Open Source System Security

I’m going to take a break from my usual review of open source educational technology and take a look at some open source applications that can help with system security.

Antivirus

clamav,clamtk,energize education

ClamTk Main Window

Probably the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to keeping computer systems secure is antivirus software.  Towards this end, we have ClamAV, a virus scanner available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and MacOS.  While ClamAV actually runs from the command line.  ClamTk provides a graphical interface for users who are less familiar with the command line.

So, how does ClamAV stack up to its commercial counterparts?  First of all, it is free.  Next, ClamTk can be configured to automatically download updates and to run scans.  Furthermore, as it is a virus scanner, it does not actively block viruses.  This may sound like a weakness, but this means that it only runs when set to do so or when it is launched, which in turn means that it’s easier on system resources.  Additionally, ClamTk is highly configurable and scans can be easily modified if needed.  Finally, plugins, such as ClamAssassin, a mail scanner, can be added to enhance functionality.

 

Password Management

keepassx,passwords,energize education

A KeePassX session

Online security gurus will tell you that one of the best things you can do to protect yourself online is to use complex passwords (upper/lower case letters, numbers and special characters).  They also advocate that you should never use the same password for any online accounts you may have.  How do they expect people to keep track of which password is used on which site?  The prospect seems daunting.  The good news is that, thanks to KeePassX, you don’t have to go through this.

KeePassX is an application that keeps track of passwords for you.  KeePassX actually utilizes a database to keep track of passwords.  What features does it offer?  first of all, there is extensive management for each entry (includes a title for each entry,  attachment insertion and user-defined symbols for groups and entries, among others).  Next, there is the integrated search feature.  Additionally, there is also a secure password database.  Other features include a secure password generator, encryption and the capacity to import/export entries.  Best of all, KeePassX is  free and available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS.

File Encryption

veracrypt,encryption

VeraCrypt at work

To the unfamiliar, the prospect of encrypting files sounds like something done by government agencies or corporations.  If you’re storing data on a cloud drive, like Google, you should give file encryption a thought.  Any data stored on the cloud is potentially vulnerable.  An encryption program encrypts files and sets a key for decoding them.  To decrypt a file, you must have the encryption key.  Fortunately, this process isn’t as complicated as it sounds and the right software makes it downright easy.

Enter VeraCrypt!  VeraCrypt is hard disk encryption software.  With VeraCrypt, users can encrypt individual files, hard drive partitions or whole devices.  Additionally, encryption is automatic and takes place in real time.  Furthermore, encrypted files, partitions or drives are mounted as virtual hard drives.  Therefore, writing changes to encrypted data is just as quick and easy as it would be with unencrypted data.  Finally, VeraCrypt is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and MacOS.

In closing, I just want to add that I hope readers will find this applications useful in their efforts to surf the Web securely and safely.

Resources

ClamAV Web Site

KeePassX Web Site

VeraCrypt Web Site

References

ClamAV [computer software].  (2018).  Cisco: GNU General Public License.

ClamTk [computer software].  (n.d.).  GNU Gneral Public License.

KeePassX [computer software].  (n.d.).  GNU General Public License.

KeePassX screenshot retrieved from https://www.keepassx.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/.

VeraCrypt [computer software].  (n.d.).  GNU General Public License.

VeraCrypt screenshot retrieved from https://a.fsdn.com/con/app/proj/veracrypt/screenshots/VeraCrypt_Creating_Volume.png/max/max/1.

Hydrogen -Open Source Drum Set

hydrogen drum set,energize educationHydrogen is an open source drum set that runs on your computer.   We’re going to take a short look at this exciting piece of software.  For those uncertain as to what a drum kit is, just imagine a virtual drum kit (drums, cymbals, etc.) on your computer, but with an interface of sliders and knobs in lieu of actual drums.  Read on.  You’ll see.

Graceful Interface

Hydrogen presents an approachable interface that anyone familiar with audio-visual equipment, such as equalizers, should have little trouble finding his or her way around.  Hydrogen’s interface is modular and incorporates timelines, sliders, knobs, toolbars, tabs and menus to help users get the job done.

hydrogen drum set, energize education

Hydrogen Drum Set

The screenshot gives you an idea of what to expect.  The screen is divided into panes, each one offering something special.  Some components, such as the Mixer, operate from their own window.  The upper pane is where compositions are created.  The lower left pane presents instruments in the drum kit.  The panel in the lower right allows users to toggle between modifications for the currently selected drum set and accessing the sound library.

Features

Hydrogen is replete with features.  One of these is a Pattern-based Sequencer.  Hydrogen is designed to work with patterns. To facilitate this, the developers have also included an integrated Pattern Editor.  Another impressive feature is unlimited instrument tracks.    That’s right.  A composition created in Hydrogen can have unlimited instrument tracks.  It’s almost mind-boggling.

hydrogen drum set,energize education through open source

The Mixer window -front and.. off center.

Hydrogen offers support for QT5, MIDI and OSC file formats.  Hydrogen also provides support for sound library images.  If drums are not your thing, it’s possible to import different musical instruments.  There is support for managing different sessions.  Support for basic exportation to LilyPond is also available.  Playback capabilities and menu editing are two more useful Hydrogen features.  Hydrogen can be easily customized via the Preferences option under the Tools menu.  Tutorials and full documentation are available on Hydrogen’s Web site.

What You Can Do With Hydrogen

Arguably, users are limited only by their imaginations when using Hydrogen.  Compositions can be played back as desired and easily modified.  There are some pre-designed drum kits available for Hydrogen on SourceForge with which to experiment.  In short, users can create the musical composition of their dreams.  More advanced student programmers may interested in knowing that Hydrogen is written in the C++ programming language.  As it is open source, this opens up wonderful opportunities for collaboration between music and tech departments.  If properly implemented, students from the realms of computer programming and music could meet, share ideas and create that indispensable Hydrogen component.  How cool would it be if students from your school could make this claim?  Best of all, Hydrogen is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS, so it probably will run on the platform of your choice.

Resources

Hydrogen Documentation

Hydrogen Web Site

LilyPond -Music Notation for Everyone

SourceForge Hydrogen Sound Libraries

References

Hydrogen [computer software].  (n.d.).  GNU General Public License.

Piraino, A. et al.  (n.d.).  Hydrogen manual.  GNU General Public License.

Veyon – Monitor Students Computer Activity

veyon classroom management,energize education

The Veyon Logo

Veyon is open source and offers a collection of applications that allows teachers to monitor students’ computer activity. This is done from the teacher’s computer. This makes it easier to check on your students’ activities and not to have to rely on the tell-tale signs of giggling or the student who constantly looks to see if you’re paying attention. Let’s take a look at Veyon.

Ease of Configuration

veyon,energize education

The Veyon configuration window

Upon installation, users can run the configuration component right from their main menu.  This component employs an interface that is approachable.  Before entering this phase, I would recommend having all of the information regarding your computer, the network to which its connected and the computers students will be using.  From here, users can set up Veyon and its components, or modules, as needed.  Looking at the screenshot, the categories for configuration can be seen on the left.  A few items of note are Authentication, where the administrator account and password are configured, Rooms & computers where computers and rooms covered by the current installation are set up, and Rooms & computers, where rooms and computers to be covered  by Veyon are created.

One-stop Control with Veyon Master

veyon,energize education

The Veyon Master window

Veyon Master is the module from which the educator works.  It offers a user-friendly interface, predominantly via the horizontal panel of buttons at the top of the screen and tabs at the bottom of the screen  for additional functionality.  From here, an educator has complete control over those connected via Veyon Services, the student component of Veyon.  Looking at the screenshot at right gives an idea of what can be accomplished through Veyon Master.  Teachers can use Remote View to see what is on students’ screens currently.  Remotely, teachers can lock all computers to regain student attention.  Teachers can use Window demo to share an open window on their computers with students.  Educators can even take remote screenshots of students’ computers.  The default mode, Monitoring, allows teachers to just monitor student computers.  Computers in the network can also be simultaneously and remotely turned on, powered down and rebooted.  Teachers can even send individual text messages to students through Veyon.

Backwards Compatibility with LDAP/AD Support

veyon,energize educaton

Authentication is always required for teacher logons.

Some readers may be thinking “Well, this is great, but will I still be able to use files on our LDAP/ActiveDirectory server from our previous system?”  (For those not in the know, this is the format used by earlier computer management software.)  The good news is that the answer is “Yes, you can!”  To utilize these files, simply configure the LDAP module.  From that point on, Veyon will automatically update computer and room data.

Conclusion

I’ve only touched on a few of its features here and I recommend you experience it for yourself.  Veyon offers everything teachers need to control their students’ online learning experiences.   With this application in place, supervising these activities becomes easier and can free teachers up to work with students who may need additional support or to observe student performance, among other things.  It will definitely make it easier to teach.  Veyon is available for Linux and Microsoft Windows operating systems.

Resources

Veyon Web Site

Veyon Administrator Manual

References

Junghans, T.  (2018).  Veyon [computer software].  GNU General Public License.

Junghans, T.  (12 August 2018).  Veyon administrator manual.  GNU General Public License.  Retrieved from https://media.readthedocs.org/pdf/veyon-admin-manual/latest/veyon-admin-manual.pdf.

Using LibreOffice Calc to Make a Gradebook

In this era of Student Information Systems, the idea of using an electronic spreadsheet to create a gradebook may seem a bit outdated, but not all schools or districts can afford an SIS or have the resources to implement one.  Furthermore, homeschoolers hardly need an SIS to track student performance.  For these groups, an electronic spreadsheet makes a fine gradebook and, in keeping with this blog’s focus on open source, I’m going to use LibreOffice Calc, a spreadsheet  in an open source office suite, to do this.

energize education, libreofice calc

Look at all those wonderful cells!

First, a quick vocab check.  A spreadsheet is an application designed to work with numbers.  It’s divided into columns and rows, much like a checkbook register or ledger.  An individual spreadsheet is referred to as a worksheet.  Columns are identified by uppercase letters, called column headers.  Rows are identified by numbers, called row headers.  An exact spot where a column and row meet (e.g. A1) is a cell.  An individual cell would be identified, as shown above, by putting the column and row headers together (e.g. A1).  When a cell is clicked on, it becomes the active cell, which is indicated by a bold outline around the cell.    While working with the cells of a spreadsheet, the mouse pointer turns into a rectangle with which individual cells can be selected, or multiple cells, when clicking-and-dragging.  Cells can be customized in terms of the data they contain (text, number, etc.) as well as in terms of physical appearance (font color, background color, etc.).

While typing in a cell, the contents will appear in the formula bar below the menu and toolbar near the top of the screen.  Near the bottom of the screen are sheet tabs.  Tabs allow users to have multiple worksheets in one spreadsheet.  This is ideal for a subject in which multiple types of data are collected (e.g. homework grades, assessment scores,  etc.).  Simply click the + to add a new tab as needed.

energize education,libreofficeYour first step is to determine what grades you are going to record.  This is important as it affects the labels for each column head, among other things.  A spelling grade book might just have a date that corresponds to each weekly spelling test.  A math grade book might include multiple worksheets (one for homework, one for classwork, etc.).  For the sake of this article, I chose to create a math grade book.  Put some thought and planning into your gradebook and you’ll get more use out of it.

In regards to my platform, I’m using LicreOffice 5.0 on Xubuntu Linux 16.04.4.  You should be able to do what I’m going to show you in any spreadsheet application, not just Calc.  You may want to consult your application’s documentation in regards to formula syntax.  Let’s get started and open Calc (or the spreadsheet application of your choice).  At the top of each column, you will want a column heading that will serve as a label.  The first cell in each column is reserved for a label and is exempt from sorting by default (we’ll take a look at sorting shortly).  In the first cell of the first column, type “Student Name“.  I’m putting student names (last name (well. the first initial of the last neme for the sake of confidentiality), first name) in one cell so that they can be sorted alphabetically.  Thus, if I get a new student, I can add his or her name to the gradebook and re-sort the names alphabetically so the new student’s name will be sorted in with the others.  The next header depends on the subject for which you’re making the gradebook.  As this tab will be for homework grades, I’m using dates.

energize education,energize education through open source,libreoffice calc

Resizing cells is easy.

If you look at my screenshot, you’ll notice that my “Student Name” label doesn’t quite fit.  Most spreadsheet applications allow for easy column-width adjustment, which certainly aids in legibility.  Positioning the mouse pointer between two column headers turns it into a double arrow.  Just hold down the left mouse button and drag to the right to resize the column (as shown in the screenshot).  Row height can be adjusted in a similar fashion.  Regarding legibility, I also increased my font size from the default of 10 points to 12 points.  To do this, click on the “button” to the left of the A, B, C,… column headers and above the 1, 2, 3… tow headers.  This selects all cells in a worksheet and works in every modern spreadsheet application I’ve used.  Once you’ve done this, any changes you make (e.g. font size) will affect the whole worksheet.

energize education, libreoffice calc

Click and drag to automatically fill in dates.

In the first cell of the second column (B1), I typed the date (9/1/17) which is automatically formatted as 09/01/17.  Hit the Tab key, which moves the cursor to C1, and enter 9/8/17.   One of the cool things about electronic spreadsheets is that they can detect patterns.  Click on CI, drag over cell D!.  Now move the mouse pointer to the lower right corner of cell D1.  It should turn to a set of cross-hairs.  Click and drag a few cells to the right. and continue on to select cells EI, Fi and so on.  The dates will automatically be filled in.  Thus you can fill in dates for the entire semester/trimester/term).  For the last column (column I) of the semester/trimester/term, type in the heading of your choice (Average, Grade, etc.).

energize education

Look at the formula in the formula bar.

In cell I2, type the following (also shown in the formula bar screenshot): =average(b2:h2). In human terms, this means that cell I2 will present the average for the numbers listed in cells B2 through H2, as seen in the screenshot.  As I look at my results, I see that my averages contain multiple decimal places.  This is fine for complex mathematics, but I just want to display to the average to the closest half point.  Right-click on the I column header and choose Format Cells....  In the Format Cells dialog box,  click on the Numbers tab.  Below the Category field are available Options.  From here, change the number of decimal places from the default (blank) to 2 or 1, depending on what your desire is, and click OK.  After having done this, you’ll see how much more approachable the numbers are (check out the screenshot).

energize education, libroffice calc

Our finished gradebook

One more thing that I’d like to share is the ability to rename worksheets to help yourself and others navigate your gradebook.  Double-clicking on a sheet tab opens the Rename  sheet dialog box.  Simply type in the new name and click OK or press Enter.  It’s that easy to customize your new gradebook.  You should now be able to create a gradebook yourself using a spreadsheet application.  If you have any questions, please contact me.  Good luck creating gradebooks!

 

Resources

LibreOffice Web Site

Web Development -A Student’s Gateway to Programming

Web development is an ideal platform for young learners to enter into the world of computer programming. In this article, I’m going to show why this is true and how easily you can get students into programming as well as helping them to develop essential skills, such as proofreading and problem-solving.

html,xhtml,web design,web development,programming,energize education

The foundations of a Web page. Anything between the <body> </body> tags appears on the page.  The <p> and </p> are paragraph markers.  <title></title> are, well, the page’s title.

First of all, (X)HTML, the language used to create Web pages, is easy to learn and uses syntax and mechanics found in true programming languages. Like programming languages, (X)HTML utilizes elements and these elements use attributes to better define them. Arguably, this is where the fun begins. As learners become familiar with elements and their attributes, they will certainly want to experiment with them. Changing an attribute’s values can affect such things as physical appearance or placement on the Web page. Young programmers will quickly familiarize themselves with the practice of tweaking elements’ attributes and, undoubtedly, will be very anxious to learn about more elements, even if it requires doing so on their own time.

Next, (X)HTML grows with the user. Once a user has learned how to create a basic Web page, there is much more to learn. Users can learn to work with formatting, hyperlinks and adding multimedia. From here, users can learn to use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to format the appearance and layout of a page or a whole Web site. Once a learner feels that he or she has mastered (X)HTML and CSS, he or she can be introduced to JavaScript, a language that will endow them with the ability to create more interactive Web sites. From JavaScript, it’s an easy migration to a full-fledged programming language. Also, unlike programming languages such as C, BASIC or Lisp, (X)HTML does not need compiling. Results of changes to code can be viewed immediately.

A very strong argument for introducing learners to (X)HTML is that working with it can cultivate two highly desired abilities -proofreading and debugging skills. These skills are essential in the programming world and proofreading is valued well beyond the world of programming. When a Web page or one of its elements does not look right, there’s only one way to fix it and that’s to find its reference in the code and alter it as needed. This means combing through lines of code sometimes, looking for one thing in particular. Towards this end, problem-solving skills are also developed. If changing the attribute of one element fails to get the desired result, sometimes a developer will have to experiment to find something that works.

energize education, bluefish, html,web development,programming

Bluefish Editor in action

Text editors such as Microsoft Notepad or BBedit for Mac are fine for creating Web pages. However, as your burgeoning Web developers’ skills grow, they may feel constrained by the limitations of such tools. Open source Web development suites/HTML editors such as Bluefish or BlueGriffon, can provide them with a more rewarding environment in which to work. Both are WYSIWYG and include tools that will make Web development easier. Better still, with the W3C’s (World Wide Web Consortium) Tidy installed, code can be validated to identify mistakes and to ensure that it meets W3C standards. The W3C also offers a CSS validation service. These tools make it much easier to debug. Tidy can also be used to “tidy up” code so that it’s easier to read. This is a useful habit for budding developers to get into for just this reason.

The final argument for using (X)HTML as a platform for launching the careers of young developers is the cost. Unlike some commercial programming languages, (X)HTML is free. Not only is (X)HTML free, but so are the open source tools mentioned above, Bluefish, BlueGriffon and Tidy. If, like so many schools and districts, your school or district’s budget is tight, then this is a logical course to pursue. Not that expenses matter to the kids. They’ll just sit down and, after a little instruction, start coding.

Resources

Bluefish Web Site

BlueGriffon Web Site

Tidy Home Page

Tidy Info Page

Autumn Leaf Safari Ecology Data Collection Activity

energize education through open sourceOne of the two people who reviewed my book on Amazon stated that he was disappointed as he expected a collection of lesson plans with open source technology integrated into them.  My line of thought was that I’d put enough effort into researching, organizing and presenting the book’s contents that I really didn’t want to construct lesson plans to go with the software.  Here, I attempt to amend this.  This activity incorporates science (ecology), mathematics and physical fitness.  As this involves going outside, choose a week when the weather looks most cooperative.

This would work best with students in primary grades, but could be modified for intermediate-level students with ease.  The best time for this is at the height of the fall season, when plenty of leaves litter the ground.  Each student will need a plastic grocery bag or food storage bag.  Each student will also need a Leaf Sorting Sheet (see below) and access to an electronic spreadsheet.  In keeping with the open source theme of this blog, I chose Libenergize education,libreofficereOffice Calc, but any such application will do.  At the end of this article there are links to download the Leaf Sorting Sheet, in ODT format, and the Leaf Tally Sheet spreadsheet, which is in ODS format and can be used as a template to design your own.  Note that the species of trees listed on these two items are indigenous to the northeastern United States, so please feel free to adapt them to match species found in your vicinity.

Introduce the activity by asking if anyone knows what a safari is.   Tell your students that we’ll be going out to the playground on a leaf safari and, in so doing, will learn a little about local ecology.  They are to collect as many leaves as they can, but they should try to select a variety of leaves.  When we’re finished, we’ll take a look at what we’ve got and make spreadsheets and graphs showing our findings.

Head out to the playground, preferably between recesses, so your students will have fewer distractions.  Give them 20 minutes to complete this task.  They can work with a partner, if desired.  At the prearranged time, call them back and head back to the classroom.  Each student/group will need a Leaf Sorting Sheet.  Give the students 10 minutes to sort their leaves and be prepared to answer any questions that may arise regarding leaf types and sorting practices.

energize education thorugh open source,libreoffice calc

The author’s completed spreadsheet.

When the sorting is finished, you can have your students open the spreadsheet that you have previously created.  I’d suggest using mine as a template and make any changes needed to it.  Anyway, each student, or group of two students, should have his or her own spreadsheet into which they will enter the quantity of each collected leaf type.  When done, guide the students, if necessary, preferably using a projector connected to your computer, through the chart creation process.  This will provide them with a graphical representation of their leaf collections.  These graphs can be printed and put on display in the classroom.  For closure, ask students what they may have learned while doing this activity.  Were some species of leaves more prevalent?  What does this tell you about the kinds of trees that grow in this area?  Now that you now how to put data into a spreadsheet and to create graphs, in what other tasks could you use these tools?

I hope you’ll find this activity useful and that you and your students both enjoy and learn from it.  I welcome any comments or ideas.

Resources

Leaf Sorting Sheet

Leaf Tally Sheet

LibreOffice Web Site

Window Maker in the Primary Classroom

So what is Window Maker and why would you use it in a primary classroom?  Window Maker is a window manager (graphical interface) for Linux/UNIX operating systems.  Its most distinctive feature would have to be the dock.  This is a place where dock apps and quick launches for frequently used programs reside.  The dock first appeared in the interface for the NeXTSTEP operating system.  It has since been adopted by Apple for its MacOS interface, among others.

window maker,energize education,

The author’s Window Maker desktop

That leaves us with the question of why use Window Maker in the primary classroom?  The Window Maker dock supports dock apps, which provide information about the computer system upon which it’s running and about the world around us.  It is this latter type of dock app that is the focus of this article.  Using these apps and a projector, teachers can do a daily almanac with their students.

Looking at the screenshot of my Window Maker desktop, we can see that I’ve placed my dock on the left-hand side of the desktop.  The topmost tile is the GNUstep icon (GNUstep is a project of which Window Maker is a part, designed to regulate and promote open source window managers that employ this style of interface). window maker,energize education thrugh open source

The next icon launches a terminal emulator.  Below this is the WPrefs tool for configuring Window Maker.  Now we get to the informative dock apps.  Wmakerclock provides us with day, date and time (time can be displayed in either 12- or 24-hour mode).  Wimmoonclock provides information about the current phase of the moon.  Wmweather+ provides graphical information about the current weather conditions according to a local weather station.  Wmsun displays the times at which the sun rises and sets for the given day.

window maker,christopher whittumWmbubble provides graphical information about CPU and memory usage.  Wmwork tracks time spent on projects.  Below this are two wmdrawers that scroll sideways, providing additional space on the dock.  Lastly, wmshutdown provides a convenient way for shutting down/rebooting the system.

window maker,energize educationSo, how would I use the Window Maker dock in my primary classroom?  If your computer is connected to a SMART board or Smoothboard, it’s easy.  Start the day with wmclock, so everyone knows what the day and date are.  Write the day and date on the board.  Moving down, you can integrate earth/space science into your class with wmmoonclock, noting the current phase of the moon and possibly recording this data as well.  Then, move down to wmweather+ for a look at the current weather.  Students could even compare the weather presented here with what they see themselves.  Be sure to record this data, on an electronic spreadsheet perhaps, for graphing activities.  Finally, we look at wmsun to find out when the sun rises and sets for the day.  Likewise, this data should be recorded as it could be used in activities involving the seasons, as well as earth/space science  To add to student engagement, you could have a rotation allowing each student an opportunity to do the almanac.

window maker,energize education

Wmagnify running in Window Maker

To enhance visibility, I’d recommend running wmagnify, a magnification program that, in spite of its name, is unrelated to Window Maker.  This will open a small window within which whatever is under the mouse pointer will appear magnified.  This is especially useful for wmmoonclock which provides information about the moon’s orbit with a click, but which utilizes such small type that it’s hard to read.

There are a large number of dock apps available, so I invite you to do some exploring.  Some do similar things to those we’ve discussed, but offer a different take on what they do graphically.  I’ve given you a start.  Now you can begin the school year with a daily Window Maker almanac.  I’m anxious to hear from readers regarding what they did with this idea, so feel free to contact me.

Resources

Window Maker Web Site

Window Maker Dock Apps Archive

The Window Maker theme, Cottage, seen in the screenshots is available here.

References

Window Maker Development Team.  (2014).  Window Maker [computer software].  GNU General Public License.

Vogt, M.  (2012).  Synaptic package manager.  GNU General Public License.

 

SparkyLinux -Distro for Low-end PCs

Recently, Ubuntu announced the end of the 5-year Long-term support (LTS) for its 12.04 version.  This includes Kubuntu 12.04, Xubuntu 12.04, Lubuntu 12.04 and Edubuntu 12.04.  All of these operating systems will no longer receive software updates.  Why this matters to me is that I have two older IBM ThinkPad laptops running Xubuntu 12.04 (a T40 and a T43 respectively).  I chose this version because it doesn’t (didn’t?) require a CPU with PAE (Physical Address Extension), which these computers lack.  Now I’m stuck with a dead-end operating system.  What to do?

sparkylinux,energize educationSparkyLinux came to the rescue.  SparkyLinux, like Ubuntu, is based on Debian Linux.  What makes Debian so special is its package management system, or how it installs software.  There are thousands of applications available through the Debian repositories.  Any of these can be easily installed from a command prompt.  Debian also takes into consideration software dependencies, so if the program you want requires another program to run, Debian installs it automatically.  What Ubuntu strives to do, is to present all of this in a format that is more approachable to new users.

sparky linux,energize educatoin through open source

The SparkyLinux Xfce Desktop

As SparkyLinux is based on Debian rather than Ubuntu, it lacks some of the “ease-of-use” that Ubuntu has.  For example, installation requires a little more user participation, especially when setting up your hard drive.  Another example of this would be the lack of a “Software Updater” application.  Updates are run from the command prompt.  SparkyLinux also requires installation of the GRUB bootloader, something I haven’t used since switching to Ubuntu/Xubuntu.  Don’t let these differences fool you.  SparkyLinux is full-featured and user-freilndly.

Like Ubuntu, SparkyLinux comes in a variety of flavors, if you will, each with its own desktop environment.  Available DEs include LXDE, MATE, Xfce, KDE and LXQt.  There are even minimalist ports  available for  older computers.  Needless to say, I chose Xfce as I can’t seem to get enough of this functional, customizable DE .  Once the installation was complete and the system rebooted, I was presented with a simple login screen.  Once logged in, I was pleasantly surprised to see a rather approachable interface before me.  One interesting note is that, by default, the Xfce Whisker Menu is used rather than the Main Menu.  The Whisker Menu presents applications by category, a way that Microsoft Windows users will find more approachable.

christopher whittum,energize education, sparkylinux

The Whisker Menu

SparkyLinux really ran well on both laptops.  There were a few other surprises awaiting me.  The first was the fact that LibreOffice was installed by default as the only office suite.  I’m used to seeing AbiWord and GNUmeric installed by default and having to install LibreOffice separately, so this saved me a step.  Another pleasant surprise was the presence of the Synaptic Package Manager, which is no longer installed by default in Ubuntu.  It was at this time that I noticed a lack of Update Manager or Software Updater.   We don’t need this as a system can be updated from the command prompt with sudo apt-get update.  

sparkylinux,energize education

A typical session (note: I set the terminal to provide a forutne at launch).

There are a few other software surprises in regards to SparkyLinux. One rinteresting thing is that GIMP is not installed by default as it is with many distributions.  It can be easily installed, but finding it once it’s installed can be tricky.  This is because it is listed as GNU Image Manipulation Program rather than GIMP.  Another surprise is that in lieu of Mozilla Thunderbird Email Client, SparkyLinux opts for its Debian counterpart, IceDove.  However, after I updated my system, I found IceDove supplanted by Thunderbird.

In short, SparkyLinux comes with the software you need to make that old desktop or laptop functional again.  It is highly functional “out of the box” and very approachable.  It’s easy on system resources, so applications launch quickly and run smoothly.   Download an ISO from their site (choose your interface) and try it live to give it a test run.  You may be pleasantly surprised.  I was.

Resources

SparkyLinux Web Site

apt-get Linux Man Page

References

SparkyLinux [computer software].  (2017).  GNU General Public License.

LinCity-NG -I Finally Attained a Self-sustained Society

lincity-ng,energzie enducation through open source

One of my fiine Universities

Regular readers (or should that be “reader”?) of this blog know that one of my favorite open source games with educational potential is LinCity-NG.  This is a port of the classic game SimCity.  What makes it ideal for education is that you could build integrated units focusing on ecology and economics, as, in theory, it is possible to create a society that is self-sustaining economically and in balance with the environment.  I say “in theory” as thia has never been accomplished by me.  Until now, that is.

In order to succeed in attaining such a civilization, you must have one that is economically stable.  This means that your citizens have to be employed, fed and comfortable.  You also need a

lincity-ng,energize education

This Tip has been emptied by surrounding Recycling Centers.

decent technology level (called tech level in the game), which can be attained by constructing Monuments early on, Schools late and, eventually, Universities.  Once this has been attained, you will attain the ability to create four things essential to having a self-sustaining, ecologically-friendly society -Recycling Centers, Parks, Solar Power Stations and the aforementioned Universities.  Recycling centers cut back drastically on waste and can even be used to empty Tips (landfills in LinCity-NG) as they produce ore, steel and other goods through recycling.  Check out the screenshot and you’ll see a Tip that has been emptied by surrounding Recycling Centers.  This limits the waste of society to such things as air pollution.  To combat air pollution, build Parks around Coal fired power stations and other sources of air pollution to shelter residences.  (hint: holding CTRL and P will create a park with a pond.)

lincity-ng,christopher whittum

This simple Park fights air pollution.

Solar Power Plants generate MHz, which can be used to power light and heavy industry, textile mills and other facilities of this nature.  To power homes (KHz), you’ll need to connect these to Substations.  Once you have Solar Power Stations, you no longer need alternative, polluting energy sources, like Coal fired  power stations.  You also no longer need Coal Mines.  This greatly minimizes pollution in general, but especially air pollution.  The one caveat that I would offer is that Solar Power Stations can occasionally catch fire, so be sure to have Fire Departments nearby.

Finally, there are universities.  There has to be four schools for every university.  Also, universities are more expensive to run.  What you gain in exchange for this is the opportunity to more rapidly increase your tech level.

energize education

Solar Power Stations -your best choice for clean energy

So, I have shared my successes with LinCity-NG.  I hope that this well inspire others.  None of my previous ongoing games in LinCity-NG have attained this level of success.  I hope that you can attain it as well.

Retraction -bcrypt Insecure for Encryption

In February 2015, I wrote an article on an encryption program that runs from the Linux terminal -bcrypt.  I am retracting this endorsement, as bcrypt has been found to be an insecure means of encryption due to vulnerabilities.  In lieu of bcrypt, I would recommend scrypt, which also runs from the terminal as well and is secure.  For more information on scrypt, read the scrypt man page.

For further reading about bcrypt’s vulnerabilities, you can read an article from the Hacker News, here.

energize education,bcrypt retraction,scrypt,energize education through open source

Scrypt encrypting my passwords020917.txt file.