Session Oddities

One of the clients we host complained about losing their session. Blackboard recommended we switch how our load balancer is handling the session persistence. Before agreeing to do that, we decided to use Blackboard’s script to determine if there is a problem before trying to fix something which may or may not exist.

An acceptable number of sessions showing on multiple nodes of a cluster is less than 5%. When I ran the test, I found 35.8% matched this criteria. But wait just a second, this seemed like an extraordinarily high number. I ran a second test for an identically configured cluster on the same hardware to find only 4.3%. Why are these so different?

Most cases of this “duplicated session” I spot checked were 1 hit for autosignon on another node. Blackboard confirmed these happen before the user has logged in, so they could appear on the other node. So I ran the test again ignoring these autosignon requests and found we were down to 7.2%. Close to acceptable but not quite.

 Similar to autosignon, the editonpro.js appeared in the majority of the cases I spot checked as the sole hit another node. Once, I removed those from the test, I was down to 0.7%. My control cluster was down to 1.4%. 

One would hope the the script used to determine the amount of duplicate sessions would ignore or remove from the data set the known false positive log entries. 

One would also hope the script instructions (requires login to Blackboard help site) would help users account for these false positives. I did leave a comment on the instructions to hopefully help the next person who has to do this.

Cross-Seeding the Clouds

There is a good post on backing up a PLE or really anything created in the cloud. The danger of working in the cloud is the site disappearing like Ma.gnolia recently. When the data is important, such as for teaching a class, this is huge.

So the advice to have additional copies elsewhere is good. Is it the only way? I like the concept of cross-posting better than backup and restore to alternative sites. Instead of regular exports and imports, as the data is generated in multiple places at the same time. Think of it as an near instantaneous export and import to minimize the loss.

Perhaps more opportunities for cross-posting would make the Interweb a safer place for our data.

Resolutions For 2009

  1. Read 10,000 pages of science, economics, health, history, or policy books. For 2008, it was read 25 books. This year, I thought to change it page-based as the previous one shied me away from larger books. Two 350 page books vs one 700 page book shouldn’t be a concern. See Reading for last and this years’ progress.
  2. Be more social. A lot of will power is required to force myself to attend social events. Over the years it has only gotten worse. Before it reaches the point of requiring professional help, I probably ought to change my habits.

Useful resolutions to me are things I realistically can and will accomplish applying moderate effort. Making too hard of a challenge will result in giving up too quickly. Making too easy of a challenge will result in doing something I would do anyway. Last year was the first time in a really long time I even bothered other than using 43things to make some goals I rarely have met more by accident than any real intent.

Some resolutions I would pick I already do to the extent I realistically would….

  • Take the stairs and walk more. I already do these as far down the exercise more resolution as I realistically will go.
  • Eat better. I already mostly avoid red meat and eat lots of green vegetables.
  • Spend more time with family.

There are resolutions I would never actually keep without support from family and friends I don’t really have to keep me honest and stick to the narrow path….

  • Less fat, less sugar, no soda, no sweet tea.
  • Exercise more.
  • Finances.
  • Organization.
  • Less time spent in front of the TV or computer.
  • More blogging.
  • I already do not smoke or drink alcohol.
  • Get a Master’s Degree.

Hmmmmmm… Resolutions are bad for your health?

I haven’t checked my blog in a long while.


Followup on resolution #1. Apparently I did not followup on the 2nd?

Christmas Blog Post 2008

Last night I read Uncle Bill’s Christmas letter. He mailed it, but he apparently doesn’t have my postal address so I got the electronic version. Woohoo! His letter recaps the year for his family. Do any of you have such a tradition? Or a family member who does? Oddly my blog doesn’t provide much basis as it is devoid of personal information.

So here goes….

Family

Mom went off to Houston in January to consult with one of the best doctors in the country about a health issue. How things fell into place to allow her to get better amazed me daily. I got to grandparent sit for a week where I made Nannie tell stories so I could post them on Youtube. 😀

William married Nicole, his high school sweetheart. I finally have a sister. It rained on us briefly, so if you are into superstitions, that means either: 1) kids, 2) money, or 3) good luck.

I met Dad’s girlfriend, Sally, this year. She is definitely very nice. I’m happy with the match.

Friends

My only New Year’s Resolution for 2008 was to read 25 books this year. I completed that goal back in October. I’m thinking for 2008 to do a similar resolution. This time I’ll count up the number of pages and set a goal to read 20% more pages.

Some fellow Flickr users started an Athens Flickr Meetup. I’m hoping this is something to continue in 2009 as the weather improves. (Though who knew Georgia would be 20 degrees Farenheit above normal in December?)

RingsAdrianne and Britt asked me to be the photographer for their wedding. I spent hours looking at professional photographer portfolios for ideas about what I should capture. You see, while I do have a camera, I had never really taken photos at a wedding. Heck, few people invite me to weddings, so I was a little unclear what happens. In the end, I think it all turned out pretty well. Adrianne is happy. So I am happy. Working in computers became a profession because it was a hobby. Maybe photography will end up the same in the end? Posted 840 photos to Flickr this year. Started freelovephotography.com to show off my photography.

Las Vegas in July? Dumb. Star Trek: The Experience made my geeky heart soar.
NCC-1701-DNCC-1701-D @ ST: TXP

Having the Life

I really don’t like this question.

If you could inhabit the body of any famous person for one week, who would you choose and why?

The intent probably is more to have someone else’s life. However, the way the question is stated, I really would not get to have that person’s life… Just be in that body. I am me. They are they. Their life is based on their responses to their environment. My responses to their environment will be different.  Let’s say I pick a Nobel Laureate. Now I have these completely foreign responsibilities I know nothing about handling. Unless I pick someone with a similar life to mine (no fun), inhabiting anyone else’s body would be a nightmare not a dream.

Yeah, I am overthinking the question.

Probably this is because I cannot think of another life I would really like to live other than my own for a week. I like it. It is mine.

Blind Not Insane

The National Federation of the Blind is upset about a movie portraying people who are blind as behaving badly.

Pyyhkala, 36, of Boston, said he has read the book and seen parts of the film. He said his grievances stem from the film’s potential to sway public attitude about blindness. He said the movie exacerbates stereotypes and gives false information to uninformed viewers. [Link] (Since starting this post now requires a login?)

I haven’t seen the film or read the book, but the trailer for the films shows the people being put into quarrantine for a medical epidemic where people go blind. Stories generally portray people as acting incompetent and fearful when they are trapped in an unfamiliar situation. The whole point is to create an environment whereby a person, the hero or heroine, who is the bright light of reason and to whom everyone else appeals can rise to the challenge.

Blindness happens to use people who are blind, most likely because a the author was trying to be creative and use something readers would find new. Jose Saramago: “Stupidity doesn’t choose between the blind and the non-blind.” [Link]

Chris Danielsen, a national federation spokesman, said while he understands that the film plays on the public’s fear of sudden blindness, the idea that loss of sight is equal to incompetence and immorality is “outrageous” and “vicious.” Everyday tasks like getting dressed and using the bathroom do not become impossible if a person loses their sight, Danielsen said.

Works of fiction do not depict reality. Otherwise… they would not be fiction. Stop giving movies more meaning than they actually have. Otherwise, you give them power they didn’t already have.

The Catholic Church’s opposition to the Golden Compass made me read the book and go see the movie (latter was awful). I wouldn’t have cared otherwise. Denouncing it made me wonder what they had to fear from something so silly as a book and movie. After seeing the trailer, I wasn’t interested in Blindness. After reading about the opposition, I am interested. I don’t have much luck with movies from books lately, so I may go book first.

How Do Technology Illiterates Read Blogs?

A few weeks ago, NPR aired a piece where McCain and Obama advisors about technology expressed the policy intentions of each candidate. Also, Obama was described as being a Crackberry addict. McCain was described as personally being technology illiterate, but he looked forward to someone showing him some web sites.

So now, Google purports to allow you to “track the news sites and blogs Barack Obama and John McCain read”. If McCain doesn’t use the Internet (including the World Wide Web), then how is he reading these news sites and blogs? Someone prints them out for him?

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 “siapi.sh luminis import restrict” works fine.

Command-line

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 sourcedid.id 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.
🙁

XML

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.

Mistakes

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/startup.properties references both files in CUSTOM_CLASSPATH and setEnv.sh 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 startup.properties expects them in $WEBCTDOMAIN/serverlibs/luminis/ and would not find them where the document says to put them.

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.