Day 12: Another Day at the Office

I thought id take a snapshot of our mock “Office” today, just to prove to the non believers that we really do have our own XO to play with (two infact!), and an incline into how I’m working (Multitasking) in the very humid labs on these lovely British summer days!

Left to right you can see; The newly released SoaS Strawberry running off a pen drive, the laptop donated to our cause running Feodra 11, our very own XO-Laptop, and lastly a newly created Feodra Spin running off a pen drive.

Day 10 (2009.06.26) ended the week having to help Andy move out of his house and a very rushed jog down to the train station, seconds before it was leaving, I’m also now the proud owner of a guitar and Bonsai Tree to look after for the next couple of weeks!

Day 11 (2009.06.29) started the week off with the help of Sebastian in teaching me how to use kickstart files in order to create a custom Fedora spin ISO, in all honesty it was more me following instructions, but we all have to start somewhere.
Once it was done (the poor little laptop takes a while) I was easily able to get it running on a pen drive using the fedora live USB creator and soon found myself sitting infront of the first snap shot of the Fedora Edu Spin (see picture above), fun stuff!

I also spent some time reading more of the many materials online, and in particular finding out some online resources for sugar Activity development; The suggestion is to build activities in python first on a stand alone format and then import them into Sugar later on, allowing users to test their activities more robustly.
The two main wiki’s OLPC and Sugar Labs websites have a wealth of knowledge that goes very deep, its easy to get lost in all the information.

Today found me having trouble still with getting the Sugar-Jhbuild to work on the machines in the Lab, the firewall at the Uni seems to have blocked the ports, and although I can clone the Git repository using an HTTP connection, subsequent commands wont work as they still use the GIT connection.

After some further discussions in IRC I was linked on how to use the Git protocol though an HTTP connect proxy, but unfortunately we aren’t running from a proxy in the labs. The next idea was to change the GIT Config as suggested here using the “insteadOf“ command.

I must say that I am very thankful for the patience that everyone on IRC gives me in trying to learn my way through this, however my inexperience with Unix was starting to show, and a very helpful developer pointed me to some useful materials that I can use to start learning Unix from.

I did mention before I started that I wasn’t an experience Linux user, however this is starting to get the better of me in doing basic things on the linux terminal, and the first step is admitting you have a problem! (AA anyone?)

The 6 step program I was recommended included the following:

  1. For humor read “The Jargon File”, “The Unix Haters Handbook” and “The Bastard Operator from hell”.
  2. Skim the Bash Users Guide.
  3. Get a sugerlabs shell account, run “Screen”.
  4. Read about Unix Pipes.
  5. Learn Unix Shell Keyboard Shortcuts.
  6. Read about “Man Bash”.

I did start to think last week that should probably spend some time learning my way around Linux better, and as explained by one of the developers  “ill probably spend most of my time trying not be confused, but eventually ill learn the amazing power bash has to offer”, so included with the python learning ill be spending tomorrow on some new Unix material.

When I do eventually get the Sugar-JHbuild working ill post up some more details!


Day 9: Broken Arrow

With the end of week 2 nearing, I thought it would be time to update. The first bit of news is that as of tomorrow, Andy will be away for 2 weeks (hence the title) leaving me all alone to get on with the project; although from the sounds of things I wont be alone for long, as news has come through of a couple more people being interested in the Codex project!

As it stands ill be working alone next week, but if we do have some new recruits we could be looking at up to 4 people working on the project by the end of next month, what a team that would make!

So far the week has mainly been spent in close contact with the developers and generally trying to soak up all the information available (there’s enough of it).

Day 8 (2009.06.24) started with an article from the Online BBC News site: “OLPC software to power aging PCs” which is part of the buzz from the new Sugar On a Stick release “Strawberry” which we tested out today.
The new version is much smoother and loads quicker than the beta version I origionally linked too. This is exciting news as it means Sugar On A Stick is alive and well and will work with a 1GB USB Drive upwards (in size) on very old machines, even those which wont boot from a USB (with the help of a CD you can create).
The new strawberry release includes new activities such as “Physics” which Andy and I had a lot of fun playing with. The SugarLabs website has a host of useful information regarding a number of areas such as getting up and running or downloading new activities.

Today however we managed to get our hands on a university laptop which we have complete access too, meaning we were able to officially format and install Fedora 11 which will be useful in trying to create the development environments needed for Sugar. The Edu Spin I discussed earlier will require Fedora which is the main reason we chose to use it as the laptops instillation, however we still have access (and are using) the multitude of linux distros we have installed on the USB’s lying around from last week.

Having walked into the project not being very adept to using Linux, im slowley starting to make my way around the different distros and getting used to the terminal etc, the terminology for alot linux is what seems to throw me off most, but I guess this must be natural from a born and bread windows user.

Currently we are still waiting on a Kickstart file from one of the developers which should be released soon, meaning we will be able to attempt to compile our own environment based on what we can learn from this, mixed up from last years Live CD; along with this we might be able to get our hands on an early snapshot of the Edu spin and play around with it in order to see how well it will work with the Codex project requirments.

In the mean time I have tried to get what I think is the developers version of Sugar; “Jhbuild” running, which is available from the SugarLabs Git and is also supported by Fedora along with a few other distros; however access to the repository from the labs looks like it might be restricted (Connection refused on clone),  so ill try again using the new laptop from home, hopefully it wont use up all of the little monthly usage we are allowed where I live!

Tomorrow (Friday 2009.06.26) I will probably be spending the day helping Andy move house as he is in limbo at the moment before he shoots off for 2 weeks; however next week I will make a start on the current to do list Andy has posted along with getting my teeth firmly into Python and trying to produce something more than print:”Hello World”. Wish me luck!


Day 7: Getting Stuck In

Well its been 7 days now (I decided not to count the weekends) working on the project and things have slumped a little in comparison to last weeks shotgun start.

Unfortunately it doesn’t feel like we have made any huge amounts of progress since my last update, but I think that must come with the territory of a task where there arnt any hard line “go here, write this, produce x”. Essentially the time has been spent reading into the deep knowledgebase of the subjects; have also made some personalisations to the blog!

Day 5 (2009.06.19) Friday was mostly spent ghosting the lab computers, and getting my machine sorted from earlier in the week, everything seems to scan clean now so fingers crossed I no longer have an infection on any drives / machines. Also went over the documentation that was produced last year for the project wiki, many thanks to James again.

I also made a (small) start on learning Python which is a very interesting programming language, following on from some suggestions to start with “A Byte of Python”, hopefully it wont take me long to work through the material provided.

This week (Day 6) started off getting used to more IRC Channels where the Sugar developers hang out in order to get an more of an idea on how things work and what we are doing, along side signing up to more mailing lists; below it is possible to see where in the IRC world you can get connected to the project! The mailing lists are very active, so its hard to digest all the discussions that are being carried out at one.

irc:// (Web version –

  • #sugar
  • #fedora-edu
  • #fedora-olpc
  • #olpc-uk

Currently I am looking into the details around what the developers are discussing; turning a kick-start into a live-media, which we can then test how the development spin is turning out. This links in with new areas for me like the Linux Package management system etc, so there are lots of usefull links about.

Lastly an item of interest that Cornelia has suggested is for us to attend the Open Source Schools Unconference 09 in Nottingham on July 20th;
“Teachers and technical staff who use, or are interested in, open source software are invited to participate in a friendly, informal day of sharing enthusiasm, experience, and expertise at NCSL’s Conference Centre.”

It should be a good way for us to further get actively involved in the open source communist and also promote the OLPC project, see you there!


Day 4: Up and Down

There have been a few setbacks for Andy and I over the beginning days of the projects which have caused a few problems, however this isn’t dampening our spirits!

Day 2 (2009.06.16) started with some more research and digging into the previous work done last year, Andy also suggested the idea of trying to get an easy installer for users to load an ISO with Sugar on to a pen drive in a simple easy step, however we soon found ourselves with the revelation of finding and testing Sugar On a Stick, which has been developed by the guys over at SugarLabs. The site links to an interview in Feburary 2009 which discussed the developments of Sugar on a Stick, and the reasonings to allow any system to load the Sugar Interface, following on from OLPC’s divorce from Sugar early last year.

Currently still in Beta, Sugar On a Stick is essentially what we have been looking for over the first few days in attempting to migrate the Sugar Emulator from the Live CD onto a pen drive. It works through a combination of Fedora LiveUSB creator and and ISO loaded with the Sugar Interface, allowing users to load the ISO easily from an installer package onto a pen drive. We tested the version that was available and soon found ourselves successfully booting from a pen drive into the sugar interface, which seemed to work from what we tested (including the web browser!) without any need to change settings.

This seemed to change things (and the project) a little bit, as it looked like with the changes to the OLPC and Sugar Team, things had moved on from last years project, and there was already a development team actively working in this area, so instead of competing, the next natural idea would be to find out whats currently being done, and where we could help (if at all).

All seemed well from this point on, however later that afternoon I ran into a snag which caused me some problems when I found out that the lab computers we had been working on were infected with some virus’s, go figure! With all the hot swapping of the pen drives and no warning from any of the machines default scanners, I only found out we had a problem when I got home and found that the infections apparently run hidden auto scripts to infect any drives on a system, and if portable, attempt to infect new host systems once they are inserted into a computer.

This has put me back a little bit, as I haven’t been able to work from home, and we needed to sort the PC’s in the Labs out too. This shouldnt have been such a big problem as I could easily reformat my machine, however it turns out all 3 places where I keep my backups were infected during the afternoon, not much luck here! Untill I can safley find a way to either remove the infections or save my data and format, things might run a little slow.

Day 3 (2009.06.17) started with attempting to sort the virus problem out, and in the mean time, trying to get in contact with some of the developers of the Sugar Labs; which actually turned out to be very successful!
Using one of the uninfected pen drives that we created Monday to boot into the safety of Ubuntu, we found the IRC Channels that the Sugar Team use and introduced ourselves!

The initial talk with the developers turned out to be very positive, with a welcoming attitude they were very excited to hear that there were some research students looking out to help.

The developers were able to help and inform Andy and I quiet alot, with recent events, whats happening at the moment, and where we could possibly help, along with also providing a range of useful links.

It transpires that the team are trying to put together and release an “Educational Fedora Spin” to coincide with an Open Source Development Conference named “POSSE” (19th July – 24th July 2009) which aims to “create a ready-to-go development environment for contributing to educational packages within the Fedora ecosystem.” In this case the development environment would be a system for the Sugar Interface, which would allow users (students alike) to easily get involved in developing for the sugar interface , which is a very exciting prospect as it is exactly what the Codex project is all about.

Reading the POSSE details also seems to be the heart of where the Codex project is coming from.
From the looks of it the developers are more than happy to use us as gunie pigs and mentor us through the testing and developing of the current builds in preparation for the conference and thereafter. At the moment I’m not entirely sure what this entails, and will need to keep in contact with them, but I’m pretty sure this is a good place for the project to be heading!


Useful Links

Day 1: The Starting Line

With the project having officially started yesterday, I decided it’s time to explain in more detail what the project will entail, and what we achieved on the first day.

With the finite tasks still a little hazy and a To Do list not completed yet, the beginning of the day was spent looking into the task brief to identify what the project should entail.

The brief envisaged that the project would involve three main phases which were to be part of a continuation of last years CODEX 1 project, as the brief stated:

  • Investigative phase: background research on OLPC, study of XO software base and its existing applications, study of existing results achieved in CODEX (1) and review of updates required.
  • Development phase: updating of the CODEX 1 Live CD and development of an enhanced version comparable with recent developments of the XO Sugar interface and Ubuntu and production of a CODEX USB.
  • Trial usage and evaluation phase: develop a range of simple applications using the deliverable of phase 2, i.e. the new updated and enhanced CODEX USB, update the CODEX 1 tutorial guide for project students, and develop a CODEX 2 web site and repository for XO application projects to be used by Lincoln students in 2009-10.

One of the main achievements of the CODEX 1 project was the production of the Live CD which allowed users to boot a computer using Xubuntu, which then emulated the SUGAR software, however one of the downfalls from using a CD to boot, was that it mainly acted as a blank template which could not be updated or saved to.

This problem could be solved my using a USB stick which would act as a personalised portable (computer to computer) operating system from which users could save to. This coupled with the SUGAR interface would allow users to learn and develop for the SUGAR software, and save their accomplishments without the need to install anything on the computer.

The day then continued into research of the current materials for the previous CODEX project, namely James’s blog, OLPC & SUGAR projects, and the utilization of OS emulation and USB bootable drives.
The outcome of this meant that we already started to build a repository of knowledge through the web links saved, and further allowed us to test some of the software currently available.

First we utilised a virtual machine called Virtual Box which allowed us to emulate the Live CD ISO provided by James from last year in order to test out the Sugar Software, and as Andy rightly put it, “found ourselves stuck in an emulator, within another emulator.”

This was further developed to test out current released ISO’s of Fedora, Ubuntu and its lighter partner Xubuntu.

Then through further research into the bootable USB drives, were able to successfully load a new version of Ubuntu onto a pen drive and boot from this pen drive using one of the lab computers, thanks to the help at PenDriveLinux.

At the moment, most of the main links we discovered are available directly in my blog (to the right), however the plan is to move these links to a central Codex 2 repository.
Below I have displayed some usefull links found throughout the day and used in this post.

Introduction – Hello World!

OLPC LogoWelcome! The purpose of this blog will be to detail the happenings and musings of the new project which I have taken underway here at Lincoln University.

The project is under the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Scheme (UROS) banner, which is part of Lincolns Centre for Educational Research and Development (CERD), where undergraduate students can participate and undertake research projects into areas of interest.

Over the summer ahead I will be working along with a fellow student, Andy, in carrying forward the baton of last years research into methods for collaborative development of the XO Laptop, the system developed by the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project.
The XO Laptop as stated by James who completed last years research “has explicit support for collaboration and sharing of activities through its SUGAR user interface and mesh view, which focuses on the activities of its networked users making real things directly supporting the evolution of knowledge as a collaborative enterprise.

Education is necessarily a collaborative enterprise with a need for both repositories and also active support for the educational processes as learners engage with one another and their teachers.”

The SUGAR interface and XO Laptop are part of the Open Source Software (OSS) community, which has been growing steadily since the XO Laptop was initially released.

The goals of this project will be to follow on from the previous research into the SUGAR software, in order to allow for easier access, understanding, and development of software for the OLPC project for future students to work from.

By doing this we will be able to gain experience from working on a live project, becoming not only consumers as students, but also producers who are able to give back to the open source community.

This post may seem a little shallow in detail on the specifics of the project, however after the first day on the job, it turns out time fly’s when you’re having fun and today ended up becoming longer than expected!
With the scene set and the base idea behind the project outlined, I’ll return soon with the outcomes of today’s work, and some more in depth discussion on what the project will entail.

Below is a selection of the links used within my post, and further information on the areas discussed:

More to come, watch this space!