Why you need a pre-performance routine

As he moves toward the OR, McLaughlin is running through a precise series of thoughts and visualizations, which he calls the Five Ps. First is a Pause: He tries to forget what’s happened earlier in the day and focus only on the present. Next, he thinks deeply about the Patient. “This is a seventy-three-year-old man, and we need him to come out of this pain-free and able to walk more easily,” he says to himself. He reviews his Plan, mentally rehearsing the surgery step-by-step. Then he offers some Positive thoughts: “You were put on this Earth to do this operation,” he says. Finally, as he steps toward the table, he says a quick Prayer. “It’s very ritualistic, and I’m very focused,” he says.

Back when I had to do Friday night maintenance work as a GeorgiaVIEW database administrator, I had something like this. I would do the Pause to quiet my mind to become fully present. Then I would think about the systems involved. Then I would mentally step through the plan for the maintenance.


Stealing the T

The Georgia Institute of Technology has a tradition of stealing the letter T. I first ran across this in a local news media story where the letter T was stolen from signage. The main tradition is stealing the T from Tech Tower which has “TECH” on each of the four sides. (They return it during halftime of the homecoming American football game.)

It occurred to me that it would be especially hilarious for some GT alumni to steal the Ts in Trump Tower in Manhattan. It would become Rump Ower.


There is a Twitter thing running around where people post their first seven jobs. I do not think mine would fit in a tweet, so I put it here. This title should show up there as a hashtag and be my contribution.

If you count by employers, then I have had 1-3.

  1. University System of Georgia
    1. Valdosta State University
      1. Odum Library
      2. Information Technology
    2. Board  of Regents

Valdosta State is part of the USG. One perspective is I have only had one overall employer. VSU is just a bigger unit than say the library. One could say I have had three employer entities.

If you count by position codes, then I think the list is (not counting repeats in the same position):

  1. Student worker: Reference book shelver
  2. Casual laborer: Reference book shelver, Inter-Library Loan, Government Documents
  3. Student worker: Government Documents
  4. Casual laborer: Reference desk manager
  5. Student worker: Peer Reference desk
  6. Casual laborer: Webmaster Cooperative Education intern
  7. Casual laborer: Assistant Webmaster (CSSII)

Wow, those are all the crazy positions I held before become permanent staff. The next job in the list is the first permanent staff position. In total all seven were just over 5 years.


Learning Tech

I learned electronics as a kid by messing around with old radios that were easy to tamper with because they were designed to be fixed.

Lee Felsesnsteinin The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson

The story I tell about how I ended up working in information technology is about having a computer all my life as a child, breaking it, and most importantly knowing that I had to fix it before my parents found that I had. The typical takeaway is that I was intelligent, talented, etc. But, really that reveals the wrong assumption.

More correct takeaway is by this point in computer history, people designed computers to be fixed. The above quote suggests radios were initially custom built, which made them expensive to fix. To accomplish mass production, modular components make it easier to assemble but also as a side benefit easy to swap failed parts. Computers followed the same path but not only on the hardware side but the also software. Modularity to software is how we can patch, install new software, change settings, etc to fix issues.

Even today, I see people look appalled that smartphones can be successfully sold without an easy way for the owner to replace the battery or a microSD slot to add storage. We like to be able to fix our stuff. Maybe it is our Do-It-Yourself cultural biases at play.

Making things fixable lowers the bar to tinker with it. Tinkerability makes something more accessible to learn where, when, how, why it behaves the way it does. Those experiences in turn make a user self-taught into a power user and eventually into a computer administrator who really is just a power user given the keys to offlimits parts.


As an information technology professional, when a web site has performance problems, I sigh, gnash my teeth, and gripe just like everyone else. However, twenty minutes later I realize I have been there and feel bad for those having to deal with the mess. Also, should I feel hurt that I am not among the nation’s brightest IT minds since I was not asked to help?

GeorgiaVIEW, one of the projects on which I work, has about four thousand active users on average and with topping out around 5-6 thousand week days and eight during an abnormal event. When users are having problems, they tend to come back which gives them a new session yet the old one has not expired, so the system deals with more and more sessions compounding a performance problem. Some of the descriptions people gave about having problems with healthcare.gov sounded like they came back over and over trying to enter.

The most annoying thing about the healthcare.gov problems though are the pundits. Early on, I heard they should have hired Silicon Valley companies to build the site as though IT people only come from there. They specifically named companies famous for their high profile meltdowns to build the health care exchange as experts in building huge sites without problems. Later came the small companies who build web sites for others, but not at this scale.

It is extremely difficult to build a site to the perfect scale. Overbuilding is expensive, so there is pressure to scale back. Business workflows are murky at best because until people use it, they really are unsure what it is they want. (They just know what was built is not right and why.)

TED Talk: What we’re learning from online education

MOOCs are still the buzz in 2013. The best quote I have heard about them is that they replace an in-person class like Facebook replaces a social life. Of course, Facebook is my main social life….

I do sense a hope that MOOCs will replace a whole education or at least credits (think AP courses).

If the video below does not work, then try Daphne Koller: What we’re learning from online education.

Anatomy of a Mistaken Shut Down

We intensely monitor our servers. We want to know things before a work ticket reaches us.

So a  month ago one morning I saw notifications where a couple servers failed login checks. (A process does a login and logout for each server multiple times an hour.) These go to the servers directly. Another check comes in the front door like a regular user. It also was failing, which is super bad.

Project 365: Day 014

My first instinct was to find if there was a running process for our shutdown script. There was and I killed the process. Then I found the crontab entry that started this and removed it.

At this point there was a hard decision to make very fast:

    1. Recover this one.
    2. Make sure the others instances are not affected.

I ended up doing the latter. In retrospect, I guess I wanted to ensure I did not have multiple fires. If others were doing it too, then I would ask coworkers to help. If just the one, then I could handle it. And it was only a couple minutes to check by checking the dates in the crontab of certain hosts for the shutdown script. This one of the ten was the only one affected.

So I resumed the recovery. The first thing the shut down script does is flip a flag in a file that tells the load balancer whether to allow traffic to the servers. I reversed that first. Half the servers started picking up the traffic and ended the outage. Then I started up the 5 of 10 servers that had shut down.

From start of the outage to when users were back in was about 14 minutes.

Usage was pretty light because the term ended a few days prior.

Probably this was a holdover from doing upgrades the year prior. Crontab does not have year, just month/day or weekday. So we have to make sure we remove things targeted for a specific day. (Or start using at more.)

Global Higher Education Trends

According to Trends in Global Higher Education (PDF), we should pay attention to globalization, massification,

Globalization is an interesting trend. As a college student, I enjoyed hanging out with international students and as an employer of student workers, half were international students. Exposure to different cultures, meaning values and perspectives and rituals and (the best) food was a great experience for me. It is harder to hate another culture when one has real friends among them. Such ties often become the basis of international diplomacy. But those students also mostly went home and are doing great things as part of the growing middle class.

Employers looking at post-secondary degrees as signals for middle class jobs drives massification. If this signal were terrible, then perhaps employers would seek an alternative. But I don’t think it means what most expect. The expectation is it means highly educated within the major. Instead, I see the bachelor’s degree as a demonstration of successfully navigating the world’s worst bureaucratic disasters. Having the tenacity, patience, and soft skills to deal with process failures all over the place. Secondarily, the degree means the ability to demonstrate some learning on demand to pass an evaluation.

Turning to look at how we here in Georgia compare to rest of the world, the crises facing least developed countries are constraints on research university budgets, constraints on student financial aid, increases in tuition, more part-time faculty, larger class sizes, a freeze on books & journals, construction, etc. This may not be solely a problem for least developed countries. Most of these are happening here in Georgia.

  • State funding was stagnant before the recession and been dropping since. Per student funding state funding has plummeted from about half to a quarter. The legislature and the governor have to make hard choices about what to fund. Higher education does not rank high enough compared to keeping people safe and healthy. Is there a Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for government funding?
  • A big source of financial aid here, HOPE, used to pay for all tuition for students who maintain a B GPA. It is lottery funded, but revenues were not able to keep up with the 10%+ annual growth of students. So now the awards are reduced for all but the top most students and may continue to drop.
  • My librarian friends lament about their severely reduced budgets for purchasing journals. Combine this with skyrocketing costs for these same journals and maybe by 2030 the research universities should just sell their collections and close the libraries?
  • The one positive is construction has not stopped. Though buildings are not built fast enough. (Some schools schedule class days to happen on the online class system I help run because they lack the classroom space.)

Even when the Georgia economy fully recovers, the lost ground is unlikely to be regained. But there is also increasing pressure to improve graduation rates and the number of graduates. Interesting problems we get to solve.

Impressive Information Load

Last week I finished the Power Searching With Google MOOC. A month ago a coworker pointed out Google now offers the software used by this MOOC. As a Desire2Learn database and application administrator, I was curious. So I signed up. And actually finished!

On my emotional high, I signed up for Current/Future State of Education shortly before finishing Power Searching.

Boy are these two very different beasts completely different philosophies.

PS was what a coworker calls talking head videos, some self-quizzing activities, some forum posting, and taking the midterm and final tests.

CFHE12 is some articles, some forum postings, and posting artifacts.

CFHE12 is much more interesting. But unless taking this class is a full time job, where do people find the time? It is tempting to just scan articles, but then I would miss the deep knowledge they contain. Just now I resorted to searching by name in the forum for people I know to see what they said.

Here is to hoping how I think changes with this class.