fixing the Dell Precision M65

Last Wednesday my (almost) four year old laptop (Dell Precision M65) broke.

I was in the middle of typing an email when the scree just turned black, and it wouldn’t react to anything. I figured it had crashed and just powered it off, and then on again. But it didn’t come back on. The Power and WiFi light came up, and the NumLock light as well, but that was it. No fan (although it rarely comes on right at boot), and more worrying: no hard disk spin-up.

I got worried and turned it off again. Unplugged AC power, took out the battery and hard drives, and tried again. Nothing. Read more »

thoughts a month after switching to a Mac

A month or so ago I switched to a Mac at work. The four year old Dell Precision got replaced with a beautiful 21 inch iMac. I still have the Dell 24 inch screen connected as secondary display, as I will discuss below.

I have found a few things have improved with switching to a Mac, but I also found that there are some niggling issues that sometimes make me want to get my PC back.

Let’s talk about some of the annoyances first. They’re all things I will eventually get used to, and they probably just stand out because I have been using Windows 7 for such a long time at home.
I have the impression that MacOS isn’t really made for multiple screens (although I think that Macs were first in supporting multiple monitors). The Menu bar and dock always have to be on the same, primary screen. This means that If I have a program open on the secondary screen, I am required to travel all the way over to the other screen and use the menu bar, and then travel back to the app. I reckon my mouse clocks twice as much distance as it did in Windows, because there every window has it’s own menu bar (no RSI yet…).
I also miss being able to quickly resize windows to preset spots using Winsplit Revolution (on XP) or the built in function in Win7. Is there something like this in MacOS that I haven’t discovered yet? And I miss UltraMon. I really like Expose though, who ever wanted to switch tasks another way?

Another small complaint is Entourage. Actually, this is my main complaint. My workplace is an Exchange user and so I pretty much have to use Entourage to get the most out of it. Unfortunately, it seems to be a lot slower to me. It feels a bit like using Outlook 97, to be honest. Emails only get downloaded every few minutes, and while it downloads my mail everything else in Entourage gets less responsive. The entire Entourage UI, while very similar to Outlook, somehow feels less efficient, requiring more clicks and getting less stuff on the same amount of screen.

I also can’t save Office documents directly to hidden network shares. I have to save them locally and copy them using finder.

There are great things that make me happy about having switched to a Mac, though:
I really like Expose. this is such a quick way to switch tasks that I can’t believe I ever survived in XP. I also very much like VMWare Fusion. It’s such a nice, snappy VM, and the whole Unity thing is just neat. It was annoying though that the vital hardware is not the same as in VMWare Server. The XP VM had a major fit when I moved it over and I had to reactivate it (via telephone, because XP activation didn’t like the authenticated http proxy).
The screen on the iMac is just brilliant. I can see why people pay thousands of dollars for Apple Cinema displays. If I was a designer I would probably appreciate it even more.

I have not needed to restart the iMac once since I got it on my desk with the standard image provided by our IT team. Neat. (Actually, I restarted once: we had a power outage last week)
Important for me, some of the really trivial things are faster on the Mac: opening files, waking up, connecting to disconnected network drives. This may seem trivial, but it does make a difference. If only the finder had wider columns. I can’t read any of my file names.

Conclusion:
the iMac is a great improvement over the XP PC I had before. No surprise there. But I don’t think it’s better than my PC with Windows 7 at home. Both the iMac and the PC are about the same in price, totalling at just under AU$ 2000 each, so I think I should have gone for a PC to fit in with the corporate systems, and with a Mac to have fun.

PS: I don’t want this to be a Mac-vs-PC post. I realise that that’s how it reads, but I think that both are just fine for me to do what I need to do.
I grew up using Windows 3.1 onwards and probably conditioned that way. But I just need to learn some of the tricks and I’ll reach my goal: where the platform really doesn’t matter.

The Mont 24 hour cross country race

Last weekend I participated in the Mont 24 at Sparrow Hill (ACT). It was the first time for me and also for thee others in our team of six. We were all very excited and scared but it worked out really well. Read more »

XNA

It’s time to write something about my studies again. I’ve been straying into the Game Programming area using XNA Game Studio.

Read more »

The Start of Semester Wizard

This is what we need: a web form wizard, that walks the lecturer through the important steps they need to take at the beginning of any teaching period.

At the moment, each semester a lecturer has to do the following things (among others)to ‘get ready’:

  1. book rooms (ahead of the start of semester)
  2. set up lecture recording for the timetabled lectures
  3. set up a Moodle site
  4. link the recordings to the Moodle site
  5. get tutorial groups from the tutorial selection system into groups in Moodle (at around week 2, usually)
  • I don’t know about the details of room booking, except tha peoplstart with this way ahead of time based on expectations and then later adapt based on enrolments.
  • Lecture recordings are currently requested from AV services though email or paper forms.
  • We have a Moodle site creation form, using which the lecturer can create the site, link it to the offer in the student management system, and have the students imported automagically.
  • At the moment it is difficult to create groups in Moodle based on students’ selections in the tutorial selection system, but we’re working on something make this possible.

With our new lecture recording system there is the opportunity to re-think step 2 above, and I’m thinking that this coudl be done similar to the form we use in step 3.Or, to take this further, why not combine the two, and make it possible to link in further steps such as step 4 and 5. That way, a lecturer woudl only have to start the process, step through the steps and finish with having everything set up. The lecturer woudl know what has been set up, and there would  much less manual work involved, especially for AV.

I would like to call this the “Start of Semester Wizard” (tm, r, c, etc):

It woudl ask which unit the lecturer is teaching, and then ask which offering of the unit. On the basis of that the Moodle site would be created and students would be linked in. Then the wizard would retrieve the timetables lectures, tutes and workshops and set up the recordings, with options for modifications, for instance skipping certain days. THe wizard woudl know about the mOodle site, so it could set up the integration between the lecture recording system and Moodle right away. THen the wizard coudl query the tutorial allocation system and pick up students for groups.

Future steps and integrations coudl be added…

Posted in part by Wordmobi

Moodle integration with Live@Edu

I wrote a post over at the University of Canberra Teaching and Learning Centre blog about our Moodle integration with Live@Edu.

You can read that post at http://tlcucan.blogspot.com/2010/03/moodle-integration-with-live-at-edu.html

nature loves plastic cups

It’s a fact and Neverfail knows: plastic cups are just as nature intended.
23112009633-001.jpg

Posted by Wordmobi

1967 Corvette body for HPI Pro4

Yesterday I painted a new boy for the HPI Pro4: It’s a 1967 Corvette Stingray, and it’s light blue. Read more »

MoodlePosium Presentation: myMoodle changes (MDL-19430)

Last Monday and Tuesday I attended the MoodlePosium at the University of Canberra. The event was organised jointly by University of Canberra, the Australian National University and the Canberra Institute of Technology, with support from Moodle Partner Netspot.

On Tuesday I gave a short 10 minute presentation on MDL-19430, on what I have unfortunately called “user-determined order and number of courses on myMoodle“. Unfortunately, because with a mouthful of a title like that, it was difficult for delegates to take notes. Aside from the title however, it seemed to me that the functionality added to myMoodle through MDL-19430 was well received. As such I am hoping that I will be able to justify spending more time on it, to improve on it and hopefully make it work in Moodle 2.0.

MDL-19430, the hack that allows users to set the order courses are displayed in on their myMoodle page, and which also allows users to decide how many of their courses are displayed on myMoodle when it loads, currently is a ‘local’ hack that overrides built-in behaviour. Unfortunately it isn’t a module that you can just plunk into your installation of Moodle: First, you’ll need to install MDL-17446 (LOCAL: my moodle centre column override), which will allow you to create a separate file for custom code. (There are more LOCAL handlers in the tracker to override other functionality)

MDL-19430 (user-determined order and number of courses on myMoodle) then just provides this custom functionality. So it almost works like a module once the LOCAL hack is installed.

Once installed, users can ‘Turn Editing On’ on their myMoodle page, and use up and down arrows next to their courses to change the order (on the todo list: drag and drop). This order is saved in a custom profile field, so it will be remembered between sessions.
Users can also use a drop-down list to decide how many of their courses should be visible in ‘Normal Mode’. This means that they could decide to only show their current four classes, or show the ones they are most interested in first.

In the run-up to the MoodlePosium I created a short movie showing how it works here: http://www.minhtam.info/a/screens/MDL-19430_%2820090904%29.swf
My talk from the MoodlePosium should also come online soon.

Please let me kow what you think, either here or in the tracker, or in the moodle.org forum discussion. We have now been using this on the production server for a week. Students will have their second week of break this week, and we’ll see what they say when all 15k or so of them are back.

Survived the MoodlePosium

MoodlePosium foldup toy

MoodlePosium foldup toy

While I probably wasn’t as essential to the organising of the MoodlePosium as the other members of the committee, which was made up of members from the Australian National University, the Canberra Institute of Technology and the University of Canberra (Alan Arnold, Helen Carter, Sue Demoor, Liz Gestier, Marina Lobastov, Annabel McCabe, Penny Neuendorf, Jaymie Parker, Caitlin Reid, Margaret Robson, Kerry Trabinger, Steve Watt, Louisa ‘Buzz’ Wright), I still am quite relieved that it’s over. In the end time passed so quickly and so much needed to be done. I am happy that nothing went majorly wrong.

I had a great two days wth lots of other moodlers, talking with others about how they used certain tools, what they were concerned about and what they were looking forward to in Moodle 2.0. I met the Moodle Possum, I got to catch up with some of the people I had met at the Moodle Moot in Brisbane last year, and spent an evening having fun with Netspot (among others).

While I unfortunately wasn’t able to listen to all of Denise Kirkpatrick’s opening keynote live as I was running around campus looking for lost delegates, I did enjoy hearing what the Open University UK was up to with Moodle.
Martin Dougiamas’ keynote was excellent as always, and he gave us a little more insight into plans for Moodle 2.0 in the afternoon, and how the upgrade process would work. I am very excited to play with the beta once it’s announced in December or January.
Julian Ridden’s keynote on Tuesday morning was inspiring, and as a result I have a list of things we should at least look at to implement in our instance of Moodle.

My own (hardly-worth-being-called-a) presentation about my myMoodle customisation went fairly well, I believe. The title of the short presentation was a mouthful: “User-determined order and number of courses on myMoodle“, which is the same title as the tracker item I created for my little hack. A shorter title here would have also helped the people who wanted to know where they could download it from. (more on this later)
As usual I forgot the dot points I had prepared and as such ended up forgetting to tell people that our instance of Moodle actually celebrated its first birthday on Monday. We changed the banner for the occasion, so hopefully somebody noticed. I also forgot to thank Ashley Holman from Netspot, who has helped me get the code right (read: maintainable).

I had great time at the moodleposium and hope that I will be able to attend the next Moot. People have also been talking about another ‘posium next year, again with a focus on Higher Education.

While we’re waiting for the next Moodle meeting of some sort to come along, you can look at the pictures from the MoodlePosium, the programme and another interesting writeup of the posium and some background information.