Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Zimbra Email and Collaboration System

There are a few common sticking points that block the use of Open Source email in a school. The first is Outlook integration and the second one is a desire by the users to have shared calendars and address books. While Outlook can work with POP and IMAP email systems -- which are both easy to find in the Open Source world -- there are frequently little problems. For example, the use of an IMAP email system does not prevent Outlook from prominently displaying its own inbox. So users will always wonder why they are not getting any email when the email is actually going into inbox under the newly created IMAP account further down the list.

A more significant problem has been that most email systems do not reproduce the additional features found in Outlook -- especially when combined with Microsoft's Exchange server. Zimbra brings the comparison between Open Source and Exchange back to an apples-to-apples basis. It has most the functionality of an Exchange-based system with a few additions of its own. There are both commercial and Open Source versions of Zimbra. Certainly, if you need something like Exchange, you should consider Zimbra.


Zimbra - Home: "Zimbra is a community for building and maintaining next generation collaboration technology."

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Distance Education Clearinghouse

Distance Education Clearinghouse: "The Distance Education Clearinghouse is a comprehensive and widely recognized web site bringing together distance education information and related resources from Wisconsin, national, and international sources. It is maintained by the University of Wisconsin-Extension."

Thursday, May 25, 2006

WiFi and Bluetooth Finder

Just because you installed a wireless network doesn't mean you know how others might have extended your efforts. Corporations can purchase very expensive systems that will look for rogue access points and sources of interference. The low-end units a school is able to afford may be able to negotiate broadcast frequencies with a nearby access point, but without a centralized control unit -- read expensive control unit -- an access point does not know what is supposed to be part of your network and what isn't.

This handy little device can let you know when it finds a wireless signal. It's up to you to know that the signal is expected or not, but at least you have a fighting chance to find an unauthorized access point or to identify an ad hoc Bluetooth network. Sometimes, a device may have some form of wireless turned on and you don't even know that capability is in the device. This finder will find the unexpected network before the local hacker does. Even if you're not concerned with hackers, any extra broadcast into the crowded wireless environment is something you don't want.


LINDY WiFi and Bluetooth Finder - Gizmodo: "WiFi and Bluetooth finder."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

iAlertU MacBook alarm

One of main problems with a mobile laptop cart is that the equipment can be a bit too mobile and "walk out the door." Windows computers have long had software that would call home, so to speak, if they were stolen. The first versions used the modem to dial, but the newer versions wait for an Internet connection. The link below is the first software I've seen for the new Apple laptops.


iAlertU MacBook alarm software available in beta - Engadget

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Google Notebook

This is a great new tool for keeping track of information you or your students find on the Internet. While I personally like Onfolio -- now owned by Microsoft -- this free from Google looks very interesting. What I like about it is that the content is online and thus is available from any computer. That also makes it easy to share. This is definitely worth taking a look by anyone doing research work.


Google Notebook: "Web clipping and more..."

Monday, May 22, 2006

Data Execution Prevention (DEP)

A little known security feature in the most recent service pack of XP and in Windows 2003 is DEP. This is an important security measure for blocking bad computer code from taking over your computer. One of the most common ways to compromise a computer is to invoke what is called a buffer over-run. Simply put, a program maliciously inserts bad code into the computer's memory so that the computer generates an error and goes back to the original program. What the malicious codes does is to insert instructions that brings the computer "back" to its program and not your program. It now has control over your computer.

DEP helps to stop this problem by locking down areas of the computer memory so that this trick cannot work. It's a bit complicated to explain how all this works, but it is important for you to know that this security system is present and should be turned on. Below is a link to the Microsoft site that describes the system in detail.


A detailed description of the Data Execution Prevention (DEP) feature in Windows XP Service Pack 2,: "Describes the Data Execution Prevention (DEP) feature in Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), in Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005, and in Windows Server 2003."

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Future Of Books, Business & The Web

PSFK: The Future Of Books, Business & The Web: "There was an important in-depth article in the New York Times magazine this weekend which looked at the future of books. By reacting to the current controversy around Google's scanning of books, the article's author and Wired magazine founder, Kevin Kelly, explores the evolution of not only the printed word but media itself. He argues that technology will overcome any barriers that are placed to protect the concept of making money from a 'copy' - and therefore new business models need to develop. Here are some of the interesting snippets: On who will benefit from the scanning: Bill McCoy, the general manager of Adobe's e-publishing business, says: Some of us have thousands of books at home, can walk to wonderful big-box bookstores and well-stocked libraries and can get to deliver next day. The most dramatic effect of digital libraries will be not on us, the well-booked, but on the billions of people worldwide who are underserved by ordinary paper books. It is these underbooked — students in Mali, scientists in Kazakhstan, elderly people in Peru — whose lives will be transformed when even the simplest unadorned version of the universal library is placed in their hands. On the two..."

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Emerging Trends in Communications

The link below takes you to a wonderful podcast by Peter Cochrane. He covers a number of interesting topics, but from an educational view, his observations on telephone systems and video conferencing are priceless -- and quite funny. Essentially he says the PBX is dead, replaced by VOIP, and explains why video conference never seems to work in real life.


IT Conversations: Peter Cochrane - Emerging Telephony Keynote: "IT Conversations"

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Photographing strangers

It's well known that care must be taken when photographing students for public display. The safety of the student is paramount. The article linked to below talks about the rules that apply to photographing strangers. Your students or staff may get your school suided, if not careful.


Wired 14.05: START: "Photographing strangers"

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Num Sum - web spreadsheet

Frequently, a complex requirement for a school web site will end up driving the overall specifications -- thus adding greatly to the total expense of the site. Num Sum is a site that offers public and private online spreadsheets. While I would not recommend placing sensitive information on such a system, this could be an excellent solution for all types of database driven needs. I could also be useful for many types of student projects.


Num Sum - web spreadsheet: "Online spreadsheet"

Monday, May 15, 2006

Sony's flashlight radio

Being in charge of the technology often means that everything that has any form of technology in it involved will eventually land on your desk. Sony's crank-powered radio/flashlight can be a great solution for emergency preparations. The best thing about a hand-crank system is that you don't have to go around checking the life of the batteries.


Akihabara News - Sony's flashlight radio

Friday, May 12, 2006

Network via the Powerline

Let's face it, there are many situation where a standard network installation may not be feasible. Perhaps the walls are solid concrete or there is too much risk of hitting electrical/water lines to drill through unknown walls. Wireless may not be an option for a variety of reasons.

Most schools will in this situation staple network cables to the outside of the walls. Looks terrible and the staples may damage the cables, but it may be the only option. There may be another solution: send the network traffic over the electrical lines in your building. As long as all the wires are connected to a central system, data should be able to travel from any outlet to any other outlet.

The system behind computer networking over the local electrical system comes under the term "HomePlug." This is an unfortunate term in that it makes it sound like it is only good for a home. While a modern office building would not want such a system for a variety of reasons, an older school would be a prime canidate. The reason I say "local electrical system" is because there are a number of efforts -- mostly in Germany -- to put high-speed Internet over the power grid. There have been some experiments in the US, but the high number of transformers in the US electrical system makes networking over the power grid a bit of a technical problem. Europe apparently uses fewer transformers.

So will you get electrocuted by using this system? No more than you would plugging in your radio. The system uses the electrical system, but it does not use high voltages in its own operation. The system sends signals over the lines in such a way as to not interfere with the transmission of electricity. The only problem you may have is if your school has power equipment, such as a wood working room. Power tools may introduce enough noise on the line so as to make data transmission slow.

So how does powerline transmission compare with wireless? Powerline transmission is faster and is not constrained by physical objects -- walls, trees, hills, etc. The downside is that someone with a wireless laptop will not be able to sit on the park bench in front of the school. Also, most laptops come with wireless built in. The user would have to get an adapter for the powerline. In short, wireless is good for roaming around and powerline is good as a substitute for network cabling.


HomePlug Powerline Alliance -- HomePage

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Laptop Shade

As funny as this foldable shade may appear, it can actually do some fairly useful tasks in the school. The issue of glare is huge in many classrooms. Unlike a computer desk at home, you may not be able to adjust the seating so that the screen is not washed out. This is especially true if you are using a regular room and rolling in a laptop cart once or twice a week.

The other advantage of this type of system is that it can allow students to take online tests without the problem of other students being able to read the answers. Of course, it also could prevent a teacher from seeing an inappropriate IM message between students.


Tunnel Vision: Comp Shade - Gizmodo

30-Minute Websites for Teachers-Classroom Websites

There are many sites that help individuals and businesses create web sites. Here is one specifically designed for the K-12 educator. Of course, make sure your school's policy does not forbid external web sites.

This is an excellent way to build better links between a teacher and the parents. The main downside is that have a web site does not save time because the teacher cannot safely assume that all the parents have access to the web -- thus, they have to continue sending messages and homework assignments via the students. With older students, the teacher may be able to get the students to update the site. Then the site's claim to saving time could be true.


30-Minute Websites for Teachers-Classroom Websites: "Connect teachers, parents and schools with timesaving web-based tools from OS4E."

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Center for Children & Technology Project Archive

This site is full of interesting research on how to best use technology for education. Many of the reports are quite impressive and could very well give you the idea you've been looking for.

Here is what they say about their collection of documents:

CCT has engaged in hundreds of large- and small-scale research and development projects designed to assess, shape, study and inform the use of information technology in education.

CCT Project Archive: "Center for Children & Technology"

Monday, May 08, 2006

eWEEK Labs: Sun and HP Thin Client PCs

eWeek has a slide show presentation of two thin clients. Thin clients make for very good solutions for computer labs and other specialized uses. Few people have much experience with thin clients, yet they can be an economical solution for a school.


eWEEK Labs: Sun and HP Thin Client PCs

Friday, May 05, 2006

klik - Linux Installation Packages

One of the problems with a computer lab computer is that it gets so full of programs that it collapses. While the normal computer may have a dozen or so programs, a computer lab computer may have dozens of programs. Add to this number all the programs that have been installed and supposedly uninstalled, and the computer is going to have serious problems. When a program installs it deposits files all over the disk. Even when the program is uninstalled, there may be parts of that program that still exist. In Windows, the problem is primarily with the registry. In Linux, the problem is more with incompatible libraries (i.e. one program replaces a required library with one that it needs but cannot be used by another program).

The Klik system wraps up a Linux-based application so that it can be installed without interacting with the operating system. This means you can run dozens of programs without concern as to what it might do to the operating system or to other programs. It also allows you to run programs to run directly from a CD-ROM because there is no need for installation. The Klik system has many advantages and should seriously be considered by any computer lab teacher who wants to use a number of Linux-based applications.


klik - Linux Software Download

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Free Software Magazine

Keeping track of all the free software out there. There are many thousands of free software project. SourceForge list over 118 thousand projects. The main problem is not with finding a solution but with finding too many. Another problem is that many excellent projects are not very well described. The Free Software Magazine helps to identify the major projects and puts them into context. The magazine may be free but it is worth its weight in gold.


Free Software Magazine

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Static DNS for Your Dynamic IP

Here is one company that allows you to use a dynamic IP address with a service that requires a fixed IP address. Anyone with a T1 or similar Internet connection probably already has a fixed IP address. Fixed just means that it does not change. Cable modems and DSL lines often don't have fixed IP addresses. This can be a form of security because hackers will not know where to find your computer because the address is constantly changing.

The problem with a constantly changing address is that services that need to find you, such as a VPN, will not be able to find you. Small schools or auxiliary buildings may have dynamic addresses and a need to be found. Services, such as the one linked to below, can monitor your dynamic address and update your domain name. So, could be on Monday and on Tuesday. Your device would always be able to find the right place because the domain name is fixed.


No-IP - Dynamic DNS, Static DNS for Your Dynamic IP: "No-IP is a dynamic dns provider, both free and paid, backed by our industry proven network of highly available nameservers."

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Instructional Technology - Education Atlas

Here is a great site with lots of links to information on educational technology. Enjoy.


Instructional Technology - Education Atlas: "Online directory of instructional technology websites, resources and information guides."

Monday, May 01, 2006

Wireless KVM switch

Belkin is coming out with a version of a KVM (Keyboard, Video, Mouse) switch that will work with a wireless control. This allows an instructor to walk around the room and switch between computers without having to constantly go to switch unit. The unit also indicates with color which of the two units is active. This is not always easy to know if the applications are simular.

Belkin Flip USB KVM switch - Engadget