Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Future best universities may surprise us

Rankings of Indian universities in a recent higher education survey was not particularly impressive. But that was hardly surprising. An article about why there is a crisis in Delhi university made me recall my views about Goa's potential as a fantastic place for learning.

Every time I visited the Goa University campus on Taleigao or Goa Engineering College in Verna, the serenity and beauty were striking. It seemed obvious that there could not be a better place for contemplation and research.

Little incidents indicated that teachers were sincere and cared. This was supported by a cousin who was training teachers for a major publication house. She said that she was pleasantly surprised by the dedication and sincerity of the participants. It was different from her experiences in general.

The environment and the atmosphere are right so why the absence of progress. Regrettably, the University Grants Commission (UGC) promotes uniformity in the guise of excellence. So, Goa University is a smaller version of the rest of Indian Universities - potential is there but execution is depressing.

It is a small university with not too many affiliated colleges. A little change in direction and autonomy can make a phenomenal difference. It is not money but a change in attitude that we can do it will make all the difference.

I keep hoping that one day soon I will hear that Goa University is excelling in X. That X does not have to engineering and medicine. It probably will be an 'obscure' subject - because making a change in a domain which is ignored is much easier. The rest of the society will notice only after success has already been achieved. Much like our software services industry.

Let it be modern languages, music or any one thing which will help trigger a movement for excellence by proving that it is possible.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Education, Testing, Memories

I came across Testing the Chinese Way from several sources. It is hard to avoid personal memories. I went to a public school in the US and my recollections are of weekly tests. I did not like schools (an understatement) but it was not because of tests.

I left the US at the age of 25 but have continued to have a fondness for their educational system - or what existed 35 years ago.

I suffered from self-inflicted tortures in school. I did not need tests to tell me that I was bloody awful in gym. I recall once I actually caught a flier and my team and the batter were amazed! (No team picked me. I was inflicted on one of the teams.) My mind wandered so much that I could never focus long enough to concentrate on where the ball went! If that was meant to build team spirit, it miserably failed me and not because of tests.

Frequent tests were like deadlines - I knew I had understood. But to make sure that I did well in tests, I was able to revise and review. Repetition is a must for absorbing knowledge so that it becomes a part of us and we do not need to memorize it.

Problem from my perspective is not testing but what we test. I probably started to appreciate psychology and philosophy after a test. In a psychology class, we were given an aptitude test. It did not surprise me that my interests matched those who did well in physics, chemistry and maths. It also came as no surprise that my interests did not match policemen or military personnel. But what did surprise me were two peaks for psychology and philosophy! It surprised me that I did not have to like biology to enjoy and appreciate psychology.

I am more inclined to favour good tests (or if one is allergic to the word, challenges). In fact, I would be inclined to believe that good challenges can be a very plausible substitute for good teachers. That is one of the reasons I like the OLPC project.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mint introduces a rolling option!

I haven't tried Mint. But it was a pleasant surprise to read that Mint will have a rolling distribution based on Debian testing repository. I have been convinced for some time that we should not have to change our OS - ever(at least for a long-long time). I was reminded of it by a blog entry about Windows vs Ubuntu release cycle.

I have been very happy with Arch Linux since Jan 2010. I haven't switched all my home systems because the range of applications available in Fedora repositories is considerably greater. I suppose I could use the rawhide repositories and that would be like a rolling distribution. However, the risk of the system breaking with that option is likely to be very high.

I am planning to use Arch Linux as the primary version on Lenovo S10-3 netbook using KDE's netbook style as the needs are well defined. The initial setup effort is worth the smoother subsequent operation.

I am not opting for Arch Linux because it is 'faster'. I do not know if that is even correct.

Nor am I doing so to have a fine control over the packages installed.

I am opting for it to so that I do not have to decide when to upgrade!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

S10-3 - Unusual wifi problem

I am not sure when exactly it happened or why. I was playing around with the physical switch to turn the wireless off and using the Reliance broadband usb modem. It was frequently disconnecting and speed was low. It probably was a network issue. But I wanted to be sure that it was not a Lenovo netbook or OS problem.

Anyway, when I tried to use wifi, wireless indicator LED was off and connection failed no matter how hard I tried. The LED hasn't been on since.

The symptoms were similar to a problem reported in Ubuntu forum. However, in my case wl driver is used and not ath9k. I tried the same solution and a simpler variation worked.

Bluetooth capability of the netbook is not discovered at boot time. Wifi doesn't work. The wireless indicator LED remains off. However, on Ubuntu, MeeGo and Arch Linux, if the system is suspended and then restarted, Bluetooth device is recognised. But even more important, wifi just works. However, the LED remains off.

I went to the shop from where I bought it - no luck. They fiddled with hardware, reconnected some cables and symptoms remain the same. They wanted Windows to do anything more.

I thought I would at least email the problem to Lenovo support. No luck - the serial number of my system is rejected as being invalid. I hope it is because the sale is not yet in their system. Oh, well, will have to follow-up.

In the process, I found that a driver ideapad-acpi(ideapad-laptop) has been submitted to the mainline kernel. So, the functions for enabling/disabling wireless should work and that may clear up what is definitely a bios bug.

Meanwhile there is one advantage though - no unauthorised user can use of the wifi on my netbook :)

Friday, September 10, 2010

KDE 4.5 on Lenovo S10-3

Kubuntu 10.10 beta does not have a separate netbook edition. Instead the plasma workspace type can be changed to Netbook.

I could not boot with the Kubuntu 10.10beta livecd on Lenovo S10-3. Fortunately, this bug was reproducible and will hopefully be resolved soon.

One of my desires was to learn the setup of netbooks in more detail. A great way of doing that is to use Arch Linux. It is currently using 2.6.35 kernel and KDE4.5.

Since I wanted to have a reasonable but not too fine a control over what I installed, I decided to follow the route of kde-meta packages. The available meta-packages were obtained using
# pacman -Sg kde-meta

I decided to install kde-meta-kdebase, kde-meta-kdeutilities, kde-meta-kdenetworking and kde-meta-kdemultimedia.

The first problem I encountered was pretty simple. X wouldn't start. It turned out that xorg package had to be installed separately.

Next, I installed intel driver for X.

Working with the mousepad was a problem - it was very jerky and sensitive. It took a while to realise that touchpad has a separate driver. I needed to install xf86-input-synaptics package. It was a great relief being able to work with the mousepad without going crazy.

I changed the workspace type to Netbook in the settings and I had the new look.

While it will take time to get used to it. The main page starts with the search and launch options. Most likely it is the usual kde4 menu but with a very different look and feel. One can search for an application or select it from application groups.

Once the application is started, the top bar is hidden. The entire screen is taken up by the application. I prefer this approach. It reminds me of the reason why one commentator had praised dedicated eBook readers - There are no distractions. On the desktop, while watching a youtube or similar video, I frequently find myself making use of the extra space to start a game of solitaire!

It is going to be enjoyable exploring it and getting used to it. At my age, learning something new is a necessity :)

New Ubuntu Netbook Interface

Next step was to try the newly released 10.10 beta with a new look netbook edition. I updated the Ubuntu netbook installation. All went well, except that it would not boot with the 2.6.35 kernel used on 10.10 beta :(

Fortunately, the 2.6.32 kernel from the 10.04 version was still available and I could use that to boot and work.

The new look is indeed quite different. There is still an activity bar on top. In addition commonly used applications are available as icons in a vertical bar on the left.

Menus seems to be giving way or, at least, co-existing with search tools. A search tool is available for searching for files and applications for selecting a task to start.

There is also an applications icon in the vertical bar. It will display applications on a full screen. Grouping application in tabbed pages and a search option makes it is very nice to use.

The vertical bar of icons is quite flexible. When an application is started, the icon in the bar changes if it was already there. Otherwise the icon of the activated application is added to the bar. Both the vertical and horizontal bars are always visible. This is a trade-off between convenience of information about the system available at a glance and the desire to have as much space available for the application as possible.

Switching between applications is, thus, a single mouse click. However, it often took me time to find the icon of the application to which I wanted to switch.

I realise that the new netbook edition is a work in process. But I am inclined to favour the MeeGo or the KDE Netbook workspace approach. Hiding everything else helps one focus on the current task with minimal distraction.

Update: Booting Ubuntu 10.10 with 2.6.35-22 kernel now works by appending "intel_idle.max_cstate=0" to kernel parameter. For more details https://bugs.launchpad.net/bugs/634702

Experiments with Lenovo S10-3

I finally gave up waiting for a tablet and decided to get a new netbook even though at over 2 kg, it is considerably heavier than the 1KG eepc701 I used. The eepc 701 now though was too limiting.

The first thing I tried was the Ubuntu 10.04 netbook edition. The interface was same as the 9.10 I had used on eepc.

Since it has 150 gb of disk space, I installed MeeGo 1.0 as well. I like the ui of MeeGo but it did not support the Reliance USB modem. Huawei modem is still detected as a mass storage device on MeeGo though the next release may have a fix.

The broadcom wireless driver had to be built and installed. The instructions were straightforward and worked well.

Various options are available as tabs in a horizontal bar on the top of the screen. This is different from the way the bar is typically used. If an application is started, the bar disappears until the mouse is pushed to the top.

Applications available in the repository are fairly limited. However, Fedora will soon have a MeeGo spin. I will probably use it more only then.

KDE 4 plasma workspace has a Netbook option. So, I installed Kubuntu netbook edition. It uses the entire screen for an application. Pushing the mouse to the top displays the activity bar. Pushing the mouse to the left corner displayed the active applications.

NetworkManager works very well in switching between USB modem, wireless and wired connections in both Kubuntu and Ubuntu.

So far there were no surprises or complications.