We have run into some very strange performance problems with Blackboard and Internet Explorer recently. We think there is an interaction with our load balancer (which is an F5 BigIP – forget which version). We have found that Internet Explorer 6.0 will randomly slow to a crawl, where Firefox is zipping along just fine.
This appears to be a new phenomenom (February 2006), although we cannot point to an exact date, but it manifests itself as random slowdowns in IE only and it appears to be only with our Blackboard system sitting behind our F5 load balancer, not with other systems. We think it is a threading problem in the browser, but can’t really explain it. Blackboard distinguishes itself from other applications on that load balancer by having horrible HTML loaded down with images, etc, but it’s still strange.
Has anyone else seen anything like this?
Earlier I wrote about Microsoft offering e-mail hosting for universities and colleges – what I wasn’t clear about was that this hosting was at the college’s domain, e.g. @email.yourcollege.edu. I think this is a big deal – with MSN, it comes with the suite of MSN tools, including spaces (weblogs, etc.).
Now Google is getting into the act with GMail for Domains
Will Richardson announces that he is moving on:
“…today I notified my superintendent that as of May 15 I would be leaving the district for parts somewhat unknown.”
I met Will at a conference in D.C. a couple of years ago. A nice guy, smart, and knows how to make a presentation. I’ll be fascinated to see where he ends up.
Update: Gmail has come out with a similar program – when I first wrote about this, I didn’t highlight the fact that this is @yourdomain.edu – Robert Scoble reports that at least 20 Universities have signed up for this
While there has been understandably vigorous discussion about Apple’s iTunesU, I am surprised that the Windows Live @ edu program has not garnered more attention:
Windows Liveâ„¢ @ edu Program
Connect your college or university campus with free1 hosted e-mail from MSNÂ®. Provide all of your students and alumni with free e-mail accounts that potentially never expire1, featuring a custom domain name selected by your institution. You and MicrosoftÂ® can bring your school the same e-mail, messaging, and collaborative services that a global network of millions of people already successfully utilize.
Let’s get this straight:
- Free email hosting at your institution’s domain with no ads and 2GB of space
- With the option for converting to lifetime hosting for alumni
- With MSN Spaces integration – weblogs for all students
- With Messenger – collaboration tools
The FAQ (big pdf) is worth reading.
Did I mention that it was free? Do you know how much it costs to host student email and weblogs at a big institution?
I work for the Virginia Community College System. It has twenty-three colleges, but some technology services are provided centrally, and after having worked for one of the colleges for a long time, and then for the system’s Instructional Technology department, I am now working in Information Technology Services. The major services we provide include our student information system, student e-mail, Blackboard and a single sign-on/directory service. Of these, the first three are purchased systems, and the last is home-grown.
I am part of the team responsible for Blackboard and the directory service, and one of my small contributions to that service has been to make it brandable by our constituent colleges using the same technique as at CSS ZenGarden. Our code is a bit crufty and our design skills are not necessarily very special, but without changing our html code we have been able to offer branding for our 23 colleges.
Here is the default design. Now you can see what some of the colleges have elected to do:
Some of these the colleges did the design all by themselves. For some of them I was given a design brief and went to town on the CSS. I have had a lot of fun doing this I have to say. It usually makes for a nice weekend project, although some of the more challenging ones have taken a bit longer.
Every so often, I scratch a technical itch and because the web is the medium in which I choose to operate, I’ll put my solutions online. My Quiz Generator and Tips and Tricks were definitely of that nature. Most recently I have updated the code for my State of Virginia Per Diem Calculator.
You may have to be a state employee to understand the problem this solves, or you could read the six pages of regulations (pdf) that it manages to encapsulate in one web page.
I love doing this kind of thing. It starts with a tortuous business process that people think they just have to live with, and in a short amount of time, I have been able to produce a simple solution that anyone can use and increases the reliability of the data. I really enjoy this aspect of solving a problem that people didn’t know they had. I regularly get emails from personnel at state agencies thanking me for creating it or anxious because the regulations are changing and they need an update.
When I first created it at the college I was at, the business office person responsible was overjoyed. So was I. Filing travel requests and reimbursement forms prior to creating the tool usually involved multiple trips to the business office and revisions to the forms submitted because the rate was wrong, or it didn’t account for a 75% travel day, or that a lunch was provided, but not a breakfast, etc., etc.. Now a travel request and reimbursement can be accompanied by a print-out (we’re not sophisticated enough to do these things online yet) with a clear explanation of the rate, meals provided and totals.
One of the other dimensions I enjoy is making the interface as elegant and simple as I can. I’m not going to say that I have achieved this, but I do think through each comma, word, sentence and piece of functionality.
Updated versions of my Blackboard Administrator scripts as referenced on the Wytheville site I used to maintain.
Also, for downloading the output of the backup tool, see Wackget, which should allow you to drag all the links to the program and not have to download them individually.