Archive for October, 2006

Case modding

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

My friend Andrew Msiska is a music producer here in Malawi of local musicians. Every day, he’s running around in town to produce some CDs or music cassettes. Producing music in Malawi is a pain, because the only guys, who own Cassette or CD duplicators in Malawi are richt Indians, who exploit the local musicians and generate lots of moneys for themselves only. (An analogy to the Music Industry and DRM?)
That’s why, I brought the controller of CD duplicator and gave it to Andrew. After that he bought a couple of CD-RWs and went to the local carpenter whot produced a case for the duplicator. In the next weeks he’ll go to find some artists who will design some african carving for the box.

case1 case2 case3

case1 case2 case3

Setting up a server for your thin client network using Edubuntu

Monday, October 30th, 2006

ltsp-library-server-preview.pngI am amazed by how easy it has become to set up a server for an entire network of thin clients, provided that you use Edubuntu. Before the LTSP project (and its incorporation into the Edubuntu GNU/Linux distribution), it used to be very hard to set up a network for thin clients. I personally sweated bullets trying to get myriad flimsy network settings right, debugging problems with the TFTP server and battling countless other horrors before successfully booting my first thin client.

Today, all you need is one Edubuntu CD. Finished.

The standard installation of Edubuntu includes a fully working LTSP-based terminal server for thin clients, and it’s already set up and enabled by default. All you need to take care of is that your network has the address, i.e. your clients will receive addresses starting with 192.168.0 from your Edubuntu server, which is expected to be If your network situation is different, simply edit /etc/ltsp/dhcpd.conf so that the DHCP server supplies addresses that match your setup. The IP address of the server may also have to be changed in this step. Also, depending on your net, you may want to add a second network card to your server and set it all up for forwarding. With forwarding, all thin clients on your network can access the Internet. You can then go on to more advanced setups, such as limiting the Internet access of thin clients to certain times of day, blocking certain bandwidth-heavy sites or installing the Squid caching proxy to speed up access to frequently used websites while lowering the impact on your Internet connection.

But all in all it’s breathtakingly simple!

I’ve tested this setup using both types of Fujitsu-Siemens thin clients that Alex took with him to Malawi (Futro S300 and Futro B220), and both worked. You can even have multiple users logged into a single thin client at the same time 🙂 I will do some more testing when I find the time (a scarce resource), so that I can give Alex hints in case we discover a few stumbling blocks.

This is fun! I hope you can replicate this setup at The Polytechnic and profit from the experience.

A note about the different models of thin clients

With this setup, I recommend using the S300 thin clients Alex brought. They boot faster and the display driver has hardware-acceleration — all in all everything feels much more fluid! Don’t be alarmed if your screen goes black in the beginning of the boot process. For some reason, the client switches into a strange video mode that some monitors don’t like. After a while, the Edubuntu login screen will come up after all.

The older B220 clients boot slower, have no video acceleration and seem to be having problems displaying certain icons. I’m quite sure it’s a problem with the video driver there. I might investigate that, but because Alex brought mostly brand new S300 clients, I think this will be less of an issue for you. Just use the S300 where it really matters (on student workplaces) and stick to the B220 where the speed and accuracy of the display is not that important, for example at the library administrator’s workstation. The display works well enough to set up users and accounts and to run a shell 🙂

By the way, the illustration you see next to this text is my attempt to draw a diagram of how a terminal server roughly works. You can download the original OpenDocument version or a PDF, too. Feel free to share and edit them, they are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license which gives you that freedom.

Trial of Courage

Sunday, October 29th, 2006

This sunday was the long expected day for the trial of courage of the Blantyre Karatekidz. Meanwile we cultivate a very close contact to them, so they aloud us to be part of it. The duty of the trial was based on touching a chamaeleon. To really understand the dimension of this duty, i ve to tell at this point that the Malawian usally fear this animal and keep the distance to it. The myth about chamaeleons tells that this animals is the messenger of death.
Each and every kid did pass with flying colours.

kidz1 kidz2 kidz3

Mwana wa Madonna watsapano*

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

* Madonnas new kid
In the Weekend Newspaper “Nation Malawi” there was an amusing comic about Madonnas orphan:

mwana azungu
Mwana amweneyo abwerako kuno mwamwa? (Chichewa)

This kid has to come back soon, understand?
Thandize = Help me

Malawian Cyclists

Sunday, October 22nd, 2006

As some of you might know: I’m a cycle nerd. When I saw some cyclists, I had to take a picture of them 🙂

Malawian Cyclists

Supervising a diploma project on Free Software

Saturday, October 21st, 2006

After the lessons in IT Department, the students understud to profit of the time that Alex stays at Poly.
So they come to visit him in the office at the library to solve and clear their questions and problems.
On the picture you can see 2 students from the IT Department, who will reach their degree in mid november. They are actually woring on their Free Software diploma project.


Thinclients for the Polytechnic Library

Friday, October 20th, 2006

During my last stay in Malawi in 2004 when I’ve set up the GNU/Linux System at the Polytechnic Library and I was given an office in the very same building. Now 2 years later when I arrived with the thin-clients the Librarian Martin Thawani decided to give me the same office. We needed more than a day to tidy up the mess, because the room has been used meanwhile as a storage place to put the old computers, monitors and other malfunctioning hardware. It was somehow sad to see, that the computers at the Library were not maintained nor upgraded meanwhile. But the good news was, that they are still running nicely. And aperantly that was the reason, they were not updated.

Many students and lecturers were very happy, that I decided to upgrade them and extend the Library Network with the thin-clients. The computers at the Poly Library are scarce and many students use the internet access for research on their projects.

Therefore the Librarian Mr. Thawani has officially introduced me to the Principal of the Polytechnic Dr. Charles Mataya. After a short technical explanation on the thin-client system and talk about Nathalies and my background he was very happy to see what is going on. Therefore he asked Mr. Thawani to organise the official handover of that thin-client system between me an the Vice Chancellor of the University of Malawi. And also de media shall be invited to this handover. Further the Principal of the Polytechnic asked me to probe for a possible relationship between the Polytechnic an the University of applied sciences and arts in Zurich (HGKZ).

Thin clients in the office

Contact details

Friday, October 20th, 2006

Just to inform you about how to contact us:

Cell: +265 8 721 670
Tel: +265 1 870 411 (ext. 104)

Tag in Zomba

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

Before visiting Chancellor College in Zomba, we drive up Zombamountain, that is 2800m heigh, to look down to the city of Zomba, that is the fourth biggest city in Malawi. Driving upwards, the air gets cooler and fresh, the environment green. The smell of ceder and pine wood is in the air. For our understanding somehow shocking is to see men and women carrying big amounts of wood on top of their heads. Down in the City they will spilt the wood to sell it as firewood.


The “University of Malawi” consists 5 Colleges in the Cities of Zomba (Chancellor College), Blantyre (Polytechnic, College of Medicine, Kamuzu College of Nursing), Lilongwe (Bunda College of agriculture, Kamuzu College of Nusing). The chair of the “University of Malawi” is found in Zomba next to the buildings of the Chancellor College.


Weekend in Liwonde Nationalpark

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

The lodge is inside the Nationalpark up on a bank. Our Friends Andrew and David join are joining us.
Otherwise a lot of white germans and very white english and dutch people. This place is quiet, the dorms are hidden inconspicuous between the bushes. As inconspicuous, that the gekos, the saurians and spiders and also the monkays and hippos agree to share their place with us. We descide to go for a nightsafari. The term safari comes out of the arabic word of traval. Erlier it ment a travel who mainly had the aim to bag the big fives. Today it mostly meens a travel into wildrich areas, on wich is shot at the most with the camera.

nanzikambe at night

The guide combs with a very bright ligh the flor and the trees, to find some animals. His eyes are sharp, as sharp as he is even able to find a chameleon hidden into the bush. Nightsafari has something from a ride trough a dream. For our two natives friends indeed, is the question about the possibility of preparation and taste of the different animals in the foreground.


Very enthusiastic from this safari thing, we descide also to go for a morning safari by walking. After a early the, we go to walk long distances over the steppe and aproches us slowly the herds of watterbags, hippos, krokodiles and elafants. We go as far, as we can look with the binoculars into the eyes of his animals. Anyways, we are still alive, and also the animals, exept the cockroach who wanted to be confortable in our car.