Posts tagged CWD

I’ve had a couple of people ask how my lunchtime project today actually works behind the scenes, so here’s the lowdown in easily-digestible speak. I should point out that I am relying heavily on two frameworks which we’ve already built at Lincoln. These are Nucleus – our heavy-lifting data platform – and the Common Web Design – our web design and application framework. These two gave me a massive head-start by already doing all of the hard work such as extracting data from our directory and making the whole thing look great. Now, on with technology.

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Recently as we’ve been looking at some stats (for the first time ever) it turns out that people are actually walloping the bejesus out of a few of our systems. Things like the CWD are standing up to a huge flood of requests and although the service is working mostly as designed, it’s still not quite as perfect as we want it to be. Some requests are running a bit slow, and recently our primary server failed to come back up following a power outage (much to our annoyance).

This clearly needs to be fixed, so in preparation for CWD 2.4 – which is awesome and optimised for just about everything anyway – we’ve been looking at moving to a serious cloud based CDN. This means that aside from uptime in excess of 99.99% (just under 4 minutes and 23 seconds of downtime a month) we also gain local delivery from servers around the world, so websites load even faster no matter where you are.

It’s the little things that count.

Today we’ve just finished setting up and testing our brand-new, very shiny SSL certificate for our primary Online Services support server. This means that the CWD is now ready to be used on all of the University’s secure systems, starting (hopefully later today) with a roll-out of the new wireless sign in page.

What this also means is that we’ve been able to tighten the security on Nucleus so that in future all requests must be over SSL. For those using Nucleus for things please take this as a warning – as of the end of the week all Nucleus requests over HTTP will fail.

Finally, we’re a step closer to our complete OAuth implementation! We’re still ironing out a few bugs and awaiting our security audit, but it’s getting there.

Yep, it’s happening again. This week we’ll be making some tweaks to LUNA, the network which is behind internet access in Student Village and Riseholme Park. Don’t throw things at us though, this is an upgrade to the internet in student accommodation which is all good. During the changes you won’t experience any interruption in network access.

How things work won’t change at all – the process for getting online will be exactly the same as it is at the moment. However, we’re putting some shiny new equipment in to replace the old stuff as well as updating all our software, meaning that the entire network will be more reliable (no more random dropouts at 2am when you’re catching up on TV), more robust (you won’t be able to break it by using something we’re not expecting) and generally a bit snappier.

We’ll also be revamping the look and feel again to bring it in line with our new web design. This will be even faster than before, as well as offering top-notch accessibility and browser compatibility. At the same time we’ll be taking a close look at how to make some bits of the process easier to work with, such as adding games consoles.

Finally, once we’re happy that things are stable, we’ll be turning on some new features such as optimised scans (which are even faster) and an at-your-convenience scan which you can perform when it’s best for you without losing internet access, unlike the current system of being unceremoniously booted from the network.

We’ll be removing the feedback box so many of you have used to complain at us (and in one case wish us several unpleasant diseases, for which we award a bonus star for creativity) since we think it’s served its purpose, but you’ll be pleased to know that it’s successfully helped us to resolve a great many problems which we wouldn’t have been able to spot without you. Thanks!

This Wednesday, after much debating, debacle and delay, the new Uni Shop opened its doors 20 minutes late. The final delay apparently caused by the fact that nobody had thought to turn the tills on before the opening time.

The Uni Shop's Logo

All that aside, I’ve got to ask an important question – given the time taken, the fuss made and the money kicking around could Estates not have come up with a better logo? I mean, it’s not like we’ve got an entire faculty full of art and design students or a whole staff department focussed on marketing. Let’s have a little competition. Who can come up with something better in 10 minutes?

Now, back to ICT and what’s going on. Our shiny new development server has mostly turned up, and we’re currently kitting it out with the wide range of software we use to develop and manage our projects. Once that’s done we hope to burst onto the scene with a shiny new URL and a whole load of bits of things we’re working on for you to prod, look at and go “ooooh pretty”. We’re hoping to call this ‘Labs’, or at least something along a similar theme (we think it might be a bit close to ‘Learning Lab’) and use it for all the bits and pieces that are being tried out from the ‘official’ side of the University – new timetable tools, easier ways of doing things, work-in-progress site replacements and so-on.

First out of the door will be CWD and Posters, with a few more bits and pieces we’ve been working on in our secret computing laboratory (MAB, first floor, north-west plate) coming soon after.

Last week I headed off to a conference in London called Dev8D, where I met a few hundred other developers from the HE sector (and others) and spent my time brainstorming ideas, messing about with RFID tags, mashing data together, attending workshops on the future of data representation, writing an iPhone app, learning to use the Force, drinking far too much complementary tea and coffee and fighting the mess that is the Underground on a weekend. In short, it was awesome fun. Out of it I’ve gleaned loads of useful bits and pieces which I can now use to push the bits of the University that I can get my hands on into the future with impunity, because somebody else has already done the research and I now know who.

Next up, Posters. We’re still waiting for our new development server on which the Online Services Team can develop, stage, test and show off our latest inventions. Once that’s up and running you’ll be able to have a go at breaking it and we’ll be open for feedback. Posters will also be the first production University site (albeit beta) to use our new CWD 2.0, and will also be providing data as RSS in the initial release, with JSON and XML further down the line. The ability for groups such as student societies to add posters, along with a streamlined online approval process, will be in place ready for once Posters leaves beta.

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Today, I attended some training. I also have a headache, need to do some washing, and need to pack for a weekend in London (off to see the Lion King!), but that’s another issue.

Other things that happened today are good:

  • I updated the jQuery framework which lies behind LUNA and PFMPC to the latest version, giving several speed increases which will be completely unnoticeable for most people but which make my benchmark tools very happy.
  • I updated some of the CWD CSS to fix a niggling bug in IE6 and improve appearance on browsers supporting the CSS3 specification. This brings CWD to version 1.3.7.
  • I updated the HTML in PFMPC from CWD 1.2 to 1.3, bringing more cross-browser goodness, better semantically valid navigation, improved printing and a liquid layout to make best use of bigger screens.
  • I hacked some regex into the game console registration pages in LUNA, which now forces people to enter a valid MAC address when they’re registering. Unfortunately they have to enter uppercase letters (a true MAC address can be either) to keep our network access software happy, but tomorrow may include fixing this so some clever JavaScript converts it to uppercase for them.
  • I’ve got a server to play around with where I can put a nice LUNA feedback page.
  • Kirsty has managed to do some more work on the ICT team blog, so I’m seeing if this post will cross over successfully.