Wednesday, February 04, 2015
  Tech tips

A couple of tech tips left over from the year-long courseware project, and one superstitious observation.

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In recent years it's a pretty general rule that free or open-source software is better than anything you can pay for. Price and quality have become uncorrelated, just like everything else from wages to interest in today's hyperinsane economy. But there are exceptions. I'll describe two fairly arcane and narrow situations. Both have several free or open-source solutions that DO NOT WORK. Both have a comparatively expensive solution that WORKS BEAUTIFULLY.

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(1) Most courseware is built within drag-n-drop Authoring systems that take care of communicating with LMS servers like Moodle. If you're doing it that way, you probably won't need this tip.

But when you need to custom-build an LMS interface, things get tricky because the SCORM standard, like all other web-based standards, is the exact opposite of a standard. You won't find any 'official documents' newer than 2009, but nevertheless an unwritten consensus exists. So you can't start from docs; you have to start from examples and test them in a platform that agrees with the consensus.

There are several "free" LMS test platforms. I spent a couple weeks figuring out that THEY DO NOT WORK. The one testbed that DOES work is ScormCloud. Their minimum service costs $75 per month, and it is ABSOLUTELY WORTH THE MONEY. They offer plenty of personal help, and their system is easy to use. You can upload modules and run the modules yourself, or you can invite a client to try a module.

If your code runs correctly in ScormCloud, you know it satisfies the "standard" LMS requirements. If it doesn't run correctly, you get a rich set of debug info. This reassurance comes in mighty handy down here, Bub. My publisher's LMS servers have a number of peculiarities and bugs. By running my code within ScormCloud, I could always tell which problems were due to my errors and which were due to the publisher's LMS peculiarities. Without an independent measuring tool, I would have no idea which end to start from.

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(2) Most iPad users are already chained into Applesatan's Satanverse. If you're a properly chained Applesatan, you won't need this.

But when you've taken GREAT PAINS to stay perfectly unchained, running an iPad or similar deviltool is far from automatic. Deviltools do not run without chains. You'll need to set up a private WiFi connection from your own computer to the devil. There are several "free" methods described on the web, some involving the computer's own WiFi transmitter and some requiring a separate little Router device. THEY DO NOT WORK.

Possibly they may work if you already know all the inner details of WiFi. There are dozens of mysterious binary settings and passwords, none of which are standard or specified. The one thing that DOES work is Connectify. It's moderately expensive (currently quoted price $45) but it's INSTANT. Install it and your deviltool is immediately talking to your computer.

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(3) Superstitious observation. Because I'm unchained, I wouldn't buy a deviltool. The publisher had to send me a loaner for development purposes. I used it solely for development, probably totalling three hours over the last six months.

Even with all that caution, its Applesatan influence was still strong. I didn't realize how exact this was until today. As I was packing it up for return (with HUGE relief) I took off the original label and noticed the date.



Shipped July 22, 10:30AM.

The next morning I felt a strong need to pray for luck.

The next afternoon, 7/23 4:10 PM, Tornado.

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Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.

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