Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Steam Airship Progress

It's been a while since I have posted anything about the airship that I have been working on. Needless to say, there hasn't been a lot of progress, as the national helium shortage continues. But, in the mean time, I have been working on the boiler.

I got interested in a new project with steam when I saw this video on making a steam powered candle. It was so simple, I thought I could talk my wife into letting me get the parts. Well, I couldn't find a small enough copper tubing. The tubing I did find (actually housing for a furnace thermostat) was too big, and sunk the tea-light candle that I was using. But it fit well into the test tube that I had set aside for the airship as a boiler. ^_^

So, I connected the tubing to the boiler, and set it up over my canister of chafing fuel. It worked like a charm! The water boiled quickly, the steam exited, and nothing blew (my real worry). So now, I just need a small engine or turbine.

I was going to build a quick turbine out of the left over parts of the thermostat and a soda can, but we didn't have any soda cans. The weekend being Christmas, I decided I would just wait until later in the week to build the turbine.

So, while I have been waiting, I found a very useful website on building steam engines. It's posted by a university in order to build their program, which is fine for me. Ultimately, it gives me some great ideas on various other steam engine applications I can use, namely my ambition to build a steamer automobile (once my wife can be talked into it ^_^).

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Apple Training V: The Final Impressions

Now that I have things pretty much under control back home, I promised that I would post my impressions on the Apple Training upgrade to 10.5 that I attended for the past two weeks.

The Design
Overall, the design actually follows some instructional design techniques, unlike the Tiger materials. The student, as they progress through the course, must utilize the techniques, steps, and knowledge they had acquired in previous chapters. Building upon the previous material the students are reinforced in that material, and are not treated as mindless children that can't learn. Constructivist theories at the heart of it, which makes me happy. THe command line is no longer separate from the individual events that the commands apply to, but rather you learn the command line all through the book. Finally, the training becomes professional, and therefore something I am proud to offer at the University.

The Materials
The materials are being published through PeachPit, though the student kits will only be available to an Apple Authorized Training Center. They are very well done, with bits of the lecture in with the slide presentations. They no longer follow the Reference book, which has additional assignments should someone want to continue on with their learning in another direction. The only thing that I currently see wrong is having a place for notes, should the instructor choose to cover a specific topic in more detail. Other than that, it will be professionally bound, and cost less than the workbooks that were available from Apple. ^_^ Good news for any Apple Authorized Training Center.

The Test
now that I have taken both tests, I can say that the tests are written a little better than the previous test, though I took the longer version than will be available for everyone else. The test will be designed to have someone sit for 2 hours (mine was designed for someone to sit for 2.5 hours), and instead of killing all the easy questions, both easy and hard questions will be removed from the test. This way the test results will be generally higher, and passing will also need to be higher. For now, it will still be multiple choice, but they are looking into some real application and development along that front. What I would like to see is a practical sit-down test, similar to Red Hat's exams, which no one can just memorize an answer without learning something. Apple Training would like to see it as well, so it's good to see that we are on the same page. ^_^

The Staff
Apple Training has gone through a lot of changes recently, with most of the staff being laid off. This comes from a common belief that the Macintosh platform is so easy to use, there shouldn't need to be any training for it (i.e., the Apple Executives that don't want to pay for a Training Department). Unfortunately, this is the way many companies are moving, and leads us into a longer rant about the importance of training, and the quick decisions to axe training in corporate environments to save money. Anyway, those that are left are really the cream of the crop, and being led by someone that really has a fantastic vision for the direction training should go.

Final Thoughts
My trip to Austin was bumpy, my trip back was agitated. I had more bad experiences in Austin than I have had in just about any other city, but all in all I liked it. I'm actually making a plan to head down to San Antonio in a couple of years, as we plan a trip to Oklahoma to visit some family. So it wasn't the worst experience I have ever had in traveling (that would be the time I was in JFK and a baggage car rammed into our plane, delaying us 5 hours). All in all, it was productive, and this Spring we can start with the 10.5 materials. In the meantime, I am going to see if it's possible to set up a testing environment for the Macintosh that will let me grade someone on the progress they have setting up a machine, both at the Computer and Server level.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Apple Training IV: Auditory Learners and Cognitive Load

I'm an auditory learner. Yes, I admit it freely. I have to read something, say it in my head, or hear someone talk about it and write it down in order to process it properly. As such, there are some limitations, or a limit to my cognitive load that I can handle before I get so overwhelmed I turn off. That limit comes when there are a lot of people talking at the same time, or when someone talks so fast that their words become a blur.

Why do I bring this up, you may ask? Well, this week has been nothing but people talking about minute details after minute details, arguing over issues that are not real issues, trying to get their suggestions in the new Apple training for Server (which is pretty much set in stone anyway, save some minor changes). As such, I have been unable to focus on half the stuff that the presenter has been trying to get across, partly because of the unnecessary comments or complaints, and partly because the presenter has been trying to speed up the lessons by talking as fast as he can.

As such, I have often reached my cognitive load rather quickly, and soon turn off to the instructor. Unfortunately, I need to be able to pass the certification exam, so instead of trying to catch up with the material through the quagmire that is the classroom, I have been reading ahead in the books, taking my own notes, and doing the assignments on my own.

Now, to be fair, there are over 40 people in the room. That means that even when people are trying to get things to work (when they don't read and follow the directions), everyone else is finished and socializing. This is, after all, the first time many of us have seen each other in a long time.

Anyway, at present I am ahead of the class by a full assignment, and will probably finish fairly early tomorrow. That's good, because I want to go over the new material (i.e. Mail, Web, and Collaborative Services) in more detail before the test on Friday. When I finish, get home, and get a chance to rest, I'll post my impressions of the training overall, and what I think of the new material. So far, actually, it's been great material. I'll explain why later. ^_^

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Apple Training III: Weekend Break

Now that we have finished with the Support Essentials class, we have taken a break for the weekend. Some people have flown back to their homes, flown out to visit families, or gone on to visit friends in the area. Because it would have cost more to send me back to Salt Lake for the weekend, and then fly out again, I instead remained in Austin. What to do?

Well, since this is my first trip to Texas, I wanted to see the most famous landmark in the area: The Alamo. Now, the Alamo is in San Antonio, which is roughly 1.5 hours drive from Austin. I struggled with the decision, weighing the pros of going to the cons of possibly getting killed on the Texas Freeway system, and decided to go for it. I got in my car this morning at 10:00 am (central time), and headed south.

The drive was great! I stayed primarily on one road, so there was a minimum chance of getting lost. The drive also took me through New Braunfels, which was founded by a relative of the current Baron of Braunfels (which I visited while on my mission to Germany). So that was also pretty cool. Driving was pretty much like driving in Utah: there was always someone that wanted to drive 20 miles under the speed limit that I ended up behind, and then quite a few people that have forgotten the whole concept of "safe following distance", no matter how much over the speed limit I was driving. So, pretty similar. ^_^

Once in San Antonio, finding a place to park was a problem. I finally decided to park at the mall parking structure right across the street. I walked into the mall to find my way to the Alamo, but got lost. Instead I ended up right next to the San Antonio river, which was in the other direction of the Alamo. ^_^ So I got back to street level and found my way to Alamo Plaza.

The impression is pretty much what I expected: The church (which is all that is pretty much left other than a few walls) was small. A nice touch is that they ask that anyone entering remove their hats out of respect. There has only been one other landmark I have visited before that asked for such reverence: the rebuilt synagogue I visited in Worms.

No one was yelling in the little church, which was good because it echoed like crazy. They had displays there and in the gift shop of artifacts from many of the men there and from the Mexican army. Davy Crockett was represented by a portrait (replica of the original that was retired), two rifles, a beaded buckskin vest, and plaques with his name on it. Jim Bowie was well represented with his knives. And, of course, the streets and businesses surrounding the Alamo had their names all over them.

The grounds were very hallowed, either because the Texans (or Texians, as was printed on one of the displays) wanted such a homage paid, or because the people there know what the battle of the Alamo meant to our country. With the rebellion of California and Texas, many of the Western States were allowed to join the Union as American territories. Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico.. All of them benefited from the reaction to the battle of the Alamo.

I then left the compound after reflecting on the impact of the Alamo on the West, and walked outside. I took some footage of the outside of the compound, with some plaques and a raised map of the compound in 1836. Then, I headed back to Austin.

Now, I know I have not been overly warm to Texas in the past, but this trip has really opened my eyes. I've been really well surprised with the similarity between the two Western cultures of Texas and Utah. And the connections were made stronger with that trip.

If you have never been to the Alamo, it's hard to describe. I can't even show pictures of the place, because I only had my video camera, and no one can video the inside of the church (for obvious reasons, I would think). But if you do get a chance, and you are within driving distance (even if it is a few hours away), I would recommend it. For the quick half hour I was there, I gained a connection with Texas that I never had before. I even listened to some country music on the way home (until I found a Christmas music station, anyway ^_^).

Friday, December 07, 2007

Apple Training II: Support Essentials Impressions

I just finished the first week of Leopard Training for Support Essentials. It was an interesting ride, and there is a lot that I like about it, and some that I'm not too happy with.

What I Liked
I have to hand it to Apple: When they contract to people to write their training materials, they do a good job. The three instructors that we had all wrote the materials in the Student Workbook, and the workbook now looks like it is worth the money you pay for it.

The course does eliminate the need for a key chapter that was my most popular when I taught the class: The Command Line. Now, instead of having a single chapter, we introduce it bit by bit, integrating it with each of the chapters. So now instead of just getting a quick look at how to play with the command line, you are using it actively in each chapter.

How is this better? Well, for those that are looking to integrate a quick remote method of troubleshooting on the Mac and don't want to bother with the bandwidth required for a VNC connection, they can quickly perform pretty telling troubleshooting tasks. In fact, I would say that more Command Line content is included in this course than in the previous course.

Other great things are the lack of Apple Remote Desktop (yay!), more focus on the core open source technologies available, and a focus on BootCamp (which is now integrated into Leopard). It's also nice to be able to repartition your drive, live, with Disk Utility without having to use a third-party application. Sure, linux could do that for years, but with Windows and previous versions of Mac you would need a third party app to get it done.

What I Didn't Like
The weakest point in the Apple training is perhaps the testing. It always has been, because there has never been a bank of questions, just one set of questions for each time you take the test. So, it's not a real evaluation of your knowledge. It's also problematic because in order to compensate, they provide obscure questions that require a constant study of the reference material instead of practical application. But then, it is a multiple choice test, and what else can you do?

The good news is that it's possible that new testing methods could be on it's way. I'm hoping for a more Flash-based virtual environment that will simulate the experience. Another possibility would be to have the training centers set up a physical exam, much the same way as RedHat exams, and allow the instructor/training center to deliver it. Of course it runs into consistency issues (from one AATC to another), but that is another topic all together.

Other than that, it was a good training situation. We got a quick peek at the future new exams that are coming down the pipe, and I'm really impressed with them. Finally, it feels like Apple is getting some real quality back into their training materials.

I'm really excited for next week, when we go over Server Essentials!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Apple Training: The 10.5 Upgrade Process in Austin

Hello all! This week I have been Austin Texas, and will be for the coming week. Why? Because I am getting a sneak peak at the new Leopard Training. It's been fun going through the Beta materials, much of which was written before the OS was officially released, and some of which is no longer valid. ^_^

But, my tale of woe must come first. I don't fly much, I prefer to drive. That way if I ever get stuck somewhere, I have a way to travel about. Well, because Austin is quite a ways from West Valley, I flew in. The first flight was fine, and I got a lot of reading in (I've been reading a reference book on learning theories). This flight took me from Salt Lake City to Dallas/Ft. Worth.

I don't think I have ever been in such a large airport before, sans JFK and Paris (which I try to block from my mind, it was such a bad experience). Dallas itself is huge! It looks like a collection of small towns knitted together with some roads around ponds and lakes. The airport is no exception to the "Bigger in Texas" concept. They have a sky tram that takes you to the various terminals. I quickly got on the tram and made it to the right terminal (despite being told the wrong terminal by the air crew on my first flight). I then took off for Austin.

The flight to Austin was a little different. I have never gotten air sick, but something about this flight got me a little woozy. Either it was the bumpy reentry, or the sound of the landing gear coming down (as though it had never been oiled), I don't know. But for whatever reason, I was thrilled when I could finally get off the plane.

The airport in Austin is small, and very well designed! Unlike San Jose, getting into the terminal will not be a problem. It didn't even look that busy (we will see how it is in the afternoon next Friday). I found the baggage claim, and got my one bag. Now it was off to the rental car company for my car.

I chose Enterprise because the University has an account, and they have a fairly decent reputation. They also apparently are very popular, as they were the only rental car company with a line. I made it to the counter only to discover that the per diem I had transferred to my PayPal account to use on my card was not there yet (curse you PayPal!). So, I had to take a taxi to my Hotel.

I'm staying at the SpringHills by Marriott. It's not the most expensive hotel, but in true Marriott style, it's a wonderful stay. It has a small kitchenette with a fridge (that isn't locked like the Cupertino Inn), a sink, and a microwave. The service is great, and they promptly let me know a truism here in Austin: Nothing is in walking distance. There was a fast food joint next to the hotel, along with a bar and grill, so I wasn't going to starve.

But, I needed to get to the Apple Campus. Well, I went to bed early, and got up just as early. I then took the 1.5 hour walk to the Apple campus. Yep, nothing is walkable in Austin. Most of that walk was done on the edge of a road, with no sidewalk.

After the second day, I was cursing PayPal. Then, yesterday, to my relief, my money finally showed up. Thrilled at the prospect of never having to walk that long journey again, I managed to get my car. I am now quite happily taking time in the morning to blog, knowing full well that I will be able to drive to the campus and make it on time. ^_^

Tomorrow, my impressions of the new training!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Leopard and the Secure NFS Share

One of the benefits of being an Apple Certified Trainer is that I get neat updates from the Apple training staff regarding all aspects of the OS. Today, I got an update from Apple on the UNIX compliant status of Leopard from their site here. While I knew that 64-bit processing was a big thing for Apple in general, and I knew that the new Terminal was a sweet deal, I didn't know they had made a change to NFS, namely to make it Kerberized.

For those of you not familiar with the NFS (Network File System), you may not know why the change to NFS is so important. Sure, single sign on is a great thing in principle, but what's the big deal, right? Well, let's take you through the world of NFS.

NFS is a UNIX native file sharing protocol used to quickly share files back and forth. What makes it so quick? There is no user name and password authentication. Authentication is done through the UNIX UID. This is great in a Directory-specified network where everyone has their own unique ID, but what if you are logging onto the file share from your locally authenticated machine? Chances are you are logging in from a UID assigned to your local machine that will be assigned to another user. Take this scenario:

Tech A creates his server, and shares his files with NFS. His first account he creates is the Administrator account, which was assigned the UID of 501 (standard Admin UID for Apple, by the way). He then creates various other accounts, starting at UID 1025 and going up.

Marketing Director A gets a new machine and creates their first account, which is again an Admin account for that machine and also assigned the UID of 501. They then connect to the file server Tech A created with their account. They don't have to worry about authentication, because NFS authenticates from the UID. In this case, the Marketing Director has Admin access to the file server. Problem? Yes, most definitely. Also considering that anyone that creates a local account on their machine, be they a director or lowly janitor.

Apple had seen this coming, and in Tiger Server made it possible to map all NFS connections to the nobody user, and make all access read only. That did some good, but still lacked the benefits and security of authentication.

Now enter Kerberos. Because of the Ticket system that it utilizes, and the fact that authentication is not necessary once the KDC has authenticated the user on the network, there is no speed reduction in authenticating through Kerberos for an NFS file share. It also adds just one more service that is Kerberized for a Mac OS X Server. I am hard-pressed to think of one service that is not Kerberized with the new Leopard install. This, and the fact that starting a Kerberos KDC is so easy to do with Mac OS X Server makes it a good choice with small to medium-sized businesses.

So, in the end, NFS has finally come full circle. Created initially as a method to quickly transfer files for server-level processing (i.e., imaging and thin-client use), it now has the ability of secure authentication though Kerberos. Of course, if you don't want to use Kerberos, you can still use AFP, SMB, or Kerberized FTP for your file sharing needs. ^_^

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Mark of a Good Local Politician

Lately I have been trying to get more involved in my local politics. Not that I am running for any offices, but rather I want to get more informed and more involved in the issues that affect me and my family. As such, I started corresponding with my representatives.

I've posted emails to my city councilman in West Valley, and to the Mayor of Salt Lake County. For the two of you who have been following my blog, you probably know the issues I have written about (bike routes in West Valley and County sponsored UTOPIA installations, respectively).

The problem is, neither one have bothered to even send me a generic form letter giving me their positions on these issues. Granted, they are not nearly as important as many of the other issues that they deal with, but it would be nice if they would at least acknowledge my questions. My wife chastises me for complaining, but didn't I elect them into office? Don't I deserve a response, if only a generic one from a staffer?

Well, I tried my luck with another representative: Jim Bradley. He is a member of the Salt Lake County Council, and is a Councilman at Large (meaning that anyone in the county can vote for him). I voted for him initially, not because of his political affiliation, but because he actually bothered to have a website with his positions outlined. I agreed with his position on the county spending County funds that should benefit the entire county to increase the economy in just one city (i.e., voting against funding the Real Salt Lake Stadium project). I figured that I was in for another dead end, but I was pleasantly proved wrong.

The Original Letter
Dear Mr. Bradley,

It was recently brought to my attention that the county is reconsidering allocated funds for TRAXX in leu of road repair funds. While I am all for repaired roads, I feel that the urgency for TRAXX to the West Side is by far more important.

The West Side has been in dire need of TRAXX since it's inception. Lower income families on the West Side need a reliable form of transportation that is more predictable, direct, and inexpensive. It is the right thing to do, though it may delay some road repairs.

For someone known for their fiscal responsibility (I voted for you specifically because you voted down the Real Salt Lake Stadium funding project), I hope you understand the importance this project holds for the West Side, and work with your colleagues to bolster the construction projects here on the West Side. If a compromise must be struck, then have it delay expansion in directions other than the West Side. The economic impact for the West Side of the valley would be positive indeed.

The Response

Thank you for your e-mail regarding transit funding. As you might have heard, at last evening’s Council of Governments (COG) meeting, members unanimously voted to maintain the original prioritization list. This list includes rail projects as high priorities.

Thank you for your continued support of transit projects.

Jim Bradley
Council Member at Large

That was it, a little message back to let me know that he read my email, and the status of the issue I had in question. That, my friends, is a good politician. Mister Bradley, if by some miracle you read my blog, I want you to know that you have made me a devoted supporter. Should you choose to run for County Mayor, you would have my vote. If only other politicians would have the same dedication to their constituents, perhaps more people will feel involved in the political process and vote.

It's interesting that the same principle that works in Customer Service, Education, etc. works for Politics as well: People like to feel as though they matter.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Fedora on the Mac Pro, Partitioning with Leopard

Having recently gotten the success of installing Fedora 8 on a triboot MacBook Pro, I thought I would plunge in and get it installed on the Mac Pro. The Mac Pro is my workstation that I use to create images, manage servers, and organize my classroom material, so it's pretty important that I have a working Mac partition after this adventure. Luckily, I had already installed Leopard, so making the partitions were easy. ^_^

Bootcamp Built Into leopard
Those of you who have been using Linux for a while may laugh at this (Joseph did when I told him), but I was excited to find out that creating new partitions in Disk Utility for Leopard doesn't automatically delete the information in the original partition. It just resizes it! This is huge, since I have spent a lot of time creating partitions and installing multiple OSes for 22 lab machines. It also means that creating my partitions for my Windows and Linux installs were relatively painless. I just needed to be sure that the information on the original partition was small enough to resize without error.

It seems that the partition can't be larger than about 75 to 80 GB when using Disk Utility. So, it meant having to delete my Parallels virtual hard drives. That's fine though, I can easily replace them without any trouble. Once cleared, I could create the new partitions, and get started.

Tribooting again
Just like all my previous experiences, I started with installing Windows XP, and setting it up with all the relevant software and drivers. Once done, I removed the disk, inserted the Fedora 8 install disk, and rebooted.

Fedora 8 Install on the Mac Pro
The install was pretty clean, working just as one would expect. The installation didn't take long, and then I rebooted into Windows (I'm still paranoid about that). Everything looked great, so I rebooted again into Fedora.

Then a problem: I couldn't get past the udev module. It would just hang, eventually telling me that it would try to run it in the background. Well, this was a problem that I didn't expect. So, off to Google and the boards to see if there was another person with a similar issue.

Luckily, there was this posting for Fedora 7, with a fix:

In /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist add:

blacklist b43
blacklist sbs
blacklist mac80211
blacklist cfg80211

In /etc/modprobe.conf add

alias b43 off
alias sbs off
alias mac80211 off
alias cfg80211 off

Of course, this means I needed to get to a command line. With a Mac, it's easy, just boot up with Command - S to get to single user mode. Unfortunately, I don't know how to do that in Fedora. So, I booted up with a Ubuntu Live CD, and used Terminal to get to the Fedora partition. There, I made the edits with pico, saved, and rebooted.

The next thing I know, I am in Fedora making the final setup entries. ^_^ It's nice to play with Linux again, and I am really happy with Gnome. I was a KDE user back in the day, but Gnome has become more user friendly, if just because it is slightly like the Mac interface. Within a few minutes, I had Evolution Mail set up, Pidgin set up for AIM and Jabber, and I'm all set! I will still use the Mac for most of my work, but it's nice to know that when I need Linux, I have it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Triboot Saga Continues: Mac 10.5, Windows XP, and Fedora 8 on a MacBook Pro

For those couple people that have been following my blog for a while (thank you both!), you will probably remember me posting my woes and eventual triumphs regarding tribooting a MacBook Pro. I was trying to install a total lab image that would allow any instructor to teach a given class on their chosen platform without worrying about lab restrictions. It took a week, beating my head against a brick wall, and a lot of forum/blog readings to do it, but I finally managed to complete my mission.

If you remember, I also tried to use Fedora 7, but failed to get it to install properly. I then installed Ubuntu, which managed to install with a lot less coaxing than Fedora 7. Of course, the Linux classes that the University of Utah will be offering for credit (starting this spring! Two registered already! ^_^) will be focusing on either Red Hat or SuSE. Well, technically we could probably get away with Ubuntu, but I want the experience to be as close to the real thing as possible. That means getting Fedora to work.

The Download, Partitioning, Mac and Windows Install
I managed to find several repositories of the DVD iso for both i386 and x86_64 releases, so I downloaded them both. The final FTP mirror I used was located here on campus, so I was able to download both at about 7 minutes each (I love being at the U!). I then followed all the steps I outlined in September for the inital Mac 10.5 and Windows install. Yes, I am still using XP, if only because Vista isn't being used in our labs (and if our network guys have their say, it never will).

Fedora 8 x86_64 Install
I started the Fedora install by testing the disk. After the fiasco that was my Mac 10.5 upgrade, I'm playing it safe. ^_^ I then started the basic installation process. From what I remember of 7, Fedora 8 has a much more streamlined install process, more like Ubuntu Feisty. I was really impressed! I walked through the process, set up a partition as ext3 for Fedora, and then selected the software.

Then, I got worried. It not only didn't ask me what bootloader I wanted, but it didn't ask me where I wanted to install it. Bugger! Would I have to reinstall Windows, and compile Grub on my own? I really didn't want to do that, because it would be a mess. Well, we would just have to see. I started to sweat, worried that I would be in for another huge project that I had hoped would only take me a couple of hours.

I finished the install, and then rebooted the machine. Refit came up with all three images, which was a good thing (that didn't work with Fedora 7). Then I selected Windows. I would know if Grub had messed with the Windows MBR if it came up as I tried to boot. The screen went blank, my heart raced.. and Windows booted! I was thrilled!

I then rebooted to get into Fedora. The setup was beautiful, the boot clean. The desktop looks a lot like a cross between Tiger and Leopard, with a splash of Windows in there. Happy that the installation worked well enough for a Lab machine, I turned the machine off. Is everything working? I have no idea. Does everything need to work? Not at all! This isn't a machine that needs to run audio content, play games, or chat via the internet. This machine is meant to be a test environment for students to learn about the core OS.

Maybe, if time allows (after updating all the machines to both 10.5 and Fedora) I am interested in getting the Fedora install working at 100%, I will do that. But for now, I give a huge Kudos to the Fedora team for creating a boot installer that installs Grub on the destination Root partition, instead of the MBR for Windows. ^_^

Friday, November 09, 2007

Scrivener Gold: Free Writing Software for the Mac

Lately I have been struggling with a book that I have been writing. Unfortunately, I didn't have access to a decent writing tool to begin with. Sure, you can use a word processor to write a story, but can you outline it? Can you storyboard it? Not in Word, or even Open Office Write. So what tools can you use?

Well, I started with Excel. I would start each chapter as a column, and then fill in sections as I saw they fit. If I needed to add something to the story in the middle of the outline, I would simply add another cell. Of course, I have to have a clear idea of how the story is going to fall into place before I start outlining it through Excel. Then I also have to wrap the text, which makes it difficult to read while trying to write in another program (Word).

I also tried doing it the old fashioned way, by writing in a notebook. Of course, being the very compartmentalized person that I am, I have to have a separate notebook for each subject and project that I have. Soon, I start running out of room, and out of notebooks.

So what is a guy to do? Well, I was reading one of my favorite online comics, and the writer/artist mentioned that he had downloaded the latest version of Scrivener, an application used specifically for creative writing. It provides for outlining, creating sections, storyboarding, and with each move of a section, the text moves with it.

So, the tools are flexible, it looks nice, and it's $39.95. Looking further, there was an earlier version, called Scrivener Gold, that is available for free. It's not as polished, but still really nice. The only drawback? It's for Mac only. Other than that, it's a decent program, and It's already helped me with my story. Perhaps I can finally finish the project. ^_^

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Adventures of Leopard: Upgrading 3 machines to 10.5

Well, I finally got the Leopard upgrade, and I was really excited! The system works great, and I'm really excited to be using leopard (I've missed my virtual desktops!). But the upgrade wasn't all candy and roses. Let me spin my tale of woe, heartbreak, anxiety, and final triumph.

The Powerbook G4
I first installed the upgrade on a Powerbook G4 because I was impatient. This old machine has been my pride and joy for years, works like a horse, and takes a beating like an old Model T Ford. Well, at least it did before I updated. ^_^ My son has had this habit of finding something on a chair or bed, and pulling it off. The one time I forgot to leave the computer bag on the floor, he pulled it off the bed for me.

The fall must have done something to the drive, because when Leopard tried to upgrade, it couldn't read the drive. I no longer could read it in Target Disk Mode either. So, I ended up running a full install. Most everything was already backed up (except for the second draft of my book, but it was crap anyway), so I didn't lose anything important.

The install was clean, cleared out a lot of libraries of failed attempts by me to compile things, and I came up with the leopard setup wizard. It is an easier setup than Tiger, but only because it doesn't ask you as many questions.

The Mac Pro
The Mac Pro was a different situation all together. This is my work machine, and when I tried to install the update, the disk I had was bad. So I got just so far, and it died on me. No longer able to boot, but the files staying in tact, I tried another install disc from our IT guys. The install failed again, but why I don't know, and so I tried a third time. This time it finished, and started logging into the GUI. I was excited, until I saw the login window: no accounts. My entire NetInfo directory of two accounts was completely gone.

Not wanting to believe it, I booted up into the install DVD again, and tried to change the password. It let me, so I thought I could try booting again. No go, it still didn't have any users. Argh! I was afraid I would have to do a full install, and this time the IT guys took the disk back. So, I tried some things in the Command Line. After all, it's based on BSD, right?

Well, the only way to add a user that I could see was to add them in Open Directory. To do that, I needed access to the command dscl. I booted up into Single User Mode, and gave it a try. It wouldn't run without a particular library setting executed first. It even told me the command to run. So I did, and it still didn't work. Argh! What was going on? I was worried I would have to run a full install on the machine.

The next day, I checked online again, looking for anything that would give me some sort of access to the machine. Then I came across two articles, Here, explaining the issue I was experiencing, and here, outlining how to add a new user.

Now, I tried the first fix, but the original user was completely gone. My guess is that when it was importing the new account information from NetInfo (no longer used in Leopard) to the LDAP system in Open Directory, the system failed. The original NetInfo information was still there, but wasn't imported properly. So, I needed to create a new account.

Once the new account was created, it worked like a charm! Because I had to search for the fix for two days, here are the steps that I took, should anyone else need to perform the same fix:

1. Restart in Single User mode (hold Command-S during startup)
2. At the prompt, type: mount -uw /
3. Press Return
4. Type:
launchctl load /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/
Press Return
5. Create a new entry in the local (/) domain under the category /users.
dscl . -create /Users/[username]

6. Create and set the shell property to bash.
dscl . -create /Users/[username] UserShell /bin/bash

7. Create and set the user’s full name.
dscl . -create /Users/[username] RealName "Real Name"

8. Create and set the user’s ID.
dscl . -create /Users/[username] UniqueID 501 (default System Admin for Mac OS X)

9. Create and set the user’s group ID property.
dscl . -create /Users/[username] PrimaryGroupID 1000

10. Create and set the user home directory.
dscl . -create /Users/[username] NFSHomeDirectory /Users/[username]

11. Set the password.
dscl . -passwd /Users/[username] PASSWORD


passwd [username]

12. If you would like Dr. Harris to be able to perform administrative functions:
dscl . -append /Groups/admin GroupMembership [username]

This worked just fine for me. Hopefully it would be helpful to someone else, if nothing else then to find it easier. ^_^

The iMac
My wife's computer worked without a hitch, which was good because I didn't have time to back up everything, just the images. I was hurt, because her machine didn't have a problem. What's wrong with me? ^_^

Anyway, I hope this helps those of you upgrading to Leopard, and have trouble with missing accounts.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Election Time, Get Out And Vote! And A Final Note On Vouchers

I'm posting this early because I will be teaching all this next week, and will be unable to post anything of significance until then. So, I just want to remind everyone that Tuesday is Election Day, and therefore it's a good time to do your civic duty and vote. I don't really care what your positions are on the many referendums and propositions out there, just as long as you make your voice heard.

One problem in many races is that so many people feel like their opinions are either so overly outnumbered or heavily represented by the "polls" that they are feel that their voice is not necessary. That's how so called "slam dunk" elections become close. It's all about turnout. So if you want your position to be represented, get out there and make your voice heard. Remember, if something happens that you don't like in an election and you don't vote, you don't have a reason to complain. ^_^

Final Note On Vouchers
I just want to make this final outline of points about the current voucher program that is being represented in Referendum 1:

1. The funding will only support those families that have enough money to make up the rest of the school tuition. This means that it will benefit the upper-middle class and the rich more than it would lower-income families. Jordan Gunderson has made a post on his blog saying that this was caused by those that want to kill the voucher system. That's true, and will be discussed in the next point.

2. The funding comes from the General Tax funds, meaning that the minute a recession hits our State (and it will, if you know anything about Economics), then it will be the first thing to go. Of course, we could take the funding from the "Rainy Day" tax surplus, and then just hope that we will have enough money to pay our law enforcement, emergency services, parks, and so on. It just seems a little concerning to me that we are voting to spend money to fund private entities when we have so many public projects that need attention.

3. There isn't a real documented benefit of private schools over public schools. Instead, it's found that students in the same socioeconomic classes tend to do just as well in either private or public schooling. So, why do people want to have vouchers for private schools if the private schools are not really any better? Is it the stigma that comes with private schools? Is it the illusion of choice? The argument that making a "free market" on education will force the public schools to do better? Is it because of the socioeconomic status that comes from going to a private school that makes it better? That's a position that the parents need to come up for themselves. But the reality is that private schools are no better for students than public schools, as long as the students have the peer support for education.

3. Another reality is that "free markets" in education do not work. Public schools have State requirements that are set by Legislators, requiring debate and accountability to the public. Private schools are just that, private. They are not subject to the requirements of the Legislature. This I have a problem with, because it means sequestering public funds for a non-accountable entity, at least to the Legislature. What would make me think twice about a voucher? Set standard requirements on the curriculum and State Standardized Testing. This will place private and public schools on an even footing.

4. One big way to scare people into voting for Referendum 1 that has been used is the support that the anti-voucher movement has ties to the National Educators Association (NEA), which has been tied in some way to, Senator Teddy Kennedy, and general Democrats. It's scary because it's a national organization that has been getting into the local debate. So let's set the facts straight.
- The NEA is more conservative than the UEA, and has been getting more praise in Utah by being more flexible in educational policy making on the Hill. It's been a welcome group for the Republican Party, because they seem to be less militant.
- What are the ties to The fact that it's a primarily Democrat-supported organization? Is that a problem? They are fighting for improved education, and will continue to do so should the voucher system pass or fail.
- The pro-voucher organization say this funding is bad, but where do they get their funding for commercials? Is it all locally funded? I doubt it, since they manage to have the same resources as the anti-voucher organization.

Frankly, I don't care who supports or opposes a political position, but rather care about the substance of the political agenda. Look at the facts, and decide for yourself which way is the better way for you. Then vote on that conviction! ^_^

5. The funding, if we really feel it needs to be spent, needs to be spent in a better way. Why pay for vouchers when you can pay to create and publish educational materials to be used by parents to augment public education? Or, for that matter, home schooling families? Why not invest on online course materials to start blended courses that are both online and in class? You can have fewer students in class at one time, and still manage to teach the same number of students. Teachers can focus more on delivering the personal learning experience in both areas, instead of having to worry about leaving some students behind to keep up with the material required.

Why not spend the money in ways that have been proven to improve test scores and educational success? Why benefit only a small number of families, when you can provide the same benefit to all families equally? That's what I don't get. It seems that equality doesn't seem to be the issue in this debate, but rather a way to get a few more students into exclusive organizations while fueling the argument that it's the school's fault for failure in education instead of the parents not engaging.

Anyway, that's the end of my soap box on this position. Please read all the available materials on school vouchers, private vs. public schools, and educational theory in general, and then make your own decision. However your vote, please make it an educated one. ^_^

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Week Roundup: Airship Progress and the Rumored Apple PDA

I'm doing a weekend roundup early this week because this weekend is my wedding anniversary, and I intend to spend my time with my wife and not on the computer. ^_^ So, here are the things on my mind before the start of the weekend:

Airship Progress
The airship concept has hit a major snag that is beyond my control: There is apparently a national Helium shortage, making personal retail helium canisters scarce. Not to be daunted, I tried using my paper mache shell as a hot-air airship, and it didn't have enough lift for the shell, let alone the chafing fuel.

The engine will be worked on this next week. I am going to use tin snips to cut the propeller and the turbine buckets from a soda can. They will be sharp, but also lightweight. As long as no one tries to grab it, we should be fine. ^_^ I hope to have a working steam turbine motor by the end of the week.

Rumored Apple PDA
Apple Insider has published a story of a larger screen version of the iPhone and iPod Touch that Apple is currently working on and will release some time early 2008. Referred to as a resurrected "Newton", the new PDA it touted to have the same multi-touch interface and design as the current iPod Touch and iPhone, and use the same version of OS X.

Now, I have wanted an Apple PDA for generations as something that would sync easily with my Mac and even perhaps take the place of my Powerbook. If this PDA is going to do that, there are a few things that it needs to have going for it:

1. A full version of iCal: I don't want to have something watered down, as exists with the iPhone and iPod Touch. It has to have all the same features as iCal does now. Also, I need an iCal that can connect in some way to Exchange (for work). Of course, if I can bypass that through an iCal Server, then I can live without that feature. ^_^

2. A full (if spartan) version of Mail: I don't care if the mail templates are not included, but I do want a version of Mail that will work with Exchange (or at least IMAP).

3: 802.1x WiFi Support: Right now the University has 802.1x security set up for it's UConnect WiFi network. Using this network would be paramount for any device I get as a PDA. If Apple expects this device to get off the ground, this feature needs to be available. Why? Because most businesses (that are security minded, and tech savvy) have 802.1x for their open networks. To get into the Corporate Market, this tool would be necessary.

4: Specific Apps: I don't think third party apps will an issue once Apple gets the SDK out for the iPhone and iPod Touch, but it all comes down to what is available. I want a Terminal (It's UNIX, after all!), and I want chat tools like an iChat to work with Jabber connections. Also, I want to see some video conferencing built in: Put a iSight camera facing the user! It's that simple. Everything else would be there. I would also like VoIP available for the device. After all, this will be the mobile office I carry with me on trips. I want to be able to talk to my family. There are some others, but I think I will leave that for an app wish list. ^_^

5: Battery Life: It needs to have a killer battery life, and be easily replaceable (to be green). 10 hours would be phenomenal, but I would be happy with 5 to 8 hours of continual use. You also need to be able to use it while it is charging. That way you can plug it into the wall and still go.

6: Storage Space: Storage is a big issue. If this is going to be a PDA, it's going to work as a del facto replacement for a PC at some point. That means lots of writing to the drive, storage, etc. So if Flash memory isn't going to cut it, and Apple plans to make it bigger than the iPod Touch anyway, they should use the same drives they have in their iPod Classic. If it's a little thicker for it, that's fine. I wouldn't mind 160 GB of storage space on my PDA. ^_^

7: Easy Video Share: I would love to view content from my Mac at home and share content from this new PDA. Enable iTunes Sharing, and it will be brilliant!

8: Bluetooth Human Input Devices: If you don't have a physical way to hook these up, enable Bluetooth input devices. It would be sweet to be able to use a bluetooth keyboard with the device to make computing that much easier. It would also make it possible to have Pages, Keynote, and Numbers installed on the machine. That would be huge! ^_^

9: Price: Price is going to be a big issue. If it's cheaper to get a Mac Mini, I'll get a Mac Mini. Just because it's Apple doesn't mean people will pay what you tell them to pay. *cough* Newton! *cough* Apple, I hope you are listening, because while some people will pay through the nose, others would rather just hack your existing (and less expensive) multi-touch devices than pay more than $500.00 for a device that does basically the same thing. Look at your competition, look at what you are offering, and make the price reasonable. $500.00 is great if it has the same storage capacity as the iPod Classic, and can easily replace the most basic functions of a MacBook.

For the couple of you who have followed my blog since last December, you may recall that many of these requests are the same as my post back then. Differences? I know it will sync with the Mac (but could do with a sync option for Linux, hint hint!), and I know it will "Just work", since it works for the iPod Touch and iPhone. Connectivity is all down to how they enable the WiFi/Bluetooth, not whether or not it will be included. But other concerns have not yet been addressed, and some new ones have come up since the platform has been "test driven" with the iPhone and iPod Touch.

So, basically, I am looking for a watered-down version of a notebook that can handle my office needs without worrying about the personal/creative needs. If I want to use the rest of iLife, I can use a regular computer for that. But iWork would be ideal for a device like this.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Public vs. Private School Debate: Are Vouchers Really Worth It?

Lately I have been getting a lot of spam on school vouchers, both for and against. As much as I am interested in the issue, I really don't like it when people kill trees to leave stuff on my front door. But it does show the importance of the issue of school vouchers, and how much both sides are dedicated to getting their way.

I've blogged in the past about the school voucher system as was passed by the State Legislature, with both the flaws and the benefits. But that is just looking at the funding, legality, and requirements set by the State. I have also seen the video as suggested by Jordan Gunderson in his blog, but I want everyone watching that to keep in mind that sensational journalism (i.e. yellow journalism) is there for the shock value, and needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

The core question here is whether or not there is real benefit to students entering private vs. public schools. That's the question that most pro-voucher organizations have not addressed, assuming that the school system in private schools are superior due to higher graduation rates. Anti-voucher organizations say it's because the same level of funding is not available for public schools, and that's the only problem.

So, I thought I would do what most people seem not to do when they come to a problem: Check the research. Because of the national attention the school voucher system is getting, it was quite easy to find some scholarly records both for and against vouchers, based on hard research. I will be looking at two in this blog, but if you are interested in viewing them all, I highly recommend you do a search in Google Scholar.

Educational Vouchers: Effectiveness, Choice, and Costs Henry M. Levin, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 17, No. 3, P. 373

Henry M. Levin asks three questions:
1. Will vouchers improve student achievement?
2. Who will choose and what are the education consequences?
3. What is the evidence on comparative costs of public vs. private schools and on the costs of a voucher system?

Now, in the article, Levin also points out that he has been a proponent for vouchers in the past, outlining the benefits of a voucher experiment in inner-city areas. But he also has pointed out that with the private benefits of vouchers, there is a social cost based on greater inequality and further deterioration of a common educational experience. So, now knowing his bias, he begins to outline the answers that he found based on the above three questions.

1. Will vouchers improve student achievement?
First, a disclaimer (which I find very significant): Levin outlines that controls are very difficult, because in making the choice between a private or public school the family willing to make the decision is very educationally minded, while most families that do not consider the decision are not. Family orientation on education has a huge impact on student success in any classroom. More on that point later. ^_^

The first study was made by Coleman, Hoffer, and Kilgore (1982) comparing Catholic private schools with public schools at the 10th grade level. Their findings saw slightly higher achievement in the private school sector (0.12 to 0.29 deviation points). Note that the standard deviation for any survey or statistical sample is generally between 0.05 to 0.008 (for highly rigorous statistical analysis). This should give you an idea of the degree of deviation. It was then quickly criticized, and a new study was conducted, as outlined by Goldberger and Cain in 1982. When Willms made adjustments for the statistical problems, the private school advantages were greatly reduced or eliminated.

The next evaluation, the Longitudinal results for students through their sophomore to senior years, found 0.1 as the standard deviation in achievement as an advantage. It resulted in only a 10 point increase in the SAT scores, which is not very significant. There was also an achievement overlap that gave 46% of public schools higher scores than private schools.

Levin then sites more recent statistical studies that have found no differences in achievement, or only minimal differences with comparable students in both private and public schools. His final word? There is no real benefit to private schools over public schools as far as achievement is concerned. The real impact came from school stability. Students moving from school to school tend to fair worse, while their peers who remained in the same schools tend to fair better. Did it matter which school? Not at all. Students in stable social environments within public schools were just as successful as stable students in private schools. That being said, parents do seem to have a higher satisfaction rate with their students in a private school than a public school, regardless of achievement numbers.

2. Who will choose and what are the education consequences?

Arguments for and against school vouchers argue that vouchers alone will allow for better market competition, and therefore force the education system to reform or perish. Levin argues that families choosing an educational institution are more advantaged both educationally (i.e. they generally have a higher education) and economically than non-choosing families. He also argues that the important criterion for choosers tend to be socioeconomic status of other students based on the more preferred schools, and therefore increases segregation. And finally, it is the peer and contextual effects of the higher socioeconomic students that have positive effects on achievement, which leads to a conclusion that inequalities in educational outcomes are likely to be exacerbated by vouchers.

3. What is the evidence on comparative costs of public vs. private schools and on the costs of a voucher system?

Levin has several arguments regarding costs and a voucher system, but as the arguments both for and against funding have already been extensively gone into with the Utah version of the voucher system his conclusions do not apply much to our situation. Rather, I would prefer if the reader referred to previous blog entries on the financials of vouchers.

School Choice and Student Performance: Are Private Schools Really Better? David N Figlio and Joe A. Stone, Institute for Research on Poverty discussion paper no. 1141-97, 1997

Figlio and Stone teach for the Department of Economics at the University of Oregon, and conducted an analysis on the benefits of public schools and private schools by looking at the previous research and fixing issues with the statistical sampling. The research was done with the question of whether or not there is a real difference between public and private schools, and if the difference was there, why. Their findings were really interesting:

1. Religious (primarily Catholic) Private Schools faired the best for ethnic minorities for education, or for high-income students because they choose more expensive and higher quality schools. But for all other educational options, they were generally equal to or behind public schools.

2. Non-religious private schools do tend to do better, scoring perhaps 29% higher at times. The findings were found, not in the difference in quality, but the different social environment and peer-support groups.

3. Finally, the findings are based on moving a single marginal student into an existing peer group within a private school. Vouchers tend to aggravate the social environment by changing the peer group within private and public schools. That means that achievement could deteriorate in both sectors, impacting the initally low-achieving, low-income students the most.

So, ultimately, the problem is not the quality of the instruction, but the social environment that is built within the school itself. Because most attendees of private schools have motivated parents that take an active interest in their student achievement, those students are more interested in achieving better. At least that is the evidence that I see in the research I have read so far.

So where does this place the whole voucher argument? Honestly, I think it will not have an impact on education one way or another. More money, fewer students? It's all about providing more financial incentive to move students around, and giving blame for educational failure on a system that is there to support the parent, not take the parent's place. In my personal opinion, parents should spend less time blaming the schools for bad grades with kids, and spend more time in their lives.

This is by no means scientific, but my parents were more interested in helping us learn, and teaching us how to learn on our own, than about which school we went to. Perhaps it was because we didn't have Cable, and there wasn't much else to watch but Public Television. Or perhaps it was because we didn't have a video game console. Our past time was discussing historical events, analyzing statements, and learning through experimentation. All without a private school or school vouchers.

So what should we really spend our money on? Perhaps resources for parents, synchronized with school topics. Let's get parents involved without providing segregation along class lines as suggested by Levin.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

New SEO Evaluation:

This week, off hours, I have been working on a new SEO evaluation. John Daughters, a hypnotist and hypno-therapist. He has been working on getting a web presence for his business, and has an excellent website. The only problem is, he needs more hits on his site.

He came to me and asked if I would take a look at his website and give him some pointers. The site is written beautifully, by a master web designer. But there are some things that could be added in order to increase his search engine optimization, and increase his search ranking.

Back Links
The website is beautiful, but is missing one major thing: Back links. While the website is designed well, according to the tools at he does not have anyone linking to his website. Now, back links are a major need for any website and his website is no different. What can he do?

One thing that can be used is Web 2.0 technology. Blogs, Wikis, and other web presence options can be used to increase back links. One thing that I think will work for John is an entry in Of course, the entry would need to be topical, and benefit the community as a whole (with accuracy).

Keywords on Website
Flash on a website is wonderful, but only if the flash is backed up with text on the page. John's main website is all flash, and as such it doesn't have many keywords in the body of the site for recognition. Luckily, his other pages do. That being said, he has plenty of meta tag keywords. Why are keywords in the body so important? Because Google doesn't utilize the meta tags for ranking. So page content is necessary. What counts for page content? Image Alt tags! And they are friendly to the American Disabilities Act. ^_^

Videos, Videos, Videos!
Search engine optimization is more than just getting to the top of a search. It's really all about bringing more traffic to the website. Two great ways to bring more traffic to a website is to post videos to YouTube, and/or to post podcasts regularly. If you are a performer this is ideal. It's like a free audition for your potential clients! You also want to make sure they are made well, with great angles and topical scenes. These then bring recognition to your website, and hence to your business.

If you are interested in more SEO ideas and techniques, or want to understand how an SEO analysis can work, feel free to sign up for the SEO class at the University of Utah's Continuing Education website. I hope to see you in my class! ^_^

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Airship Progress: The Boiler Setup

This week has been rather stressful. My wife's family has been on alert for evacuation in San Diego (though thankfully they have not needed to evacuate), my Great Aunt broke her hip and had a heart attack, and my son has been ill all week. during all this, I found some time to test my boiler for my airship model.

The boiler is a test tube with a rubber stopper at the end. A tube will then be extended from there to the turbine buckets, and give the overall thrust. So, in order for this to work, I need to have both a lightweight engine with fuel source, and have a fuel source that is powerful enough to boil the water sufficiently.

Luckily, we have some old chaffing fuel canisters handy, so I ran a test. I filled the test tube half way with water, and then held the tube over the fire from that chaffing fire. The water started to boil within a minute. Success! But does it have enough power to push a turbine?

I conducted another test, using the rubber stopper. I filled the water up again, and then put the stopper at the end. There isn't currently a hole in the end for the tube, so I wanted to see if enough power could be built to blow the end off. I had hoped that it would pop to the end of the counter, but instead it popped clear across the room! That was really exciting. Enough power can be built with the boiler to move the airship. Now, I just need to build the gondola of the airship, the turbine and propeller, and the bladder for the helium. Of course, that will be after my prototype has been built (a hot air version).

Why a hot air version? Because it's currently cold enough in West Valley to support a hot air balloon, it's easier to afford because of the cost of the helium, and there is enough hot air from the chaffing fuel to create some lift. Once I test it out, then I will make the helium version.

Yay! I'm on to step three!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Book Review: War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

Ever since I was little, I loved the story of War of the Worlds. I saw the original movie (not the Tom Cruise version), I listened to the original radio production... I just never read the original book. For some reason best known to fate, I never read the classic version by H. G. Wells.

Well, I opted to rectify that this last week. I started the book, which was a gift from my parents over the weekend, and it was difficult to put it down. The story is written as an autobiography regarding the events starting one weekend in June, when Martians landed on Earth, and began their reign of terror upon the inhabitants of late 19th Century London. The story is classic, having been remade in various forms throughout entertainment. Aliens, killing men that resist, and eventually eating those that don't. Yes, it's a classic tale.

But other than the story, the real captivation into this world is the prose. It's been years since I have read anything from the turn of the century that wasn't a translation of a more ancient text. Description was heavy, palpable, almost visual in what was and was not included. Written in the first person (as it was a fictitious autobiography), you are brought along the adventures of a philosopher as he struggles to understand the world that was turned upside down by an alien force of immense power. Forced to accept his position as vermin in the new order that has apparently consumed him, he walks down levels and levels of emotion, with a new character taking a different route and getting lost. It's also interesting to see how the main character takes the events of the fall of the Martians, and the eventual restoration of Man as the dominant life form on the planet.

All in all, this book is fascinating, and keeps a hold of you by virtue of the prose alone. If you enjoy a good story, love good prose, and wish to have a non-supernatural book to enjoy for Halloween, I would highly recommend reading it.

Next up? I think I will find some Jules Vernes stories I haven't read. ^_^

University of Utah to Offer Certification Exams For Credit!

Today we have received official word that the University of Utah will be offering For Credit classes that are official training certification courses for Apple, Cisco, and Linux. Starting this Spring the School of Computing will be offering special topics for the Cisco Network Academy's CCNA Exploration course, Apple Support and Server Essentials, and the Linux Professional Institute courses for level 1 and level 2. INterestingly enough, there has been a lot of interest from the Engineering students on learning Cisco, and and the Business IS students for Linux and Apple.

These classes will be graded (not Pass/Fail for those worried about their GPA), and the courses are electives so anyone can take them from any department. That being said, there will be a hefty special fee to augment the cost of the labs, and the cost of the training materials. You would be surprised how much companies charge for their proprietary training materials.

CCNA Exploration Course
The CCNA course will be the latest course offerings (as of September 2007), and will be a 4 credit hour course. This is because of the large amount of information you need to get through, and need to study up on in your free time. It is not for the faint at heart, so you may want to take a Networking course first to prepare for it. It covers network connections, Frame Relay, Router setup, Switch setup, different routing protocols (RIP, OSCL, IS-IS, ect.), and will even have a wireless section.

Much of the lab will be virtual, and since the virtual environment software is open source you can implement your own test system on your computer at home. ^_^ The instructor is phenomenal, having taught professionally and in the Academic world for years. But, to be ready for any certification exam, you would need to take both semesters. This is similar to the program that Weber State University has in place.

Linux Classes
The Linux classes are being taught with the materials from our good friends at Guru Labs, and are excellent. The first semester is Linux Fundamentals and Enterprise Linux Systems. The books are geared to general Linux distributions, but have specific information for both Red Hat/Fedora and SuSE Linux.

The instructor is currently a programming manager that graduated from Boston University. He is very knowledgeable in Linux, and will also be teaching our non-credit vi class.

Apple Support and Server Essentials
For the first couple of weeks, Support Essentials will have the materials of 10.4, because Apple will not have the 10.5 materials ready until February. That being said, the concepts and contents of Support Essentials (first half of the semester) is almost identical to the 10.5 contents, and as the instructor I will be providing all the necessary 10.5 materials in training. Server Essentials will be all 10.5, and will be almost completely different from the 10.4 materials. There will be focus on Web and Mail (which is currently not covered in 10.4), and the Collaboration software (Wiki, Blog, iChat's Jabber server, and iCal Server).

And, at the end of the class, we will have an open sandbox period to let you play with the server setup that you want, without someone breathing over your shoulder should you accidentally wipe your file server clean. ^_^

If you are interested in any type of technology degree from the University of Utah, and need some additional electives, I would recommend the certification classes. Not just because I teach one, but because I think it's important to have some practical experience with the theoretical concepts that are out there. That, and all the EE students that we told about the CCNA program were excited (they didn't have to do to SLCC to take the courses anymore). ^_^

Hope to see some of you in my class!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Big News from Apple: Leopard Release and iPhone SDK

This week has been exciting with regards to Apple. They announced the release date of Mac OS X v.10.5 "Leopard", and the iPhone SDK for open and accepted developers.

I have been a proponent of Leopard for a long time, because the cool features within Leopard (and Leopard Server) have had me drooling. Not because they are anything new, but because many of the open source programs that are out there have a easy way to manage them. It also means that I get more training for the Apple Certification classes that are coming up in the Spring. All I can say is I can't wait to start playing with the OS once it's released. ^_^

iPhone SDK
Yes, Steve Jobs and his group finally saw the light based on the outcry of the iPhone 1.1.1 update that killed a lot of hacked iPhones. iPhone users want an Apple PDA, not just a phone with a new interface. Now, just as I had hoped, after the iPod Touch was released, the iPhone will be opened with an SDK to developers that are issued a specific key (probably, anyway).

The only problem I would have with it is: what are the criteria for the key? There are currently a lot of developers using the Jailbreak hack and SDK that was developed by hackers out there at the iPhone Dev Wiki. Will they be eligible for the key? Will it be handled the way the Widget program was handled, allowing just about anyone to develop as long as the software is virus free? I hope so. It would make life that much easier for the current developers, and will basically incorporate all the cool apps that already exist.

February will be an exciting time for Apple, if they do it right. Let's hope they do.

School Vouchers Revisited

On Monday, I posted my concerns regarding the school voucher program. Many were perhaps misguided because of the patchy information I had gotten on the issue. One reader (I have a reader?? Yay!) pointed out in my comments that there is a voter information packet located here: It provides an impartial analysis on the referendum, as well as arguments both for and against the referendum.

Admitting that I was not completely informed, I promised that I would read through it. I ignored the arguments for and against, and instead looked at the impartial analysis. Here is what I found regarding my concerns:

Current Private School Students getting Voucher Funds
The bill specifically states that the student needs to be enrolled into a public school in January 1, 2007 before they can be eligible. This means that the students that are currently in private schools are not eligible for voucher funds, and therefore will not be taking any money from taxpayers without giving some back to public schools. Good, that's one concern that is cleared up.

Standards for Private School Teachers
There are also standards set for private school teachers, meaning that the school must higher "teachers with at least a college degree or with special expertise". Again, there is no mention of any teaching certificate, any requirement for a teacher to have any knowledge of developmental psychology, educational theory, or teaching skill.

Now, I know there are a lot of people that think anyone can "teach". Well, anyone can stand in front of a group and spout out a bunch of facts. But teaching requires an organization of materials that build upon each other, leading the student to that moment of understanding. SME's (Subject Matter Experts) may be able to provide information, but they can't always teach. Teachers don't spend an extra year in college just for the fun of it, they are learning how to present their material in an orderly way, while appealing to multiple learning methods.

Impact on School Districts
The estimates on savings for school districts fall between 2.4 to 11.5 million dollars in the first year, and growing to 11 million to 28 million dollars by the program's 13th year. These estimates are State wide, but there is no mention of the distribution of private schools across the state, and which school districts will get the most benefit.

Then, of course, with the push to divide the largest school districts into East and West side locations, this becomes a scary situation for those schools on the West side of the Salt Lake valley. They are already suffering by a disparity in quality facilities, suffering because of the lower income locations they service.

These are areas that don't have private schools, because the families can't even close the gap between the voucher money and the remaining $12,000.00 a year required for private school tuition. Will these West side schools get additional funding? Not if the school districts are divided, because "each school district receives State funds under a formula based on the number of students enrolled in the school district... The Parent Choice in Education Program [vouchers] allows a school district to continue to receive a portion of the per-student state funding." To those of us living on the West side it sounds like a veiled attempt to increase funding to school districts in the richer areas, leaving the poorer areas out in the cold in the promised "more funding" argument.

Where do the Funds Come From?
This was a big concern, and it seems that the general State tax revenues are going to pay for the vouchers. That money earmarked for Education is not touched, so that is at least a relief. But, can it be sustained? We have a surplus now, but for how long? If the economy hits a rough patch (i.e. the housing market takes a huge dive to follow the nation), then most likely this program will be one of the first to get sacrificed for essential State funding.

Qualifications for Vouchers
To qualify, the student must" be born after September 1, 2001, be enrolled as a full-time student in a Utah Public school on January 1, 2007, not be a Utah Resident on January 2007, or be in a lower income family". Also, the student must be between 5 and 19 years, or if not graduated from High School, can extend to 21 years. So, out of state families that move into Utah could potentially be eligible based on family income.

This is a great move to increase a growing need for a labor force, but how do we know there will not be an overwhelming push on the private school system? More schools will need to be built, in more residential neighborhoods with little or no traffic assessments being made. Think I'm over-reacting? That's what happened in Bluffdale. Of course, this speaks to the poor planning and construction requirements in general, which is a completely different issue. ^_^

Constant Court Battles Over State Funds to Religious Private Schools
One glaring problem is the availability of State funds to religious private schools. Personally, I don't care if someone want's to go to a religious school. In fact, I think they will be better off over all. But Federal and State constitutions prohibit the use of public funds for religious purposes. This means lawsuits being filed, years of court battles, and State money being funneled into the courts to fight the suits.

Now, here is how I see it play out: It makes it all the way to the State Supreme Court, which will probably vote in favor of the program. Then it gets pushed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is notorious for reversing decisions like this from the State Supreme Court. If it eventually gets pushed to the US Supreme Court, they will most likely not even hear the case unless backed by other States looking to do the same thing. All that money, and I don't think it will be implemented anyway.

So, that is my take on the voucher system, now that I have had a more informed look at the facts. There is still no accreditation program for private schools (I'm sorry, but just issuing a student achievement tests isn't enough unless it is answerable to the State), no requirements for teachers to have any education background (that is education techniques, not their own education), and a huge problem when the voucher program hits the courts. But, funding looks better to the East Side of Salt Lake, and wealthy areas of the State.

But these are just my opinions. Someone else may read something else into the facts. If you do have any questions, please read up on the facts behind the voucher system from the link supplied above. If nothing else, you should be educated regarding the issues you vote on in as impartial a way as possible.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Vouchers, The Arguments

It's been a while since I have posted something about politics, and with Doran Barton and Jesse Stay posting about their views on private school vouchers, I thought I would post my concerns as well.

The Voucher System: Funding and Class Size
Both Doran and Jesse have made good points in their arguments, outlining what the voucher system is designed to do. Basically, if your family is eligible, then the State will subsidize your tuition up to $3000.00. It is dependent on your income, of course, and the cost is higher than most private schools, but the argument is that students will be in a better learning environment and therefore benefit from the voucher. This goes back to the whole argument of public vs. private schools, which I am not in a position to contend. Ultimately, the idea is that class sizes will go down while school funding will go up for public schools.

The Problems
One argument for the voucher system is that the Public system is too strained to manage the students they have now, and will break in the near future. Therefore, those that can afford public schools should head in that direction now to relieve the stress, and those that can almost afford public schools should make the move as soon as possible with vouchers. Of course, the assumption is being made that students that can already afford private school are not already going, and that those that just barely can't make private school will be able to get the money they need from the voucher system to do so.

Supposedly the income requirements will keep those that are already attending private school from getting the voucher, and thereby taking funding from public schools without lowering costs or class sizes in public schools. Can there be a guarantee on that? I don't think anyone can say for sure that the process can protect funding for public schools from going into the negative.

So what do we need in order for this to work? Safeguards. But then, we will have students that have been going to private schools for years lose out on vouchers when their newly enrolled peers now become subsidized. Is that fair? Absolutely not! So if we issue vouchers to the students that have been going to private school for years, then we start taking money from the public schools without the promised class size reduction or funding increase per student. Ultimately, property taxes will need to be raised to balance out the difference, making vouchers almost negligible in their effect, while increasing the tax burden on property owners.

Is there any easy way to make this work? Only if private schools lower their tuition, at which point they are no longer a money-making proposition for investors, and have less available funds to spend on their students. At that point, they become a public school like facility (funding wise), but without any requirements for accreditation or teacher qualifications. Which brings up the second concern I have.

School Vouchers: Public Funding of Nonregulated Private Institutions
I voted for my county representative specifically because he voted against spending county funds to bring a financial boom, i.e. the Real Salt Lake Stadium, to a single city, i.e. Sandy. I saw no benefit for my city in West Valley, though my public funds would have gone toward the prosperity of Sandy. If funds are going to be paid from public coffers, they need to be spent for the benefit of all that pay into those coffers in one way or another.

So, the main question I have is whether or not public funds, i.e. property taxes being used to pay for vouchers, are being spent on organizations that benefit the community as a whole. There are two ways private educational institutions can benefit the community: either by providing outstanding citizenry that in turn benefit the whole (which we all hope happens regardless), or by providing some sort of monetary benefit to the public that will justify the whole.

How can that be quantified? It's a good question. Public education has been unable to make such quantified statements, nor has any other institution of learning with the exception of accredited Universities and Colleges. They can provide verified, direct benefit to a community based on the requirements of tenure, student educational rigor, and impact in the existing fields of study. So a big question is whether or not K-12 institutions should receive public funds without some sort of accreditation program in place.

Public schools have a form of accreditation through the State requirements. For those that are unfamiliar with the public school system, it is a State run institution. This is the same for every State out there, as education remains State governed as a result of State sovereignty. Is it a perfect system? Of course not! Just like every other system out there, there are those that try to squeak by with just the basic requirements. But overall, it has been a strong system with students from this State being well prepared to move ahead into the world.

To argue that teachers are afraid of losing their jobs and being out-competed against by private schools is not based on any form of fact in my opinion, as public schools are scrambling to get qualified teachers as it is. To suggest that teachers will be fired during a shortage is just not logical, because it would aggravate the teacher shortage currently, and remove any "benefits" of smaller class sizes by requiring fewer teachers to teach more students, and make null any promise of better pay raises for teachers based on the supposed increase in funds available. No, I can't believe that teachers are really afraid to lose their jobs to the private school industry. After all, they have a teaching certificate, where many private school instructors do not. That brings me to another sticking point of mine: accreditation.

Private schools are, as far as I am aware, completely free of any regulation outside of the funds coming in. Anyone who knows of a private K-12 accreditation program, please let me know! So, without any type of standard required, not even the State onus placed on public schools, they are pretty much free to teach what they would like to teach. Teachers can be anyone, not necessarily someone with a teaching certificate. Is this necessarily bad? Not really, because it can afford a lot of teaching variance, freedom with curriculum in a fast-paced world, and also allow for people to teach that have advanced degrees that do not want to spend the money to become certified as a teacher.

That being said, it's also disconcerting to think that there are no standards set globally as to the curriculum that is being taught, the level of education the teacher has, or the teacher's understanding of educational psychology. How do I know that the instructor is teaching with a constructivist method, instead of a behaviorist method? How can I be sure that my child is being prepared for the world, both through college and beyond? I can audit the classes, but considering how many private schools are out there it would take a couple of years to find the one I am happy with.

So, that's another sticking point I have with the voucher system. Public funding for non-regulated programs. Of course, the argument could be made that these are not really public funds, as these students will not be attending the schools for which the funds pay. But my argument to that is: Once you pay your taxes, the money belongs to the State, not you. You can't claim it is your money if it's already been paid to the State, regardless of what is funded.

Is There a Solution?
Anyway, those are my arguments. Nothing really new, since both sides have mentioned each grievance. Ultimately I don't really see Vouchers as "fixing" the funding problem with our public schools. Private schools will become overwhelmed with students as well, and we will be back in the same fire, but with a bigger problem.

Personally, I think that web-based learning can fix a lot of the class size issue, making classes hybrid in attendance (part time in class, part time online). Teachers will have fewer students in the classroom, while still being able to provide personal one-on-one coaching for those that really need it. Of course, it will mean more education for teachers, network facilities for the State schools, and possibly expand to provide curriculum guidelines for private and home school students if they so desire.

As far as providing public funds by way of vouchers to private schools, the big question I have is how can I guarantee that private school vouchers are going to an institution that has some sort of academic rigor? My son will only have one childhood, how can I be sure that he will be getting the most out of education should he go to a private school? These questions have yet to be answered to my satisfaction, and until they are answered I don't think I can support a private school voucher referendum.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

So Far A Good Week: Projects and Relief

This week has been a great one, as I have had a lot of time to experiment with some projects and I got some good news regarding my car. But first, the projects!

The Steam Air Ship
I finally got the necessary hardware for a prototype steam boiler. I'm not sure it's going to be the final boiler for the airship, because the parts are just too heavy. But at least I can experiment with the materials and see if that is what I want to use.

I purchased a 3/4 in. diameter copper pipe at 6 in. long. It's longer than I really need, but it was the smallest piece I could get from Lowe's (or any other hardware store). I can cut it in half if I need to cut the weight down on that part. I chose copper because of it's look, it's ability to conduct heat well, and because this pipe is used in high-pressure plumbing and survives easily. I think it will be fine for what I want to do with it. ^_^

I then purchased two cap ends for the 3/4 in. pipe. Unfortunately, it looks like they are exactly the same size as the pipe. Not being conversant with plumbing, I will have to rely on my father who has a lot of plumbing experience. If all else fails, we will just solder the caps on, and hope for the best. If nothing else, it would make a nice safety valve, being an expected exit point for high-pressure steam (if the pressure ever got that high).

I then purchased two saddle valves, which will clamp onto the pipe, and then puncture the pipe to make the opening. Why two? One for the steam, and one for the water. Also, to add water you need to have an exit point for air. The problem is, each valve weighs as much as the pipe and ends combined. So I have effectively tripled the weight of the boiler with the valves. The good news is that the valve weight is static, so I can move to a larger pipe with ends, and the valves will still work.

Anyway, that is the status on the boiler. I'm thinking of maybe going with a glass boiler in the final product. I think a large test tube will work wonders, and cut down on the overall weight. Of course the cost will go up, but it would be neat to see the boiler in action. Perhaps it will make a good science experiment for my son when he gets into school. ^_^

Mobile Lab In Action
I have also been working with my mobile lab, and it has been wonderful. I currently have it divided up into three classes, though right now each of them are working in the Mac environment. Still, the triboot issue was a success, and will be refined based on discoveries and requirements that have been made so far. Version 2 will be really nice indeed. ^_^

My Car Got Well!
For the past several months, my VW Jetta TDI has been sick. Sick? Yes, the check engine light has come on intermittently, and no one has been able to give me a definitive answer as to why. I have tried changing out filters, caps, and sensors, and it still has been coming on. It also has effected my fuel efficiency, knocking me down to the 50 mpg that I normally get to 42 mpg.

But then it all just stopped yesterday morning. Why? Well, I think it was something to do with some bad diesel I put into the tank. I ran the car until I was on empty, and on empty for a while. The ride from my office to a diesel filling station didn't have the check engine light on. Well, that's happened before, and it wasn't a long drive, so I didn't think much of it. I then filled up, and took the long way home. The light didn't come on! I got excited, but thought it may have been a one day fluke. It's happened before. So I waited until this morning, when I watched my dashboard carefully. The light didn't come on.

So, with relief, I am happy to say that my car is no longer sick, and it appears to have been something it drank. ^_^ I will be more careful in future which station I fill up on, even if it is cheaper. You never know when you will get a bad batch of diesel.

Friday, October 05, 2007

A Steam-Powered Model Airship Project

Recently I started a new project. Many of my old projects may have gone by the wayside, but this one should stick. You see, I intend to build a steam-powered model airship, and have it be functional. I will be building this airship with parts I have around the home, putting them together, and then finally have it move under it's own steam power when I'm finished.

The Engine
I started by working out a design for the engine. The steam engine is perhaps the most important part of this project, as it will be the central power core. I based the design off of a model steam engine I saw for sale on eBay, and changed it from a piston engine to a turbine. Why a turbine? Because it's actually easier to build than a traditional piston engine, particularly at that size. ^_^

I originally intended to have the engine built together in the gondola, and then run a drive belt between the turbine drive axle an a new axle that would run the full length of the airship's envelope. That would of course require multiple gas bladders in the envelope, and make inflating very complicated.

The nice thing about the turbine is that it doesn't matter where the axle is located, as long as steam can get to it. So, I can move the turbine portion of the engine to the back of the air ship's envelope, as long as I have a tube running from the main boiler to the turbine.

Now the question comes to what power source to use. I had originally wanted to use a candle, but I am unsure if the head would be enough to build steam. There are a couple of other options, one of which is using an alcohol based fire. This is something that I will be working on this next week.

The Lift
Once the weight of the engine (and water, and fuel) has been figured out, I can calculate how much helium would be necessary. Helium has a lift factor of 1.113 grams per liter, meaning that it's weight is that much more lighter than air. So, from that I should be able to calculate how many liters of helium would be required to lift the engine and enclosing envelope. Then it is just a matter of building the envelope, and the gas bladder.

The Envelope
I intend to build a semi-rigid envelope, built out of paper-maché. The frame will be made with twine dipped in either starch or paper-maché glue. Either way, it will be roughly the shape of a Zepplin, though I reserve the right to make changes if necessary. ^_^

The rigid design will allow the turbine in the back to function with little addition to the weight of the air ship.

Future Plans
Once the initial design has worked, I plan to add a generator to the turbine (in a new design), and add electric servos and a radio control. That way, it will still be steam powered, but I can do more with it than move in one direction. I will also enclose the turbine, and recycle the steam into water, reheating it and making the engine more efficient.

Perhaps, once I can get the design worked out, I will hold a race with anyone else who is so inclined to build their own steam-powered airship. ^_^

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

University of Utah Technology and Gaming Fair

Today, instead of being in class, I'm representing our department at the University Bookstore's technology and gaming fair. Last year, it was called U MacWorld, but this time it was expanded out to include more vendors and appeal to the gaming market.

The event is pretty cool, though I was hoping for the same Mac presence we had last year. In fact, I was really hoping that there would be a sneak preview of Leopard here. Unfortunately, there isn't. They do have a dual boot Mac on display, but then I have a triboot Mac on display, so that shows them. ^_^

Other than that, we have Adobe here, AT&T, EZ Gear, Belkin, D&H Distributing, Dell, Douglas Stewart, El Dorado Trading Group, Health Sciences, iFrogz, Instructional Media Services, Logitech, M-Audio, Mobile Edge, Ricoh, Skulcandy, Sony, Starwest, STM, Sumo, University Federal Credit Union, Wacom, Western Digital, Laptops Unlimited, and NLU Body Guardz.

There are a lot of events going on as well, with cash giveaways, raffles, and the announcement of the University's iTunes U offerings (finally!).

If you are at or near the U, it's worth it to come check things out! There are a lot of really cool technologies here, and if you haven't had a chance to see a triboot Mac in action, stop by my booth. ^_^