Take Apart A Computer: Follow-Up Post

(If you’re here because you want to know what to do with your shiny new Linux DVD, you can skip about the first third of this.)

Today I attended Take Apart A Computer Day, hosted by the Women In Computing club here at UNI. This was kind of a beta test run for a potentially larger event later on.

I worked together with two other girls (if you ladies are reading and want your names here, let me know–but I don’t generally mention names on this blog unless asked, for people’s privacy) on a huge old box. We have no clue if it worked beforehand (the consensus after two professors and all three of us took a crack at testing it was no), but it definitely isn’t working now, so I guess that’s a success. After all, the event isn’t called “Put a Computer Back Together in Full Working Order Day,” and we did get it apart. Eventually.

So, we learned a couple things from the beta run for next time:

  1. Test all the machines beforehand–after moving them.
  2. The test monitors that the computers also need to be tested on a known working box, so we know our testers work. Nothing like screwy monitor settings to make you crazy wondering what’s up with the computer.
  3. Two people is probably a good number for working on a computer together… three is a bit much. Having a partner makes things easier, but six hands is pretty awkward even if the people are friendly.
  5. Juice boxes! Yes, this is kind of a tradition with me now: bring juice into a place where it would be very bad to spill juice. But they were still all consumed! On the other hand, we need more people willing to take home pizza that’s been sitting out for a few hours…
  6. Having extra Linux install DVDs to hand out is a good thing! Not necessary, but good–people are curious!

Anyway, I’m sending this post around the WIC mailing list (er… Google group? It’s different from the CedarLUG list, which is legitimately an old-fashioned mailing list). About five of you folks from this event now have Linux test/install DVDs. If I remember right, I handed out a Xubuntu, a Mint, two versions of Debian, and… something else? Maybe that was it.

I’m pretty sure I’ve used each of them at one point, and they should all work even if they’re not all the newest and greatest; I think they’re all the long-term-stable releases so they’ll be fine. If they don’t work for whatever reason, don’t sweat it; email me or whatever and I’ll make more, or if you have blank DVDs lying around (or are willing to buy a pack for $5 at an office supply store), you can make one.


Anyway, when I give people techie stuff, I like to make sure they can easily figure out how to use it. (Doesn’t always happen, but I try to.)

So! If you’re curious about Linux and maybe just got a DVD from me, here’s a guide to all the guides I’ve written on the subject:

If you didn’t get a DVD or yours turned out to be a non-functional dud, here’s how to make one.

If you don’t have an optical drive in your computer, or want a more permanent plaything than the DVD, here’s how to make a virtual machine instead.

If you’re confused about the Linux ecosystem, here’s how I learned what I know.

If you’re just confused, period, here’s the FAQ I wrote for another event which involved lots of Linux newbies.

If you just want to run Linux off your DVD to play with it a little, it’s simple. Stick it in the optical drive of your computer, and restart the computer. While it boots, tap F12 (it’s probably F12, but keep an eye out for what key you’re supposed to press for menu options during your computer’s boot sequence) and select “Boot from CD/DVD” in the menu.

The difference between doing that and making a virtual machine is that a virtual machine will save any files you create from session to session (unless you do magic to configure it otherwise). An install DVD won’t save anything, so you get a fresh, clean system every time you start it up.

If that’s not working for you, email me in the list or comment on this post and I’ll try to help. If that still doesn’t work for you, bring the offending computer to the next WIC meeting if it’s portable (let me know what you’re doing so I make sure to come), or invite me over to your place if it’s not/if you can’t attend the meeting. I will help you get a Linux running if that’s something you want.

I’ve installed Linux on some weird old machines and gotten at least workable solutions out of them. Sometimes a setting needs to be tweaked or Google needs to be scoured for information. Sometimes a certain distro just doesn’t like your hardware, and you need to try a different one or download extra driver files or plug your computer into a wired Internet connection or something weird. Such is technology.

That’s usually not the case though. Most installs these days go really smoothly, especially with Mint or Xubuntu.

Speaking of installs, CedarLUG–UNI’s Linux Users Group–is holding a Backup Day pretty soon, and an Install Day sometime after that. If you want in on that, here’s the web site (I coded that! The penguin at the top is a bit of a giveaway…). Subscribing to that mailing list will get you updates on those events, and the occasional computer puzzle.

Happy Linux-ing!


Plant Yourself in STEM: My school is running Hour of Code!

And I’m involved!

I was a volunteer last year, too. It was a very popular and successful program, so we’re doing it again this year–only now we’re not only full but overflowed. Originally, we were supposed to run the program on Saturday, 12/12. But we’ve got two more schools who want to send their classes, and they didn’t want to do Saturday because it’s not a school day (by the time they’d heard, Saturday was full anyway), so we’re running on Friday too. In total, we have 105 people coming. It’s really exciting!

I’m going to be there both days. On the first day, I’ll be talking to 35 7th-9th graders about Linux and helping them figure out some basics like how to install stuff and where the web browser is. Maybe I can fit in a few command line tricks, too. I’ll be putting up an FAQ on this blog for them later. We’re doing it off a bunch of live CDs that Raine’s going to burn. And the “we” is kind of questionable–I may be handling that event on my own because volunteers for Friday are harder to get since some of our Saturday volunteers have to work.

On the second day, I’ll be helping with the actual Hour of Code event, which will be attended by 70 people (!). It’s totally booked, so we have to make sure every computer works that we can and see that there are no problems logging on. I think we’re getting an older group this year. We had a lot of kids last year–like, younger grade-school kids, starting out at maybe seven years old? And they did really well. I wonder if the older kids will get bored more easily. Some of those seven-year-olds whipped through like five Hour of Code activities and then looked at me and went, “What next?”

Hopefully if that happens, we can just send them up to look at our Oculus Rift and Google Glass and Raspberry Pis and some other neat gadgets we have. Or one of the other events… demos… activities… panels?… whatever. We were discussing an activity on how to make crossover cable, too, but I don’t know if we’re doing it–both because of price with how many people are coming, and with the fact that making crossover cable can be really bloody frustrating. And I think Raine is going to do another Linux event on Saturday. I’d be helping her, but Hour of Code needs programmer assistants, and Raine’s more than capable of handling the Linux panel on her own.

They didn’t really give me specific instructions on what to teach in the Linux thing. I’m going to run one of my VMs and see what I can come up with–it has to be doable on a live CD, not overly difficult, and not have a ton of room to make trouble or get off track. For example, showing where the browser is will come last. Someone will probably figure it out anyway and start messing around on the Internet–I’ll have to get them back on track. And someone will stop listening to me and start just exploring the system–I’m not going to stop them. Proto-hackers 😉

I guess they trust me enough to just send me off and trust that I know what I’m doing and will whip up something decent without a bunch of guidance. Or they didn’t think about it, but that’s ok because I’ll do just fine on my own.

I think I should draft my FAQ and the activity outline now.