All entries for May 2004

May 28, 2004


It's been hard to fit in development time around meetings, OMR problem-solving and trying to badger Systems Support to install the server I ordered last September (it's been sitting switched off since it was delivered in November). But I have made progress.

Things I've learnt about JavaServerFaces this week:

  • How to make JSF pass a per-request PersistenceManager to JSF backing beans that need one. I love it when technology makes life this simple!
  • That's it's pretty much impossible to debug JSP scriptlets in pages that are managed by the JSF servlet, at least using Sun's reference implementation. You don't get to see the stack trace, so runtime errors are impossible to diagnose. Conclusion: use zero scriptlet code in JSF pages.

May 27, 2004

Everyone knows about live IT demos

They don't work. In fact, John's blog demo worked fine, which meant that my mass mailing demo had to fail completely.

I tested it before, and after, from my desk and it's fine. The only thing I can think of that might have caused a problem would be the F5 load-balancer. To be investigated further tomorrow – somehow I've lost my appetite for work for today.

May 26, 2004

The MegaMeeting

Had the web-dev mega meeting this morning, aimed at taking a step back an assessing what we do and how we do it without the focus on technical detail of our weekly meetings.

Many good ideas, including cancelled-lecture text messages to students (a pro-forma version could be changed to students' printer credit account, free-form messages would have to be charged to the sending department); personalised timetables and directions to lecture rooms to be viewable via WAP; how to better support students in vacations; support load and how to help the helpdesk help people with SiteBuilder; the merits of design documentation and teamwork in reducing falling-under-bus risk; how to rearrange the cubicle space to get all the Java devs together; and much more.

All the new project ideas sounded strongly MLE-ish. Which means that I must be in charge of them all, obviously. Rar!

May 24, 2004

Software QA

Had my first QA meeting at Objectivity Ltd; they're developing some software for the Careers Service and I'm on QA duty. Everybody I spoke to there had a beard, so I fitted right in.

It went well. I have half a dozen action points to follow up. I suspect software QA is going to be more work for me than for them. Just another thing to pack into the 30 working days remaining befor e my summer holiday.

Slow going

Didn't get as much developing done last week as I'd hoped due to a steady stream of requests for tweaks to OMR. At worst, I'll be able to get back down to it next week, because OMR closes to students at the end of this week. In addition to OMR-minding, I have meetings every day this week (two, today). Joy.

May 21, 2004

Things That Bug

Writing about Things that bug… from Hannah's handbag

Things that have been bugging me this week (the meme got to me via Hannah)

  • GroupWise web interface (why is it so shit? Why must I log in every 20 minutes throughout the day? Why, does it often refuse my username and password the first time I enter them and make me type them a second time? If we're paying money for this, can't we pay an undergrad CS student to do a better job?)
  • The Academic Office, rescheduling a meeting 4 times in one week and cutting it down to 3/4 of an hour when we didn't get through the whole agenda in an hour last time.

May 17, 2004

Back to developing

At last, by the end of last week all the bug fixes and new tweaks required by the Academic Office for OMR were done. Now I can get back to developing the Academic Groups Email (AGE) app, switching over with Zoe, who was working on AGE and will now work through some JIRAs on ETT and OMR.

May 07, 2004


It's been a mixed week of both troubleshooting and continuing the work on LoadStudents. Attempted to rope Julie in to use Oracle admin tools while the process was running, but she said she wouldn't have time to look at it for at least a week. So attacked it from the Java end, with advice from Libelis, and eventually had success in making it run in optimistic-locking mode. Between locking mode, refactoring, sorting and some cacheing, speeded it up from 453 mins to 100 mins, a speedup factor of 4.5, which I will call good enough and leave it at that.

The opening of OMR for students to poke at always brings a swathe of problems to investigate for the Academic Office. There was one bug, but as usual, all the rest turned out to be data quality issues.

It's a pain that we have to spend time working out data problems that they have to fix, but it's a difficult problem to solve. The troubleshooting generally involves seeing something that's going wrong on the OMR web interface, and tracing this from the OMR frontend through the OMR database to the SITS UWTABS tables to the SITS product tables to one of scores of possible screens on the SITS frontend. This is such a complex procedure that the AO staff would have no chance, nor should they have to do this. But it's not clear to me how we could bypass it either.

7833 students (out of 9412) have used the Exam Timetable system since go-live two weeks ago. We've heard of less than a dozen who had a problem with it (all of them unsure how to display PDFs) – that's under 0.1%. A pleasing success rate.

May 04, 2004

Firefighting again

OMR went live for pre-registration for 04/05 today, so there was the expected firefighting and diagnosing data problems, students with missing cores and so on. Hopefully normal service should pretty much resume tomorrow.

Still haven't got LoadStudents under 5 hours. Asked Julie to look at Oracle again, but no reply yet.

Sent a list of 8 OMR issues off to Nick for the AO to ponder. The meeting has been brought forward to Thursday so a lot of them may end up getting discussed there rather than offline. Could be a long one.

May 2004

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