Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ubuntu Brainstorm and the Cross Pollination of Ideas

Today Ubuntu announced Brainstorm, a site devoted to letting Ubuntu users nominate and vote for their favorite ideas related to Ubuntu. The premise is based around the assumption that any idea garnering enough votes will be worked on by either Canonical or the Ubuntu Developer Community for inclusion in a future Ubuntu Release and goes a long ways towards including some of us less technically-capable devotees.

I love this idea, and there are two things about it that really surprise me . The first is that it didn't exist before and the second is that I never noticed that it didn't exist before. This is one of those win, win, win, win, win ideas that fits in so perfectly with what has already been put into place that while it's difficult to understand why it took so long, you're still just glad its come around.

A beautiful thing about Brainstorm is that it has essentially been in place for a while over at In fact, it was through Dell's own version (called Ideastorm) that the first Dell Ubuntu machines were proposed, voted on, and ultimately released. This cross pollination of ideas is something that the technology sector has gotten down really well. It seems like most other industries actively avoid sharing ideas, first by protecting them to absurd degrees and then by trying to reinvent a wheel (sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing) that others have already built.

Our government seems even worse at this, refusing to acknowledge that successful programs in other countries could possibly work in America (as if we were so unique). This isn't a political blog, but one of the first steps for any educational technologist to undertake in attempting to solve a problem is to look around for any existing solutions. Maybe I'm naive, but this seems like a pretty common sense tactic and I fail to understand why it wouldn't work for pretty much any issue (healthcare, welfare, taxes...).

But I digress. Brainstorm may be a Dell ripoff, but it makes much more sense for Ubuntu than it could ever over at Dell (I've never even heard of a "Dell community" before, but maybe that's just me). Here's to Ubuntu, Brainstorm, and the continued cross pollination (or ripoff if you prefer) of ideas. -joe

Thursday, February 21, 2008

SCaLE 2008 Impressions and Photos

It's been a busy couple of weekends for me the past two weeks. Last weekend was Valentine's Day in NYC of course and the weekend before was the Southern California Linux Exposition (SCaLE) in Los Angeles.

I was fortunate enough to have my presentation on using Edubuntu in the classroom accepted for one of the sessions on the first day of the Expo and since this took place on Friday amidst an offshoot track of SCaLE called OSSIE (Open Source Software in Education) I got a substitute to cover my classes and drove the Towncar the two hours north to La La Land. I arrived at the Expo around noon which meant I had a couple of hours to hang out before I was due to talk. I spent a little time wandering around the event just seeing what there was to be seen. I'd say it was a smaller than average event but bigger than I expected, which was an exciting surprise.

After a few minutes I found myself a seat and listened to the speaker scheduled before me. I'm sad to say I forget her name now, but she was a doctoral student who used FreeMind in her research to see how concept maps changed information retention in students. I'm a little ashamed to admit that I was more involved in polishing up my own presentation than I should have been to pay ample attention to what she was saying, but as good as FreeMind looks I'm still pretty committed to using Internet based applications as much as possible. This means that sites like are a lot more attractive to me than software programs like FreeMind. The data that she had was very encouraging towards the use of mind maps in general though, so that was good news.

When it was finally my time to present I was relieved to see that my laptop worked on the projector without any major flaw, but I was disappointed to see that audience members couldn't post comments to my Google-based presentation which meant while I talked. Later I figured out that this was because I hadn't "published" the presentation, but that was hours later of course.

The presentation itself went pretty well. I was nervous as usual, which meant I talked even faster than I normally do and ended up doing my presentation in about 25 minutes (last time I did it at the SDCUE conference it took 45 minutes!). Fortunately there were a lot of questions from the audience and that saved me.

Afterwards I hung around outside the auditorium for a while and just chatted with colleagues (including Tim, the OSSIE organizer and an all-around great guy). Then I wandered over to the OLPC area and fiddled with the machines for a bit. I'm still waiting for mine to be delivered by the way. I had meant to take some pictures with my camera phone and post them here, but I forgot of course. The rest of the weekend I spent hanging around Santa Monica with my old college roomies and playing golf in Century City. Not a bad weekend at all! I look forward to next year!. -joe

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

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B gets close with the virgin in air entertainment system. Available games include doom and circus linux! Sweet!

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Virgin america rocks! On the way to ny via sf.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Looking Forward to Hardy, More Video Card Confusion

It was a while back that I first noticed something seemed amiss with these old IBM P3 desktops that we seem to have so many of. I was almost sure that I had used them successfully in the past with Feisty but here they were crapping out on me after showing the Edubuntu splash screen with Gutsy. I wasn't that worried as it looked like I was going to have more than enough thin clients anyways, but still...

A couple of days ago I confirmed my feelings when I was in a kindergarten class that I knew had an up and running miniLAN and noticed that one of those IBMs was being used as a thin client. So there was indeed some regression in the compatibility of thin clients from Feisty to Gutsy. What a disappointing revelation to make.

I hoped to make lemonade out of this lemon of a development by installing Feisty on the Fujitsu-Siemens machines I got from the German Consulate in LA (especially since my $50 dollar solution did NOT work as they sent me 3.3V AGP cards instead of the 1.%V ones I needed). For a bit it seemed to be no use. I got the same strange behavior out of the Fujitsu with Feisty as I did with Gutsy. But I left the machine on for some reason, and a few minutes later there was the sign in screen, as if everything was okay!

I logged in, ran updates, restarted, created users, moved the machine to a 3rd grade class, connected thin clients, rebooted, and even let the teacher's daughter play Webkinz on the server before I got a call the next morning that none of the machines were working. It was the same old problem as before, and now I discovered that it wasn't just a problem with the video card. In fact the computer wasn't even fully booting the OS which meant that the thin clients couldn't boot either. Bummer.

So obviously I'm looking forward to Hardy being released in April (even if there won't be any new graphical redesign) mostly because there is supposed to be better support for video cards and monitor detection. Needless to say, the fact that these two changes were not highlighted on Ars Technica's First Look article was disheartening, but I still have high hopes. Let's hope they don't get crushed. -joe