Monthly Archives: June 2005

Back from vacation

Hey, folks, I’m back. It was a good week; we spent the last part of it camping and touring the northcoast, from Tillamook to Astoria. There wasn’t enough time to see everything we wanted to see, but wow, it’s beautiful up there.

So anyway, now I’m digging my way out from under the pile of things that built up while I was gone. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be; by now I actually have time to write a blog entry!

I’m also getting ready to work on a mass creation script for blogs; we hope to automatically create a blog for every incoming freshman by Fall Term.

That’s all for now!

Comment Spam

Well, I was wondering when this was going to start happening. Looks like someone comment-spammed my blog.

What’s comment spam, you may ask?

Basically it’s when some money-grubber ads a comment to a blog entry that has nothing to do with the entry, but just includes a lot of links to spam sites. The idea is that when google scans the blog, it will see all those links, and thus rank those sites as more important. (The number of links to a site is one criterion Google and other search engines use to determine how a page ranks in their search results.)
Needless to say, I deleted the comment. I doubt I was the only one hit, either, but since most people who blog at WOU have comment moderation turned on, it’s unlikely that any of the others got through.
We need to get the Nofollow plugin configured on our blog server; it adds a special flag to all links in comments telling the Google scan to ignore them, thus denying their benefit to spammers. Hopefully that will make them stop showing up.
It’s hard to describe how much spammers annoy me without language I don’t want to use in public. It’s also annoying that some people actually buy stuff that’s advertised in spam. That’s why the spammers keep doing what they do; because it makes them money. I hope none of you have ever sent money to a spammer, because if you have, you’ve helped make the lives of everyone on the ‘Net just a bit more annoying.
Anyway, I’m on vacation and don’t want to get all riled up, so I’ll end here.


I’ll be on vacation from Monday, June 20, through Friday, June 24. I’ll be back on Monday the 27th as normal.

During that time I will be checking email and voicemail only rarely. If you need help that can’t wait for my return, please call the UCS Service Request Desk at 88925 or email them at

Emails to,, and will wait in my inbox until I return; if you have an urgent question related to any of these three areas, please email Travis at

Information channels

Here at UCS we’ve been getting complaints about too many sources of information. People are concerned with missing something critical. A common question is, “How am I supposed to keep track of all these different blogs, forums, wikis, and so on?”

The short answer is, you don’t really need to. As long as you’re reading your email, you’re fine.

Here’s the long answer: though official policy hasn’t been set yet, we’re still using email to send any information that is really critical. All these blogs, forums, wikis, and so on are alternatives, designed to give you additional information if you want it, or for specific uses by smaller groups of people.
The blogs are mostly designed for personal communication; some of us write about topics that affect campus, but mostly that’s because we deal with those things as part of our own personal jobs. I would hope that my posts are useful enough so people interested in blogging at WOU will visit my blog regularly; but you aren’t required to. The resource is just there in case you want to take advantage of it.
Speaking for myself, if I post something on my blog that is really vital for people to see, I’ll include a mention of it in the weekly FAQ email (or, as you’ve seen in the last few weeks, I’ll send out a reminder to check blogs even if there is no FAQ for that week.) Other UCS people are also sending out messages on the allfacstaff and/or students email lists, to inform you when they post a blog entry with important information. That way, it’s not your job to check fifteen blogs every day just in case there is something important in one of them.
Of course, if you choose not to read your email list messages, and you miss something, that’s your responsibility. This is just me talking here; it’s not the official UCS policy. We’re meeting you more than halfway by using email for everything critical; you only have to worry about one source of information, so I think it’s only fair that you take advantage of that source.

Computer Jargon

I noticed this entry and this one in Travis’s blog. Widely differing levels of technical knowledge can definitely make it hard to communicate; UCS has faced this issue in the past and no doubt will continue to do so in the future.

I think Travis is justified in his response. His job is to deal with a lot of specialized technology, much of which isn’t easily understandable unless you work with it regularly. Personally, I can’t figure out half of what he does, because it’s outside my area of expertise. You can take it from me that Travis’s blog posts aren’t nearly as technical as they could be; of course, he could explain things so everybody can understand them, but that would take a lot of time away from things like making sure your Internet access stays available and your data is safe on our network.
As for me, though, a large part of my job is figuring out how to communicate technical concepts to people who don’t already understand them. So my response to the jargon issue will be a bit different. I’m committed to making my blog entries and FAQ documents as understandable as I can; I won’t repeat the basics every time, but will at least try to explain things, and provide links to definitions and further information.
Also, there’s something that really shouldn’t be necessary to say, but human nature being what it is, somebody probably needs to hear it. The thing is, when we talk about technology, and you don’t understand it, it’s not because we’re intentionally trying to insult you or confuse you. We’re taking our best guess at how to communicate without being either too basic or too technical. We don’t always guess right.
If you don’t understand everything about computers, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid. Heck, I don’t understand everything about computers. Nobody does. I don’t understand plumbing or accounting or molecular biology, either. If you don’t understand something I say, feel free to give me feedback. Of course, I’d like it if you were a bit more polite than the person who wrote Travis; but don’t be shy either. If people start telling me I’m too technical, or too boring, or whatever, I’ll try to change my tone; that’s part of my job.
Of course, you can also do some research of your own; there’s always the WOU FAQ documents, Google, Wikipedia, or the search on, just to name a few.
Hope that helps somebody.

Keeping busy

So, I suppose I should explain what has been keeping me so busy that I haven’t had time to write FAQ’s or update this blog every day.

Warning: this is all geeky stuff. But read on if you’re interested anyway! I’ve tried to explain the stuff in English, as non-technically as possible.

Mostly it’s been systems programming, but that really means several different tasks at the moment, most of which have to do with our LDAP database.
What is an LDAP database, you may ask? Basically, it is the database that stores things like usernames, passwords, email addresses, program settings, etc. The acronym stands for “Lightweight Directory Access Protocol”, and LDAP databases can store all sorts of information besides user settings. For instance, in Messenger Express and the new Communications express, your address books are stored in the LDAP database1.
The advantage of this sort of thing is centralization. Since LDAP is a standardized and widely supported protocol, many different systems and programming languages can use it. For instance, since your email username and password is stored in the LDAP database, other systems like the forums server or the domain migration questionnaire can use that same password.
Which brings me to the project that had me busy all last week: developing a standard way for all our Oracle web/database applications2, of which there are many on our servers. (For instance, the faculty/staff and student directory searches, the domain migration questionnaire, the policy display system, the online application for admissions… I’d have to go on way too long if I were to list them all.) Many of them require usernames and passwords, and now they can easily be converted to use your email login, so you won’t have as many passwords to remember. Of course, most of them haven’t actually been converted to the new method yet, but that’s coming.
This week, I’ve been working on a better way to create web pages. Anyone who has used our website template knows that it requires some finicky editing to start a new page; you have to get the title right, the random images, all those meta tags, and so on. If someone gets part of this stuff wrong, it isn’t always easy to notice, but it does affect things.
What I’m working on is a web form that will let you enter a title, choose some images, and put in keywords and other details. A web page will then be created for you in the folder you want, with all those finicky details taken care of, ready for you to edit by whatever means you normally use. Naturally, not everybody is allowed to create web pages; the system will use LDAP to verify your login and determine what folders you have access to. This is a long project, though, and won’t be finished for some time; I’m shooting for late summer.
Aside from that, I’ve been doing some programming related to the domain migration, and moving people’s email address books as they get transferred from Messenger Express to Communications Express. (If your email has already been migrated but you don’t see your address book(s), please let me know!) If you don’t know what migration I’m talking about, refer to this post on Joe’s blog. (Just the first part, not the part about supporting Outlook, though you may find that good news too.)
Anyway, that’s all the time I have today. If there’s an FAQ tomorrow, it will be short.

1 Technically, “LDAP database” is a misnomer; LDAP is really just the way we access the database to read information out of it, or change what’s in there. When I say “LDAP Database” I really mean “the database that we use LDAP to access”, but of course the distinction is probably only of interest to geeks like me.

2 “Oracle web/database applications” are systems programmed in the PL/SQL language, using data in our Oracle database server, and accessed via the web.