Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math
Teaching & Learning Math & Science with Technology:
Graphing Calculators, Numerical Methods, Computer Algebra Systems & Linux Clusters
Why Shadowfax? Our cluster is so fast that we named it after the Lord Of The Rings character!
Website once known as http://CalcPage.tripod.com (1988 – 2008)
Wow, the entire tech dept descended upon me the other day! All I did was innocently dispatch an email to the tech dept that I needed an ethernet cable extended as I moved my PCs around a bit.
Well, don't ya know, all hell broke loose! First the head of the tech dept emails my chairperson asking what the heck I was doing. Then my chair comes to my PC Classroom asking who the heck I was to do such a thing? Then the assistant principal for tech catches me in the hallway and calls me on the carpet. Finally, the new superintendent for curriculum and tech paid me a visit wondering what I was up to!
I proceeded to show each of these worthies that all I did was move the PC tables toward the front of the room by one measly foot! The only problem was I couldn't move the printers out of the way sufficiently as the ethernet cables were too short. The reason I did all this was to make room for my desk in the back of the room by the teachers' PC. I had to move all my stuff back there as my wireless mic failed so I had to use a standard wired PC mic.
BTW, I was the one who brought PCs to the school for the first time in the 80s. My PC Classroom is used as a model for all the other labs in the district now. There was no tech dept then. I was the only tech guy from 1984 to 1996.
Well, I don't mind telling you that I was just flabergasted!
Wow, I got VTI working in Linux land! So, I'm thinking this would make for a great final project in my Computer Math class which ends soon as its only one semester long.
I've been teaching Computer Math forever. We've used IBM BASICA in DOS, MS QBASIC in Windows, MS VisualBASIC in Windows as well as REALbasic in Linux. This year I used yaBASIC in Linux and thought I'd show my students how to use the skills they just learned to program their TI-83/84 Graphing Calculators for Math class!
That's where VTI comes in. I'll set up a bash script to start VTI for each of my students to run on their Linux desktops and we'll program the TI-83/84 emulator. I don't even have to hand out one single calculator!
Oh well, it was bound to happen! I've been using a Radio Shack 170Mhz wireless Lapel Mic every day since I got it last January. It has worked flawlessly that whole time.
Except, last week, the sound level was cutting in and out. The audio in my recordings was not reliable. Ironically, I think the wire connecting the lapel mic to the belt transmitter was coming loose since I could fix the sound level by shaking it. Take a look at my last youtube recording, embedded above, where the second half of the recording has no sound...sorry.
So, I went back to Radio Shack. Luckily the mic had a one year warranty and I got a whole new system for free. Wow, Radio Shack, you are a life saver, thanx! One little snag: even though they gave me a whole new system, they could not extend the warranty for another year. So, if something goes wrong now, I'm only covered thru mid January.
That's right, you heard it here first! My students have finally got the cluster up and running a hello world program. Thanx go to the whole team who helped install 64-bit Fedora 11 (ArthurD, DevinB, SteveB and JeremyA). I really like the Gnome version of the Fedora CD we installed. However, I was surprised to note that GCC is missing. Its pretty easy to install and update Fedora apps using yum, so we'll have to look into installing GCC.
So, now we have 25 dualcore 64-bit AMD Athlons running at 2GHz per core. We need to run some benchmarks to see how fast Shadowfax is. I was looking at LinPack and MTT for this. Some data sets on there show a 1.2GHz Athlon yeilding 2.4GFlops! So will one of our 2GHz cores yeild 4GFlops, and a dualcore node 8GFlops?
Wow, now it looks like my cluster is moving with me to Room 622! The problem with this scenario is that my current room is 34ft x 26ft, while this new room is only 28ft x 25ft. So, of course, I complained, and was told to pick from 613, 615, 616 or 619. However, these rooms are 28ft x 24ft or smaller!
If I had my druthers, I'd stay right where I am. The logistics of this move are so phenomenal, not to mention the tremendous expense, that maybe it just won't happen.... I can dream, can't I?
Another possiblilty is Room 620. Now, this is not an English room, it looks like Earth Science, so I guess its off limits. But, if I could persuade the powers-that-be to let me have it, its a bit bigger so not a bad choice (28ft x 30ft).
Regardless, to fit in a 30ft or 28ft space as opposed to a 34ft space will necessitate new furniture. Right now I have 2.5 ft x 3.5 ft desks. Half of each desk is taken up by the student's "PC desktop," the other half is the student's "wooden desktop." I have these desks arranged in 3 rows of 8 desks. This arrangement fits lengthwise in the 34ft space I currently have in Room 429 leaving a nice 3-4 ft aisle down the middle. We won't have this luxury in any of the new rooms. Maybe 2ft x 3ft desks will work better?
Video Wednesdays are still going strong! In fact, I think I'm renaming it Youtube Wednesdays since we can use youtube at school now and I use it a lot. Take a look at the two Nova episodes I showed recently (I show a max of 10 minutes each Wednesday).
The first one I showed to my Computer Math and Computer Science classes. It was about Cliff Stoll and the Cookoo's Egg virus. So we talked alot about Computer Ethics and Security. The second one, I showed to my AP Calculus BC class, is about great unsolved questions in mathematics.
OK, we are getting ready for the ICON Art Show at SUNY Stony Brook. ICON is moving back the SUNYSB, so we are hoping they will have an art show (to display our work) and print shop (to sell our prints) again! So, we set up a couple of display cases at school to show off our fractals and ray tracings.
Let's see, I have ICON (Art Show) at SUNY Stony Brook in March, LIMACON (Speaking about teaching with tech) at SUNY Old Westbury in April and PI Day (Art Show) at Suffolk County Community College Grant Campus.
On the first day of Christmas, Newton gave to me an apple falling from a tree.
On the second day of Christmas, Newton gave to me two refracting prisms and an apple falling from a tree.
On the third day of Christmas, Newton gave to me Three Laws of Motion, two refracting prisms and an apple
falling from a tree.
On the fourth day of Christmas, Newton gave to me four flying comets, Three Laws of Motion, two refracting
prisms and an apple falling from a tree.
On the fifth day of Christmas, Newton gave to me five optic rings, four flying comets, Three Laws of Motion,
two refracting prisms and an apple falling from a tree.
On the sixth day of Christmas, Newton gave to me six reflecting telescopes, five optic rings, four flying comets,
Three Laws of Motion, two refracting prisms and an apple falling from a tree.
On the seventh day of Christmas, Newton gave to me seven spectrum colors, six reflecting telescopes, five optic
rings, four flying comets, Three Laws of Motion, two refracting prisms and an apple falling from a tree.
On the eighth day of Christmas, Newton gave to me eight tides of water, seven spectrum colors, six reflecting
telescopes, five optic rings, four flying comets, Three Laws of Motion, two refracting prisms and an apple falling
from a tree.
On the ninth day of Christmas, Newton gave to me nine orbiting planets, eight tides of water, seven spectrum
colors, six reflecting telescopes, five optic rings, four flying comets, Three Laws of Motion, two refracting prisms
and an apple falling from a tree.
On the tenth day of Christmas, Newton gave to me ten feuds with Hooke, nine orbiting planets, eight tides of
water, seven spectrum colors, six reflecting telescopes, five optic rings, four flying comets, Three Laws of
Motion, two refracting prisms and an apple falling from a tree.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, Newton gave to me eleven differential equations, ten feuds with Hooke, nine
orbiting planets, eight tides of water, seven spectrum colors, six reflecting telescopes, five optic rings, four flying
comets, Three Laws of Motion, two refracting prisms and an apple falling from a tree.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, Newton gave to me twelve homework problems, eleven differential equations,
ten feuds with Hooke, nine orbiting planets, eight tides of water, seven spectrum colors, six reflecting telescopes,
five optic rings, four flying comets, Three Laws of Motion, two refracting prisms and an apple falling from a tree.
Merry Calculus! We've been practicing Calculus Carols all week! You should try it. I don't have any on me right now, so I'll have to write some up tomorrow for you. You can customize them as you see fit. We go Calculus Caroling the day before break and bother all the math and science teachers we can find....
Wow, I cannot tell you how upset this move is making me....
It's as if the last 25 years of work that I have done in Room 429 is just to be thrown out the window. Now I'm told that I'm not to have a new lab in Room 622 after all. I'm to go into Room 612, the current English Dept Writing Lab! If memory serves, this lab is on the first floor and is really small without even any room for a projector and consists of several computers I used to have in Room 429 years ago - my own had-me-downs!! What at a huge step backwards obviating many innovations I've brought to the Baldwin school district in general and to my students in particular!!!
Best case scenario is that I don't move at all. If I stay in Room 429 and the rest of the Math dept moves to the 600 wing, so be it, I'll be an island onto myself in a sea of Foreign Language classes (Math is replacing English, but English is replacing Foreign Language)! Room 429 is already the ideal Computer Science/Calculus Research Lab! It isn't just the computers, which are state of the art by the way (25 dualcore 2GHz 64-bit AMD Athlons amounting to a 50 core superCluster or super computer running at 100GHz with 1000GB storage and gigaBit switched Ethernet) . Its the infrastructure too:
(1) I'm running three Linux servers from there (ftp, ssh and apache soon to be SAGE; centauri, colossus and guardian). (2) There's an enourmos amount of power going into that room for PCs, printers, projectors, speakers, mics and AC. (3) I've setup a Windows Smartboard as well as a Linux Smartboard after many hours of research and work on my part these past three years alone. (4) Don't forget, there's three networks in there too for Windows, Linux and the superCluster.
Next best case would be moving to Room 622 with all the hardware listed above moving with me. However, that's a huge undertaking, requiring a large commitment of man-hours and funding. Further, you know that there will be millions of bugs after a move like that severely limiting instructional time after the move.
Third best case is moving to Room 622 and designing a whole new lab from scratch. Wow, imagine the man-hours and funding involved for that! Also, don't forget that Room 622 only has room for 18 students as opposed to the current 24 stations (computer desktop + wooden desktop) in Room 429.
Clearly, the worst case scenario is dumping me into a writing lab! How will I run Linux and java to teach my AP Computer Science classes? How will I run all the superCluster apps for myComputing Independent Study class?? How will we implement SAGE for the new Calculus Research Lab??? How will I display and record my Smartboard lessons in AP Calculus BC????
As you can see, moving the Computer Science/Calculus Research/SmartBoard/superCluster Lab is a really, really bad idea! I've been working to perfect this lab since the 1980s. I've made several hardware/firmware/software/infrastructure/curricular innovations over the course of these past, nearly, three decades that have inspired computer labs all over the district. Said innovations, built into Room 429, will be near to impossible to move or replicate....
Component 1 (tablet): I finally figured out how to get my Smart Airliner Slate/Tablet to work via bluetooth in Linux! After we reinstalled the superCluster with the 64-bit Fedora Linux 11 CD, I could not get my bluetooth USB adapter to pair with the tablet. However, after running a full update/upgrade cycle on Fedora all last weekend on my teacher station, the pairing works automagically! BTW, I understand that Fedora 12 is better in this regard "right out of the box."
Component 2 (video): I had to find a new desktop video recorder, aka screencast app, as Smart Notebook for Linux does not include one. I found a nice java web app at http://www.screencast-o-matic.com that works both in Windows and Linux and produces mp4 files great for sharing on myftpsite and for youtube uploads! However, after the Fedora updates, Mozilla Firefox is acting strangely when it comes to viewing java applets (I have to figure this out still). So, I installed gtk-recordmydesktop with yum and all is well. The only drawback to recordmydesktop is that it produces ogv files that require an add-on in Windows Media Player so my students can download and view these vidoes from my ftpsite. Recall that ogg is to mp3 as ogv is to mp4 but ogv and mp4 are different codecs. Also, youtube accepts ogv files for upload. BTW, screencast-o-matic limits you to a 15 minute recording which is fine for a short class or a 10 minute youtube. However, if you need to record 30-60 minutes, as I do for my ftpsite, you can upgrade to a"pro account" for a modest one time fee of $5 to the author of screencast-o-matic. This new feature is definitely worth $5 so I got my pro account as soon as it was available. Get yours while they last!
Component 3 (pen app): Since I wasn't using Smart Notebook for recording, I thought I'd try out some other new pen apps for writing my notes on the tablet. The one I like the best so far ishttp://xournal.sourceforge.net which has a lot of the features I use in Smart Notebook. I don't use all the Smart Notebook bells and whistles anyway. I just need to be able to write notes on my tablet and export these notes to a pdf file. Xournal does all I need!
Component 4 (CAS): I was thinking I'd have to dump VTI and use SAGE instead to do my graphs and calculations on the fly in class. However, I installed WINE with yum and, believe it or not, VTI works fine. I can still use SAGE in Firefox via http://www.sagenb.org if I like, not to mention http://www.wolframalpha.com too!
Component 5 (audio): My wireless mic worked without a glitch in this new Linux environment, as is to be expected, since the base reciever plugs right into a standard PC Mic socket, so Fedora recognizes my wireless mic as if it were a standard wired PC mic. Now, I can do all my SmartBoard lessons and recordings in Linux without Smart Notebook. Maybe I won't even use Windows at all! Prior to this I did use screencast-o-matic in Linux to record a class without the tablet. However, this was only convenient in AP Computer Science as I don't use a pen app there, but simply type in a text editor or on the command line!
This Tuesday we are enabling sshd servers on all nodes of ShadowFax, our superCluster. We also have to generate all 25 keys for pulic key authentication! This way, we create one common user on each node that you can log into from any node. Once you log into one node with this userid/passwd, you can ssh to any other node using the same userid without even specifying the userid or passwd, just each ip address! This makes it very easy to set up a master/worker cluster model (see last year's cluster blogs). openMPI also needs this as a foundation. I discussed how to set up public key authentication, http://www.knoppix.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=28933, on the knoppix forum way back in June 2008. Also, we are following these notes http://dvbmonkey.wordpress.com/2009/02/27/getting-started-with-open-mpi-on-fedora about setting up openMPI on Fedora!