Thursday, February 20, 2014

So, I thought I was smarter than this...

Have you ever been driving along and come up on a sign stating Bridge Out Road Closed 2 miles ahead, you look down the road, straining your eyes, you see nothing, and the signs are there but you can drive through or around the barrier and think to yourself, "oh I can get through because the barriers aren't not preventing me from getting through!"  Yeah, their are two reasons they don't block off the road, 1) for the residence that may live down the road and 2) so that road crews can get through to fix the road!  Not for the ignorant soul who wants to save the 3-5 minutes of a detour!  Obey the Warning Signs!!

Earlier this week I received and email from a colleague.  The email wasn't anything out of the ordinary on the surface, busy day trying to get through 100+ emails in 5 minutes, so I was not being overly cautious as I was reading through them.
Sneaky Sneak Trolling....
So this one pops up with the following message and attachment.  Given my job there are numerous times a month I receive an email with an encrypted file that requires a password to be able to view.  Typically these are encrypted .pdf files that have another email with the password for the file attached.  Yes, that should have been my first warning sign something was awry!

So I click on the link and get directed to a Microsoft Office Outlook Web Access.  At first I was taken aback, (warning sign #2!)  But for some reason my brain rationalize, hey they sent you the email so this must be legit, I even check the email two more times looking for a password to enter thinking my email and the password included in the email would work and I have had legit messages like this in the past.  There was no password, so like a dummy I go back to the web page, never checking the webaddress and voluntarily put in my password.
Looks Legit, Likely Is!

Incorrect Username/Password (WARNING SIGN #3!!!!), I enter it a second time, Incorrect Username/Password, and my brain figuratively and likely anyone walking by my office could attest, literally exploded.  I had been duped, if I were driving through all the warning signs, I literally would have driven off the bridge that I believed was there but all the signs were clearly pointing out that it wasn't.

I freely put in my username/password to what is likely a spam/information grab from a very clever individual, albeit a criminal.

In the next couple of minutes other staff members were stopping in my office asking about emails they were receiving from this same individual and the clues started to align and what should have been obvious to me from the very beginning was becoming clear as day.
oh Yoda, if only I had listen to the voices in my head!

I had a flashback to Star Wars Episode 3 when Obi-Wan and Anikan get caught in the Ray Shield's
with Palpatine, saying to myself "I am smarter than this!  How could you not see it?"  So I quickly changed my password for that associated email address and then proceeded to change every password that I have on all my different emails accounts.  A hassle to change them all, yes, but clearly preventable if I  had just been observant of the signs!

Friday, December 13, 2013

My Own Cloud Storage Solution

Dropbox, Google, Office365, iCloud, Cubby all offer cloud storage with sync for Mobile & Desktops.  And like many I have accounts on all, and I am sure like a lot of people, I have filled up my free storage on most of them (Admittedly, Google's 25Gb has some space left).  I have always wanted to have my own personal cloud storage with 500Gb that i could put everything in.  One folder to rule them all.
About a year ago I came across OwnCloud and was intrigued at the premise.  Open source cloud storage that you can download and install on your own Mac, Windows, Linux machine and the HD space that you allocate on the machine can now become your own Cloud solution.
The hold up was having a machine that I could put this on that had no other use, I had plenty of old Mac Mini's sitting around collecting dust but the HD's were only 250Gb and I had my dream number of 500Gb of storage.
Over the next couple of months, I kept following development, which is very active, but kept on shying away because of the lack of space on the drives.
For whatever the reason one day I finally realized that I should take my old external 250gb HD's and raid them together as a 2nd HD and install Mac 10.6 server on the Mini and I had my setup.
I have no other system resources installed and running on the mini except for the base Mac http service and enabled the Mac installed PHP as the machine only boasts 2 GHz Intel Core Duo processor with 4Gb of RAM, not a best of machine by any means, but sufficient to be a webserver.
Installing OwnCloud is extremely, there is a nice little installer available at the website that requires you to download one file, upload it to your webserver, navigate to said file in your browser.  You follow the onscreen instructions, set the proper file sharing permissions and voila, 1Tb of personal cloud storage.
A nice little bonus is that you can set up OwnCloud for multiple users, so family, small business now have a cheap, and so far in my experience, very reliable cloud storage.  Just remember to setup a backup of your cloud files so that if something goes wrong, your data is safe!
So if you have an old computer laying around that you are saving for no particular reason, but find yourself running short of HD space or need a place that is your own central location for storing all your files.  Check out OwnCloud, I have a feeling you will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Automatic updates, where have you been?

I am late to the game on doing any 10.9 testing as far as rolling out to the 1:1, honestly I am a little hesitant the the 3 year old machines can handle running the OS, I know 10.9 was supposed to slim down the stress on the hardware and improve battery life.  My personal machines that are running 10.9 are pretty beastly and I would say the battery life improvement is noticeable on my MBP to about a 60-90min increase on duration up from the ~6 hours I was getting while running 10.8.

I am especially happy with the initial impressions of the automatic updates to Apps purchased through the app store.  This singular feature has me rolling up my sleeve and preparing to send out the call to 10-15 brave individuals to sign up to be beta testers for my 10.9 plans.  Right now the App updating process is mind numbingly aggravating, downloading, capturing the App, removing receipt records and then rolling it out to user, while doing it occasionally is not to daunting, when 3-6 apps are released on any given day and the Update notification appears on student screens, they get antsy and start sending me emails.

While some of you are not looking at managing a network of Macs, the feature is mightily handy and I highly recommend turning it on, you can find it by going to your System Preferences and choosing the App Store icon and checking the boxes like those below.
In 10.8 the Install app updates option is missing and this quality of life change is magnificent very much appreciated.

In addition, which has been around for a couple OS's, but the Automatically downloading Apps feature, while I never used it much in the past should be a nice feature if my theory of I purchase the app on my Apple VPP account and machines are set up with the VPP account, the apps should automatically download and then be added to the update cycle on all laptops.

This feature should cut down on the initial setup time of a lot of things as now I should be able to create a master image and avoid the need of downloading the 30ish apps that are put on student machines as they should automatically download in the next couple days after the student gets their machine or I purchase an app.

IT side of things just got a little easier, also Apple, many thanks for tabs in Finder!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Broken Headphone Plug? Clean your ears!

Q-Tip with offending Audio Plug
Had a student bring in a laptop with the headphone plug stuck in his laptop.  This one was not to bad really, almost the entire plug was broken in the jack and not the little tip that can get stuck all the way down.

In the past I would simply crack open the case, remove some hardware, pop the plug our from the inside and be happy that it was out.  But doing this would have voided my warranty on the machine, and the past 2 years have taught me those warranties are a wonderful thing to have in a 1:1.

Super Glue Pen
 A YouTube search later and I found with using a Q-Tip, Super Glue and a Scissors.  This method worked for my particular issue.  But I also found if you have the tip of the plug stuck down in the audio port and can not get to as easily with a toothpick or are in fear of getting SuperGlu caked on the inside of your audio port this would be something that would be worth giving a try.

Super Glue Pen Tip
So, in the end, a trip to the hardware store $3.00 for a box of Q-Tips and $2.00 Super Glue, I got the Super Glue pen, which would be the one I recommend with the fine application tip, picture is a little fuzzy, but it was really easy to put the glue on the Q-Tip.

A $5.00 cost that could save some money in the future.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hosting websites as cheap as possible (my diluted process)

Over the past years in trying to keep our technology up and running I have spent considerable time in trying to make the idea of creating a in-depth web presence while remaining financially responsible.  Lets face it, the technology expenses in districts is going to continue to rise over the years and any place that I can make an positive impact on the bottom line while not effecting the user experience is a win-win in my opinion.

Thanks to be quite overly obsessed at times, I have developed a few little tricks to keep the district web presence in that boat.  Now the thing to preface this with is that if you are looking for a web site that is going to be under heavy load at a consistent basis, I am talking 500+ concurrent users, than you may need to invest in some beefier hardware and then look at some mirroring.

I started down this path when I saw how much we were paying for web-hosting and email services.  Thanks to Google Apps for Education the email problem was an easy fix.  The website was not, at the time, HTML pretty much the standard and if you wanted anything super fancy you would have to use a million tables and frames to make everything work.  Which did not make me happy, I was well versed in HTML, and knew what I could do and what I wanted to do was to create an environment that allow others the opportunity to contribute materials and info.

The problem was that apart from 1 other person, no one knew HTML and the idea of teaching HTML to people who don't want to learn was a form of torture that I didn't want to encounter.  I searched the web and found a little gem of a website called Open Source CMS and discovered Joomla.

Joomla was great, it eliminated any need for any HTML prowess and allowed the use of a WYSIWYG(What You See Is What You Get) Editor to create the content.  On the front end, the layout of the site would be the same regardless of the page you were on.  A unified template look with the ability to have users add content.  I was in heaven.  After some CSS tutorials I had decided I wanted to use Joomla for the district website.

I soon found myself sitting down on my server 2003 box hacking and slashing it getting PHP and MySQL installed and running which was relatively simple when I found a video at Video Tutorial Zone that laid out the step for installing and configuring with such ease.

I am sad to say that the site appears to be broken or you may need an account because all the links appear broken.  Which is a shame, I am trying to keep this cheap!

As the years progressed we geared toward out 1:1 Macbook rollout and we purchased a Mac Server.  I still had our 2003 server but its need was becoming lessened and even more so with the purchase of a 2008 server the only use of the 2003 server was for the website that I decided it was time to switch and move stuff over to Mac.

I dreaded the idea, I had become so comfortable with my setup on the 2003 box after all.  However, my  prayers were answered when I discovered that MySQL was built into and installing PHP was a simple enough task.  I was not looking to do anything crazy, I wanted simple functionality that allowed me to install Joomla, Moodle, and OS Ticket.

OS Ticket
As I was ready to start tweaking on my Mac Server, I got to thinking I did not want to have my website on the same server that was doing my DNS, DHCP, File Serving, and OD/AD Integration.  I didn't like the idea of that server doing all those 4 processes and then adding the web hosting was just one more thing to put more work on the server and also make the unit vulnerable to compromise or failure.

What to do, I did't want to drop another $4,000 on a server, against my goal of keeping this cheap!  The year before we had purchased some Mac Mini's to fill in a couple computer short classrooms.  The following year we purchased new iMacs to replace the Mini's for all the rooms, so I had 10 Mac Mini's that were stacked in a corner collecting dust.  Not anymore, I pulled one out and did a clean install.

Installed PHP and also had to install MySQL as I couldn't get the packaged version to work just right, but at this point they had an nice and clean installed package so it was easy enough to do.  Installed my 3 websites and using MySQL dumps was able to copy the websites from the Windows Server to the Mac server with ease.

The only downside was with those three items resting on one Mac Mini the instances of server latency was quite high.  If we had a class accessing Moodle, the school website would take very long to load or even time out.  It was universal to all three websites, Mac Mini's in all honesty are very weak machines,  but at $600.00 a unit, I could buy 7 webservers for the prices of 1 server.  So thats what I did, I went and got another Mini off my stack and installed Moodle on that one and then got another and installed OS Ticket on that one.  I purchased 3 250gb external drives and configured them with Time Machine to create the backups and I had a website solution that was user friendly and most importantly, cheap.

Next time, I discover XAMPP and life gets even easier...

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Under the chaos lies more rubble

So this year has been a little chaotic, students and kids are much more comfortable with their laptops and with comfort there can be a loss of focus of the intent of the laptops.  Which is what I am seeing, given the way I have my machines set up, some apps can be downloaded and run without being installed.

So it got me to thinking about addressing the issues with kids and led to me writing a fairly lengthy email.  What I have found is that kids are basically doing 2 things, not protecting themselves and other while they are online and they are not utilizing their class time in the most efficient manner.

I have started to adopt belief that in 1:1 environments you have to make the students the owner, which in a way has happened, but they are not being responsible with their ownership.  Teachers and students are both struggling and despite the great things I have seen I am also growning more concerned about the validity of the 1:1 option.

Just because I thought I actually got my point across in the letter while keeping it short I have copied it here.  I sent it out over 3 days to all 1:1 students.
1.  Responsibility
We have had the laptops for a good bit of time and I think its time for a refresher on using the laptops.
First off, the laptops are a wonderful tool and open up a lot of avenues for creation, exploring and learning that you would not normally have access to.  However, there is also a negative side to things and that is where I am seeing things going at times and this has me a little concerned.
The laptops are a privilege and have been embraced by our staff as a great way to enhance instruction.  The teachers here at the schools do an amazing job everyday in trying to create an environment that is challenging, and at the same time, if you put in the effort, create an environment for you to be successful.
How you choose to utilize your time and the time you are on your laptop is up to you.  But don’t look at your grades or report cards and then question the grades you are getting.  You make the choice to do your work or chat, you make the choice to research for a project or to play games.
Think of things in terms of focus.  How good is the work you are doing if you are focused on a conversation in chat?  How can you verify your research is accurate and not copied/stolen if you are focused on a game?
All the opportunities for your success is in your hands, it is your responsibility to make the choice of how you take advantage of those opportunities; you and you alone are responsible for your learning. 
2.  Respect
Please be conscious about your interactions while online.  When you are posting online, I want you think about these three questions when you are posting something online.
1.     Is it necessary?
2.     Is it true?
3.     Is it kind?
If you answer No to any of these three questions, do not post it.  Anything that you post about others that is untrue, harassing or viewed as bullying by the reader can lead to consequences for you.
The online world offers the ability for us to feel anonymous.  The key word being FEEL.  Nothing on the web is free, nor is it anonymous.  The opposite is true, everything you do online is documented and most of the time you agree to this happening.  When you signed up for your Facebook or Twitter accounts and agreed to the Terms of Service, which gave them the right to record everything you do.
Every time you post something on Facebook, Twitter, or any other site you are socially sharing with, it is time stamped, logged, and origination point is recorded.  That means, when I posted on Twitter yesterday, someone at Twitter can look at the data and with a little work see at 9:30am, I was at 912 Woodland Av, Riceville, Iowa on my computer and posted “blah blah.”
Ever wonder why you see adds on Facebook that are about things you like or interest you?  That is because Facebook tracks your online actions. (All online business do this, not just Facebook)  This results in your browsing actions and history being sold to advertising companies by Facebook.
So please respect yourself and what you are doing online and also be careful to not give out to much personal information about yourself and others. 
3.  Bullying
This goes along with the respect from my previous communication, but merits some direct discussion, as there has been more and more focus in the media.  Bullying exists, unfortunate as it is; we have to get it out in the open.  It is there and now what do we do about it?
First, go back to the 3 questions:
1.     Is it necessary?
2.     Is it true?
3.     Is it kind?
If what you are posting does not answer yes for these three questions, do not post it.
You have to remember that your typing does not carry your tone.  If you are face to face talking with someone, you use facial expressions, your voice will change in tone and pitch and most people will understand what you are tying to say.  When someone is reading what you have typed, they are taking the words as they see them. They don’t get to hear you tone and pitch.  Always remember you have no control over the people who are reading what you have said.
Also remember that the Internet is forever and everywhere.  What you post about someone or if you post something derogatory, racist, or sexist, it may and likely will come back and have an effect in your future.
Show respect to others, even you do not like or agree with them, you can show mutual respect by allow others to have maintain their pride.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

iPad froze at In-App Purchase Confirmation

I had an interesting problem come across my desk yesterday.  An iPad2 stuck with the In-App purchase confirmation screen.   When trying to interact with the confirmation screen, if you press the cancel and buy buttons, they will animate while being press but nothing happens.

First thing I tried to was to double press the home button and quit all of my open apps, which did nothing.

Next I thought I would try shutting the unit down and rebooting.  I held down the Home+Sleep buttons and the Power Off slider appeared, but would not allow me to move the slider.

This left me stumped, as rebooting an iPad is usually the cure for most non-critical issues.  How could I pull off the reboot when I am not able to interact with display.  Little did I know I was on the right path, turns out if you continue to hold down the Home+Sleep buttons the iPad will do a hard reboot.  I held the button down for approximately 10 seconds and the iPad shutdown, I pressed Home+Sleep again and the machine rebooted and the App confirmation screen had disappeared.