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David Grady shows a clip, but here is the whole thing. It feels quite familiar.

His TED Talk:

2015-04-11 15.51.22 Personally, I hated status meetings for one project but liked them for another. The bad one was purely about going over the project plan every week and 40% of the time was spent telling the project manager what to type in order for the director to understand the item. The good one we talked about what everyone was doing and spawned side discussions about dealing with where people were stuck.

Certain people I know respect everyone’s time, so I’ll blindly accept everything they throw at me. Anything my boss sent me to I’d just go. While I may not know why, my time was never wasted.

The worst? A certain vendor in investigating issues affecting thousands of users in production, would schedule a time for us to meet about their findings. The content of the meeting would be, “We have not found anything yet, but this is still our top priority. Can we meet again at <new time>?” Yeah, this is a waste of everyone’s time. Just send an email a quarter hour ahead of time explaining you need more time and pick a new one. This is so important people will MAKE time to be there.

For years, I have tried to make sure I include the why of a meeting in the invite. And if my “bad meeting” radar goes off, then I will inquire about the why for it.

Saw a tweet about and interesting piece in ABC News Australia Digital disruption: How science and the human touch can help employees resist the march of the machines. Basically, many jobs are going away due to automation. W.I.R.E.D. has a similar story: Robots Will Steal Our Jobs, But They’ll Give Us New Ones.

One of the long struggles I have ever pushed in my career is automation of machines. My approach falls along the line of: if it is going to be done more than once or will take a really long time by hand, then it needs to be automated. This is hard to do. The temptation is to do it by hand once, see how it went, then write a script which does it for the next time. The trouble being that if this is done between having completed the first one and the second, then there is little incentive. Best is to make the automation part of doing it the first time, the second time can include any remediation necessary to make it more perfect.

All this automation makes us more effective employees. My team of three managed hundreds of web servers and dozens of database servers for ten sites. Without automation that would have been a nightmare. The replacement product was more difficult to automate so with fewer servers we needed more people. Yet the drive to better automation is making lives easier. (Technically I left that program about a year ago when my replacement was hired and took over my spot in the on-call rotation.)

A fear I hear about automation is that people will lose their jobs. It reminds me globalization and manufacturing moving overseas to China. Highly repetitive, mindnumbing jobs were the most at risk and as those work forces got better, what was at risk moved up the complexity ladder.

The fear of both globalization and automation led to books like A Whole New Mind. The idea is that if your job is highly repetitive or analytical, then it is at risk to these forces. Becoming the person who designs, describes, coordinates, or finds meaning in stuff (aka “right brain” activities) is the way to survive the coming storm. This book very influenced how I started thinking about my work.

Back in 2003, I automated everything I could because I was overwhelmed with work and little resources beyond great computers and my own skill to make it better. My supervisees focused on meeting with the clients to talk about the web site they wanted and build that. I wrote code to report about or fix problems to prevent people needing to call or email about problems.

Where I wish we would head is more like You Really Don’t Need To Work So Much. I meant to send this to my boss (maybe he’s reading this blog)? All our efficiencies should mean we have less to do not more, so why do we work so hard?

The past fifty years have seen massive gains in productivity, the invention of countless labor-saving devices, and the mass entry of women into the formal workforce. If we assume that there is, to a certain degree, a fixed amount of work necessary for society to function, how can we at once be more productive, have more workers, and yet still be working more hours? Something else must be going on.

From my experience, the to-do list gets ever larger. Not because there is more to do, but because more is possible. I’d just rather spend more of my time on solving hard problems than easy repetitive tasks.

P.S. This post really only exists because I loved the phrase “March of the Machines” enough I wanted it as a title for something on this blog.

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Our CIO is leaving us for another job. My boss wanted to give my name to someone on the search committee seeking staff input for what we need in a CIO. This is just an organization of my thoughts and conversations I have had.

A couple recent conversations netted these:

  1. Big picture. There are over 100 people working on implementation. You should spend your time deciding what are the goals and priorities not meddling in the details of making it happen. Sure, reports on progress should percolate up, but quality people were hired to make it work, so let us.
  2. What do you bring? What experience do you have? Someone from another kind of environment may lend to a very different operating style than exists here. We operate in higher education but not academia. We work with universities and their users, but we are not ourselves academic. The “needs of many outweigh the needs of the one.” The CIO should fit into our culture and needs.

My own thoughts on the kind of leader I would like:

  1. Students first. We work in higher education, so you need to love students and want what is best for them. If the choice comes down to what is best for students vs what is best for faculty / staff, then the student choice should be the winner every time.
  2. Under promise and over deliver. Failing to meet a deadline even a “super tentative” one makes people unhappy. True, you will survive the first and n times, but eventually these failures will catch up to you. (True, we can sometimes save your ass by getting something out there and refining over time, but that early delivery sucks and the clients know it.) I learned under promise over deliver my sophomore year of college, so it surprises me how so many people at the top level can throw down an unrealistic arbitrary date before we even have looked at specifications or planned what is involved.
  3. Empower automation. My ideal CIO will have me replaced with a shell script. Well, lets me replace myself with them. My goal always is to replace everything monotonous I do with shell scripts and wherever possible schedule them. Why should I spend any time a week on tasks by hand a script can do for me? The first thing sacrificed in insane deadlines is the automation with the hopes of circling back around later to build it. Unfortunately, the success of meeting the deadline by sacrificing some things is more commitments which means no time to circle back around for automation. But, also distance from the initial development makes doing it later harder as what seemed trivial then gets forgotten and complicates the future revisiting. This is also where under promising helps as items like this stay on the plan so it gets done right the first time.
  4. Open architectures. Haters gotta hate. Salespeople gotta sell. That sometimes means glossing over the crappiness of their product(s). Really they cultivate relationships to feel needed. Just like I want to test drive a car before I buy it, I want to stand up the product and have end users clicking every button, administrators running every job, and engineers running it for some portion of the community in a pilot to ensure it works as expected. Pre-sale we learn how wonderful software is and how it will change our lives for the better. We learn just how terrible software is and no different from what we had prior running it for real the first six months.
  5. Need vs want. Our clients will say they want the buzzword of the day, but really they want a specific aspect or another thing entirely who might be somewhat related. Buzzwords create confusion because everyone intends something different by them. They know these are important concepts and use them to sound relevant. You need to tease out their vision and share your own so that when we can deliver yours, they get the thing they expect.
  6. Risk assessment. If you want to do something big, then we are going to tell you what are the risks. It may sound like “No,” but really we are laying out the groundwork for what needs to be overcome for success. Think of it as part of the planning. Pay attention to what is being said as you might learn what seemed easy enough will take far more effort than originally assumed. Use it to set expectations for #2.
  7. Introverts. This is information technology. Some people who work here like computers better than people. (Easier to understand. Consistent.) Extroverted activities are fine, but do not force us to attend. An extrovert is more like to be CIO, but they need to understand we are not all that way.
  8. Real costs matter. Good services improve efficiencies such that people can do more than the past. Bad services bog people down such that they spend more time to do less. One-size fits all products tend to fit into the bad services category. They try to cater to every users’ needs such that they have too many buttons with wrong terminology. Too much time has to be devoted to training just so people can feel comfortable using it. Too much time has to be devoted to support issues so people can figure out how to do basic mandatory tasks. Because really they only ask for help on those issues and curse us for all those tasks they give up on trying to accomplish because it was too hard but not mandatory so ultimately not worth the effort.

The search committee should thoroughly investigate the hire before announcing it. From past experience they will interview, select 1-4 finalists they bring for us to meet, and offer to one. A piece of advice: Any finalist and definitely whomever gets the offer should be vetted beyond just the resume, references, and background check. Do Google searches on them and their last few employers. Investigate further anything publicly negative about them. Even better, talk to people there who are not listed on the references because we the ground level will find out any dirty laundry within days of the announcement. If they are leaving because of a scandal, then you need to know before we do.

(Technically I wrote a draft of this a month ago, but I did not schedule it to publish until later because of this part. A few more items were added since. And decided to publish password protected.) Less than six months into the now outgoing CIO’s reign, I was very unhappy. I was thinking long and hard about how bad of a fit this was to me. The grumbling came from everywhere around me. The last time the people around me were this discontent, I jumped ship and landed here. So I was preparing to jump ship again. In the end, my enormous respect and loyalty to my boss (who had no idea) saved me from going. The difference between last time and this was the great boss.

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Now that I am back at work… And apparently was photographed and did not know it…’s Jetpack publish feature pushed my prior Rock Eagle related posts about sessions I attended to some of my social media presences. Guess I could +1 them for Google Plus? Looks like the last time I blogged as much about Rock Eagle was 2007? Sad.

Also, I gave out only three business cards and received three new Twitter followers. @TBrow01 and @TylerWatts and @technicalissues There was some good activity on the #USGRockEagle13 Twitter hashtag.

What I like most about Rock Eagle is the conversations that happen outside the formal sessions. Friends and even bosses from my last job come, so we get to catch up. Even total strangers end up talking to me about things.

  • Last night a student worker who graduates in December. Hiring him full time fell through, but they will hold on to him as casual labor through February. As other staff left, he picked up some of their responsibilities to the point of having too much that can be completed by March.
  • A web developer who appreciated the conference for providing the big picture of how he fits into the 40,000 employee cog that is our university system.
  • A developer who moved to a school in the Technical College System of Georgia working on implementing a learning object repository with potential to be a system wide implementation.
  • Informal conversations with people who work in the same building. Guess people rushing off to the next meeting or sitting quietly in their cubes never really talk.

Plenty more happened.

Guess I will post the video of the fireworks later. It has been at 6 minutes remaining the last hour.

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Janice Hill, Columbus State University

  • Process:
    • Define KPI’s : grades,  starting degree, ending degree, and many more.
    • Design and Implement : ODI integrator
      • Subject area example : summation helps reports only pull one row per student.
      • Updating : degrees awarded only loaded at end of term.
    • Validation of data : Work with Institutional Research to figure out where wrong. Consulting with individuals who think data did not look right.
    • Production release : Start a new cycle.
  • Data elements:
    • Banner, PeopleSoft, Excel spreadsheets
    • student head count, student attempted credit hours, and about 30 others.
  • Dashboards : 8 in production, 2 in completed validation, 2 subject areas ready to be built. Changes to a dashboard not saved across sessions, so users need to export to a file.
  • Structure of Dashboard : Level prompts : College, department, program, major, term. Analysis. Footnotes.
  • Users with access : President, VP, Deans, Dept heads.
  • Export types : PDF, Excel, Web,
  • Errors: BI data loaded at 6am, so local data pulled at 9am WILL result in very small differences.
  • Progression dashboard : credit hours by term, avg GPA by class, avg GPA vs credit hours earned, demographic breakdowns, grades by academic level, grades by section
  • Retention and Graduation dashboard : after 1 year, after 6 years. Use both counts and percentages.
  • Talk with faculty about their data needs so can show it exists or build it into a report.
  • Individualized training. Understanding how to filter is a challenging concept.
  • User tracking enabled, so know how long they stay on a dashboard, filters used, the SQL used.
  • Try to use as little filters as possible. Her job to get the data. User’s job is to interpret.
  • Decisions and policy affected by this data.
  • Trying to get grade data to improve early warning.
  • What are the products for which they want analytics?
  • Using University System of Georgia requirements for retention, so pegged to Fall enrollment. “Some times you have to go past what makes sense to you and implement the rule.”

Excellent session!

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David Robinson, Georgia Gwinnett College

  • Mash up nifty tools with an Learning Management System.
  • It is a standard, so a defined protocol achieves application portability. The tool can work with any LMS the same.
  • Terms:
    • Tool Provider : the tool with its packaging.
    • Tool Consumer : the system using the tool, like D2L.
    • Context : the course or another other location with the consumer like the Org in D2L. IMS contexts need to be mapped to D2L contexts.
    • Link : is a link.
    • Roles : various systems call roles different things. The IMS roles need to be mapped to the D2L roles.
  • LTI Secret Sauce :
    • Tool admin provides link, key, and secret
    • D2L admin creates the External Learning Tool which includes the link, key, and secret.
    • Instructor adds the quick link to the tool for the course.
  • User clicks the link. Information sent to the tool provider such as user, context, role, key, and signature. User launched into the remote tool. A Single-Sign On, aka no login again.
  • Macmillan wants the admin to setup a link for every course. Impossible to sustain. McGraw-Hill one link and instructors setups the course by selecting a book.
  • Select where it will be deployed such as every Course Offering under a Course Template.
  • Open in New Window tends to work better than inside an iFrame.
  • Instructor role by default can create LTIs, even duplicates.

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Tom Boyle, Kennesaw State University

  • Half Drupal and half Desire2Learn interest.
  • Request to determine how to decrease time it takes for an online student to go from application to orientation to advisement to registration.
  • Orientation took place in Desire2Learn.
  • Script looks for applicants in Banner and creates the user in Bulk User Management. Registrar enrolls them in the course.
  • Student takes the quiz.
  • Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) is a way to integrate systems parallel to an LMS without the need for separate custom integrations. Custom output module  uses D2L external learning tools and LTI.
  • Drupal link is not world readable and users do not have to login. D2L configuration familiar. Open source allowed to write custom code to output to Banner. Sometimes the user does not click the button within Drupal so nothing gets captured. Maybe they should automatically click the button for them?
  • YAY!! Tom is using his test instance of D2L to demo instead of production. Love it when our clients use our services right.
  • URLs are not usable unless sent over by Desire2Learn ELT. Yay, for security.
  • Added LTI Tool Provider and OAuth-PHP libraries to Drupal.
  • Got to explain to Tom what some of the values he sees in the session variables.


  • Alternative method:
    • Intelligent agent emails an address to inform them the orientation is complete.
  • KSU going to use similar method for putting staff into course(s) for Ethics test. Really anything where Tom needs to get new users into D2L fast.

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Bird of a Feather so open discussion. Intro question:

  • How are you using it?
  • How do you like it?
  • Good sources of documentation? Information?
  • Tools/Modules used? e.g. editors, PowerTab module, ISE ScriptingGuy, Codeplex, etc/
  • Using Powershell: User-written functions, cmdlets, modules
  • Version 3? Version 4?


  • Passing around various books.
  • Manning occasionally has half off deals on ebooks. (True. Got my Powershell 2 book on such a deal.)
  • Listserv: ga-powershell at
  • Scripting works great for managing large number of virtual machines.

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Dee McKinney and Kathy Whitaker, East Georgia College

    • 3k students, access inst, grant associates degrees,
    • Many students first generation in family.
    • Part of first Georgia implementation group so started Fall 2012.
    • VP Academic Affairs asked all faculty to 1) upload a syllabus, 2) keep the grade book updated. So students can tell where they are in the course. At least an update every other week.
    • Purpose of study:
    • What training effective? Did it work/
    • 12 * 3 hour training sessions in May-July. 4 * 2 hour ‘quick start’ sessions in August. Covered basic tools: syllabus, grade book, discussions, dropbox, import content, email, quizzes, class lists, etc.
    • As time allowed: widgets, nav bars, news, pagers, custom profile, elementary design. Experiment.
    • 122 faculty. 33% attended training. 65% of those full time faculty. 2 dedicated trainers. Some trainees given stipend to be in the field mentors.
      • Online experts: substantial online experience. Mix of full and part time. 27 total. By choice came to earliest sessions.
      • Curious Optimists: some online experience. Mix of 2 to longer. 1 to quick.
      • Reluctant Participants: Little to no online teaching experience. All full time faculty. 7 total. A few admitted only there because required. Did not attend group training. Made appointments for individual.
    • Additional training: extensive list of docs, found apps, etc.
    • Survey before and after plus 5 weeks after start of Fall 2012. Emails approx 400 from help. Informal reviews.
    • Results: 3 hours was enough but not too much b/c workshop oriented not lecture. Essential for time to play with advisers to help. Instructors worked on own content not sample course. 1:8 trainer to trainee ratio. Participants collaborated. IT person on hand for passwords.
    • Multiple methods of training.
    • Mentors on hand regularly.
    • Perception of readiness: anxious prior. Confident after. Requests for advanced training.
    • Group one more competent. Reluctant willing try more positive.
    • Allow as much lead time as possible.
    • Accept some faculty will never buy into online teaching.
    • Suggestion faculty get a course release for first time teaching as so much work to start.
    • Was training or new LMS that made faculty happier.
    • Fall 2013: 2 hour training. Quick start guide. Start set0up while trainer in the room. Focused workshops for followup training on grade books, quizzes, widgets, intelligent agents (spring).
    • Met with professional advisers to focus on needs of online students.

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Eddie Carter and Orrin Char, Oracle

    • Identity management and security and access management.
    • Eddie wore a UGA shirt. Guy in front of me made fun of him obviously not wanting to sell to Georgia Tech. Turns out he’s from  Kennesaw. The GT-UGA rivalry knows no bounds. Love it!
    • Handout: Database firewall more auditing and ACLs than enterprise firewalls access to many hosts.
    • 67% records breached from servers. 76% breached through weak or stolen credentials. Discovered by an external party. 97% preventable with basic controls. Source: 2013 Data Breach Investigations Report.
    • Pre-1997: security issues mistakes. 1998-2007: Privilege abuse. Curiosity. Leakage. 2008-2009: Malicious. Social engineering. Sophisticated attacks. Business data theft. Loss of reputation.
    • Can be fined. Buy services for people affected by the breach.
    • DBAs are the targets. Phishing to get credentials.
    • Change is where gaps are opened. Being more available means more highly privileged users. Consultants and vendors claim they need DBA level access.
    • 80% of IT security programs do not address db security. They address outside computers such as with firewalls. More and more attacks exploit legitimate access applications and user credentials.
    • Supports SQL Server and MySQL.
    • Preventative
      • encryption : If data stolen in encrypted form, then do not have report the breach? Application should not even know it is encrypted. Network encryption now free to us. Autonegotiates with destination. No application changes. Little overhead. Integrated with Oracle technologies. Key management 2 layers. Master in hardware module or in a wallet. Wallet can be tied to hardware and accessed at restart. Data encrypted with table or column key. Table and column keys encrypted with master key.
      • redaction : Use ACLs to determine who can see. It will replace text such as on credit card numbers, SSNs, so can only see a full, partial, fixed.
      • data masking for nonproduction use : copy of production data in test with test being less secure. Masking means no longer valuable data. Finds sensitive columns through templates and convert the data so meaningless. Shuffle salaries. ID numbers randomized even partial. Randomize all but first two characters of last name. Can be two way so change for sending to a partner for process but then revert back when returned.
      • privileged user controls : Compartmentalization of commands. Prevent consultants from querying certain tables. Creates protective zones around schema objects.
    • Detective
      • activity monitoring :
      • database firewall : sits on the network. Parses SQL to determine the intent. Whitelist and Blacklist and exception list. If none, then alerts security to it and potentially added to a list. Have a learning and blocking mode. Can return empty result list to a hacker so thinks there are no records.
      • auditing and reporting : analyze audit-event data. Central audit repository so hacker unaware. Default and custom reports.
      • conditional auditing framework : if-this-then-that
    • Administrative
      • privilege analysis : privilege capture mode. report on what actual privileges and roles that are used. Revoke unnecessary.
      • sensitive data discovery : scan Oracle for sensitive fields. data definitions.
      • configuration management : discover and classify databases. scan for secure config.

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