Project: How to create a bootable and writeable USB flash drive

In this project, I explore how to create a small bootable USB drive, running a copy of the Linux Raspbian Desktop.

Why Raspbian Desktop?

Raspbian Desktop is a variation on the Debian Linux operating system. It has been specifically adapted to run on older (32-bit) underpowered computers. It only needs 512MB of RAM (random access memory) to operate! That’s tiny compared to most of the new consumer and business grade laptops and desktop systems sold in 2018. (how to determine how much RAM your computer has.)

In my community, different community groups are interested in running tech-ed programs – but don’t always have a lot of resources or internal knowledge. I want to help make computing exploration available to anyone in Birmingham (AL) interested in learning about the technical systems that are quietly running more and more of our world, with or without an internet connection. 

This project makes it possible to use available desktop systems and laptops without making changes to them. Needed software can be run from a consistent external source, with a place for students to save their files. This allows students to continue work and explorations at home, without needing a fast internet connection. 

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CompTIA Network+ study resources

Update – March 2022

For a bunch of reasons, none particularly good, I’m recertifying Network+. I’ll be refreshing my knowledge to write the N10-008 exam by the end of this month.

Updated list of English-language resources used.

See this previous post for my earlier experience and study path.

If picking up used copies of the textbooks, ensure that you purchase a current version of the text. Around 25% of the content changes with each update to the exam. Between the Network N10-006 & the Network N10-007, approximately 15% of the content changed. The jump from the N10-007 to the N10-008 exam is similar. Each time, the exam is updated with new technologies, and older required knowledge is retired.

Study materials

The materials I’m using to prepare formy next exam are:

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How I prepared for the CompTIA Network+ exam

As requested by friends and former students, here are my notes regarding preparing for the CompTIA Network+ exam. This writeup talks about all my insecurities and stumbles; the short verion with a summary of other resources can be found in the next post

Study materials

The materials I used to study for the exam were:

My process

This is not what I would recommend for everyone else.

When I started, I wasn’t sure what I already knew, and what I needed to learn.  At the time, I was working around classroom obligations (I was teaching a CompTIA A+ bootcamp).

I had set-up my first server using a spare computer tower, an installation of Ubuntu Server and Samba (a print server software package) in late November 2017. I made a lot of mistakes. I messed things up, I fixed them. I listened to all the Professor Messer videos (audio only) on one of my road trips to see family. That gave me an overview of what I needed to know. (late December 2017). 

I had to focus on work for a bit (teaching the CompTIA A+ in a boot camp format, revising labs, and adding equipment to my classroom setup), but read through the Network+ evenings and weekends. I came to the conclusion that I needed more hands-on experience. March 2018, I purchased the lab book. (I ended up not using it, but have retained it to ensure I know all the linked material!) I acquired some switches for the classroom. I made ethernet cable, I ended up puttering around a lot. As I did so, I built out the classroom network, adding network printers. A mentor, Kris Leslie, walked me through a first Hypervisor 1 -based server setup using a refurbished Dell Poweredge R710 rack-mounted server.

I created a running link list of supplemental videos and explanatory material. (I like to know why a thing is what it is). I ended up taking three runs at preparing for the exam, once in June, again in August, and then finally in October, when I took the exam while my current cohort was preparing for their A+ 901 (hardware) exams.  I purchased access to the Mike Meyers Total Seminar practice test and simulations package June 2018.  With the CompTIA exams, persistence in preparation and sticking to a study plan will get you ready sooner. 

During my prep periods, I took a daily practice test, reviewed the answers I got wrong, and spent time with my drill sets. I needed to memorize the acronyms, the OSI & TCP/IP models, along with specific network functions and ports associated with each layer.  The things that gave me the most difficulty were what functions are mapped to which OSI layer, subnet masking, 

My prep took longer because I wasn’t working daily with the hardware and network configurations. If you are working with this as part of your day job, your prep will take much less time. 

Setting a firm deadline for the exam (October 15th) helped to focus my attention and forced me to manage my time effectively to meet it.  I actually took my exam on October 19th, and successfully passed. 

While taking the exam, I wasn’t sure I was going to pass. 

I had to manage my attention, and focus and block thoughts of failure. Had to use the yogic technique of deep breathing (three deep slow breaths in and out) a few times to settle my mind and focus. I used the sound canceling headphones provided by the testing center and their provided whiteboard.  As soon as I sat down (and before I started the test) I wrote out my IP subnetting tables on the whiteboard for reference during the test.

When I first encountered my exam simulation, I wasn’t able to figure out how to inspect the interactive for the missing settings. In order to use my time effectively, I flagged the question, went on and completed all the other questions I could complete easily, answered the rest of the questions on which I was less sure (always with the first gut-level answer), and then circled back to the simulation. At which point, I was thinking “networking” and figured out how to look at all the network IP address settings, and note where the settings were incorrect. I submitted the exam with fifteen minutes to spare. 

*I used the Total Seminars package this time, in part, to evaluate for use in my classroom.  I wanted to see how it compared to Pearson Vue’s Kaplan package.

How to mess up your virtualization on Windows 10

For the past year, I’ve been learning about virtual machines (VMs). 

I’ve mostly been using VirtualBox on Windows 10 and Parallels on my Mac. A few weeks ago I thought it was time to also explore Windows Hyper-V. So, I turned it on.

Big mistake – activating Hyper-V deactivated my ability to run 64-bit VMs within Virtual Box.  This was a problem; I have a model instructional set of VMs set up on my classroom computer, for export and installation on the student computers, And I had about a week invested in creating them (installed software, settings, model networks. etc).

Now, I did the two things (activate Hyper-V), and then revisit my VirtualBox VMs about a week apart. So, it took me a bit of time (and googling) to figure out how to fix the problem.
Although I went in and turned off the Hyper-V features within Apps and Features > Program and Features > Turn Windows Features On or Off, I also ran PowerShell commands to make sure it couldn’t come back on when I next updated my classroom computer system. 

My lesson? The reason the two virtualization applications don’t work well together is that Hyper-V is a Type I hypervisor for Windows 10 – and VirtualBox is a Type II hypervisor running within Windows 10.



Lynda for Libraries in Birmingham

Have you used your local library to learn about tech? Programming? Web site design and construction? If not, why not?

I haven’t been getting those materials from my local library, in Birmingham, AL. They didn’t have what I needed. I’ve bought my own books and training materials. Among them, off and on, was subscription access to  I’ve used Lynda training materials (first for websites, then for ongoing design software training) for almost 20 years. Until the past few years, it was not easy to afford.

Two and a half years ago, while attending a WordPress conference in Toronto, one of my fellow attendees, Alex Sirota, told me that had a library program (He has a write-up on his professional blog.) It’s been a big success for the Toronto Public Library system, with city residents using it to learn needed skills quickly. This is a great example of the idea of “city-as-a-platform”, in which the city/region/state works to make it easier for more residents to pick up in-demand skills.

I’m currently using to learn about systems administration and security, and Windows 7 & 10 deployments. Since my last use three years ago, they’ve added more IT and programming related materials to their existing design-software core. Most of it is introductory through intermediate, but it’s enough to give me direction as to what I should be studying next. 

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Where to find Birmingham’s tech networks

Post first written in 2017, but updated to reflect changes in the local tech community in 2018 & 2019. I’ll continue to update as changes occur.

New to Birmingham and want to know where to find the techies? Or you’ve finished a first degree or training course and you want to know how to connect with other people in your field? In Birmingham, here are the three places you need to start looking to find them.

TechBirmingham’s community listings

TechBirmingham, the region non-profit coordinating and promoting the growth of the regional tech sector, has listings of the local tech organizations on its Community page. These include chapters of national organizations, such as the Project Management Institute, Infragard, and Women Who Code .

You’ll also find local tech-focused groups such as the Red Mountain Makers and Steel City SQL.

Magic City Tech is the signup page for the Magic City Tech slack, a chat channel used by tech community organizers to coordinate events, share information and post jobs. An informal water-cooler-style back channel, you’ll see everything from good React tutorials and case studies. to job postings for Scada and R programmers. The number of channels grew significantly in 2017 & 2018. Activity has been a bit slower in 2019. 


Most of the local tech interest groups list their meetings on Meetup. (most of these are on the TechBirmingham community page). These interest groups range from language specific interest groups (javascript, .NET, to interest groups focused on startups and development)) A new group forming up, CSBhm, is looking to connect the computer science and technology educator community. 

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