Cheap Geek

Ok. It has been 6 years since we setup our remote site, although it is still a “In Works Project” we wanted more direct access. Meaning a URL rather than an IP number (dynamic). Problem is the only ISP in town uses Dynamic IP numbers and was clueless on providing Static IPs. So todays project, a work-a-round.

Heard good things around OpenDNS.com. Installed all their software, followed their direction, still no “IP report” from the mountains. Checked GoDaddy, where we purchased our domain names, and On-Rev.com who we do our hosting with. No good options for DNS reporting/lookup.

Tried dnsomatic.com, almost got there, was supposed to work with OpenDNS, but the connection was never made.

Then, at last, noip.com. Their site isn’t clear on charges and what features you get with what plan. But the free plan seems to work for our needs. HOWEVER it could expire in 30 days. At one point we saw $14.95 a month for their plan… HUM, a static IP generally costs that! It could have been per year, we need to look deeper.

But we can now get to our remote site using hostname.no-ip.org, perfect.

Now lets see how long, cheap lasts! Will report back on progress.

There is a time when a geek has to say ‘enough’.

After 7 years, we are simi-retiring a Apple Xserve G5. Not because it could no longer do the job, but the noise.

Couldn’t tell you how many computers and servers we have in this place, no really I can’t. We normally get at least two need pieces of hardware a year. And with the life expectancy of a Mac near that of platinum, we are always trying to find new ways to use old computers and servers.

Well the xserve was just getting too loud, and we happen to have 2 Mac Mini G4’s laying around (one has an SSD drive, the other the standard 40 gb hd). But we also have a large assortment of external hard drives, we found an external firewire with a 300 gb drive. We cloned the old Xserve onto the external drive, then just plugged the external into the Mac Mini, set the boot drive and there you have it. Moved…. It is SLOWER than the Dual G5, but you can’t hear a thing.

We off loaded most of the tasks to one of our Intel Mac Minis, leaving the G4 Mini to handle OpenFire Chat server, DHCP and a couple of small web sites.. Surprised how easy that was..

There has already been a few ‘wow it is quiet around here’ comments.

Points we’d like to make:
1) In the past we learned that G4 Mac Mini do pretty well as servers, but beware the drives do wear out. Backup often.
2) Adding RAM would really help, but 1 gb is about all you can add. Not much overhead.

Life’s Little (Geeky) Joys.

One of my pet peeves at work is kids using the computers as their own personal game units. Mostly when the superintendent specifically said “computers in schools are for education, not gaming”. So when students visit sites like http://www.coolmath-games.com, http://www.kizi.org and http://www.kizi.com it just burns me up. You are right, I shouldn’t let it bother me, but when I go into these rooms and find keyboards destroyed I just can not allow it.

First, I work with K-5 grade students, not the junior hackers of Middle School and the determined hackers in high schools. Most can’t spell none the less type. BUT they can use search engines.

So I setup Work Group Manager (WGM) to force run a Login script each time a user logs in. It sets the wallpaper, clears the browser (Safari), empties the trash and opens the schools ‘student lab page’, which has links to all the district web applications. And the final command is to run a background hidden script that checks the safari’s url bar from time to time to see what site is being visited. If it matches one of the listed sites it BEEPs 7 times at almost full volume, displays a violation notice, closes the browser and reruns then reruns the login script.

I was blown away by how well this worked. The student would visit the site, select a game, then start to play. After a few seconds, bam. They normally do this a few times before they get the hint.

Now all I have to do is monitor the computers with Apple Remote Desktop (ARD) and see if they have found any new sites. When they do I add them to the scripts lists, and push the script out to all the student computers.

Didn’t have to spend a dime and only took a couple of hours to code, deploy and test.

Snow Leopard and Java (gag)

Don’t know who to blame for the state of affairs with Snow Leopard and its related plugins, Adobe, Oracle, Apple or the whole lot of them.

One of my school’s is pretty much all Mac, yes there are the token PCs’/Dells’ in the administration offices. But overall the classrooms and labs have Macs. Over 300 of them. My other two sites are Dells’ and HPs’ running Windows XP.

Yes I get flak from the other techs about really liking my Mac school, but there are way more pros than cons. One is Apple Remote Desktop (ARD). Techs provided their basic software tools so, I am unable to find anything for the Windows machines that can touch ARD. Able to monitor all my computers on one screen, see the screens of a lab’s full of computers, push out software and the list goes on. Only reason I don’t use ARD to manage the Windows machines, is that would require a VNC client which isn’t permitted. (Road Block #1)

For Windows most of the techs buy Damewares by Solarwinds. And the district provides Ghost and we are instructed on using Active Directory and GPO’s (Apple has Open Directory and Work Group Manager {WGM}). These tools work, and allow us to manage fairly large networks, but not with the grace of ARD.

That all being said, over the last few months. We’ve been forced to start upgrading all our Leopard (10.5) Intel iMacs to Snow Leopard (10.6), mostly because of lack of plug-in support.

The District has taken to purchasing pretty much all the software a school needs, most of it being web based. And since most of the school are using Windows we get to play MAKE IT WORK OR GET RID OF THE MACS. Ha. One we don’t have the budget or the electrical to support Windows Machines.

Long and short, to get Java working on a Mac again (10.6) upgrade/install the following while logged in as an Administrator:
Adobe Authorware 7 Complete
Java For Mac OSX 10.6
Rosetta
Safari 5.1.7
Shockwave Installer Full

After you install all these go to Applications >> Safari and do a Control+i
Enable 32 Bit mode
Enable Rosetta

While still logged in as an Administrator do plugin tests, we have a page we goto and just go down the list, you can find them on Google. Make sure to upgrade Acrobat Reader and Accept the license agreement.

All this can be done remotely using ARD.

Death of a Weather Station

One of our projects last year was a weather station, it was built in Miami and transported to Tennessee and installed.

The weather station worked stand alone, away from all buildings using solar panels. It transmitted all information to the servers using 60 mW XBees. The information was then put on the web. The system worked great until a freak wind storm blew through and knocked it over. Luckily we were scheduled to return to the site within two weeks.

At first we thought the station was vandalized,  none of our remote cameras had a great view of the station, all we could tell was it was down. None of our cameras recorded anyone near the station during daylight hours (and when the sun goes down, it is DARK. And had someone approached the station at night with flashlights we would have caught that as well. But nothing.)

When we arrived on-site, to our amazement all the hardware survived. The solar panels had minor cracks, but that was on their backsides. Wires had been ‘snapped’, easy to patch. And all other hardware was still weather tight and undamaged. We did have to removed the station until next season, giving us time to build a new stand/tower. (It was below freezing for our visit and I was happy we didn’t have to return the station to operation during that visit.)

So a thanks to SparkFun for selling such robust hardware. … And back to the drawing board for a better stand/tower.

WeatherStationNumber1 Before Install WeatherStationNumber1bDamage Results

Final Report:

This WAS Weather Station #1.. There was an attempt to add a remote control camera (note: glass dome), but at the last minute it was dropped. It was dropped because we could not get the programming, the added hardware and custom parts made in time. Perhaps Weather Station #2.

Other flaws were that stand was to narrow. The installed station only had the lower solar panel installed (not the dual panels as in the photo), but that exposed the Electronics Tube to direct sunlight (and heat build up). We placed a large bird house over the Electronics Tube, which helped with the heat issue.

Recommendations: Lower electronics tube, widen the over stance of stand. Full concrete footing would be nice, if possible, otherwise wide heavy sleds.

We did have ropes tied to blocks the keep the stand upright, which seem to work. However the ropes rotted. – More pre-install tests.

Mac Mini Snow Leopard Died

Last weekend I noticed the Snow Leopard server’s cameras weren’t working. On digging (and restarting) I noticed the boot drive had failed. Ran permissions and disk repair, after a few errors and fixes, it passed all the tests. Sigh of relief!

Then on Tuesday, same thing. Only this time the drive would not respond to any commands or disk utility tools.

Ordered two new 750 gb hard drives from MacSales.com, installed. Spent hours trying to recover and back up the bad drive. – Started a format, cancelled, then once again tried disk utilities, it help. – Target mode the old drive, carbon copied the old drive on to the new drive. – Booted on a USB Snow Leopard installer, ran disk utilities and rebooted.

It worked!

Only issue I had was Open Directory didn’t work, so demoted server to standalone, then back to master, then did a restore from backup. It worked

DeployStudio reimaging

Trying to upgrade student stations from 10.5.8 to 10.6.8 using DeployStudio. Holding down the ‘n’ key is hit and miss, out of 8 computers 3 wouldn’t see server. Unblinded, deleted files in the directory folder in preferences. Remove computer from AD and OD. Still nothing.

After a little head scratching, I moved the computer to DHCP. Bing! Everything now works as expected.