Category Archives: Tech Articles

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Hull Raspberry Jam – 23rd April 2016

This weekend I was lucky enough to be involved with hosting the second Raspberry Pi Jam event that Hull has seen. Through Twitter, Claire Garside and myself got talking and a tweet of my Raspberry Pi robot I was building one weekend, led to a discussion about re-igniting the Raspberry Jam events in Hull.

Thanks must go to Claire and the Leeds Raspberry Jam team for the loan of all the equipment which allowed our event to go ahead. Thanks also must go to Malet Lambert and Stephen Logan for allowing us to use their space.

The event kicked off with an introduction to the Raspberry Pi and allowed people to get hands on setting up their Pi and getting everything running. They then had a chance to hack a Scratch game and try to improve it.

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Hello Minecraft World!

Minecraft screen shots with your Raspberry Pi

We are just about to begin teaching our Python and Minecraft unit at school so I began testing everything out on our latest Raspberry Pi image to make sure we were ready for the lessons and adjust any of the lesson plans if necessary.

Our latest Raspberry Pi image runs Jessie. Now one of the improvements Jessie brings us is that the Print Screen button on your keyboard has been set up to run Scrot in the background to save a png screen shot into your home directory. You can read more about it here.

Now that is great as for quite some time taking a screen shot on your Raspberry Pi involved installing Scrot and then running it from the terminal; not the most user-friendly way to get students to take screen shots!

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iSAMS to Moodle Sync – One Year On

So we have been running my iSAMS to Moodle sync for over a  year now at my school and I thought it was probably time to write an update about how it has gone and what changes I have had to make to the system.

This July we had our first academic roll-over with the system in place and this highlighted a few things which need adjusting.

I had been thinking about the best way we could set courses up within Moodle using the iSAMS sync for some time and decided that the best way to continue was to allow the iSAMS sync courses to operate purely as enrolment courses and to be connected to the “live” Moodle courses using the “Course Meta Link” functionality of Moodle.

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Getting your Raspberry Pi to update through your school firewall

I have seen many posts on both Twitter and CAS about teachers having issues getting their class Raspberry Pis to update and install software through their school firewalls, so I thought I would share the simple solution that I have implemented at my school.

It actually leverages something that I put in place for our Ubuntu Linux servers, but works just as well for Raspberry Pi devices too.

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Updating our Raspberry Pi Image

We have just purchased a set of Raspberry Pi 2 boards to upgrade our Raspberry Pi B+ / HDMIPI set-up which we have been using for Computer Science this year. I will not go into the reasons why or the specifications of the Raspberry Pi 2; but needless to say the performance increase seen will make teaching with these devices much easier!

So we received our new Pi 2 boards and got straight into removing the old B+ boards from our HDMIPI set-up and installing the new Pi 2 boards. Pretty soon I ran into an issue though; having replaced the Pi board and using one of our SD Cards with our current image installed on it, the system would not boot; it just sat there at the rainbow boot screen. It turns out that the Pi 2 has an updated ARM processor and therefore needs the latest updates installing for the Pi to boot.  Now I could have just downloaded the latest Rasbian image and been up and running, but we have quite a few customisations to our image which I wanted to keep

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Ubuntu, RAID and SMART

We have a number of our physical Linux servers set up to use Linux MD RAID to provide either RAID 1 or 5 fault tolerance on our disks. This is all great so long as it is working as expected! I came into work to find that after a reboot from a kernel update one of our servers could not bring up its swap drive. The swap partition was a RAID 1 array made up from two mirrored disks.

I began to look at mdadm to find out what was wrong. Running:

# cat /proc/mdstat

revealed that one of the drives had failed putting both arrays into degraded mode and to make matters worse the only remaining good disk had now developed errors in the partition used for swap! Thankfully the second array / partition which contained the system files was still on-line, albeit in a degraded state.

So the first thing to do was to get a new disk into the array and synchronise the data onto it. After that I needed to remove the other original disk and replace that too. Once all that was done and the data re-synchronised onto both new disks I wanted to look at how we can increase our monitoring of disks so that we don’t get in this situation again!

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Creating Student Detail Exports from iSAMS for LimeSurvey

We have LimeSurvey installed at school for creating and managing web-based surveys. For those who don’t know LimeSurvey it is an Open Source fully featured web-based survey system. It runs on one of our internal web-servers and is being used to survey staff, students and parents about a whole range of different topics.

One of the challenges with using survey systems can be ensuring that only the users you want to can access the survey, and that they only complete the survey once. LimeSurvey gets around this issue by making use of “Tokens”. You can read more about this on their on-line manual here:

This post explains how to export student details from iSAMS in a format that LimeSurvey can accept and how to import them into your survey.

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Moodle User Pictures from iSAMS

Having linked our Moodle installation with iSAMS to automate course creation and enrolment I began looking around at what other things we could link up and automate. Whilst spending some time on the Moodle forums, I came across this post: which linked to a command line script someone had added to the Moodle Docs to allow for synchronisation of user profile pictures.

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RD Web and RD Gateway through Ubuntu

So I finally got our RD Web and RD Gateway servers running at school, which is great as we can have remote desktop and remote application access back to the school network without the need to muck around configuring VPN tunnels for people. The RD Gateway neatly bundles all the RDP traffic up inside a HTTPS / SSL / TLS tunnel for us.

I am not going to go into the details of that install as there are plenty of good resources out there like for example; and it drove me round the bend a bit! Anyway, it all works now 😉

Accessing from home on my Windows 7 machine worked a treat, as did accessing them from my Android phone using the Microsoft RDP App. I haven’t tried OSX or iOS as I don’t have access to those devices; but I am sure that Microsoft’s RDP Client for OSX will deliver.

So then I tried to connect to the RD Session Host through my Ubuntu machine…

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Secure Web Printing for BYOD

So with the successful introduction of our BYOD project at school; the most requested addition from our students was the ability to print to the network printers from their personal devices.

Normally this would be a no-go area as ensuring the compatibility of devices with your printers and installing drivers, or asking users to install drivers to access the printers would be an administrative nightmare. An additional complication is the fact that the BYOD devices are separated from our main network for security and management reasons. So how could we securely allow any users personal device the ability to print to our network?

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