Archive for the ‘Technology in Education’ Category


PCLinux 2007 WINS!

March 19, 2008

I took a big risk repartitioning and installing MEPIS 7.0, risking the beloved XP operating system.  But XP did and still does survive.  But it is no longer the operating system of choice on the family desktop.  Neither is Mepis.

The downfall of Mepis began after I reviewed and tried PCLinuxOS.  But I was hesitant to go through another installation and risk losing everything again or a corrupted MBR like I have suffered before.  What finally toppled Mepis from favor was the fact that it only wanted to recognize and “see” its own partition and none of the other hard drives or partitions. I was trying to move some files from my wife’s Mepis desktop and it would not only not read those other hard drives, but gave me fits about moving the files to a USB drive.  What put the nail in the Mepis coffin as it would not even recognize a floppy drive.  That was the end of that.  I had no such problems with earlier versions of Mepis and not sure what caused this glitch.  But Mepis was on its way out as it was, and it just gave me a ready excuse.  This is the double edge of having distros obtained so freely and installed so easily; instead of muddling through or trouble shooting, I canned the thing and put on the distro that “just works.”

And it just does.

The machine: @2001 Celeron 1.8 Gz with 612 RAM with XP home.  HDa = 40 Gb, HDb = 127 GB + 40 Gb (linux) + 20 Gb unclaimed space.

The family: 1 6 yr-old (kindergarten)  1 9 yr. old (2nd grade) and one wife (college graduate)

My wife is relatively new to computers, but thanks to her husband has some experience with Mac OS 7, Win95, Win98 and Win XP and recently Mepis 7.0 and now PCLinuxOS 2007.

All members have successfully learned to use and enjoy the new family OS.  My wife probably has the biggest adjustment, as she still uses XP to play spider solitaire and do editing with her pictures.  However with Picasa downloaded and installed (she was using this on XP) this should be a small matter.  I’ll have to download spider solitaire or some open source variation.  Otherwise she is perfectly pleased with PCLinux.

The two kids could care less what the operating system is.  They like visiting the Disney website and fiddling around with Google Earth and that’s all they care about.  They still like to play a few games occasionally, but mostly they are content with online activities.

And this brings up a very important point, when discussing the digital divide.  When it comes to school-aged kids, computer and online access can mean a world of difference in terms of  school performance.  The state of Georgia is offering practice versions of their state mandated tests online.  Those kids without computers will be left behind and continue to be at a disadvantage when it comes to the new modalities of learning that the digital age is offering.  A computer is as necessary nowadays as paper, pencil and a calculator.  Those who do not have computers in their homes are being given the mathematical technology equivalent to a slide rule!

Linux offers an opportunity for schools and businesses to offer their old PII’s and PIII’s to these disadvantaged youngsters instead of clogging landfills.



U3 and Linux on Thumbdrives

February 11, 2008

I have a few thumb drives lying about and have been putting them to work carrying executable files from machine to machine. For instance, Intellitools and Boardmaker are huge tools of the special education trade and I often have to run them on multiple machines but not at the same time. Intellitools can be used with a switch, a touch screen or the Intellikeys keyboard plus a regular mouse and keyboard. The students have a workstation where they can access it, but I also have my own workstation that has a printer for making overlays. So I might have a student using a touchscreen while I’m making an overlay on another machine for the Intellikeys or a Gotalk 9+. The way our machines are on IT lockdown, it is impractical to have the software loaded everywhere. So loading it on to a thumb drive gives me portability and flexibility.

I found some inexpensive PNY 1 G thumbdrives last fall and bought a pack of 3 at a local retail store. They are good drives but come with this obnoxious “U3 Smart Drive” technology developed for Windows. Getting rid of the thing is a royal nuisance. The U3 site requires the download of proprietary software in order to remove it. And that requires administrative privileges. Thank goodness I have a home computer with broadband. Yeah, you read right. More on that later.

U3 gives you several nag screen during the removal process, trying to convince you how good this feature is and how you are crippling your drive. Don’t believe them. You can get all the same functionality from Portable Apps without the crippleware that is U3. U3 typically takes several seconds to even a minute or more to load on to a system over a USB 2.0 connection and disconnecting takes longer than a typical flash drive. Plus, if you’re a linux or Mac user, you can’t remove it at all. After finally telling them what I think of their crummy “smart drive” I was finally able to remove the junk. What a pain. It did erase everything on the drive, and they do warn you during the nag process plus I’m warning you here.

I’ve also recently begun purchasing 8G drives direct from Hong Kong through eBay. If you can put up with a 3 week wait you can get these for as little as $25 with free shipping. You’re not going to find that sort of deal anywhere as the going rate is over $50 plus shipping.

And I plan on trying out some new flavors of Linux on these things. has some easy instructions and I’ll be updating here on my latest experiences. It’s been awhile since I’ve tried anything new and since getting broadband I am looking forward to stretching out and learning a bit more plus seeing how far some of these distros have come since I last tried them.


Zaurus: Digital Divide

January 2, 2008

Zaurus 5500


I have not been doing a good job with keeping up with desktop Linux news.  Fortunately there are a lot of others who do.


Despite my disappointment with Linux for the desktop, the Zaurus has been my best friend.  I read and write more blog entries on this thing than even my Windows desktop machine.  Using flash memory, I’m able to easily move documents back and forth with the desktop being used mostly to upload and polish up and add links with my various blogging interests. I have a work laptop that I can also use but the thing is still much too large and bulky for just reading stuff.  The Zaurus is cozy and comfortable.  I can lie on my back on the bed or couch and have at it.  I can get 4-5 hours of reading on a battery charge if I read on the lowest screen brightness.  But even having to have an outlet close by is not a huge deal as long as I can have some time away from it.


 I recently ordered a wireless card for my Zaurus that may change how I do business. I ordered a D-link but it is being sent from China!  Hopefully it won’t be a very slow boat.


Yeah, we’re still on a modem but there are getting to be more and more wireless places around nowadays.  I am thinking about going high speed with the cable company, which may shift things back in favor of Linux since the modem issue has been such a stickler.  Also high speed would greatly facilitate getting updates and fiddling around.  But I hear Linux has wireless issues so we’ll see.




Digital Divide Issues


The digital divide continues to grow.  Even if I escape the modem by buying DSL or through the cable company, what about single parents who arre being left behind?  Who don’t even have a computer?  


This was a big part of why I wanted to make Linux work.  I envisioned taking legacy hardware and  giving it new life to parents of kids with severe disabilities who already have mobility and isolation issues along with financial strain.  Getting them online would help them access information and services already available to everyone else.  Getting online really is becoming more and more of an issue for accessing knowledge and information and parents of kids with severe disabilities have perhaps more need for the access and mobility offered by the internet than anyone else.  But they are being left behind.


When a machine finally gets into their price range (which is more or less free) it is obsolete for getting online.  I’m thinking of the countless Win98 machines that are now choking landfills.  Why couldn’t these be given to people who might otherwise not have a machine?  I’m watching our school upgrade and dump off hundreds and hundreds of machines that are otherwise okay.  This seems like such a huge waste.  So my modem quest wasn’t just for me but for many others who have been left behind, technologically.  I also envisioned giving them some simple training on computers to get them up and running.


I’m just wondering how to make the idea a reality, or even if it is worth doing.





Mepis Results

January 19, 2007


My paras are trying out some Linux distributions because I have a machine that has effectively locked us out of XP.  My friendly IT person, Mr. Khan, hasn’t had a chance to remedy this so I’m using various live CDs to see how some nontechnical folks react to Linux on the desktop.


Their first exposure was Puppy Linux which was adequate but certainly didn’t impress any of them in any way compared to their experiences with Windows.  These are people that simply want their machines to work.  Their patience and time is limited so they are not  going to waste time tweaking.  And you can forget about command lines.  It isn’t happening.  


I asked Coach today what he was looking for in a computer, since they are officially searching for new one.  His wife is more computer literate than him, but he said he wanted a machine that could play music, watch DVD movies, handle pictures, play some games, do email and surf the internet.  He and his wife do online banking and online shopping and might consider doing their taxes using a computer program.


Is there Linux tax software?


They’ve been using Mepis for a week, so I thought I’d get some feedback and pass it along.


All 3 paras preferred Mepis over Puppy Linux.   However each has experienced some frustration with some aspect of Mepis.  Patience was unhappy because I hadn’t configured the printer so it didn’t want to print.  Once I got the printer working, she was happy.  She’s a bit of a Mahjong junkie so it didn’t take her long to find that in the games folder.



Queen is the least comfortable with it, as she is simply not used to the new icons and desktop.  She definitely prefers XP over Mepis. She’s been out for a few days so has the least experience with it and the least feedback to offer.


Coach was the most happy with it, as he really loved having some new games to play around with.  It took him awhile to understand and navigate the menu but once he did he explored around a bit and found what he wanted.  His main issue was not being able to use the CD drive to play a music CD because the drive was occupied by the Mepis CD.


Since none of them have flash or key drives, the whole mounting/unmounting thing hasn’t come up and won’t likely unless I install one of these distros.  I’m sort of waiting for the Dreamlinux CD to arrive before I change the system again.  If it’s not here by Monday, I may give Ubuntu a whirl.


All-in-all, Mepis has held up well in live CD mode for day-to-day use by my 3 para educators.  I occasionally have to show them how to do something, but once I show one, they share with each other.  The printing issue came up this morning and was the first time in a few days where I had to sit in front of it to get it to work. Otherwise it has worked surprisingly well.