Embedded PowerPoints with Google Presentations

by Rusty Meyners.

Not sure how new this is but just found a Google Apps sharing feature that was new to me and maybe I’m easily excited but I couldn’t wait to share.

While showing a Social Studies teacher how to share upload a PowerPoint and share it as a Google Presentation Webpage, I saw an “Embed” option not previously noticed, I immediately changed directions on the ‘just in time” tutorial and we instead embedded it into a Moodle topic label. I explained that embeded share options had been made popular in My Space but can be used in almost any Web 2.0 venue such as Moodle. That includes this blog where I am fixing to embed his presentation with confidence it will work, though I’ve yet to try it.

Fooled You! Thought there was gonna be an embedded player, didn’t you? Well so did I but the problem is with the Moodle Blog or our editor hack, so I had to just put a screen cap in. It is linked into the course where you might be able to view it if you have privileges there. Better yet, just try it yourself!


Mini-Note Computer Evaluations

by Rusty Meyners.  


Mini-Note Computer Evaluations
The chart below shows six models of mini-notebook computer, two of which can currently be considered excellent choices for the purposes of deploying to EISD High School students on a 1:1 basis, as well as for classroom sets on any campus; while a third promises the same, though not available for our hands-on evaluation for another week or two. These are the eeePC 901 and the eeePC 1000, with the HP 2140 being anxiously awaited for our inspection. In fact the HP 2140 promises to be a superior machine in many but not all ways. The eeePC advantages lie largely in their intuitive and comprehensive operating system and software that has already been proven in our student trials. The HP has an unmatched overall quality of appearance and build, not the least of which is the best keyboard of any tested, though other questions remain unanswered as of yet – and it should also be noted that a glossy screen is gorgeous until you get near a window or go outside and glare makes it unusable. The Acer Aspire deserves an Honorable Mention, being an extremely good consumer value (Wal-Mart just did a “rollback” from $350 to $300) for individuals and families; however, for our purposes, it is found lacking (only slightly) on the “rugged” factor. The original eeePC 701 is still a very viable educational tool that only suffers from a modest hard drive, stingy screen and wimpy battery, though it’s as tough as a hockey puck. The HP 2133 is only included here because we have one on hand to evaluate its’ form-factor, since the more interesting 2140 that is not yet available shares the same case and keyboard. From a Tech perspective, the eeePC is considered on many levels to be the easiest to support, largely due to its’ solid state hard drive; however it is expected that HP will provide excellent support resources and critical peripheral items such as stand-alone battery chargers that could be vital. 
Approx. Price**
HP 2140
A-?, B+?
160gb Std.
HP 2133
160gb Std.
eeePC 1000
40gb SSD
eeePC 901
20gb SSD
eeePC 701
4gb SSD
Acer Aspire One(see_update)
8gb SSD


**w/o shipping

* – other options available


Update 4/07/09:

Still haven’t gotten hands on an HP 2140. HP is known to be one of the few planning enterprise-grade support for netbooks which their pricing reflects.

eeePC continues to release new models with emphasis moving a little more towards products designed for XP with the newest minor improvements in graphics, processing and battery efficiency. It is reported that they will be streamlining their netbook product line over the coming months.

Acer is still in the race with quite impressive sales that keeps competitors from resting easy. They still stick to a very basic model with few additional options, the $300 now fetching a 10" screen, 1gig RAM and a large standard hard-drive with XP Home. Acer currently has a demo progrmam for schools, offering a 30-day free trial with a $200 price for keeping it (only one at that price). Further update (4/13/09): Just rec’d demo of updated version and immediately note that the Aspire One now has a "quality feel" previously missing. It already had one of the best keyboard layouts and now seems to have a more solid action, while the chassis, lid and hinges are somewhat more rugged as well; so what previously was a "consumer recommended" unit now "makes the grade" for an enterprise deployment.

Other brands & models such as the Dell Mini and the MSI Wind should not be ignored. The Dell suffers from an atrocious keyboard layout that a motivated user will overcome for an otherwise great experience; and Dell is also offering netbook prices on 13" full-featured laptops. The MSI Wind hardware compares well with the best eeePC models if you don’t mind XP without a solid-state hard-drive option or want to install your own Linux anyway.

Buzz is starting to build about the arrival of ARM processors into the personal computing market with devices that will blend the best of "cel"phone technology with netbooks to achieve even more efficiency, portability and economy; while the phones themselves continue to put more and more PC functionality in your pocket.

Linux seems to be losing ground in the netbook market for various reasons; but the ARM processor may alter the trend as well as Microsoft’s Windows 7 business model (keep prices high).


Features and Challenges Considered for a Mini-Note Computer Deployment
1.       Durability/Reliability
“Smaller” (or more compact), to an extent, seems to equal “tougher” in the case of mini-notes. Solid state drives are immune to accidental damage, leaving cooling fans as only moving part. Fewer moving parts equals less internal breakdown. Attention to construction and “feel” of LCD lid and hinges, as well as “feel” of keyboard.
2.       Simplicity/Functionality
Preferably a mini-note computer should be ready to work out of the box with little or no preparation or user training. This means the included operating system should be easy to navigate with basic & necessary programs already included. Our mini-note infrastructure will ideally support curricular activities for anyone who can connect to the internet with a web-browser, regardless of brand or OS.
3.       Value
Emphasis on the best of all other factors for the least investment. Consideration of needs to be met over the unit’s usefull lifetime of four to five years (plus).
4.       Speed/Efficiency
Undue delays & stalls must be minimized due to shorter class periods and student inclination to take advantage of this excuse. Mini-note computers are not particularly fast or powerful but are efficient with the right combination of processor, RAM & operating system. Battery & power requirements will be an extremely significant factor in this project
5.       Processor – Recommended Intel Atom
5.1.    Intel Atom – also known as N270
Most efficient in current mini-note class both in terms of processing speed/power. Particularly noted for power consumption efficiency resulting in cooler operation and in turn quieter operation due to less fan noise.
5.2.    Intel Celeron
Original mini-note standard processor with reasonable power and fair efficiency with somewhat warm operation and reasonable noise level.
5.3.    VIA Processor
Underpowered, least efficient, hottest running.
6.       RAM – 512mb minimum, 1gb preferred
7.       Hard Drive
Solid-State hard drives are preferred for durability and power efficiency. Most models that have these are also available with a large standard hard drive and Windows XP Home at no extra price and in some cases a solid-state drive is much more expensive.
8.       Operating System – Recommended Linux, probably eeePC/Xandros but with Ubuntu as an alternative
8.1.    XP Home
Usually too slow on mini-notebook computers, at least when booting up or starting new programs. Not very expensive to license for mini-notes due to Microsoft’s aggressive interest in not being left out of the mini-note market.
8.2.    XP Pro
Not enough known about performance on mini-notes, though seemingly reasonable when customized. Very expensive to license for this class of computer – not part of the Microsoft approach to this market.
8.3.    Vista
Not known for speed or efficiency on any platform, much less mini-notes. Not part of Microsoft marketing approach for this platform, therefore expensive to license.
8.4.    Linux
8.4.1.Xandros – eeePC custom edition
Simple, intuitive, well rounded variety of programs out of the box. Vast community of user support due to immense popularity of eeePC mini-notes. Highly and easily customizable and adaptable.
8.4.2.Ubuntu – universal , free, not brand specific
Valuable alternative to out-of-the-box operating systems. Highly customizable and adaptable to most hardware with exception of wireless adapters on some brands. Vast community of user support due to unique global standing of Ubuntu Linux business-model/philosophy.
8.4.3.Linpus – Acer Aspire One custom edition
Reasonably simple and intuitive with good selection of programs. Smaller, but vigorous community of support.
8.4.4.Suse – HP/Novell Enterprise Edition
Not proven by our own experiences, but thought to meet and possibly exceed most of our requirements in many ways. Has enterprise features including extensive Microsoft interoperability that other Linux systems may lack. It should be noted that integration of mini-notes into our infrastructure is expected to largely ignore “enterprise” features with a largely web-based “cloud-computing” approach.
9.       Battery/Power –three-cell or six-cell batteries come as standard equipment
Three-cell batteries tend to operate a mini-note computer for 2 to 3.5 hours when new and take around twice that long to charge. Six-cell batteries are good for around 5.5 to 7 hours operation and need to charge overnight. Some models come with a 3-cell standard and have an available 6-cell but the price is almost prohibitive; whereas, buying a model that has a 6-cell as standard equipment is much more cost-effective. Power is expected to be the most challenging “infrastructure” issue in this project, as no matter how good the original battery is, students will soon enough need ample opportunities to “plug-in” for a charge or operation. In some models, a 6-cell battery contributes to a less convenient overall size and shape of computer.
10.   Screen
These range from 7” to 10” with resolution being a more important issue for younger eyes. The 7” screen has a resolution slightly lower than practical because normal web pages and even programs often do not fit and sometimes even scrolling cannot compensate. Nine inch screens have a resolution that is quite practical and 10” screens use the same resolution with the luxury of viewing it only slightly bigger. Glossy screens look awesome until you get near a window or go outside, at which time the glare can make them unusable.
11.   Keyboard
As a rule, the bigger the screen, the larger the keyboard making the choice between 9” inch and 10” screen actually a choice between the bigger keyboard which is probably a more important consideration. Keyboards in this class max out at approximately 93% of “full-size”, with smaller sizes featuring altered placement of vital keys such as the Right-Shift.        


Netbook Update Here

Moodle – step two (part b) "MOODLEFIED"

by Rusty Meyners.

Huggins’ 4th Grade class got “Moodlefied” last Friday when they created their own new Moodle accounts and then held an online forum about their just completed biography projects. The students were so jazzed about this new way of collaborating that they continued exploration of their online classroom space after school and over the weekend. Without prompting some were to shortly find the blog feature and couldn’t wait to try out the new creative outlet. Below is the first example.


Also see previous post: Moodle – Step Two


Moodle – Step Two

by Rusty Meyners.  

OK, so you’ve created your Moodle course and maybe you’ve posted some information or even videos on it. Oh, you haven’t posted any videos? You haven’t even used it to list assignments or other class information for parents to access, much less as a paperless way to pass out forms, references and other resources?

How are we going to take the next step with Moodle and leverage it for the interactive WEB 2.0 potential we’ve heard all the hype about? We can create, take and grade quizzes or tests in Moodle, but at first glance, that’s intimidating enough for the new Moodle Educator, so just imagine how the students are going to react to that. Digital documents can be not only created in Moodle but turned in as well using the assignment submission feature – once we get the hang of it; but frankly the "fun and engaging" factor we’re looking for in a new learning tool is a little lean when it comes to basic word processing.

Collaboration on documents or other projects is a little more to the point, after all, a simple definition of WEB 2.0 is "the read-write web" or maybe another way to put it, is "the give & take web". I never tire of telling the story about the first time I was involved in introducing Moodle and Google Docs to an 11th grade AP English class in the spring of 2008, where the first reaction was "this is lame" (the word spoken wasn’t actually "lame") but by the end of the class one was heard to exclaim "Wow, Google Docs is like MySpace for English!".

The challenge before me at the moment is how to start getting a 4th grade teacher and class involved with the "give-take" aspects of Moodle. KISS principles seem appropriate, so let’s start with something very simple and next to it put something fun, then push them together and stack something simple & fun on top and call it "constructivist".

So here’s the plan. First, we’re gonna take the 4th graders into the lab and have them register their own account in Moodle and with the time left have them try out the Chat feature. Second, the teacher will create a Forum for a recently finished class assignment (in this case, a major biography project that each student produced and presented); then, either in another lab period or in individual computer sessions, each student will "Add a new topic" to the forum with a paragraph summarizing their biography presentation. Each student will then choose or be assigned to read a few (say 5?) of the other topics to which they will each post a discussion question or comment for the original student to reply to or acknowledge. Or something like that.

Online forums obviously should never replace classroom discussions but the benefits could be substantial. They can be quieter, more organized, and don’t have to take place in real time on a strict schedule, besides which they can be graded more constructively. Students can be promised an A for participation but the teacher will be able to critique and suggest additional tries on underwhelming efforts.

I’m a tech and not a teacher but Dr. Holcombe stresses that we are all Educators; and since I can hardly wait to see how this goes, he must be right! BTW, activities like this in a forum such as Moodle leave a digital record that can be shared and evaluated as appropriate, so I am also looking forward to having this example for other teachers to follow in the near future.


Next: Moodle – step two (part b) "MOODLEFIED"

ProxMox Virtualization Hybrid of OpenVZ & KVM

by Rusty Meyners.  

OK, so you want my view on ProxMox, OpenVZ or KVM? Maybe even VMware, Xen & Virtuozzo?

Yes, someone really did ask, earlier this evening on Twitter.

First, I’ve no experience with OpenVZ or KVM as stand-alone; because ProxMox does both and gets you off to a fast and easy start. This does assume that you have some "big-iron" because ProxMox only installs on 64 bit bare metal and uses the whole drive array, though there are work-arounds to make use of the extra drive space if you need to.

I do have experience with VMWare Server and also ESXi but only after each became free, as well as a brief spinup of Xen and a significant period with Virtuozzo. Still can’t do without VMWare Server and Converter for utility, though my production stuff is almost always on ProxMox. Most of the hypervisors (even bare metal) are more or less free these days because the money is deemed to be in the management programs. Virtuozzo is a nice and unique product that unfortunately is far from free and probably will remain so until Microsoft becomes Open Source; and I would still be using it if it had come out with support for Server08 sooner.

OpenVZ is the Linux equivilent of what Virtuozzo does for Windows with an approach that partitions the operating system on top of a shared kernel, rather than virtualizing any hardware, which is where the processing and I/O overhead are lost. OS partitions are referred to as containers, rather than machines, and the term Virtual Environment is an umbrella for both types of virtualization; hence the VE on the end of "ProxMox VE".

Almost a year ago, I was deciding which way to go with heavy production, having only used VMWare Server and knowing I needed a bare metal solution cheaper than ESX (which has since become free), so it appeared Xen was the way to go, with it’s reputation of low overhead with the more efficient "para"-virt approach. Cranked up the Dell edition of Xen Express on new Dell hardware, because the free-version restrictions were slighlty more generous than the regular Citrix offer, and Dell had an interesting way of booting from an internal USB key and calling it "embedded".

Shortly after spinning up Xen and booting a new Server08 on it, an associate alerted me to a very interesting, though obscure Open Source product called ProxMox that we just had to try. Since I had a twin of the Dell 2950 running the Xen, we had the perfect opportunity to run a comparison. Installed an identical Server08 on a KVM in the ProxMox and did a PCPitstop test on both. I’m sure there are more sophisticated benchmarks but the bottom line was that, yes Xen was awesome on CPU efficiency but it was lousy on hard drive access and the ProxMox wasn’t bad on CPU while it blew away the Xen on drive access. One of the new Dells was intended for Linux and the other for Windows, so OpenVZ seemed like a no-brainer since Virtuozzo experience showed the container concept more or less undisputed for efficiency, leaving a decision on full or para-virtualization for the Windows box. KVM started looking real good and the hybrid approach sounded even better with the promise of the clustering, migration and management features.

The first production "machine" on ProxMox was for a Moodle, so VZ was the natural fit and of course that means it was a VE "container" (though the term machine is hard to drop); however significant Windows loads have been running on several KVM machines, ranging from media streaming & file serving to (believe it or not) MS Terminal Services.

The best part of a year has gone by and since then ESXi has become free and had its’ chance to compete with ProxMox as a host for Terminal Servers and others. It’s a great product with a wide range of features and a plethora of configuration options that ProxMox will never catch up with, but in the end we retired it and committed to ProxMox. Chances are, we may have some slightly older hardware around that will see some ESXi action but only because ProxMox VE will only run on 64 bit.

ProxMox VE uses a minimal installation of CentoOS or Debian (I think – should confirm) as it’s base and you are able to install other programs on it after it is running. Many basics are missing because they are not needed to begin using it for virtualization but it does have apt-get and you can quickly add wget. Since my Linux skills are somewhat light, this is the point where I put WebMin on it; because that wonderful package is what lets a Microsoft immigrant sleep at night when he starts putting vital services on Linux.

For those who gripe about ProxMox using the whole drive array, I have two answers. One, install a guest OS to host the space as network storage; and (or) two, use WebMin to manage the drive space.

Once you have ProxMox going, you will find plenty of reasons to crank up additional "machines". Because it is so easy to test new systems, it has been a snap to try out great stuff like BackupPC and Joomla, DimDim Server (just today) and hopefully soon, a FOG server and various security and firewall appliances.

Oops, I just remembered – the DimDim server was actually a pre-packaged appliance that I setup on VMware player to get it going quicker and will put it in a VZ container later. Just goes to show, that you still can’t do without some of the free VMware stuff like Server, Player and especially Converter. ProxMox has a wiki with instructions for P2V migration using VMware Converter, that I couldn’t do without.


Extracurricular Media Tech Group – Homecoming Internet Broadcast

by Rusty Meyners.  

Students interested in helping get our Homecoming game broadcast live on the Internet – LISTEN UP! Several of you met with me briefly last week to hear how to get involved with Media Technology projects such as this and other important events and productions. Those and other interested students and others should please register with the "EISD Technology NEEDS YOU!" Choice Link on the front page of the Moodle and then also go to the TECH GEEKS group in MoodleSpace and enroll.

I am sending this message through Moodle to those on my list that have accounts and depending you y’all to get the word out to others who need to join us. Some of them have not had a chance to even log into Moodle for the first time, so help them out, either in the Library or maybe with the help of one of Mr. Myer’s Tech Aides in C Hall.

I had to go to Dallas last Friday and got back too late to get in touch with the students on my list but hopefully we’ll have plenty of help this week.

Tentative plan is to meet at the Boneyard no later than 6:30pm before the game, and if I know who is coming to help I can leave your name at the gate to get you in free. You will take shifts operating the video camera while also getting familiar with the programs and processes being used to produce the live Internet feed.

Pass the word to those who can’t come to the game, that they can catch it on the Moodle or Webpage because you helped!