Gravatars in Blue Zinfindel Theme

For a while I have meant to do this. Here I am with insomnia, so here goes… I have implemented Gravatars for the this Blue Zinfindel theme.

Here is coding I used to implement it to this theme’s comments.php (WP Design > Theme Editor > Comments). Normal text is for context. Bold is what I added.

<li class=”<?php echo $oddcomment; ?>” id=”comment-<?php comment_ID() ?>”>
<?php echo get_avatar(get_comment_author_email(), ’32’); ?>
<?php comment_author_link() ?>

The first place I saw to provide a function rather than a variable is the weblog tools collection post on gravatars. The above is their recommendation with size 32 image. I picked this size because it is the size of the icon inside the WP admin (tested 64, 48, and 30 with 30 seeming about right).

Once I decided to do it, it took me about an hour to find an example using get_comment_author_email() instead of $comments or $id_or_email. It’s easy to implement.

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.

Gravatars

Probably I missed or didn’t understand the announcement.

For the past month or so, I’ve noticed all these comments with the poster’s picture next to it on various blogs. I knew them to be WordPress blogs. I noticed my own WP had some default icon in the admin user interface. Today I finally put it all together.

A recent WordPress version incorporated Globally Recognized Avatars into the main code. (They are also known as GRAvatars) Using a hash on the email address, it locates a WordPress commenter’s 96×96 picture for including in the comment. Naturally, you need to register your email account with the gravatar service.

So, now many of you get to see my ugly mug!

Zemanta Pixie

User Interface v. SQL Reports and Tracking

Blackboard Vista tracks student activity. This tracking data is viewed as a critical feature of Vista. Our instructors depended on the information until we revoked their ability to run reports themselves due to performance issues. Campus administrators can still generate reports (though some still fail). We doubt the solution to this is Blackboard improving the queries to create the reports. We favor deleting tracking data (data preserved outside of Vista) to resolve the performance issues.

We developed SQL reports to look at the tracking data where the user in question was not a student. Yes, the data is limited, but in determining when and where a user was active, can help determine where to look in logs. When we hit the performance issues we started using these reports where the user interface reports failed to generate.

My understanding was the user interface and SQL reports on tracking were the same. Both looked at the same data. The user interface reports were just sexier wrapped in HTML and using icons. I compared a user interface report to a SQL report. Just prior to doing this, I was thinking, WebCT was stupid for not tracking when students look at the list of assessments. Turns out “Assessment list viewed” was tracked in the user interface all along but was missing in our sqlplus queries. WTF?

The data has to be there. The problem has to be our approach in sqlplus is inadvertently excluding the information from the reports. Because these reports must be accurate, I’ll crack this nut… Or become nuts myself.

CRACKED THE NUT: So, part of the data WebCT collected was the name of pages. There is a page name table which was inner joined to the user action table. So pages without a name were not reported. George suggested an outer join. I placed it on the page name table which now lets us see the formerly missing tracked actions. For the specific case where I found this, I now get all the missing actions.

Considering a Blackboard (it’s their problem now) feature request to ensure every page in the application has a title. I consider it developer laziness (someone else said worthlessness) that some pages might not have something so core and simple.

ANOTHER TRICK: Oracle’s NVL function displays a piece of text instead of a null value. Awesome for the above.

links for 2007-11-11

RE 2007: Administering Sakai

.

  • Timeline:
    • Oct 2006: Faculty committee selected Sakai over Blackboard Vista
    • Jan 2007: Developed a roll-out plan.
    • Jun 2007: Pilot
    • Aug 2007: Production
    • Still: Some classes still running on CE4.1, being phased out of use.
  • Needs – no more than 5% of code custom written by GA Tech or professional services.
    • Integration with Banner.
    • Grade book
    • Assignments – no resubmit. Professor had built a section aggregation tool which combined with assignments started killing the servers. Ate all the database connections. Dead in the water Monday afternoon to noon on Tuesday until a code change was implemented.
    • Assessments
    • Course lists would not show unpublished sections. Students were concerned registration failed to take place. Wrote a “More” link to show students the course exists but not yet available.
  • t-square
    • GA Tech – 30,000 users and 10,000 sections. 16,000 users login.
  • Sakai out of the box not very good.
    • Java Server on Tomcat.
    • User administration sux. No way to see what classs a student is taking without an outside application. Created an administrative console, available to machine room admins. Monitors services, processes. Admin console Perl connecting to APIs.
    • Admin role can access every course. Built in admin console to link directly to courses to go help troubleshoot.
  • Unicon – professional services
    • Built t-square implementation.
    • Created some tools.
  • Staffing
    • Systems – OS and hardware – 1 person
    • Application support – 1 person
    • Code developers, Quality Assurance – 3 people
    • Database Administrator – 0.5 people (spends part of time on other projects)
    • Instructional technologists – 2 people
  • Why Sakai? Faculty hate WebCT. Possibilities of integration (aren’t there possibilities for this with Blackboard?).
  • Costs – refused to say. Rumor is 2x our costs for making available for 200,000 students for Blackboard.

Kinda weird. Suggested it was nigh impossible to create accounts except through Banner in WebCT CE. Except the same APIs which create Banner accounts can create guest accounts?

Software Sucking So Seeking Something

So many to cover let me number them.

  1. Trillian has been my IM client of choice since their beta. I’ve used Gaim and any number of programs who do multiple IMs from one client but found them lacking. Trillian was even the first software for which I was willing to pay my own money. (Otherwise its been work who has paid the price. 😀 ).Lately, we have been coordinating through AIM chat rooms. Trillian was working fine for a while but in the past couple weeks has demonstrated issues with these chat rooms. It doesn’t send or receive invites for the rooms. I have an account with Meebo, so when Trillian didn’t work and Meebo did, I knew it was me. So, Pidgin (formerly Gaim) is installed to see if it works and rule out a firewall or something similar. Too much work…
  2. Much of my work involves using Unix-style shells to connect to a machine and type things at the command line. This is the way things are done. When I first started this kind of work, I was using a Sun Ultra 5. It worked really well. Trying to work similarly on Windows 95 in TerraTerm was not the same at all. Ugh. Things in Windows have gotten better… Sorta. Its still not the same.I finally have gotten so fed up with the ssh software from ssh.com I’ve started looking at alternatives.

Or… Maybe the stress of work is getting to me? I’m taking it out on my software? Wow… what psychobabble!

UPDATE (3007-AUG-13: Naturally, PuTTY is at the top of my ssh.com replacement list. I’ve used it before. However, over the weekend I used PenguiNet. It did pretty well. I’ll probably be playing with a bunch of different software over the few months.

Also, a reader pointed out that if I really want to get back to the feel of the Ultra 5, I ought to go Linux. Its an excellent point. I’ve been thinking since 1996 it would be good to go play with it, but I never seem to actually do. One day… One day…

All Your Cache Are Belong to Us

Interesting incident with Blackboard Vista last night.

The user interface for the server “lost” the default icon sets for the organizer pages. Other icons were not affected so changing to another icon set did not help. A legendary Blackboard support guy happened to take our call. I understand why so many other Bb clients like for him to work on their issues. We may need to ask for him personally to look at any other high stakes, immediate resolution issues that pop-up. Problem is he is in Australia, so we’d need to stay up late to discuss.

The browser’s copy of the HTML literally had src=”” instead of the src=”/webct/images/large_chat.gif” (or other image name). We ruled out many things, so we considered the idea of a cached setting. Restarting a node cleared up the issue for that node. The cache did expire before a coworker restarted all the other nodes (25, ugh). So everything came back as it should.

Very interesting.