March 2004 Archives

Mar 11 14:20:00 2004

Heading south...

.... in an Arizona Shuttle van, on IH-10 to Tucson to visit my Aunt Moux.
Myself and 8 other people, counting the driver, Rob. I haven't been to AZ (excluding the odd stopover at the Phoenix "Sky Harbor" airport whilst en route elsewhere) since 1995, when i went to Tempe. But that's a different much longer story. Before that, i spent a summer with my Aunt Moux when i was 17, in 1985. I did landscaping work. It was very hot, and i got very tan. But i didn't mind the heat so much. It seemed kind of purifying, at least until August, when the humidity and monsoons arrived. And the giant frogs came out.
I like the desert, and the mountains. When i see mountains, i just want to go and hike in them. Right now, we seem to be driving in a wide, flat plain. But i can see mountains in every direction. Phoenix seems to be built mostly on the same sort of terrain. Downtown, on some of the streets, you can see dozens of blocks in each direction, and then far off, the mountains. It's kind of the opposite of Austin, which is so hilly you can rarely see more than a few blocks, if that.
About 15 minutes ago, we passed a green & white van and SUV: La Migra (Border Patrol). It has been some time since i've seen that.
This area on either side of IH-10 is pretty much treeless. The little shrubs are green right now, but i imagine that must fade once it begins to get hot. Which is right about now. (It was 94F yesterday.)
Tucson 54
It's partly cloudy today, and about 10 km away, i think i see some rain & haze.
I think i'd really like to live near the mountains, but i do wonder if i'd get used to it, and it wouldn't seem so special. If i lived near some, i expect that the first few months or ever years i'd spend a lot of time looking at them, hiking, just getting to know them. But then what? Would i get used to them? Would the mountains just become part of the background that i don't see most days?
We're driving through some sort of orchard right now that must be at least 100 acres. The trees are leafless. I can't tell what they are. They look kinda big for citrus.
We're closer to some mountains. These are Southwesterny sort of mountains: not too many of the almost-equilateral triangle summits you see in places like Colorado, but strange, asymmetrical peaks or even just sort of butte-like things.
I bought a stupidly expensive steel travel mug at Einstein Bros. bagels. I just hate wasting all those paper
cups, though. It's a weird travel mug; like those peaks, it's not symmetrical. It's not a cylinder or even part of a cone. It looks like it started off round, and then someone sat on it. I found this annoying, because it made it less stable when standing, but it turns out to be the perfect shape and size to wedge in between my seat and the plastic facade of the inside of this van, which was loose and rattling. A cylinder would not have worked so well.
I think i see some snow on the mountains to the south east. Oh! And airplanes? Like small stunt racing ones, doing loops and crazy stuff. I wish i hadn't left my binocs in a restaurant in Iceland. (That was a different trip.) Or maybe that's fortuitous, too: looking through them while riding in a car would just make me more nauseated.
We are passing on the right. There's traffic and a lot of semis as far as the eye can see...
A sign says "Pinal Air Park Rd." There are tons of commercial airliners parked off to the west, about 10 km away. Have i heard that airlines store surplus airplanes in the AZ desert? That's what this looks like.
These mountains look not so young. The Rockies look young. Relative to me, they're all ancient bordering on timeless. i think that's one of the things i like about them. When i'm hiking or camping somewhere isolated, i can forget about the rest of the world and just be. At least until hear a jet liner fly over, 10 km above my head.
Tucson 17
This has been a fast trip.
A giant billboard photograph of an older woman wearing a sun hat, and riding a moped with her feet in the breeze proclaims:
This is life.
(Some retirement "community" ad.)
We have exited the Freeway. I get off at the first stop. perhaps i am almost there?

Posted by johan | Permanent link

Mar 10 16:49:00 2004

Fry Bread?

Well, i was just about to venture out of downtown Phoenix to get some Navajo fry bread and i remembered i'm doing dinner with Bb people. But now that i've heard of "fry bread" i'm curious and want some. I read something saying it was the Arizona state food. Humidity is 12% here. it's wonderful, even when it's 90F (32C) but i definitely feel like i'm drying out.

Posted by johan | Permanent link

Mar 10 16:11:00 2004

Bb conf., Day 2 #2

Wow, this speaker should be a ventriloquist, i can barely see his mouth moving. When i first heard the voice coming out of the PA, i thought it was someone else speaking, even though he was standing at the podium, nary 6 meters away.

Posted by johan | Permanent link

Mar 10 14:58:00 2004

Bb conf, Day 2, part 1.

So i went to a Bb building blocks discussion section, which was interesting in and of itself. But what was more interesting was information from other attendees regarding political structures at other universities. There was a Bb admin from another Big State U, and from what he said, they have the same problems with the school being so anarchic that one struggles to acquire funding to develop and maintain important, central services. (The individual Colleges just all want to do their own thing.)
There were two people there from Western Europe (UK & Belgium). Apparently they do not have this problem. If they need something like a software license for campus, it's purchased in the same manner as at any other sane organization (company, foundation, etc.) What a novel concept.
When we were discussing this later, the other Big State U Bb admin said exactly what i was thinking, "Hmm... maybe i should send some resumes over there."
I don't think either of us is that eager to leave. It's more that the notion of escaping the consequences and frustrations that inevitably arise from having such a Balkanize institution. I just want to help students and instructors get their work done. Why i hell do we have institutions which makes this so difficult?
(later that day)
"SIS Integration & Advanced Data Management"
so far, all of this is unpleasantly familiar. (From my poking around in the bowels of the feed from the Registrar.
This guy -- Greg Devine, Senior Manager, Global Services, Blackboard, Inc. -- has a calm, well intonated, low voice. Not quite as low as a radio DJ, but pretty close. Pleasing to listen to, but hopefully it will not become soporific.
"dsm" is "data source manager"
Wonderfully, i find him saying the same things Cerda & i always do: special case modifications of course or user data should be avoided whenever possible, because later, it greatly complicates automated manipulation of data.

Posted by johan | Permanent link

Mar 09 16:10:00 2004

A now, a word from the CEO...

As the saying goes, "Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail."
Confirming that yet again: Blackboard has a baby mail client.
There's something sad about the senior execs of software companies addressing a group of several hundred or thousand users. If they attempt to get really enthused, like Steve Ballmer, it's pathetic or even kind of psychotic.
And if they just sort of drone on about this piece of software or about how important their users are, it's just plain boring, because it's fundamentally about software and business and so on. This is their creation so maybe they're happy and proud about that, but the rest of us... well, we're just users. This is like someone talking about how wonderful the new version of the interstate is, but 2 hours rather than 2 minutes.
So i suppose they're just doomed. I mean, there are 1,000 people here with me, but we aren't intent on solving the current political crisis in Haiti. Or figuring out why Phoenix must keep so many police on the street to prevent the homeless from harassing the downtown tourists. (Or why there are homless.) Or discussing just how crazy it is to plant sod in the desert. We're sitting here, listening to someone talk about software.
After the presentations, my UT companions and i just had quite a laugh at the expense of one of the presenters, David Yaskin, VP Product Strategy, Blackboard, Inc., because he repeatedly pronounced "Tucson" as "Tuk-san." We corrected him (after we stopped laughing), but it was from the back of the ballroom (which was mostly empty by then) but hopefully he isn't scarred for life.

Posted by johan | Permanent link

Mar 09 15:57:00 2004

Hello, i'm from Texas, and i smell.

So as is apparent from the last few entries, i'm in Phoenix, attending the Blackboard user conference. The official conference hotel is the Hyatt Regency, but that's not where i'm staying. I'm staying at the Ramada Inn, just a couple of blocks away, because, i was told, the State of Texas' per diem does not cover the cost of the Hyatt Regency.
The Ramada Inn is not so much a hotel as a motel. It's several buildings, each two stories, surrounded by parking lots, which in turn, are surrounded by a brick wall. On top of the brick wall is a pointy metal fence, and the fence-wall has large gates on wheels so that the cars can get in and out, and limit access to the entire compound.
Which is a little worrisome, but it seems safe enough. It may be that some years ago this area of downtown Phoenix was not so pleasant, but it's OK now. Haven't heard any gun shots or anything!
OK, OK, i'm getting to the smelly part. I wake up this morning, after a somewhat fitful night of sleep (the walls seem kind of thin...), and utterly failed to get anything but a little rusty trickle of water to come out of the spigot in the bath. It's a round knob-like mechanism with a roughly 4 cm long tail, and the fixture behind it is helpfully labelled with an "H" and a "C". But i never really achieved the level of "flow" which made Hot or Cold at all relevant.
It was early though, and all of this was pre-coffee, so i was as polite as i can be at Very Early in the Morning o'clock, as i queried the person at the front desk about exactly how one conjures forth water from the tub. Apparently i had the correct idea, and he said he'd have someone take a look at it.
But until then, i'm kind of smelly, because i'm from Texas, and we're too cheap to afford hotels with reliably running water, please to meet you!
If there's no water by tomorrow morning, i suppose i won't have to worry about introducing myself to anyone.
Or perhaps i'll just go and use the heated pool. And why you need a heated pool in the desert, when it's 93F outside, i'm not sure. Perhaps to help get clean because you don't have running water in your room.
And for some reasons there's 1/2 a dozen pictures of Marilyn Monroe in the lobby.

Posted by johan | Permanent link

Mar 09 12:13:00 2004

Bb conference session #2

"Comprehensive Customer Support" (by this guy from Bb)
Not nearly as many people here as in the Duke presentation.
I think this is basically going to be "Here's all the ways we've improved our tech support so it doesn't suck. (as much)"
"I am a customer service nerd."
"I had the honor of seeing Jeff Bezos speak."
Hmm.. apparently someone with a Bb golf-shirt is taking pictures. I don't remember signing any sort of consent form about having my image used by Bb. I wonder what the legality of using it for advertising is.
Well, no one really slammed him.. A very well behaved group, all things considered.

Posted by johan | Permanent link

Mar 09 11:30:00 2004

Blackboard session #1

"Growing Pains in the Enterprise Environment: Lessons Learned" (Some people at Duke)
The people making this presentation (Amy Campbell and Neal Caidin) are CIT, part of Duke's Library.
They have been using Bb for 4 years.
They have 8 machines. "Relatively high powered HW" hmm...
Their automated course creation sounds a lot like ours. (Snapshots from flat files.)
I appear to be the only person in this room wearing shorts and a T-shirt. (My Far Side "Midvale School for the Gifted" t-shirt. It seemed apropos.) The forecasted temperature for today, here in the desert, is 93F. This seems like shorts weather to me.
Campbell is talking a lot about needing to improve reliability and convince the administration types that this is a "mission critical" system.
Hmm. that's cute. The graphic for the "support model" slide has a graphic of 3 silhouette people, stacked vertically, feet standing on shoulders. But it kinda looks like the guys on top are taking a crap on those below. Or maybe that's just my subjective interpretation.
They have a very similar composition of support staff for Bb. Their (central) IT group sound like sysadmins. These people sound like our CIT group. Interestingly, it would appear Duke has more staff committed to their Bb installation than we do. ("We're Texas, and we're cheap!") Caidin is noting that Duke's IT group didn't want to install the application. (Just handle OS and hardware.) Lucky bastards.
Attendees are now discussing other "Enterprise" issues. Sounds like a lot of these people have issues with Peoplesoft being the dominant store of human information on campus, and dealing with that, just as we have issues getting data from UT's homegrown stuff.
"We need to not irritate our system administrators so they are happy to work with us."
Have not gone to Bb6. They feel that the upgrade took too long.

Posted by johan | Permanent link

Mar 08 17:10:00 2004

$6 for 60 minutes?

No, it's not pr0n (or even sex*), it's the cheapest way to get on the net at Austin Bergstrom Airport, where i am awaiting an America West flight to take me to the Blackboard conference in Phoenix. T-mobile offers 60 minutes for $6 or one day for $9. Wayport offers one day for $6.95. I think i'll just right this and post it later. Hopefully the hotel will have free net connectivity of some kind. Or the conference.
I find myself making less-than spirited attempts to enthuse myself for the conference: "Don't whine... how many other people get to go to conferences? The rest of your group would love to go." But being of the Unix persuasion, not a Blackboard persuasion, i just concerned that conversations with other conference members will grind to a halt as soon as i mention some crazy program like "ps" from that complex Unix world.
I'll try and keep an open mind.
Looks like the airplane has arrived. After looking at Southwest Airlines' colors for many years, one would think it would be hard to pick a less attractive color scheme.
And that's where one would be wrong., because AmericaWest has done just that. When has safety orange has ever gone well with teal? Or any other color? I guess the safety orange has a better chance of catching the eye of that drowsy airport fuel truck driver.
*well, it is Internet access.

Posted by johan | Permanent link

Mar 03 14:48:00 2004

_Triplets of Belleville_

I saw The Triplets of Belleville last night and really, really enjoyed it. I have not laughed that much in many years, i think. It's a quirky, surreal, and beautiful animated movie, about bicycling, French culture and other strange things. It's showing at Dobie Theatre here in Austin.

IMDB listing
Official Site (requires Flash 6)

Posted by johan | Permanent link