April 2007 Archives

April 30, 2007

Web Analysis: Looking at International Query Results

As most, if not all, of you probably know, I am an analysis at heart. I can sit and review material for hours, looking for patterns and trends that make sense to me. Today I checked the query statistics from Google's Webmaster Tools, to see how queries getting to my site pan out, based on location. Lately I seem to be getting a lot of international interest in my website (Welcome!), and I was curious as to why the international attention. I have such a wide variety of topics I cover, and would be interested in the results based on the Google international searches.

I'm posting this information, not to provide a scope of what my blog has covered, but to give you an idea of how analysis can help you with your Search Engine Optimization goals. Even with this little information, you can see where the International community has been looking, and succeeding in locating my blog. The same techniques can be used for your own websites, provided you know your Query statistics.

**please note that these are for Google search results only, which contributes to 68% of my total traffic.**

Google Belgium Results
Looking at the Google Belgium results, it appears the main interest is Macintosh related. Specifically, they were looking for information on NetBoot imaging for Mac Minis for a diskless deployment. It's a very interesting subject, one that I hope will soon be answered by this blog. I want to try a "diskless" NetBoot image setup for our lab for a generic Mac utility. This can be accomplished by having a NetBoot server and a Home Folder server on different machines. Yay! A topic to look forward to!

Google Canada Results
Our friends in the Great White North have a different focus. Sure, they seem to be interested in the release of Mac OS X v.10.5 (Leopard), but that isn't the primary search term. It seems that they are more interested in Hydroponics, and my Cob Greenhouse project.

This doesn't surprise me completely, as Vancouver is one of the central locations for Cob construction within the North American continent, along with Washington State. I hope there is something here that relates to your project. I'll be working on my foundation this weekend (if all goes well), and will probably post some pictures. In fact, my cob brick is doing wonderfully, having survived two drops to a cement floor with only minor cracking. ^_^

Google France Results
Google France brought up a primary search for training information. It seems my posts on the ADDIE system was helpful, or at least of interest. If you have any more questions, I will be providing periodic postings on ADDIE, but also feel free to check out Laura's Blog, to which I currently link. She just finished her Master's degree, and is beginning her PhD in Educational Psychology here at the U. She will have plenty of information for you. ^_^

Google India Results
India didn't surprise me at all. The few hits I received were specifically on mail servers. With India's reputation for technology professionals, I would expect nothing less. Unfortunately, that's one topic I will probably not cover. I'm not particularly interested in going the rounds with Mail servers for a while, but should I ever do so it will be a result of an Open Directory implementation in my home office. This means probably about 2 years out, or so.

Google Italy Results
Ahh, Italy. Beautiful country that captured my imagination through Roman history. It seems that Italian interests have focused primarily on getting an integrated contact/calendar system working on Mac OS X Tiger. Well, I hope to have more information on that subject, as I am running into the same problems.

Hopefully the review of Calgoo (which I am still using) has helped. It looks like it is working out well for the moment. Once they have integrated additional updating tools to various other Calendar servers (provided you have the rights, of course), and allows for direct integration of the new iCal server (or Darwin's Calendar Server), and perhaps integrates with Wiki tools and a shared Address Book server, then I think they have a decent Entourage Killer on their hands. ^_^

Google Mauritius results
I have to be honest, I had to look up Mauritius to find out where it is, which is off the East coast of Madagascar. What interested them about my blog was the comparison of Linux certifications that are out there, or more specifically CompTIA's Linux+ to the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) certifications. I hope that their answers were reached, as the LPI is more comprehensive, and preparation for the LPI almost gives you the Linux+ certification right off the bat.

Google Mexico Results
I have to admit, I'm rather confused with their search terms, as it was quoted as being "back on the train again". It looks like it was related to a post I made in December, so what ever it was, hopefully there was something that was useful. Most of my posts at that time were related to training, so perhaps that was it.

Google South Africa Results
My website has drawn a lot of interest in South Africa because of the Cob posts. It seems that using Cob has become more popular around the world, because of all the earthen building materials it seems to be more earthquake resistant. This is because of it's monolithic structure, and the use of straw or other fibrous plant material as the tensile component. Like steel reinforced concrete, the plant material holds the cob together.

Google Sri Lanka Results
Sri Lanka seems to have liked my ADDIE course design steps. I have to admit, I still think that it was one of the best series that I have posted on my blog. The ADDIE method is quite universal though, and I am currently using it to write a work of fiction. I quite enjoy the organized approach that allows me to tackle most any problem with a logical process. That, and a lot of time is spent in analysis. ^_^

Google UK Results
These results seem to have surprised me the most. I have posted quite a review on British Comedies that I enjoy, and I had thought that the posting would have provided some interest across the Pond. But it seems they were more interested on my postings regarding the Macintosh, farming, and gardening. Well, the English are famous for their gardens, so perhaps I shouldn't have been too surprised.

Well, that is pretty much how I viewed my Google results. Overall, the three main topics that I have been focusing on have been the most popular. Perhaps I should begin posting more about course development, as I have neglected that section for a while. Also look for a new post soon on NetBoot imaging, as I have been working extensively on that project for quite some time. ^_^

April 25, 2007

Building with Cob: Update

I promised a week ago that I would provide an update on my garden project, and my greenhouse that will be built with cob walls. Well, a lot has happened since then (like getting my Apple TV), but I want you to know that the project is still on.

Cob Status
The status of the cob project is pretty much the same as I had left it, with one exception: I made an adobe brick! I took some of the straw from last season's grass (using a quick growing and dying grass that was slowly taking over my back yard) and combined it with a shovel full of dirt. I then used some of the rain water that I had collected for the garden, and began to mix.

The dirt in my part of West Valley is very saturated with clay. Most of it came from the original excavation of the basement and foundation of the home. But mostly, the land in that ancient lake bed is primarily clay. For those of you not familiar with the land in the Western Mountain States, we do not have a lot of top soil. Perhaps a couple inches, or less. In the case of my house, all the top soil came from the sod placed on top of the clay. As such the roots didn't get very deep, and come the drout, it killed off the majority of the lawn when watering became less frequent.

I don't regret saving water, but it did leave my back yard in a very nasty state. It also makes it difficult to have any type of garden, as it requires a huge amount of compost to get anything decently sized to grow. Hence, the reason I need a greenhouse for the Hydroponics project.

The Cob Brick
The brick formed really well, and I felt very confident in it's construction. But then I found out that the earth I used had too high a clay content. How did I know? Because it started to crack as it dried overnight. Cracking is a good sign of high clay content, and not enough sand. Well, the cracks were not extremely large, and the mixture was a bit moist, so I think I can say that it was an overall success. Particularly since I dropped the brick from about 3 feet onto a concrete surface, and it survived quite well!

So, I think I can call the cob project a success. This means that I can use the dirt in my own back yard to build my cob walls without adding anything to the mixture. I can deal with cracking (just by making a drier mixture, and fill in the cracks with more cob as they develop). It's not perfect, but it will do for the small greenhouse that I intend to build.

The Foundation Status
For those of you who have bothered to follow this project (and I commend those that do), I have previously laid down the foundation of the greenhouse in order to be sure I had enough brick to do the job. Since then, I have waited for enough personal funding to purchase some aggregate to lay under the foundation for proper drainage. Well, funds have been wanting, partly because of the unforeseen purchase of a new SDTV for the Apple TV project. But all is not lost! I just need enough aggregate to provide sufficient drainage.

In the mean time, I will be excavating a flat surface in the back, and using the excavated earth as part of the cob walls. This will mean a lot of excavation, as currently there is a drainage slope to the house (from decades of settling in the region). So the good news is that the grade will now move away from the house, saving potential flooding problems in the long run.

So, that is my current Cob status. As soon as I make more significant progress, I will make additional postings on the project. So the status is pretty much out of the R&D stage, and is now into the Prototype stage. ^_^

April 23, 2007

Apple TV: The Review

This weekend my tax return came in, and because of an extreme want by both my wife and I, we purchased an Apple TV. The purchase is something that I have been looking forward to, and it is the first version. That means that should Apple decide to lock down the Apple TV, I will still be able to hack this one in future (which I fully intend to do ^_^).

Now, before I start the review, I want you to understand the direction I am coming from. I needed a device that was simple to operate (for my wife's sake), easy navigation through the content, and allow me to provide all my DVD content without having to use DVD's. Why? Because my son, being a 2 year old, has become very adept at getting fingerprints on the DVD's, and has already broken two. So, I need a media solution that allows me to lock up the original media from his little fingers, and be convenient to access.

The Purchase
I purchased the Apple TV from the University Bookstore, and it was literally the last one they had in stock. When I pulled it out, I was excited. It didn't have any cables, but it did have the remote and various other documents for review.

Reality Struck...Hard
I eventually got to take it home (after waiting several hours after purchasing it), and realized that I made a huge mistake. In my excitement, I didn't realize that all this time it said component video instead of composite. Until now, as a matter of fact, I didn't know there was anything like component video. As I have had very little need for anything more than a DVD player that I purchased almost 8 years ago, I didn't worry about additional hookup items.

So, here I was with a content player, and no way to hook it up, as my TV only has composite and not component video inputs. So, I started looking around for some cables that make the conversion. You would think it would be simple, but it's not.

The closest I got to was using a component video to S-video converter, that will convert to 7-pin s-video. Then, I found an obscure 7-pin to component, composite RCA and 4-pin s-video converter. But it would take at least 2 weeks to get the cables, and the expense was pretty high. I also didn't know how much of a loss I would get with the setup, so I was a little reluctant.

By this time my wife realized what I had been trying to convince her of: It would be easier and almost as expensive to just by a new TV. So, we headed down to Sears and bought a nice SDTV 27" Sharp with component video inputs for $164.00 (originally marked $269.99). The price was reasonable, and I could get the Apple TV working, finally.

The Setup
Once I got the Apple TV hooked up and plugged in, the display was terrible, and didn't show anything. It was because the Apple TV resolution was set too high for the TV by default. I panicked for a second, but then I read the manual under "troubleshooting". It turns out that if you have a standard definition TV, you need to reset the display to handle the 480i resolution. And you do that by holding down the Menu button and the + button for at least 6 seconds. Then you start to navigate through the resolution menu.

Finally, as I got to 480i, the display was beautiful. I started by trying to sync the material, but it takes a long time (more on syncing later). So I played with streaming material.

Streaming Video
I don't have the new Airport Extreme, so my wireless network is just 802.11g. Even with the slower network, the streaming was brilliant. It didn't take very long to recognize the video, cache the video, or start playing the video. The video was also really clear and crisp, even with TV episodes that I ripped originally for the iPod (320x240).

There are times when the video gets a little grainy, but at the moment I can live with it. It just means re-ripping the library, but that can wait when I have enough storage space (i.e., airport extreme and 500+ GB external hard drive attached). For now, I'm just collecting the video I will most likely see a lot, and using it.

Syncing Content
The whole point of syncing content, it seems, is not to provide additional storage space for your files, but to provide video when the computer is turned off. This being the case, you always have duplicate video stored on the Apple TV and on your computer. That's kind of a pain, as I would prefer to store different video in each location, and stream the video I don't have on the Apple TV.

You can change the synced computer, but that wipes the Apple TV completely, rendering it nice and clean for the next sync. When you turn syncing off, it wipes it completely anyway. Big problem for anyone wanting to add a lot of content without having to store it all on their laptop.

Syncing also goes on in the back ground, whenever the computer is on, and the Apple TV is sitting idle (or you are playing with the menus). Once you start watching video or streaming video, the syncing stops and restarts from the beginning once the Apple TV is idle again. So if you are going to sync your content, you would want to leave your computer on all night and have it run then.

The Good News
So, with all these problems, you may ask why I didn't go for another media player that exists out there for less money. The answer all comes down to the hacks. It's possible to install a full version of Mac OS X on the Apple TV, and then turn it into a DVR. As far as I know, you can't do the same with other media solutions out there (if I am wrong, please let me know). I also have ripped all my content through Handbrake, which places it in a nigh quality media format for Quicktime. So, I need an Apple solution to play it.

But, as the hacks allow for multiple media support, playing directly from the hard drive, and DVR support, I'm looking at a beautiful relationship with this little box that is no bigger than a hot pad, and no taller than two DVD cases stacked. Footprint is everything, and will be even more so as I move to an LCD projector for my content.

April 20, 2007

Calendar, Email, Tasks, and Projects 2: A New App

On Tuesday I posted a rant regarding the problems inherent in the collaborative calendaring world. I mentioned the frustration I have with having to use several different calendaring programs in order to provide appointment data to multiple locations, as well as my wife. All of it stems from the inability to share my Outlook calendar without having to give my wife access to my Exchange account. Well, two things have come up that have since changed my mind regarding this problem.

Using Calgoo
After posting my rant, I got a comment from someone at www.calgoo.com, telling me about their product. They said that you can integrate Outlook, iCalendars, and Google Calendar all into one location. Well, It sounded great, and as it was written in Java, I thought I would give it a try.

I started out by reading as much as I could about the program. The blurbs were encouraging, but there wasn't a lot in the Fax about configuring the program. Well, I figured that it would be really easy, so I signed up.

Once registered and confirmed, I was able to download the application for free. The program, as far as I can see, is not open source, but not having to pay money for it sits well with my pocket book, so I went for it.

The first thing I will note is that the application is in Beta, so all the functionality that they are working on is not yet available. But what they do have is the ability to edit your Google calendar from your desktop! Yes, that alone makes this application really worth it. You can also link to other shared iCalendars very easily.

Well, as it has an Outlook option, I thought I would give it a try. I started by trying to add an Outlook calendar, but the option wasn't there. That became a bit of a problem, as I was hoping to get access to it somehow on my Mac without using Entourage. Well, I decided to test it on my Windows XP install through Parallels, and sure enough it gave me the option to import my Outlook calendar from Windows. Why? Because it doesn't make an Exchange connection to the server, just pulls the calendar information from the computer's hard drive. That was a bugger.

So now I have additional functionality by editing the Google Calendar on my Mac Desktop (or Windows, for that matter), but I can't do anything with Outlook natively. My hopes were dashed again. But only temporarily...

The Outlook Solution
While I had my Windows Install up and running, I thought I would poke around with Outlook 2007. While in the Calendar window, I noticed a new feature. In 2003 you can open shared calendars and share your calendar, but now with Outlook 2007 and Microsoft Office Online you can publish your calendar to the web. That means anyone using a calendar program (like iCal or Calgoo) that reads iCalendar files can pull in the calendar from Outlook. The only drawback is that the calendar needs to be updated from your Outlook 2007 client instead of the Exchange server.


So now, instead of having to find a client that would access Exchange, I found a way to publish that exchange information to the Web, so that I don't need to use my Windows XP Parallels install more than once a day. ^_^ Needless to say, this made me very happy.

So now, I can view my Exchange information in iCal or Calgoo. Which will I probably keep using? Most likely Calgoo, because I can edit my Google calendar right from my desktop. The only problem that I have with it now is with notifications from non-Google calendars. The Reminder pop-up will not go away after I have clicked "dismiss". But as I said, it's still in Beta. Hopefully they will have the feature fixed here soon.

April 19, 2007

Designing a Castle

I’m going to step back a minute from the usual conversation in my blog, and talk about something that I have been fascinated with since childhood: castles. I have been a castle freak all my life, and continue to dream of a day when I can build my own castle. Why a castle? Because I want something that will remain long after my death within the family, and give the family something with which they can identify. A castle is more than just a defense, it’s a symbol of dedication to the safety of all those around it. Perhaps I’m being overly romantic about the whole concept, but that’s how I see a castle.

For years I have designed various castles and grounds based on media stimuli on the subject. At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted a manor, or perhaps a keep that would look good. Finally, I came across a couple of castles on my mission in Germany that captured my heart:

Schloss Braunfels, near Wetzlar is perhaps one of the most beautiful castles that I can think of, it’s at least the most beautiful I have ever visited. Still owned by the original Baron, regular tours are part of the income that they bring in. The castle is perhaps the size of the Salt Lake Tabernacle, and has beautiful wooden paneling and floors. This immediately cleared the common misconception that I had, namely that all castles were completely made of stone. The name literally means Brown Hills.

Trifels is another that really interested me, in that it was ruined, and is currently under reconstruction. The layout was fascinating as well, and was completely stone. This is because laying wood would have been too expensive at that part of the project. The layout was perhaps the size of the University of Utah’s Annex Building. Most of the castle was ruined, but the layout inspired me to draw up a castle plan.

It was after visiting this castle that I learned about the preservation programs for castles in general. It seems that Nazi Germany had implemented a program to preserve the cultural history and identify of Germany, and that included the many ruined castles all over the country. It’s so rare to hear anything positive coming from that era that it took a while for me to absorb the information.

Koenigstein im Taunus is perhaps the most beautiful ruin I have ever seen. The castle was a huge part of the Franco Prussian wars, and exchanged hands constantly. In fact, the destruction of the castle was a result of the French retreat to the Rhineland.

It was from locals there that I learned the final demise of the castle came from people tearing it apart for masonry. Well, when it was no longer needed, why not use it to build your own home?

Koenigstein is just north of Frankfurt am Main, and has it’s own train that travels up that way. Also in that area is castle Faulkstein (about the size of a 2000 sq. ft. house), and Eppstein (roughly the same size, but taller). Both housed the ruling parties that controlled Koenigstein im Taunus. If you are ever in that area, I highly recommend the visit!

Well, those were the castles that I found in Germany, with a couple others that I can’t quite recall. They gave me a vision of life during the fractured existence of Germany before their unification. Also, if you are in Germany, I highly recommend a train ride from Frankfurt am Main to Koblenz. I counted at least 7 castles along the Rhine. ^_^

But I had mentioned that castles are a product of family affiliation. While these castles are beautiful, and I have some ancestry from Germany, they don’t represent my family in any way. So I started looking across the Channel and up to the North Sea for more affiliated structures.

Well, It turns out that Scotland has several beautiful castles and ruins, dating from before the Roman Invasion to the 18th Century. As I extensively searched the web for any connection to my family, I found a couple castles that really interested me because of their simplicity in their layout.

Calgary Castle on the Isle of Mull, really interested me. Here was a castle that was fairly small, simple, and had a floor plan! Yes, I could see just how the castle looked on the outside, as well as on the inside. It was beautiful, and it was Scottish. Both were really good reasons to like it, but there was still something missing.

As it turns out, there isn’t a “Robb Castle” anywhere in Scotland. It seems that my family didn’t have a castle to call their own. That was because they were a sept of the MacFarlane clan, a strong highland clan affiliated with the Earl of Lennox. And it just so happens that the MacFarlane clan had, before they opposition to Oliver Cromwell, a castle. The castle is on a small island by Inveruglas, along Loch Lomond. I would post a link to the PDF of the article “By Yon Bonnie Banks: An Archeological Search for the Clan MacFarlane”, but the link has disappeared of late. Good thing I kept a copy of the PDF!

Anyway, it outlined a small castle, probably a tower house as it most likely had 3 stories, and two added round towers. This was the only floor plan I could find of the old ruined castle that was burned by Oliver Cromwell during the war in the 1640’s. But from the estimated size, I was able to design my own version of the castle. The castle itself is perhaps only about 2600 square feet, not very big at all. Many homes now are being built in a larger scale at 3000 sq. ft. But considering it took up a third of the island it was on, it makes sense why it was so small.

Anyway, I figured rebuilding this castle would be the best possible castle I could build. It was affiliated with my family (if only indirectly), and it’s small enough to be somewhat affordable, depending on my construction methods. I’ll have to post a picture when I get a chance.

If you are looking for more information on building castles, I found a castle builder that works out of Idaho at Castlemagic.com. They build castles in the more or less traditional style, but use insulation and steel-reinforced concrete as their filler for the stone. The castles they have designed look pretty cool, but the castle they have built (and consequently for sale) is beautiful. They also give you an idea of other period structures that can be constructed, and the cost of construction.

April 17, 2007

Calendar, Email, Tasks, and Projects: The Exchange Dilemma

This week I will be teaching a class on Microsoft Outlook, and get into the features that I love so much about the program and the Exchange backend: One-stop shop. Yes, as much as I dislike the proprietary nature of Exchange, it’s nice having one application integrate everything together seamlessly. There is a reason why Outlook and Exchange is central to office life: It’s simple and easy to integrate together.

But then the harsh reality of the situation rears its ugly head: It only works for Outlook, and to a small degree Entourage. There isn’t a way to make it universal, providing contact information across platforms, devices, and distances. I am tied to the Microsoft products that currently exist out there. And while I have access to those products, I would much rather be free of any Microsoft options, if possible.

So, here are the options I have considered, and their pros and cons. These options are based on four factors:

1. Integration within the Office environment: Either it has to work with Exchange, or the server solution needs to have a free plugin for Outlook.
2. Minimal Software Install: I want to be able to install this puppy without taking too much space on my client machine. After all, I need to have space for my iTunes. ^_^
3. Simple Configuration: As I have said earlier, I don’t mind having to compile my own software, but I am basically lazy. If it doesn’t compile after an hour’s worth of trying, or if there are too many dependencies, then I’m going to move on to something else.
4. Easy Selective Access: I want my wife to be able to access some information without having to set any special settings, or access any sensitive information.

Let’s start with the Exchange Server solutions that are non-Microsoft:

Mail
Yes, that’s right, our old buddy Mail has an Exchange option. Or, more accurately, it’s a modified version of IMAP. Regardless, it still works fairly easily, with one glaring caveat: It only works for Mail. Calendar systems, Tasks, Project information, that’s all very difficult to utilize. Calendar events do show up in their own folder, but you need to try and import them, and to date I haven’t been successful in importing them into iCal.

Evolution
A quick fix for that problem is to utilize Novell’s Evolution (formerly Ximian’s Evolution), which has an Exchange feature built into it. But it’s not supported for the Mac port, and has some bugs. For information on how to get it set up, you would probably want to check out the #26 comment on this bug list. It’s not pretty getting it to install, but it didn’t take me longer than 20 minutes or so to get it set up.

So now I have a solution on the client side, but I’m the type that likes a web-based system that allows my wife to access my schedule without her actually having to log in as myself. You can’t do this with Exchange without giving her access to her own exchange account (which she doesn’t have, not having been a student of the U before), and without her having access to my account.

Google Calendar
Well, one option would be to use Google Calendar, which I am doing currently. It means that I spend all my time transferring my appointments from Exchange to Google Calendar, and then import the calendar information to iCal. This works well for my Calendar options in the short term, but it’s a lot of time transferring updates back and forth. In fact, it’s just too much time for me. I want something a little more streamlined. In order for that to happen currently, though, would require a plugin for Google Calendar to accept client updates, or updates from an Exchange Server.

Install Evolution on all Clients
Another option would be to install Evolution on all my clients. This is fine, but it doesn’t allow for a quick web check of my schedule. Granted, I can just use the Outlook Web Access option to access my schedules, but I can’t share that with my wife. Google Calendar allows me to share without violating any security procedures. I could just have her import all my Exchange information, but I would rather not. She doesn’t need to read my work email (not that she would want to anyway), just access my schedule to know when I am working late.

Use Apple’s Mac OS X Team Server
There still isn’t a lot of information about the new Team Server that will be available with Mac OS X v.10.5, but from what I can see it could be a viable solution. Here you have a central email and Calendar system, tied into a Wiki system. The rumor is that the Calendar system will be available to Outlook without any special software (not exactly sure how yet, but I am still checking it out), and it can be updated from the latest version of iCal that comes with the 10.5 client. But this means that I need to convince the department to set up a parallel system in place for Calendaring events, scheduling classes, and setting up meetings.

The good news is that with the introduction of the Wiki portion, it looks like it’s a possibility. It solves a lot of problems that we have run into with our class scheduling and requirements for those classes. But it’s not currently available, and looks like it won’t be until October 2007. There are the open source server projects, but without the client integration it’s not as useful. There is a way around it, by using Evolution as the calendar client. I still need to test it out, and getting the server source code is almost more trouble than it’s worth.

Other Open Source Calendar Servers
Apple isn’t the only option when it comes to Calendar servers. There are a number of other options out there, whether it’s a simple option using WebDAV, or a more complex system that integrates email and other features. The problem is, it’s a lot more compiling and organizing than I want to spend on the project. The only server I have access to is the department Apple server, and it’s going to be upgraded to 10.5 when it’s available anyway. So all that configuration will be for naught. But the other options are worth mentioning, particularly if you have a Linux box sitting around. There are:

1. Sun Java System Calendar Server (free evaluation): http://www.sun.com/software/products/calendar_srvr/index.xml
2. Zimbra Collaboration Suite: http://www.zimbra.com/products/?_kk=calendar%20server&_kt=f2d0517e-b008-4176-aae2-1a6e5b5c6e8a&gclid=CMm1nNH7x4sCFQFpYAodgQEODA
3. Really Simple CalDAV Server: http://rscds.sourceforge.net/ This looks like a great tool for anyone running their own Debian server (also available in RPM’s), and knows PpostgreSQL, and PHP.

There are a number of other servers that are being developed, or ready for deployment and can be found at Freshmeat.net.

So, what’s my solution? Well, nothing has really changed. Everything relies on Exchange with the current system, and I’m stuck adding my calendar information to Google Calendar as they come in. Hopefully, one day, there will be interoperability between all these clients and servers, so that there won’t need to be just one solution. But I don’t know when that will be.

April 13, 2007

Friday Round Up: Leopard Delay, Apple TV, Building with Cob

Today I want to focus on the readers. Yes, all 3 of you. ^_^ I've been checking my hits from Google Analytics, and I've noticed an increase in page views and hits from all over the world. Most of the hits come from those searching on Google, but I have some regular hits as well. For those that keep coming back, I thank you!

There are two major subjects that represent the interest in my page: Apple, and building with cob. Well, today I'm going to cover both in my Friday Round Up.

Leopard Delay
As many of you have heard, Leopard has been delayed in its release. Much to my disappointment, and to the disappointment of others, the new operating system and server services that it offers are not going to be out on the Market until October, 2007.

How does this impact me personally? Well, I will be unable to set up a Team Server until October, which is a little disappointing, but I can handle it. It also sets back my training series offering considerably, so it looks like I will not be offering any additional classes until Summer or Fall of 2008. That is a problem, as many of my clients are looking forward to more Directory Service training, as well as future Xsan training. Ah, well, more time to read up on the Tiger services, I suppose, and get Kerberos working correctly.

Apple TV
I recently finished going through my taxes, and much to my relief, we will be getting a nice return. This means we can get an Apple TV, as well as take care of some other household maintenance (part of which will be covered in the next section). So, I finally get to start some hacks of my own (hopefully without having to remove the hard drive).

For those of you who have heard of the Apple TV, but were wondering why I would be interested in such a narrowly limited device, there are a number of reasons:

1. All my content is ripped through Handbrake, Which is an open source tool for ripping content into an MP4 format from a DVD. Why rip your content from a DVD? Because if you have a young child in your household, you realize how delicate your DVD's are, and how hard it is to keep them out of their hands.

2. It gets its content from iTunes, which is where I keep all my content anyway. It will also stream its content from up to 5 computers, be they Apple or Windows machines. Right now I'm searching for a replacement for the TV, as most shows have become to vulgar, crass, and mind-numbing for my taste. This way I can watch TV on my own terms without having to pay for On Demand material from Comcast. I am also looking for a solution for my parents, and the simplicity of this device makes it perfect for them.

3. I don't want to stop at just watching current shows. I would like to eventually provide plugins for additional formats, and even plug in a USB TV device to turn the little device into a DVR. While this is not currently native to the Apple TV platform, it is possible as outlined at Apple TV Hacks. There are several hacks here that I would be happy to try, given the opportunity.

4. It's nice because it also has audio control, therefore removing the need for a media center to control the audio. This is significant, because I have a beautiful floor stereo that once belonged to my grandfather, and it has the most magnificent sound! I had used it in the past as the audio output for my DVD's, and now I want to use it again as the audio output for everything.

5. Once I have safely installed one for content, I want to try installing various versions of OS X on it, to see if I can get a decent client system out of it, or even a decent server. A $300.00 server running my Directory Services would be nice, particularly since I don't need a lot of power to run a home Directory system running 802.11n speeds. ^_^

So, once I purchase the Apple TV, look for some updates. ^_^

Building With Cob Update
The weather is starting to dry out now, as we get closer to Summer, and with the tax return coming, I will be able to lay the foundation for the cob greenhouse, and possibly even build the entire structure within a couple weeks! That's exciting, because not only do I get to work with cob, but I also get to work on the hydroponic system that I want to build. Finally, everything is starting to come together in that area. Of course, that means I will need to make some special trips to get a citrus tree, but I can handle that. ^_^

I will be laying the foundation initially with gravel, which will also be the floor of the greenhouse (to allow for easy drainage). It will also be built up for the patio surrounding the greenhouse, which will be a perfect place for the grill and two benches. I'll see if I can't get a shot from the roof so that you can see how I am going to be placing everything. Yay! I get to show off my lack of Photoshop Skills!

So, that's the news from the week. I should have some pictures up by Monday evening, if you are interested in the cob building project, and I hope to have made some test adobe bricks to show off as well.

April 10, 2007

Seasonal Storms and Water Conservation

As I have been thinking about my hydroponics project, the greenhouse, and hydroculture projects, one thing kept coming up that I just couldn't reason away: I live in a semi-arid desert. And despite how many businesses in Utah seem to think, water conservation is very important. After all, hydroponics can't work without water, and a lot of it.

So, as I started my seedlings (I now have two artichokes sprouting ^_^), I started to think about this task. How would I be able to limit the amount of water I use, or more specifically, how can I limit the amount of clean water from the tap? After all, that's the water that costs money, and is available for general consumption.

Well, I began already by limiting the amount of lawn that I have. The lawn was dying anyway, because of a poor root system development. This isn't necessarily a problem with the type of lawn, just that the watering that it has experienced was daily watering, instead of deep watering, with at least a day in between. When I started to limit the water system with the sprinkler (and after the system broke down), the lawn started to die. So, I needed to replace the lawn.

But I started by cutting out a significant amount of lawn space, and placing down a fabric barrier and bark. I also have some desert plants growing in relatively barren areas of the yard, so watering in those areas are very limited. It's worked so far, but there is still a lot more work to go into the project.

Regardless, this doesn't fix the problem with the hydroponic system. That's going to require a lot of water, and I'm not sure I will be able to make that available without going over the limit set by the municipal water department for each household. So I started thinking about water in general, and how water was utilized before indoor plumbing.

One thing that has gone out of style for a while, but my grandparents had for quite some time, were rain barrels. Yes, they had their gutters funnel into barrels, and would then use the barrels to water their garden. It was very seasonal (particularly in Utah), but it managed to keep enough water for the garden between storms.

So, I thought I would give it a shot. Now, the first step was to find a place for the barrels. I set up two 55-gallon drums that previously held cranberry juice (available at Smith and Edwards near Ogden for $15 each), and set my rain gutter drains into the barrels. I did this on Saturday, thinking that it may be useful sometime in the next couple weeks.

Well, that night, there was a nice rain storm. From those two gutters, I got almost 100 gallons of water (one was full to overflowing, the other was almost full). This is because only half of the back side of the house drains into that gutter. So the rain collection method was a complete success, and very efficient. I now have plenty of water to last for at least a couple of weeks with regular watering.

But it also presents a problem. As anyone who lives by standing water knows, mosquitoes can breed like crazy, and pass on viruses, such as the West Nile virus. While I didn't think I would have to worry about the problem so soon, with the recent storm it has become apparent that I will need to take action.

The first step would be to add some light oil to the water. Because oil floats on the surface, and if it's significantly thick enough, it can smother any larvae trying to breathe. Then I need to build a lid that both secures the drain into the barrel, let's air out, allows for dipping or pumping for watering, but also presents a barrier for mosquitoes to get in and out. And finally, as an alternative, I can add some fish (koi or goldfish) to the barrels to eat any insects that find their way into them. It all comes down to what may be the most fun and economical.

The major plus side to this is that if the barrels need to be refilled, I can set it up to collect the rain water from the roof of the greenhouse, when it is completed. There are a lot of potential options there, now that I have found a reasonable way to manage the water situation for my garden.

If anyone else has some suggestions on how to collect water, feel free to let me know! I'd be happy to hear them.

April 6, 2007

Friday Round Up: Kerberos, Hydroponics

Because I haven't posted much of anything this week, I thought I would take today to round up all the topics I would have covered, had I posted them. ^_^ There has been a lot going on this week that I wanted to share, and so little time to post it.

Kerberos
I have to admit, I had never before really got Kerberos. I understand why someone would want a single sign on solution, and why it's necessary to have an authentication system that doesn't pass your password. But it never really made a lot of sense to me until I started working with the Mac OS X Server platform. Why then? Because OS X Server makes initializing Kerberos so relatively easy (more on that later) that utilizing it makes sense.

For those that are not familiar with Kerberos, it's an authentication method that allows for authentication through tickets, instead of username-password authentication packets. The tickets are encrypted, and are time-stamped to keep the integrity of the system.

Apparently, based on the entries I have seen in various forums, it's a beast to get running properly in any platform. But Mac OS X Server integrates it with the Open Directory Master, so as long as your DNS is working properly (and you have your server's DNS entry in your /etc/hosts file), you can have a relatively consistent Kerberos experience right out of the box. This is great for any small to medium-sized business that is looking for a single sign on solution for their server environment.

So, Kerberos is working.. Now what? What can you use it for? Well, Mac OS X Server has the following services that are kerberized (compatible with Kerberos):

Directory Services
Apple File Protocol (AFP)
Windows Services (SMB)
Virtual Private Networking (VPN)
Mail
File Transfer Protocol (FTP)
Xgrid

So, you can Kerberize your access to these features. Granted, not everyone in a mixed platform environment can utilize AFP, but most everyone can utilize Samba in one form or another, so you have your single sign on file server.

Then, you can utilize single sign on for Directory login, or network access. Because Apple's Open Directory is just LDAPv3 (OpenLDAP), directory services can be integrated into any platform. That means you can even integrate your Windows system into Open Directory for a Kerberized login.

VPN is defaulted to Layer 2 Transfer Protocol (L2TP), but if you need to, you can set it up for Point to Point Transfer Protocol (PPTP). As you can set up a Kerberized access for it anyway, both solutions can be very convenient.

Mail is the example used in the Server Essentials Kerberos video. It's easy to see why you would want a kerberized mail system set up for business email, and Mail is all set for Kerberos.

FTP didn't make that much sense to me, except for the simple text user ID and password that is used to transfer the files. As it uses your Directory account to control FTP access, it becomes your weakest link. That alone is the best reason to kerberize the service.

I don't have a lot to say about Xgrid, because I haven't ever used it and I don't have an environment that requires it. Needless to say, it looks cool, and anything that is kerberized can't be all bad. ^_^

There is a rumor that the Team server in OS X 10.5 will be kerberized, along with iChat server. If that's that case it will eliminate most of the weakest links in the services that are used within a business, making the solution that much more attractive to larger businesses.

I'm going to be playing with Kerberos and kerberized services within the next few weeks as I prepare for the Apple Certified Systems Administrator certification, so hopefully I will be able to shed more light on the service.

Hydroponics Update
I just wanted to post that my first experiment with hydroponics and starter plants seems to be working! My cucumbers just started to sprout, and I'm really excited! I figure that the pumpkins will be next, followed by the artichokes and perhaps the pansies. As soon as I get some greenery, I'll post a picture. ^_^

So, that has been my week so far. I'm working on a new server deployment for the classroom, and starting this next week I will be preparing myself for the Office 2007 offerings that we are starting this Summer. For those looking for Office 2007 training (and you will probably need it, as it's so different from previous versions), feel free to check out our offerings at http://continue.utah.edu/edtech!

April 3, 2007

Apple TV: The Potential Disked Thin Client

As is inevitible with all training classes, one starts talking about new products and their potentials. In our Server Essentials class, we started talking about potential Mac OS X Server installs that are relatively inexpensive. Most people may be aware that the Mac Mini can support a Server install, though we are unaware of whether or not recent updates will break it. It seems that this happens with Laptop installs which are not technically supported by Apple anyway.

But then the question came up about thin clients. I have been interested in thin clients since I worked for the Salt Lake Community College, and saw it as a potential cost-savings for a lab deployment. My arguments didn't go anywhere at that point, but with my recent focus on Apple and their deployment options, the idea has sprung up again. The Mac Mini had seemed like the perfect option, until recently.

Enter the Apple TV/Mac Micro
Since the Apple TV has been shipped (i.e., within 8 days), the machine has been hacked. This is because it is basically a stripped down computer with really good graphics and a 1 Ghz Intel processor. It only has 256 MB RAM that is soldered onto the motherboard, so it's not like it's going to be a killer device, but it is a lot better than the Windows machine I gave up in order to get my G4 Powerbook.

Since that shipping day, the kind people at Appletvhacks.net has managed to work out a Mac OS X 10.4.8 install for the Apple TV. Yes, that's right. They managed to install a full fledged Apple OS onto that small device that was only meant to display iTunes material on your TV. This was achieved by removing the Apple TV's hard drive, connecting it to a Mac, installing the OS, and then using a processor emulation written by semthex from Hackint0sh.org. The end result was a smaller Mac Mini with only one drive (no optical drives or media), one USB port for a keyboard and mouse (if the mouse is plugged into the keyboard), and multiple video out options.

Now, I want this understood.. I wouldn't be deathmatching on this machine, or expect any high end applications to work on it. But if you were working in a lab environment, and you needed to deploy several workstations to use Office software, email, and browse the web, then it's perfect! And that, basically, is pretty much all a thin client would need to do.

The One Mortal Drawback
Well, as I was reading these hacks, I started to wonder: What if you could boot off of a NetBoot image?! That would make the Apple TV act as a diskless client, and save a lot of hassle in getting the machine set up.

Well, unfortunately, it's not possible with the current version of Apple TV. As published by Macintouch.com in their Review of the Apple TV, the standard Network boot key combinations were not successful. So, in order to get the Apple TV to work as a thin client, you would need to open the Apple TV, remove the Hard Drive, set it up, then put it back. Bugger, just when I thought it would be the perfect solution for a low-powered, barely funded lab deployment, I got shot down.

But, the fact that it is possible, and that there are additional potentials for this type of market makes the future of the Apple TV both exciting and terrifying. What if Apple shuts down the hack by restricting access to the drive, or the inside of the device? What if they shut down any potential access to the device through hardware chips blocking any USB access, even when outside of the Apple TV interface? Hopefully they will not, and allow hackers to modify the device to suit their own needs.

April 1, 2007

Weekend Project 3: Final count and Hydroponics

This coming week I will be teaching my Mac OS 10.4 Server Essentials class, and therefore will most likely not post anything anytime soon. So, I thought I would post a quick update on my backyard project.

Currently, I have outlined the section where it will be located. I was going to even out the ground, but as we will be placing patio stones down around it, it makes more sense to wait until we start getting sand and gravel to lay the foundation on. Once that is gathered, we will have a level foundation to lay the patio and the greenhouse.

That being said, I found enough brick and other material for the foundation, so I don't need to purchase any additional material. Yay! This means that the project will be running as soon as I can get the fine gravel to level out. Then I just need to get some straw, and start building the cob!

The cob portion will only comprise one full wall, and then about 2 to 3 feet for the rest of the wall. The rest of the wall will be framed in with 2 by 4 boards and covered over with either heavy plastic, or corrigated plastic sheets. Either way, it should take roughly 2 to 3 months to complete the greenhouse. As I get each phase completed, I will post pictures.

Hydroponic Project has Begun!
The project window is moving along quickly, so I also started my hydroponics project. I set some perlite in an egg carton, and cut holes in the base of the carton. Then, I set some seeds in each one. 3 cups have pansies (for my wife), 3 have two types of pumpkin, 2 have cucumbers, and two more have artichokes. I started with the larger veggies because of the time it will take to get them started, and because they will most likely be planted in the ground anyway. The actual hydroponic project will be focused on greens, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs, all of which I can get later once the project is completed.

Once the seeds were set in, I added water, and set it in the window sill. Now, I'm just waiting for the plants to start sprouting. Once sprouted, I will be able to plant them elsewhere, or set them in the greenhouse. Then I can start with the greens. ^_^

So, that's where we sit now. If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know!
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