I’ve been away for long from my blog, quite busy teaching and coordinating the CSC4101 course on Web architectures and applications for the engineering school.
The course is almost over and it’ll be time for documenting some of the things I’ve played with. Mainly the org-mode based system I’ve used to manage a single source file for multiple documents used for teaching (slides, handbook, etc.).
Expect a bit more life here in the coming days, hopefully.
I’ve worked on documenting and automating the deployment of Eclipse installations for several teaching labs of Telecom SudParis.
The recently introduced Eclipse Installer (Oomph) allows to install several parallel Eclipse installations containing diverse versions of Eclipse and bundles, so that each specific installation only contains a limited set of features, and that common plugins are pooled in a shared space.
This allows to deploy different Eclipse installations for different course labs, containing only the needed features, and minimizing the disk space needed for the whole.
Previously, we installed pretty much everything in a single place (yum install eclipse*), which lead to providing students with all possible languages support and features, on every machines, by default.
One of the main expected benefits of the new approach is to minimize Eclipse startup times, but this should also help avoid conflicting plugins.
If the experiment proves useful, we’ll then have one Eclipse installation for each needing computer science lab, all under different subdirs of /opt/eclipse/. For instance students registered in CSC4101 will start Eclipse by executing /opt/eclipse/CSC4101/eclipse/eclipse, giving them features for PHP and Symfony development (resp /opt/eclipse/CSC4102/eclipse/eclipse for CSC4102, for Java + Maven, etc.).
I’ve made available a document which explains the process, which was originally documented using org-mode’s babel feature which allows to write “litterate devops” documents containing executable instructions. I’ve used a Vagrant + Virtualbox setup to create the installation inside a Fedora VM, which mimics the target system for our lab machines.
The git repo of the corresponding project should be accessible for anyone interested.
This post is intended to document some elements of workflow that I’ve setup to manage videos produced for a MOOC, where different colleagues work collaboratively on a set of video sequences, in a remote way.
We are a team of several schools working on the same course, and we have an incremental process, so we need some collaboration over a quite long period of many remote authors, over a set of video sequences.
We’re probably going to review some of the videos and make changes, so we need to monitor changes, and submit versions to colleagues on remote sites so they can criticize and get later edits. We may have more that one site doing video production. Thus we need to share videos along the flow of production, editing and revision of the course contents, in a way that is manageable by power users (we’re all computer scientists, used to SVN or Git).
I’ve decided to start an experiment with Git and Git-Annex to try and manage the videos like we use to do for slides sources in LaTeX. Obviously the main issue is that videos are big files, demanding in storage space and bandwidth for transfers.
I’m a big fan of org-mode (see previous posts), and I’ve started maintaining (sic) my professional webpage(s) with it.
But I’ve also recently tried and publish some more Semantic/Linked Data aware documents too (again, previous posts).
Ideally, I think my preferred workflow for publishing articles or documents of some importance, would be to author them in org-mode, and then publish them as HTML5 including RDFa meta-data and annotations. Instead, I’ve more frequently been doing conversions of org-mode to LaTeX, in order to submit a printable version, and later-on decided to convert the LaTeX to HTML5+RDFa…
But one of the issues is how to properly embed the RDF meta-data inside the org-mode documents, so that the syntax is both compact and expressive enough.
I doubt there’s a universal solution, given that RDF tends to be complex, and graphs may not project easilly along a mainly linear structure of an org-mode document, but anyway, there seems to be possible middle grounds that are practically good enough.
I’ve tried and implement a solution, which reuses the principles set by John Kitchin in Extending the org-mode link syntax with attributes, i.e. implementing an HTML exporter for a particular custom link type, which will convert the plist-like syntax to some RDFa constructs.
The nice thing about org-mode, and its litterate programming babel environment, is that it allows to embed the code of the links exporter inside the org document, avoiding to dissociate the converter from the document’s source, making it auto-complete.
Next step will probably be to author a paper (or convert back a “preprint” of mines) with org-mode, in order to provide Linked Research meta-data.
Stay tuned for more details, and in the meantime, I welcome any improvement to the org/babel/elisp setup.
J’ai traduit en français les transparents de l’appel pour une “Linked Research” (que j’ai traduit par “recherche reliée”) de Sarven Capadisli originellement en anglais
L’objectif est d’inciter (entre autre actions) à la publication d’articles académiques sous une forme exploitable aussi bien par les humains que par les machines, et permettant ainsi d’embarquer dans le document des méta-données additionnelles.
Designing a virtual laboratory for a relational database MOOC
Olivier Berger, J Paul Gibson, Claire Lecocq and Christian Bac
Keywords: Remote Learning, Virtualization, Open Education Resources, MOOC, Vagrant
Abstract: Technical advances in machine and system virtualization are creating opportunities for remote learning to provide significantly better support for active education approaches. Students now, in general, have personal computers that are powerful enough to support virtualization of operating systems and networks. As a conse- quence, it is now possible to provide remote learners with a common, standard, virtual laboratory and learning environment, independent of the different types of physical machines on which they work. This greatly enhances the opportunity for producing re-usable teaching materials that are actually re-used. However, configuring and installing such virtual laboratories is technically challenging for teachers and students. We report on our experience of building a virtual machine (VM) laboratory for a MOOC on relational databases. The architecture of our virtual machine is described in detail, and we evaluate the benefits of using the Vagrant tool for building and delivering the VM.
A brief history of distance learning
Virtualization : the challenges
The design problem
The virtualization requirements
Related work on requirements
Scalability of existing approaches
The MOOC laboratory
Exercises and lab tools
From requirements to design
Making the VM as a Vagrant box
Delivery through Internet
Availability of the box sources
Reliability Issues with VirtualBox
Student feedback and evaluation
More modular VMs
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I’ve been working on setting up a Docker container environment allowing to test the RuneStone Interactive server.
That’s the part which I wanted to be able to operate for test purposes. As it is a web2py application, it’s not exactly obvious to gather all dependencies and run locally. Well, in fact it is, but I want to understand the architecture of the tool to be able to understand the deployment constraints, so making a docker image will help in this purpose.
While docker seems quite cool, let’s face it, participants to the MOOCs aren’t all using Linux where docker can be available directly. Hence the need to use boot2docker, for instance on Windows.
Then we’re back quite close to the architecture of the Vagrang VM, which relies too on a VirtualBox VM to run a Linux machine (boot2docker does exactly that with a minimal Linux which runs docker).
If VirtualBox is to be kept around, then why not stick to Vagrant also, as it offers a docker provider. This docker provider for Vagrant helps configure basic parameters of docker containers in a Vagrantfile, and basically uses the vagrant up command instead of using docker build + docker run. If on Linux, it only triggers docker, and if not, then it’ll start boot2docker (or any other Linux box) in between.
This somehow offers a unified invocation command, which renders a bit more portable the documentation.
Now, there are some tricks when using this docker provider, in particular for debugging what’s happening inside the VM.
One nice feature is that you can debug on Linux what is to be executed on Windows, by explicitely requiring the start of the intermediary boot2docker VM even if it’s not really needed.
By using a custom secondary Vagrantfile for that VM, it is possible to tune some parameters of that VM (like its graphic memory to allow to start it with a GUI allowing to connect — another alternative is to “ssh -p 2222 docker@localhost” once you know that its password is ‘tcuser’).
In order to move on, I’ve applied a clever trick by proposing a project to students of ours (3rd year engineering school end-of-classes project of the ASR major).
The project was addressing several needs :
a functional need: being able to monitor what happens inside the VMs run on the participant’s side, so that MOOC labs aren’t performed in a black box;
a non functional need: investigate the potential benefits of docker, compared to Vagrant.
The students (François Monniot and Alexis Mousset) have worked very well, and we have a few apps in the result, that allow us to assemble a POC in order to complete our evaluation.
In following posts, I will describe some of these components and will present some ideas and maybe results on the technology’s potential. The impatient reader may directly browse their code on GitHub, starting from the dedicated site.