WordPress Theme & Banner Pics Update

 Just a note to bring attention to a refreshed WordPress theme with a new selection of banner images randomly displayed upon each view.

Here’s a sample.

What do you think?

 BTW, I probably should give credit to some other bloggers and yearbook-types for some of the pics. Think they’ll notice?

Don’t worry, the Band Pic is still here too!

Pearson TestNav Fail & Recover

by Rusty Meyners.  

Original (or at least previous) publish date: Wednesday, 12 May 2010, 11:47 AM

Here's what didn't work and did work for us when testing the entire Freshman class of around 90 students simultaneously on netbooks with wireless connections.

  1. Server install DID NOT work – obviously and decidedly so.

    • It seemed the most natural way to do things and bandwidth considerations seemed to be the only issue flagged in the Pearson documentation. We had tested groups of class size or smaller in the past with barely tolerable results, usually not seeming to be related to bandwidth. Testing 90 simultaneously crapped out after less than 2 dozen connections. In this case we were using netbooks on wireless connections but no change in perfomance was noted on several that were plugged into ethernet. Best guess is that the program files did not play well when in use by so many users – NOT A GUESS is that critical files were easily broken in this scenario and re-install was the so-called "fix". 
  2. Proctor Caching DID work – apparently.

    • We have no observation of how things would have performed without this but none of the problems we had indicated a problem with caching, particularly considering good performance after changes were made only to components other than this.
  3. Local install DID work – WITH A TWIST

    • After it appeared that a local install was the solution (the Pearson documenation DID NOT give any indication to this effect but phone support did) we successfully circumvented the need to perform a full install on each machine by merely copying the folder from the server installation to each local desktop (NOT an idea we got from phone support). It may be possible to to the same thing with a local install folder but be sure the proctor caching settings are correct and if necessary edit the configuration file for that purpose. No critical .ini files were broken on 90 local instances.
    • Some tips on this:

      • Zip the folder and copy it by USB to the local desktop where it is then unzipped in a separate action and ready for use. It could be copied directly from network but might result in an annoying bottleneck. Attempting to unzip directly from the network share will probably aggravate the bottleneck and uzipping from the USB stick will also be slower than performing the separate actions. This makes a difference when prepping more than a class-sized group.
      • If possible, set relevant temp-file paths (different on server vs. local installs) when performing the original install that you are going to copy. Not critical, because we performed an adjustment to each local computer and it wasn't horrendous (compared to running from server the previous day) but could be avoided. The correction is requested after logging in: just click Browse and the default path is normally suitable but if it doesn't work, just click "Skip Upload" (assuming student has no work to save yet).
      • On our netbooks, there were two suitable resolution settings, changed by hot-key, however making this change after the test starts will trip the cheat-detector and require the test to be restarted. So try to confirm a correct resolution before hand.
      • Because our netbooks are on full-time assignment to students, a special domain login was implemented to ensure a clean profile with less chance of junkware interference.



(Will put updates or link to them here

Now that this reminds me NOT to do network install (hard to believe I'd forgotten THAT), here are some things that immediately come to mind.

  1. Will probably script the copying AND unzipping of files involved in "Local Install" as described above in #3 (WITH A TWIST).

    • have recently used scripting for similar delivery from network shares with encouraging results
    • 7z zip utility (free) has proven very efficient and effective for this and works well with scripting
  2. After optimizing scripting and zip procedures, will likely retest these from network shares as well as USB or SD card delivery, to evaluate which is/are preferable.

Google Apps for Education & Moodle Integration Update

by Rusty Meyners.  

Recieved email request today for links to info about new Google Apps for Education account features & changes as well as Moodle-Google SSO integration. This is the reply:


First link is a Moodle course I slapped together for a Moodle Mini-Moot at TCEA2010. A little dated but still relevant.
Second is a link found on page above to a wiki covering Moodle-Google SSO integration specifically.
Third & maybe most important are instructions I assembled for setting up Moodle-Google SSO. Though dated,  recent feedback validates their continuing relevance.
The links above are to guides I've written but following is a Google link to info about impending changes in the Apps for Ed accounts. Mainly it's a matter of adding more of the consumer account features to the Apps for Ed Edition as well as transitioning personal accounts that use an email from an Apps for Education domain – they'll need to associate it with a different email address, whether Gmail or 3rd party. This change includes a new feature that diverts a login attempt to an SSO domain's Moodle login page if pertinent.

Why an “Optimized” version of Khan Academy OFFLINE?

by Rusty Meyners.  

Why an "optimized" version of Khan Academy OFFLINE?

One might well ask this question since it is based on fine work found at http://code.google.com/p/khanacademy/ and I'm glad you asked.
In early December of 2010, I was approached with the question of having iTunes installed on our student netbooks and the complications we might experience with that. I suggested possibilities involving other avenues of content download and the considerable hard drive space available on the netbooks for offline storage. Khan Academy came up briefly during this discussion, so I subsequently spent some time familiarizing myself with that, ever eager to be knowledgeable on alternatives to iTunes.
The next day I was called in again to discuss offline content on netbooks with emphasis on Khan Academy. By this time I was a little more acquainted with Khan and aware that there were projects already in place regarding offline use of that subject matter.
… to be continued smile

Moodle Servers: Windows, Linux, Virtual or “Real”

by Rusty Meyners.  


Regarding Windows or Linux:


Moodle is a Linux native along with the majority of the available support. My duties, skills and salary are too Windows-dependent to devote the time to mastering Linux that I’d like; but having said that, I couldn’t personally recommend Windows for a Moodle.



Regarding the Virtual vs. “Real” question:


Our Moodle has been a Linux virt from day one around 2.5 years ago and I’d do it again exactly the same today. BUT it is on the OpenVZ flavor of virtualization which is quite different from the VMWare solution that most people default to.



VMWare is one of many flavors of FULL virtualization which use processing and memory resources for a software imitation of the hardware components in an imaginary machine on which you install your system. Fully virtual machines for the most part do not even know they are not actual boxes of metal and silicon. A subset is “para-virtual” where the virt has special drivers and awareness that it can get more direct and efficient access to the “real” hardware. Other solutions including (Free/OpenSource) such as KVM (on Linux but able to host Windows) and XEN work in a similar fashion to VMWare.



OpenVZ only virtualizes or “partitions” the operating system and uses hardly any extra resources to do so. This keeps most of the advantages of virtualization and brings more benefits to the mix, especially in the way of performance. OpenVZ only works (last I heard) with Linux systems, though there is an expensive proprietary version for Windows that has gone by various names such as Virtuozzo and (I think) Containers(?). If you are using or even considering Linux implementation, getting familiar with OpenVZ would be an extremely valuable investment of your time, as I believe it almost never makes sense to virtualize Linux any other way. With OpenVZ I have can (and often do) have a production Moodle system running alongside a production KalturaCE, BackupPC, FOG and sandbox space for trying out any flavor of Linux system that catches my attention (Mahara is next on that list). Normally we have these spread out over several host boxes but the beauty of virtualization is the portability, disaster recovery and load balancing potential.



ProxMox is the actual “brand” of virtualization we use and it is Free/OpenSource with pay support options. It combines KVM Full Virtualization and OpenVZ OS Virtualization for multiple Linux AND Windows virts in the same host system and may be one of the fastest ways around to get into the virtualization business. It requires fairly new 64bit hardware with virtualization support which includes almost any decent server hardware you would be considering anyway. I would love to help anyone in education trying to get started with ProxMox.