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[K12OSN] Article in Maine paper re: K12LTSP
- From: "David Trask" <dtrask vcs u52 k12 me us>
- To: K12OSN redhat com
- Subject: [K12OSN] Article in Maine paper re: K12LTSP
- Date: Tue Jan 21 17:37:19 2003
This is an article in today's paper from the Bangor Daily News in Bangor,
Maine. It's all about K12LTSP! Yay!
David N. Trask
Vassalboro Community School
dtrask vcs u52 k12 me us
Something old, something new
HERMON - While Maine schools are spending millions of dollars to keep up
with the technology revolution, Jeff Wheeler says he knows how to give
every student a high-performance computer that costs next to nothing,
never becomes obsolete and offers hundreds of programs.The secret lies in
resurrecting castoff computers that litter closets, basements, back rooms
and landfills, according to the Hermon school systems director of
Wheeler has found a system through research to turn old machines into
"virtual computers" enabling students to browse the Internet and log onto
personal files from anywhere in the school.
The technology director and several student helpers begin the
transformation by gutting the case that holds the central processing unit,
or the brain of the computer, leaving an empty shell they've appropriately
nicknamed the "airbox."
After removing the hard drive, floppy drive and CD-ROM drive, they install
a network card that allows the airbox - or terminal - to connect to a
central server they build out of new components.
The central server does the "thinking," while the monitor and keyboard
transmit the keystrokes and video.
The airbox with its card becomes a personal "virtual computer," allowing
each student his or her own account using the central terminal server.
Stored in a secure location at each school, the central server has the
only copy of the operating system and programs. Upgrades and repairs are
made only to that one machine, drastically reducing the amount of money
needed for technicians and software.
"The terminal server becomes an equity engine delivering common
resources," said Wheeler, a 36-year-old Colby College graduate who grew up
This isn't the first time the computer whiz has initiated a radical new
concept. Eight years ago he led the charge to establish HermonNet, a
tax-funded system that provides 24-hour-a-day Internet access to school
employees, municipal employees and Hermon's public. Currently serving 70
percent of the town's 1,400 residents, HermonNet is hosted and operated by
the school system.
As part of HermonNet, students from the high school and middle school
repair computers and troubleshoot problems for residents and
Wheeler said he is determined to bridge the "Digital Divide" by providing
students with "anywhere-anytime access to computers using existing
resources more efficiently."
Creating the airbox for each computer costs about $30 - the price of the
Building the terminal server - which accommodates 50 users at a time and
can hold a limitless number of student accounts - costs around $2,200, the
price of one desktop computer.
Wheeler is in the process of providing each classroom in Hermon with a
cluster of four or five computers. Five hundred computers in all will be
The cost of the mission will be reduced even further by the use of a free
"public domain" operating system called Linux. The system offers software
similar to what's offered by Microsoft Windows or MacIntosh.
Through Linux, students can access multiple e-mail services, Web browsers
and word processing programs, as well as hundreds of other applications.
Jim Fratini, a science teacher at Hermon Elementary School who received
the first batch of airboxes, said his pupils like the idea that "when they
log on, they have their own personal desktop. It's their computer and it
doesn't matter which terminal they use."
The teacher said he is amazed at what the recycled machines can do. "I
have an IMac sitting on my desk that's 3 years old, and these terminals
are just as fast or faster in some aspects," he said.
Last week in his cluttered office in the superintendent's building,
Wheeler demonstrated the "revolutionary system." Using an airbox, monitor
and keyboard made from 1994 components, he quickly opened program after
program at rapid-fire speed.
Wheeler says he couldn't accomplish his mission without HermonNet, which
provides "relevance to education" by enabling students to "serve their
As they answer technical questions from residents and businesses, students
hone their communication skills and gain "exposure to technology they'd
never even see in college, and an understanding about the local economy
they'd probably never have," he said.
Hermon High School senior Edward Noblett, who helps construct the airboxes
and central servers after school, said he feels like a visionary. "We're
doing something nobody else has done before. We're clearing the way," said
Noblett, who has a part-time job repairing computers for a local company.
Maine can become the Silicon Valley of the Northeast, according to
Wheeler, because of all the technologically savvy students it can produce.
"There's no reason the greatest technology companies in the world
shouldn't be descending upon Maine. Someone with vision decided it would
happen in California. This can happen here, too," he said.
Wheeler said he had been familiar with Linux for years, but it was only
after learning about how to create airboxes that he realized how to
provide every student with access to a "virtual computer that they don't
have to carry and that follows them from room to room."
"It was like finding the last piece to a magnificent puzzle," he said.
Wheeler doesn't know why other schools haven't latched onto the system.
"We searched for the answer to a daunting problem and we got it," he said.
Collecting used computers since September, Wheeler brought 80 machines
home in a school bus recently after encountering "an incredible find" at
the Augusta office that stores state surplus equipment.
Stored in the computer repair shop that shares space with the bus garage
at Hermon's middle school, "the piles sometimes get up to my head level.
It's wonderful. We are rich in junk," he said.
Scheduled to meet at the end of this month with Seymour Papert, the
visionary Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and proponent of
the state's laptop initiative, Wheeler said his project "complements the
extraordinary work of the laptop initiative by ensuring that all students
at all grade levels have immediate access to powerful computers and useful
software at little or no cost."
"We're actively seeking to make his vision a reality," Wheeler said.
Gov. John Baldacci has visited the school system and observed the system
at work. "He thinks it could be a pilot program for the state," said Lee
Umphrey, the governor's spokesman.
Wheeler is getting the word out to other schools that are "acutely aware
that they have to struggle just to stay above water to provide only a few
kids with computer access. Now there's hope. That's what's driving this,"
At least a couple of area schools already have bought into the new idea.
Shane Stafford, director of information services for the Glenburn
Elementary School and the town of Glenburn, called Wheeler's project "a
revolutionary change in paradigm. You put your money at one location, not
in each individual ... machine."
The idea makes "a ton of sense," said Stafford.
Planning to distribute the school's first batch of 10 airboxes next week,
Stafford said the recycled computers would be a real boon for his budget.
"We were struggling to come up with [money for] all the software and
licenses we needed. And we were facing generations of machines that were
quickly becoming outdated and breaking down."
Scott Pettengill, a music teacher at the Dedham School where he also is
involved with its technology program, was so impressed with the system
Wheeler showed him last week that he plans to make a presentation to the
"It sounds too good to be true. I don't think people will believe it till
they see it," he said.
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