Web Developer Position Available in Virginia

I forget sometimes that I have this soapbox. We are looking for a web developer. A 2.0 kind of developer. Here’s the job description I wrote, that was turned down:

Do you know the difference between usability testing and asking people what they think of your web site? Do you know the difference between HTML 4.0 and XHTML and do you know when to use one and not the other? Do you know what csszengarden is, how it is done, and why it matters? Do you know what a content management system is (and you do know that Frontpage isn’t one, right)? Do elegance and simplicity mean something special to you?

We need you. If you have seen some of our web sites, you know we really need you. This is the easiest job in the world because it is so easy to improve what we have. This is the hardest job in the world because we want our web presence to be great. In fact, we want it not just to be great, we want it to be world-class. We know about CMS, CSS, Javascript, Wikis, Weblogs, Web 2.0, DOM, JSP, PHP, Ruby on Rails, AJAX, (pick your own buzzwords) and we even have the skills. We just have not had time or resources to pick and choose and implement them in a coherent, planned, professional way. Now we do and that is your job, but you’ll be a key member of a team that has the skills and committment to work together to serve the students, faculty, staff and community colleges of Virginia.

Ready for a challenge and the opportunity to create amazing things?

Here’s the more mundane description we went with (pdf).

And on a serious note, I love working here, this is a great job with great people and a great opportunity to really make a difference and add a litany of skills and projects to your resume, in an enterprise that really makes a difference. I think the pay is good, as are the benefits.

Exim configuration for Mailman with Redhat RPMs

I’ve been working on installing Mailman at our institution. It’s been interesting and fun (I’ve been working particularly on altering the default design), but we ran into a problem that had me scratching my head for the past couple of days.

When I tried to send e-mail to a list, I got the following error in the Exim log:

Child process of mailman_transport transport returned 127 (could mean unable to exec or command does not exist)

I finally tracked the issue down with lots of help from another pair of eyes from a colleague. When you install using Redhat RPMs, mailman messages and list data are stored in /var/lib/mailman, but the binaries and other installation files are stored in /usr/lib/mailman. The Exim instructions for Mailman go like this:

# By default this is set to "/usr/local/mailman"
# On a Red Hat/Fedora system using the RPM use "/var/mailman"
# On Debian using the deb package use "/var/lib/mailman"
# This is normally the same as ~mailman
# These values are derived from the ones above and should not need
# editing unless you have munged your mailman installation
# The path of the Mailman mail wrapper script
# The path of the list config file (used as a required file when
# verifying list addresses)

See the problem? The list check on a Redhat RPM needs to point to one place (/var/lib/mailman), and the wrapper needs to point to another (/usr/lib/mailman), so one can work, but not the other – the other error we were getting was “local delivery failed” (when the MM_HOME value was set to /usr/lib/mailman the Exim mailman_router would fail because the config.pck file was actually in /var/lib/mailman) – you can also test these at the command line with /usr/sbin/exim -bt <listname>@<yourhost>.

The solution was to hard-code the list check in exim.conf:

# The path of the Mailman mail wrapper script
# The path of the list config file (used as a required file when
# verifying list addresses)

Hopefully this will help anyone else who might run into this problem.

Blackboard, F5 (BigIP) and Internet Explorer Performance

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?

Gmail for Domains

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 Moving On

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.

Windows Live @ edu Program – free email hosting for universities and more

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 MSN®. 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 Microsoft® 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?

Branding Shared College Services

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.