Tuesday, 7 December 2010


It used to be the desktop, but we've got more processing power than we know what to do with nowadays. The real bottleneck is internet access. I spent a frustrating day today in a public high school trying to fit an elephant of a live video feed through the doorway - it didn't fit. If the school was empty, and the network dormant, it ran fine. Unfortunately, I had to share bandwidth with 1500 other people, facebook must go on.

All I needed was a 700kb/sec video feed to run continuously all day. I'll blame the university for sending us an uncompressed, 640x480 monster of a feed. We could stream youtube or TEDtalks, but not the university live feed. The irony is it was one of the pre-eminent computer science universities in Canada, and they didn't know how to feed it to us so we could follow it.

After doing backflips all morning trying to fix it, some awesome grade 12 students filled in the afternoon with some presentations on number theory, robotics and computers. It wasn't a wasted day, but it's hard to sell technology as a course of study when the guy teaching it can't make it work.

I'd asked for a priority on the video feed over the 400 facebook accounts that were open, but apparently that's impossible. I find this frustrating. I had no trouble prioritizing traffic or outright banning it when I was network admining, I'm not sure whether it's a case of can't or can't be bothered. In either case, I'm at the end of a long day trying to make things work that simply won't because the board won't adjust bandwidth to need (it's cheaper) and a university didn't optimize it's feed (it's cheaper).

At the end of it, I got some grade 9s interested in robotics, and considering taking computers further on. I'm not sure that I got through to the half a dozen girls I convinced to come out. We don't have a single female in grade 12 comp-sci or comp-eng, which I'd really like to fix.

I also wanted to backchannel the heck out of this. I introduced 90% of the students to twitter and showed them how universities use it during seminars, then the university didn't use it at all, we were the only ones lighting up the hashtags or posting on the facebook page. I also tried running wallwisher.com. This thing could be brilliant. We had it running live on a wall through a projector. Alas, due to bandwidth restrictions, it crashed constantly and wouldn't refresh at any time.

Until our school board starts taking traffic shaping seriously, the school network continues to be hijacked by facebook junkies and youtubers filling up the bandwidth with noise not remotely related to anything educational.

It's been a long day watching technology not work.