Summer Work Epilogue

Hello to everyone again, I realise this post may seem a blast from the past so late into the beginning of the new academic year, but I have been meaning to throw out a concluding post for the work done over the project for a few weeks now, however other commitments have kept my distracted.

Fortunately I have found some time to put together a post finally, just to sum up a couple of points and tie the lose ends.

I would like to apologise first for any of the readers who were eagerly awaiting a continuation of my weekly banter some time in mid august, my time at home unfortunately did not allow me to carry forward with any real work, meaning I was unable to really take any action until I was back in Lincoln later in September.

One exciting (depending on which perspective you take on it) point to make on arriving back in Lincoln was seeing Andy’s post that the Hamble College website which I had previously discussed, that had actually continued to add more material from the OSS Unconference, meaning by logging in as a guest at their website; you can now see the improvised interview that Andy and I were asked to do.

The final week(s) in September before we were thrown into the depths of Level 3 study concluded with Andy and I co-writing the summer project report, which has now been “Okayed” by Cornelia and is available to be read.

The report along with the poster (.pdf format), together provide an overview of the actions, theories and our thoughts on the work carried out during the summer of 2009 and I hope you have enjoyed my ramblings that followed.


Links: URL

Day 32: Summer Holidays

Well the time spent working on the project so far has flown by, and as previously organised I will now be taking some holiday leave until mid August, meaning I will probably be back working on the project some time after 2009.08.17.

This doesn’t mean the ball stops rolling however, and it allows me to hand the joint reigns over to Andy who will be living in Lincoln again and able continue the project research.

The last week has allowed me to start updating the project wiki which I believe will become the focus of the projects outcome.

I think that with the amount of work already completed on Sugar, including Sugar on a Stick, and with help from the Fedora Edu Spin, we will be able to push forward into being able to produce a bootable pen drive image which will allow users to install and develop sugar activities.

This is actually already possible; however some prior knowledge is needed in order to set up with the software, development files and necessary information to create activities. (Such as getting a hold of, updating and building Sugar Jhbuild, the development version of Sugar, etc.)

The best route that this UROS project could now direct its attention, at least in my opinion; would be to provide the above knowledge in the form of tutorials and wiki information for entry level access users.
By that I mean users who know nothing about OLPC or Sugar, but want to learn and subsequently create activities, or in any case just the latter part of creating activities without a platform to work from.

A best case scenario as Iv discussed with James would be to have some static format of the wiki in a final stage snapshot already on the image provided, meaning users without an internet connection could still make use of the materials provided.

Those with a connection could then access the latest version online, and contribute towards the wiki with any problems or updates they encounter.

This is Karl signing off, thanks!


Day 27: OSS Unconference

I’d like to break away from my usual format to get straight to yesterdays events (Day 26, 2009.07.20) at the Open Source Schools Unconference, which turned out to be a complete success and a very fun day out to Nottingham!

As already mentioned by Andy yesterday, we (Andy, Cornelia, Karl Beecher and I) arrived to the conference, and as greeted, were told that of the many talks that were being done, the OLPC / Sugar / SoaS talk wasn’t going ahead as planned, as unfortunately the speaker had come down with swine flu.

We were then asked if Andy and I could step in to do the talk instead, which came as a complete surprise to both of us! With mixed feelings of anxiety and excitement at the prospect of doing an unprepared talk, we both agreed we would be happy to attempt to present what the project was all about, which at the same time would give us a chance to plug our very own Codex 2 project, and hopefully raise awareness of the OLPC project.

The day was filled with some very interesting talks on a range of different subjects concerning Open Source Software, which due to the nature of the unconference being centred around schools, often included the use of software in learning environments. This seems entirely acceptable considering the majority of participants were teachers or those involved in local education authorities in some way.

This meant that many of the ideas on display included how technology could be better implemented in a school environment, development of the curriculum, use of more open source software in schools or in general and using technologies where needed as an aid to learning. An interesting book I was referenced too was Mindstorms, written by Seymour Papert in 1980, which after a little Googling, can be located here for free (I think).

One of the most interesting Software speeches I heard was about a developing program called Scratch, and as described by the website is a;
“new programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art…. Scratch is designed to help young people (ages 8 and up) develop 21st century learning skills.”

As with many of the talks done during the day, things were recorded, and people were busy Twittering away. The main conference was streamed live, and taken from the oss link, it is possible to go through the videos and twitters uploaded through out the day, for example the Scratch Presentation can be found here (starting around 1 minute into the video).

It may seem a little silly going through old twitters, but actually there are some useful links posted by participants, such as slide presentations or external links on subjects being discussed at the time.

Our very own OLPC talk, I think, went well of all things considering we had no preparation, and half way into the talk, the participant who originally was asked to do the talk stepped in, creating a kind of group at the front.
With 3 laptops and 1 XO laptop on the front desk, we managed to put out the important information with the help of Karl and Cornelia which included what the OLPC project was, what Sugar was, a live demonstration of the XO Laptop along with live demonstrations of Sugar on a Stick running from a pen drive and emulated.

I’m sure I remember a couple of videos being taken of us along with photos (which I blame for any mind blocks during my talk), which I am unable to locate at the moment, but I’m sure will surface eventually – funnily enough we were also interviewed by some local students from Hamble College who were also at the conference to cover the day. By logging in as a guest, you can see some interviews with some of the speakers from the day. My guess is that unfortunately, Andy and I didn’t make the cut to be posted on the site!

We were also able to hand out during the talk and over the course of the day, the official Codex Flyer (PDF Format) that Andy and I created last week, in an attempt to sum up all the pieces of the project puzzle into an attractive format.
The flyer itself is part of a new forked GitHub repository I have made from last years Codex project, which we will be adding too with new content such as tutorials.

I realise this is a slight monolith of a blog post, but on one last note, I have added last years Codex Wiki link, courtesy of Joss, which we will be updating over the remainder of the project with relevant information on the 2009 project.


Day 22: Progress

Things feel like they have been moving a little more over the past week, and with Andy’s return to the project from his camp away, we should hopefully be able to produce some useful work!

Following on from where I left you, aside from our results celebrations, last week Day 18 (2009.07.08) Day 19 (2009.07.09) and Day 20 (2009.07.10) continued with getting Sugar JHbuild to work, and after some discussions with the developers, I finally found myself pulling, updating and building a version of the latest Sugar JHbuild successfully onto the laptop.

This then allowed me to correctly get the sugar emulator working from the build, meaning I should now be able to mess around with the build code for Sugar, and hopefully learn how to introduce my own activities. It is possible to do very useful things with the emulator, such as run multiple profile instances in order to test XO collaboration etc.

During the build I had found myself with more errors, which when I asked the developers, was able to be guided onto the correct course of action, along with asking me to actively contribute by raising a ticket over at Sugar Labs Development, in order to allow the developers to diagnose and fix the problem.

After further talks with Sebastian over what I can do to contribute, I soon found myself writing some basic tutorials for anyone else who might be new and come along attempting to get Sugar JH build working.
These were uploaded to the Education Spin Wiki which were made in order to allow access to the Education Spin, allowing members to build their own version.

The Education Spin Wiki can be found here, along with the Getting Started Page with some tutorials here. The idea for the tutorials is to allow anyone who might be new to Linux, OLPC or Open Source projects in general to get involved as easily as possible by stepping them through the start up processes required to for example, get Sugar JH build working.

This also prompted me to create accounts with Fedora and Sugar Labs Git in order to allow me to contribute to the Wiki and hopefully Sugar Project. Along with this I managed to finally create my own SSH Key to develop with.

Day 21 (2009.07.13) and Day 22 (2009.07.14) saw Andy return to the project, and allowed for Cornelia, Andy and I to have an informal meet on how the project is going and where we would like to head.

With the date of the Nottingham Unconference looming and its day Programme released, we also planned out what materials we would need, and so after registering that we would attended, agreed that we would be bringing a handout along with demonstration of the Codex project, in order to hype interest about OLPC and the Sugar project to other Conference attendees.
We plan to update the Codex Wiki created last year, using it as a portal for those who want to follow on from our leaflet.

Finally we also got a link to the missing puzzle pieces of last years Git Codex Sample along with Tutorial Content, meaning we can hopefully adapt some content that was created last year, carrying on the cycle. – Over and out!


Day 17: Missing a Beat

I realise that I missed what seemed to be turning into a regular Thursday post last week, and thought I better not let Tuesday go to slip too!
I better start with tracing my steps over the last week’s events..

Day 13 (2009.07.01) consisted of further reading in the labs including a very interesting article by a magazine called “Communications of the ACM” (Thanks to Cornelia for the link) which discussed the “Vision vs. Reality” of the past present and future plans of the OLPC project, an issue copy of which should be available here for free (VOL.52 NO.6). There are also a number of other interesting open source community and general technology discussions that are inside too!

After the general realisation that I didn’t know enough about Linux, I also went onto look for some guides on the Linux world, and came across a useful array of 10 Free Linux Ebooks for Beginners which I have been trying to work through a little.

Day 14 (2009.07.02) found me working from home as I have been since, as there didn’t seem to be any major need to work in the labs when at the moment most of my time is being taken up by reading.
This did allow me to try out the Sugar Jhbuild again (as the lab access was restricting), however after a successful download, further problems cropped up in trying to build, and unfortunately I am still no further. Ill return to this when I am able to work with a little more confidence on the terminal.

This days main point of interest was an IRC meeting that I was invited to join at 7pm which wanted some support for a proposal of a project in London (among other pilot studys), where XO laptops were being requested for what looks like the biggest UK pilot study done so far. The main project can be found here, along with its proposal over here.
It was interesting watching a live meeting of real projects being discussed and passed for support with available XO laptops and showed there is defiantly some activity going on!

Day 15 (2009.07.03), Day 16 (2009.07.06) and Today have been spent reading into Python and Linux, finishing a Byte of Python, which I would recommend to any beginner python programmer, or if your just starting out at all! (See previous posts for links)
It was interesting to learn that Python was actually based on “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and not of the snake!

The next step up from this is a more hefty book “Begginning Python – From Novice to Professional” by Magnus Lie Hetland (Thanks to Cornelia) and I have already started having fun trying to craft my own applications, such as recreating simple command line games that I have worked on in the past for previous programming languages such as C# & Java, I might even post a few polished scripts up for those of you reading to try! – Though ill warn you they aren’t anything special.

I would however, like to try and see if I cant make myself a simple space invaders type game, and then see how easy it is to import into Sugar using the abundant information there is on creating Sugar Activities, and moving from Python to Sugar found at Sugar Labs.
Indecently, I’v come across the “Activity Handbook” wiki which’s purpose is to “provide you with all the information you need in order to get started with software development for the OLPC XO.” – So this will be added onto the pile of reading to get stuck into!

On the Linux side of things, a useful tutorial website I am working through at the moment is “Learning the Shell”, which is allowing me to get a better concept on how the BASH shell works inside out! Id also like to include a note here in case anyone missed it in the comment, a link to a very interesting paper on Teaching and Learning Open Source Development (thanks to Joss) headed “A Model for Sustainable Student Involvement in Community Open Source, Chris Tyler”, which I think would be useful for any student involved in a project like this where we are interacting with the community

Andy recently checked up to see how things are going, and its funny to hear they are putting him through his paces, he will be back with us next week, which has let me decide to continue working more on the Python and Linux knowledge bases until he returns, meaning we will be able to attack the Sugar side of things better prepared.

Right now however, I have just received my results for the year and they have turned out very positive, meaning some celebrations are in order I think!


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.