Jacob J. Walker's Blog

Scholarly Thoughts, Research, and Journalism for Informal Peer Review

Archive for November, 2014

I’m doing a FREE orientation tomorrow for my Microsoft Office Training with Highlands Community Charter School

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hccs_logo_artwork_cropped_600At long last, I’m starting to teach Microsoft Office again.  But before some of my former students get their hopes up about joining my class, I should be clear about the requirements: These classes are only for students who do not yet have a U.S. High School diploma (but those with only a GED can join).  It is also a full-time program for students to work towards earning their diploma, where classes start at 10:20 am, and go until 5:10 pm.  My specific Microsoft Office classes will go from 3:10 pm to 5:10 pm.  Also, we can only accept students who are at least 22 years old.

If you know anyone who could meet these requirements, and want FREE classes, then please invite them to the orientation I am doing tomorrow (December 1st) at 3:10 pm, at 1333 Grand Avenue, Building F.  They can also email me for more info, or call our office on Monday, at (916) 844-2283 .  Please also share this on your Facebook, and if you haven’t already like us on FaceBook.

Written by Jacob Walker

November 30th, 2014 at 11:59 am

Passing Variables from the %Pre to %Post scripts in Kickstart on Ubuntu

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Picture of a Penguin (Tux) kickingThe development of the VubuntuBox Linux Distribution has required making a custom installation of Lubuntu, and I thought the easiest way to do this would be through the standard / recommended methods for making an Automatic Installation, which was either to use preseeding or to use kickstart.

In the end, it turned out that I needed to use both to automate the installation to a level needed, and that several “tricks” were needed to solve inherent limitations of kickstart (and preseeding).   And now that I’ve figured some of these out, I am writing several blog articles to share what I’ve learned, so others hopefully won’t have to bang their head against the wall as much as I have.  Also, I should note, that I’m not a Linux expert, so there may be more elegant solutions than the ones I’ll be sharing in these articles.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Jacob Walker

November 30th, 2014 at 5:50 am

Posted in Descartes' Daemon

Technology Review: Why do some of my favorite traditional media sources suck when they try to go adaptive?

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I am a fan of both the Economist and NPR.  But both of their Android apps annoy me a little, as I’ve written a little bit about before.  But now both of them have tried to become more hip with an adaptive low-attention span app.  And they both suck.

NPR One seems to never actually play news articles, but always is able to play its intro piece, which tries to do a re-branding that just doesn’t work.  Similarly The Economist Espresso often doesn’t download for me, and I think it is now sucking most of the battery power from my phone, as it decides to run in the background.  (Although I could be wrong on this last part)

In either case.  I’m deleting both.  Their traditional apps are OK, (although they too could use improvement).

Written by Jacob Walker

November 29th, 2014 at 8:09 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Etymology: Surfing

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I have been working on some curriculum to help teach kids about data science, which will also be incorporated as part of the Open Compendium of Countries, and have come up with 4 roles that data scientists work within as they work on knowledge discovery.

The first role is “Data Surfer”, which I’m loosely defining as just exploring data to see what is there, and what might be interesting to look into more deeply.  So I have done some research into the term data surfing, which apparently has also been a synonym for data mining.  And then I also looked into the definition of Surfing, which Merriam-Webster also says is “the activity of looking for information or interesting things on the Internet”.

But, it also says the first known use of the word was in 1926, but a quick Google Books search shows that the Smithsonian actually had this in an ethnology report in 1919, and I found another potential reference in 1911.  I also found earlier uses of the word “surfing”, but it is unclear whether they refer to the act that we now consider surfing (and I didn’t look at them closely to find out)

Written by Jacob Walker

November 28th, 2014 at 9:26 am

I just finished my initial proposal for my doctoral research!

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After several years of changing my mind about what I want to do for my doctoral research, today I finished my Initial DEd Research Proposal for Automated Correlation Discovery of National Educational Data, and I hope that I can complete my full research this coming year with UNISA.

For those who want the “Cliff Note’s” version, here is my Summary / Abstract:

This is a proposal for data science / data mining meta-research in the field of Comparative Education. The basic methodology is to gather a large number of data sets about the characteristics of countries of the world, and then dependent upon the type of data within these sets, to compare them to each other, finding the maximum correlation coefficient for each pair of data sets. In the end, the data sets that are most intriguing will be explored further, and the full results of looking for correlations between national characteristics of all sorts will be released to assist other researchers in the social sciences.


Written by Jacob Walker

November 26th, 2014 at 11:59 am

Posted in Scholarly Papers

Using additional commands in the early_command (or %pre) portion of an automated Ubuntu or Debian installations

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Icon image for apt-get and apt-cacheAs I have been working on developing VubuntuBox, I have had to learn a lot more about some of the fundamentals of the Debian installer, and learn “tricks” to get around issues that exist from working in a minimal system that first exists when you start a Ubuntu or Debian installation.

Automated installations of Ubuntu can run commands prior to most of the installation by either using an early_command in a preseed file or putting things in the %pre block of a kickstart file.

But, prior to the installation, there are very few commands available.  And when I wanted to run mkfs to create a ram disk (see an upcoming blog entry about this), I found it wasn’t available.  So in order to use this command, I needed to install mkfs, which is in the package linux-util.

Thankfully, there is a command called udpkg that allows  installation of packages, and many basic debian packages are in the cdrom/pool/main folder.  But udpkg doesn’t seem to have any dependency capabilities that dpkg has.  So I had to determine which packages all need to be installed first, and create the udpkg commands to do that.  And I thought I’d share what I learned with others who might want to install some packages in an Ubuntu or Debian per-installation environment.

To quickly see a recursive list of all the dependencies of a package, install the apt-rdepends utility / package.  When you run apt-rdepends package_name it will show all dependencies for all packages required.  Then you can use apt-cache show package_name to find the Filename of each package.  Of course, this takes some time, thus it is better to make a script to do this for you, and I’m now working on writing a Python script that can do this, and hope to post it here soon.

Update: After working on this for a bit, I have realized that given my time constraints, current knowledge level, and complexity of Debian package dependencies, that I will not be finishing the Python script any time soon (if ever).  So for the time being, to solve my issue of having additional utilities available in the pre-install environment, I’m adding binaries to the distribution CD, and copying them in, as necessary.  Yes, it is a kludge, but it works for now, until I can get a better system developed.


Written by Jacob Walker

November 24th, 2014 at 7:54 am

Posted in Descartes' Daemon

Tracing the Origin of the term “Information Explosion”

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I was reading today a Forbes blog article about A Very Short History of Big Data, and it says that according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “Information Explosion” was first used in 1941, but I think I may have found a book title “Problems of Aging” that uses the term as early as 1939.  Although, Google Books is often inaccurate in its dating, so with only “snippet view” available, I can’t fully confirm this. (Especially since several other references that Google Books showed as being “earlier”, were in fact bogus)

Written by Jacob Walker

November 22nd, 2014 at 6:16 am

Getting to a Shell Prompt to Debug Kickstart / Preseeding issues in Ubuntu

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VubuntuBox temporary logoAs I have been working on developing VubuntuBox, I have been using a combination of a pre-seed file and a kickstart file to be able to automate / customize an installation of Lubuntu.  I have found that it has taken me using both systems to get done what I want.

To be able to do more customization, I am working on running scripts pre and post installation, and it seems that the kickstart file is more effective in doing this, as I still can’t fully verify that the d-i preseed/early_command I have put into my preseed file does anything at all.  (Although I’m probably just doing something wrong, not that it isn’t working inherently.)

Since I want to start to add some customizations, including some user interaction, I have wanted to simply be able to launch a shell before and after the installation and use it for testing commands that would ultimately be in a script.  But it was very hard for me to find out how to do this, until I ran into this wonderful Blog entry about Interactive pre-/post-install scripts in RedHat KickStart, and I have found that it works equally well in an Ubuntu Kickstart fille.  So I thought I would share that here, in case others ran into my frustration!

Written by Jacob Walker

November 14th, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Posted in Descartes' Daemon

Update about the Development of VubuntuBox

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VubuntuBox Logo (Alpha Version)I had paused my development of VubuntuBox for a week or so while I worked on different pressing issues with Highlands Community Charter School (HCCS), and also the research proposal for my doctoral thesis.

But, there is a tremendous need at HCCS to have our classroom computers setup for students, and I’m in the logistically problematic position of whether I invest more time into having the long-term solution developed (VubuntuBox), or I spend my time with stop-gap measures of doing standard temporary imaging / cloning of the existing hardware, or I try to build an XP image that works on all the computers.

On the good side, I think I have some more people who may be willing to help with the development of VubuntuBox.  Robert Thompson has volunteered, although I had to postpone a lunch meeting with him.  I’m hoping my friend David Jones will be willing to do a little bit with the project.  And a hacker (in the original sense of the word) I respect the abilities of, Michael Albin, might be willing to help out also.

The challenge I have right now is trying to figure out which type of commands I can run at the beginning and end of the installation, and whether it is better put them in the preseed or kickstart file, since it seems that both work slightly differently in enough ways, that it is valuable to use both, to get the whole thing to work.

Written by Jacob Walker

November 13th, 2014 at 11:59 am

Posted in Descartes' Daemon

What the State Superintendent Election Means for California’s Future

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It was interesting that the California State Superintendent election was one of the most hotly contested.  This is probably ultimately a good thing to have people thinking more about how important our education system is to the future of our state.  It was also a very expensive race.  This part is not so good, because both sides that are spending lots of money have interests that are probably not always in the best good for our state.  The CTA is too firm on trying to stop teachers from being let go, and some of the commercial interests supporting charter school, are not necessarily in it for the good of our future, but more for their bottom line.  The negative ads were atrocious, and a scar on the election, as education should NOT be about half-truths.

So where do we go from here?  I believe that the election showed that the public is concerned about where traditional public education is going, and that they want more charter schools and that they want more ability to get rid of bad teachers.  And it is likely that Torlakson won due to the CTA smear campaign and the inertia of being the incumbent.

And, I hope Torlakson and the CTA take this to heart.  Some compromise is needed on the part of the teacher’s union.   If there isn’t, the next election might not go their way.  And that too could be a bad thing, because there is a need to make sure charter schools are doing the right things for the public, and the right thing for their teachers.  In other words, there must be a middle path that can be found, because the extremes are both dangerous to our future.

Written by Jacob Walker

November 5th, 2014 at 6:30 pm