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See what can be done with free stuff! November 8, 2008

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Face of the new Dutch 5 Euro coin

I have just read the following article from one of my tech feeds.  This wonderful design was primarily made from Python software, one of the major engines of Blender and in addtion, The Gimp and Inkscape featured strongly as the creative tools required to produce this winning design.  This coin is now in production and you can see how the artist developed his ideas on his blog.  A win for Open Source software I would say. Total cost of investment to the artist? $0.  0 in any currency is a whole lot of nothing!  So what does this mean for education?  It means that there is a lot out there that can be used to create stunning opportunities for learning, for developing thinking skills and on a limited budget. Software that costs nothing but allows the individual to be as creative as this, has to be the way forward for schools.  So what are you waiting for? Get downloading, installing and enabling your students to be creative, problem solve, think and be engaged.  All for the princely sum of $0.

Obverse of new coin

Obverse of new coin

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Acer Aspire One September 15, 2008

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I was loaned another UMPC today, this time it is an Acer Aspire One and Gerrard from Connect was the man who dropped it off.  Gerrard gave me a demonstration of the Linux version last week.  As with the ASUS Eeepc it came bundled with a load of open source goodies.  However, today I have the Windows variant and in this bundle there is a scarcity of programmes.  Office is loaded, but I am not sure if this would be an additional purchase cost on the unit if I were to purchase one, knowing Windows I would expect so.

I only have the machine for 24 hours so I will not have long to play with it.  My first impressions are very favourable.  This model has a more shiny and up market look to it when compared to the Asus.  For me the biggest plus is the larger keyboard.  For that fact alone I prefer it as an option over the Asus.  The Acer weighs in at 10g under 1kg so it is a lightweight bundle and would be ideal at conferences.  The touchpad mouse buttons takes a little getting used to, but overall the whole layout of the keyboard is just great for adult sized fingers.

The Aspire has three usb slots, a vga out port, two SD card slots, Lan port, web cam and wireless 80211 b/g.  Interestingly the Windows version of Aspire comes with the larger of the two solid state offerings, unlike the Asus version and has 1Gb of RAM.  If all that matters to you is the look, then the shell is very cool and is available in four colours.

I will be asking the same class that evaluated the Eeepc for me to evaluate this one tomorrow and will feedback here on what they have to say about it.  I am sure that they will be knocked out by it.  The big question is, would I purchase several of these for a class instead of a laptop or a workstation?  I am tempted to say yes, but would want to play with one for a little longer and install some other programmes to evaluate performance before I committed.

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ASUS Eeepc 900 August 3, 2008

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Eeepc at home

Last Friday evening I was given an ASUS Eeepc 900 to play with for a couple of weeks.  My task is to evaluate it and write a review for Interface Magazine.  I have been playing with it all weekend and will take it into school over the next few days and get some students to evaluate it too.  My initial reaction is that it is a well made and thought out product that has huge educational potential.

My biggest challenge so far has been to wrestle it away from my own children.  We are not exactly short of computers at home, we cover the bases with three Windows Xp machines, two Macs, three pda’s (one Palm and two HP’s) and a Linux SUSE desktop 10 machine.  With only four of us at home it is not the fact that my family have to fight to get Internet access that has caused the interest, nor is it the novelty of a computer at home!  However this machine has caught their imagination and that will warrant further investigation as to why.  The version that I have is the open source version (of course!).  I have found some interesting links on the Eeepc on the net and I share a couple with you below.

I particularly love this next video….  It appeals to my sense of humour and my desire to burst the OS hype bubble!  They are just plastic and silicone guys, what matters is the Internet and your access to it.

Linux breathes new life into old machines April 14, 2008

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On Friday we finally embarked on our Linux project. The trials and tribulations thrown at us on the Supertanker this last term have contunually pushed back this initiative. We are increasingly of the opinion that XP is becoming more and more flakey, with patches seemingly undoing previous fixes and causing no end of strife, especially as we have older versions of Windows Server and ISA software, however this is not the reason for us exploring this Linux avenue, but the seeming instability of MS patching has certainly re-doubled our resolve to seek stability. The age of our computer stock means that the MS preferred option of Server 2008 and Vista workstations is not a solution for us. Therefore with the school all in the hall for assembly we sat down with a P4 laptop and started to make it a dual boot platform. Interestingly we were also re-building a Dell workstation at the same time, we had to completely re-install Windows XP SP2 and patch it. The XP CD and the Suse Linux desktop 10 DVD were insterted into their respective drives at 2:00pm.

The laptop had already had its hard drive partitioned into two drives and so it was a fairly easy install for us. The trickiest part was decyphering, for the first time, the different file format and pathing options that Linux requires in order to get Linux to land on the right part of the drive and not ruin the XP install. We solved our decision by looking at disk sectors. Once we had confrimed that we wanted to format the appropriate sector into the reiser format, the rest was a breeze. Not only does the OS load from the DVD but a whole range of open source software including Open Office, The Gimp, Inkscape, Firefox, Evolution E-mail, Helix Banshee music player and a huge list of other really interesting looking programmes that I have yet to fully explore.

The interesting thing is that by 3:05 we had successfully installed, re-booted into both XP and Linux on the laptop and were exploring the programme options of Linux and the Dell next door was still grinding through installing all the post XP SP2 patches, security updates and rollups that it will require in order for it to run in any kind of secure fashion, but there was not a hint of anything useful yet installed, like The Gimp et al; Or even Office.

So why the interest in Linux? Well the reasons are many and varied. Principally with Suse desktop 10 we have an entire suite of programmes that promises stability, fast boot up times, short logon times and crucially for us on our legacy machines, a small foot print on small drives. Linux is tight, the full install required 2Gb of hard disk space. This fact alone will enable us to breath life into our older machines. The software can run on old 486 machines, if so, we will have a modern OS with a raft of open source programmes suited to our needs, running on machines that XP has long since killed due to the huge resource presence that it needs in order to just run the OS let alone any programmes. Oh and the Ministry deal just struck with Novell means that we can use it at no cost. A win win for us!

Now that we have proved the concept, all new machines that come into school will be dual booted. We now need to solve the dual platform domain issues, the remote desktop compatibility issues, the mail issues etc etc, but the future is bright for our old machines. We will gradually wean the staff off of Office and move them to Open Office so that they get used to the open source look. Our students are already using Inkscape with aplomb, they will take to it like a duck to water.

On a final note. Are any of you out there Linux users who have already solved some of the dual platform/domain issues? If you have, please share!

Oh, and by the way, the Dell was still updating and installing the patches when I left work at 4:35, we left it to it…

Ministry discovers Blender February 22, 2008

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I have just spent the last few days at the Learning @ Schools conference in Rotorua.  This was the first conference that our cluster has attended, it was also the first at which I presented.  It is now official I have been bitten by the presenting bug and wish now that I had submitted several proposals to present, still there is Ulearn later this year.  The conference itself was the usual mix of trade displays, keynotes and breakout sessions.

My presentation was not without its angst ridden moments, not the least because the wireless internet connection to the centre on Wednesday was flakey in the extreme!  It transpires that Rotorua was experiencing connectivity issues and so the wireless within the conference venue was not at fault.  My entire presentation was based around a practical session for the attendees using the Internet, so in the two hours prior to my presentation I desperately cached all my web pages.  I did this to ensure that in the worst case scenario they would at least have something to look at.  As it turned out the Internet connections settled just after we got under way and all was fine  until the dying moments when my machine froze, but we had covered what I wanted to and my audience left very happy.   Now as I have already said, I want more!

On the Tuesday of the conference I had a really good conversation with Douglas Harre from the Ministry.  We talked about our satellite connection at school and how that is working out.  We also talked about my plans for implementing open source software on the supertanker, he seemed to be really interested in our plans.  He explained to me how the agreement with Linux, that the Ministry has brokered, works for schools and as I understand it, the cost to schools will be nil in licencing terms.

Open sources seems to me to be a perfect solution for schools, there is now a perfect opportunity to break away from the stranglehold and rhetoric of the big two,(well very big one and 5% other with a rabid fan base), especially as all operating systems now work on the Intel chip set.  Genuine choice for schools is now here and all this fuss over the look and feel of  expensive plastic casings that come with “free software” or the cheaper plastic bricks with a less than perfect operating system will be relegated to the irrelevant.  I will be experimenting with implementing SUSE Linux on some of our legacy machines in the coming months to see how the older machines cope with Linux or to be more exact see how Linux copes with them.

We already use open source software in school,  Open Office, Inkscape and The Gimp for example.  As part of this exchange Douglas asked me if I had heard of a Blender before.  I was delighted to be able to tell him that I have been using Blender for four years, Blender is a really cool program and one that I have used with children as young as year 5, although it has to be said that they found it difficult!  The software for learning site is trumpeting this new discovery.  If any educator out there needs some tutorials on how to use this really cool open source 3-D animation program, just ask, I am willing to help.  Maybe the Ministry would like me to do this for them?  Any offers?  Any requests?