Archive | February, 2010

Notes from NH Ruby/Rails group, 15-Feb-2010, Brian Turnbull and Object Oriented Programming

Despite being President’s Day, February 15th’s meeting of the NH Ruby group got 14 attendees. Held as usual at RMC Research in Portsmouth and hosted by Tim, a good time was had by all.

There was a round of introductions so everyone got to know each other. Announcements including Leslie Poston’s NHTweetup calendar, and the Rails Camp NE. Rails Camp is only a month away and down to a few last seats – don’t miss it!

Brian presented “Object Oriented Programming” — you can find the slides here. The presentation was a good high-level overview of OOP, as seen from the Ruby perspective. Brian noted ways in which Ruby differed from C++ and Java. There was some very good discussion and some teasers of future presentations: Mixins were thought too complex to try to squeeze into this presentation, and Brian is developing another talk, “The Complete Class,” which will include a discussion of all of the methods, properties and attributes a class should have to encapsulate best practices. I’m looking forward to both of those discussions.

Brian finished with two puzzles. Having covered the principles of OOP, Brian handed us an interesting problem to code: a 3×3 sliding tile puzzle. It’s great to see actual code being developed at the meetings, and it was a good challenge in that we all understood the problem domain. We broke into small groups and started modeling the problem. At the end of the evening Brian presented his model and code.

The bonus  challenge involved taking Brian’s model and solving a particular puzzle in the fewest steps possible. I worked with a team that took this one on, repeating the classic steps of invoking recursion, discovering the limits of Ruby on the Mac for stack overflows 😉 and failing to properly store and retrieve states and scopes diving in and out of the recursion. While we didn’t finish the solution, we had some great discussions on the various ways to solve the problem and all learned more about working with Ruby, which after all is the point. Brian also posted his solution to finding the shortest steps to solving this problem.

Thanks to Tim and RMC Research for hosting us in their fine facilities, to Brian for organizing, pizza and the presentation, and to all for attending and participating!

Notes from Seacoast LUG, Caroline Meeks and Sugar on a Stick

The Seacoast Linux User Group met last night, as they always do on the second Monday of the month, in Morse Hall Room 301 on the UNH Durham campus, at 7 PM. Kudos to Robert Anderson who’s been running the group… well, forever. Sixteen people attended last night’s very interesting meeting, which featured Caroline Meeks speaking on “Sugar on a Stick.”

Caroline’s been involved in Open Source since 1999 and is very interested in education. Her business, Solution Grove ( specializes in Open Source learning and knowledge management. She’s currently studying at Harvard Graduate School of Education and plans to complete her Masters in Education this year. She spoke (and demoed) enthusiastically about the activities available on Sugar and the remarkable effects they had on kids, leading to very positive educational outcomes.

Sugar on a Stick, a project from Sugar Labs, is an effort that puts the Sugar desktop (started on the One Laptop Per Child machines) onto a USB stick so an educational computer is available to a child any time they can access a computer. (SugarLabs is a spinoff open source project, with it’s own Sugar Labs Oversight Board (yes, SLOBS) and an all-volunteer force.) Caroline presented what Sugar on a Stick can do now, how it’s working in and out of schools, discussed the technical hurdles they are running into and made an appeal for help in testing/debugging/building, especially on Ubuntu’s project, the Sugar Remix.

Sugar on a Stick addresses the Achille’s Heel of the One Laptop Per Child program: despite a number of successful pilot programs, most deployments of OLPC haven’t resulted in each child having their own computer that they could keep with them, take home safely and use fulltime. When children have to share computers, or only get an hour at the lab, they are missing out. Sugar on a Stick lets the kids take their USB sticks with them and use them in whatever computer is handy. They can run their projects on Mom or Dad’s computer without harming that machine (or vice versa!) and can play whenever a machine is available.

Some games and educational programs don’t work at improving outcomes. One attendee cited an example of a well-known reader game. A study revealed that scores went _down_ after six months of using the reading program. The attendee referred to it as the “Drill and Kill” syndrome.

There’s lots of work that needs to be done on the project. The current version, based on Fedora’s Live stack, was developed in an era of much smaller capacity USB sticks and made compromises that aren’t needed any more. The compressed filesystem is suspected of being a problem with the corrupted stick phenomenon, which occurs too often to consider the project “ready for prime time.” Caroline said that, with a classroom of kids working Sugar on a Stick, there would always be one or two corrupted sticks. That’s too much data loss, too much frustration and disappointment, and too much disruption to be suitable for a classroom environment.

SugarLabs need mentors (those of us in LUGs) to finish making the software work. There’s not a lot of money in it right now, although they are looking at all possible grant sources. There’s a lot of enthusiastic high school students who need help pointing them in the right direction. College students have an opportunity to use a “Do Something” grant to provide compensation for working on this project. The call to action is for mentors and those familiar with the internals of Linux, especially Ubuntu’s live media functionality, to coach, mentor, supervise and help out in getting the next version of Sugar on a Stick, the Ubuntu Sugar Remix.

Prezi was the presentation software Caroline was using. It was pretty neat. Her presentation can be found at: Caroline’s presentation and demonstration were quite impressive, and her obvious enthusiasm for the project lead to an energentic question-and-answer session at the end.

Thanks to Caroline for the presentation, to Robert and UNH for hosting and all for attending and participating!

Notes from CentraLUG, 1-Feb-2010

Five people attended the February 1st meeting of the Central New Hampshire Linux User Group. We met at Room 146 of the New Hampshire Technical Institute’s Library from 7 to 9 PM.

There were lots of interesting discussion. Ed was attending for the first time, and is getting back into software engineering after some time in another career. He had some questions on what the different distros were and how they worked, and there were, of course, plenty of opinions. Susan had some updates on her research on the BF scheduler, the bleeding-edge Ubuntu releases, realtime kernels, and the Dragon Naturally Speaking application. I reviewed some of the upcoming meetings, and there was a lot of interest in the Seacoast LUG’s “Sugar on a Stick” presentation and the Cascading Stylesheet presentation at PySIG at the end of the month.

Mark McSweeney made the main presentation. Mark works in a small office with a few partners, and budgets are tight. A few years ago, they had deployed a Microsoft back end and discovered that there were no satisfactory solutions for spam filtering on the Exchange server they had as a mail server. Mark came up with a very effective and economical solution using PostFix, Amavisd-new, ClamAV, DCC, Razor, Pyzor and SpamAssassin. Mark’s slides can be found at, including links to the solution he followed, an updated version of which can be found at

Member Susan Cragin will be making the presentation at out March 1st meeting, on the Dragon Naturally Speaking 10 program running on WINE. Stay tuned for more details.

Thanks for Mark for his great presentation, to the NHTI and Library staff for the great facilities, to Dave Rose for bringing the projector, and to all for attending and participating!

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