WP Annoyance: False Plugin Compatibility

Before upgrading from WordPress 3.6.1 to 3.7, the Updates page said two plugins also in need of updates were both 100% compatible with 3.6.1 and unknown with 3.7. A conservative administrator might wait for WordPress to list 100% compatibility with 3.7 before upgrading to it. I upgraded anyway because really I use both fairly minimally.

After the upgrade I went to upgrade these plugins and both were listed at 100% compatible with 3.7. Seems unlikely both were fixed in under 2 minutes. So, it seems like even though the data was there for 3.7, for some reason it was obfuscated from 3.6.1? Annoying.

Flickr Uploadr Ordering Broke?

Dwarf Cornflower When sending more than five pictures to Flickr, many photographers want the last one or five sent to be their best one. The Contacts page can be set to show the last one or last five photos for each contact. Meaning, the last one should be the best one.

I thought I was crazy at first.

An explicit feature added in Flickr Uploader 3.0 was the ability to upload the pictures in any order. This helps ensure which photo is in that last spot. Despite putting my cornflower picture last, the photos were uploaded in reverse chronological order anyway. Did some testing. Sure enough, Flickr Uploadr 3.1.4, the most recent version was doing it wrong. So I uninstalled 3.1.4 and installed 3.0.5 and did some more testing. That version ordeded the upload correctly. Finally, I upgraded to 3.1.4 and testing showed 3.1.4 worked again.

Probably it was just my install was botched at some point…

Glad I don’t have to be crazy any longer.

Course Management Systems are Dead!

Heh. Blackboard Vista is headed for a brick wall? Who knew?

7. Course Management Systems are Dead! Long Live Course Management Systems! Proprietary course management systems are heading for a brick wall. The combination of economic pressures combined with saturated markets and the maturing stage of the life cycle of these once innovative platforms means that 2009 may well be the year of change or a year of serious planning for change. Relatively inexpensive and feature-comparable open source alternatives combined with some now learned experience in the process of transition from closed to open systems for the inventory of repeating courses makes real change in this once bedrock of education technology a growing possibility. As product managers and management view these trend lines, I think we might see incumbent players make a valiant effort to re-invent themselves before the market drops out from underneath them. Look for the number of major campuses moving (or making serious threats to move) from closed systems to open ones to climb in the year ahead. The Year Ahead in Higher Ed Technology

It is true the big player in proprietary CMS / LMS / VLE software has lagged in innovation for quite a while. Remember though Blackboard bought WebCT and kept around the other product while hemorrhaging former WebCT employees. That alone kept them extremely busy not to lose every customer they bought. The next version, Blackboard 9 should be available soon. That is the litmus test for their future success.

Bb9 is a newer version of Academic Suite, aka Classic. There is no direct upgrade path from CE / Vista to Bb9. There is a Co-Production upgrade path where one can run both versions side-by-side with a portal interface to access either version without having to login again. Content still has to be extracted from the old and placed in the new. (Since we are running Vista 3 and Vista 8 side-by-side now, this doedsn’t give me warm fuzzies.) This was the upgrade path some WebCT and Blackboard clients took getting from Vista 3 to 4 only to find Vista 4 was junkware. Similarly, those leaving CE4 for CE6 were frustrated by the move. So, I would predict:

  1. Those on Classic 8 now will go to Blackboard 9 ASAP.
  2. Smaller colleges on CE 8 who through turnover no longer have the people burned by the CE4->CE6 migration will probably move to Blackboard 9 this summer prior to Fall.
  3. Smaller colleges on CE 8 who still remember will migrate after AP1 (maybe a year after Bb9 release).
  4. Larger colleges on CE or Vista 8 will move some time between AP1 and AP2.
  5. Consortia groups like GeorgiaVIEW, Utah State System, or Connecticut State University System will wait and see.

That last group doesn’t take change easily. They have the nimbleness of a Supertanker cargo ship.

I am still waiting for the tweets about Moodle and Sakai, the open source alternatives, to change from in general “X sucks, but at least its not Blackboard.” to “X is the best there is.” If “at least its not Blackboard” is the only thing going for the software, then people will stay where they are to see where things go. There needs to be compelling reasons to change.

Unfortunately the cries of the students and the faculty in the minority are not enough. Most people are happy enough. They can accomplish the important things. They get frustrated that IT took the system down, data center power issues, network issues, or a performance issue. None of which go away by picking FOSS.

Firefox 3

The generic globe logo used when Firefox is compiled without the official branding
Image via Wikipedia

Apparently the official launch of Firefox 3 is tomorrow. So we get to look forward to 4+ months of students and faculty members asking why Blackboard Vista doesn’t recognize Fx 3 as supported. Every week’s call with Blackboard will have the conversation:

Us: Is it supported yet?
Bb: Not yet. We are working on it.
Us: When will it be supported?
Bb: We can’t tell you yet, but we will let you know when it is.

I bet Mozilla starts pushing it through auto-updates either tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. So it will be everywhere soon enough. Ugh.

Personally, I look forward to the upgrade as it will hopefully resolve a major issue for me: Firefox 2 regularly consumes in excess of 250 MB of RAM and becomes sluggish.

Zemanta Pixie

Upgrade, Upgrade, Upgrade

Be more secure! Upgrade today.

Want better functionality? Upgrade today.

Save a developer! Upgrade today.

The save a developer thing is the impetus for this post.

The upgrade today mantra annoys me.

  1. Software rarely spends enough time in alpha and beta cycles to to identify all the issues.
  2. People have been so burned by using software in alpha and beta cycles, they are hesitant to try upgrades and help determine the issues.
  3. This lack of attention to the problems ensure, versions 1.0, 2.0, n.0 typically have a ton of unknown problems or are even less secure at times.

Unfortunately, the vendor who makes the application platform we run, Blackboard, has a philosophy to look at new web browsers while they are in beta but not actually work towards fixes for the new browsers until after the products are released. With most releases of Java or supported web browsers (Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox), Blackboard heard the complaints by the early adopters and released within a couple months an update which resolved the reported issues.

The students and faculty members fail to understand the issue. I think I do. Blackboard (like WebCT prior) understands there are differences between beta and final. Some of us argue these differences are usually minor. However, this is all asking someone to predict the future which we know is haphazard at best.

Long alpha and beta cycles allow more users to get involved, give those back to the developers, have them fixed before the version release. Burning users with buggy software ensures their lack of faith.

Firefox Weirdness

Our Systems folks upgraded the code running Stats web site they let us use. This morning, was the first time I looked at it since the upgrade.

Naturally, it was not working for me. Figuring it was my Mozilla Firefox’s fault, I tried the same web page in Flock. (Firefox with some other apps but none of Add-Ons, formerly the Extensions really plug-ins, I use in Firefox.) Flock showed it fine, so I “knew” one of three Add-Ons Extensions had to be the culprit: Greasemonkey, NoScript, or FasterFox. I disabled all three and found the site worked as it should. So I enabled each in turn. The site still works.

Enabling one of the three should have rebroken the web site. That this failed to happen could mean:

  1. Add-Ons Extensions did not break it. Something out of my control did.
  2. Add-Ons Extensions did not break it. Something I don’t remember changing did.
  3. Disabling and enabling Add-Ons Extensions changes their configuration and their impact on pages.

Annoying.

RE 2007: GeorgiaVIEW Meeting (Pre-Conference)

I am blogging from the pre-conference GeorgiaVIEW meeting @ Rock Eagle yesterday afternoon and this morning. I enjoy connecting with people around the state of Georgia who use our Vista system. Most of them do not make it to BbWorld. Some hot topics:

  • Alternatives to Blackboard Vista
  • Training
    • Content repository
  • Returning Reports and Tracking to instructors.
    • Some reports still failing. One approach may be to remove tracking data from Vista database and make it available elsewhere.
  • Upgrade to Vista 4. People want a timeline, access to a training instance ASAP, please not do an in-place upgrade.
    • Limited shelf life on internals of Vista 3 / 4.0 – 4.1.2
    • More of customers have moved or are moving to Vista 4 / CE 6 than a year ago.
    • Can take advantage of new tools available in Vista 4.
    • Data retention – policy, reponsibilities (faculty, campus, OIIT)
    • Phased approach – parallel environments, at some point Vista 3 goes away and no longer available.
    • End of Fall 2008 or Spring 2009.
  • People are both quite happy we are going to Vista 4 and disconcerted at the prospect of having to move to Vista 4 in even over a year from now (at the worst by April 2009).
    • Export / import of non-SIS created users.
    • Training

Lovely (yeah a real person and she is) says Lovely Freelove would be one of the best names ever.

BbWorld Presentation Redux Part II – Monitoring

Much of what I might write in these posts about Vista is knowledge accumulated from the efforts of my coworkers.

This is part two in a series of blog posts on our presentation at BbWorld ’07, on the behalf of the Georgia VIEW project, Maintaining Large Vista Installations (2MB PPT).

Part one covered automation of Blackboard Vista 3 tasks. Next, let’s look at monitoring.

Several scripts we have written are in place to collect data. One of the special scripts connects to Weblogic on each node to capture data from several MBeans. Other scripts watch for problems with hardware, the operating system, database, and even login to Vista. Each server (node or database) has, I think, 30-40 monitors. A portion of items we monitor is in the presentation. Every level of our clusters are watched for issues. The data from these scripts are collected into two applications.

  1. Nagios sends us alerts when values from the monitoring scripts on specific criteria fall outside of our expectations. Green means good; yellow means warning; red means bad. Thankfully none in our group are colorblind. Nagios can also send email and pages for alerts. Finding the sweet spot where we get alerted for a problem but avoid false positives perhaps is the most difficult.
  2. An AJAX application two excellent members of our Systems group created called internallyl Stats creates graphs of the same monitored data. Nagios tells us a node failed a test. Stats tells us when the problem started, how long it lasted, and if others also displayed similar issues.We also can use stats to watch trends. For example, we know two peaks by watching WIO usage rise to a noonish peak slough by ~20% and peak again in the evening fairly consistently over weeks and months.

We also use AWStats to provide web server log summary data. Web server logs show activity of the users: where they go, how much, etc.

In summary, Nagios gives us a heads up there is a problem. Stats allows us to trend performance of nodes and databases. AWStats allows us to trend overall user activity.

Coradiant TrueSight was featured in the vendor area at BbWorld. This product looks promising for determining where users encounter issues. Blackboard is working with them, but I suspect its likely for Vista 4 and CE 6.

We have fantastic data. Unfortunately, interpreting the data proves more complex. Say the load on a server hosting a starts climbing, its the point we get pages and continues to climb. What does one do? Remove it from the cluster? Restart it? Restarting it will simply shift the work to another node in the cluster. Say the same happens with the database. Restarting the database will kick all the users out of Vista. Unfortunately, Blackboard does not provide a playbook on what to do with every support possibility. Also, if you ask three DBAs, then you will likely get three answers.
😀

Its important to balance the underreaction and overreaction. When things go wrong, people want us to fix the problem. Vista is capable of handling many faults and not handling very similar faults. The link example was a failed firewall upgrade. I took a similar tact with another firewall problem earlier this week. I ultimately had to restart the cluster that evening because it didn’t recover.

Part three will discuss the node types.