Saturday, September 27. 2008
At long last we've been moved.
Not that some posts and many comments haven't moved us in the spiritual sense, but we've finally moved into our new physical-virtual-cyber domicile.
After more than 2 and 1/2 years on a solid, but development, server at NJIT we've moved into our new spot on a 64 bit, smokin' fast, 8 CPU piece of hardware running a rock-solid operating system, FreeBSD 7.1.
Just so we don't break any archives or links to older documents, the devel2.njit.edu server will be alive and kicking for awhile, yet. We'll leave that in place until we get a DNS namechange and this new server sports the name devel2.njit.edu, too. That all should be mostly invisible; no one should need to move or change any bookmarks or links to Serendipity35.
And, no, we really haven't moved into a Cray server, but from a system administrator's perspective, it sure feels like we have.
Tuesday, July 29. 2008
Okay, so I should never take a vacation...
I'm convinced that IT gremlins, like cockroaches, wait for the lights to be turned out and the workday (or month) to end before they come out and do their mischief. As soon as I settled into my working vacation (lots of different non-NJIT projects, all developed on remote servers), I opened Serendipity35's main page to catch up on Brother Ken's insights.
Bang! There it was: Unable to Connect to Database Server.
I could see the cockroaches scattering --all with pieces of my code in their hungry little jaws.
One of the basic rules of IT management is essential service distribution. In English, keep not all of thy information eggs in one hardware basket, and, because of that basic rule, I had designed the Serendipity35 web presence to run on one machine (devel2.njit.edu/serendipity), but have all of its stored data retrieved from another server --the db server that went down. That design allowed me to put up a Technical Difficulties page while I hunted for a happy solution to the database server's blues.
I'm about 60 miles away from that unhappy database server, but I managed to get some help from my friends at NJIT's UIS division who were able to reboot the server and allow me to regain remote access and Black Flag all of the scattering bugs. Props to NJIT's Kevin Byron for his help with the server. July and August in Collegetown, U.S.A, are not good times to have problems with anything. Everyone seems to be on vacation. While on the Higher Education Fishing Trip (HEFT) last Friday, I talked to Kevin (an avid fisherman), described the problem, and was able to get some quick action on the uncommunicative machine. It's not who you know, sometimes, but where you get a chance to meet them.
Sometime with the next 2 months, I'll be moving all of Serendipity 35 to a new, faster hardware platform. If all goes well, there shouldn't be any gaps in Serendipity 35's online presence, but if there is, I'll have my bug-stomping boots laced up and ready.
Sunday, May 4. 2008
Blogging software generates statistics --loads and loads of statistics-- and stuffs them into webserver, database and system logfiles. Over the past 12 months, Serendipity35 has been stuffing more of those statistics into those files than Ken or I could ever have imagined.
On April 30th, the devel2 server at NJIT on which Serendipity35 lives, recorded its one millionth monthly hit (1,004,955 was April's final tally). One million of anything is, obviously, a big number, but in the Bizarro World of internet statistics, what does that actually mean? What actually is a "hit?" According to Webalizer, one of the statistic engines Serendipity35 uses:
Hits represent the total number of requests made to the server during the given time period (month, day, hour etc..).
That really only means that some person, script, search engine or spam-bot selected some internet conduit or link that requested Serendipity35's main page, once. That's not a very meaningful indication of anything except that in the 26 months that Serendipity has been around --adulthood in the virtual world, little pieces of our content have been scattered throughout popular search engines. Any search for a term contained in our posts generates a single contact back to our main page. Like major league baseball pitcher Jim Kaat's 283 lifetime wins in 25 major league seasons: alone, the number indicates longevity, not dominance.
So, are our million hits in April entirely meaningless? Not really: like contract law and advertising, the devil is in the details that lie beneath. To determine what those devils are, we use the statistical categories Visits and Files:
In April we logged 63, 833 individual visits and 8.3 gigabytes of file transfers. By comparison, in June, 2007, we logged 50,632 visits but only 1.65 gigabytes in file transfers. That means that within the last year while our recorded visits have increased by about 16%, our downloaded pages and files have increased about fivefold. Drilling down a little further into those devilish details (and filtering out the statistics exclusively generated by Wiki35 (AKA media158 wiki), it turns out that Serendipity35 articles (new and old) are being read in real-time over 1000 times a day on average, and that the articles and files are being downloaded at a 500 megabyte clip each day.
So who are all the people who read and download Serendipity35? We don't know your names, but we do have some idea of where you are from. About half of the readers are from higher-ed institutions (you are reading from .edu domains) and about 1-in-10 are not from the United States. More than two-thirds of the readers are repeat customers, and of the one-third that vist for the first time, about half come back in succeeding months.
Serendipity35 doesn't have the readership that some of the large blogs and websites boast, but when I think back to the day in 2006 when my friend and colleague, Ken, told me I had been volunteered to participate in an NJIT conference on podcasting, blogs and wikis (so I had better get busy and build some examples), I'm astonished at the number of people who read our content every month (and that's, really, a testament to Ken's writing talent and sheer productivity).
Unexpected as it was to go any further than our presentation at the conference at NJIT --as it turned out Ken and I actually did the wiki part of the presentation not the blog portion-- the Serendipity35 blog lives on to discuss education (et al) well into the third year of postings. I'm grateful for whatever reasons those one million clickers gave this site a look.
Sunday, April 13. 2008
On April 2nd, the news that John Sobecki was leaving the Employme! program was, to me, an incomplete surprise. Offered a full-time position at Centenary College after having taught as an adjunct there for several years, the decision to take a job that was both closer to home and further from the institutionalized frustration of being the new guy running a new program in an environment where tangible results are often trumped by administrative appearance, was a decision I could understand. As gracious in his departure as he was in his tenure as the program manager, John sent me a note that included the following:
Employme! is about at its midway point. The funding grant from the Kessler Foundation, awarded in December 2006, provided financing designed to support the program through Spring 2009. The granted funds were earmarked to subsidize the operating expenses of the program without providing tuition subsidies to the targeted audience, disabled students. Those tuition subsidies were to be provided by the entities --mostly the DVRs-- in the form of training reimbursement stipends to qualified students. The operating model that the program was to follow included the establishment of overlapping 18 week classes of 15 enrolled students that would begin every 10 weeks allowing students to proceed to two of the three available programs tracks in a continuous rotation of entering students, students proceeding to advanced training, and completed students' graduations.
The first class was filled before the starting date of May 7, 2007; the second class was scheduled to begin on July 16th, 2007. Student application for, and enrollment in, the July session dropped precipitously and unexpectedly and exposed a fundamental flaw in the operating model of the program. Without enrolling the required minimum number of students in a class (13 or so students --that number has never been verified by the program's available audit trail), the total tuition revenue would not support the costs of the contract instructors that taught the program.
Some local DVR facilities were reluctant to send disabled students to a program which promised IT training and career counseling support. Some stated that their client-base was ill-suited to the type of training that Employme offered, some were continuously unaware of the program despite repeated personal telephone contacts. Some of the DVRs appeared so understaffed and overworked with their caseload that they had little ability to place their clients anywhere for training.
Through the misfiring business model and the dysfunctional student supply train, the program continued. There were, by the end of July, enough students to begin the second section of the course, by November the third class had begun. John Sobecki had navigated the tangle of the finger-filled grant pie and, through hard work and creative ideas, kept the classes running and the stream of graduates, while not as robust as orginally planned, flowing. In January the third class graduated and the fourth class had begun. From the nearly 90 applications that the program had received, about 60 students had been accepted into the program and over 50 had either graduated or were currently attending.
Sometime in March, the decision was made to push back the starting date of the fifth class from May, 2008 to an, as yet, unannounced date. John Sobecki took a new job shortly after that announcement. New staff wasn't hired to fill the program manager's position. Existing staff was assigned the duties of progam manager. Even in the commonly under worked world of colleges and universities, the merge of that particular full-time position into an existing full-time position will create a challenging, difficult role to perform.
John Sobecki never strayed far from his primary function. Though it was his charge to run the program as sometimes defined by the terms of the grant and sometimes defined by people who never understood the nuance, he never forgot that the students --the disabled, unemployed and undervalued people who needed a little help to improve their daily lives-- were the real people to whom he remained accountable.
At the end of the note he sent me the day he announced his resignation, he added this quote from the the second book of Maccabees, chapter 15:
If the best that John could do was to serve his students, he served them very well. No matter how his tenure in this program might be judged by others, his best efforts have set a high standard for the second year of the Employme program.
Sunday, April 6. 2008
June 30th, 2008 is a big date for computer manufacturers and end-users everywhere. Microsoft, announcing that the availability of XP on some new hardware will be extended to June 30th, 2010, has decided that no new general use computers will ship with Microsoft XP after Jun 30th, this year. Although the extension of XP Home Edition availability applies to Ultra Low Cost Personal Computers (ULCPCs), the office-class version, Windows XP Professional, will not be pre-installed on any new computers of any utility class after the June 30th, 2008 cut-off date.
Soon after the January 31st 2007 release of Vista, rumblings of dissatisfied users were voiced as, "I'm upgrading my new computer to XP." Unlike earlier versions of the Windows operating system, there was no easy path to upgrade the operating system to Vista. If a consumer wanted to use the new operating system, they had to buy a new PC. In a world of ever-decreasing PC prices. the release of the new OS bundled with brand new computers could have beeen a real boon to major manufacturer's flagging computer sales. And as its turned out, it has been that boon for Apple.
Arriving late in to the open source operating system game, Microsoft has released an open source version of their R & D project, Singularity. Not based on any previous version of Windows, it is a project, written in C#, that is not "built on technologies that are 30 years old,â€ said Principal Researcher Galen Hunt. By contrast, Apple, embracing open source software in its operating systems since 1998, continues to develop new software and new hardware platforms. Even its product, the iPhone, runs on a derivative BSD Unix operating system.PC users who prefer using non-Apple hardware (it is usually less expensive), but who want to use a supported operating system that isn't Windows Vista, have a rich selection of software distributions from which to choose. The current popular distribution of Linux, Ubuntu, includes an easy to use user setup interface and supports popular applications such as OpenOffice, Firefox, MPlayer, Adobe Reader, Flash and many more. For those who prefer a BSD operating system, operating system distributions such as DeskTopBSD and PC-BSD have taken the traditionally server-oriented operating system and have produced workstation varieties that support the same ease-of-installation and application software packages that Ubuntu (and many other Linux distributions) also support.
Whether Microsoft, again, changes its mind about the End-of-Life date for Windows XP remains to be seen. The state of the economy and computer sales may yet dictate another course correction for Microsoft, but in any case, the failure of Vista to meet its forecast expectations, the late entry into the open software markets by Microsoft, and the continued development of open source software alternatives to operating systems and application software by commercial interests and user groups all bode well for the computer user looking for an alternative to a computer or an operating system that may no longer suit their individual needs.
Tuesday, April 1. 2008
The National Education Association, at their recently concluded conference in Washington D.C., has announced the adoption of EduSpeak as the formal and accepted standard of communication between education professionals. Originally designed to illuminate educators' written craft, the announcement, by Emerson College's Linguistics Professor Norman Crosby, included the extension of the EduSpeak standard to: "verbal enrichment skills, comprehensive audio-lingual communication and a prioritized sense of diction and elocution. In order to clarify among pedagogical professionals the precise meanings of language initiatives."
The three day symposium actively pursued the integration of the new communications standard into:
During the 2 hour lunch break the first day at the conference, one adjunct professer at a New Jersey technical school, raised a concern:
By the end of that day, his concern had become:
Professor Crosby recognized the achievement by toasting the adjunct's remarkable pedantic success: "Bull's Ear, Cat Food!" he intoned.
Not only did the transformed paragraph actually win a grant award, but it stimulated spirited complaining among the professional staff and rendered administrators mostly silent as they had no ability to both verbalize and appropriate other people's money, simultaneously --the Hat Trick of EduSpeak.
Scheduled to reconvene in late 2009 at Phoenix, Arizona retreat, the conference concluded with the announcement of the topic for next year's congregation: "Humanities and Mathmatics: Subjective Testing, Enrichment and Remediation."
Saturday, March 29. 2008
A few days before his graduation in early March, one of the top students in the Web Technologies track of the EmployMe! program at NJIT showed me his final project page. He came into my office and typed the URL into a browser on my workstation and watched while a completely blank page loaded. Puzzled by the non-page, he told me it worked fine on his machine in the computer lab. We sat down at his computer in the lab; he opened a browser and typed in his URL, and there it was, a slick, completely Flash-animated introduction to his personal web site with embedded links to the static pages he had skillfully created. Now pleased that his web page worked exactly as he had planned, he was still puzzled about why it didn't display at all in my office.
I told him, " I don't use Flash."
His eyes narrowed a bit and I could see his impression of me was quickly morphing from Techno-Wizard to Web-Neanderthal, so I asked him to move to another PC that had JAWS installed, then to a Mac that had VoiceOver running. Both computers were configured to allow visually impaired students to fully use the computer --including the use of a web browser. His Flash page crashed the PC and, though the Mac didn't capsize, it still just repeated the title of his page over and over and never spoke a word of content. Even on a Mac, his page was too cool for spoken words.
All of the student web pages are routinely checked for W3C compliance. The students are learning to be web-designers and it is fundamental that they learn to design standards-compliant pages. But websites now need to be far more than just W3C standards-compliant, they need to be accessibility-compliant, too. And those standards come in two varieties: 508 compliance and WCAG.
You may hear me groan all the way from Newark, NJ to wherever-you-may-be, but you can check the 508 compliance, or the WCAG compliance of Serendipity35, and to share the pain a bit, you can check the accessibility compliance of any URL, here.
There are resources available for developers and designers to learn how to design accessible content, but the adoption of the techniques has been very slow in coming. For obvious reasons, it can be expensive to rewrite old websites that were designed without complying to any standard. Some sites would have to be two completely different sites --one with just text, one with all the bells and whistles-- both to stay compliant and keep the website owner happy. New sites, however, are still slow in building compliance into their structures. It is just too tempting to use all the new tools, programs, and protocols to build that killer cool site and the voices of those who need adaptive technologies to participate in all this techno-beauty may remain just as unheard as that Employme! student's web page was on the Mac.
Wednesday, March 26. 2008
When someone you know, or some article you are reading, mentions Ajax, do you think they are referring to a doomed Greek from the Iliad? Does the phrase "Stronger than Dirt!" immediately cross your mind? If the context is Web 2.0 programming and not the madness of Achilleus or the stains on your white camisole, you might have some use for Google's Code University.
Drawing from the expanding library of open source licensed lesson materials and full course curricula, Google Code has packaged reference material and tutorials in IT subject areas. While currently limited to a handful of topics, the courseware is available free-of-charge for online study. The current selections range from programming languages, web security, MySQL database structures to distributed system management. Some of the content is built upon Google's internal infrastructure and some, like the entry on Introduction to Problem Solving on Large Scale Clusters contributed by the University of Washington, are full college courses. Google Code University also supports a "Group" area where educators can discuss issues relating to the online learning format and even upload content as a shared resource in the forum.In addition to the ready-made courses, there is a CS Curriculum Search that provides keyword searches to educational resources that are available on the web but outside of Google's Code Universities environment. Google, though, isn't the only player in the open source curriculum field and that field is not limited to computer science topics.
First described in a post last August, NJIT has partnered with industries, community colleges and high schools to produce jobskill-specific courses and training materials that support potential employees in targeted markets. Initially supporting employment opportunities in the financial-sector, the program has expanded to include the pharmaceutical job-market and IT industries. Working with the national Wired project in the NorthEast Region, the course materials have been made available for free download on Curriki and direct links will be published on employment information sites such as New Jersey's State Employment Training Commission employment information website, New Jersey Next Stop.
Distance Learning has come so far from its roots in mail-order education that it seems impossible to have gotten where it is from where it had begun. The Solid State Electronics correspondence course I took in the summer of 1975 from DeVry Technical is a relic of a past millennium. That summer when semi-conductor hole-flow and field-effect transistors carried my every day, and mighty Ajax was still stronger than dirt.
Tuesday, March 25. 2008
When Chris Steffner, principal of Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, New Jersey, was asked at a March 19th meeting at Manasquan High School if the intiative she supports to implement random drug testing in schools across America included the random drug testing of everyone in the school building, she fell back to the Major League Baseball defense of its actions, or inactions, concerning drug use and testing prior to 2005.
Ms. Steffner skillfully makes a case for random student drug testing in public schools, but just as ineptly ignores the social context of failed drug policies. In the presentation at Manasquan High School, Ms. Steffner referred to her 30 plus years of experience in education. She stated that through that entire time there have been drug problems in public and private education in the United States. She went on to say that once one travels down the path of drug abuse there is little chance of self-initiated recovery.
I don't know of any sources that dispute the presence of a drug problem in schools in the US over the past 30 years (and longer), but the notion that anyone touched by the drug-culture and thereby inoculated against self-control in using those drugs is far less established.Drug treatment facilities based in New York State and in Connecticut claim that the path from drugs is difficult, if not impossible, to follow by oneself.
If, however, we assume that the arguments about inevitable long term drug abuse for anyone using drugs at any time in their life are true, then the problem of drug use by students in our schools become the systemic problem of drug abuse for anyone in society. There is no exemption for status or position. Any member of a board of education, administration, cafeteria, teaching or custodial staff may have the same types of problems as the students.
The obvious difference between the professional staff of a school and the student body in a K -12 school environment is the age of the two groups. Professional staff are presumed to be adults who are able to make adult choices in life; the students are, often, teenagers who can make puzzling and/or poor choices about almost anything of which a parent can think. If the drug problem is indeed entrenched and systemic, every member of the educational institution must participate in any site-wide initiative. Choosing to randomly test students, alone, leaves a leadership vacuum that excludes the professional staff and may lead to resentment of the entire program. The students may believe that while their alleged drug use is under daily scrutiny, any drug use by school staff is not considered at all. One way to overcome objections by professional staff organizations to organized testing is to make the testing completely voluntary. Participants in the program could be publicly thanked for their commitment and leadership efforts and the results of their random tests would remain as private as any student's test regardless of the result. But even that vision of universal testing falls short of the goal of random drug testing.
While it is true that the student random drug testing programs are very careful about avoiding extensive punitive measures for students who test positive, there are consequences in their family relationships. There are few statistical comparisons between the subjective nature of a strong family relationship and the objective nature of testing and empirical evidence.
According to a White House drug policy study, social leadership, and strong family relationships --not drug testing-- have changed the drug abuse landscape:
"Compared to a generation ago, most of today's teens are thriving. Drug, alcohol, tobacco, and teen pregnancy rates are all down. But recent surveys show that among the Nation's 12-17-year-olds, each day 3,430 try marijuana for the first time; 7,500 try alcohol;3,900 try cigarettes; and one in five teenage girls has at least one birth by age 20. In a typical high school class in America today, the number of students engaging
Even regional groups have objections to the nature and efficacy of proposed student random drug testing. At a January, 2008 meeting of the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey and the Northern Valley Regional School District, these objections were recorded:
Ms Steffner's presentation at Manasquan High School further indicated that alcohol was not one of the substances that the random drug tests were designed to detect. These tests make no attempt to record or predict the use and abuse of alcohol in the school and in the workplace and, indeed, such data gathering and manipulation is beyond the scope of the tests. A recent (March 10, 2008) report by ScienceDaily describes parental supervision as the leading factor in preventing High School age drinking from becoming a problem in college. Regarding the effects of random testing, the Journal of the Society for Adolescent Medicine published in November, 2007 the SATURN (Student Athlete Testing Using Random Notification) study which inconclusively concluded:
"The researchers conclude that because some predictors of drug and alcohol use increased and past one-month use did not change with random testing, more research should be done to examine the policy of drug and alcohol testing." -- Medical News Today
An international survey of 420 teenagers found that while 15 percent used drugs, 60 percent used or had used alcohol and 20 percent had a problem with alcohol.
Testing teenagers for drugs --randomly or on a schedule: voluntarily or compulsory-- can't solve the problem of drug and/or alcohol use in schools. While in some instances it may give us firmer statistical numbers on how large the problem may be, few people believe the problem is small. The studies that have been done that show promise of avoiding potentially destructive behaviors all seem to focus on powerful leadership from role models and in the family unit. And is that such a big surprise? Should we be shocked that teenagers left guided by their own adolescent radar get into trouble with drugs or alcohol?
Of course not.
Neither should we ever be so short-sighted and shallow to believe that testing a student to discourage a behavior will have any long term change in that behavior. We will only create a more forbidden fruit to pluck.
Original content in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons License