Schools and insidious sales tactics: The great fundraising debate

September 21, 2012 Leave a comment


This is the transcript of an email just sent to the VSPA (The Village School Parent’s Association) who are in charge of fundraising at my son’s school. By the way, please don’t look at the photo above and think that this is typical of our house in that (a) It’s a complete mess, (b) My son is good at every sport or (c) We like to leave wires trailing everywhere. It’s just this picture. Honestly.



I am Mark Rebholz, Luke Rebholz’s Dad (1st Grade, Mrs REDACTED’s class) and thought I should also go on record as saying how displeased I was with the magazine sale fundraising project – more particularly the way this is handled at the school. I read with interest Mr REDACTED’s email of yesterday, and I wanted to share some of the key issues with you. Please feel free to send this email to any other appropriate party within the school should you want them to share it.

Let me start by saying that I have been cc’d in the email thread by REDACTED and others who feel similarly to me on this topic, and I have also seen your response to REDACTED. That said, I appreciate your taking the matter seriously, but I think in future fundraising activities must be handled differently, and by that I mean specifically targeting the adults, not the children.

Luke came home yesterday and acted fairly upset at first then indignant when I told him we would not be participating in this year’s magazine sale. In fact, whilst I explained to him the reasons for my attitude on the matter, he had to take himself to sit on the stairs and try to understand my position. (He does this now when he needs some space to allow himself to calm down or get over a disappointment). I’m not blaming you for that – it’s an important life lesson of course, but whilst Luke didn’t cry about not being able to get the ‘rewards’ for himself or his class, I need to you know that he then came back to me after reflection, and with some hesitation he said “I’ll spend my money on it then, I will buy it”. Again, I had to remind him that it is not just about the money. My reasons for not participating I will elaborate on, but first I would like to share with you his logic for you to understand the effect it can have on a child’s way of thinking. He told me that they were taken into the Gym/Hall/Commons and obviously subjected to a presentation using videos, ‘cool music’ (to put it in my son’s exact words) and a description of the items they as children would receive if they achieved certain milestones in the promotion, be that filling out referral cards, purchase of magazines or whatever components the reward categories break down into. Apart from the fact that it would seem he was most upset at not being able to receive a ‘toilet out of Despicable Me’ of all things, he also naturally did not want to be the only child, or a child in the minority in any case, who was not participating and earning penguins, pigs and all manner of things for his class. I am perhaps somewhat old fashioned in thinking that prizes should be awarded for progress, achievement and behaviour rather than on selling things and making money for uncertain purposes. We also as ex-pat’s do not have a large friends-and-family network here in the US that we can reach out to and provide names and addresses for another organisation’s (the magazine agency or whatever corporation is fulfilling this) marketing objectives. In any case, I feel strongly that we all receive too much unsolicited mail and I don’t believe subjecting our friends and acquaintances to more advertising, particularly year on year, is by any means a good thing.

The reasons I do not intend to participate this year are twofold:

1. I object to what I see as insidious sales tactics ostensibly to reach adults but in reality focussing on our children, and subjecting them to some kind of hard-sell, reminiscent of the boom in property timeshare presentations or ‘free holiday’ seminars. I object to them being made to feel as though they are lacking by not obtaining cheap gimmicky icons based on no other achievement of their own than ‘making mum and dad fill out forms’, harass others and spend lots of money. Prizes like badges and stickers for academic achievement, improvement or good behaviour are fine and proper.

2. Last year whilst in Kindergarten, we did participate in the magazine sale and felt like we should make the effort to fit in. With this email I attach a picture of just some of the magazines we still have and are waiting to be read. Surely this much paper, unused at that, is also not beneficial to the environment. That aside, there’s a more worrisome event. We found ourselves missing a couple of hundred dollars out of our checking account in late August, early September. When I investigated, I found we had been recharged for another 12 months subscription of last year’s magazines! I had no idea I had given consent to buy these things in perpetuity! I then had to spend a considerable amount of time tracking the down the magazine vendor’s customer service department, who then passed me on to this magazine agency (as apparently I could not cancel with the magazine publishers themselves!) I now have most of my money back, but once bitten, twice shy. I will not be doing this again and I would counsel others against it in case they should also find themselves in the same trap.

In future perhaps, whilst fundraising is often a necessary part of a school’s activities this should be undertaken with clearer intentions and firm details as to the purpose of the funds and target the parents directly, not focus on the children. It is after all the parents that earn the money, and I don’t feel it is in any way appropriate for the children to feel like they are underachieving by not having something everyone has got because their parents object to the way this fundraiser is handled.

I think I speak for many when I say that we love the school, we like many of the staff, and we are glad Luke is happy and achieving well there. We are also happy to put some money in the communal pot for extras for the kids to let them have fun as well as study and pay attention, and potentially fund other growth projects, but we are not happy to ‘pick up the slack’ for a profit-making organisation who would prefer to spend their funds elsewhere and preserve their profit margin.

I hope you understand, and agree that we can avoid these tactics in the future. Based on your email to REDACTED, I think you do understand, but I would like to see positive action to prevent this fundraising method taking place again.


Mark Rebholz

Categories: fundraising, sales, school, teaching Tags:

Technical HOW-TO: Installing Linux (Edubuntu) using PXE Boot and Windows 7 as a server

May 17, 2012 6 comments

Technical Stuff (HOW-TO): Using Windows 7 as a PXE server and installing a ‘remastered’ Ubuntu CD over the network

I’ve spent a while over the last couple of weeks researching and attempting to implement a Windows-based solution for installing Ubuntu on remote network clients. Previously, I’ve only used it to populate Windows clients. It has been a frustrating experience to say the least, not least of which the reason for the problem lies with Linux itself. Of course though, I would say that as I have always been a ‘Windows person’. That said, I do not wish to denigrate or unduly blame Linux for of course the counter-argument would always be that I was not sufficiently skilled in Linux at the time I did this to overcome the problems I encounted. And that is probably the case. However, the source of my frustration if you will pardon the poor pun is that I don’t ever feel one should have to modify the source and recompile binaries (and the kernel for that matter) to do something which I would otherwise consider to be ‘readily working’. Of course, that is where others will doubtless disagree with me. All that laid bare, of course, why not just build a linux-based server which is both free and probably less frustrating. Well… I will do that next, but there will always be those who prefer Windows, and perhaps to fit in with a corporate network, Windows architecture may be the preferred option. So this is for those folks who need or have been mandated the use of Windows. Don’t fret –  I shall not ignore the full and most likely proper linux solution!

So before I start with the solution to the problem that I have used, let me firstly state a few things. Firstly, my solution is not FREE as it uses paid-for applications free to try, but must be purchased in parts – so it is not a ‘easy deploy linux appliance’. I list the apps used and their links at the bottom of this mail. Secondly, let me say that you CAN do this for FREE if you go down the whole linux route by building a linux ‘server’ and free-to-get apps or apt-get modules (either linux modules themselves available through the normal repositories, or more all-in-one type apps). Thirdly, I wanted to install in one step not a bare-naked version of Ubuntu but an up-to-date version – which is not that easy to do either. I wanted to do this in one-step like a Windows ‘slipstreamed’ install, not install the bare OS, then get updates from an Ubuntu mirror, then install them which takes quite a bit of time. Fourthly, and hopefully last, the frustration encountered with linux is that there are many many distributions (e.g. Debian/Ubuntu/Edubuntu – which is the ‘tree’ from which I am plucking the fruit) and they all differ in some ways, sometimes subtle, sometimes fundamental. For example, SUSE supports at the kernel level the ability to load the network drivers and then ‘get’ the installation files from an HTTP source, be that internal to your network or external. As it is so easy to set up an HTTP virtual directory to serve these files, setup is relatively easy. With Ubuntu, at least, Edubuntu 10, it only supports NFS, which of course is only natively supported on linux. It makes using Windows that much harder. Some distro’s even support FTP or SMB within the kernel to load the install set. If your chosen distribution DOES work with one of these other protocols your solution might be easier than dealing with NFS alone.


So what are the requirements (this might help you decide whether or not this might also help you if it matches your needs?)

1. Lightweight and portable. I work for a charity that does not have recourse to new recently captialised equipment, storage arrays and expensive servers.

2. Install the Edubuntu operating system onto old (>6yrs old) PC hardware over the network quickly. We benchmarked an install from DVD-ROM (those old machines that actually had a DVD) and the subsequent updates at well over three hours start to finish. We wanted and believed it could be done in less than 1 hour. It can be done in less than 25 mins!

3. A server that held the images centrall that could be easily replaced or reconstructed to minimise support effort. We don’t have redundancy or 24-hr availability so any problems need to be rectified quickly and easily to get back up and running.

4. Does not require significant in-depth linux command line skills to achieve. Should make the use of readily-available GUI apps wherever possible to minimise skills needed to operate/administer.


What does my solution look like?

It’s a windows client with a static IP address, using two apps, SERVA32/64 and an NFS server, with some aid of Deamon Tools Lite (although you can do without that). I used Allegro for NFS, but HANEWIN is popular, and there are also a few free variants out on the net, which I have not tried. We also need PXELinux which gives any client the ability to use a slim linux system to provide a menu and the ability to boot-strap both Linux kernels and Windows (e.g. use Windows 2003/2008 server’s WDS). Finally, we also need Daemon tools Lite (or another ISO-mounting utility.)


What do I need? (see also Appendix1)

To test or build this, you can use several things;

1. Virtualbox or VMware workstation/server

2. An EVAL CD for Windows 7 Enterprise Ed 64-bit

3. The apps mentioned above (and listed below)

4. The chosen ISO for your Ubuntu distribution.

5. PXELinux (see the download link at the bottom of this mail)

6. The remastersys app for Linux (Debian/Ubuntu supported, unknown on other distro’s)


How do I set it up?

It’s up to you whether or not you want to do the virtualisation step or proceed straight to installing on your chosen hardware, but you need to:

STAGE1: Get the PXE ‘server’ ready

1. Install Windows 7 client and configure with a static IP

2. Copy the SERVA32/64 application over to the client

3. Copy the NFS server installer over to the client (supplied instructions are for Allegra)

4. Copy the DAEMON TOOLS install to the client

5. Prepare a folder structure for the files required to remote-boot and install other OS. Create C:\RemotePXE and three sub-folders, \boot and \images and \serva32 or (\serva64)

6. Put the serva32 binaries in the serva32 folder, and create a shortcut to SERVA32.exe on the desktop and/or the startup folder to launch it automatically on startup.


How does it work?

1. The PC boots and initialises the NIC, using PXE firmware (of course you need this to make it work! Pretty much all network adapters since 2001 are capable of PXE boot, but you should check first ..)

2. The NIC with PXE BIOS extensions makes a call to the network for a DHCP offer

3. A DHCP server replies with an IP address and tells the client which server can offer the client PXE boot passing it the IP address and the filename of the boot program

4. The client contacts the PXE server using TFTP and pulls down the boot program and exexcutes it (we will be using PXELinux for this)

5. The client displays the MENU as listed in the PXELINUX.CFG\DEFAULT file

6. The client can select an OS to boot/install from the menu

7. On selection, the chosen program is given control after being TFTP’d to the client and executed. This is where PXELinux ends and your chosen OS takes over. For Linux installers, depending on your distro, it will call first the KERNEL (i.e. vmlinuz or linux) then the initird (Initial ramdisk archive which is typically GZipped)

8. For linux, the APPEND command in the DEFAULT file is used to pass arguments to the linux kernel to further install or configure the OS as required. We’ll need to use this to ‘tell’ the kernel where to get the installation set from. Again, depending on your distro, some support different arguments and natively support different protocols to do this. My instructions may only work with Ubuntu/Edubuntu 10.x but of course experimentation and research are king!

9. Depending on your distro, the install set is read (as if the PC were simply accessing the DVD in the drive) and then the installer is run. It will then display whatever comes next – for some distros this is an ASCII menu to choose options. For the Edubuntu Live CD it is the desktop, with an icon to start the installation.

10. It is up to you whether or not you then choose menu options to install, or you may wish to use something like PRESEEDING (for Ubuntu) or Kickstart (for RedHat/CentOS/SUSE). I won’t go into that here, however, I’ll do that in a different and follow-up article if I may… as well as look at some of the things we can do with MEMDISK to launch ISO images on-the fly, and further menu options for the PXELINUX.CFG\DEFAULT file…

STAGE2: Configure the server

1. You should now have a Windows 7 Ent Ed machine (I used 64-bit but either should be fine) with a static IP address and a folder structure under C:\RemotePXE\boot ..\images ..\SERVA32. Next install Daemon Tools using the default options (Daemon Tools Lite is FREE).

2. Now to set up the PXE boot menu. From the SYSLINUX archive, Copy the files pxelinux.0, vesamenu.c32 and chain.c32 to the boot folder. RENAME pxelinux.0 to Then create a subfolder for boot called PXELINUX.CFG

3. Copy the MENU text found below into a file under PXELINUX.CFG into a file DEFAULT. This is the file you will edit when you wish to add new distributions or test and experiment with new options. Take a backup by copying the file when you have a working system in case you need to delete a messed up one and rename the copy back to DEFAULT. Of course, edits of this can be made with just notepad.

See the images below for the directory structure and default files.

4. That’s good enough for the structure so far, let’s get SERVA32/64 ready to provide the right files over the right protocols now. Launch SERVA32/64 for the first time. Assent to the license agreement and if using the FREE (non-supporter version) you will need to wait for the ‘no thanks’ button to become live to start it. You’ll see the logs screens by protocol across the top, but for now nothing is configured, so click SETTINGS at the bottom to start. Of course, this is a very powerful, tiny footprint, lightweight app and I do encourage you to register (support) if you like it and want to keep it. I certainly shall.

a. Do you already have a DHCP server on your network? Chances are you do if you have not had to assign each of your PCs and devices (such as Ipads, Android Phones, WiFi printers and the like) IP addresses manually before they can be used. You will need to note the DHCP servers’ IP address. (Hint: In windows go the start menu, type CMD in the find pane and ENTER. Type IPCONFIG/ALL and [ENTER] and find the ‘DHCP Server’ line. In Linux, open the terminal and type IFCONFIG [ENTER].) OK, so now you need to configure SERVA to pass the correct information to your clients. On the DHCP tab, check proxyDHCP if you do have a primary DHCP server already. If you don’t – you’ll need to configure it here.

i. With existing DHCP server — check proxyDHCP, in Next Server (siaddr) leave either Automatic or enter the current static IP of the Windows PC you are using. For bootfile, enter

ii. Without existing DHCP server — check DHCP server, and BIND to this address should be the current static IP of the Windows PC. Add the items in (i) above also for Next Server and bootfile. Specify the IP pool first IP address and pool size (e.g. to assign IPs in the sequence to .200 then see the picture below). Add the subnet mask (/24 if you’re using the 192.168.x.x private subnet) and the router and dns entries. Router and dns are not required if you don’t need internet access from the clients.

Choose OK to save.

b. Now we need to specify where the files to be served to the clients to provide the menu system via PXELINUX and linux kernels are to be found. Select the TFTP tab and check TFTP Server. For BIND to this address – as per DHCP choose the static IP of the Windows PC. For TFTP root directory – use BROWSE to select C:\RemotePXE\boot\  (this is where the TFTP files are located, or in a subfolder – but this is considered ROOT). See the image for other configuration options and choose OK.

That should be all we need for now in terms of configuration. Now it’s time to test what we have so far.

c. Exit and restart SERVA32/64 and open it on the log page. Now boot one of your network PCs to be installed. Watch the screen carefully. You should see the following sequence:

i. PXE boot message looking for DHCP server (on the client)

ii. IP address received from the server. (on the client) / DHCP request/offer messages (on the server)

iii. The menu appear approximately as shown (on the client)

Choosing one of the menu items will do nothing at the moment as we haven’t put everything in place yet. If you did not see this sequence, there is a problem which you’ll need to troubleshoot. Follow the troubleshooting guide at the end of this document for assistance if you need it.

STAGE3: Make the updated Ubuntu Live DVD ISO

OK, so next we need to provide the actual guts of the system. We’ve put the framework in place to deliver it, now we need to put some flesh on the bones. So, one of our important requirements is that we want to install an up-to-date or near-as-damnit OS, not one that is two years old (i.e. 10.04) then spend two hours patching it. We can incorporate these updates by installing the OS, installing the updates, doing any further configuration we want, then ‘remastering’.

Here we go:

1. Install Edubuntu 10.04 on a chosen PC. For me, I used a VM, but a standard hardware PC will do.

2. Install the updates. In Ubuntu go to Administration > System Updates. and choose UPDATE. Let the system check the internet repositories – which takes a while – and come back to you. Choose UPDATE. Go away and make a cup of coffee or three. And watch some TV. And read a book. Then hopefully it will be done.

3. Perform any other system changes you want to make (I don’t know what this might be for you, but I made some directory mods and copied some files over to the system so we could make links to them later, including a wallpaper etc.)

4. Install remastersys. You can get that from Tony K’s site as listed below. (Instructions on how to do this are on the remastersys site – I have not included them here)

5. Use remastersys to make a ‘custom live CD’ from what you have now configured. Open terminal and enter the following commands: (Alternatively you can use the remastersys GUI if you install the package labelled -GUI.deb below)

sudo remastersys dist

this takes a bit of time, but not too long – no fault of remastersys, there’s just a lot of work to be done… The ouput will be an ISO file. We need that ISO file for the next stage of course, so copy it off to a network share or USB etc.

6. Handily, remastersys will gladly tell you where it placed the ISO and what it called it once it completes. Obviously, you’ll want to copy this elsewhere- like to your Windows server(!) as we’ll need to use this in the next stage to as the basis for our installer of more clients.

STAGE4: Adding the distribution install CD and making it accessible

Now that you’ve got the PXE basics done and made the updated custom live CD for your OS, it’s time to share it over NFS.

1. Copy the ISO file you made in stage 4 to the C:\RemotePXE\Images folder. If you like, place in it subdirectory with the name/version of the OS. (e.g. \edubuntu10_04\custom-dist.iso)

2. Install Allegro or your other choice of NFS server for Windows. If you use any other than Allegro you will need to configure this yourself.

3. Launch Allegro

4. Configure Allegro by open START\Programs and expand Allegro. One of the options allows you to configure it. Select this and it opens on the EXPORTS tab. Click NEW and give your exported share a unique name, logically one that identifies the distro (see example).

5. Open Daemon Tools Lite and Add the ISO to the catalogue (I won’t go into Daemon Tools here, it’s pretty straightforward and used almost ubiqutously). Now right click it and MOUNT it. Note the drive letter it has been mounted under, and use Windows explorer to verify that it is mounted and browsable (e.g. you’ll seefiles ubuntu, MD5sum and readme.disdefines, with 5 folders, one of which \casper contains the all-important filesystem.squashfs). If that’s ok – carry on…

6. Under PATH, use browse to select the drive letter root you mounted the DVD’s ISO on.

7. For the security part, select: Allowed Host Lists (ALL), Read/Write user lists (ROOT) and Read-only user lists (EVERYONE)

8. We don’t need to modify anything else now in fact, although I used the DEBUG tab to enable logging of first NFS protocol debugging then MOUNT. This is simply so I could see what was happening. Later I disabled NFS protocol as it simply generates too much detail.  Select as you wish and then APPLY your changes.

10. Test the NFS connection if possible from another NFS-enabled operating system. For example, from another linux client try the following:

sudo mount -t nfs serveriporhostname:/nfsexportname /mnt/mountfolder

alternatively you can use sudo showmount serveriporhostname -e and it should at least show the exported folder name

11. In the PXELINUX.CFG\DEFAULT file (the PXE boot menu) we need to tell our linux distro WHERE to get the install files from. Change the line under the menu option for your distro to match that of the Windows ‘servers’ IP or Hostname and the exported foldername. The line you must change looks like:

APPEND boot=casper netboot=nfs nfsroot= — keeppxe

You’ll need to change the nfsroot= part to match that of your server and exported folder. Now save the default file (you will need to close SERVA32/64 first if it still open), and we’re ready to test it.

12. Copy the Linux KERNEL and INITRAMDISK files to the C:\RemotePXE\boot folder. You can rename them if you like to match the distro and version if you will keep different versions here, but make it logical (I renamed Edubuntu’s vmlinuz kernel to ed1004_vmlinuz and the ramdisk to ed1004_initrd.gz to distinguish them). Then – make sure the KERNEL and APPEND lines in the DEFAULT boot menu file have the correct filenames. (You may not need this step if you did it earlier – but if you updated the ISO in STAGE3 then you should re-copy them from the new ISO)

STAGE5: Test from start to finish

OK, so now we should have the full essence, and it’s time to test it.

with SERVA running, and Allegro running, boot your text client. After the PXE BIOS runs and gets an IP address, you should see your menu. Now select the menu entry for the Linux distro you created. The kernel should now load, you’ll see “Loading edub1004_vmlinuz….”  followed by “edub1004_initrd.gz……………” as they are tftp’d from the server.

Once the initrd file (ramdisk) loads, the Linux kernel should run and now have the facilites to further progress the installation. At this point you should notice that the Linux distro now asks for an IP address – and should display the IP address, mask, route etc. The next step is that once it has initialised the network it should try to mount the NFS drive – you’ll see “Trying nfsmount…  (and the mount command)”.

This should happen quickly and if it worked, you should see on the servers NFS log “Add live user …” which confirms we have parsed the directory structure and we’re on our way in. Additionally, if you checked the log MOUNT option in Allegro, you will see “MNT3: xx.xx.xx.xx: MOUNT / ubuntu1004 ==> Accepted” or similar. Within a few moments you should see the client boot into the Ubuntu desktop. From there you can choose to INSTALL CUSTOM LIVE from the dekstop – and follow the wizard as normal to install to the client’s local filesystem. You’re done!

STAGE6: Troubleshooting

3.i No PXE message?

This means either your machine is not capable of PXE boot, or it is not enabled. Check it in the BIOS to see if your NIC is included in the boot order (before your HDD) and that PXE is enabled. If using a VM, check that again Network boot is included and enabled.

3.ii. No IP address?

If PXE starts and looks for s DHCP server, but never receives one, it means one of two things: Either SERVA is not started or not configured properly, or there is another network issue. The network issues could involve either a Firewall on the Windows machine blocking port access (make sure you add SERVA to the firewall permissions accepted list) or if using a VM system, try using the client and server both BRIDGED to the local network. I have had many problems getting host-only type networks to work. NAT by and large will never work for this.

3iii. No menu?

If you get PXE boot message, and you see on the client that it obtains a DHCP-based IP address, check the log in SERVA to see if IT (as opposed to another DHCP server) issued the address. You should see in the log a DHCPREQUEST message from MAC AA:BB:CC:DD:EE:FF (which is your client’s MAC address) and a corresponding DHCPOFFER, then DHCPACK, TFTP [serverIP] bootfile []. If you don’t see this transaction set, but you do get an IP address then you got it from another DHCP server. Either deactivate your other DHCP server, or set proxyDHCP on SERVA only. If you see this transaction list but you still get no menu check that exists in the boot folder and check your configuration settings in SERVA.

4. Menu selection ok and loads kernel but crashes out with Kernel Panic or driver issue? Lockup during the boot?

This is trickier to resolve!

I’m afraid the internet will be your best bet here as this is highly dependent on two main things:

1. Your distribution’s support within the KERNEL for the network card you are using (i.e. does it detect the card, load the right drivers and bring the network up – do you ever see ifeth0: up?) If you don’t, then it could be the cause of the issue. To get that working, you’d need to recompile the kernel with the correct drivers. I had lots of problems like this – or related to other hardware issues and the failure of the kernel to detect and initialise them, especially in a VM. That all said, if you’re using ubuntu 10.04 and a fairly new machine it should work as I outlined.

2. The Live filesystem (The ISO you made) could not be detected, which probably means the NFS mount failed. Try to check the NFS mount from another client to verify it is being shared and accessible.

APPENDIX1: The DEFAULT menu contents

DEFAULT      vesamenu.c32

PROMPT       0



# Timeout in units of 1/10 s






MENU COLOR BORDER 30;44  #20ffffff #00000000 none

MENU COLOR SCROLLBAR 30;44  #20ffffff #00000000 none

MENU COLOR TITLE 0   #ffffffff #00000000 none

MENU COLOR SEL   30;47  #40000000 #20ffffff

MENU graphics_vga.jpg

MENU TITLE *Company* PXE Boot Menu — Please choose one option



MENU LABEL Edubuntu 10.04 including remastersys updates

KERNEL ed1004_vmlinuz initrd=ed1004_initrd.gz —

APPEND boot=casper netboot=nfs nfsroot= — keeppxe

APPENDIX2: Applications and links

Windows 7 Eval ISO

PXE (SYSLINUX) files ( – You’ll need to Extract core\pxelinux.0 com32\menu\vesamenu.c32 and com32\modules\chain.c32 from the syslinux download.

SERVA32/64 executables (

Allegro NFS (

Remastersys (

APPENDIX3: Alternative products/solutions:

a. FOG ( using Linux

b. WDS ( using Windows 2003 R2 or Windows 2008 R2 server.

c. The ‘proper’ linux solution. ( and (

I also wish to thank those on Ubuntu forums (Jon L, Tony K) for their assistance in my search for a solution. Please let me know if you have any feedback or comments!

Learning to Fly

March 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Not a very original title right? I can’t pretend that this subject hasn’t been used before – let’s face it – it’s pretty well in use. That said, I wanted to share some of my experiences related to that very subject, both for the sake of the ‘adventure’ in aviation and as an experience of learning something new and at first very foreign. Perhaps we all take the ability to learn things from scratch for granted. Without being too esoteric on the topic, our brains are of course wired to learn from the earliest days on the planet, but once the medium of language has been grasped, it is perhaps when learning can really take off from a facts-figures-and-cconcepts perspective.

In any case, learning to fly is interesting to me for several reasons – one being that I do not consider myself particularly gifted when it comes to learning to control things that require developing fine motor skills or a degree of ‘feel’. Rightly or wrongly – I believe it takes me much longer to develop the skills requiring that nuance of feel or perception, to which I would include driving, than the average person.

Perhaps for that reason, and also perhaps for another which I will come to regarding the important but often overlooked concepts of learning and teaching styles, I did not get off to a great start whilst learning to fly.

I had always been fascinated by flying, and although the science is fairly simple from my layman’s perspective, I was still somewhat in awe of it – and had held an as yet unnurtured desire to fly from an early age. About the time most children start to think about their future career I would always respond to the question “What are you going to do when you are older, Mark” with a fairly certain “astronaut” or “pilot”. Again, these responses are probably derived from the classic five-year-old’s view of the world in that boys do such fantastic and masculine endeavours, and women do ‘other stuff’ not related to putting yourself in harm’s way. So much for that since my chosen field of IT was perhaps male-dominated but hardly likely to thrill or put yourself in any real danger apart from the sort your boss might impose upon you for not recovering the email server or missing a crucial backup.

But I digress…

When starting out I had high hopes that I would fit in with the program, knuckle down, and really find the whole thing great fun. My thinking was that perhaps I could then use that as a platform to build my experience as a pilot and change careers – using my current situation of being an expat in the US for a couple of years to do something completely different. The program started with reading through the literature as with any new venture, being part theory and part practice. I was dissapointed that on my first day the instructor (chief instructor in this particular organisation) told me after paying upfront that I could not fly as there were no aircraft available. They seemed disorganised at first and it did make me wonder what I had got myself into – although they knew I was starting that day, they made no apology for not flying and I was instead hustled into a room to be given a ground school lesson off the cuff by a subordinate instructor who did not know he was about to teach. Anyway, I tried to chalk it up to experience and move on. I attended the course two other times that week, and got to fly both times.

However, my instructor was incredibly taciturn to put it mildly – he stuck rigidly to the ‘sterile cockpit rule’ and I felt that I was on test one hundred percent of the time. This did absolutely nothing to put me at ease, nor build my confidence and any mistakes I made then seemed to be amplified to me. I would also often get little quips like “You’re not trimmed” or “It’s not a white knuckle ride – don’t grip the controls”. Compounded with everything else that goes with a totally new and foreign experience I then felt like I was doing everything wrong and nothing right! Nothing positive was emphasised at all. Now pleasse dont get me wrong – I’m not one of those who believes in congratulating the student that got zero in their exam but managed to spell their name right – but when doing something that involves alot of practice especially in terms of ‘muscle memory’ then positive feedback must accompany the negative. Anyway, this went on, and despite not feeling like I had the basics, the fundamentals right yet, the course was programmed to continue on, building on the skills previously taught as the brochure would have it. In aviation terms this means progressing to S-turns, turns-around-a-point, touch-and-gos and so forth, and of course *if* those basic skills had been learned, and in fact if they had become defined skills rather than vague notions then they would of course make for a good foundation for the next set. As it was, however, not being able to fly the plane straight and level by misunderstanding the use of or how to effectively trim the aircraft became severely limiting – particularly when trying to undertake more advanced maneovures. In my opinion these deficencies should be evident to the instructor – naturally leading to more focussed instruction to help me get it right. I persisted in the course up until the point where I should be able to solo. Obviously a key requirement of being able to solo is that the instructor believes you are competent to take off, fly the pattern and land by youself without being a danger to others or yourself. Clearly, at this stage in the game I was not ready. That said, the lesson plan said that next was the first 2-hour session of touch-and-gos. I did not realise this before we took off (probably my fault) nor did I realise that instead of using the regular 80ft by 4000ft tarmac runway, the tower would instruct me to use the 36ft by 1900ft old concrete runway. Needless to say I was spooked and got every approach wrong, was never at the right height or at the right speed on final, missed multiple radio calls, and all of my landings had to be rescued. The instructor summed it up – quite rightly in fact by saying “Well Mark, it felt like we were just out on a plane ride today.” He was right in fact, but the ball was left squarely in my court as to how to improve. His suggestions to just ‘fly the plane’ and ‘get infront of the plane’ (not literally I hoped, but then afterwards I did wonder…) were not in the least helpful. Of course I could see what he was trying to impart – that I needed to think ahead. I needed to plan out my actions more in advance. What he failed to grasp though was that I was still struggling to cope with controlling the aircraft in the present, let alone the future!

In the next and what would turn out to be final session with that instructor I waited in the classroom for him to join me for the start of the session. At the time I was reading a book I had purchased many years before when thinking about learning to fly but not yet having the time or the money. It was “Stick and Rudder” by Langwiesche. The instructor walked in, saw the book I was reading and said “Oh, good book – I think that made me a better instructor.” Before anything else happened, a phrase which remained only in my head – for obvious reasons – suddenly appeared: “You must have been pretty awful before then, mate.”

The lesson I learned from all of this – apart from the fact that I am not a natural aviator in any shape or form – is that teaching style is as important as your learning style. A mismatch is obviously going to cause severe ‘learning difficulties’ between teacher and student. Also consider that this was one-on-one tuition. Personal tuition in this manner means that the instructor had the ability to adapt or flex his teaching style to get through to me, to help me understand what was needed, what actions I should take, and how, in good time. Instead it seems I got one-size-fits-all tuition. In short, if it didn’t work for me the first time, he’d keep banging away at the nail protruding from the surface until it went in. I don’t know if it was satisfying for him – I doubt it – and it certainly wasn’t conducive to my tuition.

Teachers of any kind have a difficult job. They not only have to know their subject well – but they have to learn HOW to impart it, to help others understand and get the requisite skills – some of whom will do this quicker than others, both for reasons of intelligence and the genes with which we were born, predisposing us to certain skillsets. I sympathise with the difficulty of the teacher’s lot – for all their students will learn at different rates and according to different teaching methods. There is no one-size-fits-all that will yield consistent results and yet many companies and schools adopt this approach, some doubtless because they feel they have no choice.

The good news perhaps is that I did persist in learning to fly and I recently solo’ed. I was very lucky to have found an instructor that was a much better fit for me; he was patient, used humour when things did not go right, did not act like he had a rod up his ass the whole time (profanity included as I hope this is an adult audience) and generally helped me through getting the right co-ordination and slow build up of ‘feel’ required to fly a plane to any degree of competence. Unfortunately he is no longer teaching with my flying school. Perhaps he’d simply had enough of flexing his teaching style.

I’m also not forgetting that it takes two to tango! If you want to learn you have to be receptive to learning and no matter how good a teacher is – if you have shut down your mind to it, or take a view that there is nothing to be learned then they can’t help. That said, we’re all human of course. You can’t throw a switch that changes you from ‘normal’ (read egocentric, outwardly confident, perhaps a little stubborn) to ‘receptive’ (read open mind, drop the ego, not afraid of failure) but being aware of the difference will help. After all, you didn’t learn to walk, talk and read by thinking you knew better than everyone else, did you?

Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear any comments. I’ll touch more on flying itself in different articles and perhaps teaching/learning may crop up from time to time too. Actually, not perhaps. Definitely.


Categories: aviation, flying, learning, teaching