Category Archives: Networking

Interview with Australian Council for Computers in Education Learning Network

Adam Holt and I were interviewed last night by the Australian Council for Computers in Education Learning Network about our not-for-profit work to improve educational opportunities for children in the developing world.

We talked about One Laptop per Child, OLPC Australia and Sugar Labs. We discussed the challenges of providing education in the developing world, and how that compares with the developed world.

Australia poses some of its own challenges. As a country that is 90% urbanised, the remaining 10% are scattered across vast distances. The circumstances of these communities often share both developed and developing world characteristics. We developed the One Education programme to accommodate this.

These lessons have been developed further into Unleash Kids, an initiative that we are currently working on to support the community of volunteers worldwide and take to the movement to the next level.

Energy conservation for security

I was having a discussion at work, and it occurred to us that a simple way of improving our data security is to turn machines off (or suspend, hibernate, etc.) when they aren’t required. Now this isn’t exactly rocket science, but what I found most interesting is how this ties into our energy conservation plans. Obviously, it means we save money on electricity. However, it also means that in reducing our network footprint we also reduce our environmental footprint.

Convincing a company to save energy can be difficult, but knowing that this also enhances security can be a winning argument.

Huawei e169 3G modem on Ubuntu 8.04

I recently bought myself a Huawei e169 3G modem as part of a service with Exetel (based on the Optus network). There are a few guides online on how to get it to work with GNU/Linux, but either they didn’t work as advertised or I wasn’t happy with the approach they took. Ubuntu 8.10 is due in three weeks, but since I usually wait at least a month for a new release to settle, I was after a solution that would tide me over for at minimum the next couple of months. It had to be simple and not too messy.

Here’s the approach I took:

  1. Install NetworkManager 0.7 from the PPA. You might need to reboot afterwards.
  2. Install usb_modeswitch. I got lazy and installed a DEB from here. Can someone confirm that this is included by default in Ubuntu 8.10?
  3. Right-click the NetworkManager panel applet and select Edit Connections.
  4. Select the Mobile Broadband tab and click Add.
  5. Follow the wizard/druid: select your country and upstream provider (I chose Optus 3G).
  6. Once the druid is complete, return to the Mobile Broadband tab, select your newly-created connection, and click Edit.
  7. The only setting I had to enter was my APN (exetel1). You may also wish to change the Type to Prefer 3G (3 customers can save $$$ by selecting 3G — thanks Telstra! :p ).

Now when you plug in your 3G modem, two things will happen (after a few seconds). Firstly, the ISO9660 filesystem on the USB stick will be automatically mounted and displayed by Nautilus (you might want to turn this off in the Nautilus preferences if it gets too annoying). Secondly, you should see an option to use your modem when you click on the NetworkManger panel applet. Once connected, you can disconnect in the same way.

There we go! Now all I need to do is plug in my modem and connect/disconnect from the NetworkManager panel applet. My Eee PC 901 is truly mobile now 🙂

LotD: A Sysadmin’s Unixersal Translator (ROSETTA STONE)

CompTIA Certifications

I have never placed much faith in the quality of CompTIA certifications. Now that I have both an A+ and Network+, I must reiterate that opinion. The exams aren’t designed to test your knowledge, they are designed to trip you up.

The best way to study for a CompTIA exam is to complete as many practice questions as you can. There’s not much need for any real study or understanding of the issues at hand (although it can help). That is the view I took when studying for the Network+ exam. I began by reading the textbook which had been supplied to me, but I quickly gave up on it and turned to practice questions. After 400 questions, I felt ready to take the exam. Mind you, I did have a lot of prior knowledge and understanding, but I’m certain that most people who take this approach do not. In fact, at least 10% of the questions in my exam were identical to practice questions I had done earlier.

How skilful can you expect a CompTIA certification holder to be if the testing method is so pointless? Will they be able to apply the ‘knowledge’ gained from memorising multiple choice answers to real-life situations? Overall, I don’t believe they can.

Case in point: for several months I have had trouble connecting to a couple of Web sites. I knew they were up, but my Web browser would time out whenever I tried to connect. I have known of the existence of the traceroute tool for many years (and I even used it several times), and its use was covered in Network+. However, I only put one and one together relatively recently. Prior to this, I never considered using the tool to troubleshoot my connection to those sites.

Of course, upon realising this I whacked myself on the forehead for my ineptitude. I’m not normally that slow. It got me thinking, though. If I – who knew about the tool even before studying it for the exam – did not think of using it, what were the chances for the average Network+ certification holder? You know, the people who do the cert just to get a job and not because they have any real aptitude or interest?

I’m glad to be doing something else now. Structured programming is a challenge, which is far more than I can say for the CompTIA certs.

Network+ Certification

Network+ is now mine! Mwahahahahaha!

*ahem*

The day after I completed the A+ Hardware exam (Friday 1 April), I dove into the Network+ material. I’m now glad that I did the A+ modules out of order. Network+ builds upon the networking portions of both modules, but derives more from the Hardware section. Making the transition from A+ Hardware to Network+ was easy.

By now I was quite accustomed to the CompTIA certification style, so I planned to finish relatively quickly. Computer Power allocated four weeks to complete the certification; I thought I should bump it off in two. I spent the first day diligently reading the first of two books they had given us (containing over 600 pages in all). On the second day (the following Monday; I don’t study much on weekends), a couple of friends gave me some extra material, including exam questions and what amounted to be an entire printout of a book. There must have been close to a thousand pages in all (think of the trees!). I’m not sure how much of it they got through, but I certainly wasn’t going to read it all. It’d drive me bonkers. I extracted a small sliver (by comparison) from the stack, which amounted to about 360 exam questions and some examination cram notes. I decided to cast aside my book (which I had barely dented) and focus on those.

I spent that week going over that material: doing practice questions and taking notes on the stuff that I didn’t know. Then disaster struck – I got sick over the weekend (I think it was influenza). My plans of doing the exam by the middle of the following week had to be thrown out the window. One of the great things about Computer Power is that there are no classes and all learning is self-paced. I was able to take some days off to recooperate, while still accessing all my files (notes, etc.) over the Internet. I ended up doing next-to-nil study, though. I can never concentrate at home.

After taking Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off, I spent all of Thursday at a Personal Effectiveness workshop which had been scheduled for me prior. Although still somewhat ill, I learnt a lot. I’m glad I went. Friday was the only day that week in which I did any real study.

By that point I had grown bored with the subject matter. I was going over the same ground over and over, and I felt no challenge. Wanting to get the subject over and done with, I booked the exam for the next morning. I’d gladly give up a Saturday if I could start the following week afresh. I was still ill, but by then I was over the worst of it and I didn’t care much anymore. Marks don’t matter in CompTIA exams. They give a printout at the end listing your score, but the actual certificate doesn’t say anything. All I was concerned about was the required 72% mark to pass, and the $400 fee I would incur if I failed.

I sat down in the examination chair the following morning. I felt a little fatigued, bleary-eyed and stuffy (sinuses and nose). The drugs didn’t seem to be working effectively. At times I lost concentration and I may have even dozed off a little. The CompTIA exams I’ve done allocate far too much time for the volume and type of questions posed, and Network+ is no exception. Despite my ailments, I had enough time to carefully complete every question and go over them afterwards. I exited the exam with twenty minutes left.

Less than a minute later I had my mark: 833 out of 900. Phwoar! That’s about 93%! I made some dumb errors which I probably wouldn’t have made had I been fully alert, but I’m very happy with the result nonetheless. Especially considering that I only put in seven days of proper study (recommended time is thirty) and that I was ill for almost the entire time (including during the exam itself).

After a week and a half

I did say I’d try to be more diligent in writing journal entries last time, but I guess I failed. Well, no matter. It’s not as if my life is a rich tapestry or anything. Suffice to say that I’ve had a few things take up my time over the past week, the most significant being my studies. I’m still getting into the rhythm of things (I still syncopate too much), but I’m managing.

By the end of my first week, I had completed two modules and was 50 hours ahead. I have 25-hour weeks (5 hours per weekday), so that made me 2 weeks ahead. Mind you, it was easy stuff. PC Fundamentals is about learning about basic hardware and MS-DOS commands. PC Advanced is about slightly more advanced MS-DOS commands and Batch files. Nothing I haven’t done before. I’m just glad it wasn’t as brain-dead as Operate a Computer, which is about how to use Windows (yuck!) and basic GUI apps at a single-user level. Fortunately the Network Engineering course doesn’t sink that low (although there are other courses which do).

I was supposed to move onto the CompTIA A+ certification, but it appears that I was moving too quickly and they didn’t have any of the materials in stock. Instead, I ended up skipping ahead a few topics and doing Help Desk Problem Solving Techniques. It wasn’t difficult, but it was a lot of theory to memorise. Given that I was two weeks ahead, I thought I should slow down and learn that module properly. Even then, I finished (just yesterday) with plenty of time to spare.

Now I’m 75 hours ahead. That’s three weeks! I should be graduating well ahead of the date which was forecast at the beginning (12 December).

Finally, I’ve been able to start the A+ course. I was given the choice of doing either the A+ Hardware or A+ Operating System certifications first. I chose the latter, being more familiar with software. Having only begun today, I can’t say much about it.

Back to school

I’ve always had a passion for computing and information technology. I remember as a kid messing around with a Radio Shack computer (with 4KB RAM!!!) which my dad had bought. After this (around 1985), we purchased an IBM PC XT (with full specs as shown here, but minus the HDD). That machine proved to be an enduring source of education and entertainment. It felt so cool back then to be able to use MS-DOS 2.1 and GW-BASIC!

Over the following years I played around with new versions of DOS (by MS, IBM and even Caldera), Windows and even OS/2 (which was awesome but since it couldn’t detect my CD-ROM I was forced to use Win95). I was a natural, and I quickly became the ‘computer guy’ in my circle of friends and family. I developed a passion for technology, and I would read and experiment as much as I could on the subject.

I only considered converting that into a career in high school, but once that had happened my motivation became strong. I commenced a computer science degree at The University of Sydney, but after a year I decided that I was ill-suited to coding. By the end of the second year (during which I had deliberately avoided CS subjects), I felt that my path lay in the humanities, with information systems and government (which I was doing as a minor) looking awfully tempting. For my third year I had transferred to The University of New South Wales, doing a plain-old Science degree. This, I felt, suited my broad mind (I’m the kind of person who likes to know a little about everything) very well. After some false starts and changes, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science, majoring in History and Philosophy of Science and Technology and minoring in Government, Politics and International Relations.

What a change that was from computer science! It was truly fascinating stuff (I loved it), but unfortunately it meant that I had trouble finding decent employment. In Australia, the humanities have the highest unemployment rate of all the graduate disciplines. I didn’t want to be stuck in a dead-end office role, where most of my skills would go to waste.

For a while I had been toying with the idea of finding employment in the IT industry. Recently I concluded that it would be impossible to do this. I may have the skills (I spend most of my free time at one of my computers), but I have no formal recognition (certifications, etc.) or experience. After a couple of weeks of heavy pondering and several meetings, I decided to bite the bullet and enrol in a training college to get the qualifications I need.

Today I completed my enrolment at the Computer Power Institute of Technology, and within ten months (full time: 11am to 4pm Monday to Friday) I should have a Diploma of Information technology (Network Engineering). That’s right, I’m training to be a network engineer! That’s something I’ve dreamt about for years!

My orientation is in Monday, and I officially begin training on Tuesday. I’m so excited! I’ll going to try to be diligent in reporting my progress in this journal. If you’re reading this (that means YOU!), stay tuned.