August 06, 2004

Network performance woes

Spent most of today trying to nurse the residences network back to health, working with Data Integration. It's been pretty poorly for the last few days now, with parts having been slow for a week or more. We were at a bit of a loss to explain what kept slowing the whole thing to a crawl, until we stumbled across the one thing that all the 'problem' computers that Norsk Data took a look at had in common: they all had Bittorrent installed.

So today we took the rather dramatic step of blocking all the common Bittorrent ports on our core equipment, and since then the network has mostly seemed to return to normal. It's going to be Monday before things have settled down enough for us to say for sure, but it certainly looks like it had been a handful of Bittorrent users who were crippling the network.

As for a proper explanation, well we still don't have one. Quite how a single filesharing program can cause that much disruption is something we can't explain yet, but I guess that can wait until Monday :-)

August 05, 2004

RSS and aggregations

I arrived into work five minutes early today, and it's amazing how much more productive I'm being this morning, just for having arrived for work in a calm mood. I think I'll try and do this more.

I've been doing a fair bit of work in my spare time overhauling my personal blog , switching over to Movable Type and updating my old design , which was looking pretty dated.

One of the best things that's come out of the upgrade is that my blog now has an RSS feed, which publishes my entries on the web server in a computer-readable format in addition to HTML.

Much like tabbed browsing, it's slightly difficult to explain exactly why using RSS feeds make using the web so much easier, but I can certainly say it saves me a lot of time periodically checking the blogs and news sites I read regularly. In fact, I don't have to keep checking to see if the sites I read have been updated, because my RSS reader program checks for itself and tells me.

I've also been speding a lot of time reading a few blog 'planets' such as Planet GNOME which take RSS feeds from a number of related blogs, aggregate these together and serve them up on a website. A lot of companies working in the open source world such as Novell have set up 'planets' where the disparate blogs of their employees are aggregated together, and they certainly make for interesting reading.

So this leaves me with a few questions about blogbuilder. Firstly, does blogbuilder do RSS feeds? This may be ground that's been covered before somewhere, but are there plans to support it if not? I'd certainly like to be able to add some of the blogs on here that I read to my RSS reader, so I don't have to keep checking back on them.

Secondly, I'd be interested to know how the current aggregation system on blogbuilder works? The more extensive groups-based system that's being developed certainly sounds pretty good, but I wonder if it will be possible to aggegate non-blogbuilder blogs into these groups, via RSS feeds or similar? The beauty of the planet software that seems to be being used to create most of the aggregations I've been reading is that it allows virtually any blog to be added to a planet.

Planet is a flexible feed aggregator. It downloads news feeds published by web sites and aggregates their content together into a single combined feed, latest news first. It uses Mark Pilgrim's Universal Feed Parser to read from RDF, RSS and Atom feeds; and Tomas Styblo's templating engine to output static files in any format you can dream up.

I'd love it if blogbuilder could do this kind of aggregation too, as it would allow existing blogs (whether these are MT, Blogger or blogbuilder based) to be incorporated into the various aggregatations being planned for course, year group etc. I'm no longer a student at Warwick, but a number of my friends who are have blogs which I'm sure it would be interesting to add to a blogbuilder aggregation for their course/society/year.

Just my 2p's worth, anyway :-)

July 20, 2004


Most of the support calls that come in to the Piazza helpdesk are quite routine – a virus infection, a broken Windows installation, a dodgy network cable, and so on.

It's therefore quite nice when you get to deal with one that's not so common. Like the call I've just taken from a girl with smoke coming from her laptop. At least she seemed to see the funny side of it, anyway :-)

July 19, 2004

More Student Computing fun

I've just about finished putting together the Residences pages for the new Student Computing site, I think. I'm never quite happy with anything like this that I do though, as there's always things you can do to tweak it or change things around, and Sitebuilder lets you carry on doing that kind of thing for ever.

I'm also struggling to see objectively what people need in terms of information on how to connect to the residences network, having been using the network and working for the Piazza helpdesk for nearly a year now. Is all the information there? Is there too much irrelevant technical information in there? Is it buried too deep in the structure of the site? I just can't seem to tell.

I've also been trying to think how we can point students to all this information that we're putting up there on Student Computing. I think the material will help students to help themselves a lot more than they currently can (before they even get round to phoning the helpdesk), but that's obviously not much use if nobody knows it's there. The Residences section is currently hidden five levels below the top level in Sitebuilder, so clearly people aren't going to find it unless it's promoted in some other way.

For now I'm going to go back to the RCA documentation, while I try to mull over a few of these questions in my head. But if anyone has any ideas, I'd be glad to hear them :-)

July 08, 2004

NT Nightmares

I swore to myself that my first entry wouldn't be at all moany, but I've just about reached my limit with Windows NT and web browsers!

Today I'm trying to beef up the Residences section of the new Student Computing site on SiteBuilder. My last three attempts to edit one particular page have gone something like this:

  1. Try to edit the page in Firefox using the Java applet editor – Firefox crashes
  2. Restart Firefox, which now doesn't seem to be rendering anything on the screen
  3. Close the now broken FF, try instead with Mozilla off the NAL, which experiences the same rendering problem as FF
  4. Close Mozilla, revert to using IE, which then locks up while trying to load the applet
  5. Forcefully close IE, and NT blue screens on me and starts a memory dump

Resisting the temptation to point out how I never have any problems using my own PC in my room, but this is really starting to annoy me now! :-)

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  • Sferyx JSyndrome HTMLEditor Component – a full featured visual HTML Editor Java Bean component. link… by joe on this entry
  • I think that part of it might be related to the number of connections that bittorrent tends to open.… by Phil on this entry
  • Ahh, this brings me back… :–) Bittorrent is a lot less noisy than most filesharing type programs, … by on this entry
  • Naturally, as soon as I was about to ask what the RSS links were, I stumbled across the big orange b… by on this entry
  • Hi Will, There are kind of two different forms of aggregation in blogbuilder. The first is the one t… by on this entry

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