HMC Scientific Computing Workshop and Digital Badge

We are pleased to announce the HMC Scientific Computing Workshop schedule in October.  The workshops will be held on Wednesdays from 5:30 pm to 7 pm in Aviation Room in Hoch-Shanahan Dining Commons.

  • October 8th: Essential MATLAB for Beginners — Learn the basics of MATLAB programming and plotting through hands-on examples of simple script m-file and function m-file.
  • October 15th: Advanced MATLAB – Learn more about MATLAB’s advanced programming skills: data structures, advanced use of functions, debugging and profiling, and parallel computing techniques.
  • October 22nd: R for Statistical Computing — Know R for statistical data analysis and graphs.
  • October 29th: OpenMP Multithreaded Programming — an easy way to parallelize and speed up your iterative calculations on multi-core machines.

All these workshops are digital badge-earning opportunities. All participants who finish their required work in and out of the workshop will be awarded a digital badge through CIS Digital Badge Pilot program. For more information about digital badges, please see https://www.hmc.edu/cis/digital-badge/.

Please reserve your seat by signing up at http://bit.ly/scicompworshops-Oct2014

 

Summer 2014 update from the CIO

beanoWhen I was a kid growing up in Ireland, I loved reading the Beano and the Dandy.  Every summer, they would announce a “bumper edition”, which was packed with extra stuff for those long summer days out of school.  This is the bumper edition of updates from the CIO!

Infrastructure
The summer was a very busy one in the realm of IT infrastructure. We oversaw a major rewiring of the Parsons structure; which set the building up to host a modern wired and wireless network that should serve us well for the foreseeable future.  The major points of emphasis in the architecture of the new network are:

  • Assume an increase in the use of wireless devices (to support this we increased the number of wireless access points from nine to sixty seven).
  • Build a high capacity wired network that requires fewer physical cables (cat 6A throughout the building, fewer physical ports, but higher capacity)
  • Improve switching closets and reduce their number (from six to two).

I am very grateful to our partners in Facilities and Maintenance who worked with us to make the wiring project a success, and were supportive of our idea of carrying out our project in parallel with the vacated space project.  The new Clinic space in the basement is just beautiful!

We planned the new dorm wired and wireless network and, taking advantage of the construction work, have laid the groundwork for a “north campus loop” that will enhance the resilience of The Claremont Colleges network by providing alternate (redundant and diverse) networking routes to the second CINE core switch.

We bought new switches for east and south dorms, as well as the Linde Activity Center. We placed a new UPS in Kingston and new wireless access points in the LAC.

A new fiber run from Claremont to downtown Los Angeles is about to be completed, connecting with the Claremont network at the CUC building on First Street. This will increase the resilience of our connections to the internet.  As you can imagine, this is ever more important with the increased use of software services that are hosted elsewhere.

IAM@HMC (Identity and Access management)
We worked closely and intensely with our project partners from Fischer Identity during the summer, meeting every day for many weeks.  This let us push through to get several big wins:

  • We eliminated the distinction between LDAP passwords and Active Directory passwords — it’s all HMC Credentials from now on.
  • Automatic Account Creation (“provisioning”) went live. This meant that we could bring all the new students on board in record time, without manual account creation.
  • We brought the portal (portal.hmc.edu) into the Single Sign On environment. It uses HMC credentials now and you won’t be challenged to log in if you have already logged in and established a session in another application that is part of Single Sign On.
  • We added payors to the HMC portal so that they can view and pay bills on line.
  • We worked with other consortium members to bring up CAS, which will provide single sign on for other systems and, in our case, increases the usefulness of your HMC Credentials. In a new phase of the IAM@HMC project we hope to integrate CAS with Fischer Identity and get even more single sign on in place.

IT Assessment by BerryDunn
During the summer, representatives from consulting firm BerryDunn were in Claremont working on a Claremont-wide IT Assessment at the request of the Presidents Council. Some of you took the opportunity to meet or talk with them and give your views on the quality of IT overall at the Colleges.  I understand that the BerryDunn folk will be coming back again in the Fall, so there will be additional opportunities to meet with them.  I will try to send a bit more advanced notice, so please keep an eye out.  If you are particularly keen on talking with them, please just get in touch with me and we can set up a telephone call. They are very eager to provide the Colleges with a high quality actionable report and would greatly appreciate your input.

IT Policy
During the summer, I completed updates to the HMC Password Policy and finalized the policy on incidental personal use of IT, both of which are now linked on our IT policies page on the HMC website.  Both are the result of extensive discussion with various instances of the Computing Committee, the Presidents Cabinet and other stakeholders.  I believe that policies should be realistic and should interfere as little as possible with your day to day experience, while at the same time achieving institutional goals.  I have found that a good way to achieve that is to have extensive discussion with stakeholders, including college counsel and to be willing to wait until the policy is well cooked before releasing it.

Next up is a policy on safeguarding confidential and sensitive information.

Speaking of passwords, on October 27th we plan to turn on the password expiration function in the Fischer system.  If your password is over 365 days old, you will need to reset it. The prompt at login will just say “invalid credentials”, as we don’t want to give hackers any clues.  But you will receive a notice via email when your password is seven days away from expiring. When we first released the HMC Password Policy, the advice of the Computing Committee at the time was that August would be a good time to remind people to reset passwords, since everyone is coming back and doing housekeeping tasks for the new year.  The timing of your annual reset is up to you though, since you can change your password at any time by visiting the Password and Account Management Kiosk.  If your password is getting old, now might be a good time to change it.

Websites
When we moved to the new HMC website last January, we vowed that we would work hard to ensure that only accurate and relevant information would appear on our pages. We continue to work on that goal and have been enhancing our Service Catalog page and keeping on top of updates to the IT Projects page.  Our goal is to make it valuable and effective to turn to the CIS web page whenever you are looking for a solution or are curious to know what we’re up to.

We have also set up pages.hmc.edu for people who wish to host static html pages outside of any of our content or learning management systems.  I wrote about this in the April update, but it is worth mentioning again as we work towards decommissioning older systems such as thuban (www2), odin (www3) and www5.  www4 has already been decommissioned and replaced by pages.hmc.edu

Educational Technology
Thanks to our restructuring that placed AV operations under the wing of User Support,  Educational Technology Services had become even more focused and productive under Elizabeth Hodas’  leadership. Elizabeth is paying special attention to the question of how to relate technology tools to the goals of faculty and students.  I hope you will notice this emphasis in the roster of workshops available during our Week of Workshops, which started on Monday.

Over the summer, there was a surprising amount of interest in trying out Google Glass. Jeho Park described our experiments in his article OK Glass,shoot a laser beam!.  I found the star mapping app really compelling, even though the night on which I had Glass was a cloudy one!  It was the first time I really felt for myself the potential of augmented reality applications and I will never forget my daughter’s exclamation “oh wow” when she donned the Glass and went outside to conquer her fear of the dark.

Also over the summer, Deb Mashek set up a Google Apps Learning Community that several of us participated in.  It was a quiet success and I heard from a number of the participants about how they liked the hands on and interactive approach of these sessions, so we’re thinking of other possibilities.   We are also exploring the possibility of subscribing to lynda.com campus edition through a Claremont wide agreement. This would give faculty, students and staff a large number of online professional development and learning opportunities.

People
Unfortunately, Corey LeBlanc left us for Pomona College, where he is now the Computer Science Dept System Administrator. We wish him the best of luck, and were very sorry to see him leave us.

Taylor Calderone will be helping to fill in as we search for a new DTA. Taylor has been with us for a while in a temporary capacity, particularly with AV support for events, so he knows the ropes.

In other hiring news, we are having more success in the search for a Sr. Network Engineer and have interviewed a couple of really promising candidates in recent weeks.  Stay tuned for news on that front.

As I completed writing this update, I had a feeling of exhilaration.  It is just so pleasing to see so much progress in so many areas!  And, once again, my hat is off to the hardworking staff at CIS who just keep on working at a very high level.

Welcome back every one (and welcome, first years).  At CIS, we missed you and are looking forward to supporting you for yet another great year at Mudd.

 

 

 

Adventures in Self Publishing

This is a story in the “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade… ” category.

After we experienced some hardware issues with the Charlie file server, some of the older websites that were published under www4.hmc.edu went offline.  The new version of Charlie did not provide the file system needed by the www4 server, which had been limping along for some time.  So we quickly began to explore ways to host those pages. The inimitable Mitch Shacklett (Director, Systems and Network) came up with a great way to do this, by making a subset of your folders on Charlie visible on the web.  He promises that we will soon have a way to password protect pages being offered in this way too.

One of the people affected by this was Tad Beckman, Professor Emeritus in the Humanities, Social Sciences and the Arts Department.  Tad had a collection of pages that included some essays and lecture notes that were referred to by many people around the internet.  Together we looked at a variety of options to publish this material in a more permanent format.  In the end, Tad found a very interesting solution: he published five eBooks on Amazon’s Kindle Store.  I was intrigued by this idea, and asked Tad a few questions by email:

How did you discover that you could publish on Amazon’s kindle store?

I Google searched self-publishing and Kindle Direct Publishing was one of the sites that came up.

Why did the  Claremont library not want to take your material?

The Claremont Digital Library program seems to be only for faculty works that have already been published somewhere. I was dealing with course notes and unpublished materials.

To whom would the material be of interest?

All of these materials have been on my WebSite from the early 1990s onward. Some were developed for courses I was teaching but others were just pursuing interests of mine. Philosophy students around the country have used my course notes and I’ve had extensive contact with some of them. Students of Native Americans (especially California 4th graders) have used my extensive notes for my freshman course “Indigenous People of the Western US”. I used to interact with parents, students, and teachers quite a bit. In addition, I wrote a whole book about California’s indians (The View from Native California) but failed to finish it when I became department chair for the second time. It wound up on the WebSite. In addition, I put up an article on Martin Heidegger which has been read widely over the internet.

How easy/difficult was it, in your opinion to get this done?

If you already have an Amazon account, it is easy to create an account on Kindle Direct Publishing. If you intend to publish, you can go ahead and fill out the tax-related forms as well. Then you get a “bookshelf” from which you can add new titles. It is very easy to do if you have your material in MS Word format. (I was using Word for MAC 2004 but switched to Word for MAC 2011.) When you add a title, you fill out a longish form with all the vital information — title, subtitle, author, categories, search words, etc. You will do two important things toward the bottom of this form — first, create a cover using their cover-maker (import your own image or leave it without an image) and, second, upload your Word file. After that, you go to a second form where you select a price and authenticate that you have authorship rights. After that, it takes the system about 12 hours to put your book into the store. The book appears on your “bookshelf” and offers several operations that you can perform — like creating an updated version, etc.

The one thing that gave me trouble until I finally figured it out was creating a table of contents that worked on a Kindle or iPad. When you know the magic it is easy in Word. In the MAC version at least, you just insert a “bookmark” over the title of a chapter, essay, etc. Then, in your table, you insert a “hyperlink” to that bookmark. When you are all finished, the table works in the Word version and is taken up by the Kindle-format conversion.

What would you say to fellow faculty about your experience with the Amazon system?

Well, I wanted these materials someplace where people could continue to use them and this looks like a good place. It was a very easy process to convert my Web pages into Word format and then coalesce them into a full document. Most of the time went into proofreading, editing, and making additional text so that the final document would be coherent. In about three weeks, I have created five publications. (You can see them by searching “Tad Beckman” on Amazon.com.) I’ve even sold a few!

Any other comments?

Retirement is great!

——————-
I am grateful to Tad for telling me about this. You can take a look at his new  pages, served from Charlie, at http://pages.hmc.edu/beckman and his Amazon publications can be found at http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=tad%20Beckman

 

 

Google Apps Learning Community

google appsOne of the priorities that came out of the Spring 2013 survey of faculty priorities, was a request for training in Google Apps for Education.  This feedback has come to us through a number of channels, so we are delighted to participate in and support the initiative announced in Debra Mashek’s recent email to faculty and staff, which is the first step in the creation of a “learning community” around Google Apps for Education.  As she was preparing her call for participation, I got the opportunity to share a favorite quote, from an article that Dan Stoebel sent around last year (thanks Dan!):

“A healthy alternative is one that celebrates being an ‘accomplished novice’ who is proud of his or her accomplishments but realizes that he or she is still a novice with respect to most that is knowable and hence actively seeks new learning opportunities.” John D. Bransford and Daniel L. Schwartz, “Rethinking Transfer: A Simple Proposal with Multiple
Implications,” Review of Research in Education, vol. 24, no. 1 (January 1999), pp. 61-100.

What better way to approach a learning opportunity like Google Apps for Education?  If you’re inspired, please visit the form to express interest and preferences by Monday, May 5th  http://tinyurl.com/googleappslearningcommunity

Data Privacy Month (with a painful story about the students-l list)

Today is Data Privacy Day. See http://www.staysafeonline.org/data-privacy-day/

To celebrate, here is a true story culled from the vaults of HMC server administrator lore. Read it, weep… and then change your passwords.

Once upon a time there was a moderator of the students-l list. She was diligent and hard-working, devoted to the task of saving other students time by only approving messages that she judged to be of interest to students, and collecting together announcements about events at the other Colleges so they could all be included in one message. She worked on this most days, using the students-l list software.

The students-l list system is very old and resides on a Linux machine called Odin. The list system is so old that it may have been created when “GUI” was only a railway code for a station on the Glossop Line and graphical user interfaces were figments of fevered imaginations at Xerox PARC.

Now one day our diligent moderator (let’s call her Agnes) logged in to the system and noticed it was really slow, slower than usual.  At first, Agnes thought that maybe the list system was on the blink or even that Odin was finally giving up the ghost.  She couldn’t moderate messages or send anything out to students-l. Agnes quickly reported it to the CIS Help Desk.

The server admins were soon busy examining Odin as it lay there on its sheets of Irish linen. Little did they know that they were entering their very own long dark teatime of the soul, not working on high priority HMC projects, but just trying to figure out what was going on.

Bit by bit (was that pun intended?), they discovered that Odin was sending out tons of spam and then getting back tons of bounce messages.  So many that poor Odin was choking, unable to give any attention to Agnes’ plaintive login requests. Even worse, Odin was failing to recognize Agnes’ user name and trying to send error messages about that.

“But why?” said the server admins, pulling at their hair (long dark teatimes can have that effect).  “Why Odin?  Why now?  Why spam?  …Why us?”.

Now you just have to sit there and imagine time passing. Slowly.  No students-l messages are getting through.  Spam is spewing.  The server admins are ignoring other things. “Educational Technology?…no time for that”.   Are you imagining that?

OK. In the end, they figured it out.  Another user account on Odin  had been hacked and the hackers were using it to send their spam. And how did they hack it?  You guessed it. A weak password on the user account….  Sigh. Once they figured that out, the server admins had to spend several hours cleaning up the mess and then let Agnes know she was back up and moderating.  Lots of time lost and all because of a weak password.

Data Privacy Day. It’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure data privacy. And it can start with a better password. For tips on creating a better one, maybe even creating one that meets HMC requirements, take a quick look at the HMC Password Policy.

Held annually on January 28, Data Privacy Day encourages everyone to make protecting privacy and data a greater priority. DPD is an international effort to empower and educate people to protect their privacy and control their digital footprint. It kicks off Data Privacy Month (http://www.educause.edu/focus-areas-and-initiatives/policy-and-security/educause-policy/community-engagement/data-privacy-month).

Thanks for reading. Now go forth and change your passwords.

March 2013 update from the CIO

This is the March 2013 update from the CIO.shamrock

Computing Committee Survey.
In late November, I asked the Computing Committee to discuss how they thought CIS is doing, while I was out of the room. The committee decided to run a quick three question survey and got a large faculty response. The short version: CIS has made many improvements (we got a B- grade at Harvey Mudd College!), but there is still work to be done. For more about the survey and a link to the discussion of the results read Faculty Computing Survey Results.

ITIF
In January the Board of Trustees approved policies creating a new Information Technology Infrastructure Fund (ITIF). This is an important development because it will allow us to plan more consistently for improvements and renovation work on the campus network. We are currently creating an “inventory of need” which we will use to prioritize infrastructure projects over the next five years. We will be designing the network architecture to address security, reliability and speed of the campus network.

SIGMAnet wired network report.
As I reported in the Fall, we contracted with a local company, SIGMAnet to conduct a review of our wired network. The report came in on January 10 and I updated the PPCPC Trustee Committee later that month.

The network assessment highlighted several key hardware and configuration risks. Twelve major concerns were listed that can be broken down as follows:

  • End of life and end of support equipment in use. This equipment presents risks on two fronts, security and potential down time due to equipment failure.
  • Security risks in network switch access methods and quality of switch passwords.
  • Design gaps such as lack of redundancy in connections between network switches.
  • Software configuration inconsistencies.

The report goes into detail and will be invaluable in the development of our comprehensive plan, which will address all of the issues. If you are interested in reading the report or contributing to the planning effort, please get in touch.

Core Switch upgrade.
One of our first ITIF projects! Early in the morning of Saturday, March 16 we will be upgrading the HMC network core. The network core is responsible for aggregating all of our campus network connections and linking us to the wider intercollegiate network and the internet. It has to be fast, powerful and reliable. CIS staff will be working in partnership with engineers from SIGMAnet to replace our aging core. The end result will be aprodcut_bulletin_c25-688075-1 much improved arrangement, with a pair of Cisco Nexus 7000 switches at the core. In the near future, we will move one of the pair out of the A-room in Parsons to either Platt or the TLB. This will give us both redundancy (“more than one”) and diversity (“not in the same place”) at the network core. There will be some network downtime associated with the work on Saturday morning, but the end result will be worth it.

Thuban retirement.
As well as rolling out new things, it is important for CIS to manage the retirement of services, to make sure we are making the most of our limited resources.  Thuban, a VMS system, is a case in point.  Most infrastructure services (such as DNS and DHCP) have been moved off of Thuban. Fewer than 20 people are still using the email system on Thuban and we are actively moving their accounts to either Google Apps for Education or Office365.  A number of faculty still have static html sites on www2, which is hosted on Thuban.  We are exploring options for moving them.  One of my favorites is to host them on Google drive. (did you know you could do that?).

TLB updates.
The TLB is 120 days away! I’m sure, if you’re on campus, you can’t help but notice the speed at which things seem to be happening. Weekly telecommunication meetings began this week  They are starting to pull cable for the network and electrical systems; wireless access points (86 of them, compared to 134 on the rest of campus) and network equipment have arrived and will soon be installed. The Audiovisual plans are in place. Much of the furniture has been chosen. The cafe is taking shape…They will be starting to prime and paint the basement this week.  It’s real!

Canvas pilot.
In the Fall, a group of Computer Science faculty presented a Bite of Learning on their use of Piazza for class discussions. Elizabeth Hodas and I were discussing afterward how we needed to keep up with developments in the learning management system (LMS) world.  Sakai is the LMS currently used by the Claremont Colleges but there are some interesting new ones, like Canvas.Canvas It is not like Sakai is going away anytime soon, but we do want to understand our options. So we decided to ask the same group of faculty if they’d be interested in running a small pilot of Canvas. Ran Liebeskind Hadas took up the idea and is currently teaching CS 140/Math 168 using Canvas.  We’re looking forward to hearing about this at a Bite of Learning session on April 17.

Other articles on the IT News site.
There are a few other articles on the IT News site that you might find interesting. Cindy Abercrombie provided an update on student printing. Elizabeth Hodas wrote about a variety of audiovisual improvements we will make over Spring Break in big Beckman and Hoch-Shanahan, complete with a photo of the instructor station, which is the same as the ones chosen for the TLB.   And we have an update on the Portal Advisory Group.

So, while you faculty and students are away, the CIS mice won’t be at play.  Have a great Spring Break!

 

Update on Portal Advisory Group

Screenshot from 2013-03-14 17:30:10I’ve written about the Portal Advisory Group before.  Affectionately known as PAG, it’s a group that will assist us with setting priorities for the Portal, starting from the premise that the portal is a tool which we know HMC has not used to its full capacity. The group will guide CIS and the College in improving and expanding use of the portal.

The following people have all agreed to participate and I am grateful to them.

Mark Ashley (Registrar, Chair)
Lauren Kim (Assoc Registrar)
Susan Selhorst (CIS)
Cindy Abercrombie (CIS)
Paul Steinberg (HSA)
Vatche Sahakian (Physics)
Tim Hussey (OCA Communications)
Jennifer Greene (OCA Communications)
Guy Gerbick (DOS)
Scott Martin (BAO)

We are also seeking one or two students to help with this initiative.

The first meeting is being scheduled for just after Spring break.

I look forward to good outcomes!

Faculty Computing Survey Results

survey-300x224In late Fall 2012 the computing committee ran a survey of faculty, asking three questions about information technology at HMC.

About 50 faculty responded to the questions, and almost everyone wrote a few lines of comments in response to each question – in addition to giving scores.

Question 1: How satisfied are you with the current teaching services provided by the CIS (e.g. Sakai, portal, classroom support, labs, etc…)?

- Average letter grade: B- (2.57/4.00, 54 respondents)

Question 2: How satisfied are you with the other services offered by the CIS (email, research related services, laptop/desktop support, etc)?

- Average letter grade: B- (2.69/4.00, 55 respondents)

Question 3: How satisfied are you with the current computing services offered by your own department (e.g. email, website, lab, course support, etc)?

- Average letter grade: C+ (2.35/4.00, 49 respondents)

The spread of each score was roughly 0.50/4.00, with a bigger spread for the third question.

The committee summarized by saying that things have improved and are going in the right direction, but that there is still work to be done.

The computing committee members this year are:

Vatche Sahakian (Chair)
Alfonso Castro
Weiqing Gu
Jacob Bandes-Storch ’14
Joseph Vaughan

The committee made four recommendations of its own and added more recommendations coming from the Faculty Executive Committee. You can read the full report, with my responses to each recommendation at the following URL (HMC Credentials required to access the document):
http://goo.gl/oqxiF

Data Management Plans

Many faculty are already aware of the fact that the NSF and other funding agencies are now requiring that grant applications include a “data management plan”.  Last Spring, Jeho Park, our Scientific Computing Specialist wrote a report on data management plans, which is at http://goo.gl/XXdf8 (requires HMC credentials).

Jeho has also recently told me about the California Digital Library’s DMP Tool, which takes you step by step through the process of developing a data management plan.  It is at this link: https://dmp.cdlib.org/.  You can create an account at https://dmp.cdlib.org/institutional_login (choose “none of the above” under “select your institution”).  Once you create your account and log in, the tool is pretty self-explanatory.

Several faculty that have tried it have reported to me that the found it useful.

If you are writing up a data management plan, I urge you to contact me.  We can help with the specifics of how CIS systems are backed up and provide feedback on the plan.

 

Portal Advisory Group

I have been discussing the portal with a number of people around campus over the last few months. Improvement and expansion of the portal will be a key initiative for the next two years.

There are several reasons for this:

  1. The portal plays a key role in many important areas of the College’s activities.  Grades, Registration, Advising, Student Billing and Alumni Directory are just some examples.
  2. We know that other institutions have more attractive and functional installations of the same portal software (JICS), so our instance of the portal can be made better too.
  3. Because of the fact that we collaborate with the other Claremont Colleges to provide cross-registration for students, moving to a completely different portal is not a simple proposition.
  4. Both Jenzabar, the company that provides the portal software, and AISO, the Pomona College unit that manages the underlying student information system, are committed to making improvements to the system, and we can build upon those.  For instance, Pomona recently informed us that the back end database was handling 60 million transactions per day during the Fall pre-registration period.  They have recently migrated the system from HP Unix to Linux, and are anticipating improvements in response times.

We have already taken the first steps in the portal improvement initiative. We are planning to create a Portal Advisory Group, with the following vision statement:

The portal is a tool which we know HMC has not used to its full capacity. This group will guide CIS and the College in improving and expanding use of the portal.

Registrar Mark Ashley has agreed to chair this group, which will include representation from the many areas that use the portal, as well as faculty and students.  Among the tasks we will ask the group to undertake is to advise on the queuing of CIS projects related to the portal. They currently include:

      • HSA Advising application
      • 40+ Portal improvements suggested by Registrar
      • Electronic Billing
      • OCA requests
      • Student research portlet and forms
      • Single Sign On
      • Adding a staff tab to the portal

John Trafecanty has recently taken over responsibility for the portal, as his duties related to Sakai were much reduced when we moved the Sakai service to Pomona College.  John always bring talent and persistence to programming tasks, so we anticipate great work on the portal.

Watch for more updates on this initiative and do get in touch if you’d like to be involved.