The nuclear option


Grinning, at least now.

I wasn’t a few days ago. With the update to Chrome OS 78, I was feeling pretty good about reliability again. Then, I started to read about new features. If they were as good as the Accessibility Option that I had previously blogged about, this could be good.

One new feature, in particular, excited me. It was a setting for “Dark Mode”.

I’m a real fan of dark screen (green screen too but that’s not the point). I find it easier on the eye and hope that it saves on battery life as others have claimed. So, I was ready to check it out. Simply go to the Chrome Flags menu and change a setting.

I’ve seen this warning a million times and a million times I’ve ignored it. I think you know where this is headed, right? I applied the Dark Mode setting and rebooted as suggested.

And everything looked good. I logged in and the browser reloaded. I went to Twitter and it was fine. But then, I had already set it natively to show a Dark Mode. Let’s try something with a White Background.

Aw, Snap!

We know what that means. The browser has crashed that tab. I reloaded to see it partially load and then crash again. It looks like the browser is attempting to load the original page, do some colour shifting, and then reload with the new colours.

I tried to go to the help page.

But I couldn’t. It’s a Google page and so has a nice white background and so crashes.

I did some searching on my phone and found a Reddit page Dark mode on ChromeOS 78 has broken my Chromebook. That post could have been written by me! That, and a couple of other similar pages, revealed the one and only solution. Do a Powerwash on your computer.

So, I tried to do that. Into Settings I went where I new the Powerwash option was. The problem?

It had a white background and wouldn’t load! So, no Powerwash here!

Supposedly, after a Powerwash, the next step is to go to the Terminal and enter a “rollback” command. I was getting desperate so just went to the rollback stage.

The message from Chrome OS sounded hopeful; I guess it either didn’t know that I couldn’t access the Powerwash button or didn’t care. So, I let it do its thing.

I expected to get a fresh Chromebook with no settings and a previous version of the Chrome Operating System.

What I did get kind of surprised me. I got the same Chrome OS version as what caused the problem but it did work. In fact, the customized settings that I had previously set were all gone and I was back to the defaults. Then, came in all the browser settings from my Google account. I did expect that although I probably could have gotten away without all the Android applications being reloaded. But, they came too.

The result? I have a nicely functioning Chromebook restored to Acer’s settings.

You’ve got to love the cloud.

Oh, and Happy Hallowe’en!

OTR Links 10/31/2019


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Praise for older schools


Last Friday, one of the blog posts that I shared because I enjoy it came from Anne-Marie Kee. She had a “Focus on Trees” as her topic. It has stuck with me since I read it.

In the post, she took us for a virtual walk through of her school setting and the heritage that was attributed to the various trees on the property.

The post took me back to the high school I attended as a teenager. It was actually a building built in two stages. The first stage was really old and had significant older trees on the property. The new stage had nothing at the time I went there although a recent trip through there showed some nice trees growing.

The first school I taught at was relatively new. Like so many new builds, it looked like the after math of a bulldozer going through levelling everything and then building the school. I can remember Student Parliament running a fundraiser, a planting session ensued and now there are at least some trees there. It’s really apparent that they were planted as an afterthought as they’re all in a row, equidistant from each other. They’re planted a fair distance from the school but, in the spring, you do see the odd class or other group of students gathering around enjoying the shade.

This summer, my dog and I, had a distraction as we walked past an elementary school during our morning routine. In front of the school, there was a fenced in area for younger students with a sidewalk around the perimeter and an area that would have been a lawn in another context. But, here, it was an area for the kids to play/learn. There was an old tree trunk lying on the ground which appeared to be a great place to play. It was well worn; the bark was long gone, and it was nicely smooth from being walked/climbed on. Kids can see things at times that we adults miss.

Over the summer, while there were no children around, trucks moved in. The entire inside was dug down a bit and eventually filled up with dirt. Jaimie and I walked by daily and speculated that it might eventually be sodded. Or maybe seeded. Or maybe someone had won the lottery and it was going to be artificial turf. While we never went in, Jaimie was hoping to see the tree trunk remain.

Yes, the story didn’t end that way. It ended up being paved.

Now, I get the convenience of it. No grass to cut; no mud to worry about when it rains; no inside recesses – the list goes on. Sadly, the tree trunk was a casualty as well. In its place, you’ll now find a great place to ride a tricycle. And, it’s maintenance free. Since it’s unshaded and uncovered, it’s going to be pretty hot next spring.

It’s going to be good for certain elements of play but there will be learning opportunities lost. I’m guessing that there might be a bit of nature in the form of earthworms after it rains but that’s probably about it. I can’t help but think that the historical significance that Anne-Marie mentions in her post is a non-starter here.

I think we all know of the benefits of modernization of older buildings or of building new schools. But, I really think we’re missing a great deal when paving over what nature has so generously given us.

My guess is that, if students were asked for input, they’d want the best of both worlds. There is a great deal of discussion about classroom arrangement and design. That’s important and not to be minimalized here. I would just hope that planners consider the entire package.

OTR Links 10/30/2019


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Windsor Firefighter Memorial


Recently, we saw an announcement on the local news that there was to be a new Windsor Firefighter Memorial unveiled along the Windsor waterfront.

As it would happen, my wife and I got a call from some dear friends who were in town and wanted to go out for breakfast and get caught up. We did and my friend wanted to show his wife the Windsor Sculpture Gardens so we went down to the waterfront and got to take in both.

It was still early in the morning but there was already a tent set up for the unveiling that would happen later in the day. But, I did get some very nice pictures.

The bronze and granite memorial is very humbling. The image of a firefighter handing a little girl out the window to another firefighter is very powerful.

The local television station will probably play the following report during the news this evening.

Windsor firefighter memorial officially unveiled

If you’re in Windsor, I would encourage you to visit. It’s located at the foot of Ouellette Avenue just to the east of The Great Canadian Flag.

OTR Links 10/29/2019


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

An Interview with Andrew Dobbie


Andrew Dobbie is a teacher with the Peel District School Board.  To get his attention, all that you have to do is express an interest in sustainable activities or reusing computers for the benefit of students.  I had the opportunity to interview Andrew.

Doug:  Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Andrew.  My first question is always the same; do you recall the first time that we met in person?

Andrew: Thanks for inviting me to chat Doug! My memory is fading in old age🤣 but I believe we first met when BIT was held in Toronto before the shift to Niagara Falls.

Doug:  We’ve been following each other on Twitter for a long time.  Why would you want to follow me?

Andrew:  I thought it was pretty obvious why people follow you, Doug.  You help me sift through current media and provide me with useful, sometimes actionable resources each week🙌

Doug:  Your passion for sustainable things is very evident to anyone who follows you on social media.  Can you give us a sense of where your passion is with this?

Andrew: The root of my passion for sustainability is in providing learners with a quality education through equitable access to computers in their classrooms.  My students needed help, so I researched a way to help them. Then, my students and I agreed that we should help everyone else.

Granted, the supportive team working with us exists throughout North America, Europe (in its infancy) and Iceland. We all work together to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Doug:  My interest in following you comes from the conversations and interactions that we’ve had online dealing with Linux.  You use it to breathe new life into old technology, often discarded. My interest was personal. I just wanted an alternative to Windows 10 for my 2010 Sony Vaio laptop. 

Do you use Linux personally?

Andrew: Yes! I use Linux every day with my students. I am also well versed in Win10 and MacOS too🤣  I need to be comfortable with all operating systems because some of my students bring in their own devices and I need to be able to assist them with daily operational challenges/troubleshooting.  I also dabble a bit with Android OS too just for fun. More along the lines of experimenting with converting different computing devices into hybrids running other operating systems. I’ve built some ChrMacbooks, converted old Windows computers into Linux devices, and even built one of the largest Android boxes using a massive desktop computer (as a joke- and it continues to be in operation today🤣).

Doug:  Now, when a person dips their toe into the world of Linux, it can be a bit frightening.  Long time Linux users go back to working the command line. apt-get, sudo, etc. Did you start that far back?

Andrew: I remember when I first tried terminal coding. I had no idea what I was doing. I have no formal training at all. Just YouTube, blogs, and Google Hangout guidance from a Linux expert, Aaron Prisk👍  

Aaron continues to be a very patient and supportive teacher. He listens to my coding frustrations and helps me to find parallel understanding between our common language and that of terminal coding. I started to learn the verbs of the language and it helped me learn how to install, move, package, and assembly Aaron’s student-tailored Xubuntu OS.  I still haven’t met Aaron in person. All our work has been completed remotely via Hangouts, Facebook IM, and now mainly via text message. So, yes. I use raw code in the terminal when constructing Linux FOG Servers and student-tailored Linux workstations.

Doug:  Linux comes in many flavours.  My first distribution was Ubuntu 4.04 and then the Edubuntu fork.  What was your first?

Andrew: Oh wow! You’ve been at it a little longer than me. I started with Cub Linux and Lubuntu initially because they were packed so small and could fit on a 2GB USB for installations.  Then, as I started dabbling with install on many different systems, I worked all the way back through history to Ubuntu 10, BSD, Linux plop, and all flavours after Ubuntu 10. Over the past 3 years, I have used and installed dozens of flavours to learn more about their unique strengths and differences but followed Aaron’s lead in using Xubuntu 16.04 for the first version of the student-tailored workstations.

Doug:  Since that time, I’ve changed my allegiance and now run Linux Mint.  What’s your favourite distribution?

Andrew: My friend Ryan, who is a data analyst and Linux junky, loves Mint too but my favourite continues to be Xubuntu because it provides me with all the necessary packaging tools to create the Linux student workstations.

Doug:  You talk about using Xubuntu.  Why this distribution?

Andrew:  Aaron Prisk introduced me to Xubuntu (a developer version of Linux) because he was already using it to create his own districts’ student image for all of their computers in Pennsylvania.  Lucky for me he was working through the process when I showed interest in learning it, and he took me under his wing (so to speak).

Doug:  It’s golden when you find someone with that amount of interest and patience. If someone else was interested in getting started in this area, how do they get started?

Andrew:  If anyone wants to learn how to install any Linux operating system, then I would suggest beginning with the USB installation technique.  We created a gForm to walk new learners through the process:

bit.ly/reimagewithlinux

It’s a little dated but it will help guide a new learner through the process.

Doug:  I like the way that you’ve used the Google Form as a tutorial for the end user. Well done.

You’ve forged a number of partnerships over the year, especially with Renewed Computer Technology of Ontario (RCTO).  How does that work?

Andrew: rcto.ca is an outstanding not-for-profit business who provide learning facilities with free desktop computers.  Initially, I needed computers in my classroom because our school didn’t have the budget for them and I couldn’t afford to buy them. RCT Ontario helped us.  We were lucky because they had tons of available computers back in 2016 when we first asked. They also had lots of LCD displays, which are a hot commodity and not easily available currently.

Essentially, if any learning facility needs free desktop computers, then they need to go to rcto.ca and request them. You will need to fill in a few online forms but be sure to request the free computers. They do offer some very affordable paid computer options as well (including a 1 year warranty), so they are a much better idea than buying new.  The first batch of 150 desktops we received for free in 2016 is STILL in service, supporting student learning needs in our classrooms!

RCT will also be happy to answer your questions by telephone too, so if you need help just call them.

In September, I was asked to assist their IT department in establishing a Linux line of free computers, so I created a Xubuntu 16.04 FOG Server clone, and a Xubuntu 18.04 FOG Server clone. Both of which can deploy the student-tailored Xubuntu operating system on any computer 10 years old or newer.

Doug:  One of the stumbling blocks that some might have with school districts is putting non-district computers on the network.  How have you handled that?

Andrew: All school boards have always been open to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, so we explored and found success with multiple school boards by signing Linux computers onto board networks as BYOD devices. I was invited to York Catholic and Toronto Catholic boards to show their IT department heads how this process can work, and at that time (in 2017-2018 I believe) I created FOG Server clones for them to more efficiently deploy the student-tailored Xubuntu operating system onto their computers. 

I think it’s important to note that all of this is free, and always will be.

Doug:  That’s always been the claim for Linux and there are so many talented people driving that ship. We could always remind them that the Chromebooks that people buy new are running ChromeOS which is based on the Linux kernel!

How do you address concerns from teachers that running Linux doesn’t given them all of the applications that they would have on a Macintosh or Windows computer?

Andrew: Most teachers and students are running cloud-based programs these days anyway.  My students never have a problem using Linux to run any gSuite, Office365, or any other web-based tools like Scratch, Robocompass, Explorelearning.com, you name it.  They all work!

Some teachers have asked for special photo editing tools, so I showed them how pixlr.com runs perfectly through Google Chrome, and is easy for students to use.

Essentially, if an educator is resourceful enough, then he/she will find a comparable and free software tool that will run on their Linux systems. Yes, Minecraft too👍

Doug:  Your plan also involves your students.  How much training do they require before they are experts?

Andrew:  Experts? Hmmm. I’m not an expert and they would say they aren’t either, I think.  However, after having about a month or 2 of troubleshooting exposure and experience within our Tech Stewardship program, our Stewards are able to repurpose old computers easily.  In fact, 3 of our newest Stewards just repurposed a teacher’s old laptop this past week and they just started in the program in September.

Granted, our Xubuntu FOG Server does make the repurposing process extremely easy to transform multiple computers into Linux machines with only a few key strokes.  

Doug:  What is the minimum requirement for a computer to be refurbished for your purposes?  Do you limit it to old Windows computers or have you put Linux on Macintosh computers?

Andrew:  Current minimum requirements for excellent performance running our Linux image would be 4GB RAM and about a 2.4GHz processor (not that much really). It will run fine with only 2GB of RAM as well but 4GB RAM and learners WANT to use Linux instead of brand new computers because they are faster.

Also, I recommend installing our Xubuntu student-tailored operating system on computers 10 years old or newer.  Older than 10 years and we usually run into compatibility issues with hardware drivers and hardware begins to fail at times.

At this point in time, we have FOG Servers that can deploy Linux onto Windows computers easily.  Regarding Macs, students love ChroMacbooks the most, and I used to hand code each one because the FOG server wasn’t designed for Macs😓. Each student-tailored ChroMacbook took about 2 hours to code about a year ago.  Now, I simply open up the Mac. Remove the hard drive. Put the Mac hard drive into a windows computer. Change the hard drive to Linux using the FOG Server, then put it back into the Mac👍 Only takes about 15 minutes depending on the build.

Doug:  You will be doing a session at the upcoming Bring IT, Together Conference.  Can you give us a sneak peek?

Andrew: A sneak peek😕 

(FREE COMPUTERS!)  

On Wednesday morning, I will be bringing some of my special FOG Servers to make FOG Server clones for anyone that wants one.  You just need to bring an old laptop (that turns on🤣) with you, and stop by. I will even show you how easy it is to use it. You can use it on site to repurpose any other laptops you bring with you🙌

When I’m not teaching the process, I can repurpose up to 50 computers an hour by myself. So, if you just want some help repurposing your laptops for student use in your classrooms, then bring them by on Wednesday morning.

I will also be sharing some of our work highlights at IgniteBit2019 on Wednesday evening, so feel free to connect with me there too👍

If you can’t attend the Wednesday session, then my students will be joining me on Friday morning to help attendees repurpose their computers with Linux too. So, we can build you a FOG server or student-tailored Linux laptop at that time as well.

Finally, I believe I will be bringing lots of free mini desktop computer towers for attendees to take back to their classrooms for their students to use.  These mini desktop towers have been donated by rcto.ca and will include the tower, keyboard, mouse, and power cords (but unfortunately not LCD monitors due to short supply at the warehouse).

Doug:  Wow. Come to Bring IT, Together and leave with a free computer. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with us, Andrew.  If people want to follow you on Social Media, where would they turn?

Some great ways to start connecting: