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.

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