Too Much

One of the out of session discussions at the Georgia Baha’i School yesterday morning was on how bad online media are for us. (I’ve boiled down what was described to neurotransmitters.)

  1. Dopamine: Anticipation with each click will lead to a reward leads to addiction-like behaviors.
  2. Oxytocin: Lack of touch leads to feeling lonely.

For those of us seeking to feel connected, online media provides a false sense of connectedness. We feel more connected, but this is an illusion. We need the oxytocin for a true connectedness which we don’t get enough through online media. The best use of online social media is to discover the connections necessary for quality face-to-face time with people so we can get what we need. I’d say most of my current face-to-face arose from being active online.

The problem is when our interactions devolve to only being through this. Lately I’ve been thinking I consume too much media which distracts me from trying to be around people. With 592 people on my Facebook friends list, I’m probably reading too many Facebook status updates, apps, etc. Between my RSS readers (yeah, plural), I have 277 subscriptions with at the moment around 1,600 items marked for me to read. With 76 TiVo subscriptions, I’m probably watching too much television. I feel so constantly behind with these technologies I feel like I need to work through them which means I’m spending less time with people.

This isn’t really new for me. My bad habit is to invest myself too much in media by not culling enough of the subscriptions. I’m also hesitant to assert myself in other people’s lives. Some call it reticent: “reluctant to draw attention to yourself”. I’m the person who is likely found hanging around the periphery of a party. This recipe for disaster is why my resolutions usually have something about participating more in social activities. Without such goals, my only social interactions would be through work.

Sports Viewing Political Affiliation

The claims in a commercial on WNEG-TV that liberals watch tennis and conservatives watch golf piqued my interest. So I found an article discussing it. Sports Viewers Largely Republican has a decidedly different focus. Liberals watch more TV while Conservatives watch more sports.

Sports fans' voting propensity, and which party they prefer.
Sports fans' voting propensity, and which party they prefer.

The top 5 sports I watch are the English Premiership, the UEFA Champions League, MLS, college football, and college soccer. Only MLS and college football are on the list. Each are diametrically in opposition to the other.

There may be a simpler way to measure an individual’s personal leaning. A Slate article, Escape From The Echo Chamber, has a nifty tool which will look at your web browser history, the skew of those sites, and guess.

Annoying HF1 Single Install Issue

Note we don’t usually run single installs. Previous work with clustered installs didn’t present this issue that I know.

First run of Blackboard CE/Vista 8 Service Pack 3 Hoftfix 1 installer on a single install gave me:

Installation error. Cannot install Java as target directory already exists – /path/to/node/jdk150_13

The installer hung because it went to do a mkdir and the directory was there. It should have abandoned installing Java and moved on to the next task. Instead, it gave me an incomplete install.

No biggie. I moved the existing Java directory out of the way and moved the backup copy of the installation directory back in place. Ran the installer again. This time it failed on a new error:

Installation error. java.util. zip.ZipException: No such file or directory

Turns out the files it needed to do this JDK install were not provided in the package. Luckily everything was in the SP3 installer (why it had been there in the first place). Copied those files into where the installer had sought them. Did the same backout again. Ran the installer again.

Installation completed successfully.

Amy thinks other clients reported this same issue only affected single installs when this hotfix was released and people started using it. We didn’t pay much attention because we don’t normally do single installs.

BTW: There’s not enough difference between  COMPLETE and INCOMPLETE to catch the attention of a person while the installer output is throwing 20 lines a second to the screen. FAILED would be better.

Walled Gardens

Another one of those old articles I started but didn’t finish / publish at the time. This was originally composed April 12th.

Thinking about this article I read over the weekend, specifically this point.

Closed and proprietary systems are not about learning they are about management. If we want to engage students in learning on the web we need permeable membranes that connect, not walled gardens that contain. [Un]packing the Learning Management System

I’ve read claims for years the Learning Management System are more purchased for their management capabilities and less around the learning. LMSes are about providing the tools for the faculty and administrators to manage their online classes. The people who have to sign the contract and pay the bill are administrators. Some may have former careers as teachers or technicians. So they buy what they know: something which does a good managing.

There is a movement for the networked study model. The approach to school I saw my peers in the early days of the Internet take was not a single model but an amalgam of professor-to-student lecture, networked study, and independent study. Different students demonstrated preferences for models which they thought most beneficial per topic. Doesn’t seem like there is one right answer.

Where these discussions seem to fail is in arguing the scientific data around what is or is not effective. I hate how people mention The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Student and Information Technology in these discussions. Especially when they fail to mention students primarily use the technology for activities other than course work (page 8).

Chat Connection Resets

Sorry, this was originally supposed to be published a few weeks ago. I’m just getting around to posting it. – Ezra

Tests after applet patch in development reported chat failures. Chat uses an applet, so I was concerned and investigated the problem. The usual culprits were not affected.

  1. had WEBCT_CONFIG_OPTIONS set to start chat on correct nodes.
  2. customconfig/ChatServer-config.xml had SSL key in correct location.
  3. SSL key was the correct key.
  4. SocketServer logs were not rolling every minute.

So chat looked correctly setup on our end.

On the web server nodes where chat runs, I changed directory into the logs directory. Now that I looked in SocketServer logs for a web node running chat, I noticed some lines had “user” in them. I guessed the value after user was the id in the person table for the user who experienced the error. It was easy enough to look for that id in the database and confirm my guess.

This first grep of SocketServer log isolates the sixth item between colons teases which is that person id. The second grep reports the whole line including the time stamp.

grep “[0-9]-user” SocketServer.??????????.log | awk -F\: ‘{print $6}’ | sort | uniq
grep “[0-9]-user” SocketServer.??????????.log

With the results of the first grep just above, replace the numbers in bold with a comma delimited list.In the database I looked for these ids with this SQL. Substitute your own id numbers in bold. They turned out to be the id numbers for users experiencing the problems. I recognized the accounts as people who had been testing.

select, p.webct_id, from person p, learning_context lc
where p.learning_context_id = and in (99999,999999)
order by, p.webct_id
Since I was researching just on one environment and a development one at that, I was curious
about the two kinds of errors:
  1. Connection reset
  2. Session aborted by remote peer.

It looked like in production still had some of the same errors. The one session I profiled appeared to show the errors in chat start about 2 hours after the last action by the user in the webserver.log. This is the time the TCP profile cuts off the chat.

The cause of these more frequently on development in chat turned out to chat having a 5 minute profile instead of the correct 2 hour one. Now everything is consistently having this problem when users let their sessions expire.

Hopefully they are just leaving their windows open on personal computers and not public spaces.

Fifteen Years Seems Like Forever

Ran into Alan Bernstein, who hired me for my first job, this morning. Alan has always been both very protective and supportive of his employees. I don’t think I’d be where I am today without him.

Kind of freaky to think I’ve been working for for 15 years. First it was in a library, an information service. Next it was in information technology. Guess I am into information?


So much to accomplish on my “days off”. Finished grocery shopping and posting meeting notes for one group. Have to figure out the agenda for another meeting later today. Feel like I need a vacation…


Project 365: Day 010 Back at the January Athens Strobist Meetup (Facebook, Flickr) photo shoot, the wind knocked over my umbrella light stand. The result was the foot of my flash adapter breaking. No big deal, just order another one, right?

The February shoot didn’t involve me having my equipment, so I didn’t bother ordering a new one. March didn’t have one. So in April, there was a shoot announced at the last minute, so I quickly ordered three knowing they might not arrive in time, but at least for the May shoot I would have one. (That April photoshoot turned out not to have any models show so I wouldn’t have had to do anything anyway.)

The replacement hot shoe adapters arrived after almost a week. The cables didn’t fit them. My first thought was somehow I screwed up and ordered the wrong item. So back on the ordering web site, I compared the item links in the order history. Both went to the same page. Now certain this wasn’t my error, I sent a message to the seller. They didn’t respond, so I griped on Twitter. Of course, I got a response to send an email with details. After checking, the response back over email was they were going to work with the manufacturer.

I don’t know turnaround times for something like this. So I bought a couple from two different vendors. Both work and in time for the May shoot.

Now… Does anyone know anything about Vivitar 283 flashes?

Sorry for the Outage

My hosting service, Dreamhost, announced they would be upgrading every one off PHP4. Only people using old software would get bitten. I’ve kept my software current, so I wasn’t worried.

Only this of all eight domains started showing an HTTP 500 error (Internal Server Error). I dreaded having to go through and determine why. Turns out it was easier than I thought…. In Dreamhost’s panel, the domain was still configured to use PHP4. When I changed it to use PHP5, the WordPress started working again.

I would have thought part of an upgrade would be to change this configuration. At least it was just a simple change and not digging through code and logs.

Frontline: College, Inc.

This piqued my interest because well… I work for public higher education running an online class system. There are twin subtle pressures to both compete and remain aloof depending on people’s assumptions about money and quality. I personally just hope we do whatever is necessary to provide the highest quality service for students.

This was an interesting comment in a Chronicle of Higher Education jobs forum about this episode. Lots of people dislike traditional colleges, especially those which teach job skills. Colleges of Education often teach future K-12 and technical school educators the occupational skills necessary for becoming successful.

I have no problem with a program of this nature. I just wish they would also focus on cash cow programs within traditional universities. I don’t see a huge difference between colleges of education and the Phoenixes and Trade Schools. You know the difference between State University X and an online or for profit school? No beer drinking frat-boy imbeciles pissing away their parents money supporting what is essentially an academic front for a football team. I suppose you can feel morally superior in some way to these programs if you’re able to ignore the gigantic mascots that adorn every facet of your institution, symbolizing an assemblage of nearly illiterate students that represent the public face or your institution by stuffing a ball into a hoop or kicking it.

The Frontline press release (bold added by me):


College, Inc.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS

Twitter: @frontlinepbs

Even in lean times, the $400 billion business of higher education is booming. Nowhere is this more true than in one of the fastest-growing—and most controversial—sectors of the industry: for-profit colleges and universities that cater to non-traditional students, often confer degrees over the Internet, and, along the way, successfully capture billions of federal financial aid dollars.

In College, Inc., airing Tuesday, May 4, 2010, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS (check local listings), FRONTLINE correspondent Martin Smith investigates the promise and explosive growth of the for-profit higher education industry. Through interviews with school executives, government officials, admissions counselors, former students and industry observers, this film explores the tension between the industry—which says it’s helping an underserved student population obtain a quality education and marketable job skills—and critics who charge the for-profits with churning out worthless degrees that leave students with a mountain of debt.

At the center of it all stands a vulnerable population of potential students, often working adults eager for a university degree to move up the career ladder. FRONTLINE talks to a former staffer at a California-based for-profit university who says she was under pressure to sign up growing numbers of new students. “I didn’t realize just how many students we were expected to recruit,” says the former enrollment counselor. “They used to tell us, you know, ‘Dig deep. Get to their pain. Get to what’s bothering them. So, that way, you can convince them that a college degree is going to solve all their problems.’”

Graduates of another for-profit school—a college nursing program in California—tell FRONTLINE that they received their diplomas without ever setting foot in a hospital. Graduates at other for-profit schools report being unable to find a job, or make their student loan payments, because their degree was perceived to be of little worth by prospective employers. One woman who enrolled in a for-profit doctorate program in Dallas later learned that the school never acquired the proper accreditation she would need to get the job she trained for. She is now sinking in over $200,000 in student debt.

The biggest player in the for-profit sector is the University of Phoenix—now the largest college in the US with total enrollment approaching half a million students. Its revenues of almost $4 billion last year, up 25 percent from 2008, have made it a darling of Wall Street. Former top executive of the University of Phoenix Mark DeFusco told FRONTLINE how the company’s business-approach to higher education has paid off: “If you think about any business in America, what business would give up two months of business—just essentially close down?” he asks. “[At the University of Phoenix], people go to school all year round. We start classes every five weeks. We built campuses by a freeway because we figured that’s where the people were.”

“The education system that was created hundreds of years ago needs to change,” says Michael Clifford, a major education entrepreneur who speaks with FRONTLINE. Clifford, a former musician who never attended college, purchases struggling traditional colleges and turns them into for-profit companies. “The big opportunity,” he says, “is the inefficiencies of some of the state systems, and the ability to transform schools and academic programs to better meet the needs of the people that need jobs.”

“From a business perspective, it’s a great story,” says Jeff Silber, a senior analyst at BMO Capital Markets, the investment banking arm of the Bank of Montreal. “You’re serving a market that’s been traditionally underserved. … And it’s a very profitable business—it generates a lot of free cash flow.”

And the cash cow of the for-profit education industry is the federal government. Though they enroll 10 percent of all post-secondary students, for-profit schools receive almost a quarter of federal financial aid. But Department of Education figures for 2009 show that 44 percent of the students who defaulted within three years of graduation were from for-profit schools, leading to serious questions about one of the key pillars of the profit degree college movement: that their degrees help students boost their earning power. This is a subject of increasing concern to the Obama administration, which, last month, remade the federal student loan program, and is now proposing changes that may make it harder for the for-profit colleges to qualify.

“One of the ideas the Department of Education has put out there is that in order for a college to be eligible to receive money from student loans, it actually has to show that the education it’s providing has enough value in the job market so that students can pay their loans back,” says Kevin Carey of the Washington think tank Education Sector. “Now, the for-profit colleges, I think this makes them very nervous,” Carey says. “They’re worried because they know that many of their members are charging a lot of money; that many of their members have students who are defaulting en masse after they graduate. They’re afraid that this rule will cut them out of the program. But in many ways, that’s the point.”

FRONTLINE also finds that the regulators that oversee university accreditation are looking closer at the for-profits and, in some cases, threatening to withdraw the required accreditation that keeps them eligible for federal student loans. “We’ve elevated the scrutiny tremendously,” says Dr. Sylvia Manning, president of the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits many post-secondary institutions. “It is really inappropriate for accreditation to be purchased the way a taxi license can be purchased. …When we see any problematic institution being acquired and being changed we put it on a short leash.”