Category Archives: FreeSoftware

WordPress, Oh WordPress, How I Loathe Thy Links

Since I’m now contributing to a WordPress blog on a regular basis, one of the annoying aspects of WordPress includes a terrible way of handling links, as shown in the picture below. It takes 3 clicks to get things done.

As a result, I’ve started looking for an alternative blog entry composer, another way of writing and submitting to WordPress.

notice I typed the link in the box…

but you can see that it just made a search out of it, and
I have to click on the “open link in a new tab” box. What a pain!

One of the solutions I stumbled upon, almost immediately, is the Open Live Writer, a Windows program for the new Windows 10 machine that I’m carrying around these days (OneNote IS the killer app).

Open Live Writer looks like a free open source version of Windows Live Writer (which you can still get but hasn’t kept up with the times), and works surprisingly well (Microsoft and Windows are surprising almost every day with how wonderful they are).

As you can see from the image above, one of Open Live Writer advantages over Windows Live Writer is that it supports WordPress and Google’s Blogger (my favorite blogging tool!).  The former has worked quite well.

Mac user?

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

THE Journal Interview – Miguel Guhlin on Free Open Source

Doing a bit of navel-gazing, I took a moment to google my name to see what might come up. I’d completely forgotten about this THE Journal interview done in 2010, “How To Get Started with Open Source in K-12.” The article’s lead is as follows:

For K-12 IT directors, the major appeal of open source software (OSS) generally focuses on savings in licensing fees and access to software that would not otherwise be affordable. Many also are finding that OSS simply is the best solution for their school districts–even compared to commercial versions.

Here are the parts where I was quoted:

Miguel Guhlin, director of Instructional Technology & Learning Services (ITLS) in San Antonio Independent School District in Texas, said that the system has not changed–even as views toward proprietary software are shifting.
“We’re still, as a movement, facing the habits of yesterday, which involved vendors wooing school officials,” Guhlin said. “You have to get the latest and greatest, when the fact is the latest and greatest is very expensive.”

2. Miguel Guhlin, San Antonio ISD, San Antonio, TX
For Guhlin, at San Antonio ISD, the time to adopt OSS came when the district’s proprietary database was changing to a new version. He was not familiar with the technology and was going to have to learn something new anyway.

OSS Implementation
Filemaker Pro Server’s shift from CDML (codes placed in HTML Web pages that interact with the database) to XML resulted in Guhlin implementing MySQL. The main advantage, he said, was the variety of solutions that worked with MySQL–solutions that were themselves free.

“While I knew CDML fairly well having worked on it for a few years, I hadn’t a clue about XML,” Guhlin said. “This made switching to PHP/MySQL easier because I could use [Adobe] Dreamweaver to do the ‘coding’ for me.”
Guhlin’s district also set up a Red Hat Linux server after finding that the district’s Windows server could not handle the latest version of Joomla and kept crashing. The new server was set up with Apache, MySQL, PHP, and Joomla.

Another OSS experiment was the selection of a CMS. Teachers were expected to maintain Web sites, but Guhlin realized that most would not achieve even a low proficiency at designing their sites. They needed a CMS that used a simple word processor.

The first CMS the district tried was Plone for two department Web sites–Advanced Academic Services and Reading/English/Language Arts. Staff members in Advanced Academic Services, in particular, found it easy to update their sites without using Dreamweaver. “They were impressed they could go in and make the changes themselves,” he said.

IT staff used Plone for a few months, while researching solutions that would be even easier for end users. Early on they selected Mambo, the precursor to Joomla, which had been in place for a year and a half. When the Mambo development team split off to form Joomla, Guhlin decided to follow the Joomla team.

“The old approach was a Webmaster at the center who had control,” he said. “We had campuses with years of information that was completely out of date.” The new approach can be seen in a series of video testimonials from principals who now maintain their own sites.

For a learning management system (LMS), Guhlin selected Moodle, which the district runs on a Mac server, though he said the optimal solution would be to run Moodle is on a GNU/Linux server. He wrote an article about setting up Moodle servers on his blog.

He selected Moodle because it is easy to support and has a large support community, he said, as well as opportunities for professional development. Still, to develop the level of complexity that was needed for a large organization, the district hired a vendor for support, Alchemy.

Another OSS project was to find a solution for surveys. Collecting data was not difficult, but designing the surveys and then analyzing the data was challenging. Now they use the OSS UCCASS (Unit Command Climate Assessment and Survey System), as well as Moodle’s Questionnaire module to collect information.

For a frequently asked questions (FAQ) database, he found a variety of systems that are based on PHP and MySQL. The best resource for finding software during the process, he said, was, which features solutions for PHP/MySQL. He also put a list of recommendations on his blog. Ultimately, the district decided to use Moodle.

Other experiments were not as successful. B2evolution and WordPress did not take off, partly owing to account management with 3,000 teachers and 54,000 students. “We let these initiatives die because of support issues. If they had become popular, it would be overwhelming for a small staff,” he said.

“We’ve jumped into several different solutions,” he said. This is possible with OSS–to experiment and find the right solutions, since there are often fewer funding approvals needed and no licensing fees.

The only thing lacking from the OSS has been support and the ability to hold a business accountable, he said. Still, this was only an issue when a change in staff left his department short-handed. To do a district-wide upgrade, he paid a local company to upgrade all the sites over a five-month period.
Cost Savings
“We’re saving the district tons of money,” Guhlin said. However, while there is cost savings between Blackboard and Moodle, for example–and elimination of the annual recurring licensing fee is a major savings–that is not the whole picture.

“I couldn’t give you an estimate on total savings of all free open source software solutions because we just wouldn’t have implemented the solutions unless they had been free,” he said. “We simply wouldn’t have done anything.”
The San Antonio ISD has about 92 schools, including 52 elementary, and approximately 54,000 students.

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

#TCEA16 – Inexpensive #GoogleCardboard! with @RustyMeyners

Corrected link via +Rusty Meyners :  Actually, $4.74 w/free shipping – Good Quality!

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

TAILS: Getting Files and Finding a File Commander (Updated)

One of the most helpful, “sure to work” distros I carry around with me on a USB flash drive is the TAILS live operating system. I have found it to boot on laptops and computers that my Ubuntu USB flash drive failed to start up on. I’m not sure why, except that it’s probably the meticulous attention TAILS developers put into ensuring compatibility with a wide range of systems.

Some obstacles I have encountered to using TAILS as my “on the go” Linux distro include the following:

  1. Keepass, rather than Keepass2, is installed on it and this means I can’t access my passwords.
  2. TAILS is missing a dual-panel “file commander” GUI to facilitate file transfers. In the past, I’ve made an effort to download the packages for tools like Midnight Commander (MC), I have saved the deb files on the flash drive. But it’s a bit of a pain. Installing from deb packages requires editing sources.list file and other mods that are a pain for a short-term bootup.
  3. Difficult to download or save files from the “Unsafe Browser” to the desktop or attached file storage.

While I realize these are features, not bugs, in TAILS due to the privacy and security aspect, it’s always fun to find workarounds. Here they are:

Workaround #1 – Keepass
Since I couldn’t find a workaround to getting Keepass2 working on TAILS, I decided to downgrade my kdbx file–that’s the file created by Keepass2 holding all my passwords–to a kdb file readable by TAILS Keepass. Finding out how to do it involved some googling, before I finally landed on the Keepass2 to Keepass converter. The converter requires Java, and following some straightforward instructions.

Workaround #2 – File Commander
I almost kicked myself when I realized that muCommander is still available for download and the portable version (tar.gz file) works without installation after extraction, providing access to a great dual-panel file commander type program. It works well and I include it on my persistent partition of my TAILS USB drive.

Image Source: Wikimedia

Workaround #3 – Downloading Files
When I find a file I like on the web, I right-click it and copy the URL. Then, I open the Terminal and type the following:

amnesia:~$ wget “http://websiteurl/filename.ext”

This works great and saves the file (whatever it is) to “amnesia’s” home directory, or a persistent partition, where I can then interact with it using the built-in file manager or muCommander.

I hope these three tips are helpful to you!

Note: I wrote this blog entry while in TAILS.

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

Reflecting on Beginnings #linux

Jack Wallen shares his story about he got into GNU/Linux, How learning Linux Jumpstarted my Career:

My introduction to Linux, and all that came from it, was thanks to an insatiable curiosity and an inordinate frustration brought on by Windows. What was yours?

As I think back to my first experiences with GNU/Linux, which take me back down the trail of years (wow, 12!) when I imagined myself quite content with my Mac and Windows skills…but GNU/Linux remained a mystery I had to explore. It didn’t quite materialize until I found myself needing to connect my Windows only scanner to the only computer I had, a bondi iMac. Thanks to YellowDogLinux, it was possible. Later, I graduated to UbuntuLinux, and a host of other distributions.

What GNU/Linux gave me was choice. My knowledge enabled me to use Moodle, WordPress, setup UbuntuLinux-based servers and earn more for my family.

And, it remains a worthwhile choice.

Image Source

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

Backing Up a Hard Drive with FSArchiver

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to learn and practice how to backup hard drives and restore copies onto other machines with identical settings. We had purchased a bunch of laptops and imaging solutions weren’t as developed or allowed in my environment (required a server). 

In this blog entry, I document the use of FSArchiver, a free utility on the GParted (Linux) media to backup a hard drive for a work colleague.

FSArchiver is a system tool that allows you to save the contents of a file-system to a compressed archive file. The file-system can be restored on a partition which has a different size and it can be restored on a different file-system.…FSArchiver also creates the file-system when it extracts the data to partitions. Everything is checksummed in the archive in order to protect the data. If a file is corrupt, you just lose the current file, not the whole archive. 

Some of the features that jump out at me include the following:
  • Ability to restore the filesystem to a partition which is smaller than the original
  • Ability to restore the filesystem to a partition which is bigger than the original
  • Ability to do multi-threaded compression which is faster on recent computer with multiple cores/cpu
  • Ability to encrypt the data with a password

Item #2 was relevant, since I was restoring from an 80gig hard drive to a 180gig hard drive, a drive much bigger than the original.

The process I followed appears below:

1) Get Everything Ready. To get started, I booted the computer using my GParted USB Flash Drive, which I created using UNETBOOTIN. 

2) Prepare the USB external drive to receive the backup file. To prepare the external USB drive, formatted a USB External drive to the ext3 file system (as opposed to FAT32) to use as my backup drive with this command:

mkfs.ext3 /dev/sdd1

After formatting the drive, I unplugged it then plugged it back in.

3) Mount the USB External Drive. First, I created a directory at “/mnt/backup” using this command:

mkdir /mnt/backup

To find out what was the actual locations (e.g. /dev/sda1 or /dev/sdc1) of the drives, I typed in the following command:

fdisk -l

This revealed that /dev/sda1 was my computer’s hard drive, while the external USB drive I was backing up to was /dev/sdd1 . Another way to accomplish this is to type the following command:

fsarchiver probe simple

This would give you a list of drives (e.g. sda1, sda2, etc.).

With this information, I mounted the external drive (/dev/sdd1) as “/mnt/backup” using this command:

mount -t ext3 /dev/sdd1 /mnt/backup

I changed to that directory with this command:

cd /mnt/backup

4) Begin the Backup Process with FSArchiver. I began the backup process using FSArchiver by typing (note that /dev/sda1 is the location of the hard drive partition I want to backup)

fsarchiver savefs /mnt/backup/hddbackup.fsa /dev/sda1

Here is the report FSArchiver gave me at the end of its process:

Statistics for filesystem 0* files successfully processed:….regfiles=37329, directories=4308,symlinks=2,hardlinks=3,specials=0*files with errors:…………………..regfiles=0, directories=0, symlinks=0, hardlinks=0, specials=0

When the backup process was completed, I restored the backup using the command below:

fsarchiver restfs /mnt/backup/netbook.fsa id=0,dest=/dev/sda2

Here is the report I received from FSArchiver when it was done:

Statistics for filesystem 0* files successfully processed:….regfiles=37329, directories=4308, symlinks=2, hardlinks=3, specials=0*files with errors: regfiles=0, directories=0, symlinks=0,hardlinks=0,specials=0

5) Unmount your external USB drive safely and exit. You can quickly unmount your external USB drive–as opposed to just turning everything off or unplugging it without warning, which can be problematic to data integrity–by typing the following at the command line:

umount -a

Then to exit, just type the following command and shutdown your computer:


And, fortunately, that was all there was to it! If you’re curious about more options, you can read this older blog entry or

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

Seminar: Investigative Techniques Using Social Networking Sites

Done a search on Instagram or other social media sites and found your school districts or school represented inappropriately? If so, you’re not alone! My own children use Instagram avidly as THE site to share images, connect and interact via social media. Twitter, Facebook…not so much.

According to Nielsen, for example, Instagram is the top photography site among teens ages 12 to 17, with 1 million teens visiting the site during July. Nielsen doesn’t categorize Instagram as a social network. While Flickr was top photo site for the overall population in July, Instagram was the favorite among teens, Nielsen found. (Source: CNET)

It should come as no surprise that students are launching attacks on school district systems and coordinating those attacks using social media. Other bad things are happening too:

Many school districts might want to take advantage of Family Online Safety Institute’s (FOSI) Good Digital Parenting’s overview of Instagram tip sheet (shown right).

Consider this District Administration article on Defending Data Security (April, 2015); MyNotes from the article include the following:

  • Last year, two high school students shut down the network for the entire Community Unit School District 303 in Illinois for more than a month. The students learned from a gaming environment how to launch the attack with their smartphones.
  • The district also has two data centers. In the event the first one becomes flooded with unwanted traffic, IT can switch all users to the second one.
  • “DDoS attacks are fairly new to districts, and the potential cost and changes to mitigate them are usually complex and/or expensive,” says John Connolly, chief technology officer at District 230. “Educational and private companies typically make the changes after they have been hit by these attacks. I anticipate that this will be standard security practice for school districts and private companies over the next one to two years.”
  • The district is considering software (a DDoS-mitigation solution) that would automatically shut down an attack without requiring the second step of manual intervention. The district hasn’t purchased the software yet because of the high cost; however, the price is dropping, says Connolly.
YouTube boasts an impressive array of information on topics…are we surprised that high school students, like those in Illinois, are ready and able to take schools out with denial of service?

District Feedback:We use an Exinda system to throw away malformed packets as well as recognize and then ignore large amounts of traffic emanating from one or multiple IP addresses towards another.  We also block all unnecessary ports. This might tell me who if they are anonymous but it will stop the attack. Or at least it has stopped all so far.”

We rely on SolarWinds in lieu of Exinda, but the result is similar.” 


Some are offering sessions like the one to be held in Georgetown, Texas, focused on Investigative Techniques Using Social Networking Sites. Some of the topics, which you can explore in the flyer below, include Linux and data forensics type topics. No doubt, users will leave with free copies of digital forensics tools on ISOs loaded on USB/compact discs. I wonder which of the many they will recommend!

Click images below to get full-size version….

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure