Open Letter to UX Designers

Do not move things right before I click on them.

Windows this means you. Opening up a new window steals focus from my mouse to the new one. Opening a new window when I did not explicitly request it and while I am typing or navigating something in order to do something critical infuriates me.

Facebook this means you too. Adding new comments to the Newsfeed a tenth of a second before I click on a comment box means I click on the wrong one. It is the kinds of thing that will drive people like me to Google+.

My coworkers will thank you too for me not discovering creative new obscenities to describe your products.

Sincerely,
Ezra

 

Odd Tracking File Recording

Every time a Vista 3 node is shut down without going through the initiated shut down process, there is a chance of incorrect data written to the tracking files (in NodeA/tracking/). Normally it leaves strange characters or partial lines at the end of the file. This is the first time I have seen it write the contents of another log instead of the tracking data.

click – 1.0 – 1244228052889 – 1135588340001 – “nova.view.usg.edu-1244227762853-6288” – SSTU – discussion – “compiled-message-viewed” – “page name” – 558711383 –

click – 1.0 – 1244228052891 – 15.0; .NET CLR 1.1.4322)”

2009-04-23      20:58:35        0.0030  xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx    JxH1zg4fZT1LTGcpmyNW    200     GET     /webct/libraryjs.dowebct        locale=en_US    0       “Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.0; .NET CLR 1.1.4322)”

Even better. The node went down on June 5th at around 3pm. The lines from the other log were from April 23rd at 8:58pm.

Why am I surprised to see new incorrect behavior? Especially when the node was really confused?

Brainwashed

People do weird things. Often these are due to the operant conditioning or classical conditioning inflicted on them. Its funny I’ve been seeing references lately to these to describe….

  • Email – Like Skinner’s pigeons, we hit the button to check for new messages hoping to get something. The intermittent reinforcement of not getting a new message with every click just helps strengthen the behavior.
  • Twitter – Similar to email, click the button and hope for something good.
Are we our habits? Or are we something more?

Separate Populations?

What are my neighbors doing? Curiosity about that question resulted in some conflicting data. Ordered by when I added the RSS feed for them.

  1. search.twitter.com for “Athens GA”  – results are full of people talking about Athens, GA not in Athens, GA. Useful for people coming into town for an event.
  2. TweetLocal search for “Athens, GA” (or 30605 get same results) within 20 miles – Over the last 24 hours the RSS feed has given me 12 posts. First 5 users in search before 9pm: JeremyAce4 in Athens, GA, justdandelions in athens, ga, bozaf in Néa Smírni, Europe/Athensaaronbarton in Athens, GAelbee103 in Athens, GA (last @ 7pm). The hit on Europe/Athens is pretty disappointing.
  3. search.twitter.com for “near:AHN within:20mi” (or 30605 or AthensGA get same results) – Over the same 24 hour period, its RSS feed has given me 53 posts. First 5 users in search before 9pm: ThePicManjulieteastonryan_lafountainRyanHaguealester (last @ 7pm)
No overlap. How is that possible when they supposedly are coming from the same population (time, space, and active)? Both services look for their data on Twitter. Both are looking at the self-identified location for Twitter users. Both have the same range. So, why do they have such different results?
Looking specifically for the Tweetlocal users in search.twitter.com reveals them in the results. Searching on a user though doesn’t reveal the location. On the profile is the right location, so they should have been in both results.
Both fail in my opinion.

Access to Multiple Systems

For the term starting Jan 7, we have students who need to be directed to the new Vista system (v8). By standard practice, students also have access to the previous term a few weeks into the new term, let’s say Feb 23. So we’ll need to ensure some access to the old Vista system (v3).

There are multiple ways we can handle this access:

  1. School VIPs – We highly encourage users bookmark, publish links, and access school VIPs instead of the actual address. The idea being these addresses will always go to the right place. Other addresses could change and not work. We even have a v8 version for pre-cutover access and a v3 version for post-cutover access. The problem seems to be some campuses and users continue to use the addesses other than the school VIPs (v8 will only show them the school VIP).
  2. Custom login page – We would place an HTML file on the v3 system explaining general access has moved. Some people would need to get past this page and into the v3 system. The questions here are:
    1. Can we just give the admins the link to bypass the custom login page? They could then manage who has access to the site. They might have to provide this “secret” to thousands of students.
    2. Do we dare publish the link on the page? Something like “To check Fall 2008 grades: click here.”
  3. Deny access – We would deny access to all users except those who hold the Institution Administrator role in v3. The holders of that role would then be responsible to granting access one-by-one to other users who need to access to this old system.
  4. f5 iRule to 302 Redirect – We do host a school who uses autosignon. It is conceivable we could intercept attempts to login and redirect them to the correct host. It would be much better for them just to use the School VIPs solution.

Anyone have a better solution?

Off the Twitter Timeline: Icons

I laughed at reading this one.

Dear Blackboard: If you include icons in your interface, they should f’ing well be clickable. Everyone but you knows this. jazzmodeus

I thought this might refer to the new item icons. Jason works for Emory (doing instructional design) and taking classes at Florida State. Both use Academic Suite. So its probably not what I thought….

In Blackboard CE/Vista, the “course list” [1] can show icons to alert about new things to do. These can be about waiting assessments, discussion, mail, etc. If users click on the icon, then they can see the items causing the notice. At least, when left at the defaults.

One of the schools we host discovered when students entered a tool by clicking on these icon, the subsequent activity would not be tracked. The work around was to turn off the link rather than the icons entirely.

We agreed with the school and labored to convince Blackboard this was a major security problem. Unfortunately, the people who post the support bulletins have yet to post something about this problem. Its not a major item unless you are the student being accused of cheating because your activity doesn’t show appropriately.

[1] course list – This name bugs me….

  • The name is a hold over from when instruction took place in courses. In this system they take place in sections. So why not section list?
  • MyWebCT is dumb. MyBlackboard is dumber. “My” is 2004-ish portal cutesy, personalization name buzzword. Similarly, “e” and “i” are similarly dumb.

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
GlcId

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

• 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.

We Need a 4th Vista DBA / Technical Support

Work for OIIT!

Become our 4th DBA / technical support person for our team.

  • Located in Athens, GA (college town, UGA football)
  • $, benefits, generous leave, rare snow
  • we love open source
PDF of GeorgiaVIEW DBA position

Check out the PDF (right) for more information.

Sorry for the convoluted route to the application…

  • Click this link to go to our HR site.
  • Click the “View Job Postings / Apply for Job” link.
  • Check the “Information Instructional Tech” box.
  • Enter “learning” for the keyword and click search.
  • Systems Support Specialist 3” is our DBA position. We also have a Business Systems Analyst position for a less technical position.

We’d love to have you.

Page View Metric Dying

First Metricocracy measured hits. Pictures and other junk on pages inflated the results so Metricocracy decided on either unique visitors or page views. Now, the Metricocracy wants us to measure attention. Attention is engagement, how much time users spend on a page.

What do we really want to know? Really it is the potential value of the property. The assumption around attention is the longer someone spends on a web site, the more money that site gains in advertisement revenue. The rationale being users who barely glance at pages and spend little time on the site are not going to click ads. Does this really mean users who linger and spend large amounts of time on the site are going to click more ads?

This means to me attention is just another contrived metric which doesn’t measure what is really sought. I guess advertisement companies and the hosts brandishing them really do not want to report the click through rates?

My web browsing habits skew the attention metric way higher than it ought to be. First, I have a tendency to open several items in a window and leave them lingering. While my eyes spent a minute looking the content, the page spent minutes to hours in a window… waiting for the opportunity. Second, I actively block images from advertisement sources and block Flash except when required.

As a DBA, page views also has debatable usefulness. On the one hand we could use it because it represents a count of objects requiring calls to the database and rendering by application and web server code. Hits represent all requests for all content, simple or complex, so is more inclusive. Bandwidth throughput represents how much data is sucked out or pushed into the systems.

We DBAs also provide supporting information to the project leaders. Currently they look at the number of users or classrooms who have been active throughout the term. Attention could provide another perspective to enhance the overall picture of how much use our systems get.

Cat Finnegan, who conducts research with GeorgiaVIEW tracking data, measures learning effectiveness. To me, that is the ultimate point of this project. If students are learning with the system, then it is successful. If we can change how we do things to help them learn better, then we ought to make that change. If another product can help students learn better, then that is the system we ought to use.

Ultimately, I don’t think there is a single useful metric. Hits, unique users, page views, attention, bandwith, active users, etc., all provide a nuanced view of what is happening. I’ve used them all for different purposes.

Shooting on the Run

Do you have a camera that you take everywhere? My Canon SD800 IS (Elph)

This digital point and click camera does well for every day use. In the winter, it fits in my coat pockets very easily. In the summer, it fits in my cargo or carpenter shorts’ pockets. I have it so often, others expect me to have and are disappointed the few times I fail to have it on my person.

I do have a great backpack for my Canon Rebel XT which also carries my work laptop. For periods, I do use it. Maybe the strap on the other backpack breaking is a sign?