: Ubuntu updates help make the OS work better.

That may seem a silly, even contrived statement, but those of us with extensive experience using Windows know that it is anything but. This is because Windows updates frequently cause as many problems as they fix. I'm not sure if it is a Windows issue or a Firefox one, but just last week I had to remove the automatic updating of Firefox on a teacher's computer because it kept losing her bookmarks and passwords with every update. I also got yelled at quite severely last year when I installed updates on a colleagues laptop. "It screws up my computer when I install the updates!" she wailed. And it was just earlier toady that I read about a software update that brought down a call center at AT&T in 1990. Now granted that last example doesn't necessarily name Windows as the culprit, but the point is that Ubuntu gets it right.

This isn't the first time Ubuntu updates have helped me out, but it's still a nice feeling every time it happens. It feels like someone is listening, paying attention, and doing something about the issues that annoy you. It makes me think Mark Shuttleworth should go into politics or something. Cheerio! -joe

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Some overdue praise for Edubuntu Gutsy regarding an HP Deskjet F4180 and Canon MP470

One of the things I love about Albert Einstein Academies is that they require their parents to commit to a certain amount of volunteer hours at the school as part of their child's acceptance. How they get away with this is beyond me as we are a public, not private school but they get away with it nonetheless. Occasionally a parent will opt to donate a sum of money or product to the school in lieu of volunteering for that month. And then on even rarer occasions a parent will opt to donate a sum of money or product to the school in lieu of volunteering for the entire YEAR. It just so happened that a parent went this route at the start of the year and purchased (apparently from the UCSD bookstore which, barring an employee discount or something, is probably the single most expensive place in the county they could have done so) and donated a brand new Canon MP160 all-in-one printer. Since anything that even hints of technology falls under my domain the office staff called me up and told me there was a package for me in the office.

Now I do everything I can to run a paperless classroom so I honestly asked myself if there was anyone who might be able to make better use of this machine than I would. The donation came a few weeks into the school year though and most teachers had already set themselves up pretty well with printers so I brought it up to the lab as much to test it out with Feisty as anything else. You won't be surprised to learn that after much research and downloading of drivers the best I was able to do was get the thing to print reliably (although once it did seem to copy, but not when I wanted it to).

Fast forward to yesterday when the 6th grade math teacher called me down to disable her automatic Firefox updates and told me that despite hours and hours of time on the phone with HP support she was still unable to get her HP DeskJet 4180 All-In-One to scan into Windows 2000 correctly. I suggested that we trade machines. I figured my Canon would be able to scan for her and I could at least achieve performance parity with her HP on Gutsy.

You can imagine my elation when I finally hooked up the HP to gutsy, installed the driver (incredibly easier than Win2k of course) and was able to print, copy AND scan into GIMP perfectly! What a treat! Feisty had always hinted that hooking up a printer could be this easy but failed to deliver for me despite supposed "linux" drivers for my Canon. Excepting a "new device" notice when I plugged in the printer and automatic driver installation I can't imagine the process being much easier. Best of all I don't have all that extra HP crapware that the math teacher had to have just to be able to use the machine. I couldn't be happier.

Next time I'll change gears and gripe about how I'm reformatting my outside lab server right now because it won't let me make a user account named "student11" or "student15". Stupid Edubuntu...j/k -joe

Monday, November 26, 2007

About my Wedding and the 2007 SDCUE Conference

Well, after months of planning we finally got married. The wedding was amazing, better than I could have imagined and I can honestly say that it was the best day of my life. How often to hundreds of people who love you come together to pay tribute and speak so kindly of you? It was really a fantastic time, and of course our honeymoon in Jamaica wasn't too shabby either.

Now I'm back though, ready to get into more trouble with Edubuntu even as I sing its praises at local area conferences. Most recently I did a presentation at the San Diego Computer Using Educators (SDCUE) conference at a local high school. My presentation slides can be seen at my website ( if anyone is interested. The presentation went really well, I probably had a dozen or so people who attended and it was a good mix of experienced IT professionals and newer educators so I was able to get some help with my explanations from the audience.

Overall my presentation seemed really well received, and although I worry that it may have been beneath a few of the attendees I got the feeling that everyone was at least entertained to hear of my successes and failures. I was especially pleased by the unexpected demand for Edubuntu Install CDs after the presentation. I had anticipated that perhaps a couple of people would want them so I had brought a few blank CDs and figured I would just burn them on the spot since I had the images on my laptop. Instead of just a couple of people though, probably seven or eight people requested CDs. It wasn't that big of a deal really, I just spent a few minutes after my presentation burning images and labeling them. Then I dropped the finished CDs off at the raffle counter where they could be picked up any time later in the day. Hopefully everyone got their requested copies.

I've also already been accepted to speak at the West Coast CUE Conference in Palm Springs in March so I think both Benita and I will make a weekend trip out of it. I'm just delivering the same talk so there won't be as much stress this time around (not to mention it won't be eight days before my wedding this time). I'm also not planning on setting up a working example of the LTSP for people, so that should save me some hassle as well. While I've applied to speak at the Southern California Linux Expo in Los Angeles in February, I haven't heard definitively whether I've been accepted or not, although I'm pretty sure I'll be invited. I'll be sure to take some pictures this time and post them. Until next time! -joe

Friday, November 02, 2007

Xrandr, why Xorg crashed last time and the benefits of Internet based computing.

Well my reinstall of Gutsy went well. I figured out that Xorg crashed last time because I had changed the display driver from the experimental Intel driver to the older i810 driver. While this had been suggested in one of the forums as a way to enable a secondary monitor output it apparently was also the reason Xorg could not find any screens the next time I started the computer up. Since the reinstall I've tried using the same terminal command that worked for me before:

xrandr --output VGA --auto

and it seemed to do the trick. I was also able to then shut down the computer and start it again later without a hitch, so that's always a good thing.

I suppose if I were a bit more knowledgeable, daring, or motivated after the crash I could have figured out how to reconfigure Xorg so that I didn't have to do a complete reinstall of edubuntu, but after a few minutes of contemplating this I realized that there really wasn't anything on the machine that I didn't also have somewhere else. Moving from using Word to Google Docs hasn't always been easy, but in cases such as this it was enormously advantageous. I suppose I do have to worry about Google's servers crashing and losing all my stuff, but those guys seem to know what they're doing over there so I think I'll take my chances. I'll try to blog more about our school's recent move to Google Apps, but for now I'm pretty focused on the wedding. We're like 52 hours away at this point and I'm not even packed for Jamaica yet. Cheers! -joe

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Xorg is ruining my life!

It would be hard to state how much I was looking forward to the Ggaphic user interface for multiple monitors that was supposed to arrive with Gutsy. Since the beginning of the school year I've had a pretty nice VAIO laptop that used to be my principal's machine (she got a new macbook), but I've been unable to use it at all with a projector to show slideshows and the like to the staff during presentations or meetings. Perhaps designing and implementing a reliable GUI for external monitors and projectors is more difficult than I understand, but this is a such HUGE issue for so many people that I'm honestly appalled that it hasn't been addressed sooner.

In any case, all is to be fixed with Gutsy right? I mean I'd seen screenshots of the Multiple Monitors GUI since the beta releases. How great would it be to be able to just connect a VGA projector to my laptop and mirror the output? I mean, under Windows MCE the machine does it AUTOMATICALLY! I just plug in the cable with the projector on and BAM! it's up on the screen. It should honestly be this easy under Ubuntu too. Alas it is not.

I wrote last time about my disappointment with the Multiple Monitors GUI on my classroom computer, but today has been an absolute debacle. Not only did the GUI not work (surprise, surprise) but after doing some command line junk (which again, should NEVER be necessary) and actually getting the setup to work fine, my Xorg server crashed and as I type this, Edubuntu is reloading all over again. Crap.

So I'm sure there's a very good reason the GUI doesn't work. I've actually read about it on the forums and whatnot, something to do with specific video cards or something. Here's the thing though: I Don't Care. This is something that "just needs to work". It's unacceptable that something this necessary requires me to scour forums, sort through a bunch of stuff about changing device drivers, xrandr, my Xorg.conf file and then eventually leads me to try some command line code that appears to work but also crashes my system.

The good news is that bulletproofX is coming with Hardy Heron and is supposed to solve these problems the way windows did way back in the last millennium, namely by defaulting to a basic GUI display set instead of just crapping out entirely. So if you thought I was anxious for this change before Gutsy, you can imagine how I'm feeling right now. Hoping beyond all hope. -joe

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Weddings, firestorms, my first impressions of Gutsy, and Manhattan Rats

Well my wedding is only 12 short days away. Things are getting pretty crazy but I've actually been able to find some relief in tinkering around with the Gibbon a bit (the latest version of Ubuntu is codenamed Gutsy Gibbon for all you n00beez out there). I heard time and again how much work a wedding is to plan when I got engaged, but I guess I thought that weddings are only as difficult as you make them. And while I still kind of believe that still, I now realize that almost every woman is going to make their wedding as difficult as they can possibly stand, which means that planning your wedding is going to be a lot of work.

I had actually been pretty far behind in my own responsibilities with the wedding (it didn't help that I was gone two weekends ago to Seattle for an International Baccalaureate training) when the fires struck Southern California. A lot of us were doubting whether we would be able to fly into San Diego from Seattle at all. Fortunately we all got home safe and I don't think anyone from our school was evacuated or hurt at all. The fact that school was canceled for the rest of the week didn't hurt as far as catching up on my wedding responsibilities either (or my Gutsy tinkering for that matter). I guess you have to try and look on the bright side of bad situations sometimes.

So my first impression of Gutsy was not as good as I might have hoped. I spent several hours on Ubuntu Day trying to upgrade my existing teacher station just to have it crap out on me at the end and revert back to Feisty. Then I downloaded the .iso file a couple of times only to have the discs be corrupted somehow. I was able to upgrade from feisty on my laptop, but at the end when it was supposed to remove the old programs it froze up and I had to restart. For a few days I was kind of suspicious of the whole thing and when I finally got back from Seattle I decided to just do a clean install which meant losing Windows XP MCE altogether.

The .iso I downloaded this third time worked fine, so now I'm Windowsless and loving every minute. I like the codec search and install feature like many others have mentioned (although I still can't watch videos for some reason, but yahoo videos look great!) and I also definitely spent a couple of hours tinkering with the Compiz settings last night so I could watch walls of fire burn up my closed applications and whatnot. Otherwise I really don't notice much that different about Gutsy from Feisty.

There are still a number of things that annoy me about the OS, like my mouse settings aren't adjustable and it takes me three swipes to move it completely across the screen. I also tried out that FOSS flash alternative and it bombed right off the bat. They shouldn't includ that as an option at all unless it's ready for primetime. I was able to successfully and completely upgrade my classroom computer this afternoon, but the built in monitor control wasn't able to access my attached projector and I had to configure it through the nVidia controls like I do every time either the computer or projector is turned off (really annoying). I will admit that I haven't tried Gutsy as a thin client server yet and they are supposed to have sped up some things on that front so I'll have to get back to you on that one.

Mostly I was just looking for the big leap I saw from Edgy to Feisty and was kind of disappointed not to see it right off the bat. Maybe I just wasn't as familiar with Ubuntu back then or I had higher expectations, but I think the situation was more akin to the rats in Manhattan. Allow me to explain:

About two years ago a poll was taken in NYC that asked citizens what their number one problem was with the city. The surprising top result: rats. There were varying speculatory lines of thought about why this might have happened. Were rats moving into new areas of the city? Where there more of them or where they just getting bigger and bolder? Why have rats suddenly become such a concern? The real answer was much simpler though: all of the previous top concerns had been addressed and thus moved lower on the list. Two years ago NYC was doing pretty well. Crime wasn't as big a problem anymore, the economy was doing well, police and firefighters were doing a good job and people were happy with both their Mayor and Governor. Thus the citizens had no greater concern in their lives at the time except the rats that had alwasy been there but now assumed the top spot among the city's problems.

Similarly Ubuntu has come a long, long way since I started using it back in the Dapper days. Most of the top concerns were addressed in the Edgy and Feisty releases with bulletproof X being the only major thing I can find taken care of with Gutsy. I never had a problem with Feisty and display resolutions or the like so I haven't noticed any change at all. Mostly I'm just busy complaining about small things that would have been silly to complain about just a year ago. Who cares if your mouse doesn't respond exactly how you like it when your wireless card doesn't even work? Who cares about rats when your car keeps getting stolen?

In any case, Gutsy strikes me as the next step in a natural progression of Ubuntu releases. That is, releases that solve a myriad of minor problems left unaddressed by the previous release, but that lack the revolutionary changes and improvements of the earlier versions. And while I'm happy to take what I can get, I'm not going to forget which wheel gets the grease. Steady Squeakin' -joe

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ubuntu Day and understanding operating systems through the metaphor of automobiles

It is ridiculous how much I look forward to days like today. They only come around a couple of times a year and I honestly look forward to them like I do for a movie that I heard was being made two years before its release date. Yes, today is Ubuntu Day, the day the latest release of Ubuntu hits the streets and my computing life is filled with optimism.

Much has been written about Gutsy Gibbon and all the new features it supposedly contains. I have high hopes myself that this latest release will solve some of the most annoying problems that I have blogged about in this space. I think most of all though I look forward to Ubuntu release days because they each show such progress toward a final admirable goal. My cousin once told me about a mix tape his friend had made and titled "approaching perfection". This to me sums up nicely the work attitude of the folks at Canonical and in the Ubuntu community (of which I try to do my small part within) and each release day just serves as a tangible example of how everyone's efforts come together to further that elusive goal.

This may seem hard for some people to understand but I think the best way I can explain it is to use an automobile as a metaphor. Imagine that you are shopping for a car and basically you have two choices. The first car is extremely popular but unreliable and kind of boring although it does come with a myriad of options and add-ons. The real problem with this car though is that thieves are constantly trying to break into it no matter where you go. This means that you are forced to take all kinds of precautionary measures which not only add to the expense of the car but also hinder its aerodynamics and cause the car to travel far slower than it might otherwise. Then, every five years or so a new version of the car comes out, except the same problems persist and the new version not only requires you to pay for the new car, but also give up the old one.

The second type of car is very stylish and highly reliable but not much else. Aside from being much more expensive than the first type of car the second type is almost completely uncustomizable. It comes in only a couple of colors with scant options and almost no third party add-ons are supported although add-ons that are made by the car company work flawlessly and even color-coordinate. If you are a mechanic, this car is the worst because if it breaks you must buy parts from the manufacturer and it is practically impossible to trick out the car to any degree.

Then, as you are shopping you come across a third car. This car has at least as many problems as the other two, the main one being that it is far more difficult to drive than the other two, practically requiring a different license if you intend to use it on certain roads. It also only works with certain add-ons which frequently require help from a mechanic to install. But it's reliable, isn't attractive to thieves, comes in lots of colors with lots of options and has one big advantage over the other two cars: its free.

So you "buy" the third car and within a few weeks start wondering if you've made the wrong decision. You start running into problems you know wouldn't have been an issue with the other two cars and start tallying up the hours you spend fixing your car against the money you saved by buying it. Then, six months to the day after you bought the car the manufacturer comes to your house and drops off a brand new car! This new car still has problems, but not as many as the other car did and you feel like the time you spent fixing the other one helps you to drive this new one even better. You're feeling good about your purchase and happy with how things are going when, six months later, the manufacturer drops off another new car! This one is even better than the second one they gave you and fixes almost all the problems you hated about the first one. There are still some annoying things you don't like, but you know that in six months you'll get another new car and just the thought of that day arriving makes you feel positive and hopeful.

That's the best I can do to describe what Ubuntu Day is for me. It represents new hope and new possibilities. I guess all there is to do now is find out what's wrong with it. Upgraaaaade....GO! -joe

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Found a colleague from the UK and got a good tip on my BIOS issues. Gotta love my Internets!

Now I would never describe myself as a "Mac person". I got strange looks just a few minutes ago from a co-worker when I told her I had never used iTunes (which is really only partly true as I did try it out when it was first released and found winamp to be far superior). Nevertheless the school does have about a dozen of the old colorful clamshell iBooks sitting around with about 128 MB RAM or something ridiculous. In any case I thought I might be able to boot these suckers up like a normal thin client except I didn't know how to get into the Mac BIOS (silly me, BIOS is for PCs not Macs).

So I start googling around stuff like "Mac thin client" and come across the old free software magazine article on Edubuntu and thin clients that has basically been my guiding light for this whole project (nevermind it hasn't exactly guided me flawlessly). Although I'm sure I've read the comments at the bottom of the post before yesterday I'd never noticed a particular comment that mentioned a blog on Edubuntu and LTSP before. For whatever reason I checked out the blog and found out that the author was basically doing the exact same thing as me at an elementary school in England. Best of all he had some insight into some issues I was unaware of (hard to believe considering the amount of time I spend reading about Edubuntu).

I left a comment on his blog in the hopes of talking about tech issues and then wrote my own entry on the BIOS issues. You can imagine my surprise then to find this afternoon that I not only had a comment on my own blog but a comment with a pretty nifty tip for fixing my BIOS problem. Apparently the BIOS is sustained on the motherboard by a battery that I can simply remove and then reinsert later at which the BIOS should be reset. I'm stoked to try this out, but even more stoked to have a colleague who not only knows about this stuff but is interested in it and willing to help out. I guess I knew that the Ubuntu community was pretty helpful but the Edubuntu community is so small that it's nice to find another person in the same boat.

I'm sure I'll be back to complaining about how my scanner doesn't work right, but for now I'm feeling pretty optimistic about everything. (btw, I never did get the iBooks to work). Cheers -joe

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Locked out of BIOS, LTSP won't work right

This summer AEA was the beneficiary of a generous donation of a dozen Dell P4 3.0 GHz towers. I quickly resolved to use these towers as servers for both the inside and outside labs, as well as the library and some classrooms where I anticipated heavy use. Of course at the time I believed that a gig of RAM with a P4 running at that speed would be more than enough for what I was trying to do. I now know better. In any case I quickly came across the minor annoyance of being locked out of the BIOS on about 4 of the donated towers. "Not a big deal," I told myself, I could easily install the LTSP on an unlocked machine and swap hard drives with a locked machine. I followed this procedure with all the affected machines and for over a month believed myself to be golden. My world came crashing down earlier this week after I got all the switches in from Newegg and tried to set up the servers in a middle school classroom to no avail.

The potential problems ran through my head like they always do when I get stumped (which happens embarrassingly often): bad ethernet cable? bad port? problems with the network? problems with the thin client? problems with the switch? problems with the server?

After some basic troubleshooting it quickly became clear that the source of my troubles lay with the server, specifically with the network card settings. For some reason the computer was confused as to which ethernet card was the incoming port from the wall and which was the outgoing to the switch. When I figured this out I grabbed another server from a nearby room and tried it out. Except I had the exact same problem! (I now realize that both of the servers I grabbed had their BIOS locked). Now I was really stumped.

It has taken me two days to finally understand what the true source of the problem is (at least I think I've figured it out). Evidently there is some setting that is changed on the BIOS when Edubuntu is installed that does not get set otherwise. I believe this to be the case because this afternoon I took an unlocked computer with a good hard drive and got it to work fine. Then I swapped the hard drive into a locked computer and ran into the same networking confusion. Swapped back the server worked fine.

So I guess my next step is to email the donor from this summer and hope that he knows what the BIOS password is. Otherwise I'm not sure what options I have. Maybe I can call Dell and figure out some way around the password. Or I could try and guess it. That's never worked for me before but who knows? Cheerio -joe

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Another setback

So I'm back to running Windows 2k in the inside lab. That's the one that I spend most of my time teaching in. I'm going to stick with Edubuntu in the outside lab even though it is slower than molasses because at least then I don't have to worry about things breaking so much and viruses aren't an issue.

I have much higher requirements for the inside lab though. In here I hope to do everything from web programming to podcasts to video editing. The machines can barely handle 12 students playing the same flash game at the same time though, so I had no choice but to go back to Windows 2000 in here. I'm really disappointed, but at least now I can go back to using Mavis Beacon 15 with the kids. As many typing programs as there are out there, it's astounding how awful the vast majority of them really are.


cheers -joe

Friday, October 05, 2007

Troubles with Bluetooth

So somehow (I think on Digg) I heard about GrandCentral, an internet company that offers "one phone number for life". Naturally they were purchased by Google and only recently opened up for new customers again. I decided to sign up and got a pretty sweet number that I'm looking forward to trying out. Of course it also has all the options it should like contacts and stuff, but it has some cool features as well like visual voice mail and the like. Well I decided to try to port my contacts over from my phone to my computer and then upload them but ran into some trouble.

The first problem is that of my LG CU500 phone with AT&T (formerly Cingular, formerly AT&T). It only allows me to save my contacts either on my phone or on the SIM card and not onto the MicroSD card I have that conveniently plugs into the computer via a USB adapter via a MiniSD adapter (or is it the other way around?). I have no way of plugging my SIM card into the computer to get the contact information. I can however use Bluetooth to send a vCard with the contact information on it from the phone to the computer, and it so happens that I have a Bluetake 007si Bluetooth Dongle for just this sort of situation. Problem solved right?

Well the first issue I had was that when I plug in the dongle there is no immediate indication on the part of GNOME or Edubuntu that anything has happened. The little blue light on the dongle only lights up intermittently as well so I figured it wasn't even working. I googled the problem and found some stuff that made me use the Terminal (this should never HAVE to be used if Edubuntu ever hopes of capturing a significant population of educators) to install the Bluetooth tools and while I was not at all surprised to discover that the process didn't proceed as the howto described I was a little surprised to discover that the Bluetooth software was evidently already installed on my system. Nice!

So I tried to pair my phone and computer through the dongle. Everything's working fine, the comptuer shows up on my phone, but then my phone asks for the passcode. I try the default 0000 and it doesn't work. I try all other kinds of combinations in case I ever actually programmed a passcode into the thing and nothing works.

I go into Add/Remove... and add the Bluetooth tool for GNOME. No luck. I add the Bluetooth tools for KDE and my phone now shows up but it can't connect.

At this point I'm not sure what to do. I've googled and looked through forums and it seems like a pretty standard complaint. Now granted that Bluetooth still isn't quite ready for primetime (astounding considering how prevalent it is now) as even with XP I would have trouble getting all the features to work with my Bluetooth stereo headphones without proprietary software. In fact I imagine the trouble has as much to do with my phone as Edubuntu. Nevertheless, this is yet another case of me trying to expand the capability of my Edubuntu machine and falling into the time warp trap of googling, scanning forums, using the Terminal, etc. to try and get the new capability to work. None of those things should ever be necessary, and at the very least, shouldn't Edubuntu at least tell you that it has detected a dongle? At least it's Friday. -joe

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I have a new focus

Okay, after a long time of trying to decide exactly what this blog would be about I guess I've decided to make it about open source in education. Specifically I will be dealing with issues associated with using Edubuntu in the classroom. I suppose I will still find time to contribute some personal information about myself, but I guess I'll try to title those ones "personal" or something. Mostly I guess I just don't care to have an online diary and would rather put my thoughts and frustrations trying to implement Edubuntu into the Internets so that maybe someone will find it useful and improve the product. So a few things:

Just yesterday I received our order for 35 8-port 10/100 ethernet switches. I plan on using them to setup Edubuntu LTSP miniLANs in every teachers classroom. I'm still waiting on the ethernet cords we ordered so it probably won't happen until next week some time. In the meantime though I'll probably have my tech crew (6 middle schoolers I have been training on tech stuff after school each week) at least start setting up the servers and thin clients in each teachers room.

I finally got the labs both set up. I have my own that has a bunch of donated P3 dell GX150s running at 800Mhz with 128MB RAM and the outside lab with a bunch of donated Compaq P2s running at like 333Mhz with 128MB RAM or something. Here are some pics of the process of setting up just the inside lab (in the pics are the Compaqs, I switched the computers after a few days so the better ones would be inside with me).

So on the first day I'm running 12 of the Compaqs in the inside lab computers off of a 3Ghz P4 Dell with 2GB DDR400 Dual Channel RAM and I have my first class of kindergarteners go to this alphabet flash game on the bbc site and the thin clients all run like molasses! I was so disappointed. I did have some extra ram so I bumped it up to 4GB but they still ran terribly. It was impossible for the students to do the assignment. After school I tried to go to the bbc game under Windows 2000 and it ran nearly as slow so I figured it had to do with the thin clients' processor and switched all the Compaq's with the Dell's with some help from the librarian and my Tech Crew. The problem seems to have been fixed a little bit, but when I watch the system monitor on the Server the CPU is pretty much maxed out with 12 thin clients. I think I need to look into getting a better server because I really want to do some cool stuff in the inside lab. I'm hoping to use kompozer for webpages and Google Earth and definitely some fun games for free time rewards. Plus, what if I want to use Kino or do some podcasts? So I'm not sure what the relationship is for what kind of servers and thin clients are needed for that level of computing but everything I read seemed to suggest that I had adequate levels of equipment. I'm guessing those sources were referring to simply being able to power the thin clients and to use them for any serious tasks would require more power, but this was never clearly stated and now I find myself in the unenviable position of needing another 3k or so to buy my new Dual Xeon server. Hopefully future guides will provide some sort of graph or chart to illustrate exactly what kinds of processes are capable of being executed with a given server/thin client setup. I know I would have appreciated one (still would!) Until next time. -joe

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


So after several months of waiting whether I would get my job back (except this time as a full time position) I was called in to a budget meeting and told that enough funds had been set aside for me to have my job back! Sweet! Apparently I'll be funded at 85% by the elementary school and 15% by the middle school. I guess if everything goes according to plan I will be teaching every grade from K-8 next year. What an opportunity! I'm so excited (and relieved) to know that I'll be coming back next year. I have so many plans for the school it is really going to be a fun summer and school year trying to implement all of them. First off of course is the switch to edubuntu mini-labs in all the classrooms and then the switch to Google Apps for Education. But I also got an pleasant surprise when I was told there were sufficient funds for me to purchase an LTSP server for the lab as well! Great news all around! Hope everyone had as great a Memorial Day weekend as I did. Cheers -joe

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Google Teacher Academy

So I'm here in Santa Monica at the Google Teacher Academy and having a great time. Learned all about their apps for educators as well as Google Earth and Sketch Up among other things. I'd write more about it right now, but my laptop's space bar is kind of messed up. More info to come, (and pictures from the Coachella Bjork concert as well as the Shoreline concert too!). -joe

Monday, April 30, 2007

Google Academy!

So I promise to post some pictures and even video of the Bjork concert (amazing of course) here soon. In the meantime though I thought I'd take the time to announce my acceptance into the Google Teacher Academy for Southern California. SWEET! I've been really excited about Google for Educators and the services they provide, even going so far as to sign up my school for 500 email addresses earlier this year when we thought our original e-mail provider was on the fritz. I still have plans to move our site over to Google this summer, but since our provider seemed to fix itself over winter break we decided that switching horses midstream was an unnecessarily risky proposition.

Needless to say I'm ecstatic about the opportunity to participate in a Google-centered community of educators and can't wait to spend my entire Saturday driving up to LA and learning cool stuff (ok, maybe I could do without the LA part). I'll be sure to post what I learn here as soon as possible, which should be about a month from now. Cheers -joe

Friday, April 27, 2007


Bjork is headlining the first day this year. B and I drove up this morning and while there is only basic cellular connection here, they do have an AT&T Blue Room. So I'm coming at you from the Coachella Music and Arts Festival 2007. We just came from the Amy Winehouse performance and am basically just waiting around for Bjork to go on at 11. We're planning on getting to the stage about 2 hours early in the hopes of staking out a decent place near the front of the stage. Shouldn't be too hard, but it's hard to know how many people here are really interested in Bjork. It could be thousands. We'll see. Hopefully I'll find a pocket with at least EDGE connection and pix will follow. Rock ON! -joe

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Printing to Canon in Edubuntu

Well, it appears I was a bit mistaken to bellyache yesterday about the difficulty of installing the driver for the Canon 5000 print station we have. The BrightQ program I installed worked just fine, and in fact was quite easy to use if lacking a bit as far as UI appeal. In fact, it turns out I had everything right yesterday except for one thing, the user ID for the printer. Obviously our school tracks all the printing jobs that each teacher does by assigning each teacher a specific user id. On Windows machines a prompt pops up after each print job is sent asking the user to input their ID. I guess BrightQ just requires that this ID number be input when setting up the printer. I actually suspected as much yesterday but decided to chance it, failing of course. So today I just uninstalled the printer and then reinstalled it with my User ID as the only change. Fired right up! I was even able to set up the printer in the teacher work room too. I was riding high all afternoon following this victory. If I hadn't been able to work this out it would have been a definite deal breaker as far as setting up Linux at the school. Now I feel like I'm back on track. -joe

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

FOSS Education

In my never ending search for some sort of common thread for this blog my latest idea is to make it about my job and specifically about what I'd like to do with my job. This I suppose means I would write about what I'm doing at my school and my struggles, successes and ideas. Recently of course I've been spending inordinate amounts of time trying to roll out Edubuntu on some sort of level. It's been really great for me to have both the power and the time to do such a project, and I suppose I realized today that this has come at the expense of some of my other duties, but nevertheless it has been an enlightening and rewarding experience.

One of the main problems in FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) education I've recently discovered is the lack of drivers for things like Linux. For example at work we have several different Canon ImageRunner print stations. These things do it all from scanning to copying to printing and stapling and 3-hole punching etc. Pretty sweet machines when they aren't broken. So naturally they will HAVE to work with whatever software OS we are using at the school. If I can't find a way for Linux to operate these things, it is a complete deal breaker. I might be able to skate by with still moving the student computers over to Edubuntu since there does seem to be better drivers available for small printers and laserjets and things. There's no way I'm going to realize my dream of being a totally FOSS school without this though.

I did find one site here that apparently makes drivers. I haven't had a lot of time to look it over yet so I'm not even sure if they are free to use or not. I'm guessing they are though. The good news is that I was able to decompress and install them. The bad news is that it didn't immediately work. Some RTFM work may be in order here, but really this shouldn't be that difficult to do. So I guess that is the worse news: that to even get to the point of having the program NOT work I had to use the terminal plenty, restart the computer a couple of times just to be sure that wasn't the solution to any of my problems, change the boot password (which ended up being my problem) and then finally trying to figure out this unnecessarily confusing UI on the program. Ugh. Unless these issues can be solved, Linux will NEVER be a viable alternative to Windows, much less OS X in the field of education.

So let's not go out on a sour note. The Really Good news is that within Edubuntu, setting up a networked printer was an absolute piece of cake! I've installed networked printers galore on Macs and PCs all over SDSU and I can say that the Ubuntu UI for this procedure is incredibly easy. It combines the best of both the PC and Mac worlds with a simple procedural wizard ala Windows with the brilliant functionality of OS X. Basically I just searched for a networked printer and it found several, even successfully guessing which one I wanted to install. Then the driver screen popped up and it knew the printer was Canon, except on the long list of available drivers only one ImageRunner was to be found. Unfortunately it was not the model I needed for any of my three print stations.

Thus, I'm trying to take away two positive ideas from the experience. First: Ubuntu has the right idea down pat for adding printers. If I had been trying to install a printer that a driver existed for, I have no doubt it would have installed brilliantly and I'd have taken a much different tone for this post. Second: Ubuntu and the FOSS community in general are assuredly adding to that list of drivers continuously, so some day soon (hopefully) installing these printers will not be anything to blog about (except for the ease with which it is done). Alas, for the time being, this is quite a stumbling block for me. Cheers -joe

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mobile Classroom on a Bus

Here's an interesting article about a rural school using the commuting hours on a bus to educate students. I guess it's going to use laptops and iPods, but I'm skeptical that such a think could succeed without supervision. -joe

My Star Wars Personality


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Multimedia message

Today i took a class on learning space design and visited this five hundred seat classroom at sdsu.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Edubuntu LTSP

Well, I took the time to haul two computers from Einstein over to SDSU with the hopes of figuring out exactly why I can't boot up a thin client from the server, but I still haven't figured it out. I'm hoping by Wednesday I'll have it all solved since Gregg will be in the lab. The only question is whether he'll help me or not. Maybe more accurately the question is whether I can get the problem under his skin to the point that he won't rest until it is solved.

In the meantime I finished up my Saturday course with Dr. Dodge on Drupal. Pretty sweet I guess, but it is a completely different way of thinking about how webpages work. I'm not really sure that I'm ready to implement something like that across Einstein, but I'll just have to see how much time I have this summer to look at it. So far it is pretty complicated getting some of the modules installed, and I'm not at all confident in the teachers being able to do something like that for themselves. I have more hope for getting some sort of drupal site up for the school and then just linking to teacher pages that they can make themselves, perhaps with Google Page Creator or something. Overall it is a pretty daunting undertaking, but one that seems worthwhile, I'm just not sure I'm ready to tackle it yet, especially seeing as how I'm only just starting to feel proficient at CSS and somewhat capable with Javascript.

I'm still debating about what this blog will be, or become, but I think I'm just going to use it for my own personal stuff. I like the idea of lots of people reading it, but I think in the end the greatest use will be done by my future self, looking back at what I used to do and laughing at how foolish I was (or am). I have so many other goals for blogs and stuff, but I think this idea is still worthwhile. Other ideas include: a podcast blog for Jon about economist articles with commentary by me afterwards, a blog on K-12 educational technology stuff for tech teachers (I think I'll do this in Drupal and link it off of hartmanbot), and of course the einsteintech blog. I guess it isn't as much as I thought actually. Hope all is well with everyone. -joe

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Screwtape proposes a toast

So last night in my church growth group we read CS Lewis' short work, "Screwtape Proposes a Toast". For the uninitiated, Screwtape is a demon in the pits of hell, so the wise will be sure to avoid following any advice he has. You can read the whole thing here if you're inclined. What really struck me in the story is the part where Screwtape talks about how Democracy can be twisted into a thinly veiled excuse for envy, and moreso, how this attitude quickly spreads into education. These two paragraphs were especially profound for me:

"The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be “undemocratic.” These differences between pupils – for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences – must be disguised. This can be done at various levels. At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not. At schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing things that children used to do in their spare time. Let, them, for example, make mud pies and call it modelling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work. Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have – I believe the English already use the phrase – “parity of esteem.” An even more drastic scheme is not possible. Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma -- Beelzebub, what a useful word! – by being left behind. The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age group throughout his school career, and a boy who would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits listening to his coeval’s attempts to spell out A CAT SAT ON A MAT.

In a word, we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I’m as good as you has fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows? And anyway the teachers – or should I say, nurses? – will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching. We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men. The little vermin themselves will do it for us."

A sobering assessment in any respect, but especially when you consider that this was written forty years ago. Here are my own thoughts on the subject, borrowed from a blackboard discussion from a couple of weeks ago for my Ed 795B class at SDSU:

"The problem with education in America is that there's no scarcity. Scarcity is why Chinese schools work, and why American Universities work. This is why if I could do just one thing for education, and only one thing, I would get rid of truancy laws. I figure if parents can't even get their kid to ATTEND school it isn't our job to do so. Attending school should be a privilege not a right, like driving a car. I know there is a societal cost to having uneducated citizens, but there is also a societal cost in trying to educate them. I totally understand being an advocate for low achieving kids who've got it rough, but we've got a responsibility to be advocates for those kids who don't. These are the kids who try hard every single day and get essentially ignored for it because they aren't dyslexic or ADD or emotionally disturbed. Imagine if we could take all the resources we spend on raising up the lowest kids who don't give a lick anyways and instead applied them to the highest of the high, making sure they were consistently challenged throughout their school day. Maybe we leave a few children behind, but at least we aren't holding anyone back either."

Until last night I thought my view was too harsh, and while I guess I still feel that way a little, it is much less so now that I read Mr. Lewis' thoughts. Even so, I've come to think that it might not be necessary to do away with truancy laws altogether, so long as that feeling of scarcity is created somehow. It could be artificially created within the schools along the lines of what Germany does now, effectively creating tiers of schooling for all pupils. Those without the grades are not permitted access to all the offerings of the school, akin to our own AP course offerings in high school. This would create a level of scarcity that I think would benefit education overall, though it would not alleviate the suffering of teachers still asked to educate the unmotivated and unsupported (and then berated for failing to do so). That may require another set of solutions I haven't yet thought of. -joe

Wednesday, February 28, 2007


So I still haven't received my first message from the Economist that I signed up for last week, so I guess I'm still resorting to writing about my life. Lately I've been getting more interested in setting up an LTSP server running edubuntu (a version of Linux designed expressly for K-12 use) and using thin clients in classrooms. Seeing as how my school has a plethora of lousy computers, this setup seems like the best solution to our technology needs. I was disappointed to read this afternoon that we'll likely need some more RAM to power the servers themselves, but we are slated to receive 80 new P3 computers next month, so maybe enough of them will come with 256 MB of memory to piece together a few good terminal servers for my edubuntu project. If not I guess we'll just be running some slow setups.

In other news, I'm hoping to start a blog on my own experiences in the lab trying to come up with creative things for the kids to do, but I think a whole website might be more appropriate. Maybe that's what hartmanbot will have to eventually become. It seems like a worthy cause, which probably means someone is already doing it. I haven't really investigated that much.

Finally, Benita and I booked tickets to Costa Rica for this summer and we're both pretty excited about the trip. We take off at 2am on June 30th and have an 8 hour layover in Panama City before heading on to San Jose. We're going with a few other people, so it should be a really fun trip. I'll be sure to blog about it a bit when the date arrives. Cheers -joe

Thursday, February 22, 2007

So I finally registered a site and started putting stuff up on it. Check it out if you have some time to kill:

Hartmanbot was the name of my botball robot last year. I used to challenge the teams of students in my elective class to sumo matches against Hartmanbot and I think he only lost one time, maybe twice. In any case, pretty much all the other names I would choose were already taken. I guess Hartman is a more popular name than I realized.

So the best part of getting a site is that I have been learning a lot of new CSS programming stuff. I actually rebuilt the entire site from an existing template, but the new one is all in CSS, which I'm really enjoying experimenting with. Oh, and I've also started a site for the Geosense tournament I'm planning on holding later this year at Albert Einstien. You can check it out here, it's also all in CSS.

Finally, I've been trying to think of some way to be more consistent with my posts, and I decided that I needed some sort of catalyst for writing. Since I pretty much only get any informational knowledge from The Economist, I immediately thought of some way to incorporate that into my blog. So I think what I'll do is comment each week on one of the articles that The Economist features in one of its free weekly emails. There are three that I signed up for: business this week, politics this week, and from the editors desk (or something like that). I'm leaning towards the editor's desk right now, but we'll just have to see what I think of them. Hopefully with a little more regular posting I can get some other people's opinions on some topics and I can stop just being an Economist mouthpiece repeating back everything I read within their pages. Cheers -joe

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


So I finally got to see the Roots last night. Great show at the House of Blues in San Diego. They had a four piece guest horns section that was incredible, and of course the regular members were great as well. There were three definite highlights for myself, the first being that it was the bass player's birthday last night so at one point the whole band stopped the show and we all sang Happy Birthday to him. The second was the very end of the show, when Black Thought did his best James Brown impression and the horns section really got going, it was like a soul concert, and I can't say how privileged I felt to witness it. There just aren't that many bands out there doing music like that anymore, just great. My favorite part though was the first song the band did for their encore. They all came back out to applause and started in with the guitar tune of "Roxanne" which the newly reunited Police just performed at the Grammy's the night before. Then Questlove himself did his best Sting impression and the place just exploded. I can't believe the crowd had that much energy that far into the show, but it was just infectious and everybody started yelling and jumping around. Good times all around.