School IT education

I’ll start this post off by stating that I’m not having a go at any specific school with my comments here, least of all the one that my son attends, and that I attended too many years ago to mention. My sons school is, in fact, a very good school, and I’m not just saying that because I am now a governor 😉

That said, let’s move on…

The other day my son came home and asked if he could use the computer. Nothing spectacularly unusual there, but shortly after logging on he came back to me asking if we had “the big blue W” on it somewhere. After a brief to and fro I ascertained that what he meant was Microsoft Word and that he wanted to show me something that he had done at school.

There’s a few points here. Firstly there is the comparison with when I was his age (he is seven). Back then I still had around 6 years until the ZX81 was launched and I got my first taste of computers. Now they are not only everywhere, but interconnected to the point where it didn’t even occur to him that the work he had been doing at school wouldn’t be accessible from home – bless him.

Secondly there’s the annoyance that from such an early age the ‘big blue W’ and Microsoft Word are synonymous with word processing. I keep trying to tell myself that he is only seven and they need to keep things simple, but it is still irritating. The end result of this was that I sat down and explained what a word processor was, and that even though I didn’t have the one he used at school I did have another one. I was encouraged by the fact that, when presented with OpenOffice he set straight to work trying to reproduce the same sort of document he had at school, and did so with no help at all – beyond a brief grumble that there wasn’t much clipart! (actually I did show him where that was).

The next question baffled me a bit, “do we have the internet?”. My response was to tell him that we did, and that he used it regularly! Then we headed down a familiar road, “no I mean the big blue e” 🙁 So off we went down the explanation of what a browser was and that he was already quite comfortable using both Opera and Firefox, as was his younger brother (who is 3). In fact they are both rather too good at some of the games on the CBeebies, Nick Jr and BBC Dr Who websites! Still, they are also quite happy playing with Frozen Bubble or Tux Paint 🙂

Firefox 3 first thoughts

Well I’ve only been using Firefox 3 for a very, very short while, but thought I’d make a few notes on my initial thoughts. I’ve not tried the beta or release candidate versions at all, so this is a real first impression.

To start with it is worth noting that I’ve only installed the Windows version, since I’m suffering using Microsoft on the desktop for a while. This is partly due to a couple of hardware failures, partly office reorganisations that are as yet unfinished, and partly forcing myself to keep my hand in – unfortunately I have to.

The first thing I noticed was that it was much faster and more responsive. Firefox 2 has, particularly in the past few weeks, been pausing for periods for no apparent reason. The second observation was that the memory footprint was much, much smaller, so this may well be linked. I tend to use a reasonable number of tabs when browsing and have been keeping an eye on the memory usage recently. I’ve been trimming things down to around 12 open tabs at a time and was amazed that Firefox was using between 200M and 260M, with no sign of reducing when tabs were closed. After installing Firefox 3 I checked and found that it was running at pretty much exactly half that, around 100M to 130M with the same 12 tabs as before the upgrade!

Part of this reduced footprint may be down to the few extensions that are now disabled due to incompatibility. With a major upgrade it is probably time to take a look through the extensions I’m using to see if any are no longer relevant. A few quick highlights of my extension usage are…

Bookmark Sync and Sort – sadly this is no longer compatible, and from a quick investigation it hasn’t been updated for a good while now, and the referenced home page has gone. Time to look for an alternative it seems. All this was doing was backing up my bookmarks to a WebDav folder on my intranet server, and at first glance there seems to be no obvious alternative. With a bit more digging I’ve found two, or perhaps just the one, options:

  • Foxmarks – I ignored this first time round since it was linked to a service, but further investigation shows that you can use it with either WebDav or FTP, as well as install a server component. The original Foxmarks was based on the OSAF Cosmo server, but it looks as though this has been replaced by the Chandler project, so a little more investigation is required.
  • Sitebar – another one I passed over when finding Bookmark Sync and Sort. Again it is linked to a service, but it seems that you can download the server component if you want to. Sadly, according the the Mozilla Addons site it doesn’t currently support Firefox 3, but it does have the advantage of being open source which Foxmarks doesn’t seem to be. Again, more investigation is required.

Firebug, IE Tab (remember this is on Windows!), It’s All Text!, Speed Dial and Web Developer are all available for Firefox 3, so that just leaves…

Tab Mix Plus – not having this one is a bit painful, although partly because I’m not sure what features I’m missing that were part of it and what may now be officially available that I haven’t found yet! That said, I’ve just noted that there is a newer version, just not listed on the Mozilla Addons site. I’ll have to give it a try and then work out what options I’m using that it provides – the session manager, the new tab button and undo closed tabs spring to mind.

There are a couple of other incompatible ones listed on my install. Google Photos Screensaver I think I had disabled anyway and RealPlayer Browser Plugin I hadn’t noticed before – although is probably responsible for blindingly easy downloads from YouTube etc. 🙂

That’s what leaps out at me, bar the slight interface changes. No doubt more differences will become obvious over time.

Installing packages from the web in Ubuntu

Without further ado I shall dive straight in with the warning that whenever you install a piece of software you should trust where you are getting it from. If you’ve chosen to use Ubuntu then presumably you’ve decided you trust the Ubuntu development process, but when you click on a link to download some software from a web site you need to be sure you’re on the correct site and that you trust those that run the site.

OK, with that out the way, I thought that I’d do a quick blog about the ease of installing .deb packages within Ubuntu (clearly I’m in a bit of a blogging mood today – something of a rarity!). I first stumbled across this a while ago when I decided to install the Opera browser alongside my usual Firefox install. I headed off to the Opera website to download the .deb file that I knew, from previous Debian installs, would be there. What I was expecting to do was download it, do a test install run with aptitude -s to check for any missing dependencies and then, after installing any missing items, install Opera – all via the trusty, familiar command line.

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nm-applet problems with (X)Ubuntu 7.04

Following on from the fun I’ve been having getting wireless cards working under Ubuntu (or Linux in general for that matter) I found a bit of a glitch in the 7.04 install I’m running on my laptop. So a matter of days before the release of 7.10 I’m beating 7.04 into submission! The story goes a little like this:

After using a pretty standard Ubuntu install with Gnome for a while I decided to switch back to my preferred XFCE desktop. This was fairly straightforward, although the xubuntu-desktop package pulled in a few things I didn’t want, so I used it to populate the new install list (in Synaptic) and then trimmed the packages I didn’t want (mainly the office applications since I prefer to stick with OpenOffice). One thing I noted after making the switch back was that there was no Network Manager applet running, and a quick check of the package details seemed to indicate that it was part of Gnome, so I decided to look elsewhere for an equivalent. I experimented briefly with Wicd, but whilst doing that I found out that, although Network Manager is part of Gnome it is pretty free of Gnome dependencies and is largely independent, so I decided to switch back. Having done that I needed to look for a way of getting the applet running. This seemed simple enough, I just needed to add an entry into the Autostarted applications list as accessed from Applications -> Settings. Having done this all seemed well until, after a few reboots I noticed that I had multiple copies of the nm-applet in the panel – oops!

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Wireless Ubuntu – part 2

Well, contrary to expectations that may be put upon the date today I managed to get wireless networking working in Ubuntu at last. Sadly this is on the ‘family’ desktop machine and not my laptop, but it is a start.

As I suspected, the Linksys WMP55AG worked a treat and was automatically detected and, after a bit of a pause while I cursed it not working, my two local networks appeared in the network manager applet and off I went. It correctly identified that I was using WPA and allowed my to put my TKIP passphrase in and off it went. A quick install of Thunderbird and it should be ready to start pursuading my wife to give it a go. It will be interesting to give this installation a real workout as the Windows XP install on the same machine runs like a dead Norwegian blue parrot!

I guess I should give a bit more detail, but for now, since I’m tired, I’ll call it a night. I will add that the card uses the MadWiFi driver which is manged by the restricted-manager utilty – I’ll have to learn more about that now so I can get the nVidia driver working properly.

Wireless Ubuntu

I’m in the process of trying to get wireless working on one (or both) of my aging laptops with Ubuntu 7.04. Having looked at the documentation it seems to be sadly lacking in anything useful in terms of WPA, although this may well be partly due to the sad lack of proper support in Linux for WPA in general (as in you are very restricted in the cards you can use). That said, I’m not having any more luck with WEP either. Not that a working WEP would help much as I really can’t reconfigure the networks I connect to using WEP just to allow Linux access sadly. I suspect the WEP issue may partly be due to the fact that I’m probably only half heartedly working on it as WPA is the real target.

So, where am I with my selection of cards? Somewhere about here:

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Extra Codecs for Xine on Debian

More of a note to self, but I thought I’d blog it since I haven’t for a very long while! Anyway, I finally got around to patching in a few extra codecs into my Debian install the other day and it was surprisingly easy.

Not entirely sure whether working with it symlinked is necessary, or whether simply creating it as win32 would have done. It works OK though, so I’m not really complaining!

So why haven’t I linked the download? Well I’ve just checked it and there’s been an update, so this looks to be the latest version:

So I’m downloading that for an update!

Dual screen configuration – first pass

OK, as a first pass at getting my two graphics cards working in a dual head mode I’ve made the following key changes to my XF86Config-4 file. This is by no means exhaustive, but should give a few reference notes to refer to. A HantsLUG wiki entry is planned 🙂

First off the Device sections. I had an original one for my NVidia card along these lines:

Section "Device"
        Identifier      "NVidia GeForce MX 440"
        Driver          "vesa"
#       Driver          "nv"
#       Driver          "nvidia"
        Option          "UseFBDev"              "true"
        BusID           "PCI:1:0:0"

Note that the two commented out lines are due to switches back and forth with the NVidia drivers. So far the vesa one is the only on that has consistently worked and for my usage is doing me fine for now!

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