27 March, 2013

42, Free's new school

Xavier Niel, the massively present head of French ISP company Free, has just set up a new school for computer geeks. There is a clear need for one, as France (and much of the rest of the world too!) is suffering from a shortage of highly capable programmers. So, the solution is: start your own school While he was at it, Xavier made a few digs at the French education system (an easy target, but worth attacking nevertheless) and the French government, some of whose members have recently attacked him for supposedly devastating the telecoms sector - a separate discussion largeley covered in the French press.
Xavier's school will be free and open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 30 who is very keen on computing. The selection process is not based on any qualifications of any kind, nor getting favourable reports from teachers. It is aimed at picking up young people whom the educational system has failed. Candidates will have to take an online test. Then around 4,000 candidates will be selected to take part in one of four month long hothouses this summer, where they will be in an environment conducive to group working on projects, expecting to work up to 15 hours a day in true geek fashion. The best 1000 will then go on to take a three year stint at the new school, beginning in November.
Xavier has invested €70 million of his own money in this venture: €20 million start up costs and €50 million to cover ten years of running. He is no doubt hoping that other investers wil also chip in.
This is not Niel's first forray into the realm of education. Last year he was one of the founders of an institute for training webmasters. But that is much smaller, fee-paying and slanted to web content.

11 March, 2013

D-Link DIR-506L pocket cloud router

A useful little device for regular travellers, taking up very little space in your suitcase and using a widely available mini-USB charger. I took it with me on my recent tour of Vietnam. Every single hotel I stayed in, as well as some of the homestay places, had free (Western hotel chains please take note) wifi access. Where it came in useful was in a couple of the hotels where the wifi coverage was a bit on the weak side in my particular room. All was not lost, the hotel room had an ethernet point. So all I had to do was to connect the DIR 506L, and hey presto, my own wifi access point.

However, at the beginning I couldn't see the purpose of the unit's second function - a pocket cloud
It came to me when I wanted to use my tablet to view some videos I had on a USB stick. Like many of the modern tablets, mine (an ageing Danew D-Slide 701R now given a new lease of life since I installed Android 4) is a bit low on connectivity. In particular, it has no USB port.  All I had to do was plug the USB stick into the DIR and hey presto, I  watch the videos. At least that's the idea. However, I had to try a couple of times before I actually got it to work. This operation wasn't helped by the fact that the quick guide only gave the verbal url (dlinkrouter.local) which my tablet insisted on running through google. Firing up the CD to find the host's numeric address ( solved that particular problem.However, using it in this mode was a little bit fiddly. No comparison with having a real USB port on the tablet.

Another useful feature: it can act as a wifi repeater/range extender. You connect to its admin page and log onto a suitable wifi network. It then re-radiates the wifi signal with the new SSID. I prefer this to the wifi repeaters that use the same SSID,  because then you can select which ssid you actually lock onto. But the unit also offers a repeater mode.
Other features include URL filtering, MAC address filtering, application rules, outbound filtering, inbound filtering, You can even decide on the wifi transmitting power level.

The unit is self-contained, with a removable Li-Ion battery that can be recharged using a mini-USB phone charger. I didn't get to test how long the battery lasts on one charge. It seemed to be a few hours.

Now I must go and check the sensitivity of the wifi for use in repeater and extender mode.  This kind of information is very rarely seen in manuals. The only way of gettting it is to try it on weak signals.