open source

Keeping Many Debian Machines Updated

There are an increasing number of Ubuntu Linux machines on the Mzuzu University campus network (DHCP, squid, iptables, email, web, and some desktops). As you all know, keeping both Windows and Linux machines up-to-date with security updates can be very bandwidth intensive. Because our 256 kb/s connection is used heavily during the day we are trying to schedule all security updates to run once at night and then have all of our client machines connect to the local repository during the day for their security updates so as not to use bandwidth while students and professors are trying to connect online.

Recovering Deleted files with Linux and Sleuthkit

Ever accidentally delete a file you really needed from the recycle bin? Ever format a disk and install a new operating system only to find later that you forgot to save off some really important files first? The former recently happened to us here at the Univeristy in Mzuzu... we thought doom was upon us until we stumbled upon a open (free to change, use, and distribute) software utility called Sleuthkit (

When we realized our disaster, we started searching Google for "data recovery", "recover my files", etc. Listings appeared for companies charging hundreds of dollars for data recovery services and software. We tried some of the trial versions of the commercial software, but nothing was able to detect our files. Finally one of us here in the office in Mzuzu stumbled upon Sleuthkit, an amazing utility that was able to recover out deleted files from a formatted disk and didn't cost us a penny!

VSAT Community Networks

I just read that the internet is growing faster in Africa than anywhere else in the world. Most of us here in Africa are connecting via satellite or VSAT connections which are a fairly expensive way to transmit data (though costs are rapidly dropping). While I am finding sufficient knowledge on how to purchase VSATs, I have found very little discussion or collaboration online concerning how best to maintain VSAT internet connections.

Just yesterday I received an email from a friend here in Malawi describing the experience of another friend who “successfully” installed a VSAT connection for their NGO. The NGO found that the the installers from the company they hired to install the VSAT “haven't got a clue [how to install a VSAT]. It took them over 10 days to get it running - basically they installed it and it didn't work and they couldn't work out why.” After asking help from a local internet cafe owner the NGO found “the VSAT company had supplied the wrong kind of network cable (not a cross over one) - a fairly basic mistake and they haven't apologised or anything - so we're not really very impressed.”

Professor Saints and the nutty open source textbook

I must apologize for the lack of content on the blog recently. Things have been busy in good ways... very good ways. I have been asked to teach the first ever introductory to computer science course here at Mzuzu University Department of Mathematics! Fortunately the course is only meeting twice a week, so there is plenty of time to piece together lessons and lectures. So far, the students seem to be enjoying themselves. They are very excited about having the chance to learn to program computers. Our only problem so far is that the number of computers on campus comes no where close to matching the students enthusiasm for the subject.