November 2008 Archives

November 29, 2008

There is Always Someone: The Friend with Apple Mail Server Issues

A while a go a friend asked me if I would help him set up his office with an Open Directory system, and integrate everything through his Xserve.  It sounded like a simple enough task, as I have done this numerous times in the classroom and for our lab at work.  Boy was I wrong. The setup took several hours longer than I would have expected.  He already had the infrastructure, so it should have been simple to set up the server and bind all the clients to the new Directory and establish Kerberos authentication.  The problem ended up being the need to run virtual machines, each of which tried to run remotely on the server instead of locally on the machine (because they were saved in the network home folder).  So, I moved all the virtual machines to the local machines, which fixed that issue.  Next, preferences within the home folders would get lost all the time.  That it turned out was because the network home folders were taking up too much space, so I moved everyone's iTunes libraries to the local machine to free up space.  I also had trouble with some internal networking running really slow on occasion (I suspect it's a problem with the switch, but he can't replace it), so in order to deal with the flaky network and network home folders, I created mobile accounts on every machine.  If the network goes down, they can authenticate locally and still get what work can be done in an unplugged world.  Finally, the mail issue.  His office was using Zimbra mail, which was a neat setup, but his version couldn't be Kerberized.  That, and he wanted to migrate to Apple's Mail and Calendar server.  So, I set up the mail server, and set up a script utilizing imapsync to transfer the mail from one server to another.  Why?  Because I couldn't find any documentation on how to move one Postfix database to another while making sure the content was safe and secure.  Anyway, after many attempts (I don't mind pointing out at this point that imapsync is perhaps one of the most poorly documented open source project I've seen), success was made.  Now all I needed to do was redirect the DNS from the router to the new server, and everything should be hunky-dory, right?The router was using an OpenBSD OS that was extremely limiting.  It took for ever to get the blasted thing to migrate to the right IP's, and then it didn't support alias addressing in the DNS.  There's probably a way to hack the DNS file manually, but I ran into another problem that was really bugging me:  Starting the Mail service in Server Admin didn't actually start Postfix.  That's right, it was running all the features of mail without the actual SMTP client to manage it.  This blew my mind.  A quick search and help from a friend that was Linux savvy indicated that this is a rare bug that happens, and all you have to do is run Postfix manually.  Seems simple enough, but then you need to set it up to start when the system starts.  Again, not too difficult, and easy to set up by adding it to the rc.local file (you can also write a launchd .plist file to handle it, but that's more complicated than the rc.local step, and I wanted to get this done as soon as possible).So now Postfix was working, but no one could send or receive mail.  Huge problem, since that's the point of the mail service.  So, again with the help of my friend, we managed to edit both the main.cf and the master.cf to the right specifications, all of which managed to get Mail working.  Now, I would like to point out that never in my time as an Instructor have I seen these services fail this badly and completely.  Part of the problem was the strain on his internal network and some bad ports in his router.  Part of the problem was random issues that should never have existed, and yet do because life is never perfect.  And finally, because I have been touting Apple as such as simple solution for a UNIX-based network, it just had to be a problem. Has anyone else out there had a similar problem where they have gone into a job with the knowledge that your solution would work, regardless of the platform, and seen it go horribly wrong?  I'm just grateful my friend who asked this of me was so understanding and patient.

November 20, 2008

Getting Technical with Learning: Open Curriculum for Children with Autism

Since coming back from leave after the birth of my son, I've been engrossed with developing new learning material for my son with autism.  Currently he is doing well in Pre-School, but there are always additional learning exercises that could supplement his education.  The problem is, there are a lot of resources if you want to pay for them, but not many that are open to all parents that need the help now.  So, I thought I might try to come up with something myself, and see where it leads me.  In order to meet this daunting task, I needed to outline what I wanted to accomplish.  
  1. The Material Needs to be Modular:  Not all autistic children are the same, and not all children need to focus on the same skills.  Modularity helps address differing skill levels for the learner, and therefore allows the instructor (teacher, parent, etc.) to better target the learner's needs.  
  2. Specific Step by Step Breakdown:  Children with Autism need to learn through a very basic breakdown of the tasks.  This takes jobs, tasks, subtasks, skills, attitudes, and knowledge into a whole new level.  This would also help learners find connections and relationships, which I maintain as the ground work of intelligence. 
  3. Easy Adaptation for Existing Routine:  Stability in the life of one that is on the Spectrum stems from routine.  As long as the routine is not too badly interrupted, meltdowns are kept at a minimum.  In order to successfully integrate the learning material into the routine, it needs to be applied to the routine minimally, which also makes it that much easier for the instructor to apply and evaluate. 
  4. Easy Augmentation:  Think of this part of the goal like adding an API for the material that allows for additional media or exercises to be added to the course.  This would be a natural progression for an easily adaptable program.
  5. Easy, Indirect Evaluation:  Most educational materials require a formal evaluation to determine how well a student is learning.  Perhaps you remember your pop quizzes, final exams, and standardized tests?  As children on the autism spectrum are more likely to suffer panic attacks, a non-intrusive evaluation method would be best.  Practical exams that are not advertised as exams are perhaps the best method.
So those are the goals.  Seems simple enough, one would think.  Now it comes down to the skills that need to be taught.  This is where a good relationship with your State Department of Education would be very helpful.  The Utah State Office of Education has an outline for each subject for all grades from K-12, with a special section for K, 1, and 2.  As most parents of a child with autism are generally interested in the first few years, this is the section I will be focusing on initially.  I hope to continue the development throughout the years.  
Beginning with Kindergarten, there are three cores to the curriculum that are expected to be met:  Language Arts, Mathematics, and Content.  Language Arts focuses on identifying written words, and differences between upper and lowercase letters.  Mathematics focuses on quantity, counting up to 30, and learning how to practically add or subtract quantities, recognizing the changes in quantity.  Content covers the gambit for social skills, social studies, science, health, fine arts, and physical education.  
So I'm in the process of building a reasonable analysis that will help me best meet my goals within the given core curriculum expected by the Utah State Office of Education, and have it be geared directly to those parents or teachers that have children on the autism spectrum that desperately want to be taught.  It's all about finding the learning method they can relate to, and helping them down that path.  
It's not much right now, but at least it's a start. 

November 11, 2008

Events Worth Mentioning: Catching Up

I've been MIA for a while in these past couple weeks, but for good reason.  So let me cover the events of the past couple of weeks in order, based on what I felt was noteworthy.  First and foremost, my wife gave birth to our son Alistair Scott on November 1st at 10:27 PM.  He was 7 pounds, 11.8 ounces, and was 20 and 3/4 inches long.  Since then he has already gained 3 ounces and grown 3/4 of an inch.  He's doing well, and so is my wife. With the birth of our second son, I was worried about how this would effect my first son, who is on the autism spectrum.  He was not really happy with either of us at first when he came to visit, but ended the day giving us both kisses.  For the past week or so, he has barely acknowledged his little brother.  Then last night he stood by the bassinet and watched his brother sleep.  I think he's getting an idea of the change that has come to our family, and is accepting it.  I'm going to be watching him closely, to be sure that the baby doesn't become a problem for him.  With the birth of another son, and taking into the account that 6% of all boys born are likely to be autistic, and as autism runs in my family, it's very likely that our son will have autism.  So that's something that we hope to catch early if possible.  The Election on Tuesday was exciting for a lot of people, disappointing for many others, and I didn't follow it at all.  I had voted a week before (because the baby's due date was so close), and as such didn't care much for the results.  Instead I spent my time feeding my new son.  That being said, there is what I think of the results:  1.  President-elect Obama will do a fine job, particularly if he manages to make a bipartisan cabinet.  I think he is a very intelligent and capable man, though I have yet to see him tested in the nightmare of an administrative job that is the Presidency.  Quite frankly, I think that anyone that want's to be President of the United States has serious issues.  That is why I would vote for General Colin Powell in a heartbeat:  he doesn't want the job.  But that being said, I've been long burned out politically, and would rather see results on important issues instead of radical wings of both parties trying to push their agendas.  I think the election was good for the Democrats, in that they got what they have long wanted:  another Hoover to run against.  But the election will be just as effective for the Republicans, in that they will do some soul searching to determine why they have been losing so badly.  It isn't because of Sarah Palin, it isn't because of Senator Stevens, it's because they don't have a real direction in their party and have become too reactionary and desperate.The last thing I hope to see is the issue of Autism taken up by both the new Administration and Congress.  Autism is growing in diagnoses, with more parents needing help in discovering what it is and how to help those on the spectrum lead a self-sufficient life.  I'm not looking for a cure, I'm looking for support from somewhere to help parents like myself and my wife who want desperately to teach our son and help him show the intelligence we have observed in him to others.  And finally, Apple and the Tablet!  Yes, there seems to be a lot of evidence floating out in the rumorsphere that Apple is building a Tablet pc, and that it is due any time now.  The most logical time to announce it would be in January, which would be ideal.  I hope Apple keeps in mind all the features I had put down, particularly that the device will let one tether a bluetooth keyboard and mouse to it, have a full OS with the ability to install software on it, and a micro-DisplayPort for presentations.  So, anyway, that's the past week and a few days in review.  Now, it's back to helping my wife with the new baby!
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This page is an archive of entries from November 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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