Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Permanently enabling the network on the ppc imac

Always willing to experiment on myself, I decided that I'll try running the ubuntu ppc imac as a second machine. After all I've a decent browser on it, albeit Firefox 1.5, a text editor and abiword as a lightweight wordprocessor. Basically all that's needed for a second machine.

But then a little snag. I hadn't expected the machine to end up as a production machine so I'd built it offline. So the question is, how to make it an online machine. The network preferences tool would seem to be the answer but while it lets you configure the network interface, it only lets you turn it on for the session.

So here's my fix.

Setup the interface in network preferences.
Check you have working network
Setup network time synchronisation in time&date. It will ask you for the cd to install ntp.

then you need to edit the following file - I'm happy using vi, but nano or pico are just as good. 

use the command

sudo vi /etc/network/interface

and immediately before the line

iface eth0 inet dhcp

insert the line

auto eth0

exit and save the file.

As the network is already running all you need to do is reboot to verify it's working. If for any reason you're editing this on an offline machine the command sudo ifup -a will start all network interfaces for you.

After this all you need do is download all the software updates. In my case there were a 197 of them and it took over an hour. Time to play with the cat ...

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Facebook for edu ??

Universities have traditionally, well since sometime in the nineteen eighties, provided staff and students with email accounts automatically.

The reason why they continue to do this is largely historical - universities were enthusiastic early adopters of email and used it as a primary means of communication between staff and students replacing these typewritten yellow official memos we used to know and loathe.

Over time the world changed, but universities still went on providing email accounts despite the increasing cost of doing so, and despite the availability of alternative email providers. Ofthen universities justify the continued provision of email as a way of ensuring the timely delivery of communications such as course assignments etc.

Given the sometimes unreliable nature of university email services this may not be a valid argument, but the need for ensuring timely delivery and proving that a message has been delivered is important where it is the primary means of communication.

So universities have three options:

1) continue as before

this means that they continue to provide email and accept the ongoing storage, support, and staff costs

2) outsource

this moves the problem and puts a contract in place between the outsourcer and the university. Google and Microsoft offer outsourced zero cost services in the form of google apps for education and windows live for education. But of course zero cost is not zero cost. Bandwidth is not free and there is a valid reason to only outsource student email and keep staff email in house in order to maintain confidentiality and protect intellectual property.

And while the service is reliable,the forensic information obtainable in a dispute may not be as rich as if it was your own system with total control.

Once all that is taken into account let's say they're cost neutral, but as the majority is based around traffic costs they are at least more predictable - no hardware costs or nasty changes to the licence model

3) stop doing it

Basically this means that you stop providing student accounts. The arguments for continuing to provide staff email still hold, but free accounts are widely available from gmail, windows live, yahoo and so on. So in the way we don't give students phones, but ask them for their phone numbers we stop providing email and ask them to provide an email address.

This is not so radical - a number of universities in France and Italy never got into the student email game and now expect students to use their own email accounts (and perhaps their own computers ...)

But then we have the problem of getting assurance that key messages have been read. So much in the way that Facebook will send you a message when someone inside of the Facebook borg sends you a message we could envisage a similar sort of system, where you send messages out to tell students to read their bulletin board messages. Better still you could envisage a system that required students to acknowledge that they had read particular communications, such as exam dates and due dates for assignments.

Sounds a little like Facebook for edu. And I must admit, when I started thinking about it that's what I though it would be.

But it isn't. It's an extension of the learning management system. Most universities have them, tests and term papers are lodged electronically in a lot of cases, and access is authenticated and they ususally have built in bulletin board or wiki systems. Add in the ability to mail out to student lists and basic acknowledgement tracking.

So all we need is an enhanced LMS - it has all the pedagogic features needed and most of the closed social network features required. It would probably not be a whole lot of work to enhance Sakai -despite it being fairly loathsome as an LMS - or Moodle to deliver that sort of functionality at considerably lower cost than continuing to provide student email.

But would any university dare? It's high profile and could be seen as making the learning experience not as good as elsewhere. Being different is not always seen as being better ...

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

ubuntu on ppc imac - performance testing

this is all highly unscientific - I tested it by starting my 700MHz intel architecture ubutu linux machine and compared times roughly with ppc linux on the imac.

Boot, application load and desktop manager initialisation take roughly twice as long on the imac.

That said simple applications such as gedit, or running vi in a terminal window perform just about the same once they've got going. Open office writer, although slower to load is perfectly usable, even if some of the menu options are slower. With something like AbiWord (untested) it should be fine.

Not having got the internet out to the garage I couldn't meaningfully test firefox with something like google docs, but just opening it up gave the same slower load.

That said, and even though the disk is rattling like mad on the imac, it's a usable machine, and probably utterly adequate for visitors to use to check their email.

I'm quietly pleased with just how good performance is.

Ubuntu on a 1998 iMac

One of my interests (sometimes borne of necessity, sometimes not) is the reuse of legacy computing hardware, and I've had couple of experiments on reusing such hardware. One, reusing an old G3 powerbook, wasn't that successful. The reason being software base. OS X 10.2 doesn't have that many usable applications, and computers are useful for their ability to run a range of software.

Basically, it only really worked well as a Google (or Zoho) docs and calendar terminal. Useful, interesting but not worth crossing the street for.

The second, more recent attempt, building a home linux machine was much more successful. Reasonably modern operating system, reasonable software base, and one which will give me one of my favorite writing tools, kwrite.

A couple of days ago someone gave me an old original 1998 233MHz iMac because they knew I liked playing with things like that. Well it could have run OS X 10.2 or possibly just 10.3 rather slowly, but after the powerbook on 10.2 I wondered if there was a middle way.

So yesterday evening I installed Ubuntu 6.06 for PPC on it. The installation was utterly smooth but jaw achingly slow, taking close on three hours. Ok I read the paper, watched the news, ate dinner and talked with Judi while it was installing, but it was still slow.

Rebooted it, and up it came, linux on an iMac. Due to the install taking so long, I couldn't do much in the way of performance testing, so I conteneted myself with starting open office. It came up, slowly, but it came up. Didn't test it writing anything so the jury's out on usablity.

If it turns out to be a half decent experience it might be a viable solution for schools who invested in these quite nice machines and yet have been left behind by being shut out by Apple restricting recent versions of OS X to recent hardware.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Romans in Bali and Vietnam?

A few days ago I semi-flippantly used the analogy of the Romans and the south east asian spice trade to explain that the odd anomalous finding is only interesting when you have other evidence that shows its an oddity, but that in the case of Homo floriensis we have an ongoing debate as to its status as we have no evidence whether or not it's an oddity or not.

And then, having invented the scenario of a Roman spice trade boat having been blown off course and wrecked somewhere on the northern coast of WA, I got to wondering if there was any evidence at all about the spice trade and a Roman presence, however tenuous, further east than India.

And it turns out there is.

Roman black burnished slipware pottery of a type manufactured in Arikamedu, a Roman trading settlement in India has turned up in Bali. Of course this doesn't mean that someone called Quintus was strutting his stuff on Kuta beach during the time of the Antonines, but that someone thought it sufficiently worthwhile to take some of this stuff and try and trade it with people living on Bali, or some on sold it to someone on another island who sold it on - the possibilities are endless, and without context we can say is the simple fact that IndoRoman style pottery has been found in Bali and that this points to contact, possibly via third parties.

Given what we know of the Roman spice trade this seems eminently defensible.

Equally interesting are hints of trade links with the state of Funan in what is now Viet nam with reports of roman coins being found during excavations at Oc Eo in 1940. The reports are sketchy, and given the history of the area since 1940 (second world war - french war - american war - reconstruction) it's perhaps unsurprising that ths has not been investigated further.

That said, the presence of coins does not mean direct contact. Coins are portable, a reasonable way of moving precious metal, and sometimes have a significance more than as a means of exchange. For example in Chinatown in San Francisco there are shops that sell nineteenth century American silver dollars and Chinese cash as good luck tokens to bring prosperity to your house. There are other more subtle examples such as the use of British East India Company silver rupees in hill tribe head dresses in Laos, northern Thailand and northern Burma - yes they could be a cash reserve, but they were primarily social in their value.

Just to add to the fun, archaeologists in Viet Nam recently uncovered a boat that appeared to have been built using Roman boat building techniques. It of course doesn't mean that Roman shipwrights were working in Viet Nam. More likely the technique spread via the Roman settlements in India where local boat builders started using the techniques and they were copied throughout the area. Unfortunately, only having one example all we can do is wave our hands and speculate.

So what does this mean?

As a minimum, there is evidence that there were contacts, however indirect, between south east asia and Roman traders. The form and nature of these contacts are however unknown, in part due to the paucity of evidence. It is not unlikely that individual Roman trader traders voyaged to south east asia but the lack of evidence suggests that they did not form an identifiable commnity

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Zoho Writer does docx ...

Zoho will introduce support for all Microsoft OOXML formats, according to businesswire.

Doing this would give them compatibility with Office 2007 users and allow native file parsing.