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 Undocumented Workspaces

On the WebCT Users email list (hosted by Blackboard) there is a discussion about a mysterious directory called unmarshall which suddenly appeared. We found it under similar circumstances as others by investigating why a node consumed so much disk space. Failed command-line restores end up in this unmarshall directory.

Unmarshalling in Java jargon means:

converting the byte-stream back to its original data or object 1

This suspiciously sounds like what a decryption process would use to convert a .bak file into a .zip so something can open the file.

This is fourth undocumented work space where failed files site for a while and cause problems and no forewarning from the vendor.

Previous ones are:

  1. Failed UI backups end up in the weblogic81 (Vista 3, does this still happen in Vista 8?) directory.
  2. Failed tracking data files end up in WEBCTDOMAIN/tracking (Vista 3, apparently no longer stored this way in Vista 4/8 according to CSU-Chico and Notre Dame)
  3. Web Services content ends up in /var/tmp/ and are named Axis####axis. These are caused by a bug in DIME (like MIME) for Apache Axis. No one is complaining about the content failing to arrive, so we presume the files just end up on the system.

#3 were the hardest to diagnose because of a lack of an ability to tie the data back to user activity.

Is this all there are? I need to do testing to see which of these I can cross off my list goring forward in Vista 8. Failed restores are on it indefinitely for now.
🙁

References:

  1. http://www.jguru.com/faq/view.jsp?EID=560072

What does a CIO do?

I guess it depends on who you ask.

Well, the CIO’s thought they were most effective as classic IT-support providers. That’s basically putting PC’s on desktops. But their managers thought that CIO’s were most effective in explaining and determining the college’s technology course into the future. Managers really want their CIO’s to be “informaticists.” Wayne A. Brown, Johnson County Community College Are College CIOs Thinking What Their Bosses Are Thinking?

Self-reporting is a notoriously bad means of measuring behavior. So I take these sorts of things with a grain of salt.

I have read many times the view CIOs need to educate higher education administrators about technology to help shape the vision of where higher education is headed. When Joe Newton at Valdosta State took over as CIO, he found Ronald Zaccari, expected more than just “putting PCs on desks”. Ron also expected seamless services, a data warehouse, IT to work with every facet of the university, and even to help the cabinet shape its direction by providing how technology can help. The previous president didn’t even check his own email. So to have one who better understood technology meant having to step up to a higher standard.

Another aspect I found interesting was about degrees. Wayne suggested a positive direction was CIOs having degrees in technology management. A commenter preferred CIOs having a Ph.D. in an academic discipline and secondarily “technology qualifications” so they would understand teaching and learning. I find this hilarious because all too often I hear complaints Ph.D. programs teach people how to do research and present… not teach.

Also, the comments make a distinction between presidents and provosts versus deans and department heads. The latter are the “academic administrators”.

All that said, I just want a CIO to figure out what management wants done, prevent them from having too high expectations, and provide the resources for me to do it.

IMS Import Error When Node Is Down

This is what I got when a node was down while I attempted to do an IMS import in Blackboard CE/Vista.

Failed to upload files, exiting.
Cause could include invalid permission on file/directory,
invalid file/directory or
repository related problems

The keywords permission, file, and directory in this would have sent me anywhere but to the right place. The keyword repository made me suspicious the node had a worse issue than just bad permissions. So I looked for the most recent WebCTServer log and found it to be a week old. Verifying the last messages in the log confirmed it had been down for a week.
🙁

To see anything in the log questioning whether or not the node was running would have saved me lots of time this morning.

Added to my .bashrc a couple lines to provide a visual indicator how many are running.

JAVA_RUNNING=`ps -ef | grep [j]ava | grep -c [v]ista`
echo ”  — No. Vista processess running = $JAVA_RUNNING”

Better might even be to have it evaluate whether less than one or more than two (or three) are running. If so, then put something obvious the world is falling. Maybe later. Took me just a couple minutes to write and test what I have. The rest will come after I decide what I really want. 🙂

Also, it wasn’t running because a coworker had run into a situation where the fifth node would not start. She thought maybe it was because the number of connection Oracle would accept was not high enough. I suggested a simple test would be to shut down a node and see if the problem one suddenly works. I happened to be working with the one she shut down for the test. It happens she had just started a script to bring them up when I asked.

File Conversion

Zamzar came in useful today. Someone sent a WordPerfect document. My Windows XP didn’t know what to do with it, so I found Zamzar off my del.icio.us bookmarks and sent the file for conversion.

I was able to open the file no problem.

Fantastic!

I can see lots of uses for this sort of thing. For instance, students submitting papers for assignments in various formats.

Anti-Malware and Blackboard Vista

Tier1 support was contacted by a student to report a problem with a quiz. Some sort of anti-malware software complained about code in the quiz. Tier1 support replicated the issue. Their software identified it as belonging to MyWebSearch. Very bad news.

Tier2 support suggested the student remove the MyWebSearch toolbar. Tier1 escalated to Tier3 who claimed that because Tier1 and the student both saw the issue, the malicious code must have been inserted into Vista by the instructor. Tier3 also escalated it to me… Tier4.

From the email conversation, no one looked at the quiz in question despite Tier2 and Tier3 both having the access (and Tier2 being involved in instructional design).

*headdesk*

Instead of providing my own equally valueless speculation, I got a copy of the quiz and looked at the HTML. Eventually, I used WinMerge to compare the problematic quiz and a previous quiz side-by-side.

Turns out the difference between the two is the use of WebEQ Java applets. (The problem-free quiz used GIF images instead of applets.) I think the anti-malware software of the student and Tier1 both reacted to the Java applet. Here is one of the items used.

<applet code=”webeq.Main” archive=”/path/to/jar/WebEQ2Applet.jar” width=1899 height=40 align=middle><param name=eq value=”<math> <mrow> <semantics> <mrow> <mi>f</mi> <mo stretchy=’false’>(</mo> <mi>x</mi> <mo stretchy=’false’>)</mo> <mo>=</mo> <mn>2</mn> <msup> <mi>x</mi> <mn>2</mn> </msup> <mo>+</mo> <mn>3</mn> <mi>x</mi> <mo>+</mo> <mn>1</mn> </mrow> <annotation type=’MathType’/> </semantics> </mrow></math>”><param name=color value=”#ffffff”><param name=parser value=”mathml”></applet>

The way WebEQ passes the parameters as XML inside a parameter tag strikes me as very odd. Maybe causes anti-malware to trigger a false positive?

These applets have been a problem in the past, as many were hard coded into the HTML prior to Vista incorporating this into the equation editor. Vista instead, uses a parameter block to pass the values to the applet.

I think our instructional designers are moving away from use of WebEQ as it has been consumed so much of their time, they hate it now.

Naked on the Net

The typical response to a “OMG Users Don’t Have the Privacy They Think They Do” article is to never post anything online or just never visit web sites where you would post something.

These seem…. Paranoid. People have an expectation of privacy. People also inherently trust web sites unless they have been burned enough in the past. I know a few people who have lost their trust. However, its less than a dozen out of a few 300 people.

My mother in particular, read an article about bad web browser cookies years ago, so she set Netscape 4.5 to tell her about every attempt to set a cookie and was appalled at how many web sites tried to set them. Eventually, she realized not every cookie is malicious. Similarly, not every web site or company is out to screw their users. By contrast, a friend of hers installed Zone Alarm at home and discovered a ton of blocked connections which made him paranoid about the dangers online.

The place to be online is, I think, somewhere between paranoid privacy and complete openness. We should be open enough to generate conversations. However, we should not be giving away the kitchen sink.

Bicentennial for the Abolition of Slave Trade to US Tomorrow

An Even Better Reason to Celebrate has a nice longer version of this quote from a NYT OpEd piece on tomorrow being the bicentennial for the ablution of slave trade to the United States.

WE Americans live in a society awash in historical celebrations. The last few years have witnessed commemorations of the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase (2003) and the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II (2005). Looming on the horizon are the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth (2009) and the sesquicentennial of the outbreak of the Civil War (2011). But one significant milestone has gone strangely unnoticed: the 200th anniversary of Jan. 1, 1808, when the importation of slaves into the United States was prohibited. Forgotten Step Toward Freedom – New York Times

Please read this article. It mentions the British celebrated their abolition of slave trade last year. Also, the lack of celebration may be due to the distinction here in the US between the end of importing of slaves vs the end of slavery. I found it a fascinating and well written article. Eric Foner has a several books on United States history between the American Revolution and the Civil War. I’ll have to pick up some of them? I’m already 83 books behind reading everything I own.

What is in a Program Description?

 

The B.S. in Professional Studies online program will enable students to acquire expertise in significant areas of contemporary professional life, and is equally relevant in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. Coursework for the major is constructed around five areas of study – social science (understanding people in a diverse world), critical thinking, creativity, communication, and business. The curriculum is designed to enable students to become professionals in their field of choice, building on their prior education and experience. Drexel University Launches a Unique Online Degree For Professionals 

Does this sound like BS to you too?

Last week I said “pretty much only your parents care about your major as bragging rights to their friends“. The critical explanation is the last sentence, which I read to mean This is your last shot at getting a degree and going out to the work force because you suck as a student. You are hopeless at Chemistry, Sociology, or even Philosophy. So… take this degree and go get a job. Thanks for the money!

Type A Personality

Earlier it was said I have a Type A Personality. Riiiight.

[T]he Type A personality, also known as the Type A Behavior Pattern, is a set of characteristics that includes being impatient, excessively time-conscious, insecure about one’s status, highly competitive, hostile and aggressive, and incapable of relaxation. [Ref: Wikipedia]

I will concede I am very time-conscious and somewhat of a workaholic. However, the rest sounds the complete opposite of my personality. Most consider me too laid back and needing more ambition. I’m sure if I had a wife and/or children, then I’d appear much less of a workaholic. All that seems unlikely for other reasons.
🙂