GCC (Goddard Computer Club) : Spring 2005


We concentrated on three topics this semester
  1. the HARDWARE: what is inside a computer that makes it tick, with the goal of learning to assemble a new and better working computer from components, or a new computer alltogether. And of course in the process learning to recognize faulty hardware (and perhaps fix or upgrade) your own.
  2. the PYTHON programming language, as an example of a programming language suitable for this age and much beyond. It works on Linux, Mac, and Windows. Last science fair already showed one student using PYTHON to compute many digits of PI.
  3. the KNOPPIX cd, which is a live CD linux boot. We used it for python and a few other linux specific (did anybody say games?) things.
A website with links, pictures and more information is currently on http://www.astro.umd.edu/~teuben/gcc/ but the intent is the students will start their own.

Knoppix CD

Your KNOPPIX CD is a bootable CD. This means, as long as your computer can boot from CD (see below) you can play with the software on the CD. However, as soon as you turn the computer off, everything you did will be lost. The CD will not write to, or touch, the hard drive, which presumably has Windows, another Linux or both on it.

In order to boot the CD, the BIOS must be told to do so. Sometimes your computer already does this (so just try), but most computers as they come out of the box do not. There are two ways to get your computer to boot from the CD:

  1. Temporarely, just for this session. Not all computers support this. But for example Dell computers often will allow you to hit the F12 key during a critial part of the boot procedure. You will see a small menu on the screen and with the cursor key you can then select from what medium to boot. What magic key the BIOS supports varies. Often you will briefly see it displayed soon after the machine is turned on. Some computers manufacturers try to hide even this feature to the user and put a big fancy splash-screen in front of your eyes while it's checking memory etc. before the boot.
  2. Permanently. For this you will need to enter the BIOS menus and find the place where the boot order is defined, and change it such that the CD has a higher preference that the hard drive. The floppy is not important here, although you will often find it on the menu also.
    To enter the BIOS you will need to find out that magic key. On Dell's it often is the F2, but others use the Del key, or the Esc key. It might take you a few attempts to find the key and/or the right timing after the machine is turned on. Warning: repeated trying many keys can result in overflooding the BIOS read program and ignoring what you typed.

    When you see the Knoppix: prompt you can either just hit Enter to continue, or enter a so-called cheat code. Use google to find what they are. You might need them if your computer has trouble booting Knoppix. An example of a cheat code is knoppix 2 , which boots Knoppix in text mode (useful for low-memory machines). Warning: There is also a cheat code to put knoppix on the hard drive. See for example http://www.knoppix.net/wiki/Cheat_Codes

The latest version of this text can also be found on

This page was last modified on 02-Jun-2005 by teuben@astro.umd.edu