Monthly Archives: January 2008

Pedagogy: Permitting Anonymous users in Sites

I have used a feature in Sakai where you add the “.anon” role to a site and then give .anon site.visit and other permissions as you see fit.
This makes it so that the site is directly accessible via a URL – without any login process at all. You as the instructor have complete control over what these anonymous users see and can do in your site. Sakai smartly hides and shows buttons based on the permissions you give anonymous users.
I have this all set to the point where I have a completely public site for the course I am teaching at
Note that you need no account nor login to see my course materials and peruse the site. I currently have the e-mail archive tool hidden for privacy issues. But I could unhide the E-Mail tool and you could see our course mail list too.
I will continue to experiement with this – I have already found a few little things that could be improved for anonymous users – I will file JIRAs on this stuff and work on it.
I take inspiration from this from the excellent keynote from Hal Abelson at the Amsterdam conference where he encouraged us to think open first and then hide materials only when there is a reason to hide the materials. Also Bodington hs the notion of making materials trivially public at its core as well.

Going for the Gusto in Sakai’s Storage Layer SAK-12387

As I have been blasting my way through improving the performance of the MailTool – it is pretty clear that we need to improve our APIs for things like Messages to allow tool writers (and Web Service consumers) to Filter, Search, and Page on pretty much any call that returns a List.
Otherwise we just won’t scale and we won’t be cool at all. The Mail Archive tool keeling over just happens to be the first place our lack of rich search, filter, and paging options in our APIs makes us look very uncool and unscalable.
So I whipped up a JIRA to talk about it. Actually I am already about 25% done with this because I had to knock the cobwebs out of BaseMessage and Storage APIs to make MailArchive work well. Now I want to do it everywhere. I don’t want to make all the implementations super-fast like Mail will be (actually mail will be superfast most of the time and tolerably slow on searches). Most importantly Mail Archive will not crash servers and tick off impatient users.
Here is the JIRA:
I include the text of the JIRA below. The people who mostly care about this are Ian, Beth, Glenn, Zhen, Jim, and me. These are the folks who own tools that are using the old DbDouble and DbFlat series of self-built ORMs from the CHEF era.

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Cool Mac OS/X Time Machine Tip – Starting a Backup Manually

Funny about TimeLine – initially I thought it was “ho-hum” when I first got Leopard – now I get nervous when I have not backed up for a while.
So sometimes I want to trigger a backup. Here is the line:
/System/Library/CoreServices/backupd.bundle/Contents/Resources/backupd-helper &
Here are some URLs that helped me:
ALso to check on how things are going on your backup open the console application and put backupd in the search box. It is not to talkative but can give some info on little problems – you see messages like this:
1/21/08 6:50:45 PM /System/Library/CoreServices/backupd[3102] Starting standard backup
1/21/08 6:50:45 PM /System/Library/CoreServices/backupd[3102] Backing up to: /Volumes/Backup/Backups.backupdb
Actually console is a pretty cool application.

Not Skipping Unit Tests in Sakai – Maven 2

I have been using -Dmaven.skip.test=true for so long in Sakai – I had hard-coded it into my settings.xml

The whole Sakai now compiles with unit tests and the Continuum Build running at Cambridge does its builds with unit tests turned on. Nightly2 does not yet compile with unit tests turned on.

As a developer – you might want to start turning unit tests on or you will break the Cambridge build. I got caught when I checked in something that broke the Continuum build at Cam build but not nightly2. Thanks to Aaron and Ian for being gentle – and thanks to Aaron for his IM advice that led me to the solution below – I felt like I was in Sakai beginner school because I felt so lost.

There are two ways that unit tests get turned off. First, my mvn commands always looked like this:

mvn -Dmaven.test.skip=true -Dmaven.tomcat.home=/Users/cs ….

Just remove the obvious suppression of the tests in your mvn command – but for some of us we just coded it into our settings.xml which is stored in


I had a line that looks like this:


Now I have taken it out and joined the ranks of the hip and cool unit testers in Sakai. Also it reduces the number of times I am embarassed when I break the Caret build. Also it means that I am happy to add some stuff to the already existing unit cool tests in the portal made by Ian so my new work is also unit tested.

You might still want to to turn off unit tests when you compile all of Sakai after a fresh checkout – it adds some time to the process. But when you are working on a chunk of Sakai and in particular before you check something in – make sure to pass unit tests before you check new code in.

I am loving the new Apple Stuff from MacWorld

I cannot believe that folks are disappointed in the announcements at this week’s Macworld. This is clearly a situation where the expectations have gotten so high that simply being amazing is a disappointment for the market. What a bunch of knuckleheads.
I really like the fact that my iPhone just got better through a free upgrade. I was all prepared to pay another $400 to get GPS in my iPhone – and no, the current feature is *not* GPS – but it is close enough for 80% of what I want to do. The best application for this is saying “Where is the closest steakhouse?” or “Where is the closest Best Buy?” – this is like science fiction stuff. And I just downloaded it for free. It is somewhere between 500 feet and 1/2 mile in accuracy in my testing. It seems that my daughter’s iPhone purchased in December has better GPS accuracy than my phone which was purchased as soon as iPhones came out. In side by side testing her phone is better – kind of weird.
The even cooler thing is that my daughter upgraded her iPhone software without even talking to me and figured it all out herself. Got to like Apple’s ability to write software for consumers.
The new Apple Air Macbook is simply awesome – one again Apple challenges the other vendors to really know what folks need – no disk drive at all – great move. No Ethernet – great move. Solid-state disk as a way-too-expensive option – great move. Apple s god at taking future stuff and making it today stuff. This is making a portable portable – I kind of miss the really ultra-portables like the Vadem Clio and the Nec 800 – lets watch the Air morph into a 3Ghz 2GB 13 hour battery screamer in the next few years and then say “Steve missed the mark”. We must walk before we fly. The Apple Air is already ready to glide long distances – lets give it a while and see where it goes.
I personally credit Apple with straightening out the mess of multiple wireless specs when they picked one and introduced the Airport. They take advanced stuff and make it common place and then up the manufacturing and then reduce the price – and then the other vendors jump on and follow – further increasing the economies of scale for everyone including the folks who don’t buy Apple hardware.
I even am geeked about the gesture stuff in the Air – I really like gestures on my iPhone – yes I initially thought they were lame – but that was until I got good at gestures – now I love gestures and happily teach gestures to unsuspecting people at a dinner table. People (myself included) never appreciate the depth of an Apple design and second guess – until they live with it for a while and realize that Apple designers were right all along – it takes skill to do something that most people think is wrong – but then end up being right.
Here is the other coolest thing – the next time I get a laptop – I won’t get a compromise laptop like the one I have now (MacBook Pro) – which is a pretty fine desktop + laptop combo. It has the disk space and expansion of a desktop (sort of) and it is a bit heavier than 3lbs so it is light (sort of). When I next buy a computer I will get an absolutely bitching desktop with like 8 procesors and 2TB – then I can do a bunch of video editing. And I will have a laptop that is light and powerful capable of doing development and video editing – just not the heaviest editing. Think of the world going forward as a desktop plus a “shuttlecraft”. And the Shuttle craft is plenty powerful on its own. But the mother-ship can have a crew of hundreds.
Oh yeah and the last thing – did you notice that the new laptops from the side look just like the alien pods that came down the lightening bolts in War of the Worlds? Yeah – you are feeling me.
Oh yeah one last last thing – I wonder how many employees Dell sends to Macworld – how else will figure out what next years Dell’s are supposed to imitate.. Just when Dell got out their own shiny black imitation iMac – now they need a War of the Worlds shaped shuttlecraft portable laptop with curved edges…. Sucks to be a Dell industrial designer the week after MacWorld. I would love to be a fly on the wall at the Dell design meetings this Monday.
Ok – It is a Friday and I had fun today doing some video editing so I am in a good mood.

Pedagogy: Teaching in a Semi-Public Manner

Since I am interested in Open Courseware and the long-term benefits of open materials to society, I am teaching my courses this semester in a semi-public manner – I am trying to think of my materials as “open first” or “public first”.
I will protect only those materials and information that I feel need protecting.
Using Sakai as my LMS system has been great because it has a lot of features that allow me to remix my own content in Sakai. Frankly over the past few years features and capabilities have been added from many of the Sakai developers that make this fun.
What is amazing to me is how much of this I can already do with Sakai – just knowing the ins and outs of Sakai’s features – of course it does not hurt that I was part of adding these features into Sakai over the past few years.
It also helps to have spent a bunch of time talking to folks at Cambridge, Oxford, and Leeds to understand the “more open” approach to teaching that is present in the UK. (Video)
If you are interested in taking a look at my semi-public site – go to
In the rest of the blog post, I outline some of the things I have done.

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A Quote from Noah Botimer

Noah just dropped this little gem in an E-Mail on a list – I figured I would grab it and keep it forever.

I suppose I’m also trying to mention that “Sakai” is at least four things to us:

  1. A collaboration / learning system

  2. A framework for building collaborative tools

  3. A community of schools, affiliates, and generally cool/brilliant people

  4. A foundation of visionaries to steward 1-3

So, when someone asks “what can I do with Sakai?”, the perspective is usually #1, but we shouldn’t forget 2-4.

Dallas Cowboys, A Class Move by Terrell Owens backing Tony Romo

Somehow this year I am more interested in football than usual. The playoff games are good and there are a lot of good teams who are on the brink of destiny. Also I work on lectures on my laptop during the games so it is not completely unproductive.
This morning there is a video clip of Terrel Owens crying a bit as he defends Tony Romo’s recent vacation to Mexico. Basically he says “back off my teammate – we lost as a team” and then he breaks up a bit in a tough manly way. He breaks up in a way that if you made fun of him – he would pound you into dust.
Here is my point – this is leadership. Terrell Owens is a veteran player – he knows what it is like to have the media ready to blame him for everything that went wrong.
Frankly for the Dallas Cowboys this has been a pretty good season – you don’t win the super bowl every year – and this year they did better than expected. For the media to define the season into a failure because of a close loss to a good team in the playoffs where Tony and the Cowboys played very well – but just game up on the slightly shorter end of the stick – would be a crime and not good for the Cowboys prospects next year.
So after the game, Terrell did what he knew he had to do. He did something that made sure that the attention was partially on Terrell and not exclusively on Tony for the next few days. As a veteran he stepped up and directed some of the media frenzy at himself to take some away from Tony. And it worked – CNN this morning talked more about Terrell than Tony.
And after a few days – no one will care. The media and fans will realize that this was a great season for the Cowboys and instead of looking for blame where there is none, they will get thinking about how to make next season better and supporting their quarterback. And Tony can learn from the loss and hopefully do better next year for the Cowboys and take them even further in the playoffs.
Class move Terrell.