Archive for August, 2016

A wing and a prayer,

August 23, 2016

Students walk in the door Wednesday.  I am not ready.  I say that every year and it is true.  My stuff for my classes is not ready and the computers for the school are not ready.  I spend all summer working on the IT stuff and when school is about to start it seems nothing is ready to go.  This year I can blame it on Windows 10.  I upgraded from Windows 7 to Win 10 this summer.  Not really that big of a deal.  I and my student tech aide wander from computer to computer and run an install, then cut and paste the Win 10 key and POOF, Windows 10 is installed.  Not.  For some odd reason if you let the computer with the newly installed Win 10 sit for a few days (not an exact measurement) then turn it back on it has the “Activate Windows” warning on the desktop.  I gave it the Win 10 magic key once so it wants it again?  I give it the magic key again and it is not happy.  It says wrong key.  It is the only key I have.  Now what?  I tinker.  (School techies do that a lot.)  After a little hair pulling and a lot of luck I find the solution.  Give it the Win 10 key then give it a Win 7 key.  In that order.  It is happy.  I have not the slightest idea why this should work but it does.  So I am back to legging around giving every (well, almost every, the pattern is not consistent. Some computers are happy without the reinstall of keys.  Go figure.) computer the weird key install routine.  The computers already had Win 7 so why need the Win 7 key again?  Weird.  This job is just so interesting.

For my classes I am just going to have to wing it.  The senior stats and the sophomore Algebra 2 are no big deal.  I have done them before so I know what I have to work with in the way of resources and syllabi so winging it is not a problem.  The Game Programming class on the other hand is going to be an issue.  I had planned on working through the book I am going to use during the summer to work out the bugs.  So much for that plan.  I do have a scheme but no syllabus or weekly plan.  I have never taught the course or used the Gamemaker software extensively so this will be a challenge.  Just what I need, a challenge.

I have never in the 30 years of teaching programming ever been prepped successfully for a first time programming class.  The couple of times I laid out the course in detail the detail fell apart.  Computer issues, students being smarter than expected (I have never had students been dumber than expected), projects I thought were easy turn out hard, projects I thought were hard some smart student finds an easy way to solve, and multiple other confounders.  So I am used to winging it.  I have been lucky so far in that I have never had a course crash and burn.  I have had one catch fire once because the tutorials I had planned to use turned to poop after the third one but the kids and I managed to survive without the tutorials.  You have to be fast on your feet if you are winging it (Yes, that is a mixed metaphor but if Shakespeare can do it so can I!).

So even if I am not ready school is going to start and we are going to have fun and on the way we are going to learn some stuff.

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The exciting world of school IT life.

August 5, 2016

I have decided to re-wire the elementary school lab.  All the network cables were just stapled to the walls.  Really tacky.  (There is a pun there.)  Now this seems like an easy task, get cables from computers on tables to a switch on a shelf.  No big deal right?  That is what I thought too.  Since it is an elementary lab all sorts of weird things come into play.  The cable cannot be hung under the tables.  The first graders feet swing there.  I cannot tape them to the bar at the back of the tables because the third graders rest their feet there.  So I am back to the walls.  Now realize this is a very low budget operation.  No nifty cable channel at several dollars a foot to hide the cables in.  I found some stick-on cable hangers at Home Depot and a couple of I-bolts to screw into the wall to tie the network cable to at the switch.  Not elegant (ever notice how elegant and price seem to have a bit of a direct correlation?) but functional and better than cables stapled to the wall.  The cables will still be hanging on the wall but now they will be an organized mess.  I also bought some rainbow colored Velcro straps to bundle the cables with.  Add color to ugly and it is still ugly but now it is ugly with pretty colors.  The lab has a couple of islands of computers.  The network cable used to be stapled to the ceiling and just hang down to the islands.  Again it lacked visual appeal.  I am going to blow the big bucks here.  $30 gets me 15 ft of that rubber strip that cables can be stuffed in to run across the floor to the wall.  Much better than the ceiling dangling motif.  I am also going to add a couple of switches to the tables to reduce the number of cables running around the room.  I have a lot of 8-port switches in my stash.  I can get them free from the Montana State surplus warehouse.  (This is also where I get my computers, monitors and printers.  Free stuff rules.)  I am going to actually make custom cables for most of this operation.  Cables cut to the right length will help a lot to get rid of the cable mess.  Putting RJ-45s on the end of cat-5 cable can be a pain but after the third or fourth one it becomes an art.

Now a public school with a real budget would just buy wireless cards for the towers and be done with cables completely.  I am going to do this lab for about $50.  That we can afford.

The decision to redo the lab was started on a really weird issue.  Half of the elementary lab suddenly decided it would not see the network.  One wall of computers was fine, the rest not so fine.  After an hour of trying to find who was plugged into what because I thought it was a bad cable in the mess of cables I just started unplugging everything.  When I plugged it all in everything came back up for a couple of seconds then lost the internet again.  Let’s see.  It worked fine last week and it does not work fine this week.  What has changed?  I still do not know what started the problem but I think it was an IP conflict somewhere between two computers in the lab.  Why they suddenly decide to be unhappy now makes no sense but whatever.  After changing some computers to dynamic IP addressing the problem seems to have vanished.  I need to check every IP address in the lab and match computer number, computer name and IP just to get things organized again.  After I get the cable mess less messy.

Oh, the exciting life of a school techie.  No expensive certifications or CS degrees needed.  Just the ability to unscramble cables and spell “ip”.

It is over and it has started.

August 1, 2016

Well the Butte 50 mountain bike race is over.  I did not make it to the finish line.  I had to quit at 30 miles.  I started cramping at about 20 miles and it reached the point where I could put no pressure on the pedals.  I had to walk everything that was up.  The water and electrolytes were OK; the hot weather conditioning was not.  It was in the 90s which is HOT for western Montana.  I am a bit gimped up right not.  The cramps ripped the heck out of my quads.  Stairs are a real joy at the moment.  A large number of people had major heat issues.  Next year I will either do the 25-mile race or help with the support team.

So I am back in the office today trying to figure out how I am going to manage the next year.  The elementary school has moved the pre-school to a church a mile or so away.  Apparently I am their tech support.  Of course the powers did not discuss the possibility of me being able to support them with a half-time tech schedule but I am used to not being in the loop for things that involve tech support.  That would make life too easy.  We shall overcome.  Besides, how much tech support can a pre-school need?  Cackle!!

I have to start working on my gaming course this week.  I have about 13 kids signed up for the course and some of them are going to require I actually know what I am doing.  Smart, ambitious kids can be such a pain.  No more naps for me.  I have a warm and fuzzy as to what I am going to do but that really is not enough for the first day.  I am going with Gamemaker using the Gamemaker Language (GML).  There is no drag-and-drop, the kids actually have to code.  GML is very C-like with semicolons.  It is close enough to many languages that if they have to use another language they will have a good foundation.  I looked at a large number of options but considering the make-up of the students (freshman to seniors and zero to two years of programming experience) Gamemaker seemed to fit the best.  I wanted something that they actually had to write line code, had a book to act as a guide, would result in some usable game products and would be fun for the kids.  I looked at Unity and a couple of other like game engines but the learning curve looked a bit steep for a first try.  Gamemaker also does not require much in the way of a computer.  An important factor when the kids are having to use their own laptops.  All my CS courses require the kids have their own laptop or do a long term loan from the school.  No high tech CS lab here with all the stuff needed already installed.  We have all sorts of fun learning install issues.  CS down in the mud.

Time to run to Best Buy and get a DisplayPort to HDMI adapter.  Lenovo computers do not have HDMI output any more.  Learn something new every day, especially when you look all over the computer trying to find the HDMI port on a new computer.  School IT is never boring.