Friday, February 29, 2008

Strap on Your Rocket Shoes! Google Sites for ASU

Students, faculty and researchers, strap on your rocket shoes: "Google Sites" was just released to ASU as part of our Google Apps for Education suite.

"Sites" is not only a killer web page and site building tool, it also excels as an intuitive web-based collaboration medium. Google has blended web pages, blogs and wikis into a seamless, virtually effortless whole.

Sites will let us - ASU students, faculty and staff - forget about specific software and special languages we've needed to manage blogs, wikis and web pages in the past. Now, collaboration and commenting is an option on any ASU sites page. Sites aims to be a one-stop shop - a Mom-and-Pop-easy-shop - for creating interactive pages that you can co-publish with others, whether they're in the next chair or on the next continent.

"Enough!" you say. "How do I get started?"

Just go here and follow the directions. Making a personal site is a great way to test the waters. You can also create a practice site and then delete it when you're done.

To make a new page, just hit the "Create a new page" button. You'll see several options that define not just form, but more awesomely, function. In addition to standard web page layouts, you can create a "Dashboard" page full of gadgets ("mini" applications embedded in the page; think "My ASU") or a "List" (really a whole set of functions for project management and other kinds of task management) or a "File Cabinet" (all of your uploaded files, lined up and reporting for duty).

Want to change the format of the navigation menu? Just drag-and-drop content blocks or edit them after hitting "Edit sidebar" in the sidebar. Want to stir calendars, spreadsheets, slide shows, video and other rich media into your page? In page edit, hit the "Insert" button in the toolbar, locate your file - it's done. Versioning is automatic so you can change your mind and switch to an earlier revision. And if you're collaborating, versioning allows you to see who changed what.

It took just 30 minutes to port the content of the blog you're now reading into a quick Google Site: check it out. It doesn't take much of a leap to see how researchers might - much more easily than before - exploit the power of The Cloud to build shared bodies of knowledge; how teachers could publish their course materials and encourage student interaction within course-based sites, and how students could work together, inside or outside of classes, to learn and to teach one another.

And here's the best part: the power and flexibility of Google Sites is free to ASU students, faculty, researchers and staff. The elves who brought us this technology from an advanced alien culture created it while we were sleeping.

There's plenty more to come. Stay tuned!


Monday, February 04, 2008

Power for Algernon

Transformer rat outlineMaybe he was a rat with dreams...Maybe he came from the wilds of Arizona seeking a higher education. Maybe he was just cold...We don't really know.

What we do know is that a lot of people spent most of the weekend repairing the damage caused by one little rat that crawled his way into a transformer.

Now, the rat couldn't have known that this transformer powered many of ASU's computer systems and that, besides the small matter of frying his brains, he was going to cause a major service disruption. Fortunately, he sought shelter late on a Saturday night during the lowest period of computer use. We have a UPS but the battery ran out before our power problems were resolved. Technicians worked through the night to grab a generator, hook it up and then restore our equipment.

We were back to full power by 6:30 am Sunday, when the software and hardware people took over to restore services. Support services, such as Blackboard, Exchange and IDEAL, had to come up first so that they'd be available when the Web came back up. Most services were available by 11:30 am, though system functions needed to be reviewed throughout a very long day.

 I'd like to thank each and every person who helped get ASU's services back up and running.  Many thanks to:

Terry Hinton & his staff - Chris Beke, Robert Blackmon, Alexandro Bonos, Shawn Bryan, Mark Fornefeld, Kevin Lockart, Reyes Mori, James Prather & Brian Shaw; Jack Hsu’s staff - Chris Coffin, Brent Dunlock, Jim Durand, Jane Flores, Sean Garrett, Paul Harper, Bob Kaneshige, Joe McDonald, OJ Redhair, Jim Salverson, Jeff Scheib, & Greg Wilson; Ken Carl & his staff - James Muscara; Robin Manke-Cassidy & her staff - Gregory Alcorn, Zach Chamberlin, Erich van Sanford & Goska Zapolska; Dave McKee & his staff - Franco Lomonte, Tom Bauer & Duane Woerman; Kari Barlow & her staff - Nancy Lee, Nathan Gudmunson, Andy Beier & Minnie Fontes; John Rome & his staff - Sangeeta Agarwal, Ali Benmalek, Jack Davis, Daren Kahus, Dennis Monce & Bob Sookvong; Max Davis-Johnson & his staff - Walt Ellis, Neil Fritz, Jason Green, Ron Hill, Tasleema Lallmamode, Joe Nadeau & Lori Reents; Sarah Hughes & Samuel DiGangi & his staff - Ruvi Wijesuriya.

And what about Algernon? He may not have made it to grad school, but he did help us learn some things. We knew that we needed redundant power systems and Algernon helped make it a priority. Unfortunately, the more elaborate the infrastructure, the more expensive redundancy becomes. As we move toward a 24 by 7 world, the last couple of 9s are the most expensive. It's interesting to note that services supplied by our partners, Gmail from Google and PeopleSoft functions from CedarCrestone, were not affected by this power outage. Our little rat friend would have had to travel a long way to disrupt them, and due to their scales of operation, they may be a little more varmint-proof than we are.

Comments - even rat jokes - are welcome...