Sunday, November 29, 2009

Happy Turkey Day!!!

Happy Turkey Day everyone! Sorry for the belated greeting, but I've been away from cyberspace these past few days as have many of you. I note a sharp decrease this time of year in the internet chatter related to school in general and this blog in particular. Almost noone is on the forums this 4-day weekend (ap-calc, ap-compsci, ap-physics, ap-stats, etc).

Anyway, we had a bit of a disaster the day before T-Day. Its become somewhat of a tradtion to have a little LAN Party for T-Day-eve. I push my students really hard all year up to this point and promised them a little break. So, we used our brand-spanking-new 64-bit fedora installation on the cluster and added bzflag to the mix. Try as we might, however, we could not get the various bzflag clients to connect to a local bzflag server. We finally had to boot up an old KNOPPIX 32-bit DVD running bzfs and all was well after that. So, something is wrong with our 64-bit ethernet drivers or we have to play with our firewalls or, perhaps, selinux? IDK, but we'll figure it out for the daybefore X-Mas I hope!

Generally Speaking,

Saturday, November 21, 2009

SAGE: Calculus Research Lab!

Well, its not official, but we are going to try to set up a SAGE Lab course for this Spring!  The Spring section will meet every day (during some student's lunch periods).  Next year, we hope to have a full year course meeting everyother day.
Now that we have the new Fedora Lab, I think we'll install SAGE on a cluster.  Let's see if we can cluster SAGE using dSAGE or mpiPy which is part of the Python distribution included with SAGE. 

I think that running SAGE on a cluster will be more efficient than setting up a local SAGE server or even using the online SAGE sever at as we had originally planned.  Its easy to use dSAGE on a multicore PC (SMP) but, setting up SAGE on a grid (much less a hybrid cluster) is not that obvious.  We are going to have a little fun experimenting with all this!

SAGE is definitely working out as an alternative to Mathematica.  We have used Octave before (alternative to MATLAB) but, the more I use SAGE, the more I am convinced that the students can learn it very quickly and get a lot of use out of it when studying Calculus.  We also looked at C, C++, java and R, but I don't think that Calculus Research Lab is going to be a full-blown programming course.  However, while using SAGE, we will program some functions in Python ala Mathematical Computing or Scientific Computing (Newton's Method, Riemann Sums, Euler's Method, etc).

Teaching with Technology,

64-bit Fedora Core 11 to the rescue!

Wow, we finally did it!  We are KNOPPIX free!  Don't get me wrong, I've used KNOPPIX ever since it came out and I loved it.  However, even the forums on and state that the KNOPPIX CD/DVD is not really meant as a linux install CD/DVD.  I used to use it a lot as if it were a Debian install CD/DVD.  KNOPPIX is a great live CD/DVD to "try linux before you buy."  BTW, our servers are still based on Slackware.

Anyway, the Fedora live CD is also a great install CD.  There's an "install to disk" icon right on the desktop when you boot the liveCD.  Just click this icon and follow the ensuing script's instructions, its very simple!  I chose the "replace existing linux" option, as I was replacing the KNOPPIX partition, so I didn't have to repartition anything.  Also, you are asked to create the root passwd and one userid + passwd.

After the CD finishes formatting the linux partition and copying itself to the hard drive, all you have to do is reboot and setup your ethernet preferences (administration/network) and edit /boot/grub/menu.lst if you are running a dual-boot environment.  You have to open a terminal and run "su" to gedit /boot/grub/menu.lst and you have to give the root passwd when you edit the ethernet preferences but its very doable.

After all that, I also had to run yum install hpjis so as to be able to use administration/printing to set up my printers.

Thanx a lot to CIS(theta), the Computer Independent Study team (JeremyA, SteveB, DevinB) who helped me install all 25 compute nodes simultaneously saving me a lot of time and hard work!  Good job guys, now we have a cool 64-bit base to build our MPI cluster on!

Happy Clustering,

Saturday, November 14, 2009

centauri, colossus and guardian?

Generally Speaking,

Remodeling the PC Classroom?

OK, I started thinking about a new PC Classroom.  So, even if we don't move the PC Classroom from room 429 to room 622, I think we should do a little remodeling in 429 anyway.

The way I teach in 429, I really don't need a teacher's desk in the front of the room.  I usually teach from the back of the room using simply a keyboard when teaching programming or the Smart Airliner when teaching math.  This way I can see what everyone is doing so as to make sure everyone is on task.

So, why not create a "teacher center" in the back of the room?  In other words, move the teacher's desk to the back with the teacher PC.  That way, I don't have to take up a student's station when using the Smart Airliner and I have more space for all my books and notes while teaching.

Also, we could use a 2nd teacher PC in this new "teacher center" so one PC runs Linux only and the other PC runs Windows only all day.  Switching back and forth is very time consuming especially if another teacher needs the classroom the following period.  We would also need at least a video switch, if not a KVM switch that allows for just one keyboard, one mouse and one monitor controling both PCs, to easily change the PC Projector's source from the Linux PC to the Windows PC.

Now, the students' desks can move forward so there's room for this new "teacher center" in the back of the room and the students can better see the Projector Screen.  To further facilitate students' view from the back and sides of the room, I think we could also use flat screen monitors.

Last, but not least, we really need the new Projector Mount ASAP for the new PC Projector we got from since we are currently going blind trying to see what's on the Projector Screen now!

Learning with Technology,

Server Wars!

The tech dept decided to move my ftp server out of the office as it was getting noisy (needs a new fan).  So, to test things out, I just used putty off campus to ssh into the sftp server where my Computer Science students save their work.  I had no problem doing so, but when I did the same for the ftp server, putty timed out.  So, I sshed back into the sftp server and I tried to ping the ftp server internally but had no luck!

This is a huge problem as I share files with my Computer Science students via ftp.  Also, I store all my Smart Recordings of my Calculus classes on the ftp server too. 

If only I had my old server back with a larger hard drive, as promised a year ago, I could run all 3 services off the one server (ftp, sftp, apache).  You see, I had a third Linux sever, but it was taken out for service over a year ago as it needed a new fixed drive.  With a large hard drive, say 250GB or more, I could replace all 3 servers (each current only has 80GB fixed disks).  Note, this would only be a temporary fix as I need at least 2 servers for backups and failsafe redundancy.

Linux Servers:
centauri, ftp server, off-line
colossus, sftp server, on-line
guardian, apache server, on-vacation

BTW, we haven't done anything with apache since guardian went down.  So, if and when guardian returns, I think the third service will be SAGE instead.
Teaching with Technology, 

Calculus & Mathematica anyone?

I've been thinking about the Calculus & Mathematica project by Jerry Uhl et. al.  I used some of his work years and years ago in the early days of Mathematica when we had a copy at my HS.  This project was very useful for students to learn Calculus at their own pace in a lab setting.
I wonder if anyone is doing something like this in addition to the traditional Calculus AB or Calculus BC class.  Alternatively, is someone using something other than Calculus & Mathematica, maybe some other courseware?  Any pointers or success stories out there?  Inquiring minds want to know!

I'm looking into setting up a SAGE lab myself....

Teaching with Technology,

Meeting V

Today's Aim: Install Fest!
Tonight's Reading: Building Parallel Programs, Chapter 5
This Week's Research: PVM and MPI environments
Attending Tues: JeremyA, SteveB, DevinB (fedora install fest)
Attending Thurs: JeremyA, SteveB, DevinB, ArthurD (bzflag stuff)
This Tuesday we are finally reinstalling the Linux Partitions on all the PC clients in our PC Classroom.  We have 64-bit AMD Athlon dualcores, so we are using the Fedora 11 64-bit liveCD to do the reinstall over the KNOPPIX 5.3.1 32-bit liveDVD installation we currently have.  

We will also have a make-up meeting this Thursday when we will burn a class set of the Fedora 11 Games liveDVD for our BZFlag LAN Party the day before turkey day!

Happy Clustering,

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"Look Ma, No Calculator" went well I think...

Wow, I hope I didn't try to ram too much into an hour and a half....  Sorry if I went a bit fast, but I had a lot to share with you!  Believe it or not, I only just scratched the surface of Scientific Computing.  Many colleges are starting departments in this new field which is a merging of Applied Math and Computer Science used in real-world math and science applications on super computers.  BTW a super computer can be a single PC with multiple cores setup to use all cores on one problem.  Also, a super computer can be Linux Cluster with several PCs linked together to solve one problem.  Or, a super computer can be like Shadowfax (avatar below), a mix of both (25 compute nodes, each dual-core) known as a hybrid cluster!
If this is all too new to you, don't feel bad.  I've been teaching programming since 1975, I've been perfecting Room 429 (aka Shadowfax) since 1985, I've been using Graphing Calculators since 1990, I've been using Linux since 1995, and I've been trying to get a Scientific Computing Lab course in place at BSHS since 2005.  You guys just have to play catch up!
If you are interested in any of this, you should google Scientific Computing, Computing Sciences or Computer Algebra Systems in general as well as the Mathematica, Maple, MATLAB or S-plus programing environments in specific.  Also, you can get tutorials on SAGE at and work online with SAGE at where you can create your very own free account in seconds or just use your SAGE liveCD!
BTW, remember FLOSS (Free Linux Open Source Software)?  SAGE, Octave and R are FLOSS equivalents to Mathematica, MATLAB and S-plus respectively.
Teaching with Technology,

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Look Ma, No Calculator!

Welcome to SDD 2009.1103:  
This will be a "Show & Tell" session where I show you how I teach math using technology without ever touching a calculator!  In Part I, I'll show you the old fashioned way using a TI-83 Graphing Calculator.  If you have a TI-83, please use it to follow along!  But that's SO last century...  So, in Part II, I'll show you how we do things in my classroom now-a-days using a Computer Algebra System!  I'll leave it up to you to pick and choose any techniques you think you may use in your classroom.

PART I: I will record a math lesson on something simple like quadratic equations in Windows using Smart Recorder + Smart Notebook + VTI as a Windows Media File for uploading to my FTP site (30 min).  

PART II: Then we'll reboot all the PCs in Linux with the SAGE CD and show how the same lesson can be done with a Computer Algebra System.  You can follow along using your own PC!  I will record this part of the session with and upload it to youtube (30 min).  

PART III: In summation, I'll share my website,  blog, youtube channel and zazzle digital art.  I will also show everyone how to use with any Mozilla clone so they won't need a SAGE CD (15 min).  
PARTY FAVORS: Everyone goes home with my URLs and their very own copy of the SAGE CD!

Teaching with Technology,

Meeting IV

Today's Aim: Burn Fest II
Tonight's Reading: Building Parallel Programs, Chapter 4
This Week's Research: openMOSIX & openMOSIX distros
Attending: JeremyA, SteveB, DevinB, ArthurD 

We burned 30 Fedora 11 64bit and 30 SAGE 4.1.1 liveCDs.  Surf on over to to download your own copy of the SAGE CD.  We tested all the CDs and found the SAGE CD very responsive for use in my demonstration at Staff Development Day this Tuesday!

BTW, my Computing Independent Study class is nicknamed CIS(theta) - see avatar below.

Happy Clustering,