FBI Investigates Legal Activity Also

One of the reasons my photos sets are more full of flowers than buildings is people don’t call the FBI over pictures of flowers. While it is perfectly legal to take pictures of buildings from public spaces, it makes “victims” nervous. No one cares about flowers. I can take all the pictures I want without uncomfortable encounters.

Of course, unless my airline ticket is purchased by a government, I consistently get extra screening. It is a fact of life of neither looking African American, Native American, Caucasian, Asian, or Hispanic. Because look like an other, people put me in the extra screening list just in case.

A local student had to sit down with an FBI agent to “prove” he did not look Middle Eastern after photographing chicken rendering plants. Security of the plants called the local police who called the FBI. What would have happened to Jim if he had looked Middle Eastern? Would he have been arrested for doing something perfectly legal?

This is choice from the article:

Filson told Diffly that this is America and he should do what he wants, but when someone looks different in a post-Sept. 11, 2001 world, police may be called.

By the way, police officers arrest photographers who take pictures of them in the middle of an arrest.


EDIT: I almost forgot. A Georgia Tech student from Pakistan was detained for taking video of a building. This student also visited Pakistan and made statements which could easily sound threatening.

Assignments Spike CPU

Yesterday a Blackboard Vista node went unresponsive but recovered. Then a second and third did the same. This was odd as only the test which logs into the node reported a failure. Normally, in severe unresponsive cases the Weblogic monitor either reports either one of the parameters we watch is very high or fails because it was unable to connect to the Weblogic.

The graphs for CPU showed 4 periods of sustained activity near 100% for longer than 10 minutes. In each case, when the CPU dropped there were multiple instances of editAssignmentSubmission.dowebct (not in the PowerSight tracked actions?) just completed. Normally when these are browser resubmissions the logged times are near identical but the time-to-process is about 300 seconds apart. In these cases the logged times and time-to-process are within seconds of each other.

I suspect this means the users (in this case students) are hitting the Submit button repeatedly. Maybe resources devoted to handling process0 are diverted to handling processes 1-5 and causing it to take longer not shorter.

Another possibility is the instructor is having the students upload something massive which takes forever to load into the database. Movies and music take up a ton of space. Maybe I could look at the graphs on storage space and see how quickly the space was consumed compared to control time frames (similar amount of activity).

Using An LMS As a Network Drive

Ran across a video describing how to get the WebDAV info in CE6 (aka Blackboard Vista 4 Lite) for the purpose of using CE6 as a network drive.

The narrator says this is a good idea because if the site has good policies, then backups are being made. In the event of a site disaster, you can recover your files from it.

This is a HORRIBLE idea.

  1. An LMS is unlikely to be sized in such a way to store backups of all user content. The IT administration will end up buying more expensive storage for CE6 than for other desktop backup solutions.
  2. By placing content unrelated to classes, you will contribute to making the CE6 site slower.
  3. The IT administration will not be able to recover a single file for you should you make a mistake. They will have to restore the whole database, place a CE6 web server in front of it, and get the one file for you. Its a more expensive investment in time to recover your content.

Use a backup system to do backups. Use a online instruction system to instruct.

Dumbfounded By The Numbers

Chancellor Eroll B. Davis Jr told the Georgia Board of Regents, “We grew essentially by a large university.” The USG gained 10,077 students (my alma mater has ~11,000) in a year. They calculate these fall term to fall term.

In the same fall term to fall term time period, in the same same university system, GeorgiaVIEW gained about 59,000 students (assumes 1/10th of 65,000 active user growth are instructors/designers). Its only 9x the system growth rate. It actually reflects a slowing in the growth rate for GeorgiaVIEW. Partly this is because we are fast approaching the number of potential users. Market penetration becomes more difficult when people are using it.

Fortunately, users will become more intelligent in their use over time. So, even though the number of users may plateau, because each user will use the system more, the amount of use will continue to increase.

Unfortunately, another DBA and I consider the number of users a more or less uninformative statistic. It looks good in news papers as its something the general public probably understands. Other numbers mean more for us:

  1. Hits – The count of items downloaded from the web servers. We often use hits as a measure of user activity. Unfortunately, we are only collecting this at the daily or monthly values.
  2. Who Is Online (Total / Active) – SQL pulls from the WIO table a count of all the rows (Total) and those whose time in the table is recent (Active). Both have issues… For example, users failing to logout and inflate the total. Active has weird spikes which suggests to me these tables are reaped every 1/2 hour or so.
  3. Storage – Amount of information stored by the users. For example, our storage growth is 2.23 times the previous year (slowing down from 2.25). The number of new users has largely slowed, but the amount of storage staying fairly consistent means to me the users are doing more with the system.

Amy’s presentation at BbWorld 2007 on capacity planning is a much more authoritative approach than this blog post.

Coradiant TrueSight

Several of us saw a demo of Coradiant Truesight yesterday (first mentioned in the BbWorld Monitoring post). Most of the demo, I spent trying to figure out the name Jeff Goldblum as one of team giving the demo had the voice and mannerisms of the actor’s characters. Had he mentioned a butterfly, then I definitely would have clapped. The other reminded me of John Hodgman.

Something I had not noticed at the time, but a reoccurring point of having Truesight is to tell our users, “Here is evidence the problem is on your end and not ours.” This assumes the users are rational or will even believe the evidence. They wish the problem never occurred (preference) and a resolution (secondarily). Preventing every problem, especially issues outside our domain, probably is outside the scope of the budget we receive. So, we are left with resolving the issues. Especially scary are the users who take evidence the problem is on their end or their ISP’s end to mean, “This is all your fault.”

Resolutions we can we offer are:

  1. Hardware change – We can replace or alter the configuration of the hardware components of the network, storage, database, or application.
  2. Software change – We can alter the configuration of the software components of the network, storage, database, or application.
  3. Request a code change from a vendor – We can work with our vendors to get a code change. These take forever to implement.
  4. Suggest a user resolve the issue
    1. We can provide a work around (grudgingly accepted, remember the preferred wish is the problem never occurred).
    2. We suggest configuration changes the user can make to resolve the problem.

Truesight provides us information to help us try to resolve issues. Describing the information provided as “facts” was a nice touch. At Valdosta State, I gave up on users reporting the browsers accurately and captured the information from the User-Agent header. Similarly, at the USG, I’ve found users disagree ~30% of the time about the version of the browser according to the User-Agent string. Heck, they have errors in the name of the class ~40% of the time. My favorite is something took 15 minutes, but all I could find was it took four minutes. Ugh. Because Truesight is capturing the header info, it ought to be much easier to confirm what users were doing and where problems occurred more accurately than the users can describe.

After receiving all the “facts”, we still have to determine the cause. Truesight helps us understand the scope of the problem by how many users, how many web servers, and how many pages are affected by slowness to what degree. As a DBA and administrator, my job identifying cause ought to be easier, though quantifying how much easier probably is difficult to say.

Part of why: (Mostly speculation.) Problems identified as a spike in anything other than “Host” are external causes. These are causes in front of the device. Causes behind the device are “Host”. If these were more narrowly broken down, the maybe we could better determine cause. That would require knowledge web browsers typically would not know like the server processing time, query processing time, or even the health of the servers.

tag: Blackboard Inc, Coradiant, , user agent,

Public Performance and Universities

Since restaurants get sued for not paying royalties for public performances of copyrighted music, it seems likely playing a song at an athletic event is a public performance. I wonder how much the UGA Athletics or just UGA pays ASCAP for the ability to do this? Certainly, its not academic use.

Youuuuuuu – Red & Black Sports

In a craze that has swept much of the nation, the “Soulja Boy” dance has caught on in a big way with Georgia football. During home games against Ole Miss and Auburn when the Bulldogs were down, the song has cranked through the speakers and pumped up the players on the sideline, to the delight of the fans.

In an unrelated note: if the RIAA gets its way through a US House bill, then universities will have to pay millions for monthly subscription fees whether or not individual students are or are not downloading music. Plus, they have to prove they are stopping students from downloading illegally. The repercussions of not doing these being the loss of federal financial aid.

tag: , , , ASCAP,

Input Into Decisions

Fear brings out the worst in people. Fear of change or the unknown manifests in criticism, anger, and overreaction. Yes, I am guilty of this like everyone else… I am not somehow above all this.

The idea of democracy, I think, where everyone is able to provide input into the making of a decision was created so everyone feels like he (and more recently she) has had the opportunity to influence the decision. True, a decision could go the wrong way, but at the least opinions were heard. Athens in ancient Greece is the society we remember as the inventor of this form of government. The decisions they made were also chaotic… During the Peloponnesian War, a general would be sent off to complete some objective and a faster ship sent days later to rescind the hasty orders and replace with equally hasty orders. Decisions were highly influenced by charismatic individuals.

Some people need to feel like they provided input into the decisions which affect them. Either they can provide the input in the beginning before the decision is made, or they can force a revisitation of the decision to take into account the same input. Here is an article from San Antonio College in the aftermath of their decision recently to use Blackboard Vista the newer version of WebCT CE 4 which they use now:

More than just knowing what is happening, many faculty members were unhappy that those who use Internet courses regularly had no input in the matter.

“We’ve sort of been hung out to dry on a lot of these issues,” philosophy Professor Richard Oliver said. He expressed the need for regular meetings between those who teach Internet courses regularly because they encounter problems specific to the Web and can address them better then those who do not teach Internet courses regularly.
Switch to Blackboard Vista prompts concern among senate members

They wanted to know who made the decision. My experience is generally such decisions are not made by a single individual. Probably the idea floated about a number of individuals. Probably it was brought to a committee who didn’t feel they had the power to make the decision who passed it on to other committees. Eventually they all agreed, as did the upper administration, but now some in the faculty senate are upset they were not the ones who made the decision. So they will push back and probably make the same decision once the anger subsides.

links for 2007-10-18

links for 2007-07-04