Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Putting out fires

Seems like every time I think of something to write here, something breaks and I have to run fix it.

I do have a lot to talk about; openLDAP, a couple of new email scams, some interesting Perl stuff...

...aaaand I just got an email with a new fire to put out.  So it goes.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

New phone, and vacation!

So I finally got my Galaxy S3 the other day.  I'd been holding out because as soon as I ordered it I'd lose my unlimited data plan; Verizon is evil, and my previous contract expired five days after the cutoff date they set for people to renew and keep unlimited data.  (mutter, grumble)

I like the phone so far; my only gripes are that its rounded corners make it easy to slip out of my hand, and that you can't mount it as a USB drive for file transfer.  I'll solve the first problem with a rubberized skin, but the second apparently has no solution unless I put an entire custom ROM on the phone, which I'm not ready to do just yet.  It does mount as either a camera or a media player, so you can transfer files, it's just really, really slow.  And it has this nice "feature" where you can still access the storage from the phone even while it's connected to the computer... just don't do it with a file manager app or you risk borking your filesystem.  I lost a ton of stuff that way, and had to re-transfer it.  Moral of the story: don't do anything with your phone while it's connected to your PC.

Oh, and I've got the next two weeks off for vacation.  The first week is actually furlough, so I'm contractually obligated to not even think about work.  I figure it'll take me that long just to unwind and decompress.  Then that second week will feel like an actual vacation.

See you on Monday the 29th...

Not to toot my own horn or anything...

Yeah, whenever anybody says that, they actually mean they *are* going to brag about something, I know.  I think I just did something kinda cool, though.  See, one of the departments has a few pages of their website on a third-party webhost, due to a long and complicated story that I'm not going to get into because this is already going to be a long explanation.

This hosting company is flexible enough that Danielle could make our template work over there, but there really wasn't any way to include the departmental navigation files from our site.  They'd just have to edit both the local copy for their pages on our servers, and the hardcoded version on every page on the other web host.  Making it worse was the fact that the webhost only allows a certain number of edits before they start charging every time a file is changed (which still boggles my mind.)

Ordinarily we could just use curl() or the like to fetch the file from our server, but this company doesn't use PHP.  They still run ColdFusion, of all things.  If ColdFusion has a way to fetch and include offsite files, I don't know it. But I figured out a way to use jQuery and JSONP to have the pages on the other host talk to our webserver and get the sidebar include file they need.  They just need to source a JS script from our site, and it reads variables from the page to know which navigation files to include.  I could've hard-coded it for this one department, but I hate doing that when I can make a tool that can be used again.

But, security! I hear some of you saying.  You're right that it's a bad idea to let people fetch files off your site based on javascript code; anybody can mess with it using Firebug or some such, and change the variables.  That won't work too well here, though; it's locked down to specific folders and filename patterns (no slashes or .. for instance) plus there are a couple more secuirty features I'm not going to talk about.

If you want more detail, email me.  That's all for now.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tap-tap-tap... is this thing on?

*blink* *blink* Wait, what?  It's September? Can't be! 

But... you're telling me it's the end of September? Stop joking around, that's not funny! 

...waaaait, where did all those students come from?

So yeah, joking aside, it's been a while.  I've been neck-deep in LDAP server migration stuff for way too long.  The migration scripts I thought would just take a couple of weeks actually took a lot longer than that, but at least they're working now. Any new users, or changed to existing users, are now copied nightly to the new servers.  Same with groups.  And I just figured out a way to make the user script a lot more efficient; it used to take like half an hour and now it's down to three minutes and change, so we'll be able to run it more often.  I'm tempted to do the same with groups, but it's already not very long so I'm not sure if it's worth it.

That's all for now.  I still can't believe we're almost to October!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Template change

Well, I tried the snazzy new "Dynamic Views" template, but couldn't find a layout I liked that still didn't make people have to roll the mouse over an icon to see the sidebar stuff.  That's more important now that I'm actually listing more coworkers' blogs here.

This one's about as plain as homemade vanilla, but that's fine with me.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Intermittent problems

Intermittent problems are the worst kind (except for total disaster, obviously.)  I'd almost rather see a system not work at all than fail occasionally and randomly.  If it's completely down, the cause is generally fairly easy to spot, and when you see it start working again, you can be pretty sure it's working for everybody.  If it consistently fails for one person but works for everybody else, you can at least check that single account on our end, or walk the person through their settings on theirs (assuming you can get in touch with them, but that's a completely separate topic) and most of the time you'll find the cause.  Likewise if it only fails at a certain time of day, or from a certain building, or on a specific kind of device, then you can test it then, or there, or using that.

It's when you can't find a pattern that things get really annoying.  In order to troubleshoot something, you need to be able to see the trouble as it happens, but if you don't have any way to do that, you're going to have a hard time finding the answer.  You can't know how many people are seeing the problem, or how often. Even if you can get it to fail where you can see it, when it starts working again does that mean you really fixed it?  Or did it just start working again randomly?  And did it fix the system for everybody else?

Even though most problems we deal with are pretty straightforward, it's those rare intermittent problems that really stick in your mind (even if it's only because you've banged your head against the wall for too long.)  I have to remind myself that they're rare, because right now I'm working on three of them at once.

  1. When a former student without an account wants to get their transcript online, they can go to Account Lookup and it will tell the system to create a temporary account.  It shows a message explaining what's happening, and asks the person to try again in ten minutes.  Usually, that second try at Account Lookup tells them the new account name, lets them set a password, and onward they go.
    Except right now, for a few people, it isn't working. Account Lookup tells them that an account will be created in ten minutes, and then blithely forgets to tell the system to actually go and do that. When they come back in ten minutes, Account Lookup can't find an account, so it gives them the "Wait ten minutes" message again, and then forgets to inform the system again, and around and around we go.

  2. A few people have reported that they get a "500 Server Error" when they click the Gmail button in the Portal. Until I can get in touch with one of them, I'm stuck, because it works fine for me no matter how I try. For all I know it's just one of those once-in-a-blue-moon fluke problems that solve themselves. But I can't afford to ignore it, because on the other hand the people who reported it might just be the tip of the iceberg. Going without email is not just an annoyance anymore.

  3. And finally, about ten people in the online faculty/staff directory are showing up without any contact information; not even email. They weren't even showing up at all at the start of the week, but a name without contact information is pretty much useless in a contact directory.
So yeah, interesting times. I need to stop talking about these things and start digging into them again.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sick of asking "What's your browser version?"

Often in the course of a task I need to ask someone what browser they're using, what OS they're on, and sometimes even their IP address.  This usually entails explaining how to look in their browser's help menu (and occasionally, what a browser is in the first place) and I've pretty much given up on asking people their OS version unless it's critical to know, because it usually means an extra round of emails to help them find that.

On top of that, when I need somebody's IP address or when they need to know it to remote into their office or whatever, I've been telling them to go to  Recently I looked at that site with adblock turned off and javascript on, and found out I'd been sending people to a site full of ads I didn't know were there-- annoying!

Luckily I found a better site to send people to: not only shows the IP address, but the user's OS version, browser version, and also other useful info such as whether cookies, Javascript, and Flash are enabled.  It only has one ad (so far anyway.)  Even better, if the user fills in their name, email address, and your email address, they can automatically send the results to you.

This is already saving me time, so I'm passing it along in case you find it useful too.