Robert Pogson

One man, closing all the windows.

Posts Tagged / education

  • Sep 01 / 2014
  • 1
technology

WOW! The Feynman Lectures on Physics Available On The Web

I still have the 3-volume set in storage here somewhere. I haven’t read them in ages but they were my absolutely favourite textbooks ever.“Caltech and The Feynman Lectures Website are pleased to present this online edition of The Feynman Lectures on Physics. Now, anyone with internet access and a web browser can enjoy reading a high quality up-to-date copy of Feynman’s legendary lectures.” Feynman was a great scientist and lecturer and the books were basically transcribed from audio recordings of his lectures. He was famous for some fundamental science and later for his analysis of the “Space Shuttle Disaster”, but for me he was always the guy who could make the obscure clear. You could read those books and understand what he was saying and the science behind Nature’s mysteries.

The lectures are not FLOSS. They are read-only… We wouldn’t really want to change a jot or tittle of it anyway. Caltech did use FLOSS tools to publish the work, converting LaTex to HTML.

See The Feynman Lectures on Physics.

  • Aug 25 / 2014
  • 6
technology

Start Talking About the GNU/Linux Desktop

Linus just mentioned that he thinks GNU/Linux could succeed on the desktop and folks come out of the woodwork dumping on the idea…“The briefest glance at market share data suggests that I’m not alone, either. While hundreds of millions of people want Linux powering their smartphones, and millions of businesses are content to let Linux run their servers, virtually no one wants Linux running their laptops and desktops.” The quotation to the right is from an article wherein the authour in a circular fashion argues that GNU/Linux on the business-desktop won’t succeed because of consumers’ needs… That’s laughable. Business is all about work, after all.

Further, business has no need of “consumery” things to use GNU/Linux for servers. Neither do Google, Munich, Largo, India, Spain,… You get the picture. These folks are assuming nothing is happening with GNU/Linux desktops despite things happening. That puts their entire thesis in the garbage.

If you look at global web-stats for GNU/Linux desktops, you see steady growth in a declining or stagnant market for legacy PCs. That means GNU/Linux is becoming accepted on the desktop by many more than just we geeks. Dell and Canonical have actual salesmen delivering it in China and India. OLPC is delivering it to schools in emerging markets around the world. Governments in Europe are adopting it at a great rate. And yes, even businesses are seeing that GNU/Linux works for them on desktop as well as server.

Shortly, I will be going to a meeting where one participant has asked me for help with GNU/Linux on a notebook. She doesn’t like what M$ does for her there. I’ve made up a bootable USB-drive with the Debian installer and a repository of stuff the typical desktop user will need, including Synaptic and gksu so she can customize her notebook when she gets home. I will start her off with a basic installation of Debian GNU/Linux and add the XFCE4 desktop environment with a selection of a few typical applications: FireFox browser, VLC media player, GIMP image editor, and Ristretto image viewer. XFCE4 is similar to what she liked from M$: XP. If M$ won’t give her what she wants, I and the FLOSS community will. When random people you meet are interested in desktop GNU/Linux, this is no time to abandon this thriving technology. It works for ordinary people.

Nope. If you haven’t already started talking about GNU/Linux on desktops, get going.

See (Or Not) Can we please stop talking about the Linux desktop?.

  • Aug 20 / 2014
  • 12
technology

Reports Of The Death Of GNU/Linux In Munich Are Greatly Exaggerated

Here and elsewhere we read that the mayor and M$ are drooling to pave over GNU/Linux with that other OS in Munich…“Suggestions the council has decided to back away from Linux are wrong, according to council spokesman Stefan Hauf.
He said the council’s recently elected mayor Dieter Reiter has instead simply commissioned a report into the future IT system for the council.”
Not so. The mayor is grumbling and has asked for a review of IT in general. That’s a normal part of the life-cycle of any IT-system or version of software. I did that at several of the schools where I worked and the decision to go to GNU/Linux occurred frequently. In GNU/Linux, a result could be to go to a later release of Debian, or to adopt LibreOffice 4.x or to go with thin clients almost everywhere…

Of course, the mayor might get a different result if he accepts voluntary labour from M$ or hires his nephew to do the research, but the council is wide awake and understands the issues, so I doubt there will be some coup in IT.

Further, I can’t see this mayor being reelected if he urges the city to spend ~$30million on returning to the fold of M$ rather than maintaining GNU/Linux for peanuts.

See Ditching Linux for Windows? The truth isn't that simple, says Munich.

  • Aug 18 / 2014
  • 4
technology

Real People Now Ready To Accept A Real OS

Christine Hall writes about the evolution of the mental lock-in of ordinary people using IT.“cell phones and tablets have made people less afraid to move away from their Windows comfort zones. Indeed, I think that people have never been in love with Windows, it’s just what they knew. Now that they’ve seen that they’ve been able to learn to use Android and/or iOS like pros, they’re more than willing to move on when it comes to their PCs as well.” She’s seen what I’ve seen, that ordinary people a decade or more ago likely had no clue about anything except that other OS. Now people are willing to try GNU/Linux much more readily.

When I first taught in the North, no one I met had heard much about GNU/Linux and no one had tried GNU/Linux on a desktop, even myself. After a few years of using GNU/Linux in schools, everything changed. I met students, parents and members of the community who had used GNU/Linux before I arrived and I travelled to a new community almost every year. Students and community members also travel and several in each community had previously installed GNU/Linux or attended a school that used GNU/Linux much as I did. That was before Android/Linux and ChromeOS took off…

Today, a good fraction of humans have used Android/Linux on a PC-like smartphone or tablet and they are unafraid. They are used to operating without a EULA around their necks. They are used to an OS that doesn’t slow down or pick up malware like pocket-lint. They are used to an OS that doesn’t artificially raise the price of their PC. They are ready for an OS not designed by salesmen. They are ready for FLOSS and GNU/Linux on desktop/notebook PCs. Suggest they move on. Suggest they visit Goodbye-microsoft.com if they have the functionality to browse the web left in their PC. Suggest they visit Debian.org too.

See The Time to Recommend Linux & FOSS Is Now.

  • Aug 13 / 2014
  • 3
technology

Who Is Himangi Saraogi?

I was wandering through the LKML and found a blast of patches submitted by Himangi Saraogi. “I love coding”This blast started May 7, and so far there are ~300 patches. Many of them seemed related to fixing matters of style and coding faults dug up by “Coccinelle” (Lady Bugs, to me…). But no, this tool is not an insect walking around and eating parasites but a code-searching tool spotting patterns. This is all about fixing the problems that creep in when humans run amok changing things in complex and huge codes. Good! This should improve the quality and ease of maintenance of Linux, one of the wonders of the world of IT.

It turns out that this developer is a female student in India. She is learning by contributing to the Linux kernel! Look out world! She aims to succeed.

See Himangi Saraogi | CodeChef.

  • Aug 12 / 2014
  • 2
technology

iPad vs. Chromebook – No Contest

Recent news about the popularity of Chromebooks with schools may seem puzzling“Schools in Hillsborough, New Jersey decided to make an experiment out of its own program. Beginning in 2012, 200 students were given iPads and 200 students were given Chromebooks. After receiving feedback from both students and teachers, the schools sold off their iPads and bought 4,600 Chromebooks.”. After all, a keyboard is a great input device and writing is one of the three “Rs” but why not just by a notebook PC? The answer is that the high cost of maintaining the legacy PC is too great. Keeping content on the server makes the job easier and with Chromebooks, schools don’t even need to own the server… Then there’s the malware, the slowing down, the re-re-rebooting with that other OS… That makes the ChromeBook a winner in education and probably a lot of organizations large and small, even consumers. Of course, they could get those benefits with “straight” desktop GNU/Linux but it would take more technical knowledge. Again Chromebooks win.

See iPad vs. Chromebook For Students.

  • Jul 31 / 2014
  • 1
Linux in Education, technology

Converting A Small School To GNU/Linux in 1 Hour

Of course this can be done using Debian GNU/Linux but it takes more knowledge than a newbie might have. A distro designed for the purpose gets a teacher off to a good start. My first experience with GNU/Linux in a lab came from K12LTSP GNU/Linux when it was a real distro based on Fedora GNU/Linux. It installed a working LTSP server in less than an hour and all I had to do was collect a few addresses and edit a few files. Easy.

More recently I recommended EdUbuntu for the job but with the strange sharp turns of Canonical away from a near perfect desktop OS to some kind of compromise, I thought I should try Debian Edu/SkoleLinux which does the same but is based on Debian more solidly.

I downloaded the beta CD from
http://ftp.skolelinux.org/cd-wheezy-amd64-i386-netinst/MD5SUMS

and
http://ftp.skolelinux.org/cd-wheezy-test-amd64-i386-netinst/debian-edu-amd64-i386-NETINST-1.iso

One can verify the correctness of a 600MB download using the md5sum command on a working GNU/Linux system or just trust to luck. These days it is rare to have a bad download. One can boot from the CD and do an internal test as well.

I created a virtual machine of 40gB and booted the CD. Screenshots follow. The process installs applications, an OS and services to boot a bunch of PCs by PXE and run sessions on the subject PC. This is a great convenience. One installation does the whole bunch. One just needs to set all the client PCs to boot PXE/network from the BIOS and it helps to have two NICs (Network Interface Controllers) on the server PC. One will connect to the outside world and the other will supply the clients in the school or lab. If the server PC has 200MB RAM per client and a good modern CPU, it should be able to run 24 PCs with no problems for normal click and gawk computing. It’s not a super-computer, so don’t expect all clients to be able to solve the secrets of the universe simultaneously but they sure can give a nice snappy learning environment. GNU/Linux runs well under load.

This installation pulls packages in from the Internet, so speed is dependent on that connection. I have a local server which makes things much faster but one needs to select “expert” to be able to specify the proxy.

The installation guides the newbie through the steps:
result
result4

There are 2600 packages installed in the main file-system and the chroot for thin clients. It even installs LDAP and xrdp, much more than a minimal installation. I fear this is bloat for a lot of schools who just need a lab running… Without a fast local mirror, this installation takes many hours and I can see teachers taking up much of a weekend to do it.

I recommend doing a minimal installation of Debian GNU/Linux and adding the LTSP parts manually to avoid the bloat. That way you can get XFCE4, turn off encryption and use a local mirror or cache of packages. That will save downloading packages twice, once for the file-system and once again for the chroot and if you need to repeat the installation, the second try will be much faster.

  • Jul 23 / 2014
  • 0
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

Freeing Education Via GNU/Linux

When I was teaching in small remote schools in Canada’s north, I had the same sorts of problems schools in the south have.“I found that our technology was not up to scratch to meet the needs of our students. We only had a few desktop PCs located in each elementary and middle school classroom, and only a few in our high school computer labs. We definitely needed more machines so students would get more time to work on class projects and do research.” There weren’t enough PCs and the cost of maintenance was prohibitive. Along came GNU/Linux and a lot of problems were solved. We could spend money on hardware (productivity booster) instead of software licences (dead weight). Malware became a distant memory as installed operating systems just kept humming for years. Package management over the network saved tons of work, too.

I went with thin client technology to maximize the benefit of new hardware. Today, schools have the choice of letting Google spend money on hardware so a new kind of thin client, the Chromebook, works for them. It’s all good. They both use GNU/Linux. More money spent on IT goes for the education of students and less on making the rich richer.

See Bridgeport Public Schools Choose Chromebooks.

  • Jul 22 / 2014
  • 0
technology

France, Spain And Greece Loosen Their Shackles

You have to admire the bold moves many European governments have made towards using FLOSS to do their IT. More organizations should follow their examples.

France A parliamentary report recommends securing the Internet from attacks by various players and using more FLOSS.
Valencia, Spain Valencia has saved $millions over the years and it’s not about to stop using FLOSS.
Greece Universities have organized a summer course for civil servants and others who need to learn more about FLOSS and how to use it.

The French report pulls no punches:(translation from French)
On FLOSS, among many other advantages, It helps reduce the dependence, strategic and economic, of France vis-a-vis foreign suppliers: “In these lean times we would find many advantages to using open programs like LibreOffice, OpenOffice or FireFox instead of paying a fortune to Microsoft” emphasized Mr. Francesco Ragazzi

My favourite recommendation?
“promote a progressive migration of their IT infrastructure to FLOSS. This can happen, in particular, by a preference for open source software in tendering procedures for public procurement and the imposition of open standards.”

I couldn’t have written it any better than that.

See also, France parliamentary committee: ‘encourage European open source software market’

  • Jul 21 / 2014
  • 9
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

Schools In Geneva Switching To GNU/Linux

“All primary and secondary public schools in the Swiss Canton of Geneva are switching to using Ubuntu GNU/Linux for the PCs used by teachers and students. The switch has been completed by all of the 170 primary public schools, and the migration of the canton’s 20 secondary schools is planned for the next school year. Ubuntu GNU/Linux offers powerful services to the teachers, is easier to maintain, faster, safer and more stable than the decade-old proprietary operating system it is replacing, the canton’s school IT department concludes, based on several four-year long pilots.” These guys took four years studying the matter and it will only take two years to switch their schools to GNU/Linux. It shows the Munich decade was some sort of aberration in terms of time taken to switch. The difference is the number of applications locked in to that other OS. Munich had hundreds. Geneva has only one or two. LibreOffice takes care of one…

Anyway, I think the migration in Geneva is remarkable because the Swiss are thorough. If they could be convinced in just four years, most of the rest of us should be convinced in a matter of hours. Get on with it folks. Take a look at Debian GNU/Linux and see what you’ve been missing: the freedom to use the hardware you own to its maximum capability, freedom from malware and freedom from paying about twice what IT should really cost you. In schools where I used GNU/Linux we easily had twice as much IT for the same cost and the cost of maintaining the larger system was less than the cost of maintaining the smaller system running that other OS. Freedom from the EULA of M$ which enslaves you rather than enabling you is the killer however. With FLOSS and GNU/Linux you can run, examine, modify and distribute the software to your heart’s content. Go with it. Seize the opportunity.

SeeGeneva class-rooms switching to free software | Joinup.

  • Jul 15 / 2014
  • 5
Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

FLOSS Is The Right Way

“a lot of children had never had any examples of programming. They’d used a computer, but in fact the computer had used them. They knew how a mouse worked, they knew how to save a spreadsheet, they knew how to load an XBOX game, but they didn’t necessarily know anything else about computing”I’ve seen this repeatedly, a classroom full of students who “knew how to use PCs” but had no idea how fast they were or of what PCs are capable. I demonstrated a few simple programmes in PASCAL to show them how fast the maths was. Even on decade old machines, hundreds of millions of FLOPS happen. These are computers that are sluggish under the bloat of M$’s software. Put on lean software like GNU/Linux and they fly.

I let them read the GPL and the EULA.txt and jaws dropped. They had no idea that their use of PCs was handicapped by non-Free software. I showed them the power they had with a bit of knowledge of FLOSS, and a screwdriver. They were liberated from needing to depend on the Wintel treadmill and Wintel itself for all aspects of their IT. A decade ago, it seemed every way forward for FLOSS was uphill because of the lock-in. Now young people can buy a small cheap computer with Android/Linux and “root” it and presto! they are free of the Wintel treadmill forever. A billion people have seen the light and it’s possible another billion or more will go to FLOSS this year alone. The world is just beginning this explosive migration away from non-Free software.

See Friends record their call to arms for open source!.