Monthly Archives: May 2012

Gracie Died

William With the Petrified Furball 2006

William With the Petrified Furball 2006

It has not been a very good six weeks for my mother. Her mother and one of her three cats died during this period.

Way back in 1995, I had just moved from Mom’s house to Dad’s. Mom decided to get another cat. I guess Winnie needed company or something like that? William was still living with Mom, so they found Misty and brought her home.

Gracie was a stray Dad found in the street not long after. He brought her home. But she eventually ended up at Mom’s for William. That brought Mom’s cat count to three. She eventually ended up with a fourth who hung around the house and was sometimes inside.

Winnie passed in 2006 at 17 years old. (A week after a took her chair from Mom’s house.) Gracie just passed at about 17 years old. That leaves Mom with two: Tom and Misty.

Gracie as Kitten 1995

Gracie as Kitten 1995

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4


I may have blogger’s block.

Over the past three weeks I have deleted thirteen posts. I really want to blog about our new vendor, Desire2Learn. At the same time I do not want to be perceived as hurting the growing relationship we have with this company. None of the posts are about them. I just sense a negative tone in them that is… well… inappropriate. I don’t think you want to read it anymore than I want to publish it.

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4

TED Talk: Optimism Bias

I tend to think things are going to be worse than they actually will be. That new restaurant will suck. Somehow I will manage to total my car on the trip I have taken 27 times in the past 5 years. I knew I failed every test I took in school until I get it back with an A or B. The script is going to spectacularly fail. Even if it successfully ran the last 9 times, THIS time because I am the one hitting the button it will fail. 

For me, success is a circumstantial accident over the failure that my skill would bring. You know… Luck is behind my success not my abilities. This video made me think about Thomas from this excerpt from NurtureShock. (Another book I really need to read.) Success being described as his innate intelligence made him fear failure as it would prove his deficiencies.

If the below video does not work, then try Tali Sharot: The optimism bias.

P.S. I do not think I am depressed or depressive. I just have quasi-obsessive routines to ensure things work.

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4

One of Many

The Learning Management System (LMS) has been a despised technology by some ever since I started working with one, WebCT, in 1999. At the time it was deemed crappy technology that had to improve or die. So today in 2012, about 13 years later, I have to roll my eyes at the pundits writing about how the current technology has not significantly changed in a decade (really more than a decade) because it still offers the same tools and will die unless it adapts.

My first few years, 2006-2010, of working at GeorgiaVIEW, our active user counts doubled every 1.5 years. We plateaued at around 290,000 and grow a few thousand a year. Numbers of actions in the system still doubles every 1.5 year. That is insane growth. Growth unlikely fueled by people despising use of the tool. Right now, we are getting pressure to migrate Summer 2012 content for the Fall 2012 start in Desire2Learn1 because instructors roll over the classes from term-to-term. That speaks of long term consistent loyal use not occasional only as little as have to use. For something on the verge of death, it is hard enough keeping the users happy.

I am a database administrator not a faculty member (or dean or vice president for academic affairs or provost). It seems to me though no one would say, “When you teach a class, the white board in the room is the only tool you can use.” Instead, the push would be to add to the available tools in a neverending pursuit of finding better ones. So we see pressures to integrate the LMS with a variety of similar specialized services. Many are textbook replacements or supplementary services designed specifically for student needs. Others are social media. More and more the LMS is just a portal: a place to organize where students really go to learn.

Also, as an IT guy, I think it is important to have a plan B. Things sometimes fail. As a student I was always annoyed when the instructor had to leave the room for 20% of the class to go track down a piece of chalk because the remaining ones were too small to write. I applauded once in my junior year because the instructor happened to have a piece of chalk in her purse just for that contingency. Similarly, faculty members and even students should think about what to do when the LMS is not there. Heck, what should they do if everything the university IT runs like the web sites, email, portal, and network all disappear. It can happen.

When the university bureaucracy selects and administrates a tool, they will adhere to university policy which adheres to higher education laws. When a faculty member selects and administrates a tool, they should do the same. Unfortunately, that means the faculty member becoming familiar with policy and law. Another challenge is running into different interpretations. An example: a user following @VSUENGL1101 on Twitter could be reasonably expected to be a student at Valdosta State University enrolled in the subject English class 1101. Some say that violates the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. Some disagree, so it is being debated. The law is old and did not likely anticipate social media, so naturally there is movement towards an update.

I doubt the LMS will simply die because there is something better. Instead it will remain one of many tools for years to come. Like the land line, television, JavaScript, still camera, WiFi, non-smartphone, and (God forbid) pagers.

Note 1: Desire2Learn objects to their product being called an LMS. They prefer Learning Environment on the grounds it integrates with so many other tools.

P.S. This totally is from a sustaining technology perspective. Guess I should write this from a disruptive technology perspective.

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4

TED Talk: You Fell Through the Cracks

There was a time when my secret project, the thing that brought me in to work ever day and probably why I stayed till 8pm, was attempting to end the error_log from have anyone ever hitting the 404 page. It was after making the 404 page funny. Only no one got the joke.

If the below video does not work, then try Renny Gleeson: 404, the story of a page not found.

Eventually I did give up and focus on helpful things such that people could get where they needed to go.


from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4

Interactive Archives

My jaw dropped at the end of this blog post Cloud Hosting and Academic Research.

There is a value in keeping significant old systems around, even if they no longer have active user bases.  A cloud hosting model seems so right to me–it’s scalable and robust. It just makes sense. But the hosting costs are a problem. Even if the total amount of money is small, grants are for specific work and have end dates. I can still be running a 10+ year old UNIX box, but I can’t still be paying hosting fees for a research project whose funding ended years ago, no matter how small that bill is.  Grants end–there’s no provision for “long term hosting.”  Our library can help us archive data, but they are not yet ready to “archive” an interactive system.  I hope companies that provide hosting services will consider donating long-term hosting for research.

Opening up a new area of digital archives by preserving the really cool works of the faculty seems like something I might enjoy.

My mentor in web design and server administration might have been described as a pack rat. He… Well, I guess, we kept around versions of web pages a decade old. Nothing really found deletion. The public just missed it by use of permissions.

When building my portfolio, my mistake was not gathering up the whole files to replicate the sites I designed. I’m no longer doing web design or even programming. So it is okay.

A professor in Geology had a pretty cool Virtual Museum for Fossils. The site moved around a few times, eventually ending up on the main web server also hosting WWW. Of course, HTML, images, and Flash files are easy to archive. Take the files and place them on a web server. Since they are static, it is easy to keep around for a long time. As long as the standards remain honored, they should be good. Developers of web browsers have pressure to go for the new, which potentially abandons the old eventually.

Scripted web sites using Perl, PHP, ASP, or JSP, JavaScript, or AJAX require a working interpreter. Still, some things might not be backwards compatible.

About a year ago my mother ran across 8mm video film. An uncle found a place who converted it to DVD. Will we even be using DVDs in a decade? Maybe the 8mm needs to go on Blueray?

Going back to the scripted web sites, should an archived web site’s code be updated to work on the new version of the interpreter? Maybe. If makers of the interpreters allowed for running in a backwards compatible mode, then all would be good. Even better, to be able to add to a script a variable that tells the interpreter which back version to pretend to use. For administrators, they could have the programmers check non-working scripts by just telling the interpreter to simulate an older version.

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4