Another Adventure in Tech-land

The day after a power outage always brings surprises, and today didn’t disappoint. What started as a report of no phones at Beadle Lake soon revealed itself to be a district-wide issue involving phones, connections to other buildings, and computer clocks off by over an hour and a half.

The phones are controlled by their own server. It was running happily along until the power went out. That wouldn’t normally be cause for alarm as there is a backup generator and a battery-backup to keep things running until the generator is online. At least that’s how things are supposed to work.

When the power went out, the battery backup didn’t have enough run time available to bridge the gap to generator power. This caused the server to turn off. Restarting it is straightforward; just log in and click the run button. It was the ‘log in’ part that made this much more interesting.

When we had the phone system upgraded a couple years back, someone from the company set up the server and got everything in order. Part of that setup was changing an important password that is rarely needed. Sometime during the project, that person left the company. Someone else picked up the pieces and finished the setup. That person was not aware of the password being changed previously since that part of the setup was already complete.

Fast forward to this morning, when we went to restart the phones. The password we had didn’t work. Without the password, we were unable to flip the switch to turn everything on. After some lengthy calls with the vendor, they were able to locate and reset the password. Now that we have it, we should be able to restore service in a few minutes should this happen again. We are also replacing the main battery backup device once the new one arrives.

The clocks should be getting back to normal as well. All of the computers sync their time with the server. The server gets its time from another device, which gets its time from yet anther device, which gets its time from the internet. We had to go up the chain until we found the most-upstream clock and get it corrected. The change then trickles down to everything else.

It was anything but a boring day in the technology department.

 

New Stuff for Teachers

We have ordered a lot of new technology items for teachers. Due to the supply chain weirdness going on, we aren’t sure when it will be ready to deploy.

All teachers will be receiving a new document camera if they don’t already have one. All teachers will receive a 24″ monitor to supplement their laptop screens. Also on the list is a docking station to connect all of this together.

All high school teachers will receive a new laptop. Teachers in other buildings with a desktop will be getting upgraded to a new laptop as well. High school classrooms are getting teacher microphones and wireless projection.

We are also replacing older projectors and working on many of the classroom AV systems. We also plan to expand wireless projection to all classrooms, though this is a longer-term project.

We have some materials onsite for this, but much is still on backorder. We will begin deploying the new setups once we have all of the items here. We’ll coordinate each teacher’s upgrade to happen at a convenient time and provide training along with it.

Printing Issues

Something has been wrong with the print server recently. Print jobs would disappear and reappear later, or not print at all. This was happening every 40 minutes or so, and only affected jobs sent during that time.

After working with the printer vendor over a few days, we discovered that there were corrupted drivers on some of the print queues. There were also many old phantom printers and copiers that are no longer in service or supported as well as various programs used by our previous vendor.

We tried various increasingly invasive troubleshooting steps with no success. The problem actually got worse in the process, happening every 2-3 minutes afterward. At this point the server was deemed unable to be fixed in a reasonable amount of time (before it was needed again). Thus, the decision was made to build a new one.

There is a process where the print queues on one server could be moved to another, but this also migrates the drivers and settings along with them. As the initial problems were in the queues, we decided to manually recreate the queues on the new server. This allowed for maximum smoothness as we were able to set the specific drivers and settings needed. This a time intensive process that results in a clean server running more efficiently and with plenty of free space.

The final step is to update each copier with the new server’s information. This has been completed and the district queue should be operating normally. We expect there may be some configuration updates that may be needed as a result of the manual steps to recreate the queues.

Email Scams are Back

We’re seeing more scam emails pretending to be staff members. We saw the same thing earlier in the year. The scammers in this case are trying to trick people into buying gift cards. They change the display name on the email to look like it came from an actual employee.

  • Always be suspicious of emails asking for something unusual.
  • If you think it may be legitimate, reach out to the person through a known method.
  • Look at the sender’s address – the ones we’ve received so far have been Gmail accounts.
  • Mark any messages like this as spam/junk
  • The best defense is remaining vigilant – no technology can stop every scam.

Department Restructuring

We are pleased to announce some exciting changes in the technology department. Carlos Jaime has joined us as our third support technician. His hiring allows us to reorganize our operation.

Each tech will be responsible for one part of the district. One will handle the elementary buildings, one will be at the middle school, and one will support the high school. The techs will spend a large part of each week at their assigned location.

Library staff will continue to be the first point of contact for student technology issues, including virtual students. The techs will focus on those issues that have been escalated by the library staff.

This arrangement will allow us to focus on specific areas, build stronger relationships, and increase response times. Once we catch up, it will allow us to be proactive and work on future needs as well.

Please continue to use the helpdesk to report issues. Contact the library in the rare event that you cannot access the helpdesk directly. Students should reach out to the library with tech problems, where a ticket can be opened for them. Remember to choose the best category and use separate tickets for separate issues.

Emailing Students & Parents in PowerSchool

PowerSchool now includes the ability to email students and/or parents through the gradebook. You can also copy their addresses to email separately through Outlook. A big thanks to Mr. Brinker and Ms. Warner for sharing this feature. The links below show how it works. Not all parents have an email in PowerSchool. All students should have one.

https://docs.powerschool.com/PTPH/20.11/grading/email-students-and-contacts

https://player.vimeo.com/video/463053739

Fix Backward Video

We’ve received reports that when recording video with the webcam or document camera, the footage is mirrored. This makes recording math or writing especially challenging.

The first step is to see if the program you record with has the ability to record it correctly from the start. If not, you can use Movie Maker to fix this, but it will take a few steps.

An easier option we’ve found is a tool called Free Video Flip and Rotate. This is a small program that is named very appropriately. You simply drag in a video, click one button to flip it, and save the result. If can flip and rotate in seven different directions to accommodate pretty much any scenario. When it finishes, you have a second copy of the video alongside the original.

It can save in the MP4 format that YouTube and other sites prefer. You can then open it in Movie Maker or another editor if you want to do further work on it.

Free Video Flip and Rotate is available in the Software Center. Here’s a short instruction sheet and a quick video demo.

Google Classroom Emails

Chrome Store LogoIf you use Google Classroom, then you may have noticed email sent to students by clicking the link within Classroom goes to the junk folder. This is because Google Classroom doesn’t follow proper email standards and opens its own message compose window. When this message is received by the student, it is flagged as spam since it claimed to be sent by our server but wasn’t.

We have a workaround for this in the form of two browser extensions. These extensions redirect the email request and open it in Outlook instead. This way the message will be recognized as legitimate and not sent to the junk folder.

You need to install the extension that corresponds to the version of Outlook you use. If you use the desktop app version of Outlook (preferable), you’ll want the extension called Gmail Link Fixer. If you use the web version of Outlook, you’ll want the Gmail-OWA extension. Both are available in the Chrome store and work on Firefox and possibly Edge as well.

The web version of Outlook doesn’t accept BCC addresses through the extension, so you’ll need to manually copy them from the To box into the BCC box. The desktop version doesn’t have this limitation.

Webcams and Microphone Issues

There have been a number of reports around microphones and sound in virtual meetings.

Teachers with desktop computers received a webcam on Saturday. These devices add a camera and microphone in one unit. The camera itself does not have any settings to configure. It is managed through the program you are using it with (Meet, Teams, Zoom, etc). In some cases, the program defaults to the computer’s external microphone input that usually has nothing plugged into it. In this case, you need to select the webcam microphone so that it can be used. Below are some guides for doing this in these programs.

Staff with laptops already have a camera and microphone built in. These are used the same way as the external device.

If you are able to use the microphone but it’s not working correctly, please open a helpdesk ticket so we can look at it. We will get to these as soon as we can.

If you need or want additional assistance, a member of the tech team would be happy to assist.

 

Links for common video tools:

Meet: https://support.google.com/meet/answer/9302964?co=GENIE.Platform%3DDesktop&hl=en

Teams: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/manage-your-call-settings-in-teams-456cb611-3477-496f-b31a-6ab752a7595f

Zoom: https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/201362283-Testing-computer-or-device-audio