Daily Archives: October 19, 2007

K12OpenMinds07: Trip Report

I attended the first national conference on open-source and education, Open Minds 2007. It was held from October 9-11, 2007, in Indianapolis,Indiana.

I have already written several posts about my experiences at the conference and plan to write several more. This post, the Trip Report, contains the photos I took, and will serve as a a summary of my impressions.

My plan is to start with some of the photos, followed by a brief description. I apologize in that I haven’t yet fully identified all the people shown in the photos. I will attempt to fix that as I go along, and will also add some final thoughts after I have completed the more detailed posts on the people and projects that caught my attention.

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Ben Mako Hill of MIT’s Media Lab. This was taken after his keynote speech that opened the conference. His OLPC can in the green box to his left.

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OLPC Dispaying my Blog.

I went up to introduce myself to Mako after his fine speech. He offered to let my try his OLPC. It powered up and found the wireless connection quickly. I then was able to bring up my blog and my very first post, as evidence both that it worked and to demonstrate my interest in education and open-source.

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Thin Client in Computer Lab Running Ubuntu

About twenty students from nearby high schools kindly traveled to the conference the first morning and made use of a computer lab that had been set up for them. It featured thin-clients running Ubuntu.

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ASUS Eee Micro-laptop

ASUS was a sponsor of the conference and had a table demonstrating some of their products, notably their new Eee Micro-laptop. I mentioned to their rep that my posts about building one of their barebone machines had drawn many views; for example, a google search on “ASUS Terminator C1” gives as the first hit the description of the machine in Newegg, and the second is my post on building the one I bought from Newegg.

The Eee is due out sometime in November and will cost about $270. I asked them to send me instructions on buying one when it was available.

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I had lunch the first day with Dr. Ray Spain and Dr. Chris Whitlow of the Warren Country School District. Ray is the Supertindent, Chris the CTO. Warren County is among the poorest counties in North Carolina, and thus also among the poorest counties in the country. Chris has been using open-source since 1995, and has worked with Ray for several years.

Ray is on the left. Next to him is Mr. Jim Hare, CTO of A.C.E.S, a small company in Detroit that is working on putting thin-client systems into large, poor, urban school districts. Next to Jim is Chris. I am on the right.

I will more about them, and I look forward to working with them going forward.

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Dr. Suellen Reed,Supt. of the Indiana State Dept. of Education, Welcomes the Attendees

Dr. Reed gave a short, gracious speech in which she welcomed all the attendees, and spoke of Indiana’s commitment to using open-source to improve education.

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Mike Huffman, Indiana State Dept. of Education

Mike Huffman and Laura Taylor (not pictured here) were the co-organizers of the conference. Both work for the Indiana State Dept. of Education.

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Two Attendees From Japan

I noted many attendees from other countries, and asked Laura Taylor if she could put together a list of the countries represented. I have a card listing them. I think there were about twenty.

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Attendees From Scandinavia

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Group Photo

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Wrap-up Session

There was a wrap-up session after the conference to review how it went and to make future plans. I had offered to give two of the attendees a ride to the airport, so I waited around until it was over.

I got them to smile by saying, “Ah, the Evil Axis of open-source educators.”

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Final Moments

I took this picture a few minutes later, to capture the empty halls and the abandoned vendor tables. The one shown is ASUS’s. I took the conference signs that were in front of the door. The wrap-up session can be seen through the door.

On Thin Clients and Hospital Waiting Rooms

It’s early in the morning in Philadelphia. I’m sitting in a hospital waiting room while a family member has a small procedure. It is very small. Then again, if one of my children just needed an aspirin and asked for some support, my wife and I would be on the next plane.

I’m writing this post from a computer in the hospital, part o the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

It runs Windows — no surprise in that. I’m using a Dell desktop. It’s an old one. It has two USB ports on the front and a floppy drive.

I try to download and install Firefox. Someone knows a little bit about security, since I see the Desktop and basic folders have been locked.

I then open the Documents folder. I see there are interesting documents.

I see that I cannot get into the Administrator’s Document folder. That’s a good sign.

I then see there is a floppy drive on the front of the computer. That is a bad sign.

All I have to do is to pop a floppy into it, reboot, take over the machine, look at those documents, perhaps even inject a new kind of virus into the hospital.

I won’t do that; I’m a good guy. But I could have, if I had been a bad guy.

Too bad the hospital isn’t using thin clients.

I hope the doctors are more competent than the IT staff.

I also remember I’m giving a talk this Monday to some CIO’s and senior officials in the government and public sector areas of Austria. I was up around 4AM today thinking about it. I decide to base much of it on my experiences working on education, and to add a cannonade or two of OOXML shot across Microsoft’s bow, to remind everyone what an execrable job MS did in putting together that godawful document. [1]

I decide to mention this incident as an example of why one should consider using thin-client based solutions in public spaces such as airports, hospitals, libraries, and schools.

I remember that Joe Latone, the open-source guy for Research, recently sent me a request to meet with a Prof. from Penn State later this month about open-source, on the day Eben Moglen is coming to give a talk at Research (he once worked there as an IP attorney.)

I decide to ask the Prof. if he knows anyone on the Penn IT Staff, so he can bring this matter to their attention in case they don’t read my blog.


1. I’ve spent some time looking at the OOXML spec. It is dreadful.

As best as I can tell, MS went around and interviewed every programmer they could find who had ever worked on Office and asked them what they had done.

Once they had a list of all the “new” features and options that been added over the years, they made up a list of all the procedures that would have to be written to implement them.

MS then made up the API to call those as yet unwritten procedures. After that, the made up a bunch of simplistic examples, most of which have no content. MS concluded by adding just enought text to give the document the superficial appearance of a standard/

Once that was done, they submitted it to various standards bodies and tried to stuff the ballot boxes, as they well know this document cannot withstand any serious technical review. See Rob Weir’s blog for some detailed examples.

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