The Ares Imperative

The Ares ImperativeA friend of mine, Steve Ekstrom, is the writer of this comic which I enjoyed for the this first 8 pages. I’m looking forward to the next installments. Check out The Ares Imperative! (And vote for it if you like it. The winner gets published by DC Comics.)


It’s the early 21st Century and corporations continue to manipulate world governments as emerging quasi-religious science cults and techno-centric international terrorists are beginning to develop their own biological weapons mapped out in human genomes. Special Agent Adam Geist operates covertly within the framework of the ultra-classified PROJECT ARES division of the C.I.A. under the supervision of Deputy Director Ted Gerard and his assistant Maxwell Clearwater.

Geist does not fully comprehend the processes, which he has undergone as a part of PROJECT ARES but numerous studies have revealed that alien mitochondria have asserted control of his DNA—altering his higher intelligence functions and his nervous system receptor processing speed. He has become sensitive to electromagnetic fields and has developed heightened senses, which include something akin to Wi-Fi reception. His skin is capable of rapid, localized cellular density adaptation—making him virtually bulletproof.

Due to the secret nature of his existence and the fear that a “super-man” would create in light of the unstable relations between the U.S. and other world powers, Geist is under strict orders: he must eliminate anyone—friend or foe—who learns of his uncanny abilities. Sadly, as he grows in power, his own humanity diminishes from the actualization of his computer-like brain—and now, evidence is beginning to surface that his own strange biology may, in fact, be malevolent in nature…

Relative Truth

Found an interesting comment on an article the state of Georgia observing the Confederate Memorial Day….

The truth of history means very little to those who are dead set against learning anything from it. No matter what the history books used in our public school system say, most will never believe anything other than their own opinion about the Civil War. History revisionist are the celebs of the day. As long as people like Rev. Wright, and David Duke exist, history’s truth will be filtered through lies and distortions. Few observe Confederate Memorial Day: UGA to display original constitution; state offices closed

Truth may very well be completely relative. Back during the US Presidential election, I ran across an interesting article in the Washington Post discussing research John Bullock did about the effects of misinformation and idealogical bias ties. I used to think it had to do with a handful of people stuck in their green, second ammendment, pro-life, pro-choice, capitalist, regulation views. My favorite pasttime in college was assuming positions contrary to others even when I agree with the others.

I doubt the effect solely affects conservatives as was proposed in the article. More likely everyone has some blindspots in determing truth from myth or fiction kind of like optical illusions. (Yes, even myself.) We have to choose which information to believe any time we interact with information. Much of the rules in philosophy and science are built around combatting the biases we have.

Rather than force ideas on others, I think we should be teaching children from an early age to recognize when others and most especially themselves are operating under a bias. Its the only way to find detachment.

More IMS Import Headaches

I got this error while trying to run an XML IMS import using the WebCT / Blackboard CE/Vista script…

A unit of type Institution cannot have a unit of type Campus as a child.

Guess being on vacation last week spaced my neurons. Normally, I ignore Blackboard errors as meaningless. This time I listened to the error and sent myself off in the wrong direction trying to figure out what was wrong with the typevalue element of the XML was wrong. Typevalue defines the level of the context. So while my level was set to 30 in the XML, for some reason it must be ignoring it, right?

Wrong! The problem was really that the relationship.sourcedid.source was set to “DBA IMS IMPORT USG_COL” instead of “DBA SIAPI Import USG_COL”. So it was unable to find the parent object. So the error makes no sense to me now.

Can I have my two hours back?

Recap of Vista Stuff

It has been a hectic week. A recap…

Java certificate fix – Yesterday, August 23rd, the certificate distributed in various Java applets expired. The community discovered the issue and informed Blackboard who put out a fix for the more current products on August 15th. Many customers are leery of having such little lead time to test, verify, and install a fix. Well, Vista was also reported to have the problem, but Blackboard didn’t provide a fix until the 20th after I got my TSM to verify it really still is a problem on the 18th. (The corrected version was provided August 21st. Why is in the next paragraph.)

The fix for Vista 3 required us to be on (hotfix 8 which we had not yet applied), had references to the “webctapp” directory (in Vista 3 it is applications), and distributed a script to add updateWar which didn’t work with Vista 3. FAIL. Thankfully we have modified War files in the past, so adding the updates was more work and accomplished before Blackboard provided a corrected version.

To see the Java certificates in Windows: Control Panel > Java > Security > Certificates. The Blackboard ones are verified by Thawte (the Certificate Authority). The old one is issued to Blackboard. The new one is issued to

Vista – This hotfix was released a couple weeks ago. However, since the priority has been the migration to Vista 8, this was on hold. The previous problem made us step up and throw this into production. The testers went to heroic efforts to get this and the certifcate fix tested. Testing was mixed.

  1. Losing session cookie because of Office 2007 in Internet Explorer. Happened less often post fix, but still happens in some cases.
  2. Autosignon MAC2. Mode to allow insecure MAC works to give the one school using it time to correct update their portal to use MAC2. Originally the plan was to let them work out MAC2 in test.

Slammed by our users…

  1. systemIntegrationApi.dowebct – The school using the autosignon wanted to have the correct consortiaId to create the MAC. Some time back in January they started calling this any time users tried to login because a handful (guess was ~12) have had their username changed. So the autosignon failed. Yes, they were sent us 25,000 requests in a busy day (about 20% of the queues were working on these during the day) to handle potential 12 problems in a term. FAIL.
  2. pmSelfRegister.dowebt – One of the clusters started to have issues. Two nodes went crappy. I looked at the Weblogic console and found all of the failing nodes had no free spots in the queues. 90% of the queues were working on these. Much of this is because the requests were hanging around for at least 4800 seconds (an hour is 3600 seconds). At about 6000 seconds the cluster recovered when the queues cleared.I think the queues cleared because I changed to false a couple settings:
    • Allow users to register themselves as a Student in a section = false
    • Allow users to register themselves as an Auditor in a section = false

    As I recall, we only had about 22 queue spots open (out of 308) across the whole cluster. We got lucky.

Monopoly Fears

Something brought up my abandoned Friendster blog, which had a link to fiftymillimeter which used to be my favorite photography site by people in Athens prior to me even moving here. Why “used to be”? Well over a year ago, they stopped posting to the site. Sad, I know. Still, I was curious, Where are they now? I ran across Twitter-Free Fridays looking for Toby Joe Boudroux.

What I found interesting about this post was his approach to whether or not Twitter is or is not a monopoly. I agree with the first part. The last sentence surprised me.

Being at the top of an emerging market segment does not constitute a monopoly. Unfair practices, abuses of that dominance to limit fair access to resources and outlets – those are monopolistic. If Twitter struck a deal with Mozilla that blacklisted other microblogging services, we’d have something to talk about. Opening APIs freely and allowing supplemental markets to emerge hardly seems consistent with railroad barons.

Supplemental markets would be the equivalent of a railroad baron allowing new train stations or business to sell to the customers using the trains. Open APIs allow other corporations to find a niche. However, they are not a direct competitor. For example, with Twitter, the API is not used by Pownce or Jaiku. Friendfeed who fits in both the lifestream market and the micro-blog markets does use the API. More commonly, the Twitter API is used by companies like Summize or Twitpic in searching or posting content.

If economists or lawyers determining whether a company with a large market share is monopolistic are influenced by open APIs creating supplemental markets, then this could be a strategy to avoiding DOJ further scrutiny? At Bbworld / DevCon, a frequent point of pride from the Blackboard folks was the anticipation of Bb9 to have a more open, accessible, and useful API. This API will be able to do everything the current one in the Classic line can currently do. The anticipated additions to this API could benefit many supplemental markets. (Let’s just forget at the same time, they are saying API for the CE/Vista products is a dead-end development path.)

Scoring points with the DOJ (and more importantly the court of public opinion) could never hurt while trying to sue a much smaller competitor like Desire2Learn. Some characterize Bb as not likely to stop until D2L no longer exists. Who knows? I doubt even Chasen knows. Still, it would far fetched to characterize just this as making Blackboard a monopoly.

There are pleny of alternative LMS products to the Blackboard Learning System: Moodle, Sakai, ANGEL, eCollege, and many, many more. Heck, the rumor mill would indicate more and more higher education institutions are considering and even changing to the alternatives. Blackboard acknowleges institutions likely run multiple products. With Bb 9, they encourage people to use the Learning Environment Connector to single sign-on to into the other products. With the Bb9 frame remaining so they know who got them there, of course.  Don’t forget about a Personal Learning Environment,

Certainly I dislike that Blackboard hears my objections and continues to act in ways contrary to them. However, that happens within my own team. Neither group are criminal for ignoring me.

CE/Vista and Banner Integration

This is the second time I have worked on making Vista integration work with Banner. The first was 2005 in Vista 3.0.3 at Valdosta State. The production here at GeorgiaVIEW was set up by Harold, Jill, and Amy years ago and integrated into the install scripts or part of the cloned databases.

So now I am working on getting it to work in Vista 8. The IMS imports worked the first time like a charm. When I turned to using the Luminis adapter, the person records worked fine but the group contexts failed in Vista 8 and worked fine in Vista 3. So the “ luminis import restrict” works fine.


We have 41 institutions in Vista 3 currently. So imports are automated to some degree to preserve the sanity of Jill (and to a lesser degree Amy and myself). Rather than put in the UI all the settings, we have a properties file defining the location, glcid, sourcedid.source and for each institution. This allows us to easily pass the values when importing at the command-line.

My first approach was to leave the settings identical to what I used to create persons and group records with IMS. This essentially uses the glcid of the institution and sourcedid of the institution. This is what resulted in the person records working and groups not. Fail.

I realized my error in logic must be the lack of a division-to-group relationship as the error described the groups cannot be related to an institution. So I changed the properties to use the division values for the sourcedid. Fail.

So I went looking in “Guide to Integration with the SunGard Luminis Data Integration Suite” for what I ought to use at the command-line. I didn’t find a solution. Just the same command-line lacking even the glcid and sourcedid.


Giving up on the command-line approach for now, I added the relationship element to the XML so the group would become a child of one of the divisions I created with IMS. It sorta worked! The groups all imported but the course failed with the exact same error the groups formerly succeeded. To add insult to injury, simply running the import again on the exact same file had the courses import.


A mistake I made was reading the documentation: “Guide to Integration with the SunGard Luminis Data Integration Suite”.

Sungard Libraries:

  1. Page 8 says imq.jar and mbclient.jar do not come with CE/Vista and must be obtained from Sungard. All three of us thought in Vista 3.x these were automatically placed so we didn’t need to place them. Best I can tell, these were installed by Vista. I found $WEBCTDOMAIN/customconfig/ references both files in CUSTOM_CLASSPATH and references CUSTOM_CLASSPATH. (This document has notes for what CE customers need to do and no note about CE users needing to go get them from Sungard.)
  2. Those who believe the last note would keep reading and find on Page 9 instructions to deposit the files in $WEBCTDOMAIN/serverlibs/. Assuming I am wrong about item #1, the expects them in $WEBCTDOMAIN/serverlibs/luminis/ and would not find them where the document says to put them.

IMS Data Going to Wrong Place

I should know better than to trust documentation over my own intuition. Or to change based on what others tell me.

I followed:

Log in to Vista Enterprise as a Server Administrator or Institution Administrator.
NOTE: To set glcid, you must log in as a Server Administrator.

From the Administration tab, click the Utilities tab.
Click Settings.

Under System Integration, click System Integration API IMS….

Enter values to configure settings. See the table that follows, Standard and IMS Adapter
details on each value.

Click Save Values. The Settings screen appears and the settings are configured.

Standard and IMS Adapter Settings
The following table describes the parameters you can set using the administration user interface.
Setting Description

• Stands for global learning context identifier.
Set by Server Administrator only.
Required to run IMS and Standard adapter

• Identifies the institution in which the adapter
command runs
• Automatically assigned by Vista Enterprise
upon creation of an institution

Of course, it doesn’t say which Glcid, right? After all, every learning context has a Glcid. Since, at the time I only had one institution (before I created the 54 others), I set the Glcid to the one for that institution. Should it be the Glcid for the server or domain learning context? If so, then couldn’t Blackboard just pre-populate it at the time of install? Why do I need to put it there?

At the same time, I didn’t believe it necessary because I had seen IMS imports work without the Glcid set at the server learning context. They worked because the command used to run the IMS import has the glcid.

The result? My imports went into the the institution with the Glcid set at the server learning context, despite the defining in the command I ran to use a different Glcid. Removing the Glcid from the server learning context settings allowed the command to work as I thought it should.

So much for a pristine, clean database.

Less Is More

Mashable has an interesting article about why Twitter persists despite frequent performance issues: “Less is more. Simplicity is power.” By providing little more than an API, upon which numerous others have built tools, it doesn’t so directly compete with other services.

I wonder if perhaps this is the right approach for a learning system? One size no longer fits all. Blackboard Vista is chock full of dozenss of tools and hundreds of settings. This made their products a behemoth to administrate. A lighter system where only the tools people wish to use could help.

On the flip side, a project like GeorgiaVIEW serves thousands of faculty members. All the tools in Blackboard Vista are not enough to satisfy all of the faculty. They want us to integrate with dozens of third party tools, namely the one which will make their class work. An easy API to write against would ultimately mean we would have more tools than we struggle to administrate today.

I guess this is my rejection of the Personal Learning Environment. As great as it is for students and the faculty, the IT who have to support them will fail to support them.

Book Review – The Edison Gene

The Edison Gene: ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child The Edison Gene: ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child by Thom Hartmann

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Reading the DSM-IV about ADHD sounded to me more like the behavior over a typical boy than a mental illness. Thom theorizes a gene came about which allowed our ancestors to survive an intense period of ice ages. This gene, when triggered, exhibits behaviors teachers find abhorrent in the Prussian style education system of the United States better geared to producing soldiers and factory workers than scientists and creators.

View all my reviews.

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Book Review – The Red Queen

The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Darwin’s theory of natural selection opened a can of worms. Matt Ridley adds to the support for the case by attempting to explain: Why sexual and not asexual reproduction? Why males and females? Why do some species switch sexes? Why is human behavior around sex so peculiar?

The arguments are well composed and organized to build the case. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I especially enjoyed how others were interested in borrowing the book to read it themselves.

View all my reviews.

(Created on Inspired to compose my own by the review of Twilight by Jocelyn.)

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