operating system

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There are a bunch of new positions which were just posted. We need analysts, database administrators, and an operating system / hardware specialist.

The list:

We have a great team. So you should come work with us.

Contact me if you are interested or want to know more. (Staff directory and search for ezra)

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Easy

Work gave me a new computer. An internal group does the initial setup and hand it off to me to do the rest. This has been the easiest setup I have had ever. (It would be easier on a Mac.)

At my previous job, I would get CDs with the operating system and other software and install it myself. Letting someone else install this for me was a test in professionalism for me. With my third machine, I no longer care that I am not in control and even rationalize it as more efficient.

After work and dinner I started installing some of the software I like to use. Chrome, Tweetdeck, and instant messengers automatically synchronized by pulling my data from my account. Lastpass, Dropbox, and Keepass gave me easy access to setup accounts. I dreaded having to find my various configurations, credentials, and data files to get everything working.

Still, I put away the new toy after lunch because email mysteriously stopped downloading. A window asking for my password (the one workstations said I would not need to enter at work) was hidden going through the Alt+Tab list. Windows 7 is waaaay different from WinXP. Of course, I had been using WinXP for 9 years. Change is hard. Change is good. (Maybe.)

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Mark Wescott wrote to a Blackboard Learn 9 list,

Imagine a world where Bb Inc. provides browser checkers for each Rev/SP combo, and all we (aka “The Customers”) have to do is place a link on our Bb logon page to the browser checker that matches our production environment…. mmmm serenity.

Said browser checkers would:

  • be GREAT customer service; EVERY institution that uses Bb would benefit
  • be relatively simple for Bb Inc’s staff to create
  • be branded with Bb’s logos and marketing
  • be up to date
  • be released commensurately with each SP
  • have a static, publicly available URL
  • be found on the Course Sites logon page
  • eliminate a topic that appears about every 6 months on this board

Sadly, we Blackboard Vista clients have Mark’s “imagine a world”. Yet still the topic appears in our email lists every time a new web browser or version of Vista was released. Why?

  • Telling a user their web browser may have problems is not a deterrent. Their (correct) opinion is Blackboard should fix the product so the browser they use every day will work. Students and instructors should not have to become a computer geek to take or teach a class.
  • Blackboard only checks a small amount of browser and operating system combinations, so potentially fine web browsers were marked “not tested”. Blackboard has better things to do than test the long tail of browsers. So users have stopped trusting the browser checker because untested browsers often do work. The browser checker has cried “Wolf!” too many times for people to believe it.
  • The browser checker is not consistent with the official supported browser list. Oh, and that is intentional. Browsers which used to work are nor removed from the list unless clients make a stink about them not working. Blackboard stopped testing them, so they are clueless whether it continues to work, but users are not alerted to the problems.

Imagine a world where Blackboard products work in every web browser because it does not reply on coding for specific browsers. You know… Web Standards.

 

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p5rn7vb

I listened in on the first town hall meeting for our USG LMS Transition Task Force on Thursday. There are 3 more town halls this week and a final one December 9th. It sounds like the task force is looking for what items are non-negotiable, extremely important, nice to have. Here are the non-negotiable items from the list. Here are my thoughts.

  • Security: Agree. Student data is critical information to keep away from those who ought not see it while giving access to those who should. I would include in this an audit log of administrative actions such as changing passwords, resetting virtual classrooms, or anything else which possibly could be abused.
  • Scalable: Agree. We’ve seen fantastic usage growth other the years. When I started with this project four years ago, we had only around 100,000 active users. We now approaching 300,000 active users. Even each user does more now than then. There is no reason we will see an end to usage growth.
  • Integrates with enterprise systems (i.e. Banner): Agree. There is a need for a relatively easy way to ensure the faculty and the students have accounts which are placed in the correct virtual classrooms. I’ve seen a desire for real-time integration. The Luminis Data Integration Suite always looked to cause more problems than it would solve.
  • 508 Compliance: Agree. Every user ought to be able to get the information in the class. However, to truly meet this I would think that would include fixing faculty uploaded content so that is accessible.
  • Don’t go backwards (features and functionality meet or exceed current functionality): Unsure. I’m not aware of an LMS option which meets every feature we currently have in Vista 8. The only way to meet this one is to negotiate which are the non-negotiable features.
  • Cross-platform and cross-browser support: Could not agree more. Most web sites I visit work in any web browser I choose. Vista 8 has limited supported operating system and browser combinations. Don’t forget the cantankerous Java Applets multiple versions of Java behave erratically and prior to Java 1.6.0_11 left in place older versions. Also sometimes new versions of Java suddenly do not work.
  • Ease of use and good user interface (student, instructor, administrator): Agree. More is not always better. I sense a frustration about a lack of efficiency accomplishing tasks.
  • Timely support and response: Agree. I understand this one to mean fix the problem in 1-2 weeks not a year plus.
  • Good communication regarding downtime: Unsure of the intent. Vista 8 has a pretty good announcements tool. Does it mean be more aggressive in telling the users when the system will go down next for a scheduled maintenance? I wonder if it means my organization (hosting) ought to take a firmer hand rather than continue to depend on the campuses in letting end users know.
  • Back up and restore capability (minimum 1 year – nice to go back farther)/archiving/back-up without significant downtime: Unsure of the intent. Our system backups are daily without any downtime involved. My best guess is it means something like a wiki history for all content and tools and maybe the whole virtual classroom. Should something bad happen the faculty member ought to be empowered to fix it and not depend on going to an administrator every time. While Vista 8 allows faculty to make their own backups, this was disabled to avoid performance issues. Also, the restore overwrites everything and not selective enough to ensure the faculty would not lose other data trying to retrieve something specific. Imagine losing 10 weeks of work in order to retrieve an accidentally deleted file. (Administrators have unintentionally done this.)
  • Ability to bring in guests to the system (i.e. collaboration): Agree. In a bricks-and-mortar classroom, the faculty can just ask a guest to come to the right room in a building. With Vista, the virtual classroom is more like a fortress requiring the faculty member to complete some kind of paperwork/memo to get an id so the guest can pass through security.

For those of you in similar searches, does this list look similar to yours? What would you add?

Some things I am surprised are not non-negotiable.

  • Better grade book: The existing one in Vista 8 is cumbersome, especially the grade calculator. A key use of the LMS is for students to understand their performance in the class. However, keeping up with the calculated grade at any given point is a lot of work for the faculty.
  • Reporting and analytics: The faculty, advisors, and tutors need to know which students are having difficulty.  Department heads and deans need to know which instructors are failing to spend enough effort teaching a class. People composing budgets need to know how much the LMS and auxiliary software are used.
  • Administrator becomes another user: Similar to *nix’s “su – user”, some problems only become apparent when using the correct account. Rather than change the password, take a look, and give the user the new password, administrators need an easier way of reviewing.

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When photographers I know talk about processing their digital images, they generally talk about Adobe products like Photoshop or Light Room. Some talk about Apple’s Aperture. Operating system only matters when it manages to make filters finish faster on the equivalent hardware.

Colorful Renee But… I am cheap. Photoshop was in my tool set back when work paid for me to do web design. Aperture and Light Room never entered it.

So I used Picasa as it did what I needed. Occasionally I used GIMP to perform more advanced edits. For example, I desaturated a custom area in the picture on the right to bring the attention back to who is important. Picasa can only do the same for a circle.

Considering GIMP is a image editor, it seemed quite concerning that it would fail to open Raw images. Surely Canon CR2 files from a 4 year old camera are supportable? Well, it turns out, GIMP needs help from a plugin.

  1. A dcraw-gimp plugin based on dcraw has very simple options for profiles used convert Raw to Portable Any Map for opening in GIMP.
  2. A ufraw-gimp plugin based on ufraw has much more cool tools for adjusting the levels prior to converting to Portable Any Map.

This morning I worked with F-Spot as my image manager and GIMP as the editor. This afternoon I switched to digiKam for the image manager and switched only to GIMP for things I could not manage.

I think I can use this workflow.

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Linux Adventure Part 1Linux Adventure Part 3 [SOLVED]

So far into the story, I tried repairing Windows Vista which failed to actually give me a working entry into the operating system. The Linux Live CDs were non-committed forays into Knoppix, CentOS, and Ubuntu. All failed to turn on the wireless. An ethernet cord would have gotten me online.

So I was stuck with pretty much a brick.

My next step was to venture out to the store and buy a hard drive. The Ubuntu CD included an installer, so I used it to install a local copy. Continued research revealed my problem probably was the fact my computer came with a Broadcom 4312 card. (My brother said my problem was trying use wireless with Linux.)

Without an ethernet connection, I ended up installing Linux STA drivers from source by downloading them and transferring them by FTP.  No good. Multiple times. I never got it to recognize them. Other options called for installing a firmware update on the wireless card. The idea of a firmware update to the wireless card making me stuck on Linux worries me.

Thankfully I got home to where I have ethernet cords. By this point, I had so completely hosed things, so I reinstalled Ubuntu to start over fresh. Now seeing the Internet through the LAN, Ubuntu offered me “restricted” hardware drivers. The b43 set didn’t do anything. The STA set did enable the Wireless option. Even dhclient referenced eth2! However, the wifi status light doesn’t turn on when I enable wireless. Ugh. So the drivers work better but not enough to get it working.

Also, (based on the time stamp of the file I was able to find in a backup of the problem laptop) I haven’t connected a computer to my home network since February, so I didn’t remember what was the password for the network. Finding which computer or external drive contained the information took a few hours. Yay for backups.

Linux Adventure Part 1Linux Adventure Part 3 [SOLVED]

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For about a week now I’ve been without my personal laptop as anything much more than a brick. I think tonight I am going to copy off the pictures and other important information to my desktop. From there, anything I do to make the situation worse will no longer matter as much.

Monday night, I shutdown the laptop. Microsoft Vista Automatic Updates said it was working on some updates post-logout. Rather than babysit, I went to bed. I should have babysat it.
:(

The next morning, Tuesday, starting the computer told me I had a corrupted or missing \boot\BCD. The Boot Configuration Data file is pretty important, as without one the Windows operating system doesn’t even give me a command prompt. After some research I found out I needed my Windows installation DVD only 250 miles away. This caused me so much distress I even forgot I had a spare computer with me.

So I decided to download a Linux Live CD and use that while stuck away from home. At least I would be able to research the problem and possibly fix it later. The first Live CD I tried was a downloaded iso flavor called Knoppix, I remembered from many years ago. Ick. Knoppix Adriane is intended for the visually impaired slipped by me, so the computer reading everything got annoying extremely quickly. Finally turned off the reading stuff, but I had a new problem. Wireless wasn’t working.

Macintosh LC III … And I was out of CD-Rs.

So a newer memory was a few years ago, a friend with a barely functioning Macintosh LC III (pictured right) wanted to get her stuff off it. She brought it up again a few times since, the most recent occasion to ask me to explain why her Windows computer cannot just read 3.5″ floppies from the Mac without any computer-ese. A coworker mentioned a Live CD of CentOS could mount the drive and transfer the data.

So, I downloaded an iso of the CentOS Live CD while I went to the store to get some disks to burn. While starting up CentOS, I downloaded Ubuntu just in case this second Live CD failed. It was a good thing because the CentOS Live CD was prettier without any improvement in getting on the wireless.

Nor was the Ubuntu Live CD any better.

By this point, I had found a site offering a torrent to a Vista Recovery CD. The quandary was to go back to Windows or stick with Linux. The recovery CD off a random web site could just not work or at worst infect the non-functioning computer. So I installed BitTorrent and downloaded the recovery CD. I tried the Startup Repair, System Restore, and Command Prompt (to manually rebuild the booter). Since this failed, I decided Windows Vista was dead.

So I started looking into how to make Ubuntu work for me.

Linux Adventure Part 2Linux Adventure Part 3 [SOLVED]

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