Monthly Archives: January 2013

TED Talk: Re-engineering mosquitos to fight disease

Don’t be afraid of sharks or tigers. Well, you should fear the tiger mosquito. I love living this far north where one does not have to plan life around not getting bitten.

What I hate about spraying to kill them because the insecticides kill off other good insects. When I was young, I could catch fireflies in the back yard. From my teens until I moved north, I only saw fireflies other places.

If the video below does not load, then try Hadyn Parry: Re-engineering mosquitos to fight disease.

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4

TED Talk: How common threats can make common (political) ground

Haidt writes and talks about Moral Psychology. This is third of his TED Talks I will post here.

I liked this one because I agree we are capable of working together even when we have differences. Getting past those differences? There is the accomplishment.

If the video below does not load, then try Jonathan Haidt: How common threats can make common (political) ground.

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4

Rep John Lewis on Peaceful Protest

Apparently Rush Limbaugh made a statement that armed marchers of the Civil Rights Movement would have not been physically assaulted during “Bloody Sunday” on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. He said African Americans, but if I recall my history correctly there were a Caucasian Americans there who were also assaulted. Perhaps armed marchers might not have been struck with weapons by police. Though there were definitely guns present on the police side as you can see in this FBI photograph of the event. If the people intended to attack are armed with guns, then the attackers use their guns not batons. Bull Conner knew shooting unarmed marchers would go too far. Armed CRM marchers would have invited a massacre. Unarmed peaceful protesters getting attacked by armed police attain the sympathy of the general public who shift more strongly to the side of the protesters. If the CRM marchers had been armed, then like all the failed rebellions of the past, almost no children or adults today would know anything about them. Certainly there would be no Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, or Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Because we as Americans do not celebrate those we deem as fomenting insurrections. There is no Nat Turner Day. (Okay Southerners do celebrate Robert E Lee and Jefferson Davis, but they view Lincoln as the leader of the rebellion.)

Here is Rep John Lewis’ statement on what Limbaugh said.

Our goal in the Civil Rights Movement was not to injure or destroy but to build a sense of community, to reconcile people to the true oneness of all humanity,” said Rep. John Lewis.  “African Americans in the 60s could have chosen to arm themselves, but we made a conscious decision not to.  We were convinced that peace could not be achieved through violence.  Violence begets violence, and we believed the only way to achieve peaceful ends was through peaceful means.  We took a stand against an unjust system, and we decided to use this faith as our shield and the power of compassion as our defense.

And that is why this nation celebrates the genius and the elegance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s work and philosophy.  Through the power of non-violent action, Dr. King accomplished something that no movement, no action of government, no war, no legislation, or strategy of politics had ever achieved in this nation’s history.  It was non-violence that not only brought an end to legalized segregation and racial discrimination, but Dr. King’s peaceful work changed the hearts of millions of Americans who stood up for justice and rejected the injury of violence forever.

The philosophy of “violence begets violence” goes back to the Gospel of Matthew, “Then said Jesus unto him [Peter], Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” Attaining the moral high ground is difficult as an armed mob.

It was curious to see Limbaugh make the case that African Americans should be armed. Usually the arguments I see regarding the need to for guns as protection are to protect themselves from those nasty criminal African Americans who all have illegal guns.

Source of the photo above is the Library of Congress.

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4

The Loss of Tech Support

I found a statement in Twitter is your IT support interesting:

For reasons I won’t go in to, I haven’t been able to get [a WordPress install with the FeedWordPress plugin] done at the Open University, despite trying since last July. I’ve spoken to people at others unis and it isn’t isolated to the OU, it seems to be this low-level, experimental type of IT support is increasingly difficult to find.

Do you know who I think the culprit is? The VLE. As universities installed VLEs they became experts at developing enterprise level solutions. This is serious business and I have a lot of respect for people who do it. The level of support, planning and maintenance required for such systems is considerable. So we developed a whole host of processes to make sure it worked well. But along the way we lost the ability to support small scale IT requests that don’t require an enterprise level solution. In short, we know how to spend £500,000 but not how to spend £500.

(For those of you non-British/European readers, VLE are Virtual Learning Environments which are often also called Learning Management Systems on this side of the Atlantic.)

It is true the higher education IT has change with online class systems, but I think that part of the symptom and not causal. Chief Information Officers, Chief Academic Officers, and presidents all get recognition for big things. Enterprise level solutions are sexy because it is something that makes them look decisive and effective. Employees who report to them know this, so enterprise level solutions have the priority. Everything else fits into the dwindling extra work time.

What extra time?

The good news though is the small things have gotten much easier for anyone to go off on their own. At my last job, I sat as an ex-officio member of the Faculty Senate technology committee. One of the hot topics one year was a couple faculty members taught students how to use the LMS adopted by another college system in the state. It was two courses. Should we spend $20,000/yr and take up a significant amount of my time running a second LMS? Or should they continue to pay $800/yr for Blackboard to do it? The answer ultimately was to continue with Blackboard. Now days, they probably would be directed at CourseSites. At the time my to-do list was several pages long and hundred plus hour weeks were not uncommon just to keep top and high priority items timely done. The ETA for anything not top or high priority was over a year.

I prefer working with innovative technologies. Custom solutions that require creative thinking and problem solving make me feel like I accomplished something special. They give the biggest rush. Enterprise level software is steak and potatoes, so it is the core. The enterprise is the minimum. I just wish I more time to devote to achieve going beyond the minimum than I did. Well, do. This is a top level decision. Improve staffing and flexible team management so that people can spend time working on the things that make them happier.

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4

TED Talk: Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence

Another Tuesday, another Jonathon Haidt video.

Locked cooperation can lead to success over free-riders. I am curious what is the next big thing where cooperation will overcome something deemed insurmountable.

If the video below does not load, then try Jonathan Haidt: Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence.

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4

Bulk User Management

The Desire2Learn conversion process strips our Blackboard Vista sections of students and instructors. Our clients naturally want instructors and designers enrolled in the migrated courses (BbVista sections are D2L courses). So obviously we had to enroll them.

The options were the XML (Holding Tank) format or the CSV (Bulk User Management) format.

Do or do not. There is no try. I helped a coworker write the SQL to generate IMS standard XML for a content migration between Vista 3 and 8. In that case, it was created the hierarchy of the groups and courses for the restores of sections. Writing XML to create enrollments was definitely feasible. The hesitation was a sense that Holding Tank was pretty demanding.

Back in March we used Bulk User Management to seed the golden master instance with accounts. BUM also has an okay UI process which shows what it is going to do before it actually does it. Especially in setting up this process that came in handy.

Either was clearly viable for what we wanted to do. Basically that was to write SQL against the Vista databases to generate Section Instructor and Section Designer enrollments. CSV was the easiest to create. (Jr and III in last names were very rare. I’ve only seen a couple dozen.)

Some problems and their solutions:

    1. Missing users. The student information system creates most users for us. This data changes so generating new files under the new format still could miss users. Plus, there are users created in Vista that never existed in the SIS. The best way to match users to the migrated courses is to use the same data source: Vista. Solution: I created a CSV file to make the users.
    2. Inconsistent codes. Courses created by the SIS have a simple code of an id number + a term code. The term usually looks like year plus the month. Courses created by Vista have a long sequence of numbers and letters that do not really match to anything. The D2L conversion process replaces the Vista codes with the title of the course. Solution: When producing the actual file, loop through the SIS sourced ones and come back through and make the Vista sourced ones. Concatenate the files later if need one.
    3. Special characters. My favorite of these is the single quote. The D2L conversion process lets these through as this character does not affect the course code. It does, however, not let the Bulk User Management enroll users into the course. Oops. Solution: Instead of just fixing the enrollment data, one has to remove the single quotes in course codes. Which means looking through the database because 200,000 courses is too much to deal with one-by-one. And finding a single quote in SQL where it has special meaning is one of those special level of Hell annoyances.

 

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4

Just Get Rid of Java

Apparently there are security flaws in the current version of Java allowing the installation of malicious software through web browsers unknown to the user. The known attacks using this flaw work on Windows, OSX, and Linux. According to Reuters:

Java was responsible for 50 percent of all cyber attacks last year in which hackers broke into computers by exploiting software bugs, according to Kaspersky. That was followed by Adobe Reader, which was involved in 28 percent of all incidents. Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer were involved in about 3 percent of incidents, according to the survey.

The Department of Homeland Security recently said computer users should disable Java. At first this seems odd. The vulnerability in question is only in Java 7. So why not go back to Java 6? Well, Java 6 has vulnerabilities too, which is why DHS and others have recommended getting to 7. Also, starting in 7, the automatic upgrades are more aggressive. So going backwards is probably not a great idea. (If just happens I had to go backwards to get a tool I needed to work and forgot to go back forward.)

Also, for a similar situation back in August the recommendation was to make the browser prompt before allowing Java to run. The strategy is just stop Java entirely. Apple has removed Java browser plugins. That could work too. Except for bad, bad software like ours (sorry, sarcasm if you could not tell) which makes use of a few applets. In the last week I have gotten a request to add another applet.

A fix to Java 7′s vulnerabilties should be available in a couple days.

from Rants, Raves, and Rhetoric v4