Archive for September, 2015

A Happy and Sad Day in the Life of a School Techie.

September 25, 2015

I got to school this morning and immediately got a message the elementary school library data server had an issue.  After unburying the server (covered with books on a bottom shelf) I looked at the message on the screen.  “Missing or corrupted file”.  Always a bad one.  The server is running Server 2000 on a 1998 era standard computer.  I am absolutely amazed it lasted this long.  I tried to repair it with Server 2003.  Nope.  I informed the high school librarian (the only one we have) I was not going to do anything with the server other than cart it to the dumpster.  There was no backup.  She was sad.  I have been telling her for 10 year she need to go to a web based card catalog instead of the 14 year old software on 15 year old computers.  She was sad some more.  I told the elementary principal he had no more library data.  He was sad.

One of the elementary teachers could not get Win 10 to install on her laptop.  She had one bar of wireless.  I hard wired it and disabled the wireless.  I will check Monday if it installed.  She seemed happy.

The elementary art teach has a dead hard drive.  Can I recover her files for her?  Maybe.  I will stick the hard drive in a computer as a second drive and hope.  I have been telling the staff for 5 years to save their stuff to the cloud in case their hard drive croaks.  She is sad.  I am sad for her but do not have any sympathy.

While I was working in the elementary building the bells rang.  No problem other than they would not shut off.  The maintenance man shut them off.  For some reason I am the bell fixer guy.  I bolted out of the elementary building and went to the high school.  I was happy.

A computer in the French room was “acting up”.  Whatever that is.  It would not “act up” for me but I deleted some old software just to say I did something to it.  Everyone was happy

I worked on PowerSchool for about an hour trying to get the new immunization to print on the transcripts.  I contacted PowerSchool support.  He said the ones that do print should not.  He will have to do some research to figure out why those do print and then try to figure out how to get the new one to print.  I love it.  I am happy is was not my usual stupidity with PowerSchool.

The Athletic Director calls.  The machine that paints lines on the soccer field was acting up and would not paint any more lines.  (I am NOT the paint line machine fixer guy.  I have the skills but enough is enough.)  I got some cans of paint from Ace Hardware and painted them by hand.  My back hurts and I think I sniffed too many paint fumes.  I am buzzed so I must be happy.

The day is almost over.  I now get to go watch the boys play soccer on my fresh lines and then help coach the girls’ team on my slightly used fresh lines.  It is 80 degrees out and I rode my motorcycle to school.  I am very happy.

After the games I will head home on the motorcycle.  That will again make me happy.  When I get home I have a fresh growler of beer in my fridge.  I will sit, watch some TV, drink a beer, eat some chili and try to decide if I am going mountain biking or motorcycling Saturday.  Whatever I do tomorrow it will have to involve motion because being stationary after the chili the night before would be a bad thing.  I will be real happy.

Microsoft and Education: The end of an era is coming.

September 22, 2015

A couple of big threads of conversations going through the Montana school techies are Chromebooks and Google Apps.  A lot of the schools are looking at or actually in the process of deploying Chromebooks.  A number have already deployed them and are have success with them.  For schools with limited money and tech support (all schools?) they are a no brainer.  The cost can be as low as half of a Windows laptop and they are extremely easy to setup and manage remotely.  Although I am not a fan, most of the software I teach with is not browser based, I do have to start looking at Chromebooks for our aging labs.

I have been re-installing Windows 7 on a number of ate up computers lately.  So of course I start thinking about what is going on in the world computers and applications in education.  (While installing five computers worth of Office, anti-virus, Adobe Reader, etc the mind tends to wander.)  Looking through the small view of the world Montana offers I have to say Microsoft is losing the education war, in a big way.  The simple comparison between Office (or Office 365) vs. Google Apps is an example.  I looked at Office 365 for the school.  Not simple, not free.  Google Apps is simple and free and it integrates with our free Gmail.  Google Drive vs. OneDrive.  Google drive automatically works with those free Google Apps.  Google drive also has unlimited storage for education accounts.  Now on to the tablet wars.  The big three are iPad, Android and Windows Surface.  For education the iPad is just a royal pain.  The handling of accounts for a group of classroom sets is awkward too say the least.  Android tablets are almost up to the level of the iPad for apps, are very easy to manage, and each kid can have their own account (browser login) and they are cheap.  The Surface was never intended for schools and the price will guarantee they stay that way.  Then there is Google Classroom.  For the price (free) it is unbeatable for a classroom management system.  And Exchange?  Why bother?  Gmail does the trick, requires no server and is free.

Perhaps the biggest factor is in-service training.  In little ol’ Missoula Montana we have in-service Google training offered a couple of times a year.  By Google.  Getting a Google trainer is not a major issue.  Every summer Google comes to town.  Google Fests, Chromebook seminars, Google Apps for the Classroom courses, Google for IT people and on and on.  Google for Education is the only shop in town and it is pretty good stuff.  Microsoft is not even in the picture.  We do not even imagine getting a Microsoft education person to give training.  As far as I know there is not even such a person.  Office 365 might be pretty cool, but we would not know from the amount of effort Microsoft has put into educational promotion at the local level.

I like Microsoft.  They make good solid products.  They make a lot of really cool stuff that can fit really well with education.  I even like their operating system.  But so much of what they do is just tossed out there to the education world with the attitude “Here it is, ain’t it cool, do what you what with it but do not bother us about it.”  Small Basic, Project Spark, and the Creative Coding course are just three that come to mind.  They used to make a Microsoft Robotics Studio that looked really promising as a programming language and simulated environment.  It looked great for education.  It never seemed to go anywhere and is now retired.  As far as I know it was never promoted for education.

I predict that in five years Microsoft Windows will be the second most common OS in schools.  Microsoft software will not be the standard.  Maybe some Windows servers will still be hanging in there.  Looking at my servers the only Windows one I need is DHCP/DNS and if I went Chromebooks I could eventually can that one.

I had better start planning to attend more of those Google seminars.

Read “The Martian”

September 14, 2015

I just finished reading “The Martian”, the book the movie that is coming out the 2nd of October is based on.   I am a major SciFi geek.  Have been for 50 some years.  This is one of the best true SciFi books I have ever read.  Not the action (average), not the story (good but I have read better) but the science.  For a math geek (me) or science geek (me again) or an astrophysics geek (I wish) this book is great.  Good science, great humor and a fun story. I will have to give the movie a try.

It is a zoo and the animals are running loose.

September 11, 2015

It has been the usual zoo here.  The first weeks of school are always pretty interesting.  All the things I thought I had fixed over the summer die or do not work.  It is interesting how things will work just fine when I test them but as soon as a teacher or student tries to use it …gurrk.

One of the teachers cannot log in to the grading software.  I tried with my account and still no-go.  The stated error is an internet issue.  Her internet works.  I tested the speed.  She is getting one sixth of what she should be.  That might be the problem.  Then again it might not.  My project for this afternoon is to find the missing five sixths.  It appears to be missing in the whole elementary school building.  Bad switch?  Bad radio connection to my main building?  People claim the building is haunted so maybe it is an angry ghost.  Do not laugh.  It is on my list of things I have solutions for.  Remember this is a Catholic school.  I have access to holy water and it is not illegal to use it.

This is one of the many little issues in the last two weeks that budge into my daily nap time.

Today I had to install Adobe InDesign on a laptop.  I managed to buy a license from a vendor without a lot of complication.  Adobe can’t just email a key to install in a download.  Oh no.  You have to create an account with them, do the download and the key, which is in the account you created and which the vendor has to have access to, is then automatically applied.  Took me a while to figure that out.  (Hey, I never said I was smart, I am just persistent.)

The traffic light class is coming along.  We are building the initial program in Small Basic.  All the kids are familiar with SB so we can concentrate on the problem and not the language.  Once we have the problem broken down and working in SB we will switch to Python, the language of the course.  The traffic light is not as trivial as I initially thought it was going to be.  The timing is going to be the focus of the problem.  The red, yellow and green lights will all have different durations which is not a big issue but the crosswalk timer has to run separately from the light timer.  May have to have two timers running at once.  As I am concluding my usual brilliant lecture (doodles on the board of pictures of traffic lights and the time coordination) on this problem one of my students says quietly “I have the lights working.”  Smart kids are a pain.  Especially since I have not had time to work on the problem myself.

Somewhere in here I need to find time to look at the new Microsoft Creative Coding through Games and Apps.  An initial perusal has tweaked my interest.  The course might be something to use in the Programming I class instead of Scratch.  It uses TouchDevelop which I am just not real familiar with yet so I need to dedicate some time to playing with it.  I am not really into canned courses like this but they are extremely useful to get ideas from and as sort of a guide when trying something new with kids.  It is also kind of interesting to see what supposed CS teaching experts think is the way to go.  Sometimes those supposed experts are much better that I am, but sometimes it is evident they have never taught normal high school kids.

Well I am off to try to find out why the elementary school’s internet speed is dragging.  I will save the holy water approach when all the obvious solutions have failed.