Robert Pogson

One man, closing all the windows.

Posts Tagged / education

  • Apr 16 / 2014
  • 0
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

GNU/Linux Works In Computer Labs In Greece

After years of using GNU/Linux in schools and introducing it to many students and teachers,“All these tools together, Sch-scripts for setting-up PC labs, Epoptes for managing them, and LTSP are used in more than 500 schools, all over Greece. The free and open source solutions help save teachers valuable time. One grateful teacher posted a testimonial on the support forum for Sch-script in 2010: "Within one hour, a PC lab set-up which had been giving me all kind of headaches (8 computers with Windows 2000 and dozens of problems) became operable… from my laptop! Tomorrow, I am doing the first real test-drive with students, but it was amazing how fast and easy everything was. I’m speechless. Now I can share my desktop with all the lab PC users, and monitor them, it is incredible."” I became skilful enough to set up a lab in an hour or so, replacing that other OS with something that worked. That’s becoming “old school” these days with many distros provide setting up the software through the package-manager.

Now even more of the configuration and additional tools are all available by a set of scripts developed in Greece. 500 schools is a whole bunch more than I worked. GNU/Linux works in education. It can work anywhere. Finding the recipes for all this and sharing is obviously more efficient than buying solutions sold by M$ and “partners” that cost too much or don’t work at all sometimes. The world can and does make its own software better than those guys. This is just another example of doing IT the right way.

See Computer lab management tool in over 500 Greek schools.

  • Apr 15 / 2014
  • 3
technology

April 2014 Project of the Month, Free Pascal

Sourceforge has been and will continue to be one of the world’s great repositories of Free Software. Project of the month is my old favourite, FreePascal. Some of the reasons for my liking it are condensed in a single question/answer between SourceForge and the original authour, Florian Klämpfl:
“SF: Who can benefit the most from your project?
FK: I think there are multiple groups who can benefit from it:
- People who want to learn only one programming language which allows them to use it for almost everything: FPC can be used to do big database applications but it can be also used to program embedded devices. It can used to write numerical applications but also to code for mobile devices.
- People who have a large Pascal/Object Pascal code base
- People who are interested in a programming language which offers a compromise between high productivity and the advantages of native code.”

Amen! I would add that FreePascal also has a very dense/sparse syntax so it is very easy to learn and use to full advantage. This also greatly increases readability.

See April 2014 Project of the Month, Free Pascal | SourceForge Community Blog.

  • Apr 15 / 2014
  • 0
technology

GNU/Linux in India

For many years, GNU/Linux on the desktop has been progressing well in government and education. Now that Dell and Canonical have teamed up to sell GNU/Linux widely to consumers, we can really see progress in the web stats. In the last two years, according to StatCounter, GNU/Linux has progressed from ~1.1% to nearly 1.65%. While unit-sales of “PCs” have increased over the past year and consumer-sales of “PCs” have actually declined, this is quite a feat. It does pay to have salesmen.

Top 7 Desktop OSs in India from W15 2012 to W15 2014.

  • Apr 01 / 2014
  • 9
Linux in Education, technology

Death of XP Bad for Linux? Nope.

Christopher Tozzi wrote, “The sad reality is that everybody needs to run a Windows app now and then” in an article about the increasing difficulty of virtualizing that other OS on a GNU/Linux system. He’s right about the RAM/CPU/storage burdens of that other OS increasing but he’s wrong that this is bad for GNU/Linux and FLOSS.

The thing is the cost of virtualization is just one more cost of using that other OS. The world is tired of those endless costs. In 2013 we saw ARM and Android/Linux explode in popularity because the costs are so much less. On the desktop, some folks are even using Android/Linux today if they don’t need a big load of applications running simultaneously. Those of us who live in the real world may feel the need for more multiprocessing and for that GNU/Linux works well.

The death of XP means many individuals and organizations have an opportunity to think outside M$’s box. Many will spend huge amounts to remain locked up but some will escape. That’s good for FLOSS and GNU/Linux. The more the merrier.

The last desktop application I ever ran on XP was about five years ago when the school where I worked used XP. I switched that school over to GNU/Linux on more than 90% of the seats. The last time I ever used Wine to run a self-extracting .exe was a few years ago when I got a new motherboard. I just don’t need that other OS ever again. If anyone pushes me to use it, I will just say, “NO!” and really mean it.

See Why Windows XP's Demise Is Bad for Linux and Open Source.

  • Mar 17 / 2014
  • 0
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

OMG! FLOSS Has A Hotel…

I’ll come straight out with it. I don’t like hotels.“The Linux Hotel is one of the hubs for open source in Germany. For years, the makers behind on the well-known software packages at a very special ( see here ) in the Linux Hotel. We also like to make contact when companies or individuals help or want to get involved personally! A stay at the Linux Hotel brings casual way considerably more than conventional or in-house training. But we do not overdo it. Those seeking relaxation uses bicycles, parking, fireplace room, sauna / gym …. Others take the framework program (alternating: vintage bus, musicals, theater, concerts, forging the historic “Hammer”, Railway Museum, GoCart, table tennis, yoga, barbecue, …). “ I don’t like travelling at all. However, if you need to take a course in FLOSS or GNU/Linux or meet GNU/Linux people, there’s no better place than a hotel if it means you can spend more time doing what you came for. This hotel has 8 hours a day of courses, GNU/Linux PCs all over the place, food/drink/recreation all over the place 24×7. It’s the Shangri-La of FLOSS.

This could catch on. Maybe it’s part of the reason Germany is a leader in FLOSS/GNU/Linux. All kinds of businesses are saying there is a shortage of GNU/Linux/FLOSS geeks. Maybe they should offer a few existing or potential employees an all-expenses-paid visit to this place. That might make the world a better place.

Google Translation of The Linux Hotel’s site.

  • Mar 05 / 2014
  • 1
Linux in Education, technology

New ICT Curriculum In Indian Schools

“The requirements of the curricula are not to be hardware or software speci c. Undoing the general trend of limiting software to office applications, which are not only ill suited for educational purposes but also tend to narrow down the view of what computers and ICT can achieve, a wide range of software applications specifi cally designed for education are introduced. Use of proprietary software would become very expensive and make the implementation unviable. Therefore, Free and Open Source software have been suggested throughout the curricula. The use of FOSS applications will also obviate software piracy and enable customisation to suit local needs.”

AMEN! This is a national curriculum for one of the largest countries on Earth. It is professionally done and not just about students. It includes training for teachers. Wow! If implemented widely, this should see increased use of computers in education and FLOSS in a country with 1billion+ people and many millions of students.

Further, the new curriculum does not hold teachers back. Those already skilled in ICT will be able to be certified in short order. The new curriculum does not hold students back. It starts with programming computers in the first year (~10 years of age).

The arrival of small cheap computers on retail shelves and OEMs’ catalogues will actually make this possible to implement widely as every school should be able to afford this and if they can’t the central government should be able to fix that.

See ICT Curriculuma.pdf.

  • Mar 03 / 2014
  • 2
technology

Death Of XP: Romania

“A former Romanian secretary of state, Constantin Teodorescu, is calling on the country’s public administrations to switch to Linux and other open source solutions. "The Romanian government should contact the budgetary heads at all public administrations and explain that they can switch everything to free software", he writes on his blog on Friday. "Let’s get this straight, and end this tragedy".”It’s kind of late but some people are just waking up to the fact that XP is not immortal… Some of them run the government in Romania. Advice from a guy who knows that governmnet inside and out could be quite influential.

In my experience, moving schools from XP to GNU/Linux, it’s easy, fast and reliable to make the switch. It just takes a focus on getting the job done. Think of all the tasks done with XP and figure out how to do them with GNU/Linux. A high percentage of those tasks are done with browser and office suite. In education, everything else is some utility like moving files or resizing images or playing music. None of those should lock anyone in to a dying OS. Just do it. I recommend converting on a weekend and fixing a few problems on Monday and you’re done. Folks are horrified by that but it works and everyone is motivated to get the job done ASAP, just what you need. Planning everything out and guaranteeing no failures is a huge waste of energy and probably not without failures anyway. Move the data. Raze and replace. Done.

I recommend Debian GNU/Linux because it’s been around a while and ~1000 volunteers and millions of users do most of the work. An administrator mostly has to run installers or copy files. It’s not like the wheel has to be reinvented each time. GNU/Linux lets your hardware do anything of which it is capable so one thing that’s sure is that there is a way to solve the problem with GNU/Linux while with XP you’re never going to know when the whole thing is about to fall down. Think about that. Avoid the nightmare. Go FLOSS.

See Ex-state secretary: Romania must move to Linux.

  • Feb 27 / 2014
  • 2
Linux in Education, technology

Harsh Guidance In Romainian Education

After recent reports that schools were not using donated notebooks running Ubuntu Gnu/Linux, the government has issued an edict that “Schools are to un-install all software without a valid license and to confirm the completion of this action by getting an un-install statement. The Ministry of National Education has made this request to the school inspectors”

The system licence with M$ has expired and the government is recommending that schools use GNU/Linux, particularly Ubuntu. I would bet many schools that neglected Ubuntu GNU/Linux notebooks would have a hard time even “uninstalling” that other OS. Does “Format C:” still work? Allowing a licence to expire and then issuing advice is harsh treatment for educators. This is about as abrupt as my conversions over the weekend but at least I was there to pick up the pieces.

Anyway, it’s a good decision better late than never. Most schools in which I have worked in Canada neither have the resources nor the expertise to do such things and will need help. I hope GNU/Linux geeks step forward, quickly, before some political compromise is reached. M$ never gives up.

See Education ministry Romania endorses Ubuntu.

  • Feb 21 / 2014
  • 0
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

Penn Manor – A School System That Is Maximizing ROI For IT

Penn Manor is a school system committed to 1:1 student:PC ratio. That’s important because without ubiquity, PCs are just accessories in schools. You can’t plan every lesson around them. You can’t eliminate a lot of paper-shuffling and waste. You can’t use electronic search for everything. “Conversations in education are changing very rapidly from sorta old days where this was this insistence that we had to be teaching Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office”
A school without that ratio wastes time doing everything: trips to the library/warehouse of dead-trees, handing out papers, taking in papers, shuffling papers, losing papers,… It goes on and on. There’s nothing you can do with paper that’s not better/faster/cheaper with PCs. Art might be an exception but that’s just a niche in education. Schools for centuries have been relying on paper as a medium of exchange of information from generations past to future generations.
For example, consider an assignment to write an essay. Typically, there are not enough dead-tree books in a classroom to do all the research in the classroom unless everyone is writing on the same subject and some class-sets are available. What’s the cost of a class-set? Say, $50 X 24… There might need to be a dozen such sets to cover all the courses for that classroom and a student might need 7 classrooms to visit. It all adds up. Compare that with a class in a school with a good connection to Wikipedia or to a local copy of Wikipedia on a server and 1:1 PCs. Students can be on task in seconds compared to a trip to the library which may or may not bear fruit. Compare that with a school having ~100K electronic books on the server… Compare that with a school having a course management system like Moodle helping students and teachers slice and dice the subject matter and communicate in real time with assignments and responses.

With 1:1 PC ratios more education happens faster. Students can more easily work at their own rate. Teachers can more easily keep ahead of students who excel or students who lag the bulk of the students. Small and large group activities work in much the same way as students used to social media on the web.

Now, consider trying to do that with EULAs restricting networking of PCs, restricting installing and copying software, budgeting and paying huge numbers of licensing fees,… FLOSS is the right way to go. Schools can just do it with much less effort, time, cost, and way more flexibility.

See Interview with Penn Manor – PA Champions of Open Source.

See also Penn Manor Technology Blog

  • Feb 20 / 2014
  • 2
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

Disastrous Donation Of 1800 GNU/Linux Notebooks To Schools May Have A Silver Lining

A business donated 1800 GNU/Linux notebooks to Romanian schools but they remain largely unused. Some have had that other OS installed. According to one principal, “It is impossible for teachers to teach using two different programs.”

That shows a spectacular lack of initiative and planning. It happens. Not every teacher and principal is a hero. Still, there is a silver lining. Having this debacle in the news will educate teachers. Clearly, they don’t understand that proper IT in schools is a powerful tool that should be optimally used regardless of software. If they didn’t know how to use the machines, they should have turned them over to students. Problem solved.

This is a problem from top to bottom in education. If FLOSS is not on the radar for planning, procurement, daily use and future development, schools will continue to have only feeble use of IT for education because M$ and “partners” care only about revenue and profit, not education. That keeps prices high and usability low. Crippled by the EULA and the need to force users to constantly upgrade, M$’s software is far from optimal for schools. GNU/Linux worked for every school where I showed it to folks and the problems of a different user-interface were tiny.

How much training did these teachers require to learn to use their Android/Linux smartphones? A brief introduction? That’s all that was missing here. The rest could easily have been supplied with a bit of imagination and creativity.

See Teachers Romania oblivious about open source.

  • Feb 09 / 2014
  • 10
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

A Bunch Of Reasons Why I Use The GNU/Linux Operating System

I just read a trollish/clickbaitish article, you know, one of those “umpteen reasons to use that other OS…” things. It was sickening. All the usual arguments evanglists of M$ use wrapped in a “user-friendliness” package with a ribbon were there. I won’t even link to it. It was just too far gone. I will write my own such article based on real experiences in the real world.

I used to put up with that other OS when it crashed a dozen times a day. I saved files early and often… When almost every PC on Earth shipped with that, what was the choice? I knew about UNIX but the last time I checked folks wanted $1000 for permission to use it. I had never heard of Minix and I though GNU/Linux was just for computergeeks or huge companies. I had seen a guy attempt to install GNU/Linux just once. It was a disaster and lead to a CLI (commandline interface) that was foreign. I had used DOS a lot but this was different. Nevertheless, I was in the Arctic with five PCs running that other OS, Lose ’95 flavour, and one or another crashed almost hourly. What I had tolerated as an individual user for years was intolerable to me when I was a paid professional teacher in charge of the futures of two dozen real human beings entrusted to me by their parents.

I read that GNU/Linux didn’t crash and I had to have it. It took 10 days of nights and weekends at dial-up speed to get one CD of Caldera e-Desktop. I had never installed an OS before except copying DOS to a hard drive, but I figured it out and the installation was flawless, except I couldn’t get the GUI to run. I needed to look up data for our five different monitors and put the sweep frequencies into a file. So, a day or two later I had five PCs that didn’t crash. They ran six months without a single crash. I was sold.

M$ had been able to sell that crap because they had exclusive deals with OEMs, retailers, ISV’s (not so Independent Software Vendors) and had extended the monopoly granted by IBM to the ends of the Earth. IBM had adopted GNU/Linux a year or so before I discovered it so M$ had to change but GNU/Linux was far ahead in the stability department. I was amazed that a dying application could not lock up the OS. I learned about “Xkill” and carried on. We had an office suite, StarOffice, and a browser, Netscape, that did everything I knew how to do on a PC about education. I and my students were free of M$.

No student complained that GNU/Linux was not that other OS or that some list of applications would not run on it or that other OS was prettier. No one cared. The PCs loved it. The students loved it except for a couple whose parents thought more than 15 minutes per day was excessive use of a PC. My students were getting more than 60 minutes per day. It was like having another teacher in the room. I worked out lessons for students and distributed documents or papers to those PCs and the students took care of the rest. Vocabularies improved. Writing skills improved. I was able to give more attention to the rest of the class. What’s not to love about GNU/Linux?

Since then, the things I was able to get GNU/Linux to do for me multiplied greatly. I learned about file-sharing and printing and X and openSSH so I could control one or a hundred computers as if they were one bringing more computing power to each user as needed. The use of the hardware was only limited by my imagination and the imaginations of students and teachers, not some stupid EULA…

Let me tell you about M$’s EULA (End User Licence Agreement). First off, it’s not an agreement. You are forced to say you agree to it if you want to use your PC. That’s not an agreement. That’s extortion. Pay us if you want to stay in business… Further, the “agreement” is unconscionable. You have to agree not to connect more than X PCs together. Yep. A school with 100 XP machines on a LAN would be in violation if they shared files or ran thin clients. M$ wants you to cripple your PCs so they can sell you a “server” licence with a per-seat charge. Then there’s the thing about not studying the OS. You are not legally able to study M$’s OS and figure out what it’s doing to you. M$ also wants you to agree that M$ should be able to install whatever malware it wants on your computer. M$ wants to use the hardware you own to work for M$. For agreeing to this enslavement, they also charge a fee. That’s insane.

GNU/Linux on the other hand runs on FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) licences. The common theme is that you can run the software any way you want on as many computers as you want making as many copies as you want and you may study the software including source code and/or modify it… Oh… Vive la difference…

That’s Software Freedom, actually freedom for developers and users to make the best use of IT. If you are a developer you will like the fact that you can start a huge project from scratch and reuse and modify all the software you can get legally and without a fee in most cases. That enables anyone to start a huge project that could go far for very little cost. That’s perfect for students, young folk and start-ups as well as individuals and organizations. It doesn’t get any better than that. If you’re a user, you can use your hardware to full advantage with few restrictions, very little cost and no organization can tell you what to do with your hardware. It doesn’t get any better than that.

GNU/Linux largely uses open standards so whatever applications and computers you have can all talk to each other and speak the same languages. That allows you to turn a lab or a school into a super-computer as needed. That allows you to set up as many databases, search engines, web-servers, clients thick (resourceful) and thin (using resources of a server), as you need, want or can afford. Basically, you don’t need a brand new PC to get great performance if you can connect to another powerful computer running the software you need. GNU/Linux lets you do that transparently.

Let me give you an example. I like the application, GNUmeric, for doing spreadsheets. It makes the lovely graphs I display on my blog. They are SVG so they scale nicely no matter what size your screen. They take just a few seconds for me to set up from templates and they are infinitely customisable. The latest version of GNUmeric does not run directly on the version of GNU/Linux I have on my main PC, Beast. It wants the latest version of GNU/Linux. So, I set up another PC, a virtual one, that runs on Beast, installed the latest version of GNU/Linux from the Debian organization, and interact with it as if it were installed on Beast in the usual way by creating an icon that runs this simple command, ssh -Y jessie “gnumeric”. The “ssh” part runs a remote secure shell on the other computer, jessie. The “gnumeric” part runs GNUmeric for me on the other PC and the -Y part connect the application to my PC in a transparent fashion, a window automatically appears in front of me and I’m off. I also share the directories where I download and keep my documents so the apparent file-structure on Jessie is identical to my normal one. It’s all transparent to me, the user. I basically get to use two PCs as if they were one. If necessary, I could make Jessie some powerful super-computer and get better performance, or I could run more applications simultaneously by having more RAM on two systems than I could on one or… See? It’s only limited by my imagination, not some crazy EULA designed to sell more licences to remove crippling. The city of Largo in Florida does this for all their major applications. There are a bunch of powerful servers running their pet application for hundreds of users who access the application from small cheap computers on their desks. This is the lowest cost and the highest performing system you can have. Essentially, you don’t need a noisy, bulky heat-source in your working environment. It can be cool and quiet and serene thanks to GNU/Linux. M$? They charge extra for that and you still have all the other problems of that other OS: malware, re-re-reboots and the damned EULA.

So, we’ve covered reliability and flexibility and freedom. What about the actual design of the software? GNU/Linux has many parts. The GNU part is an ancient imitation of the UNIX OS from the olden days. The Linux part is a kernel that knows just about every bit of hardware you can connect to a PC and a benevolent dictator, Linus Torvalds, herds the Linux developers/cats in good directions, keeping things from breaking as much as possible and always trying to improve performance and security. On the other hand, M$ is anxious to sell as many licences as possible by every trick in the book including breaking things so a new licence will fix things until M$ needs more money, inviting malware in so computers slow down or “fail” and they are not above installing stuff that slows down your computer so you constantly feel the need to buy a new one, hoping faster hardware would save you from M$. M$ is run by salesmen. GNU/Linux is a product of the world which can and does make its own software to work for us not against us.

Have I missed anything? Probably. I will finish with some of the fabulous software I use in my home doing the computing that I do. There’s no lack of valuable software available from the Debian GNU/Linux repositories and I can install any of it in a few minutes by typing simple commands or clicking a mouse a few times.

  • Gnumeric, which I have described above,
  • LibreOffice, a general office suite which does almost everything perfectly for me except huge documents and the graphs in spreadsheets,
  • Lyx is what I like to create huge documents like books. It allows the writer to concentrate on content rather than formatting,
  • Inkscape is a programme designed to create and modify SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) images,
  • FireFox web browser,
  • ImageMagick, a toolbox for handling image files,
  • Gimp, a complex image editor, capable of almost anything for images used on the web or computer screen,
  • VLC, a video viewer/streamer/convertor,
  • Mplayer, a video player,
  • OpenShot video editor,
  • SoX, audio toolbox,
  • Audacity, audio editor,
  • Apache web server,
  • MySQL/MariaDB database,
  • PostgreSQL database,
  • Swish-e search engine,
  • Recoll search engine,
  • AutoKey, which inserts various strings in my texts by typing simple “hot keys”,
  • APT software packaging system,
  • and thousand of others

Notice that several of these are usually found on servers, not PCs, like Apache or MySQL. That’s OK. GNU/Linux doesn’t limit your freedom to run whatever you want wherever you want. Remember? Some trolls might mention that most of these can run on that other OS but if I don’t have to sell my soul to use my PC, why should I run that other OS? I don’t owe M$ a living. I don’t own M$ anything. If anything, I should send M$ a bill for the thousands of re-re-reboots they inflicted on me over the years.

There, I’m done. There are no good reasons for me to run that other OS and plenty for me to run Debian GNU/Linux. You should too unless you’re a slave and want to remain a slave.

  • Feb 05 / 2014
  • 3
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

Schools Allowing Drug-Dealers To Operate In The Parking Lots

No, not literally, but figuratively, the generosity of many IT-companies to “help” schools afford IT is more about enslaving students to use and be locked-in to those companies’ products rather than choosing what works best for the students and teachers. I am surprised that M$ is not on the list…

  • “Apple’s pledging $100 million in iPads, Macbooks, products and teacher training.”
  • “AT&T is giving $100 million in mobile broadband for 3 years to middle schools and for teacher development.”
  • “The Verizon Foundation is giving $100 million to educate teachers, with the Verizon Innovative Leading Schools program, among other initiatives.”
  • “Autodesk will offer free design software to every secondary school.”

Sigh… No one should have to donate software for schools because FLOSS is already ~$0. They can use it for the price of a download. Training? Just use it. Most software can be figured out in a few minutes of poke-and-click. The web is full of collaborative sites that require little or no training. Know a school for FaceBook? GMail? The concept of requiring training in schools is silly. That’s just a euphemism for allowing salesmen into schools. Just turn the students loose on it and they will put it to good use within the first hour. The benefits are only limited by imaginations of users, not the agreements companies force on schools.

I recommend Debian GNU/Linux for schools. I have worked in dozens of schools where clients and servers just hummed on the LAN, trouble-free and fast with tons of FLOSS. Put a start-page on the browsers and stand back. Learning will happen. It will be hard to prevent. I have set up Moodle course management system in schools and local copies of Wikipedia, all for $0 and a few minutes of my time.

The high-speed Internet access is welcome, but how about cabling and wireless in the schools? How about gigabit/s to servers and multimedia stations? Is it there? What about thin clients? Is this “help” limited to expensive thick clients or to the optimal solution, thin client/server, for most tasks in education? Will students be able to learn anything beyond dependence on some monopolists?

See Apple And Others Fund $750 Million In Education Gadgets And Internet Broadband.

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