Friday, March 20, 2009

First day of Spring, First day of Phase 2!


The computers are working, students "stress-tested" them all day today--issues emerged, I created work-arounds and by the end of the day, they worked perfectly!


I'd like to thank my wife and kids who have put up with me these many months, even encouraging me on though they now have little patience for the word, 'computers'.

I'd like to thank friends, both new and old, for their support. I'd like to especially thank the more than dozen volunteers who volunteered dozens of hours (some several dozens) to get this project so far. Thanks to the many more people who heard the ideas of this project and have supported it with ideas or just encouragement.

There are those who have provided many thousands of dollars for this project, namely Medtronic Foundation and Minneapolis Public Schools. You all are part of this multi-dimensional, multi-faceted project. And I thank you. I'll keep this blog updated, still discussing technology but focusing now mostly on pedagogy (I hope!).

There are communities of scientists to grow!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

iTALC's almost working...

I had a lot of problems with iTALC and Webmin as both coveted port 10000 and I wasn't able to adjust them because the other interfered... So I uninstalled both, installed webmin, changed the port it listens on (and the one on which it 'speaks'?) to well, a different one.

Then I used this page to reinstall, and it went great till the very end when I get an error message saying that:
id: cannot find name of group ID 1021
id: cannot find name of group ID 1022
id: cannot find name of group ID 1023
id: cannot find name of group ID 1027
While there were several suggestions on how to deal with it, from "ls /etc/groups" to making sure the permissions of /etc/group and /etc/passwd were set to 644, none of this worked, for 1 thing the permissions were right already.

OK here's the cool thing :-) I was futzing around with the Ubuntu admin app, Users and Groups, and quickly found that the four wayward groups were the level1, level2, level3 and level4 groups I'd created as part of the Managing Group permission strategy. Well, when I opened up the /etc/group file it showed all of the groups and who was a member of each and I noticed, strangely, that these were basically the only groups in which 'root' was a member. I had added root to these groups because, not knowing exactly what I was doing, I wanted to hedge my bets.

So anyway, upon removing root from each of these groups, I no longer got that error and things ended swimmingly :-) This, by the way, is the first piece of original Linux computer-problem-solving-knowledge I've created and yes I'm proud--nice to be a producer, not just consumer. Now all I need to do is figure out how to make remote-control function work on iTALC...

By the way, here's a nice little post about the utility/need for iTALC management programs:

Sunday, March 15, 2009

And thanks to Andreas Olsson!

I mentioned in this post that there was another blog that presented my need for some software that aids a teacher in managing user permissions. In the Macintosh world this is done, along with many other functions, using Workgroup Manager. There had been a product to do this, Sabayon, but it no longer worked with the current version of Edubuntu.

One of the people that responded to that post (there's 36 comments to that post at this point) was Andreas Olsson a systems administrator from Sweden. He proposed an idea similar to what Jordan Mantha had proposed, to put users in groups and then adjust the permissions for different applications so that only members of group x could use this program. Also, he proposed creating a small Command-Line Interface (CLI) program that could work off a database of the programs and groups and make this permissions-changing thing happen.

Well... He made this program :-) and it works GREAT. I've added 40 applications to the database using his program. As needed, I can roll back the permissions to the original ones.

These apps now belong to one of 4 groups: level1, level2, level3, or level4. I've put all students in the level1 group. After a week of successfully using the computers with that level of permissions, I'll add them to the level2 group, adding on these permission, also. And so on... They gain permissions as they demonstrate responsible computer behavior. If they do the porn image thing etc then they tumble back to level1 and must again work up to higher privileges again.

So... looks like all I've got left is customizing squid and running last bit of cables... the latter is trivial, the former, not. but... SOON!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

And now, squid launches!

And thanks to Christopher and Gavin who, through (exactly) 20 e-mails helped me nail down the squid problem to which I have probably 10 hours of my life. Here is the 20th e-mail in the series:

This did it :-)

Using the following command provided by Gavin:
$ sudo chown proxy.proxy /var/spool/squid/ (but changing 'proxy.proxy' to 'squid.squid')
changed the ownership, then using the command provided by Christopher:
$ sudo /etc/init.d/squid start
simply worked. Thanks Gents!
Oh yea, and I was able to add the HP 8000 printer to the network and it too worked perfectly.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Short message: Server is locked in it's cocoon

I now officially have no physical access to the server, but with iLO and freeNX and the NoMachine free clients I feel like I'm as good as touching it! So now I can try to plug in all the computers... and give them a boot test!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Gettin' lots of help lately...

The following is a copy of a post I sent to the edubuntu-users list of which I'm a thankful member. There will be a few posts in the following days of shout-outs to different people for the help they've provided along with a bit of detail. The following involved a simple solution--the others are move involved...

Thanks Richard [Doyle],

Ecstatic would clearly describe my emotional state when I VPNed into the district intranet, freenxed into the server, opened the Terminal in the gui that appeared, typed 'sudo reboot', and then a few minutes later, I was able to freeNX into that server and saw the beautiful Edubuntu desktop once again!

All I did was, (from this page:

Open your apt sources list

gksudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list

and append the two lines for the repository

deb hardy main
deb-src hardy main
I customized it to 'hardy' but any of the following that apply, work (it says): dapper, hardy or intrepid.

Then I tried to:
  1. Save and then close.
  2. Then Update Apt sudo apt-get update

  3. After you add the repository, then install the freenx package (using Aptitude to install extra needed packages). sudo aptitude install freenx

But couldn't get passed the message that the keys didn't match or something upon doing step 2, above. So, I went to Synaptic (got that from another page), searched for 'freenx' and then selected the 'freenx' app for upgrade, applied it, ignored the security warnings, and installed it.

Then, I opened freenx, configured it (don't choose to disable the security encoding as it runs on port 22 and you will get an error message.) Then, I downloaded the client version for my mac laptop, configured it... and it worked :-).

One more barrier removed!

BTW--I recommend FreeNX to anyone using VNC currently, it looks a lot nicer and is smoother/more responsive.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Fixed: the network and thus the printer :-)

I've been working on this printer issue (part time of course) for months. They have this saying in Guatemala: "Que vale el que sabe!", roughly translating to, "He who knows is valuable!" Well, this saying was proven true once again tonight.

Since I've got the network at my house so as to be able to work on it over weekends etc, Jamie came over here after work today and dived into the thin client network. It didn't take him long to find out that there were miscoordinated subnet IP addresses which, after a few hours, cokes and a wonderful pizza made by Maria, my wife, are now logically established. I probably mixed them up at some early point in the project, but it wasn't bad enough for the thin clients to go down.

It is rather interesting how Jamie got involved with the Growing Communities of Scientist project. He has a wife who works for Inetium, the company who made the web interface for the GetSTEM project, a service created by MHTA. GetSTEM connects 'science teachers in need' with Minnesota businesses who have help to offer. It works like this, as I teacher I went to GetSTEM and posted that I needed someone to provide some Linux help on a project I was doing (I referenced this blog). Employees of participating businesses, generally those that rely heavily on the Science/Technology/Engineering/Math (STEM) disciplines, browse the posts by teachers on this site. If they find a request that interests them, they can contact the teacher and work out things from there. This service is exceptional in that it is local, and very web 2.0ish: it provides an interface to allow direct-connect between Joe Teacher with Joe Tech Employee--no need to go through organizational filters/pathways on either side. Worked for me.

So... Jamie's wife saw a GetSTEM request (mine), showed it to husband, he contacted me and well, the picture below shows it all......the network is properly tweaked and printer are... WORKING!

Thanks to Jamie, Jamie-wife, and MHTA.

Things are getting nearer... Tomorrow I'm taking a personal leave day (it's officially a district wide-staff development day) to maybe get things to that, holy-grail state, that "Limpin' but live" condition!

Spiral Curriculum

Oh Oh--deviating from system set-up talk again... note to self--don't make habit of this...

In science education we often talk about a 'spiral curriculum' where the timeline of our activities instead of being a simple straight line is instead a spiral going up... (think Helix). This means different things to different educators. Look at this drawing (thanks to
This shows that as time goes on (in this drawing each loop is a full year), students repeat working on the same skill--addition--but presumable in more complex contexts. Another example of a spiral curriculum shows another aspect, how different 'sides' of the helix represent different concept or skills, as well as maybe how one might organize over the length of a unit, maybe 3-4 weeks or so:

(this drawing is thanks to: In this example, Literacy 1 might be 'Graphing', Literacy 2 might be the concept of Heat Transfer and Literacy 3 might be the skill of 'searching on the internet'.

I've tried to plan a unit like this in the past using a spiral drawing but couldn't get it to work--I didn't really try that hard either. I think, however, that if there were some software that provided control over the spiraling time-line, mixing spirals, threads shown, snap-in placement, changing radius of spiral, adjusting colors of the vertical 'literacy's' well, one could have a powerful visualization tool for unit/curriculum planning. This would be a nice way to share our units and help practitioners (ie teachers) implement the curriculum. For those who aren't teachers, teachers have to be able to adjust from moment to moment what we are doing in the class to take advantage of the possibilities of the moment and meet the needs as they arise. All of this has to be done, of course, with the larger curricular goals in mind. Yes, so this tool could help one have those larger goals in mind.

Update: thought I would add this info here, as well:

By far the most interesting and useful spiraling model is called, "Progressive Inquiry". It is perhaps the most difficult spiral curriculum approach to implement as it is a distinctly different from traditional approaches. Interestingly it is organized and thought of from the perspective of the classroom as a community. This is the instructional model that we'll be using here at GCoS. Check this site for info. Here's a drawing they produced to help explain the approach:

Use Blog for Professional Development

I know, I'm deviating from the Primary Directive (Phase 1--get everything working) but sometimes ya gotta pull a Kirk. I talk with Eddie daily about this lesson or that that we are teaching, insights and lessons learned (ours). I keep wishing for a system to channel this practical knowledge. So here is an ideal to weave several important thread together. The Threads:
  1. nailing down our insights (our own personal blogs).
  2. communicating our insights withing our community and get their feedback (sharing/commenting on each others blogs).
  3. reflecting/sharing our insights in the form of lessons with others in the community where they can help shape the form and content of the lesson (LeMill server).
  4. get credit for professional development (ProPay Skill Set)
  5. provide public evidence of the vast knowledge base and skill set that teachers routinely use (our blogs).
The idea is that a group of people would sign up for a 'ProPay Skill Set' course for credit. This course might focus on such a thing as Gowin's Vee as a support for student directed inquiry. All teachers would open a blog on or where ever.

Teachers would daily or bi-daily blog on their experience with using the Vee in their class over a (say) 2 month time period. Occasionally, maybe 2 or 3 times over those 2 months, when they felt that they had polished a good lesson using the Vee, they would publish it on our districts LeMill server (which is being moved to a faster server at the moment). Others in the ProPay group would be expected to comment on other's blogs as well as try and (as appropriate) improve on the lesson posted on LeMill.

How could this idea be improved? Leave a comment, ay?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

CmapServer configuring... more

OK, so the server running CmapServer has 2 ip addresses (associated with that VM). Since I didn't specify the ip address on the config file: serverconfig.txt under /IHMC_CmapServer/bin/ it chose 1 of the 2, I guess. And, it chose the 'internal' ip address. So, I re-edited the above mentioned file and added the external ip address (the line had nothing on it), shutdown then started the server, and... it works :)

Monday, March 02, 2009

TODO list to reach the state of... "Limpin' but Live"

Here's what needs to happen so as the class net can go live... even if it isn't completely done...
  • Get my admin user account to auto login on server startup, then screen lock. OR... somehow ssh and remotely login through the GNOME interface. This will allow me to use the iLO to remotely start the server and then to be able to VNC into it w/OUT having to be present at server side (I don't have 'on-demand' access to the room).
  • Make printer work on network.
  • Make it so that students can not edit other peoples files and folders.
  • I need to add all apps to the 'permissions-managing data base'.
  • add all students to the proper groups (Start in the level 1 group)
  • is there better "User and Group" software--that has a larger management window? that can sort users by alpha? that can see just a group of users and not the whole list?