Saturday, March 31, 2007

Fluxbuntu Trial

So, I installed Fluxbuntu on my old Compaq. I just couldn't put if off:

Fluxbuntu is, supposed to be at least, a lightweight distribution for older computers, or computer with a need for a minimal installation. Here's what Fluxbuntu looks like after installation:

Fluxbox is the distribution's desktop environment. Damn Small Linux also uses Fluxbox.

To be honest, I didn't find Fluxbuntu any faster on the old Compaq than Xubuntu. And, Fluxbuntu has a strong learning curve. Unless you're fairly good with Command Line, Fluxbuntu isn't going to be a highly used distribution. I'm sure a lot of hard core linux aficionados will like it, but if a slimmed down distribution is what is desired, DSL is hard to beat. And, DSL was plenty fast when I tried it awhile back.

The installation went really quickly; less than 15 minutes. And once installed, it was usable right away. The weird thing is; no menu. No start, applications, or anything like that on the desktop. Unless you know to right click for the menu, you'd probably never find it. But, that's part of the appeal of Fluxbox; a clean, light environment. Other distributions do that, Xubuntu with XFCE in particular, but they have an application menu you can see.

After the installation was up, I found Synaptic package manager was available in the right-click menu. I enabled Universe and Multiverse, then updated the entire thing. Fluxbuntu is currently based on Ubuntu 6.06 LTS, so it's a stable version. There were 138 packages to update, and it took quite awhile. I was able to install Java, Flash, and just to see if it would work, OpenOffice.org Writer. I couldn't find anyway to run OpenOffice at first, but after a restart, it appeared in the menu list.

Fluxbuntu also doesn't have auto mount just yet, so when I plugged in a USB jump drive, it didn't show up. And I'm not yet skilled enough to find and mount a flash drive (something I need to learn). That even sounds funny; Mount a flash drive. I don't even find them attractive that way,...know what I mean? Anyway, that would be a big, "Not going to use it right now," for me at the moment. Gotta have access to USB drives. To be fair, I haven't tried that with DSL, so I don't know if it's any better with that distro.

Unless you know at least 50 or so command line instructions off the top of your head, I can't really recommend Fluxbuntu, or DSL. If you really like a lightweight distro, or need speed on an old machine, I'd have to recommend DSL right now. I just didn't find Fluxbuntu fast enough.

The people working on Fluxbuntu are independent of Ubuntu and Canonical, but are obviously very skilled at what they do. I believe it is entirely a community based project, and not officially part of the Ubuntu family. The Fluxbuntu.org site is down this weekend. I've read previously that they are updating to the Feisty packages, so they might be doing a website update was well. The community forum and wiki is still up.

I think Fluxbuntu will eventually play an important part in the Ubuntu Family, but it has more tweaks to be done. If you read any of my tech posts, and I had another year of Linux experience at the moment, you'd probably hear my raving about Fluxbuntu.

Maybe next year.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Xubuntu 7.04 beta trial, and eMachines

We -meaning my unofficial free geek organization- received a donation of a computer today. It was on older eMachine; 500 MHz Celeron, 4.5 gig hard drive, with 64 meg of RAM. It had Windows 98 on it. The previous owner did have a Belkin Wireless G PCI card with no antenna on it. It was actually in good working order. Unlike the other eMachines I've dealt with recently:
This is my official, unofficial Central Florida Free Geek storage closet. These are all older computer, mostly in parts. On the second row you'll see four eMachines. Only the older one actually works; a 600 MHz Celeron machine. The three new ones don't work. It seems the 2000 - 2005 eMachines have extremely cheap power supplies. All the eMachines in the picture either have bad power supplies, or many parts ruined because of bad power supplies. I recently fixed an eMachine by using a well made used power supply, a replaced switch, and some added used memory. The machine is better than new. I think the owner will feel that she has a completely new computer. Anyway, if you have an eMachine that looks anything like the ones above, and you want to extend the life a wee bit, do yourself a favor and get a better power supply. The older, plain white eMachines seem to be okay.

I wanted to try the newest Xubuntu version: 7.04 beta "Feisty Fawn", so I took the donated computer, added some memory, Boot and Nuked the hard drive, and tried to install Xubuntu. Twice. That's when I learned the burner on my Laptop isn't that great. For data CD's, it's never really been that good. I burned a third CD on my desktop, and it installed with no problems.

Xubuntu 7.04 is much improved over the 6.06 version, mostly because it now uses XFCE 4.4 desktop environment. XFCE is for older equipment, and it works quiet well. But, 500 MHz is cutting it close on speed. Having 256 meg of memory helped, but the 4.5 GB hard drive only had 1.5 GB left after the install and updates. If you have an external hard drive, that's not a problem, but it's still cutting things close. The main improvement with 7.04 is having the documents, recycle bin, and computer icons on the desktop. That's been missing in previous XFCE releases; at least the ones I've used.

Once again, I was disappointed with the wireless issues. Ubuntu 7.04 helps a lot, but some wireless cards are still not being cooperative with Linux. I was able to use this how to from the Ubuntu Forums to get the wireless card to work. It's an issue with Broadcom not releasing information on their bcm43xx chipset. Hack, hack, hack, and it was working. I'd like to say it's fun to get things like that working. It is the first time, but the 4th, 5th....not so much. More like -eye roll, "here we go again".

I think I discovered the difference between a hacker and an IT guy; The hacker gets something to work the first time. The IT guy uses those instructions to get 100 things working, over and over again.

The wireless issues are not Ubuntu's fault. Or Linux' fault. It's the wireless manufactures fault for letting the Redmond Mafia scare them into submission. I think a lot of that will change as Dell and others get in on the Linux bandwagon.

I've used Xubuntu on a Pentium II 350 MHz, 64 meg of ram machine. It installed, and ran, but it was slow. I think Xubuntu is best on things between the 500 MHz - 1 GHz mark. Xubuntu should probably use at least 128 meg to be tolerable. But like any machine, the more memory the better. Nancy's computer is a 1.1 GHz Pentium III, 640 meg, 80 gig HD machine, 32 meg graphics card, and it runs Ubuntu 6.10 just fine. Well, as long as the mouse is good, that is. Memory is what seems to make the biggest difference in speed, not the speed of the processor. But, Xubuntu probably would run whiz-bang fast on a fast processor with 2 GB of memory.

When I have more time, I think I'll try Fluxbuntu on that machine, but I want to wait for the Feisty Fawn version of it.

My conclusion on Xubuntu; I like it, and it's better than it used to be. Central Florida unofficial Free Geek will probably use it on many machines.

My conclusion on eMachines; Stay away. Far away.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Litte More Work

If you've read any of my posts, you already know how much of a fan of Linux I've become, especially the Ubuntu Distribution. While I think Linux has some major benefits, I realize that it's still somewhat limited. Yesterday, I found out one limitation that needs to be fixed very soon.

One assignment I had for school was to make a screencast. A screencast shows how to do something on a computer by showing a video of the screen. Linux has this, but it's not that great. I used a package called xvidcap, but it wasn't easy to use. Not I couldn't get the speed of the video to calm down, couldn't use any audio input or the program would crash. Another program called Istanbul is easier to work with, but the finished result isn't good. The guys at Ubuntu Clips have done an impressive job of creating some educational videos for Ubuntu. They also have an Ubuntu Clips Channel on YouTube. I'll need a lot more practice for that.

Making a screencast on Windows is much easier. Expensive products like Camtasia work wonderfully. With Camtasia, you can make entire training programs. Some teachers use it to make all their lectures and classwork. You can even create tests with it. But, it's a $300 product. For a business, it might be worth it. There is a free, Open Source screen recorder program; CamStudio. CamStudio works pretty good, but it doesn't have all the functionality of Camtasia. At the moment, there's no comparative product for any distribution of Linux. If there is, someone please let me know.

Yesterday, I listened to the latest TWIT podcast (This Week in Tech). Most of the guest on the show were Web 2.0 content creators. Merlin Mann from 43 Folders Podcast, and the guys from Tiki Bar TV. There are all people that create online content; audio and video productions, done at extremely low cost, and presented entirely online. They do this to keep ownership and creative control of their content. These are the pioneers of the new audio and video delivery methods. All of them used Macs with OS X.

Apple has done an excellent job of creating hardware and software for creative people. Programs like Garage Band and iDVD that come with iLife enable anyone with a mac to be their own audio and video studio. And, with iTunes, YouTube, Revver, libsyn, Podiobooks, anyone can deliver their content. Mac OS X makes all these things easy. Windows too, XP or Vista. It's do-able on Linux, but with extreme difficulty.

Then there's the speed issue. Linux isn't really any faster than Windows, it just doesn't slow down as much as Windows does after a few months. Windows gets bogged down with gunk, and makes a zippy machine sluggish. Linux generally stays up to speed. Windows is snappy enough, when it's first installed, but it just slows down. It remains to be seen if this also applies to Vista.

If Linux is going to make any inroads into the general population, it will do so through educational means, just like Apple did, at one time. Creative content will be extremely important in the upcoming education revolution, and Linux needs to be ready. Apple and Windows are ready, for the most part, but Linux still needs some programs to help accomplish make and deliver quality audio and video content. I'm sure it will happen. Programs like Diva, and Jokosher are efforts in that direction, but more needs to be done. That, or commercial/proprietary programs need to be available for Linux too.

Some people in the Linux community want all software to be free. By free, they mean free as in speech, not free beer. They don't want closed source products in the Linux world. Others, like me, don't care if it's open or closed, as long as it does what I want it to do; make ebooks, podcasts, videos, and write. The average person doesn't care about Windows vs Mac -except for the cute commercials, doesn't care about Linux and open source, or even free software. They just want stuff that enables them to do what they want to do.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Dead iMac

In the last post, I showed you a picture of the trackball mouse we gave to Mrs. Wayman for her computer. In that picture was the older strawberry iMac G3 333MHz, 160 mg, 6gig Hard Drive computer. I was trying to see if it would update to Xubuntu 6.10. The CD upgrade process was taking far too long. I tried to upgrade online, but no go -same as the first time I tried. When I tried to reinstall Xubuntu 6.06.1 with the alternate install CD, once again; no go. After taking it apart, re-examining the parts, putting it back together, same result. Conclusion; as I'd suspected a while ago, the CD tray was no longer working.

The older iMacs are interesting creatures. They're basically iBooks with a CRT monitor built in. Actually, this was a pretty smart business move on Apple's part at the time. Why use too many different parts? Just make the outside parts different. The older iMacs are basically the same parts as the laptops. That's how they fit all that stuff in there.

I don't intend on trashing this computer. I may have to trash the insides, but I think it could have some new life, eventually. I think I'd like to do something like iPC modification on MacMod.com. I could use an LCD screen, from an older laptop -when I find one, that is. Soop it up really good. With older parts, of course. I might even use that new plastic paint, and paint it black. Maybe brown, or even blue.

We still have one other working iMac G3 with Xubuntu, so that much isn't lost. It's fun getting those little beasts working again. OS X is just way too slow on them, but Xubuntu spins right along.

So, the strawberry iMac G3 may get reincarnated, someday.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Rodents

Nancy's mom has been struggling to learn the computer. She's intelligent, motivated, but her eye-hand coordination just isn't what it use to be. Mostly, because her eye sight isn't great. In my efforts to teach her to use a computer, I was only slightly worried that she'd have difficulty. Nancy has been able to learn Ubuntu Linux with little problem, so I knew Ubuntu was ready for the public.

The problem Mrs. Wayman was having was with the mouse. I'd made the cursor/arrow very large, so she could see it better, but she was still having difficulty controlling the mouse. And the whole right click/left click thing wasn't helping. I was determined to fix it.

After our Friday night Mexican dinner at El Potro, we went by Office Depot, to look at mice. Or, maybe I should call them computer mouses. Most of them were just fancified versions of a regular mouse...but then I saw the trackball. And, I remembered; Nancy had one from her old mac:
My toy doesn't have a flash, but I make do, as you can tell. Anyway, the trackball mouse sits in the same place. The device itself doesn't move, just the ball. You roll the ball till the cursor is where you want it, the click the right or left side of the device. It's large, so it's much easier to know where to click.

It seems to have worked. Mrs. Wayman reports much easier use of the computer. She was able to get the pointer to go where she wanted, and click the correct button. For people who have struggled with a mouse, or noobies who have difficulty understand just how the mouse is suppose to work, I think I trackball might be a better option. Especially for older people who've never used a computer.

The one in the picture is an older model, and I don't think it's made anymore. Here are two others I saw that looked pretty good:

The Logitech Marble Mouse

The Kensignton Orbit Optical Trackball
I've never used either, so I can't really saw which I'd recommend. If you choose one, look for some reviews online. I'm not making any money on these ads either. Pubic service, CoachDANNY style.

Oh, and in the first picture, I'm trying to upgrade that iMac. It has Xubuntu 6.06.1, and I'm trying to use the Alternate install CD to load Xubuntu 6.10 on it. It's taking a freaking long time! Almost two days now. That's a long time.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Virtuosity

For the last two days, I've had a difficult time studying for the Windows XP Professional class. Some of options necessary to do some of the lessons weren't available. The instruction told me to "right click, and select create new partition", but the option to create a new partition wasn't there.

Part of the problem is that I'm working on a virtual computer in Windows XP. That's right, I'm using Windows XP Professional within Windows XP Professional. For a Linux guy, that's like committing two sins with one fell-swoop.

Evidently, I didn't set up the original virtual machine to be able to do the selection I needed. That's why the option didn't show up. Evidently, no big deal. I was able to continue through the lesson anyway.

On windows, I use Microsoft Virtual PC. It works as long as you use Windows. At school, they have a few Linux distributions on it, but I haven't been able to get it to work right. When I try to load a Linux distro on MS Virtual PC, it only shows the upper left hand quarter of the screen. Even when I use the Windows XP Professional installation on Virtual PC, it intolerably slow.

Lately, I've been using VMware. I have it loaded on My Windows Desktop, and my Ubuntu Laptop.
I took about 4 installations to finally get the network to connect on the laptop, but I eventually got it to work. I'm not really sure how. I used the scripts from easyvmx.com to create the virtual computer, downloaded it, and installed Windows on it. Weirdly enough, Windows runs faster on the vmware virtual computer than it does natively, or in Microsoft Virtual PC. I also use vmware to create a Kubuntu virtual computer, and a SuSE Linux virtual computer. I needed the SuSE one for my Linux class at school.

Now, I'm virtually overwhelmed.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Spring Break is Over

The 2007 Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival is over. I'd say it was a complete success. On Sunday afternoon, Nancy and I returned about 1/3 of the artists their slides -other groups returned the rest. We collected marketing surveys from them. Some artist were in this show for the first time, and they told us it was the best show they'd had so far. Some artists who'd been in the show many times said the same. A few artists didn't do well. I have my opinions as to why; over priced art, not unique enough, not well presented. Some artists aren't good with customer service, or with dealing with people in general. Most artist who tour the country doing art festivals are good with people, or they wouldn't be able to make enough money doing it.

I have two favorite things about the volunteering for the festival:
  1. Learning about art- the main reason I joined. I never got to take art appreciation in school, so I never learned what to look for in art. My father, Wayne Thompson, was a photographer -among many other things, so I have a pretty good eye for that. I like watercolor painting, and digital art. I'm learning about the other categories now. To do that, I sometimes follow the judges around, listening to what the look for. That's my best art education so far.
  2. Meeting the Artist - Most artists aren't much different than me. I don't take to following the normal path of life, and they don't either. I like that. I like the different personalities, views, and perspectives on life they have. Artists usually have no pretense - they wear themselves on their sleeves, or art.
The picture above was on Saturday afternoon, right before the Artists Party. Everyone was tired, and ready for some food. We get to sit and eat with the artists. It's interesting to see how the interact. Some hang with others in their category, especially the glass artists. Some like to meet other artists, but most are just ready to eat.
This is a picture not even 10 minutes after the show is over. Some artists have breaking their tents down to a mindless procedure. Newer artists struggle to figure it out at first. Some artists will stay open as long as they have a customer willing to purchase, or until we tell them, "You gotta go now."

I know it doesn't square with my anti elitist, under-consumer bent, but if I could, I'd buy a good bit of art. Especially functional art. I could live in a single-wide, with rotting floors as long as I could put some art I like in the place.

After the show, the volunteers eat, drink, be merry, then go home and crash. Nancy and I did.


* * *

Back to school today. Luckily, I didn't have too much work in my Windows XP class. Managing printers was the subject. It can be the bane of many business, especially ones that depend on older impact style printers. Those things seem to last forever, but connecting them to anything can cause mental problems. Getting them to work in a network is even more difficult. I think we have a specific class for that. I'll probably wait and let it be my last class before I graduate.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Art Festival Half Way

The Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival is almost done. One more day to go. It's fun, so far. I started off on Wednesday helping stake out where the tents would go.

The two girls with dark hair were in charge of space assignments this year. They did an excellent job, and if they do it again next yet, I think they'll do really well. The girl in the middle own a shop in Maitland called, Sip and Knit. Business owners know how to get things done.

Thursday, I helped to confirm where the judging results would be sent, and when they needed to be sent. Friday, Nancy and I did 'viewing'. Viewing is where you walk around and make sure things are running smooth, no infractions occur, and ask if the artists need a 'booth sitter'. It's really were you get to walk around the festival, looking at art, while holding a notebook.

This morning, I helped with judging. It went really smooth this year. The judges did the Best of Show first, and worked their way down. When they do it that way, things go quickly, but it only works when the judges are in agreement. They seemed to all agree on Best of Show, and I could see why. I'll post it here, tomorrow maybe. Anyway, a pic of me and Nancy from the show:

I'll try to do some more pictures tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

More On Education

I listened to a recent podcast by The Linux Link Tech Show, and the show hosts discussed some of the financial impact of Information Technology costs in school. They also talked about how and why Apple had such a stranglehold on schools in the late 80's and early 90's, and why Microsoft has such a hold on schools from the late 90's to present.

Saving money even on something as simple as the Microsoft Office license for school would put as much as $40,000 more dollars into just one school. Microsoft doesn't even charge very much for the educational license, but if schools went with OpenOffice, they'd save a bunch of money. And, if they went with older equipment, used Linux, they'd not only save more money, they could get more computers. Maybe even a computer in the home of every child. So many companies discard their equipment, sometimes simply sending it to a recycling.

From the initial observation, one might concluded that education IT might be corupt -taking bribes from the Big Boy companies; Microsoft, Apple, Dell, HP. I don't think it happens that much. These companies have a vested interest in selling their products at greatly reduced costs, even at a loss if necessary. Business use Windows. Parents want their kids ready for the business world when the get out of school. Parents insist their kids learn Windows in school. End of story. Almost.

Windows has to run on something in school, but Dell, HP, and others aren't really going to create brand loyalty in a school. What equipment the students uses doesn't really matter. But, students need to use the latest, greatest hardware in school, and government has big pockets. Do you really think the CIO (Chief Information Officer) of education really worries about saving money? Or, is it more important for him to 'set the budget' for next year?

The educational system currently has 'vendor lock-in'. They are stuck with long contracts, license fees, but worse - outdated thinking. By getting the educational department locked in with long term contracts, the big hardware companies keep a lucrative business going.

Things are changing. Bit by bit -or byte by byte. Some government agencies are rethinking the Windows situation. Many are opting-out of Windows Vista. They just don't see the need to upgrade their systems to use Vista, when most of their computers are used for one or two tasks. They see no reason to change. Some are even looking into Linux solutions. The Linux desktop is becoming easier to use, and the Linux support business have grown in size, competency, and effectiveness.

Edubuntu is a specific Ubuntu Linux version designed for education. Even the moniker; Linux for YOUNG Human Beings give you an idea of what the system is about. With Edubuntu, a school doesn't even need much hardware at all. With older computers, Edubuntu can use Thin Client technology to administer the system out to many terminals in a class room. A teacher can see and control all the terminals from just one computer. Many private schools that might not be able to afford new computer systems with Windows are taking advantage of Edubuntu, and glad for it. They are discovering huge savings, enhanced security, and tons of free educational software.

If all the schools changed to Linux next year, it would be a bad thing. While it would save billions (yes, billions!), the overall economic impact might not be a good thing. Jobs would be lost, hardware progress might even be stalled. IT for education is big business. But, if Linux is adopted slowly, the economy would have time to adjust, adapt, and change.

I hope, one day, I can be part of that change, and the vision I have of the future of education.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Pilot!

It's always been one of my goals to become a pilot. Yeah, I know...doesn't quite fit in with the whole lower consumption thing. But, there it is nonetheless. I want to fly.

Years ago, I bought Microsoft Flight Simulator. I went through the supplied training course, read the training ebook, and learned the instruments. I was actually able to fly! Sort-of. Virtually speaking. I've purchased every version of MS Flight Simulator since 1998. I have to admit, that's one product Microsoft has done a good job on. Well, at least the company they acquired that makes it.

When I started using Linux, I still wanted to use Flight Simulator. I found that another company, FlightGear Flight Simulator makes and open source version.

Being an Open Source project, companies that want to modify the product for their own uses are able to do so. Some companies have used FlightGear to design state-of-the-art training equipment.
While equipment like this isn't cheap, it's far cheaper than a plane, safer to train in, and far safer to practice major malfunction recovery. While you can do things like this with a commercially available product like Microsoft, just try getting open permission to design and use it how you want.

In my last post, I described how other people take what's already available, make a few changes, and make it their own. This is how innovation has been done since man was able to innovate. Some companies, like Lego have embraced this. They fought it at first, even to the point of pursuing legal cases. But, they eventually saw the value in open innovation, and not only allowed users to hack their Lego Mindstorms product, but encourage them to do just that.

By allowing users to openly take FlightGear, hack it up, turn it into something different, better, stronger, faster, the product is able to progress at a faster rate than if it was a commercial product. FlightGear is now used in major universities as a research and training tool.

Anyway, I'd had trouble getting FlightGear to load on my Ubuntu Desktop. I'm not sure if it had to do with the technical specs of the machine, or with the Dapper Drake 6.06 version. I hadn't bothered with it for a few month, and wondered if it would work on my laptop with the Edgy Eft 6.10 version. I found the package in Synaptic, loaded it up, started the program, and I was taking off. It even recognized my flight stick. The program is only as good as the machine it's on. While it looks pretty good to me, I understand it looks even better on a machine with a high-end graphic card. I'm more concerned with learning how to fly than with how it looks when I do, so I probably won't bother to get a newer, better card.

In Other News
Today, we put together a desk for Nancy's mom. She has desks in her home, but most were antique, and didn't fit her computer well. Now, Mrs. Wayman can actually see the screen she's working on.
Now, Mrs. Wayman can read her granddaughters, Amy and Laura's blogs. Nancy's too. In a few months, she'll probably have her own blog.

We also took the dogs to the dog park today. Chili got to meet, greet, and play with a little Australian Cattle Dog puppy. It was probably the first creature who's ever understood and cooperated with Chili's style of play. Maybe, same for the puppy. Herding behavior is hardwired in ACD's and you can't untrain it. They are their happiest when they are doing their 'job'; herding cattle. Chili, and the little ACD pup, Greta had a great time.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Green Computing

Green Computing is becoming a strong buzzword these days. I'm sure Dilbert and Wally would play buzzword bingo with it at a management meeting. In environmental circles, green computing has to do with the creation of less toxic computers. In the business world, green computing has to do with efficient computing - computers that will save electricity. In my world, green computing has to do with both, but also using what has already been created.

Thousands of computers are wasting away, unused but still usable. Thousands of monitors are bulking our warehouses and landfills, also still usable. The problem is that technology companies need to make a profit, and they do so by selling you new equipment. Constantly. Newer, faster, better. And with Apple, prettier.

I certainly don't want to argue against innovation. I encourage it. But I also encourage maker innovation - taking what already exists, and altering it, improving it, customizing it, and innovating something newer, more useful. This is my version of green computing. Unfortunately, companies like Sony, or the RIAA don't want you to do this.

By taking equipment that already exists, has been discarded but is still useful and putting it in the hands of someone who can and will use it, we all benefit. We keep toxic waste out of our landfills, even if only a short time longer. We give something useful more life, and more use for someone else.

Our consumer economy depends on overconsumption. But this over consumption will be the ruin of us individually, and as a society. But it's not inevitable. Organizations exists to help with that:
There are many more that I'm not aware of. Not yet. If you can do just one thing to prevent overconsumption, you'll not only help others, you'll help yourself.

In the meantime, let me refresh your memory of a few original 'free geeks'. A few people that did like the Maker people do; take what already exist (they now like to calling it stealing, even though that's how they acquired their own stuff), and make it their own. Enjoy:

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Teaching Noobies

The Free Geek project is important to me. I've already given away a few good computer systems. Most of these were to people I know. As some of you read in the last post, I've helped set up a system for Nancy's mother, Nordena. Mrs. Wayman has never used a computer in her life, and it's been a long time since she's ever used a typewriter. She's not use to the keyboard, and the whole mouse thing is a new concept to her.

I've set her up a basic Ubuntu system, with a few important programs for her; Firefox for the Internet, OpenOffice for word processing, and GAIM for instant messaging. There are many other programs I installed, but it will be awhile before she can use them.

When I first sat her down, it wasn't long before I realized the challenge presented to me; an absolute computer noobie (newbie). A Luddite. It's not that Mrs. Wayman isn't technologically illiterate, rather the situation is that she's never needed to use a computer. I realized I was going to need to learn a new skill; teaching basic computer skills. I mean absolute basic skills.

For now, I'm using this site with her:

Basic Computer Skills

It's flash based, and somewhat Windows based, but very good. Since it's a British site, I have to speak in a British accent when we are using it. So far, my accent isn't very good. I'd hoped to improve, and fake a good British accent. It makes anything you say to an American sound very intelligent and significant.

Not only do I have to learn how to teach basic computer skills, this experience is helping me learn how to set up an Ubuntu Linux installation for an absolute beginner. What would be nice is if I could set up an installation with the Basic Computer Skills flash tutorial already installed. So, if anyone knows a way to borrow flash programs from a website, leave a comment, or send me an email: danny@coachdanny.net.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

More Linux Wireless Stuff

Techno Babble Warning! If you don't care about all my Linux and tech adventures, skip this post and go down to the previous one. Doggie pictures there.

Linux and wireless technology is like tumbling on Balance Beam in Women's Gymnastics. About 40% of the wireless cards -USB sticks, PCI and miniPCI cards, and PCMCIA cards- work in various distributions of Linux. It can be frustrating for a newbie Linux user. Even if you're experienced, it's still frustrating. It's not that some of the wireless cards won't work in Linux, rather the companies won't release the coding for cards. They have deals with Windows with either won't let them give out the code, or they don't want to risk losing their deals with Windows. Microsoft has been guilty in the past of using their position to say, "We won't like it if you cooperate with anyone else." When you have 95% market share, that's a very strong statement.

At the moment, I think Novell's SuSE Linux works with the most wireless cards. I could be wrong about that, but that's what I've heard. Ubuntu is gaining ground each upgrade (Ubuntu does a new upgrade every six months, not five years like Microsoft). By next year, I speculate they'll have 80%-90% of the wireless codes in the system.

Yesterday, I helped Nancy's mother, Nordena Wayman, set up a Central Florida FreeGeek computer in home. This was Nordena's first computer. Ever. I'd actually brought the computer over last week, and tried to get Internet working, but to no avail. I was being a wee bit naughty. To save her some money, I tried to 'borrow' a neighbors open wireless signal. Last week, I had no success. The signal was just too weak. But, I don't like techno-defeat, so I tried again. This time, I brought a longer USB cord. Thought getting the Belkin USB stick higher up would work. Still no-go. Then, I noticed the room had metal blinds. I put the USB stick on the outside of the blinds and WA-LA! Super signal! The blinds actually seemed to act like a satellite dish, focusing the signal even stronger. Her Internet lite up just fine.

In order to get Nordena online, I let her use my Belkin USB 54G Network adapter. Now, I was without one myself, so I had no wireless on my laptop. Not a real problem, as I rarely use wireless since the battery doesn't last very long. But, I still wanted wireless.

I had five other wireless gadgets - 2 USB sticks, 2 miniPCI cards, and a desktop PCI card- all collected from my pre-Linux tech adventures. I'd tried the USB sticks before, with no success. I've read some tutorials on how to get them working, but it involved blacklisting other working codes. I just wasn't ready to do that. I hadn't tried the miniPCI cards.

The first miniPCI came with the computer, but it was 802.11b (11Mb/s). Fast enough for most broadband, but the range isn't quite as good. The other miniPCI was a Linksys one I'd taken from a router that got zapped during a storm. The card worked wonderfully in Windows, and gave me 802.11g speed (54Mb/s). Most broadband rarely reaches 8 Mb/s , but the g seems to increase the range of the signal. I wanted the range, just in case.

Lastnight, I plugged the little bugger in:
I didn't work right away, but I didn't really expect it too. Hoped it would, but didn't expect. I tried to set it up myself, and almost broke any Internet connection I had. For awhile, I couldn't even get my wired connection to work. I almost had to reinstall Ubuntu and start over. While I'm always looking for tech adventure, I wanted to be good enough to fix it myself. I'm not sure what I did, but I eventually got the wired connection working again. It was 1:30am, and I needed to let my brain ponder this in the background. I went to bed.

I was still determined to get one of the four wireless possibilities I had to work. I surfed the Ubuntu Wiki and forums, and found this post in the wiki, and this one in the forum on getting both the miniPCI and the PCMCIA cards working. I turned off the computer, stuck the miniPCI card in, booted up, and followed the instructions from the post in the forum. Unplugged my cable, and rebooted the computer. After a few moments, the wireless card was working. I'm using it for this post. Not only is it working, it seems to be faster than the cable.

I even tried the battery life with it; about 20 minutes. I have to turn the screen brightness down, and throttle the CPU down to 1 GHz. I might try throttling down even lower. I did the first part of this post all on battery. I think it would probably last about 90 minutes or more with a new battery.

The only thing I haven't figured out is how to turn the little energy sucker off. I can disconnect it, but I can't get it to 'power down'. I'll surf for that one later. Maybe next week.

My next project: Nordena's going to help me learn how to teach newbie computer users. She's my project for now.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Happenings

It's been a few weeks since we took the mutley crew to the Dog Park. I think we like going there as much as Disney or Universal. Of course, the dogs like it more. Whenever we mention the words, Dog Park, all their ears stand up -or out as in Abby's case- their eyes brighten, and the run towards the door to the garage. Taking them is fun too. We all pile in the car, dogs in the back, get my Diet Dew at the Sunoco, and head to Fleet Peeples park.

When we first started going, the pups would stick pretty close to us. Now, as soon as we get their they take off, just like 12 year olds at Disney World would. First thing; the Wilderness Trail.
The Woodlands Trail is Abby's favorite. Chili likes it okay, but she sticks close to us. I guess she feels it's her duty to monitor where everyone is. Chili likes the beach area. It's the most likely place she'll find a ball for us to throw for her.

The three darker haired dogs are ours. The white one is a new friend. Abby doesn't like the beach as much. Too many people and dogs for her. Maybe she has a dog version of agoraphobia. Abby stays at my leg when we're at the beach area. Sometimes, if it's not to crowded, she venture for a frolic in the water with Ginny and Chili.

Ginny likes everything at the dog park. The Woodland Trail, the Beach, the Meadow, the Hammock area, even the Pavilions -might be food there.

We like watching them enjoy being dogs.

Monday, March 05, 2007

More on Education

Steve Jobs of Apple has really brought Apple out of a downward spin. It's now probably the best consumer computer on the market. The iPod has taken the world by storm, and changed how we listen to music, audiobooks, and even Radio Talk Shows. Jobs rules Apple with an iron fist, and probably necessarily so. He did a great job with Pixar, and I'm hoping he'll round out his career redoing Disney ("Pixney, maybe?). Jobs also has some strong opinions, and he recently blasted teachers and teacher unions at a speech in Austin, Texas. Michael Dell was also part of the event, but didn't pull-the-trigger like Jobs did.

The sad fact is; The teachers aren't the problem. Neither is the teacher unions, the textbooks, the kids, or the parents. The whole system isn't really even broken. It's simply out of date. We're teaching students based on a 1950's model. Back then, High School was, mostly likely, the last education most people would get. College was for a select few. Trade school - or in my day, Vocational school- was an option many would take toward and income producing skill. The military was about the only other option.

The world is different now, and schools haven't changed much. The worse part is that the more than 50% of students are in the worst learning environment possible for them -the classroom. If they were like me, learning is a classroom was useless. The super-campus high schools are a problem too, as are the materials students are forced to use.

Jobs is right about one thing; it's got to change, and change fast! I'm sure I've said if before, but I think it bears writing about again - my thoughts on who education will change, and what it will look like in the future:
  1. No more K-12. No more freshman, sophmore, junior, senior terms will apply to academics. They will probably still apply to the team sports, but that will change also. Each student will progress through subjects at their own pace. They may be at a 9th grade level in one subject, but college level in another. Students will be allow to progress in learning at their own pace.
  2. No more 'pass-fail'. The pass-fail system was based on a classroom environment, where everyone had to learn at the pace the teacher taught. With the advent of individual progress, the pass-fail system won't be necessary. Students will keep working on material till they learn it. They'll pick up some subject quickly, while others subject will take longer. They will keep on the material till the know it. They will receive a completion credit/certification when they are done.
  3. Materials a-plenty. Textbooks will eventually be out the door. Those textbook companies have had a monopoly on education long enough. Both teachers and students will be able to select the materials and content that will help them best. And, students won't have to rely on one teacher for lectures. They'll be able to access many lectures, video, audio, or software base learning.
  4. Classrooms will be collaborative, just like the movement in todays workspaces. Collaborative workspaces will also be collaborative classrooms. Students will learn together, especially on specific subjects. And, students from previous collaborations can help the future teams. Cheating will be a thing of the past. It simply won't be necessary anymore.
While Steve Jobs means well for education, he's simply wrong. No one in particular is to blame. Nor is any specific group. But, it will take a brave jump to move to this model of education.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Another ChaCha update

ChaCha Search Search


Things at ChaCha are changing pretty fast. They've undergone major upgrades, guide policy changes, and training changes. In the last two weeks, I haven't gotten many search requests, especially for my keywords. The worst part are the prank searches. Infoseeker abuses are another. Things like that will die down after ChaCha actually gets more popular.

There's also the search results. One of the significant things about ChaCha search results are the input from what the guides find. Even on the searches where you don't use a guide, the past recommendations by guides are higher up in the rankings. This can be good, and bad. Good, if the person knows the field their helping search. Bad, if they don't, or worse, if they are trying to get the keyword in the search to go to their own business site.

Right now, that's the real big problem with ChaCha; lack of enough people knowing about it. Fewer people use it. I think that's the struggle that ChaCha will have to endure for awhile longer. One thing I do: When I'm at a store with computers, I go to each computer and put the ChaCha opening page on it. Harmless, and it lets people see what ChaCha is. And, it's fun to be a screentop graffiti guy.

Try ChaCha, and see how they do. Let me know. You can email me the page at; danny@coachdanny.net