Useful Articles

Monday, September 3. 2012

'SA must redefine ICTs'

‘Re-nationalise Telkom’ says SA workers union

Really interesting articles

Saturday, April 14. 2012

There Are No Technology Shortcuts to Good Education

If & When Schools Invest in ICT, Teachers First

Can Technology End Poverty?

PhD comics capturing my life.

Wednesday, July 21. 2010
Menial tasks

PhD comics, I <3 you

Monday, October 26. 2009
Comic, Oct 23rd

Facebook helping keep students enrolled - UK

Thursday, October 15. 2009
Facebook 'cuts student drop-outs'
Social networking websites such as Facebook are helping to reduce college drop-out rates, it is claimed. Gloucestershire College says social networking is used to keep students informed and in touch with staff.

Edubuntu LTSP - How it works

Monday, September 28. 2009

Recently, OK a while now, I blogged about building a DNS round robin cluster. The problem with the solution was that the server in the cluster that responded to DHCP was also the server responsible for TFTP and the server that would serve the nbd blocks to the client. It was and is too much like a single point of failure. I would rather that any of the other machines could take over from the TFTP stage. I thought it would be simple to just create that scenario using the variables on offer in DHCP... but it didn't work the way I anticipated. So I thought perhaps I should start by making sure I completely understand what happens during the LTSP client boot. So what this entry is about is disecting how LTSP thin clients boot in the Edubuntu implementation (hopefully I have this right!)

Continue reading "Edubuntu LTSP - How it works"

NSW netbooks in schools

Monday, September 28. 2009
NSW seeks to build unhackable netbook network
The NSW Department of Education is using asset-tracking software, RFID tags, and BIOS-embedded filtering smarts to roll out 240,000 netbook computers into what CIO Stephen Wilson calls "the most hostile environment you can roll computers into" - the local high school.

Some really interesting stuff! The lengths to secure the machines is impressive and seems to be working well, although its only been about a month.

Meeting with Cheryl

Friday, July 17. 2009

I had a meeting with Cheryl this morning at her office on UCT campus (aside, they don't really build beautiful buildings there, they are all grey, dreary and drab. So very institutional). It was fantastic. I recently went to Cape Town for a very short and fast paced 2 day symposium on Knowledge and curriculum. It focused mainly on Higher Education, but there was no reason that the work is not applicable to school level education. It was... very cognitive is how I think I would best describe it. Both days I left with my head spinning. The discussions concerned things that I had never read or heard of before and researchers that I had never read or heard of before, such a Basil Bernsteine and Karl Maton. It was really intense for someone with my background in mostly science to be completely submerged in a philosophy and sociology of education discussion on that nature. But very exciting to because I was introduced to some possible useful theories for framing my PhD in. I found some papers afterwards written by a student of Karl Maton's who was using his work in a way to frame her PhD which was a study in producing software to support informal teaching and learning in museums, which was very exciting to read. The meeting with Cheryl tried to encompass as much of all of this as possible and we really feel we have found something that could be extremely valuable. It has also produced an "ah-ha" moment for me where the real difference between a Masters and a PhD has sunk in. I have a lot of reading to do, a number of papers written by Maton and then hopefully a key few from Bernsteine, who is a bit difficult to understand and wrap ones head around, as well as a book by Lars Qvortrup and then hopefully two PhDs done at Rhodes recently.

We have also decided to use UCTs implementation of vula to keep track of resources and help Cheryl and I in better contact, something that has been so difficult since she moved to Cape Town. Hopefully that, along with possible video conferencing sessions will keep me going a little more. Unfortunately, with work and no real sense of expectation from either supervisors I have just let work have all my time. I would like that to stop.

LTSP DNS round robin cluster

Saturday, May 23. 2009
I have finally completed the LTSP DNS round robin cluster implementation using Vmware server 2. The contents of this post detail what I did to cluster a LTSP service over three Edubuntu servers.

Continue reading "LTSP DNS round robin cluster"

Thin client cluster servers

Saturday, May 23. 2009

Since we first heard about the tuxlab project (first by the Shuttleworth foundation and now Inkululeko technologies) we have been keen supporters of the model in the CoE school's project, now named e-Yethu. For two reasons, firstly open source software in schools, which is (we feel) the way things should go. That said we never stop schools from using Microsoft products, but then the software is their own problem to sort out, as we obviously can't provide it. The other is the thin client lab model, which is one less costly as the only real expense is the central server and also less maintenance as the only machine to maintain is the server. Maintenance is a massive issue, especially when you start taking on more schools. Right now we have 7 schools who look to us for support and then just me providing that support. And when that is not your only full time work things can get a bit hectic time wise.  Anyway, so if a school wants our help specifically we try to encourage as much as possible for a thin client model lab running edubuntu.

As I said, in this model the server is the only really expensive item, but sometimes that expense is even too much. Schools can't source the money and sometimes we even struggle to source the money. Desktop computers however pose less difficulty sourcing, they are cheaper so easier for us to buy and we are to get more donations from other parties of desktops. We have also found, rather obviously, that the single thin client server poses a risk in terms of a single point of failure - so it might be more scalable to maintain as the number of schools increase but when it fails its more chatastrophic.  For these two reasons we thought wouldn't it be awesome if we could cluster the LTSP server over a number of machines (namely desktops that we tend to get given on a regular basis).

There are four cluster options I would like to implement: LTSP DNS round robin cluster; Ubuntu's new cluster server implementation; DNS round robin cluster; and single system image cluster. Options 1 and 3 seem to be the same thing, but are not. In 1, the portion that is clustered is just the LTSP service (so there is still a single point of failure with dhcp and nbd services - edubuntu implementation - from one of the cluster servers, which also acts as a primary file server). In option 3, however, I want to try and decouple the dhcp process a little more from the nbd services so that regardless of the dhcp server another server can provide the tftp services for the client that is pxe booting, meaning that any of the cluster servers could crash and the others would continue working as if there were no change.

I hope to have a number of entries here detailing how each option was eventually implemented, deployed and tested.

Teacher laptop innative

Monday, May 18. 2009
SA department of education shuts out FOSS
Despite a national open source strategy and a well-publicised set of minimum interoperability standards for government, the South African education department has launched a teacher laptop project that excludes free and open source software (FOSS).
Minister Pandor announces Teacher Laptop Initiative (Press release)

Unfortunately the tectonic article makes no mention of having asked the DoE for comment on their Microsoft choices which are contrary to the government's national open source strategy, so its hard to know if its an oversight, misunderstanding or if they are back-tracking on their Floss innitatives?

UNR on Asus Eee 701W

Monday, May 11. 2009

We bought three Asus Eee 701w netbooks as part of the comparison to the XO laptops. They are very cute and massively light and thanks to Ubuntu netbook remix massively simple to install! All you do is dd the .img file onto your flash stick, pop the into a usb drive on the Asus, tell bios to boot that first and off you go. Fantastically simple. I love the desktop, its layout is really nicely done. The only thing that sucks a bit is that the mouse over animation that they do makes the interface slow. Its really annoying and weird. At first I thought it was just a 900MHz processor not coping with gnome, but if you run OOffice app then the graphics response is immediate (and for any of the other applications in fact). Its just the mouse over animations for the menus. Thankfully its a known bug and fixed with the 2.6.28-11.43 kernel. Downloading it here and then using dpkg to install (and reboot) fixes it up fantastically, making the whole experience that much more pleasant! The other thing that is hard about these little guys is the 7 inches. It makes for a tiny keyboard and its difficult to type on. But you can get use to it. That said, I would personally go for the 10 inch models and get a bit more keyboard realestate.

If you are keen to read/learn more about UNR, then you should read here, while instructions for installing using UNR are here.

Here are some pics of the Asus with the UNR installation - later when they are register on the RU network I will edubuntu-fy them. The look is similar but with the educational packages added in.

DNS server

Friday, April 17. 2009

I have built my first every DNS server. I want to build a DNS round robin cluster as one of my model school lab solutions - trying to improve upon the thin client model lab where currently the central server is a single point of failure. Anyway, I had to start at the beginning and learn about DNS first. So the rest of this post is about what I did, which if you know how to configure a DNS server will be rather boring for you and you need not read the extended body. This is really for me so that later on when I have to put something like this in an Appendix (thesis) I can just copy and paste large chunks from here :-)

Continue reading "DNS server"


Tuesday, April 14. 2009

Hannah and I are running an honours project that is conducting a user study of the XO laptop along with two other commercially available netbooks (namely the Intel Classmate and the Asus EEEpc). We'd been keen to purchase a couple of the XOs through the Amazon G1G1 scheme but turns out they are no longer doing that. But it turns out that Ron (new guy in the CoE) knows Morgan Collett and he has graciously decided to lend us two units for the study (small I know, but its hons level, they are not big and generally never statistically relevant, but the project should be the ground work for a more in-depth study). And I will then have to write a proposal to be sent to the XO people to apply for more - I have 4 people on campus currently keen to undertake various research studies using the laptops, but do you think I can get them to sit down with me for 30 mins just to flesh out their ideas so I can write the multi-project proposal?

Anyway, these things are cute. They are unbelievably tiny and generally are pretty nifty (although there are aspects that I don't like much but we'll get there). I'm going to start with my impressions of the hardware. The small form-factor and light weight are very ++. Something this tiny in your backpack you're hardly going to notice. I was really disappointed though that they don't actually come with a crank (like the wind up radios) and so require grid electricity (not needing grid electricity would have placed them in a league above the alternative netbooks on the market). Another great thing is that there are 3 usb ports for your "hard disks" ;-) The rubberised keyboard is also a pretty cool idea. It'll be more difficult for children to break and perhaps not as detrimental if they spill a liquid on them (not keen to test that theory though in case I do really break it!). Difficult for touch typing which sucks a bit, but once you get use to it its not too bad. But hardware wise my ultimate favourite has got to be the monitor. It can swivel a full 180 degrees and then be folded back down into (for all intents and purposes) an e-book. It then has controls on the monitor to move around the contents of the screen. If nothing else I would have something like this for an e-book so that I could comfortably lie in bed or on the couch and read - all other netbooks should note this feature and see about building something similar, it is seriously awesome.

I haven't extensively used the software on the laptop but rather played around and gotten a feel for things.  The interface is rather different and the way of doing things too. I am told that the interface is such that it is intuitive for a child. I am curious with regards to that and would be interested to know how they came about that idea, i.e. was there a study with children in order to produce the design? (OLPC HCI guidelines and interface). I think that the new metaphors for the XO are rather clever and some of the features or representations within that are just brilliant. I am particularly fond of the neighbourhood and group ideas. The spacial representations of friends and nearby networks is awesome and I really like that. I also like that there are no "applications" but rather activities for the children to do. However, there are some things that I think are not intuitive, based on having some prior computer experience. For example, not being able to open a file from within an activity, but rather having to search the journal for the last instance of the file and opening it this way. I understand the logic behind why the developers argue that this is better, but if you have some back ground PC experience its not exactly obvious. It will be interesting to see in this study how the learners and teachers respond to this, esp at one of our previously disadvantaged schools where they have been very keen on windows and seem a bit scared of Linux and "different". Here is a post from from Flosse Posse where perceived advantages and disadvantages of the XO are discussed. Some of his ideas are interesting and would be cool to see in the implementation.

I think that because this has been punted as the laptop for the children masses of the world we have expected a machine that can work in much the same way as a regular PC, i.e. having lots of memory and being able to create large files of content like project reports or whatever (as yet I have not worked out how to save to flash stick, from what I have read on the wiki about the journal activity its not really possible as yet). So its not really a productivity machine, its a machine with specific educational purposes, namely thinking skills through the various activities. So it would be best placed in classrooms where teachers have specific ideas on how they wish to use the laptops, for example, to introduce programming concepts to children using TurtleArt (which is effectively graphical logo and is very cool!). It also allows for collaborative work because peers can network and also as a method of accessing information through possible web connections. The only thing then that I can see as a potential problem is that none of the activities are aligned to any sort of curriculum. They are more general than that and so that could prove a problem or be a limitation to their use if teachers feel that they don't meet the curriculum needs in SA which they are mostly bound by (certainly with external exams, learners must be able to understand and complete the curriculum in order to pass the exam). The other thing is language localization. This is an important issue because it seems to be generally accepted as a good thing that children learn in their mother tongue for the first 3 years of schooling. It seems however that the people at Sugar are working on language packs and at this stage in terms of SA languages they have only Afrikaans available but about 8 of our official languages are on the list of those to be translated (assuming they intend to produce all of those on the List of ISO 639-1 codes that they refer to).

While getting to know Sugar through the XO I have also installed it on my laptop running Ubuntu. This was a fairly simple process - some of the activities and an emulator are available in the repo tree (but not all unfortunately). Instructions are at a number of places on the web such as this, but note if you encounter any problems there is a dependancy error. Sugar needs gstreamer0.10-alsa (which I didn't have already) and produces an error in your .xsession-errors that complains about "gst.ElementNotFoundError: alsamixer". Anyway, when working, it works great, which leaves me wondering if I can have a productivity computer and an educational computer all in one (possibly even on a small form-factor netbook) why go for the OLPC? Esp now that there are rumours that OLPC is going windows (however, the OLPC team say that they are not going to stop producing XOs with Linux), then what do you really get out of it? The best part of it right now is the software. There are two hardware features that I truly love, first the screen that can flip back on itself and form an e-book, but surely other manufacturers could do something similar with their machines in the future too? The second, which is something that we don't currently see on other netbooks (afaik), is the mesh network capabilities that allow the children to work collaboratively. This is probably one of the strongest features of the OLCP. I am keen to see if that collaborative metaphor can extend to sharing physical resources amongst machines and not just virtual learning spaces. I am also very keen to see what the experiences of the teachers and learners are going to be in this little study. I know that we won't have any statistically relevant data from it, but it will give us an idea of where things might be going...

lowcost pcs

Thursday, February 12. 2009
OLPC discontinues "Change the World" Real pity actually

More on the sakshat pc:
A $10 Laptop?
You read right. First came the $100 One Laptop Per Child windup laptop project, now researchers in India believe they can make one even cheaper, try $10!

India announces the $10 laptop … for $20
With great fanfare, the Indian government announced their $10 laptop, now known as the “Sakshat” and stated that the laptop would sell for twice the planned cost … $20. Still, not to bad.

India's $10 Laptop: Neither $10 nor a Laptop
There's a reason that India's $10 Sakshat computer is just $10. It does almost nothing. What we thought would be a humming notebook equipped with Wi-Fi and 2GB RAM turns out to be little more than a box with sockets -- no keyboard, no monitor.