Like Orpheus Back from the Underworld

After a long period of silence, I am emerging from my self imposed exile.  I have been silent for a variety of reasons.  Chief among them was that I was spending more time in the virtual world, than I was fulfilling my obligations to my family and to myself to work towards being a better person.  Blogging, and technology had begun to be an escape from the real world.  I therefore declared a self imposed moratorium on blogging, workshop instruction, flickr photos etc.

I believe that this respite was necessary for my mental health, as well as the welfare of my family and loved ones.  I have been able to re-prioritize different aspects of my life, and I have come to realize that blogging can be a part of my life, as long as I don’t allow it to dominate me.

I was pulled out of my exile last week, when at the las minute, I was asked to teach a podcasting class at the Michigan Library Consortium.  I really did not want to go.  I felt that I had been out of the technology loop for so long, that I would have trouble relating to a class full of would be podcasters.  As usual, I was also afraid that “they might not like me…”  Anyway, I did go up to Lansing last week to teach the class, and it was a very positive experience for me.  I want to thank the class for being so enthusiastic and so patient about the internet connection issues we were having.

Anyway, I wanted to let you all know that I am doing better than I have in years.  I want to thank my wife and kids for their patience with me.

I will be coming back, and blogging occasionally.  You may not have any interest in some of my new interests… SQL, database structure, open source software.  But, I will also be blogging about my family, life in Northern Indiana, Library programming.

Stick around and enjoy the show if you like.  It will be interesting to see where I go from here….


Defective By Design Calls for Protests against DRM using Libraries

Libraries: Kick DRM out!


The Boston Public Library (BPL) has DRM on its ebooks, audio books, music, and videos. These DRM systems sit between you and the item and restrict how and for how long you can access the information. For example, they may shut off your access to an audio book after seven days or tell you that you can’t move the book from your laptop computer to your desktop. This also means that library patrons will be forced to use certain proprietary operating systems to access library materials, because patrons have to use something that is compatible with the DRM chosen by the BPL.

Does your Library use DRM? If you are using recorded books or Overdrive for downloadable Audiobooks and Videos, then you are using DRM. This forces patrons to use proprietary technology and limits there choices…. for example, I can’t play the audio books on my ipod, and I can’t use the DV Video because I don’t have a Windows computer.

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Recipes for a 5-Star Library (with contributions by yours truly)

The Maintainit project has released another Joy of computing Cookbook. If you look closely, you will see that on Page three under the acknowledgments, I am listed as being from the Cass County Public library…. everyone gets that wrong… it is in fact the Cass District Library. Anyway, the folks at the Maintainit project have once again done a great job of putting together some recipes for computing success for librarians. You can even see it in an actual library catalog here!

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Edubuntu: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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Well, after several months of using Edubuntu in a LTSP thin client environment I will share my thoughts and experience…. the good the bad and the ugly.

The good:

  1. The software is free and open source.

  2. We have been able to recycle some old machines and nearly double the number of public work stations at the main library.

  3. Speed: when all is running well, applications including Firefox run much faster than they do on our Windows stand alone PC’s

  4. Security Updates: Since all of the terminals run off of the same server, all updates are done on the server. This is much less time consuming than the process we go through with the Windows PC’s. They have Deep Freeze installed on them, so they must first be “Thawed” then updated, the “Refrozen.” With windows security updates, Anti virus updates, Java and flash updates etc. This is VERY time consuming.

  5. Edubuntu’s included software package is excellent. While on the window’s machines, we have purchased additional software such as Microsoft Office, Educational Games, and Faronic’s Deep Freeze, Edubuntu has all of the software we need, including Open Office, The excellent Gcompris suite of educational Games, Tuxmath and Tuxpaint, as well as many multimedia and image editing software like the GIMP and the Rhythmbox Music Player.

The Bad:

  1. People are not as familiar with the way things work in LINUX. While most things are fairly intuitive, some people just don’t feel comfortable in a non Windows environment. I am finding however, that more and more people have no problem using these machines, especially for simple web browsing.

  2. We have had some printing issues. We have HP 4050TN Network Printers. For some reason, after working perfectly for a few weeks, they began printing only to the manual tray. This meant that our circulation staff had to feed in paper for each of the print jobs from the Linux machines. After several weeks of trying to find an answer. An update appeared and fixed the problem.

  3. Streaming video is a bit choppy. While it didn’t take to much configuration to get Flash and Java working (there was a bit of trouble getting sound to work) Streaming video over the network is not seamless. I suspect that this is a problem of the terminal server, client relationship, not any problem with Edubuntu.

  4. Mounting USB drives sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.

  5. Many games that people download and play on windows, will not work.

The Ugly:

  1. We have five adult stations, and two kids stations. The kids stations freeze all of the time. This is especially true when running Tuxpaint and Tuxmath. It also happens when running the Gcompris games. I tried installing a newer version of Tuxmath, and it did help a bit, but the machines with 128 Megs of RAM (which is almost all of them) still freeze.

  2. The adult machines also freeze from time to time. Sometimes Ctrl Alt Bkspc does not fix this, and the machine must be turned of and restarted.

  3. I still have quite a few instances of Firefox not being able to open. I get the “Firefox is already running but is not responding” Error.

Moving Forward:

  1. I have not upgraded to the newest version Gutsy Gibbon. There have been many people talking about there bad experience with the upgrade, and folks on the list have warned me not to try on a live system. I don’t have an “extra server” to try with, so I am still waiting.

  2. I have had so much trouble with the kids stations freezing, that I installed the OS natively on the machines and I am not trying to run them as thin clients. This seems to have fixed all of the problems I was having with them.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Snow

Originally uploaded by ashkev.

There was a fluffy white surprise on the ground this morning when we got up. So we took advantage of it and made a snowman!

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YouTube – Information R/evolution

YouTube – Information R/evolution

This short video should be required viewing for all information professionals. The world is moving forward…. are we being left behind?

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Open Source Software Used in the Library


I have been thinking a lot about the pros and cons of free and open source software lately. I found this chart very useful in spelling out some of the arguments, in this case the pros and cons of open source in a K-12 environment. The total cost of Open Source software may be lower than proprietary software, but in many cases, that depends on the in house expertise. In our case, we are a small library with a very limited IT Staff. Basically the in-house expertise is whatever we can teach ourselves easily by trial and error.
Here is a list of free and open source software currently being used by the Cass District Library:

  1. Edubuntu — In a server and thin client network currently with seven stations and more coming soon.
  2. Xubuntu — Our web page is hosted on a virtual LAMP server running xubuntu.
  3. Dansguardian and Squid — for content filtering and proxy server.
  4. Ubuntu — On the Assistant Director’s laptop 😉
  5. PublicIP — for wireless connectivity
  6. Open Office — Many of our staff and patron computers use OO rather than Microsoft Office.
  7. hMailServer — We still use a windows machine for e-mail. hMailServer is a great Open Source e-mail solution for the Windows platform.
  8. Squirrelmail — Webmail Solution. We run Squirrelmail on the LAMP server to give web access to our staff e-mail.
  9. Internet Station Manager — Public access time management solution (currently testing)
  10. VMWare Server — This is free, but not Open Source. We use VMWare to run several virtual servers including : Web server, E-mail Server, Content filter/Proxy Server. I also use VMWare to test different platforms.

New Edubuntu Kid’s Station

New Edubuntu Kid’s Station

Originally uploaded by ashkev.

With the convenience of the Saboyan User Editor, I set up kid’s profiles as well as adult profiles, so with one server, I am running 6 Adult machines, and 1 Kid’s machine. I plan to ultimately have 4 kid’s machines set up. As you can see we have kid keyboards, mice and headphones, as well as a very small 14″ flat screen monitor. I have these machines set up with games right on the desktop.

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Edubuntu Update Part 3


One of the last things on my to do list is to set up some sort of “Reboot and Restore” mechanism similar to what happens with deepfreeze. While this little script doesn’t do all of that, along with good file permission set up, it does a good job of restoring user accounts to a “steady state.” I have it running on my test server (my laptop.)

After creating user accounts and setting them up as you would like them, (I used Sabayon to set up and lock down my user accounts.), you can use a command like this to create the files to restore from:
cd /home
tar cvfz restore_patron1.tar.gz patron1
tar cvfz restore_patron2.tar.gz patron2
tar cvfz restore_patron3.tar.gz patron3
tar cvfz restore_patron4.tar.gz patron4

And so on with additional lines for each public account.
Next you need to have a script that will remove the files in the user directory and copy the restore version back into that directory. So:

cd /home
rm -fR /home/patron1
rm -fR /home/patron2
rm -fR /home/patron3
rm -fR /home/patron4
tar xvfz /home/restore_patron1.tar.gz
tar xvfz /home/restore_patron2.tar.gz
tar xvfz /home/restore_patron3.tar.gz
tar xvfz /home/restore_patron4.tar.gz

I put this in /etc/rc.local so it runs every time the server is rebooted. I am considering running it as a cron job so I can have it go in the middle of the night without a daily reboot. If anyone knows of a good way for me to do this when each session logs in, without causing problems for accounts that are currently logged in, please let me know.

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Edubuntu Update Part 2

I have now had the Edubuntu Stations up for a week. So far, patrons seem to be very pleased about the new stations. Some patrons are even seeking them out over the windows machines because the applications, including Firefox, open so much faster. I have done a little bit of tweaking to make the machines easier for the public and staff to handle.

  1. I configured Open Office to save files in Microsoft formats by default…. I know … I can I hear the Open Source purists loading their firearms now….. but believe me, as a practical measure for our public…..this is necessary.
  2. With the help of the kind folks on the edubuntu-users list, I configured the server to auto-login the thin clients. We no longer need to put in a user name and password for each client…. just turn them on and they automatically boot into the user account specified by mac address in the /opt/ltsp/i386/etc/lts.conf file. To do this I had to download a replacement for /opt/ltsp/i386/usr/sbin/ldm. That replacement can be found here. I also had to put in some code like this in the lts.conf file:
  3. [00:08:A1:55:F1:A3]
    LDM_USERNAME = patron1
    LDM_PASSWORD = pasword

  4. I am still working on setting up some sort of “Deep Freeze” like solution for restoring the public user accounts to a clean state each time they log in. I have been trying to adapt this method to Edubuntu. I have posted my problems adapting it to Edubuntu here.

I will keep plugging away to make this system the best that it can be. I already feel that it is a success, and I believe that it will only get better as more librarians start tinkering with it, and share the tips and tricks that they find. It is one of the beauties of the Open Source movement, and of librarians.

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