Fact Controlled
for Special Learners

View from the Classroom
Worms, Fall Break, Panther, and Desktop Photos
by Steve Wood
October 10, 2003




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Having just finished reading Jeff Adkins' latest Mac Lab Report, I Am Not a Mac Fanatic, I finally find myself inspired enough to once again put something new up on this site. Jeff wrote about the prudence of diversity of computer operating systems. He does a good job of telling how putting all your eggs in one basket can lead to disaster.

Our school system is currently recovering from just such a disaster. After moving almost totally to Windows-based computers, our network has been rendered almost useless by an invasion of the W32.Welchia.Worm. While the network is protected by a Linux server and appropriate virus scanning software, it was flooded from within by the worm from a teacher laptop infected at home and brought to school.

Since my classroom is nearly an all-Mac show, the effect has been minimal, other than the periodic loss of web and email access. Since we're only making minimal use of the Airport (wireless) capabilities of our iBooks, their loss of wireless printing had a negligible effect. At times, the worm pounded the network so hard that it was necessary to turn off Airport on the iBooks and later to just unplug the switch that is the gateway to my classroom network. Even my G4 QuickSilver experienced printing and USB problems, presumably from the pounding going on as the Worm searched for open ports. The telling factor was when I pulled the switch's Cat5 cable from its network connection and rebooted everything, all was well with my QuickSilver once again.

The most serious effect to my students has been the loss of our one freestanding PC. It came as part of a grant and is equipped with a dandy ELO Touchscreen monitor. Other than its "gee whiz" factor, it's great for running Lexia Learning System's Early Reading, Phonics Based Reading, and Reading S.O.S. and Riverdeep's Destination Reading. Portions of both programs lend themselves to a touchscreen approach with the younger set. (The programs are cross-platform and also run very well on our iBooks, albeit, without the touchscreen effect.)

Although I keep my Toshiba laptop's virus definitions up-to-date automatically, the touchscreen computer was running Windows 2000 Professional without antivirus software, relying instead on Windows Update patches. It either became infected or succumbed to the pounding the worm was putting out. I knew I'd been had when it began the game of restarts, failed bootups, etc. associated with this and other worms and viruses. I pulled it off the network and to be sure, scrubbed the hard drive and reinstalled a system and my essential software.

The computer wizards arrived the next day with their mandatory detection, repair, and prevention patches. Even though they pronounced both of my PCs clean of the worm, their patches were indiscriminately applied by the tech assistant to the touchscreen unit. It again became unusable. I found he'd locked me out of administration, changed my settings, and generally fouled everything up. Then the crash and restart routine began anew. Unplugging the unit from the network, checking all the chip and card seatings and cabling connections did no good. I even switched mice, but eventually, it all failed, and I began another round of formatting and reinstalls. Fortunately, I'd intervened before the assistant techie got a chance to work his magic on my Toshiba laptop that carries all of my PC-specific special education files.

His boss arrived in my room Thursday afternoon after I'd again wiped the drive of the touchscreen and was going through the reinstall routine. After a quick check of network activity, or rather, inactivity, since everyone else had shut off their machines (some still infected and hammering the network) and left, I plugged the machine back into the network and ran Symantec's Live Update a couple of times. A subsequent virus scan came up clean. We then proceeded to download and install the required XP security patches. The techie decided not to mess with my setup, as even he had been unable to repair the previous damage done by his assistant.

My school's current worm experience serves to emphasize Jeff's sage warnings about going to all one platform, be it Windows, Macintosh, Linux, or something else. We were well protected from an external attack via the internet or email, but were brought down by an inexperienced computer user bringing in the virus on an infected laptop. Attendance records, grades, and all manner of everyday classroom computing chores were interrupted by the successful worm attack. Even the few remaining Macs were affected by the flood of signals on the network. But...the Macs did keep on working:-).

Fall Break

We have Friday and Monday off for fall break. The holiday is an anachronism from the days of a two-day fall teachers' association convention for fellowship and inservice. After our state teachers' association grew teeth and morphed into an effective teachers' union, required attendance at the conference was dropped by school systems across the state. The break remained as a late October vacation. Since our system is close to the Park County Covered Bridge Festival (IN), the holiday was wrapped around the event's weekend dates this year in an effort to increase both student and faculty attendance!

While I'd really like to go into work and finish the updates and installations on the touchscreen and generally catch up on paperwork, the techie told me as I left Thursday that he was pulling the network down for the day for repairs. The worm strikes again.

I'd originally set the holiday aside to finish some siding repair and painting on the house, but a rainy front is now moving through central Indiana. So...I'm enjoying eating Cheetos and writing a column instead. The column is probably a good idea, while the Cheetos are now permissible since an external skin cream somehow got into my system and started a nausea-induced 25-pound weight reduction. That brought me back from obese to just pretty darned fat!


Jaguar Pricing ColumnFifteen months ago I published a column entitled Jaguar Pricing: Where Does It Leave Schools? It was a rather negative commentary on Apple's no-upgrade path pricing scheme for the Jaguar OS X 10.2 upgrade. I limited most of my observations in the column to the ramifications of Apple's pricing on the education sector. The upgrade was offered to both educational institutions and individuals alike for the discounted education price of $69 postpaid.

While $69 probably sounded pretty good to most individual educators after seeing the no-discount $129 retail price of Jaguar, it posed a significant problem for schools trying to keep their Macs up to date. Several minimal discounts were later offered to schools by Apple.

Only when Apple finally realized that its educational market was disappearing in a rush did Apple belatedly offer individual teachers a free copy of Jaguar. Many schools such as mine beseeched all of our teachers to order the upgrade and and allow us to use it on a school Mac (as most of our teachers long ago went PC).

While many saw the move by Apple a generous offer, I found it to be an act of desperation. Apple was on the verge of becoming a nonentity in the education market (See Straight Talk About the Education Market).

Custom 24 iBook cartWith the announced Panther upgrade pricing, it appears Apple learned little from its experience of schools almost universally rejecting the Jaguar upgrade due to its excessive cost. Apple once again appears to be trying to shore up short-term revenue figures while alienating current OS X educational users. Upgrading the Macs in my classroom, even at Apple's Volume Licensing price, would cost $1475!

As I poked around the web, I got lucky and quickly stumbled across a link to John H. Farr's Comments: Nobody's Happy with the Policy posting. John links to Gene Steinberg's The Panther Report: Here Come the Upgrade Follies and Dan Gilmor's ejournal, where Dan writes, "Apple sells fine gear, and I'll fork over the bucks for the software at some point. I hope the company will do the right thing for all of its customers before I give someone my credit card number. Right now, Apple just looks arbitrary, and greedy."

As to schools, I suspect only the wealthiest of schools will even contemplate purchasing Panther across the board. The institution of exactly the same initial pricing scale that failed so miserably with the Jaguar upgrade reflects poorly on Apple's "commitment to education." I know of very few (actually none) school systems that are currently better off financially than they were fifteen months ago when they rejected Jaguar so unanimously that Apple was forced to give the upgrade away to teachers to get the ball rolling.

Apple undoubtedly will have to modify their pricing to schools to make it acceptable, although I don't anticipate another giveaway. The thing that just blows me away is that Apple is again shooting itself in the foot in exactly the same way it did with the Jaguar upgrade.

Will Sonnet Make the (Up)Grade?

Gene notes that my beloved beige G3 has been left behind by the Panther upgrade and is unsupported by Apple. My G3 Minitower now sports a Sonnet Encore G4 1.0 GHz upgrade card. While Apple's Panther System Requirements page clearly states, "Mac OS X does not support processor upgrade cards," I've plunked down my order in hopes that Sonnet's "All Encore/ZIF upgrades are fully compatible with OS X" statement will apply to the Panther upgrade and my aging G3. If not, the QuickSilver tower in my classroom will get the upgrade.

I've obviously voted with my credit card that I think Panther will be worth the $69 educational price. Jaguar was certainly worth that price for me as an individual, even though I later got another copy free via Apple's OS X for Teachers program. My school did have grant money available for software at the time of the Jaguar upgrade, but it was never given serious consideration due to the outrageous cost involved in upgrading all of our OS X Macs at school.

Desktop Photos

BugDrainpipe in the MistAfter using several of the school's digital cameras the last few years, I finally bought a digital camera last summer. I'm pretty happy with the Nikon Coolpix 4300. Since I live in the shadow of a nature reserve (and a relatively clean coal-fired power plant), I've had the opportunity to grab some nice nature shots. Several weeks ago, I put a few of the better shots online for use as Desktop Photos. I now carry my Coolpix nearly everywhere so I can capture shots such as the one at right. When I got home and examined what I thought was a real "keeper," I found I'd better name it "Drainpipe in the Mist!" I'm still learning.

Will You Look at those Apples

Fruit laden apple treeLarge applesWhile our garden this summer was only moderately successful, our apple harvest has been nothing short of astonishing. In talking to other folks in the area who have apple trees, I've found we all have experienced similar results -- a bountiful harvest of very large apples. Many of the apples have split their skin while still on the tree. I assume that comes from incredibly fast growth, although I'm not sure.

Our main apple tree is a semi-dwarf Stayman Winsap...a 25' semi-dwarf Stayman Winesap. It appears it grew right through the dwarfing grafts, but it's become an incredible producer. We also have a spindly 3-year-old Granny Smith semi-dwarf tree that produced eight or ten giant green apples. Guess we just had great growing conditions this summer for apples.

Odd Thoughts While Shaving Between Paragraphs:

It's been a while since I've published a column. While I am again teaching at Backwash Elementary and they did indeed hire another learning disabilities teacher, they didn't retain any of the teaching assistants. I actually have a column in development titled "The Decision to Return: Or How the Administration Makes 3-2+1=More" that probably will never see the light of day.

I'm pretty busy trying to stay up with 17 K-3 disabled kids. Switching to the younger set has taken a lot of time in preparation and challenged me to do some new and different things in the classroom. The highlight of last week for the kids was their "fruit treat" earned through our behavior modification program.

Unfortunately, the powers that be still don't get it when it comes to special education. They appear to be content to place the kids and knowingly leave us unable to execute the students IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) due to chronic understaffing of the program.

So...there's not a lot of time left these days for writing.

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©2003 Steven L. Wood