School started for Beth a week ago last Monday. I had intended to make it into the school and do some major overhauling on the computers and network, but that did not happen over the summer. It had to wait until after school started.

As such, it has been rough-going. We scored a donated server last December, and I was finally able to bring it to bear this week. It’s a serious chunk of “big iron” as they used to call them.

I also upgraded a network switch, and that has unlocked the power of the gigabit Ethernet port on the big-iron. It is nice now, but as I said, it has been rough getting there.

Jonathan and I have spent several evenings at the school over the past couple of weeks getting it to this point. We upgraded to the latest release of K12linux – which is very nice compared to the previous version. With this setup, all the software runs on the server, and the student workstations do nothing more than paint the screen, play any audio, and forward mouse and keyboard data back to the server. Running all the software on the server is very nice from a maintenance perspective, because I don’t have to go around installing packages on all the student workstations – install it once in one place, and everyone can use it immediately. This architecture also allows the students to have the same computing environment no matter which workstation they use.

The old server used the same architecture, but it could not handle sound, and it was a slower machine.

I have gone back and forth between the old server and the new one several times during the upgrade because the new server was missing some important function, or performing one of its critical tasks poorly. But I think we’ve got it now. We’ll see what happens when our teacher unleashes a herd of kids on the network tomorrow.

Jonathan managed to convince all his professors to let him take his finals early, so he’s going to Budapest next month to attend the Ubuntu Developers Conference. He got his itinerary today.

He’ll fly from Boston to Budapest with a layover in Zurich, and then fly back home with a layover in Frankfurt.

He’s a tiny bit excited.

We also attended the awards ceremony where he was named Outstanding Freshman of the CPET department today (he was one of about 50 students named something). I think CPET must be something like Computer Programming/Engineering Technology or something. I made that up, but it kinda fits. The ceremony ran 100 minutes, and his part took maybe two.

2011 Outstanding Freshmen in CPET

2011 Outstanding Freshmen in CPET

He was a tiny bit happy about the award too. I left work just before noon to be there and arrived before Va, David, and Beth. Jonathan found me in the auditorium, about the time Va called me to figure out where the auditorium was. She described her surroundings, and I relayed that to Jonathan, and he trundled off to find them and guide them in.

Just as he was leaving to do that, one of his professors approached me and asked if I was his Dad. Why yes, I am! Then he told me how unanimous the whole department was on his selection, and that they all really felt he deserved the award. I told him “We kind of like him too!” and he laughed.

Va and the kids arrived a few minutes later and we found some seats in the nosebleed section. I took some crappy photos (low light conditions plus long distance from subject equal noisy photos). The least crappy one on is shown above.

On the way home he said (in his usual subtle manner) “Today was a good day.”

I think he was right.

We got the forecasted snow. It started yesterday, paused, and resumed again today. All told I guess we got 8 inches, which is about half what they were calling for.

I didn’t bother trying to go to work, but instead stayed here and made several tunics for Va’s Adventurer Camp-in this coming Saturday. She’s doing a program of Joseph in Egypt, and wanted as many white tunics as I could crank out. I think I knocked out four – they take about an hour each. I was hoping to make it to the church during the evenings to start decorating – we’re planning to build a pyramid in the fellowship hall.

I also put on the snowshoes and walked around the house a bit. We’ve got some massive icicles on the part of the roof I haven’t added extra insulation to. I’m kinda glad about that, as it tells me with no uncertainty that insulating the attic will prevent ice dams. I just need to finish the project! Meanwhile, I turned on the eave heaters to try to melt some channels in the ice up there so we don’t get a leaky roof.

I also took a lap around the trail in the back of our property. Penny came along and amazed me with her ability to ferret out a stick from beneath three feet of snow.

Penny found a stick

Penny found a stick

I also noted that our well is completely buried now:

Buried well head

Buried well head

I cleared the driveway before it got dark, just because I like doing that better when I can see. The other thing I did was installed a new distribution of Linux on my laptop. Three times. Once would have been enough, but I was trying to preserve all my user files, and keep my numeric user id (technical reasons) and that got a little complicated. So complicated in fact, that I had to redo everything. Twice. But it’s all good now. I switched to a 64-bit version so that I can install some tools that are 64-bit only for work. It should make my life a lot easier, but of course there will be several adjustments to suffer through on the way to ease.

SpectraAccess came to the school today and got us hooked up with an antenna and modem. We now have much faster access to the Internet. As soon as I saw that it was working, I called HughesNet and cancelled our satellite Internet feed. This is sooo much better. With no satellite latency to suffer through, double the download bandwidth, no bandwidth cap (daily, monthly, or otherwise), it is about like going from dial-up to broadband.

Our new connection comes with a static IP address, so I will be able to remotely log into the servers at the school and make any necessary adjustments without driving out to the school. I have a very long list of things to do to the network now, including migrating to a new server, and repurposing the old one. I can move the card catalog off a PC at my house and onto a server at school. The possibilities this opens up are manifold!

Today was Beth’s first day of fourth grade.

Fourth Grader

Fourth Grader

The school looks great, but the renovation is still not quite complete. Last night after work, Jonathan and I stopped there to put the network back together. We didn’t finish (nor did I expect to), so we stopped there again tonight.

We got two quad Ethernet outlets installed beneath the computer tables, hooked them into the patch panel, mounted the patch panel to a wall in the closet, and hooked it into the 10/100 switch. We also plugged the LTSP server back in, set up four thin clients and booted them. So that’s all working.

We still need to run a cable up to the office so we can hook this network into the Internet.

Giving the teacher a computer network that doesn’t connect to the Internet is like saying, “Here’s broom. I hope you didn’t want to sweep with it though!” We’ll get on that as soon as we can.

I also need to connect the printer and take care of some other odds and ends.

Computer Lab

Computer Lab

I unraveled my argyle sock tonight. I’m going to try again with an easier pattern.

Va wasn’t home when I got home today. The school was being audited today by the Union accreditation committee, so she was there for that. One of their recommendations is that the school “consider” putting Windows on the student PC’s. If the school does that, they will have to find someone else to manage them though. Part of the reason I left my last job was because I didn’t want to use Windows. I’m certainly not going to admin a Windows system for free if I wasn’t willing to do it for pay.

Besides, I think it’s a horrible recommendation. I’d go into it here, but it would be a very long list of reasons that no one who reads this would care about. Suffice it to say that I am passionate about this issue.

Last month I wrote about how Jonathan was applying for a sponsorship so he could attend the Ubuntu Developer’s Conference in Brussels, Belgium. Today he got word that it has been approved! They will foot the bill for his airfare and hotel, and he will be on the hook for his food. And souvenirs.

That leaves him with a long list of ducks to get in a row. He will need to renew his passport, get an ATM card for his bank account, and get a job so his bank account has something in it. Not to mention make travel arrangements. The conference is the second week of May, which is the week after finals for him.

I am very proud of him for getting this, and also very happy that he has this opportunity. I am also terrified!

Also, I now have this song stuck in my head.

Lots of photos to post today, so let’s get started!

A pair of mallards

A pair of mallards

Yesterday on the way to work/school, I saw a whole bunch of ducks in a bottom. I wouldn’t say it was exactly flooded, but it was less than 100 yards from the Merrimack River. I think the bottom filled with water from the rain, not from the river, so I’m not sure I can call it flood water. Anyhow, we were running late, so there was no time to stop and take photos. We were not exactly running early today either, but I decided we’d stop anyhow. I got this shot of a pair of mallards. Again, I had the zoom maxed out, and the graininess pretty much proves that.

When I got home, I went out to the big rock to play with the CHDK motion detection software I had loaded onto my camera. As I was standing there fooling with it, screwing the tripod into the camera, a chickadee landed not five feet from where I was standing. I looked at it while I finished screwing in the tripod. Then I slowly raised the camera and got off three shots. This one came out the best, and I am pretty well pleased with it.

Brave Little Chickadee

Brave Little Chickadee

I can’t expect them to always do that, and I’d like to get pictures of other species as well, so I went ahead and set up the camera in the motion-detect mode. This is still a work in progress. The birds do not always land right in the center of the picture, but one chickadee did land right on top of the camera once. Luckily (or maybe it wasn’t luck), the camera was sitting pretty solidly on the rock and didn’t tumble over. Also… chickadees are pretty light.

Speaking of light… it was headed toward evening and the sun was out, but not strong. Also, it had gone behind the trees so the rock studio was in the shade. So I wasn’t able to use the settings I wanted on the camera, and several of the shots were motion-blurred.

The nuthatch eventually made its way out, but (s)he never did land with her whole body in the area framed by the camera. It was always off to the side. A little cropping, and it’s not half bad.

White-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch

But there’s still room for improvement here.

I couldn’t stay out for very long though, because Beth’s school was presenting “A Parade of Presidents.” Each kid had selected a president and researched his biography. They had set it up like a museum, complete with faux buttons that said “PUSH”. When we pressed one, the kid behind it delivered a schpeel about the president. They had also each painted a portrait of their selected pres. I thought Beth’s portrait was the best (not that I am biased):

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

OK, it’s pretty obvious here who she selected now. I know some of my relatives will be delighted about this, and others will be abhorred. But I guess art is supposed to solicit emotion, and by that measure, this is bound to be a success!

She did a great job presenting his biography too:

Beth, the museum worker

Beth, the museum worker

They had also each put together a PowerPoint (well… OpenOffice Impress) presentation. Those all looked great, but with ten copies of Impress running on my Linux server all at the same time, it was struggling to keep up. Not sure what the issue was. I “cheated” and opened up a terminal window to do some diagnostics. I’ll spare you the details, but I’m not exactly sure what I need to do about this. But at least I know how to bring the server to its knees now, and with that recipe, I should be able to recreate the problem and address it… not during a school presentation.

This evening after work Jonathan and I swung by the school. Our mission was to install Klavaro on the LTSP server. Klavaro is a typing tutor program for Linux.

It was quite a job getting it on there too, although I must say that once I finished chasing false starts, it went in pretty easy. I could go into all sorts of painful detail, but since this isn’t really a technology blog, I’ll spare you most of the details. The condensed version is that I went here, downloaded the package, and installed it.

Then it was a matter of running it, selecting English (it defaulted to Esperanto of all things!), and then propagating that preference to all the other user accounts (students and staff).

I didn’t do much at all today. I stayed in bed until 9:00 and then had breakfast. Then I lazed around the house in my sweats & bathrobe for an hour or so while I read the Internet. I got dressed around 11:00 and went outside to gather sticks up from the yard. I had been thinking I would burn my brush pile today, but it was pretty wet. I’m pretty sure I could burn a wet brush pile, but it would take way more effort than I felt like making today. So it’s still there. I do want to burn it before the snow melts, because then I won’t need to get a fire permit. I imagine that today was my last opportunity for that this season though. I’ll either wait for it to snow again, or I’ll get a fire permit.

After picking up all the sticks that were poking up out of the snow, I went in, and watched most of the first half of The Return of the King with Beth on DVD (now that we have finished the book). I really wish they had not killed off Saruman in the movie the way they did. They could have left him locked in the tower and reserved the Scouring of the Shire for a fourth film.

At lunchtime, Va, Beth, and I went to Tilton and ate a Chili’s. Then I bought a new pair of shoes, and then we came on home. After a while, Jonathan and I headed over to the school to see if we could make any progress on the Internet connection there.

His laptop came with Windows 7 on it, though he usually boots it into Ubuntu Linux. But the tech at HughesNet couldn’t handle a non-Windows machine, and that’s why we brought Jonathan’s laptop. To my surprise, it DID connect, even though the modem didn’t give us an IP address. I’ll have to ask around about how on earth that could possibly work, because it doesn’t make any sense to me. At all.

Confusion and surprise aside, we were able to confirm that we were receiving no signal from the satellite, and Hughes promised to dispatch a tech to realign our dish. They will call me tomorrow to make arrangements, and I expect they’ll be out in a day or two. In short, the school will not have Internet access for a couple more days.

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