Education

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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.)

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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.

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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.)

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I think when he says “Steven J’s commencement address” he means Steve Jobs.

If the below does not work, then try this link: Larry Smith: Why you will fail to have a great career

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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.

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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.

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Study broadly and without fear. Learn a language if you can, because that will make your life more interesting. Read a little bit each day. But most importantly, try to surround yourself with people you like and make cool stuff with them. In the end, what you do isn’t going to be nearly as interesting or important as who you do it with. — John Green

I strongly agree with this and the rest of the video.

Of course, it meshes well with the intent of a liberal arts degree by having students study broadly and learn another language. But it does not necessarily have to be a degree unless that is required to get the job one wants. There are plenty of opportunities to learn.

I have been fortunate to always have had jobs with coworkers I like, even supporting me when I decided to leave. We made cool stuff because we needed to fill something in us. Another rationale was become people needed the cool stuff.

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Several years ago, while I worked at a medium-sized university, there was a very similar incident like what happened in Student Is Sanctioned for Creating Class-Registration Web Site. A student wanted into a full class. So he built an application to routinely check for whether a seat was available in the Student Information System. The database administrator for the SIS noticed too much traffic from this user while looking into why the system was working too hard. My impression was the level of traffic was not at the Denial of Service level, but still something that needed to be addressed to improve the experience of others.

The CIO had a chat with the student. At the time it amused me because years before I had been in the same chair as the kid. After, the CIO joked about wondering whether to hire the student, the same as he had joked about me and a friend.

The student went on to develop a student organization site and other good things. He found the right outlet for him to express in code things to scratch his itches. Personally, I think this is good for the students and good for the university. However, a close eye needs to be kept on these students to ensure they make secure, stable, and long-term viable products. When the student graduates, there needs to be a plan for someone taking over the upkeep.

Since then, I have run across even professionals making these students’ mistakes of slamming a system with traffic. One administrator wanted to check whether we were up, so he wrote a JavaScript web page that would hit the development site we provided. It had one two machines, so when five people had that page open at the same time, they somehow got 4 on the same machine which croaked at that kind of load. Weblogic, in my experience, does not handle the same transaction for the same session when the first has not yet completed. Each subsequent transaction takes even longer than the first until it builds up to the point it is taking minutes to complete what should take a fraction of a second.

In general, developers will contact us about developing something to work against our system. We try to be helpful and advise what are likely successful directions. There are still mavericks, who will write something that causes a problem and we try to track down who it is slamming our systems. I consider it part of the job of running a system people want to use. Someone will try to accomplish things outside the normal enter a URL, type in a username, type in a password, click, click, click…. Heck, we write scripts to get around this.

These events are all opportunities to meeting and educating developers.

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Supposedly this is the future. Students helping each other rather than looking to the teacher. Instead of long boring lectures, students get short videos.

If the below does not work, then try Peter Norvig: The 100,000-student classroom.

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