Archive for January 2011

Computer lab break-in

Last week we received the unfortunate news that one of the computer labs we helped set up in Mekelle in Nov 2009 was broken into. Just over 20 computer terminals were taken, but fortunately none of the (LCD) monitors were also taken. Given that the terminals are relatively small, so easily portable, we had thought there was a risk of one or two going astray, especially given that thefts of portable electronic devices (laptops etc) happen at all universities and all organisations around the world.

We’re not sure if the thief (or thieves) realise that without being connected to a server to boot up from, the devices are pretty much useless and there’s going to be an extremely limited market for reselling such stolen devices in Ethiopia. So it’s a small consolation that the thief/thieves are unlikely to profit from the robbery.

It’s far more disappointing they have taken the opportunity for the students to fully use the lab, now being down to half the original number of terminals. However, most students are in the run up to their exams over the coming weeks, followed by the semester break, so they won’t be accessing the lab as much as during the rest of the semester.

This gives a few weeks to get the lab back up and running fully before the start of the next semester (probably in first weeks of March) and we very quickly managed to put plans together for how we can replace the missing terminals. We’re hoping to (at least temporarily) replace some of the missing terminals with refurbished PCs, we’d already been testing this over the past few months, so just means that we will deploy them sooner than expected. We’re also checking the costs of having some (SunRay) terminals we had in the US shipped over as replacements for those which have gone missing.

So, despite the setback, the lab should be back up and running within a couple of weeks.

Rapid developments in Mekelle

We’re still in the process of planning out our training programme for our next visit to Ethiopia in a few weeks time. At only 3 weeks it’s going to be my shortest visit to Ethiopia, so sure it will be a very busy time, given what we’re hoping to get done in the time there. For a week in Addis, we’ll be starting our basic certification course for elearning teams from some of the other universities in Ethiopia, we’re just waiting to get confirmation of how many are going to attend. Then we’ll have 2 weeks in Mekelle, for the final face to face workshops for the certification we started in October plus starting a new cohort for the advanced training.

There’s still some way to go before Mekelle University is ready to start delivering the course by themselves. Although they’re keen on expanding the training to include other colleges, it’s not sustainable for Jaime and I to continue to deliver the training over and over.

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve had lots of good news from the Technology Institute. Florida, one of the lecturers from the Computer Science department, has taken over as head of ICT and elearning. They’ve managed to take on another team member for the elearning team, plus lab attendants are due to start work this week for maintaining the computer labs. They’re in the process of getting a new computer lab (of almost 70 refurbished PCs network booting from the OpenSolaris server) up and running, so will be great to see this up and running, although we have a few concerns as to whether the server will have the power/capacity to deliver sessions to this many extra terminals.

Health Sciences College have also been busy, installing network connected PCs and projectors in almost 20 lecture rooms.

With all these changes, I’m looking forward to getting back to Mekelle, if only for a very short time. At just less than 4 months, this is also the longest break I’ve had away from Mekelle since I started working there back in September 2008.

Rollercoaster ride…

This weekend I went out to one of the theme parks on the edge of Madrid, I’ve not been on a rollercoaster for years and although it was very cold it was very quiet, so we could get on the rides with almost no queue – in fact, we had to wait for enough people to come for the ride to start. Abismo, the biggest and fastest ride there, was shut with technical problems for most of the day, but was fixed up just as we were about to leave, so we managed to get on the last run of the day. We did manage to get home with all our body parts ( photo taken on the Tarantula ride).

Photos:

Video of Abismo (not one that I took, though I was sat at the front, so this was the view I got…):

Last years reading list…

Seems to be the time of year when everyone puts retrospectives of last year on their blogs, so here’s my contribution… a list of all the books I read last year:

  • The Steep Approach to Garbadale – Iain Banks
  • The Closed Circle – Jonathan Coe
  • Shadow of the Sun – Ryszard Kapuscinski
  • Diary – Chuck Palahnuik
  • The English – Jeremy Paxman
  • A case of 2 cities- Qiu Xiaolong
  • The Tesseract – Alex Garland
  • The Dwarves of Death – Jonathon Coe
  • The Dog Catcher – Alexei Sayle
  • Critical Mass – Philip Ball
  • Armageddon in Retrospect – Kurt Vonnegut
  • Fermats Last Theorem – Simon Singh
  • White Tiger – Aravind Adiga
  • The Pig that Wants to be Eaten – Julian Baggini
  • The Russian Debutantes Handbook – Gary Shteyngart
  • A Mad World, My Masters – John Simpson
  • Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Emperor – Ryszard Kapuscinski
  • The Greatest Show on Earth – Richard Dawkins
  • No 1 Ladies Detective Agency – Alexander Mccall Smith
  • Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer
  • Ministry of Fear – Graeme Green
  • The Shackled Continent – Robert Guest
  • New Rulers of the World – John Pilger
  • Doors Open – Ian Rankin
  • Freedom for Sale – John Kampfner
  • QI Book of the Dead

Out of these there are a few I would certainly recommend:
(non-fiction) Shadow of the Sun, Critical Mass, New Rulers of the World
(fiction) The Dwarves of Death, The Dog Catcher (although Barcelona Plates was better), The Steep Approach to Garbadale

Given that I now have a bit of a commute to work, I’m likely to be reading a fair bit more this year, the last 7 books on the list were all read in the last 6 weeks, see my GoodReads page for what’s going to be on next years list.

Video Content Management and Streaming with Kaltura and Moodle

Through the elearning training we are trying to encourage teachers to make more use of video and other multimedia content in their courses. This presents us with several issues, mainly because most video streaming sites are blocked by the University (to save bandwidth). This means we either don’t include the videos or we download to run them locally. So far we’ve just been uploading them into the Moodle course, which is fine for relatively low numbers of videos (or for very short videos), but is soon going to become unsustainable. Also, we’d like to suggest video content teacher may wish to use – so it wouldn’t be appropriate to have these filling up the Moodle server.

One solution is to use a multimedia management streaming server, so over the last few days I’ve been testing out Kaltura. It’s an open source video content platform and has plugins for Moodle, WordPress amongst others.

Installation was straightforward enough on my laptop, once I’d got the necessary prerequisite packages installed and settings. Couple of issues I did come across:

1) On my first attempt at installation, it installed on the root of my webserver, so I was unable to access my other web applications. This was because I specified ‘localhost’ as the domain. I tried to figure out how to move to a subdirectory (see: http://www.kaltura.org/moving-installation-new-directory) but haven’t got that one figured out yet. So I just set up a new host (http://kaltura.localhost) and used this instead. So now I can access Kaltura and my original webapps, with out switching configurations and restarting apache.

2) When the prerequisites say that you need a mail server, it really does mean that you need one! After installation, when creating publisher accounts, the login details are emailed only – so there’s no way to set the password except by following the link in the email. I assumed I’d be able to reset the passwords manually and so the mail server integration wouldn’t matter to much. Given that this is just running on my laptop, I haven’t got a mail server running, so then had to set about trying to get one configured. Fortunately I found these instructions on how to configure postfix to relay through a gmail account on Ubuntu (I’m running 10.10). I set up a clean/default postfix installation and used the settings/instructions posted in the comments by Michael M. I used a ‘disposable’ gmail account, so that if something goes wrong, I won’t get blocked from my normal gmail account, but seems to be working well so far. It’s also good now that I can have emails sent for all the webapps on my machine.

So after I had these 2 issues resolved, I was ready to start having a play. All seems to be working well, although I was hoping that people would be able to browse the uploaded content without having first logged in. I guess we’d just need to create a generic account. If anyone knows how to set this up then please let me know – or if there is a generic Kaltura content browser application that I could use?

I tried uploading a few flv and mp4 videos to embed onto a webpage, and seem to work well. A little slow on my machine, but then my netbook probably isn’t designed to be a media processing and streaming server!

My final experiment was to look at the Moodle plugin, unfortunately I had a few more issues with getting this working. When trying to register the module in Moodle, I kept getting the error that ‘Your Kaltura registration failed. Missing KS. Session not established’ when trying to enter the url, username and password for my Kaltura server. After a bit of investigation I found it was a bug with how the partnerId was(n’t) being passed. I found a hack around this, see: http://www.kaltura.org/config-moodle-mod-moodleadmin-page, but it’s not pretty!

Now I have the option to add a video resource in Moodle directly from my Kaltura server, or so I thought I had, currently whatever I seem to search for (tags, video titles, categories which I know exist in the account I have) returns no results. Next step is to try and figure out why I can’t seem to find any of the videos I have uploaded…