Digital Learning – Hardware, Software, Workflow & Lifestyle

In the last post, I shared what my fallback teaching methodology is for digital learning classes, but I focused mainly on the pedagogy and not the infrastructure or, guiding framework, underpinning those approaches. I did not talk about what types of software/hardware I use, how those help me work, and why/how I came to choose them. It is a good time to address those topics now, however. Firstly, I should note that it is not enough to merely use effective tools, or Machiavellian tools as it were, rather the tools must be built ethically, with copy-left licenses of some fashion (free in licensing) and, ideally, gratis (free in cost). The point being that cool technological tools that lack good licensing and/or come with financial costs, are not actually worth using, despite the value in their utility, because their use subjugates the freedom of the user. But how? Firstly, by not allowing the code base to be distributed and improved upon, the user is controlled by the tool instead of understanding how the tool is built, i.e., it elevates the learner from self-author to self-transformer (Berger, 2004). Regarding cost, I will note that I am a capitalist and that I am not opposed to private business or profit-seeking. On the other hand, as an educator, I see the value in protecting/managing the complex of public education – as an exception and foil to my general rule of free market capitalism – because of the importance education plays in access to traditionally undeserved communities. And because access is how people elevate to positions of informal and formal authority and leadership, I argue that there is a moral responsibility of educational leaders to have the State incur the financial burden of the cost at no expense for the learner. Moreover, this access should not end at 18 years of age, but should be part of the compact that citizens agree to with their State, a roadmap for life-long education as it were.

You may be wondering? I though this post was about software and hardware? This seems to be about software licensing and educational costs. Well, it is about both. That is, for me, there is no discussion about the software and hardware that drive my workflow, without first talking about how/why those software and hardware choices were made. That is, whenever I choose something to drive my workflow, there are two questions that I seek yes answers to before using it, first, is it Free Software (Stallman, 1983) and is it gratis, or free in cost? My personal answer to this is not as one might predict, and I am forced, in professional and academic work, to use proprietary software and hardware often. Moreover, even in some personal choices, I choose to proprietary software, such as in my idle gaming pleasure of Pokemon GO. So, yes, in full disclosure, I am not a purist, or a zealot, with regard to Free Software. Rather, I have a few notable exceptions such as what I just mentioned, and sadly, I tolerate DRM for movies and with the children (shameless of me to use them like this). Additionally, I do not get to choose whether to use Canvas as an Adjunct Faculty member, or whether to use Blackboard while pursuing doctoral work at UNM – these choices are forced on me. However, other than those two elements in my personal life, and those outside of my control, I choose Free Software that is free in cost because I think that personal choice is consistent with the choices I think the State and its educational institutions should be making. I certainly recognize that Free Software can have costs, but I think leveraging that capability in a democratic, and public education context, can be harmful to the growth and health of society. Alright, so now that I shared what drives my educational choices, let me discuss my suite!

Hardware

  • Router: A WNDR3800 with OpenWrt 19.x on it – I keep it up to date. This also has an openvpn server on it, for secure access to my private LAN from afar.
  • Self-hosted Server: Dell XPS Studio, 2X4TB Platter Drives in RAID1 array, with pam_mount decrypted vault, 16GB of RAM, an external 4TB drive that runs rsnapshot regularly as backup, running Debian Buster
  • Primary Workstation: Dell XPS, 1X128GB SSD, with 1X4TB platter internal (used for manual rsync over ssh mirrors of the 10 servers I manage for Haack’s Networking), with pam_mount decrypted vault, 500GB internal platter (for testing distros for fun), running Debian Buster
  • Laptop: Librem 13″, 16GB of RAM, running Debian Buster
  • Network Monitor: BeagleBone Black, 4GB MMC with Debian Stretch
  • Home Enterntainment Server: MacMini 2012, 16GB RAM, 1TB platter, with Debian Buster
  • Business Server: 20GB SSD, 1GB RAM, VPS at Digital Ocean, running Debian Buster

Software

  • Self-hosted Server: The home server has multiple virtual hosts and websites that I use for a variety of purposes. Here they are:
    • Jonathan Haack (jonathanhaack.com) – My second website, established circa 2004, which links out to many of the other websites/services below, and is a front-end for me, and contains an easy link to my CV. This website is for me, largely, and I start here as my home page in Firefox. From here, I usually pivot to Nextcloud (see below) and start planning the day with my calendar.
    • Heather Heunermund (hheunermund.com) – This is my wife’s website. It is sorely in need of updating, but surprisingly, she checks it.
    • Free Schools (freeschools.club) – This is a newly formed organization, with only one member, me. I have posts on this, and great dreams about what this can become. See my post on Free Schooling for what this is about – at present, this site is not built and is in long-term status.
    • Music (music.jonathanhaack.com) – I have a full (using Apache Tomcat, not stand-alone) installation of AirSonic media server on this same server. This is amazing, and something I recommend for everyone. Driving one’s leisure time with Free Software is especially rewarding. The entire family has access, and they use this from our entertainment room.
    • Personal Nextcloud (nextcloud.jonathanhaack.com) – I recently migrated my entire File Server to Nextcloud (away from SMB). I did this to avoid having to use a vpn to connect via my laptop while away from home, and because dav:// and Nextcloud, and today’s internet speeds, are robust enough to leverage it as a full-time file server. This is also my calendar server and contact server for me and my entire family. Additionally, my students submit all of their assignments to me in Nextcloud (I homeschool), and the four of us use Nextcloud Talk (end-to-end encrypted) for our family communication. Additionally, I leverage the shared folder approach in Nextcloud, and I use this to share resources with my students at SFCC (instead of using Canvas).
    • Notorious Slips (notoriousslips.com) – This site is named after the first poem I wrote in 1996, but I rarely post here. I write about one poem a year, but when I do, I am glad to have this site up to house them. I do have many more poems than I have shared on this site, and please remember, the poem is its own entity and cannot be used to reflect back on its author’s character or such – so, please remember that, before you email me because something was a bit too risque for you! (This is a WordPress, I should note.)
    • Hacking Club Repository (repo.haacksnetworking.com) – This is a self-hosted Gitlab Server Community Edition. I originally built this to have a way for my student clubs I hosted over the years (Bitcoin Club, Hacking Club) to have places to store configurations and code for our projects. This site is now stock-full of configurations and regularly used by me to store configs I do not want to lose.
    • R-Studio Server (rstudio.jonathanhaack.com) – I have only begun to learn the r programming language, but I fully intend to leverage it for my dissertation and/or other research and math work down the road. My first task was building a R-Studio server so that my home server could do the heavy lifting and calculating, and so I could access this publicly (over https), and not bog down my laptop, etc. The brief work I have done has worked flawlessly.
    • Haack’s Wiki (wiki.haacksnetworking.com) – This is the longest standing of all of my web servers, and the only web server site to have made it through from my days on macOS Server. This site was begun in 2009 if memory serves me correctly, perhaps a few years later. As opposed to Gitlab, where I store the configuration files themselves, I use the Dokuwiki in order to leave myself tutorials and reminders about what I did to install WordPress last time, or how I setup Nextcloud permissions, etc. Some content overlaps, but again – the wiki is for guides, and the repo is for config files and code. See dokuwiki.org for more information on setting one of these up!
    • Feline Fantasy (felinefantasy.club) – In case you though it was impossible to have another virtual host on the same home server, guess what, it is not. My wife and kids use this goofy WordPress for fun and for home projects; they make beads and collars for our cats and other creations for arts/crafts at our home school. They playfully call the site Feline Fantasy, after the founder of the company – our cat, Venus. (This is another WordPress, I should note.)
  • Primary Workstation
    • The primary workstation is used for my all of my grading, school work, and everything – including this post. I only use my laptop when outside of home (rarely in bed or around the house), so this is really home base for me – both personally, and it is my primary hub for authoring my digital learning content. This machine has workflow tools, including but not limted to:
      • GNOME Screen Recorder (for oggcasts)
      • Cheese (for recording my document camera and math work)
      • Jitsi/Zoom/MS Teams (for class sessions and meetups – MS Teams is used @work)
      • MATLAB (for research on achievement gap)
      • GIMP/Handbrake/VLC/FFmpeg (for any authoring media needs, compressing long turorials, thumbnails, etc.)
      • Thunderbird (Connects to Nextcloud and used for everything)
      • Virt-Manager (I have a 128GB Windows 10 machine to run proprietary education software that I have at my teaching job – and, for testing)
  • Laptop
    • The laptop has all of the same software listed above for the workstation with the exception of MATLAB. However, I often find myself needing a LAN-based local webserver to download files to workstations (at businesses I service), so I keep a few extra services running on the laptop to be able to do this, and also for security while off-LAN.
      • Web Server (Local Only): I run a local web server, again for downloading configs from workstations while on-site doing work for my company. This is not public-facing, and is only on the LAN, in case it helps with something at the site.
      • Firewall: I keep ufw running because I am paranoid.
      • Fail2Ban: Yes, I run Fail2Ban on my laptop (lol) because I am paranoid about crackers trying to brute force me at Starbucks (even more lols).
  • Network Monitor
    • The BeagleBone Black runs Cacti and does SNMP with my home devices and uses ICMP Ping to keep track of everything. I keep a serial cable plugged in all the time, and also ssh into it as well. Mostly for fun and learning – setup is cool.
      • Web Server (Local Only): It uses apache/LAMP and runs stock Cacti, from the Debian repository.
  • Home Entertainment Server
    • The home entertainment center is very simple because my wife and kids use it. It is set up with full-disk encryption, and my wife uses Chrome for everything. She can access our AirSonic media server from Chrome, play DRM for the kids, and everything else. It is bit far away from the house, and the driver for the Broadcom chip is terrible, so I use an external wireless bridge with this workstation. This is just a workstation and only for pleasure!
  • Business Server
    • Haack’s Networking (haacksnetworking.com) – This is the primary site for my business, Haack’s Networking. I sell IT work, with a special focus on Free Software and education, e.g., this post! Feel free to read some other posts and check the Services tab for more information. (I should note that this is a WordPress site.)
    • Haack’s Monitor (monitor.haacksnetworking.com) – This is my primary web server for relaying documents securely (over ssh) between my workstations, while doing work for clients, etc. For example, if/when I build a vpn key, I can use this site to stash it in an encrypted and password protected directory in order to easily download it from a client workstation. This site also has my Munin instance, and keeps a “monitor” on the health of this host and its services.
    • Invoice Plane (invoice.haacksnetworking.com) – This is the invoice system that I use for Haack’s Networking. This is a great Free Software project currently transitioning to a new set of developers and undergoing a full re-write. Good luck team!
    • Business Nextcloud (nextcloud.haacksnetworking.com) – This is the site I use to communicate with my student club, the Hacking Club. The club uses the wiki for their tutorial work while I instruct, the repo is used for storing configs we need, but when the club needs to compete, in Cyber Patriot and/or NCL, for example, Nextcloud Talk is our home base for getting information to each other. The calendar is also used and populates the public calendar on the WordPress site for the club. The calendar and the Talk channel are the primary uses, but we also use the Files feature a great deal to store details about competitions, notes, and tutorials we need on hand while working together.
    • Haacking Club (haackingclub.haacksnetworking.com) – This is a multi-site underneath Haack’s Networking and is the official front-end and club website for the club. This site contains rules for participants and instructions on how to join and/or get involved. The only rule is that there are no rules except to not crack against each other!

As you can see, Free Software, especially free in cost Free Software, is in high use in my digital learning and lifestyle workflow. Free Software drives the choices I make and empowers my workflow with tools that last, get support, and are transparently built. This overview, in turn, should give you, my friend, a better idea of how to manage your own digital learning and lifestyle workflow. Without getting too preachy, I will just note that the technological tools that a society uses, including its individuals and their choices, is directly linked to the health of the democracy in that society. Send me a message if you have questions and/or want to share some knowledge.

Thanks,

Jonathan Haack

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