ramblings of an aimless mind

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Posts Tagged ‘Computing

Education unchained?

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Some time ago, I blogged about my idea of an education system that separated exams from learning and thereby allowed students to have more liberty in choosing how to get the classroom component of their education while earning their desired qualification. Today I learnt of MIT’s new fully automated course on circuits and electronics. MIT have run the open courseware project for a while now, but it was more of a reference point, where people could sample the lecture notes that MIT uses, but do not get credit for reading the notes or completing the exercises. This course however, offers a certificate for completion, which means that any person, anywhere in the world can now gain an MIT recognition of his/her skills from the comfort of their home.

Arguably, if this course gets a large enough market, someone may start a coaching class to help students understand the material. That would in essence be the separation of the classroom teaching component of education from the exam component, akin to what my old post suggested. Maybe those bright sparks at MIT were reading my blog, though I have my doubts about that.

A fully automated course is nevertheless something noteworthy. I am especially interested in how they handled the lab component. Do they purely use circuit simulators? do they plan to extend the idea in the future where there are accredited venues where students can go to complete the labs? Will the exams be purely multiple choice questions or have they devised a way to have computers grade exam papers? I have enrolled for it, so hopefully sometime in June (when the course ends), I will be able to proudly claim to have a certificate from MIT and also be able to report on my experiences.

While this new development has me excited about the direction education can take in this century,  I can think of a few undesirable implications of rolling out multiple courses or entire degrees through this avenue. Someday soon, I will put those thoughts down too.

Written by clueso

February 14, 2012 at 8:15 am

Removing the “System Tool” malware

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A friend of mine got scared witless when her PC screen suddenly filled up with large red letters claiming it had been infected by just about every known virus/malware in the universe. In addition, a window popped up in the foreground showing a long list of viruses, trojans and worms that had purportedly made their home on her hard drive. Very helpfully she was allowed to “buy” a program that would get rid of all of them. She was prevented from launching any other software and even the task manager which made things tough indeed.

Apparently, this is a “System tool” malware (it has the same name as the helpful program). Removal was fairly simple, simply boot into windows XP safe mode with networking then download and run Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware to get rid of it. Possibly any other anti malware program will do the job as well, but I am listing this one as I got the name off McAffee forums and it worked.

Hopefully this post will help someone who is stuck with the same issue.

Written by clueso

March 13, 2011 at 6:32 pm

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Free replacements for proprietory software.

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Off late I have been part of quite a lot of PC reformatting, partitioning and OS installations. Invariably, one needs software to do stuff like backing up, burning CDs as well as more mundane tasks like playing videos and music etc. This post is simply a record of the free software that I know of which serves as perfectly good replacements for proprietory software and for which one does not have to jump through as many hoops as a circus dog.

So here’s the list…

1. Infra Recorder :A CD/DVD authoring tool which also does things like creating ISO images, ripping music CDs etc. Not too much experience with it but so far it has worked a charm. Only for windows. Note that a plugin for encoding MP3s is not included by default thanks to some legalese, so an extra download may be necessary.

2. FileZilla client/server:Invaluable tools to back up large quantities of data over a network. The server version is only for windows unfortunately, so this cannot be a cross platform solution. However, vsftpd is quite a good FTP server for linux, but thats a subject for another post.

3. AVG antivirus:Though these guys appear to be nudging their users rather aggressively towards the paid version, I think they still have a free version for personal use. Updates are available and I have detected a few not-so-nice-programs with it, so I guess it works. From the looks of the site, only a windows version is available I think.

4. GParted partition editor: The standard GNOME partition editor that very closely resembles partition editor and makes those difficult HDD chores a breeze. It also comes as a live CD, so the question of platforms is irrelevant.

5. VLC media player:Totally kick-ass media player which tears the default windows media player(and quite a few of the linux media players too) to shreds. Plays literally everything and also has some cool features like audio/video streaming which I find quite useful. Available for both windows and linux.

6. Sisoft Sandra: Extremely useful software for getting some in depth knowledge of the target system. The lite version for windows is free, but has enough features for most cases. Windows only.

Thats the list for now, the idea being to add to it till I have a “Doctor’s kit” of software that can be used to get a computer back to speed after a reformat in the shortest time. In case anyone knows of any other tools that could be useful, do let me know.

Written by clueso

April 20, 2009 at 11:19 pm

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The “Memory cannot be read” error

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Often I have come across computing problems for which I have not found direct solutions on the net, but havs still solved somehow or the other. The bad part is that I have not published the solution anywhere on the net/forums, which means that the solution is pretty much lost to anyone else who faces the problem. Since I have recently become more of a “give and take” person, I thought I should post any new important snippets of information I find on my blog for others to find and use. Since I got this idea after I solved the problem, I do not remember the EXACT error message, but I think its enough to understand what is going on. Also, the intention was to have a separate page for the computing info, but that seems to put up some hurdles and may be a while.

So here goes my first one…

Problem: during bootup, we get an error with something to the effect “Rundll32.exe – Instruction at 0xaaaaa tried to reference memory 0xgggg which cannot be read.” The memory location changes everytime, so thats not something that can be reported. After this, none of the executables used to run, which means that the PC is pretty much useless, except for moving the mouse cursor around and using explorer. Funnily, when I tried to run Task Manager, two instances of Task Manager started up, with one hogging around 98% of the cpu. In this busy state, executables ran (or crawled) along, though its definitely not a long term solution.

Solution: This problem was solved when we learnt of a tool called the System File Checker(SFC) which basically checks integrity of all windows system executables and DLLs and replaces any which it thinks are problematic. This tool is included with win XP so there is no need to go around downloading anything. A good tutorial is available at here. Running this tool seemed to get rid of my problems.

I dont know what exactly the issue was with my pc, but SFC was something new I learnt today. Hope someone else benefits too!!!

Written by clueso

April 13, 2008 at 11:06 pm

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The web at home.

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My first broadband was delivered via cable and was one of those where we could connect only one device to the cable modem. Subsequent ISPs however went down the wireless modem route, allowing me to connect multiple device to the net using ethernet as well as WiFi and the presence of a home network allowed me to do some interesting things which I decided to talk about.

I currently have a home network consisting of a laptop running windows XP professional, a desktop running Ubuntu 7.10 and a Sony Ericsson P990i smartphone running…well…symbian. The phone hasn’t really caught up with the others yet, but the two computers are dancing away like professional ballerinas. Things between them are so smooth and precise that it would not be outrageous to say they have literally become one computer, with desktops shared between the two, drives accessible and audio and video streaming all over the network. The fact that I could do all this so easily and with such a minimal cost made me think of the plethora of opportunities this brings up for the average home user.

As my computers are setup to share desktops remotely, I routinely work on my laptop in front of my TV running programs and accessing files on my desktop sitting in a completely different room. Gone are the days of having to decide between watching that great movie or doing those urgent computer repairs, now I can just do both. This also makes me think that maybe I don’t need a second monitor and input devices for the desktop once the OS is installed. I can just use my laptop and remotely control the desktop.

Sharing the drives of one computer on another means that there is no need to maintain two copies of everything because “someday” I may need to work on these files from the other pc. This not only save storage space (though that is not really in short supply nowadays) but I also don’t have to worry about synchronising the changes I made to one file with the copy on the other computer.

So what are the ramifications of this software and networking ability? To understand this, let us sit back and imagine a home of the future.

This futuristic abode will have a “home server”, which would quite simply be a desktop computer with lots of storage, a fast network connection(such as a wired connection straight to the router) and good(need not be phenomenal) processing power. This server will be the central storage and will store the family’s movie collection in digital format, the entire music and photo collection and all the important files that the family needs. It will also have a legitimate copy of Microsoft windows and office to avoid rude surprises when the nosey anti-piracy brigade come over. The server is also connected to the family’s TV set using the provided VGA connector and to the music system with the standard audio output cable.

The members of the family will have a multitude of mobile devices which will be Wifi enabled(duhhhh!!!) and be able to access the central storage on the server without breaking a sweat. The mobile devices do not have to be the bleeding edge of technology and even older laptops and desktops with not-so-great specs will work wonderfully. A second advantage is that all these devices can run open source software to keep the family on the right side of the law and some money in their wallets. Music can then be played on the music system directly or on any one of the mobile devices by streaming it. If there are enough mobile devices then each member of the family can watch a separate movie sitting in the same room at the same time, though the person with the TV will have a much better movie experience. Alternatively, one person can get some work done while the others simultaneously watch movies or listen to music, the enabling potential of the network is simply phenomenal!!!

Since the central computer does the job of so many devices rolled into one, plenty of room in the house can be freed for better uses. Why do we need a stack of DVDs/CDs if all the movies and music are stored digitally on a hard drive? While we are at it, we can chuck out the DVD player too. Who knows, with a large enough DVD collection, all this space could mean an extra room in the house 😛

All that I have mentioned above can be done today and it won’t cost a bomb. Computing power and storage are dirt cheap and mobile devices are becoming so pervasive that it is hard to imagine life without them. The only major hurdle is the legal one, which may prevent copying of DVDs to hard disk and ripping of music etc etc. But they will come down and I already see signs of that happening in Apples iTunes store and some companies offering movie downloads as well as DVD rentals.

“The network is the computer” was the truly pioneering statement by the founding fathers of Sun Microsystems, made long before broadband came around. From the world as I know it today, I can only revere the foresight behind this statement and look forward to the exciting times ahead as more and more devices become network enabled and we start to approach the “everything connects to everything” world.

But for now, let me get the phone dancing with the others…

Written by clueso

February 26, 2008 at 1:25 pm

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Since a month ago, i have my first and only PC solely dedicated to linux. It is my playground, a miniature lab where i can blow up things if i want and no one can do shit about it. Its pretty much a culmination of all my linux experiences so far, which have consisted of installing loads of different distributions and then moving the mouse around, too afraid to do anything else as I may be destroying someone else’s important data.

This system currently runs ubuntu 7.10 and so far i have been pretty successful in creating the replacement system for MS windows. This is part of my “legalisation” of the computer systems in my family and i hope to recreate this system on my parents computer as well, thus doing my bit to keep them from catching the latest which is roaming the net(they seem very good at this).

Ubuntu installed without a hitch as most linux distros do nowadays. There was an initial hiccup with my wireless card not working but that was soon sorted out by using ndiswrapper. Todays gnome is also much slicker and prettier than the one we had in the yesteryears and I do not miss the windows GUI at all while I am working with it, which was not the case in a lot of the older linux distros I had test driven. I know that this focus on the UI probably drops me from the “power users” list, but then , I do like a good look and feel 🙂

The best part of the whole system however is the advanced packaging tool (APT) which is used to install/update/remove software. This tool was first introduced by Debian to ease dependency resolution and it was adopted by all distros based on Debian(read Ubuntu). APT works by drawing software from Ubuntu repositories on the web so it is well and truly kissing goodbye to the installation disks, library dependency problems etc which can form part of a usual install. APT can search for the software in the repositories, check what libraries/programs are needed to run it, download the whole stuff, install it and hand over the system with the software perfectly installed and no hitches anywhere. The whole process is pretty much opaque to the user and I simply have no words to describe its ease, though probably “sublime” would be a good one 🙂 Dependency resolution was a pain in Red Hat and Mandrake when I last tried them out (which was a long time ago) and I have heard that these are also moving to an APT-kind of packaging tool, but kudos to the guys at Debian who first came up with the idea AND the implementation.

At the moment, I pretty much have a system that can replace a windows system for the average user. By “average”, I mean a system that can surf the web, send/receive email, RSS feeds, do all the kind of work that gets done in Microsoft office, listen to music and watch movies. Other important domains are photograph management/editing, for which I have ideas of what can be used, though I haven’t tried it out yet. I guess thats quite a capable system for most people, so in case anyone wants to “legalise” their system by adopting linux instead of buying windows software, I would highly recommend Ubuntu 🙂

I am now charting my plans for where I will go next and what i will use my new testbench machine for. Any interesting advances could make for a new post…

Written by clueso

February 10, 2008 at 1:16 pm

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