Category Archives: Tech

Links: Points of Interest

Sometimes you have to take a step back and really appreciate what is happening with the web 2.0 interactive tools. Every day people publish new information, articles, personal thoughts and observations and these are all at your fingertips to find. Wow! It was really not all that long ago that this was not possible. Talk about a great opportunity for life long learning.

Today I am sharing a few of the interesting sites I found this week through web searches, Facebook, Twitter and cruising the blogosphere. Enjoy!

1. Looking to host your own wiki setup on your own server?
One option available is at MediaWiki

2. A collection of SMART Board Resources: Quakertown

3. A collection of resources relevant to educational technology
integration: Web 2.0 Guru

4. Online OCR: Free, no registration, no email addresses recorded,
just upload your PDF, JPG, GIF, TIFF or BMP image files and convert! Free OCR

5. Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the day
– resources to support teaching ESL, EFL and ELL. Larry Ferlazzo

6. CBC News Release: CRTC to release new rules for IPS’s re internet bandwidth throttling: see article

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On the watch: Skype is releasing a client for iPhone & iPod touch. It appears to be available on the US iTunes store, but not available in Canada yet, at least as of yesterday.

~ Mark

ISP Rant

A friend, fellow blogger and educational colleague recently made aware of a blog  on a new meme asking bloggers to identify four posts from their blog in the categories of:

  • Rants
  • Resources
  • Reflections
  • Revelations

As a newcomer to blogging, I don’t have posts that would address all of these categories, but I was intrigued by the idea of the 4 R’s and have decided to post a rant based on a recent experience with my ISP. 

As an educator and IT professional, I realize this scenario is likely common, and easily arguable from the troubleshooting rigor needed to sort things out. None the less, it is very frustrating and made me painfully aware that online activity has clearly woven its way into the fabric of what I (and my family) do. 

My RANT:

– Saturday storm > internet outage
– call to ISP helpdesk
– all the usual pretest stuff … router/no router, reboot, drivers blah blah blah ….
– finally,  its not me, sending a tech out
– tech says its not here, finds a problem in an unmanned bldg
– internal work ticket created
– finally we can get back online
– BUT, the performance was brutally slow – no throughput
– 3 days of calls with the techs and back to the pretest stuff
– no change, they keep insisting their gear is fine
– then I find out they configured our setup to the previous end user package we had, no tech records of my upgrade 18 months ago – this must be part of the problem
– I locate a copy of the email I kept confirming the upgraded package I signed up for
– I call customer service – they don’t have that package anymore
– I bite the bullet, pick a new service from the current suite
– they livened up the new package last night
– finally things are working as they should, and faster, for close to the same price

Great to be fully back on line! – a happy me and our whole household is no longer going crazy from online withdrawal symptoms!!!

~ Mark

Parallels 4.0 – initial impressions

I recently purchased a copy of Parallels 4.0 Mac Virtual Machine software with the intent of facilitating some software testing processes I am involved in. As expected, the vendor boasts about the many features, performance and why their product is better than the competition.

The online puchase, download, install and registration processes went as smoothly as one would expect them to – absolutely no hitches. Not much for starting with the reference materials I dug into the process of setting up some different virtual machines. 

On the Windows front, I started creating a new virtual machine to set up a clean new win XP installation. The initial installation routine all worked fine on the pre SP2 CDs I had on hand. I also loaded a virus protection package and CUTE pdf, an open source pdf writer which I have used successfully on a number of computers. This concludes the straight foward, as expected portion of the setup. 

To date, I have not been successful in updating SP2, SP3 and other security patches either by the automated Microsoft web based process or via manual downloads and installations. Either way the updating process just hangs, so I am no further ahead. I have a couple more things to try to move this forward, but soon will be in start over mode. 

Parallels has a built in function called the transporter to capture the set up of a remote machine on the same network, so I decided to try out this feature on a fully patched XP system. The process begins by  installing transporter drivers on the remote (to be captured) computer. Next, you run the transporter option on the Mac and identify the remote computer from a pop up list or by IP address. I found in all attempts, the software did not detect machines running the client software and pop up list remained empty. Identifying the remote computer by IP address did not work either. 

Needless to say, this experience fell well short of the initial goals to have a virtualized setup for win XP to operate in. 

By way of comparison, I tried setting up virtual machines for Ubuntu desktop and Ubuntu Netbook. The OS is downloaded as an image file which is read and imported into the virtual machine. After the initial installation, you are prompted to complete one round of OS updates (in each case). I added the Firefox flash plugin and was ready to compute with OS, internet browser and open office (included). 

Both of these setups worked flawlessly, I in testing to date have run with out issue. 

Overall, Parallels seems like a promising application but it has some areas for improvement. There is no indication of updates to the 4.0 version. At this point, I will pursue sorting out the XP issues and look for support forums etc.  I will keep you updated in a future blog post. 

~ Mark

So what computer gear do I buy?

Given all of the options available these days, the seemingly straight forward task of buying a computer is now very complex. Desktop, laptop, netbook?  OSX, Windows, Linux? Standard apps, open source or a combination? Multimedia and presentation tools, ease of use, tech support, virus, malware & spam protection, how well can the user support themselves (trouble shooting, ease of updates etc.)?  There are as many questions as possibilities. Oh yes, what does the student need to be successful?

The context of the question? My daughter will be off to university next year and it is time to settle on a plan to meet her school needs. As a well seasoned technology user, I have to weigh in my experiences and perhaps biases into the final solution. 

Desktop, laptop, netbook: I think I would settle on the laptop. Portability is important. I don’t think the netbook is quite ready for prime time as the only machine one has access too – but it continues to get closer to this ideal. From my own experience of using a netbook sized computer, I would land on screen size and keyboard layout as potential hinderances. Cramped typing won’t cut it for a sole source learning tool. Good battery life is critical too. 

OS: This area is more complicated in terms of landing on a final decision. I am not a big fan of Windows Vista. While many linux based OS’s such as Ubuntu offer a nice stable system, the primary user in this case has little exposure to it, at least at this point in time, so self sufficiency comes into question. OSX is a robust system with great multimedia tools, but the ‘how much will you run into Windows requirements’ question still nags at me. Ultimately, it is hard to say, but I think this has to be accounted for.

I believe the best option for personal use falls in line with the direction we are moving as a Board of Education in our elementary schools – Intel based Macintosh hardware configured with the ability to run Windows. Our experiences in this environment have been very successful, and positive for the learning environment ~ a great suite of tools for educators and learners. On the Board front, we are starting a major roll out of this dual boot environment starting in the fall. This combination of OS’s offers access to all of the native tools in each OS platform, lets you benefit from the strengths of each one, and leaves room to add 3rd party software on either OS as required. A total win-win from my point of view.

Our Board solution will be done as a dual boot arrangement with an OSX based image configured with an option to boot into a Windows environment. This choice also allows both partitions to be maintained in terms of imaging, patching and software deployment with robust enterprise level tools. On the personal choice end of things, other options for OS emulation from Parallels and/or VMware come into the picture. I have some experience with the Parallels setup – it is pretty slick in terms of the way it integrates Windows into the OS environment. I the testing I did, the ability to update Windows through the MS UPdates website seemed to fail more than it worked so it seems that manual downloads and installations would come into the picture (still sorting through this). Both the desktop and netbook flavours of Ubuntu seem to be quite stable in the Parallels environment.  I have not personally tried the VMWare solution at this point.  While the notion of the integrated solution is appealing on the personal computing level, I still think the dual boot approach is the most stable solution at this point in time.

Software: Based on a decision to go with a dual boot setup, the software suite will end up being a blend of OSX and Windows native applications, standard applications (Keynote, MS Office, Adobe etc.) and a sprinkle of open source utilities. After all, it is all about getting the right tools to support learning! 

~ Mark