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Freebee Friday: A Page of Projector Patterns

Walvisions It seems that no two projectors are ever set up the same way in schools. Some IT people just eyeball what the projector puts on-screen others use an extensive array of equipment to tweak the projector’s output. Others do absolutely nothing, hoping that the factory settings work best. I’ve found that a good assortment of test patterns is essential to making sure that everyone in the class gets a good view. WalVision’s catalog of 5 dozen test patterns can help get it right so that type jumps off the page and flesh tones look lifelike. With everything from grayscale gradients and resolution targets to traditional TV test patterns and a spectrum of standard colors, it is a great way to make sure that the projector is working up to snuff or make sure the lamp is still putting out steady, uniform light. Each test is explained and there’s no reason you have to use them all; just pick the ones that make sense for your set up. The patterns work in just about any recent Web browser although they might look slightly differently and the animated ones require Javascript.


Freebee Friday: Speed Thrills

Passmark a Is there anything worse than getting a bunch of new computers that perform no better than the older PCs they replace. Using Passmark’s Performance 7.0 benchmark software can not only gauge a PC’s overall abilities but it can tell you about the performance of six separate components, from processor and memory to 2- and 3-D graphics. It is essential equipment both for gauging how a PC is performing when new, but also whether it is slowing down over time. Most of the tests can be customized and there’s an excellent advanced procedure for testing networking speed between a client and a server. The software is free to try out and there are versions for 32- and 64-bit systems; sorry, no Mac or Linux versions. The program will remain active for 30-days and the licensed version, which never expires, costs $24.

The New iMac

10imac215_3q The current iMac is looking a bit old and dowdy, but the good news is that a new iMac is on the way. The next-gen iMacs can be ordered with Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 processors and are available right now on the Apple site and the 21.5-inch iMac seems custom designed for schools. The system sells for $1,200 and comes with a 3.06GHz Core i3, 4GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive and a DVD burner. It’s got an ATI Radeon HD 4670 graphics engine with 256MB of its own memory. There’s a 27-inch model that sells for between $1,700 and $2,000.

Instant Translator

Even bi- and trilingual teachers often are confronted with a young student who speaks only Kurdish or Urdu. Produced by the EMAS UK cooperative, Talking Tutor can help with instant translations between English and everything from Afghani to Zulu. It works with more than 150 languages, old and new, and has a command of Talking translator eight different Chinese dialects. Just type what you want to say to the student in English and the text will show up below and the animated avatar will speak it with a reasonable accent.

On top of helping to directly interact with an ESL student, Talking Translator can effectively replace an expensive classroom translator. It can help teachers create worksheets or tests in a variety of languages and write progress reports or letters home for parents to read. It’s currently available in England, but it would cost about $1,000 for a high school with 200 students to use the software. The group is looking for partner schools, districts and organizations to try the software out.

Question of the Month: Things Fall Apart

Nothing lasts forever, particularly at schools, which must be one of the toughest environments for computers to operate in. After all, they’re used by many different people, take a daily beating and need to last longer than those used in businesses. What technology items break the most in your district, what are the standard warranties enough to cover the repairs and are extended warranties worth the cost?

John Orbaugh (2) John Orbaugh
Director of Technology Services
Tyler Independent School District
Tyler, Texas

In our district, like most I am sure, have our biggest problems where we have the most equipment: our desktops. We typically purchase our PCs with a three-year warranty. Our district technicians are certified by our vendor to complete warranty repairs. Since we are certified in their warranty program not only does the vendor sends us our parts free of charge, but they also pay us for the cost of the repair.

The money we earn from doing warranty repairs is used to supplement the parts budget for our systems that are no longer in warranty. Given that we use our PCs well past their useful lifetime having these extra funds is important to our budget. There is a cost associated with being enrolled in the warranty program, but because we have been able to concentrate our PC purchases with one vendor we typically see that cost waived.

John Laws John Laws
Executive Director for Technology
Lakota School District
West Chester, Ohio

As a rule we purchase extended warranties on parts and labor for PCs, servers or network gear for between five and seven years. This typically pushes our responsibility for repairs into year six on PCs with servers and network gear going a full seven years. The standard plus extended warranties keep the machines humming along for their entire life and we take on the repair ourselves if forced to extend the PCs life into year six (our replacement cycle is set for five years on a PC).

Strangely enough, the most expensive (and painful to deal with) single item in our inventory is network ports. It is amazing how often staff or students pull on the cable, run over the cable with a cart or just forget they have it plugged in. All it takes is one good tug on the end of the cable and the face plate connection snaps off. Since many of the lines were installed in the late 1990s using Ohio SchoolNet funding we usually replace the entire line from the head-end.

The cost of copper cabling skyrocketed: our average drop costs $300. If I had to pick one thing that just “happens” it would be this one item. It costs us over $30,000 annually.
One odd note, we have 1,200 thin clients that each have a 50 cent battery that require replacement annually. Consider spreading 1,200 units across 24 buildings and you begin to realize that while it may be a fifty cent battery it costs significantly more in time just to go to the building, open the case and replace the tiny watch battery. Thin clients are great time and money savers, but I didn’t see this one coming when we decided to add these to our fleet.
If I have to complain about warranties it would be about AV equipment. Projectors come with a one or two year warranty and some even offer an optional third year for a price, but after that you’re on your own. Fortunately the bulk of our projectors are wall mounted 3M units and we’ve not had the problems with these compared to the cart units. Could be the cart units “fall” off once in awhile, but funny how this is never mentioned in the Service Request system by the teacher.
Again, our motto is better to be safe than sorry, so we spend the money upfront to ensure the machines have platinum level support throughout the live cycle. In the long run this allows us to have fewer on-site technicians and delivers consistent processes for everyone to follow across the enterprise.

Mark Weedy Mark Weedy
Retired Superintendent
Eastland-Fairfield Career and Technical Schools
Groveport, Ohio

The technology item that tends to break the most is the laptop. When the one-to-one laptop project was instituted two years ago, that was anticipated due to students carrying the laptop with them everywhere they went. Common occurrences include the laptop being dropped and falling off a desk or table. It was not a surprise to the administration and technology folks that the students had less of these occurrences than staff members. 

The research we did prior to implementing the one-to-one laptop project included talking with other districts that had already implemented a similar project. These districts told us that they had more issues with staff taking care of the laptops than the students, and that was our experience as well. 

As for warranties, we always tried to get a three-year warranty period if we did not have in-house repair services. When the one-to-one laptop project was initiated, we began in-house repair services. This helped greatly in the down time for broken laptops.

Meet the Value Projector

NP215_slant Some of the newest classroom projectors are cheap, but they either aren’t bright enough or have lamps that burn out so quickly that they cost more in the long run. NEC’s NP115 is the first projector that does it all and does it for $600. At under six pounds, the rounded white NP115 is light enough to be carried between rooms as needed or wheeled around on an A-V cart, but can also be ceiling mounted. Some will be disappointed by its DLP imaging engine’s SVGA resolution, but the NP115 can work with 3-D programming and has the latest BrilliantColor technology for bright and rich colors. Best of all, the NP115 pumps out 2,500 lumens of light, has a 5,000-hour lamp and is priced below projectors that do less

Small but Powerful

Lenovo C310 If basic computing for a lab or library is all you’re after, Lenovo’s C315 all-in-one PC is a great way to bring computing to schools. At $700, it includes everything including an AMD 1.6GHz Athlon II X2 processor, 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 4530 graphics and a 500GB hard drive. The best part is that the C315 has a 20-inch touch-screen and doesn’t take up much desk space.

How Low Can You Go?

Kapil Sibal With $250 netbooks and $200 OLPC notebooks, schools can save a bundle of cash but if Kapil Sibal, India’s Human Resource Development Minister has his way that price tag could get a lot smaller. How does $35 for a small touch-screen system sound? I thought so. The system was unveiled by Sabil in a New Delhi press conference and could be ready next year. He said that the device could end up being even cheaper as volume production starts.

Freebee Friday: Wipe It, Wipe it Good

Summer time and it’s time to get rid of old, antiquated PCs and (hopefully) replace them with new ones. Chances are that the hard drive holds more than a few old tests, grades and the remnants of Web research along with personal notes and demographic information on students that are best not shared with the world. In other words, before the PC leaves the building or its parts are reused, the hard drive needs to be wiped clean.

You canHard drive eraser format the drive but a digital sleuth can recover a surprising amount of data with software like Disk Doctor or DDR Professional. The best bet is a program that takes everything off of the drive like Hard Drive Eraser. It’s free, simple and quick. Version 2.0 is only 618KB of data so it downloads and installs quickly.

Hard Disk Eraser can shred data to four standards, including replacing the data with zeros, DOD 5220-22.M, US Army and the slow but utterly effective Guttman spec. I prefer the DOD standard, which renders the drive data-free but doesn’t take the whole day to clean the drive.

After taking the drive out and connecting it to an SATA drive cable (a USB connector works just as well but is slower), I plug it into a machine I use for maintenance and repair of other PCs. This is because you can’t erase a drive that the system is running on.

Ddr-professional-screenshot1 Once you’ve chosen that you want to erase the C drive, you’ll need to type in “ERASE” to confirm you want to get rid of everything on the drive. Then, the program gets to work. It cleaned a 160GB drive that’s two-thirds full of all sorts of data, ranging from photos and videos to presentations an all sorts of Acrobat, Word and presentation files. A horizontal progress bar inches along to show that bit by bit the data is disappearing.

As a precaution, when it’s done, I usually run Disk Doctor or DDR Professional to see if there’s any data to recover from the drive. Every time, I’ve done this the drive has come out of the process clean as the day it was made and ready for the junkyard or recycled in another computer.


Hard Drive Eraser

+ Can quickly wipe any hard drive
+ Four different standards used
+ Free

- Can’t format system’s main drive
- Need to confirm action by typing ERASE


The Long and Short of Scanning

Perfection v750m pro When you’re looking for absolutely the best scans of paper documents, negatives or slides, Epson outdoes the competition with its Perfection V750-M Pro scanner. At $850, it’s an expensive device in a world with $65 scanners. But, the V750-M Pro is a digital workhorse that is able to create super-sharp 6,400 dot per inch digital scans. The device’s dual lens means that everything is picture perfect. It works with both PCs and Macs, and can handle originals that are up to 8.5- by11.7-inches.

Lg_PANSCN06_paper_Angled If handling a flatbed scanner is too much for small kids, Pandigital’s Personal Photo Scanner has a lot of pull. The scanner grabs and pulls in sheets that are up to 8.5- by 11-inches and turns them into vivid 600 dot per inch digital images. It can’t handle slides or negatives but it can not only send the scans via a USB cable, the $150 Pandigital device can put them directly on a flash memory card, like an SD card.


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