Friday, June 30, 2006

Social Routers

Here is an interesting offer by a company wanting to create "social routers." The idea is that people buy inexpensive wireless routers with the intention of sharing their connection with other people doing the same thing. A school district is a natural form of community. If a significant percentage of a community were to belong to a service such as FON, the result could be a community-wide wireless network. That could open the door to a wide range of possible projects.


Wi-Fi Crusader in $5 Router Giveaway: "FON, a Spanish start-up on an ambitious crusade to turn home Wi-Fi connections into wireless 'hotspots' for nearby users, is set to unveil a plan to hand out 1 million wireless routers for just five dollars apiece."

Thursday, June 29, 2006

FreeMind - free mind mapping software

Many classes require the students to do concept mapping or some other form of structured thinking. Linked below is a free program that does "mind mapping." It may not be as easy as some of the expensive programs, but it does appear to be usable by high school or junior high school students.


Main Page - FreeMind - free mind mapping software

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Inkscape: Open Source Vector Graphics

Photoshop and Illustrator are great graphic programs but come with a high price. Even the educational versions cost a great deal if you are outfitting a media lab. Photoshop can be replaced by the free Gimp. Inkscape can fill in for Illustrator.

Inkscape. Draw Freely: "Inkscape is a Vector Graphics Editor, similar to Adobe Illustrator, that strives to be SVG Compliant, open source, responsive and extensible."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Video Library of Open Source Operating Systems

Often it only takes a few minutes with a new operating system to know if you like the look-and-feel of it. Unfortunately, it usually takes hours of downloading and installation to get to these few revealing minutes. A web site "" has a wide assortment of videos showing various open source operating systems. Some of the videos show the installation -- very useful -- while others show the basic functions.

Highly recommend!


Video Library: "Examples of operating systems"

Anti-spam trick: Grey listing

If you run your own email server, there is no avoiding spam. Spam comprises between 75 and 99 percent of all email coming into an email server. On my server I was getting around 7k spam messages a day. I will be posting a few tips for handling spam in the coming days, but below is a new method that I'm told is quite effective. It's called "grey listing." As the term implies, it is somewhere between black listing and white listing.

Grey listing works based on the fact that most spammers are so busy spewing vast numbers of email messages that they will go around any address that does not respond quickly. So, based on that knowledge, the email server's grey listing program tells every new sender that the account to which they are sending is busy and to try again later. This error message is a legitimate email server message. A legitimate email server will try again within an hour. The grey listing system will accept the email message on the second try and will put the sender into the approved list so that no further delays will take place. Spammers will usually not try again. Of course, as this new trick is employed more widely, we have to assume that spammers will adjust.

Give it a try and let me know how it worked for you.


Everything Sysadmin: Anti-spam trick: Grey listing

Friday, June 23, 2006

Getting around email limitations

People who deal with large files frequently have problems with sharing their files with others. Email as become the information conduit of choice, but many systems -- even Google's Gmail -- have file attachment limits. While Gmail may have virtually unlimited storage for your email messages, one must get those messages into the system ten megs at a time. Many school email systems are even stricter. The alternatives frequently boil down to express mailing a CD-ROM or creating a new FTP account. Both alternatives have issues. Express is expensive and relatively slow. FTP requires a fairly high level of technical knowledge and assurance that firewalls are not blocking its use.

What Pando does is to create something like an automated FTP system. The user sends and email attachment that links to a Pando server with the large file. Email limits are never in question because the large file is never attached to the email. The difficulty of FTP is removed by the Pando system. If large file attachments are an issue for you, take a look at this system. It's currently free of charge.


Welcome to Pando | Thanks for Sharing: "An effective way to get around email limitations."

Thursday, June 22, 2006

New Version of Xandros Linux

There are many versions Linux -- called distros. Some are mean, ugly and take pleasure that Windows people would not even be able to install the software. Others distros try to work with or entice away Windows users. Xandros perhaps goes the longest way towards accommodating Windows users. It not only allows you to migrate your settings from Windows to its system, but it allows you to run standard Windows applications, such as MS Office, on it directly.

Xandros has just come out with a new version and anyone who has interest in Linux for the desktop should take a look. The link below is to their educational versions.


Education Linux Products - Xandros: "Xandros Desktop is a Linux distribution that provides an easy to use operating system environment that is highly compatible with Microsoft Windows."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Landmarks for School

As a school technologist -- or even a full-time teacher -- it is often easier to operate the computer than it is to know what to do with it in terms of advancing the students' understanding of the subject materials. The Landmark Project is one of the better sites for finding resources for applying the Internet to k-12 subjects.


Landmarks for School -- Home: "What to do with your Internet connection..."

Monday, June 19, 2006

Firewall Upgrading: Turn a mouse into a lion

You want a sophisticated firewall but don't have the money required. The good news is that there is an open source project that has created software that can replace the original software of many low-end firewalls. The resulting firewall has the features of a unit ten times more expensive.

No only are the features better, but you can even turn up the signal strength. Below is a link to the site that explains the features and provides a list of all the models that can be upgraded -- you may have one already.


What is "DD-WRT"? - WRT Wiki: "Free Firewall upgrade"

Friday, June 16, 2006

Computer Science Teachers Association - ACM K-12 CS Model Curriculum

Sometimes there is more effort devoted to obtaining computer equipment than with finding how to use it. The ACM organization has put together a useful curriculum on how to tech k-12 students about computers.


Computer Science Teachers Association - ACM K-12 CS Model Curriculum

"The model curriculum from the ACM K-12 Task Force provides a framework for state departments of education and school districts to address the educational needs of young people and prepare them for personal and professional opportunities in the 21st century."

Thursday, June 15, 2006

EDUCAUSE 2006 Annual Conference

This looks like an excellent conference to attend. While it is primarily aimed at higher ed, the topics and technologies would apply to large schools and school districts. Check out the program description to see if there are any burning topics for your school


EDUCAUSE 2006 Annual Conference | EDUCAUSE 2006: "Dallas"

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

TrueCrypt - Free Open-Source On-The-Fly Disk Encryption Software for Windows XP/2000 and Linux

Don't let the PA (parents association) become your local VA (veterans administration) data disaster. Laptops get stolen regularly and we all know that equipment can leave the school building. Plus, donated computers most probably have their original data still accessible -- even after a format.

Using disk encryption is a great way to make sure that sensitive computer data will not be readable to anyone else. Truecrypt is one of those open source programs that does a good job of making an inherently complex job simple for the user. It also has many features, including the ability to take the program with you on a flash device. This allows you to carry your data on a secured flash device and to run the program that makes it work.

Many of the new privacy laws, such as those in California, state that one must report any loss of data to the people whose data might have been compromised. But, if the database was encrypted, this embarrassing notice does not have to take place. Given that Truecrypt is a free program, there aren't any good reasons not to use it for sensitive data.


TrueCrypt - Free Open-Source On-The-Fly Disk Encryption Software for Windows XP/2000 and Linux: "TrueCrypt is free open-source disk encryption software for Windows and Linux. Categories: data encryption, security software, privacy."

Library asset tracking

What are you doing this summer? If you're considering a conversion of your card files to a database, take a look at RFID. Barcodes are great, but they don't check themselves out or help you to find a mis-shelved book. RFID is more expensive than barcodes, but when you consider that most of the expense of a conversion will be in labor, the extra costs will probably be acceptable. You'll certainly earn back the cost in cost savings.


TAGSYS RFID: leader in RFID asset tracking: "TAGSYS provides end to end RFID systems to track items. TAGSYS RFID automates manual processes, authenticates goods and enables real-time inventory."

Monday, June 12, 2006

CivicSpace: A community organizing platform

Here is a great tool that became famous for helping grassroots political organizations, but can be used to run any type of community event. This could be use for the PA, staff, school clubs/teams.


CivicSpace: A community organizing platform | CivicSpace

Friday, June 09, 2006

Podcasting with the iPod

Podcasting is a great solution for the school that wants to have a school radio station but does not want the expense and limited range of broadcast times and low signal power.

The podcast metaphor is a great one for a school because the school only needs to have enough content to meet demand. The content is there when the user is ready to listen. No need to schedule air time or explain that last week's basketball game is done and over with. Range is only limited by access to the Internet.

One the most important aspects for recording a podcast is the recording system. Traditionally, iPod players have not been very good for recording. With the addition of an accessory, such as the one here, the iPod now becomes an effective recorder. Because the audio file is already in digital format, there is not digitization of audio tape. A big time savings. Given that iPods are easy to find, the school may need only to purchase an accessory -- thus saving the school the expense of buying a recording device of its own.

XtremeMac iPod Audio Accessories: MicroMemo for iPod with video

Thursday, June 08, 2006

What you see is not what others may get

I was doing some research on links in Google when I came across a web site with the normal vile content, but with a URL that was similar to what I was looking for. I knew what the web site was and I knew that it was not vile in any way. I clicked on the link and it indeed went to a bad place, but the link was redirected to another domain.

Here's where it got interesting. I typed in the same URL into the browser bar and the page did not work. At first, I thought someone must have figured out a way to spam Google, but I did a bit more research and found that a hacker had installed a small script on the hacked computer that tested for people coming from Google. If the incoming link was from Google, they would send to bad domain. But anyone going directly to the site would not see anything out of the order. The only way the site owner would know that their site was hacked was to look for uses of their URL on the search engine. And, of course, the traffic volume report must have gone through the roof.

The lesson here is that there are many reasons why hackers break into a system. Don't expect an obvious "you've been hacked!" message on your home page. Check your listing from time to time and look for unusual traffic patterns. And always keep your software updated and protected by strong passwords.


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

AMD PIC: The other low-budget school computer

We already looked at the Intel solution to the low-cost school computer. While they used the laptop form factor, AMD is using the Mac Mini form factor. I like the mini form factor better because under harsh environmental conditions keyboards and power supplies are likely to die often. Replacement an attached device is much easier than it would be for a device built into a laptop.

Another important difference between the two computers is that AMD's computer is sold or leased through the ISP. I gather that one cannot buy this unit.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Computers For ‘Next Billion People’

Could this be the laptop that allows every student to have his or her own computer? Universal possession of a computer is highly desirable goal in that it allow for a range of new services to be offered. Test taking and homework can now be assigned with the teacher knows for a fact that the student has the required computer. Anything that is mandatory requires that the student has the necessary tools.

Will this computer be it? Difficult to know, but I think we are going in the right direction. I predict that it will be the lowering flash memory prices that will allow for the creation of a low-cost solid state computer. Such a computer will be more rugged, better on battery life, and near instantaneous in its start-ups and shut-downs.

This unit is from Intel. AMD has its own design.

Intel CEO: Need To Speed Gains For ‘Next Billion People’

Monday, June 05, 2006

Top 10 Reasons Why Online Backup is Replacing Tape,

Here is a follow-up posting to the on-line storage idea. If you liked the idea and need some justification points, this article may be very helpful. This is a vendor white paper, but that does not mean it does not contain valid information -- you just don't get the counterpoints.


Top 10 Reasons Why Online Backup is Replacing Tape, from LiveVault - White Papers, Webcasts and Case: "Your most important asset - your corporate data - is far too valuable to entrust to cumbersome tape processes, unreliable backup media, and painstakingly slow recoveries. Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are rapidly turning to online backup and recovery to displace older, manual, less reliable tape backup. In fact, a staggering 76.5% of IT professionals plan to change the way they do backup over the next 18 months. "

Friday, June 02, 2006

Off-site Storage

There are many good reasons to use Internet-based file storage. Perhaps you want a off-site storage location that would survive a disaster or you want to share files with people outside the school. It allows you to access a file that would otherwise be locked in the school's file server until the next time you come to work.

Internet storage has been around for years, but the prices are going down and many schools and home users have the high-speed Internet connections required to make the experience bearable. This particular system, Elephant Drive, is currently in beta and thus free to try. They don't say what their price structure will be, but it is certainly worth testing it out.


ElephantDrive Beta: "elephant drive, secure and universally accessible online data backup and storage"

Thursday, June 01, 2006

LyX - Document Processor

LyX is a user-friendly version of LaTeX. LaTex was created by a scientist who wanted to achieve typeset quality output for complex content using a simple text editor. The results were great, but the difficulty for the user was a major barrier. LyX gets around many of those limitations by hiding the complicated LaTex codes.

LyX is a must see for anyone creating documents with formulas or scientific notations. There is no longer the need to type a document and then hand write the equations.

It is also an interesting option as general word processor. First of all, it's free. It can run on multiple operating systems, including Linux. It's fast and can handle large and complex documents. That may not be an issue with newer computers, but some older computers may choke on documents with over a few hundred pages. While that may sound like more pages than anyone would every require, there are a surprising number of times that documents need to be created that include dozens or hundreds of other documents. Before you know it, you have a 700 page document that spends all its -- read: your -- time repaginating.
One of the other interesting aspects of LyX is that it uses more of a style sheet method for formatting. Content is tagged with style codes rather than "painted" with bold, italic, and specific font sizes. While the format painting is easy to do, it is difficult to maintain uniformity. Microsoft Word, and most every other word processor, allows the user to apply styles. Most don't use the style codes at all. LyX makes styles the primary formatting system. A bit more trouble upfront but less difficulty later on.

One last point of interest: LyX can handle many foreign languages -- including Arabic, Hebrew, and Chinese. This can make it useful for a language class.

While I would normally recommend Open Office or the related Star Office for any school looking to save money on a word processor, LyX should be considered for slower hardware and for situations where equations and/or complex documents will be created. One downside to remember: LyX is a word processor and not part of an integrated suite of applications.


LyX - The Document Processor: "About the modern Document Processor LyX - a modern approach to word processing and typesetting."