Category Archives: Work Misc

Site security

We’re changing some of our web shortcuts (such as and to use the https protocol.

This is the same protocol that is used for financial transactions on websites such as PayPal and Amazon; it means that all information you send is encrypted so that it cannot be intercepted en route.

However, this seems to have exposed a bug in our blog server; when you go to post an entry, the system returns you to the login page. If this happens, you can change the “http:” in the page address to “https:” and you should be good to go. (You may have to do this twice when posting a blog entry.)

I’m working on a fix for this, though it might wait until I get the blog server software updated.

Improving Communication

Recently we’ve been getting some feedback that UCS needs to improve communications with others on campus, particularly the faculty.

As part of this effort, I’ll be starting up the Friday FAQs again, after a hiatus of about a year. They are a good bit of work, but I don’t mind doing it if it helps things run more smoothly.

The FAQs will also be posted here on my blog, so that anyone who wishes may comment publicly. Naturally, private comments can also be addressed to me at

Also, the week after they are sent out, each FAQ will be posted on the UCS website (which desperately needs to be revamped, but that’s a different topic.)

The first FAQ will be about communicating with UCS, and how it can be done most effectively, and also about the various channels UCS uses to communicate with the rest of campus. We’ll include a link to a survey, which will also be distributed on paper, so that you can help shape our communications practices.

The main thing is that we want to help everybody here. We’re a service department; without the rest of campus, and especially without students, there would be no point to our existence.

So if there’s a problem, we want to know about it. If anyone perceives that UCS is being a roadblock, we want to know about it; sometimes what seems to be a roadblock is actually necessary for reasons that are not obvious, but other times it is the result of miscommunication or misunderstanding that can be cleared up with a bit of honest communication and creative problem solving.

Another vacation?!?!

Well, this is extremely short notice, but I’m off to Crater Lake for the rest of the week. There’s a place down there that we thought was going to come available next month, but it turns out the only time we can get is… this week!

So I’m working frantically to try to get stuff done that I’d promised would be “this week”. We’ll see how it goes.

Busy again

I got back from my vacation in the middle of last week and found myself busy again, needless to say.

Current projects, in no particular order:

  • Finalizing daily automatic user creation: This is really close to done. The user creation script itself works just fine; all I need to do is go through the code and make sure I can turn off all output to the screen, because when you run something as a scheduled task (AKA crontab or “cron” job in the unix world) any output that would normally go to the screen instead gets emailed to the user under whose security privileges the job runs as. I can’t just redirect all output to null, because if there’s ever an error message, we need that email to notify us, so instead I need to make sure that all non-critical output is suppressed inside the script.
  • Website master database: This is a big one, and I’ll be talking about it more in the next weeks. We’ve been planning for almost a year to redo our entire website, primarily to make it easier to maintain. It will be written in PHP and we’ll hide a lot of the common template features in external files. Anyone who views the source code of a WOU web page can see how complex our current template source is; this will be replaced by a few lines at the top and bottom of the file, with only the actual page content in between (still written in HTML so people don’t have to learn a whole new language.) These external files will query our Oracle database for some page-specific information, and right now I’m working on the administration utilities for that information.
  • Detail work on the Calendar of Events: There are still a few things that need to be cleaned up; the event display needs a few tweaks, and I need to make the error messages friendlier.

New users

What a week. I’ve been fighting a cold at the same time as I’ve been fighting a deadline to get accounts created for next term’s students. That’s finally done (with lots of help from Troy), and in the process I’ve gotten a lot closer to automating the process. Hopefully by January, as soon as a student shows up as admitted, an account (complete with email and blog) will automatically be created for them the next night.

No FAQ again; things have been just too busy around here.

Have a good weekend, everybody!


Projects I’ve been working on lately:

Further refinements to the Calendar of Events. The new dynamic version just went up today, and we put a better date entry method in the submission form.

Automatic user creation. Hopefully soon we’ll be able to automatically detect when new students have enrolled and creat their user accounts immediately. This still needs some work, but is getting closer. This is the main project I’ve been putting time into, lately.

Web maintenance. I’m finally caught up again with user requests, except for one that I’m still waiting for information on. If anyone is waiting on me for web alias creation or editing rights, please remind me again.


Looks like I’ve been getting a bit lazy with the blogging, here. Part of that was vacation, but I’ve been back over a week now and still no entries! What gives, you may ask?

Mostly it’s because I’ve been busy with other things. The events calendar has been one; I had a nasty bug last week that I was beating my head on the wall about for several days, but finally solved thanks to a hint from Michael Ellis.
I’ve also been working on granting everyone access to the new web portal system; that’s pretty much ready for prime time now. You can get to it at Just log in with your WOU username and password. The next FAQ will be about the portal system, which has some cool and useful features.
Aside from that, there’s been the usual large amount of time spent on migration cleanup and adding features to the user creation system. That program is now over 2100 lines long, not counting a bunch of code that’s been stored in separate modules; this may seem like a lot, but it does the work of three separate programs we used to use in the old system. Plus I’ve been working on user requests for web permissions and so forth.
All this is making me wish for another vacation! Luckily Thanksgiving is coming up soon.

Back from vacation

Well, I’m back. Actually I got back yesterday, but spent the day digging out of the pile of stuff that built up while I was out. I finally feel like I’m caught up with the small stuff so I can get back to the bigger stuff.

Current top priorities (in no particular order):

  • Trying to figure out how to enable Portal services on people’s user accounts in bulk, by adding LDAP attributes.
  • Working on the Public Relations Calendar of Events (it’s really close now!)
  • Figuring out how to use the security features of the new webserver for some departmental pages that need security right now rather than after the web migration.

So anyway, I’m going to get back to doing that stuff instead of talking about it.

Personal Development time, take 1

Hmm, I see I need to make time to do more entries here; my original goal of one a day proved unrealistic, but I need to do at least two a week.

Today we had our first Personal Development Time, instead of a staff meeting. It was interesting: I got to watch (and occasionally help with) a Solaris 10 installation, and got some reading done on Object-Oriented Perl, which i hope will help my scripting and make it easier for me to create programming tools usable by others.

UCS folks, please take a look at the Personal development Time wiki page (created by Mike Ross.) Feel free to add your own ideas, comments, suggestions, experiences, whatever you please! It’s a wiki, after all.

Personal development time

Travis had a good idea about a different way to spend the time we normally take in staff meetings.

I like the idea of personal development time; right now, I have to get up early and drive in to work without knowing whether there’ll be a meeting. I don’t mind it too much, because coming early means I get to leave earlier, but it can be a pain when I was here too late the night before. (Luckily that doesn’t happen too often, and when it does, it’s generally either my own fault or else totally outside anyone’s control.) Knowing I would have a chance to work on my own stuff would give me a better motivation to come in those mornings.

I’d probably spend the time learning stuff like advanced CSS coding, because that’s something I’ve fallen behind on but would really help me with web page design. It would also be nice to work on automating some of the more repetitive tasks I need to so, like feeding webserver logs into the Urchin log analyzer, and setting up web permissions, and stuff like that. I have a serious case of “programmer laziness”; I get frustrated having to do the same stuff over and over, and would rather build a tool to do it for me, even if it takes longer to build the tool! I’d love having time to do stuff like that.