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Administrative Clusterfucks

August 14, 2007

Back in June I decided to take a break from computers—if not leave the field entirely—and try my hand at being an EMT. So I registered for the EMT classes at Front Range Community College in Longmont, planning to take the national registries in December. Tuition was due today (the due date has been postponed until tomorrow) so I went last week to pay it. I had, however, neglected to apply my Colorado Opportunity Fund to these classes—it is apparently not sufficient to register for COF, you have to actively tell them, “yes, please lower my tuition.” It could take up to 72 hours for the funds to be applied against my tuition for the fall, so I had to wait until Monday to pay the tuition. Well, come Monday I get a call from someone in the department to which the EMS courses belong to tell me there was a problem with my registration.¹ I had registered for EMS 125 (EMT Basic) and EMS 170 (EMT Basic Clinical) with differing section numbers. I guess this is a no-no that used to be managed automatically in the old system, but the new on-line registration systems is incapable of comprehending this simple dependency. I was told to drop EMS 170 and enroll in the correct EMS 170. So I did. Except that there was no EMS 170 for the EMS 125 I wanted to enroll in.

Though annoying, this was not the end of the world. Being unemployed my schedule is extremely flexible, so I signed up for the other EMS 125 which occurs on Tues. and Thurs. evenings, instead of Mon., Wed., Fri. mornings. I write down the course numbers for the two classes and add them to the form, I submit the form, and when the page refreshes I get this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was now waitlisted for the EMS 170 course that I had previously been enrolled 10 minutes before.

I called the woman back. I explained that there had been no EMS 170 for the EMS 125 that I’d wanted, so I signed up for the other EMS 125 to resolve the conflicting section number problem, but I was now waitlisted for EMS 170. She told me not to worry because a lot of students had made the same mistake I did (I could see nothing on the registration page that indicated I ought to be careful about the section numbers), and they would sort it out and make sure I was signed up for all the classes I needed to be. Great. It’s a wonderful feeling when someone in charge tells you, “Not to worry, I’ll see that it is taken care of.”

Two things happened this morning. First, I got an e-mail from Front Range saying the tuition deadline had been extended to tomorrow because of the computer problems they were having. So it was no surprise when I tried to log on and pay my tuition and I saw a page saying the system was down. Even though tuition wasn’t technically due until tomorrow, I wanted to get it paid today so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it. However, I couldn’t pay on-line and the phones were constantly busy (probably because of people calling in to pay since the on-line service was down). I did not want to drive up to Longmont to pay until I was sure that my COF had been applied to the tuition, so I called the Boulder campus to check. This is when the second shoe dropped.

The girl on the phone looked up my account to check for the COF; she told me that I had been approved (which I knew already, I just wanted to know if it had been applied for the semester) but that I wasn’t registered for any courses this fall. Yesterday I had been registered for two courses—even if I was waitlisted on one of them—now I wasn’t registered for anything. She suggested I come to campus today to register, since the on-line registration was down. I explained what had happened yesterday, and told her that I was afraid that coming in and registering myself might cause problems with the people trying to fix all the issues for the EMS students. So she transferred me to someone—I suspect it was a mistake—but at any rate I ended up talking to someone in admissions.

Once again I explained what happened with the courses. For whatever reason this woman insisted that I had been registered for a course at the Westminster campus and I kept explaining that I was certain I’d registered for a course at the Boulder county campus. (I may have accidentally registered for a Westminster course back in June, but I corrected that right away and had in fact checked a few times since to be sure I was enrolled in Boulder courses.)² Finally—perhaps my frustration was coming through more than I thought and this was slowing down the process—we understood each other and she agreed to take care of the problem and call me back. Not more than ten minutes later my phone rang and I was told that I was enrolled in the EMS 125 course I wanted along with the corresponding EMS 170 course. Kudos to this woman for working so quickly.

But, because it would be too much to hope that things would be completely square, my COF has not been applied to my tuition. Even though last Friday, when I was on campus, I went through the necessary steps to instruct the COF to reduce my tuition so that it should have been ready yesterday I will have to wait at least another day to pay my tuition thanks to this scheduling debacle. I’m not sure what will happen if the COF hasn’t been applied by tomorrow, the tuition deadline, but I suspect there will be more phone calls to FRCC tomorrow.

Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not frustrated or angry with any of the people I’ve had to deal with at FRCC; they’ve all been quite helpful and polite. It’s the completely retarded organization of the administration that is driving me crazy. There are so many departments and so many people involved and they don’t communicate with each other, so when something like this goes wrong it is very difficult to fix. I still don’t know if I’m going to encounter problems because this woman in EMS was going to fix my EMS 170 conflict and I’ve just now resolved that without her knowledge. Not to mention the issue of being able to pay my tuition on time.

And to think, all of this could probably have been avoided by a decent registration system. CU’s on-line registration system was equally obnoxious and it bothered me there too. Fort Lewis College had, as I remember it, an on-line system that was capable of automatically managing dependencies and pre-requisites between classes. Why CU and FRCC are incapable of installing such a system is beyond me.³


¹ The fact that I registered back in June and they waited until a week before classes start to find this problem irks me greatly.
² FRCC uses one page for all four of their campuses, and none of the course information displayed gives any indication on which campus the course is held. Apparently one function of the section numbers is to indicate which campus the course belongs to, but there was no legend anywhere that I could see.
³ Especially since it sounds like FRCC’s old system used to automatically enroll you in the correct EMS 170 course when you enrolled in EMS 125. I am continually amazed at people’s ability to replace a working system with something more broken.

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A Card Carrying Fiddler

August 13, 2007

Well, not a ‘card’ so much as a fiddle. That’s right, I now own my very own fiddle. It’s very exciting. I no longer feel like a pretender, I now feel like an honest-to-god fiddler. I took some shoddy pictures this afternoon, but the sun light was not very good; I shall probably try to take more in the next day or two with better light. If a detailed recounting of my fiddle-quest does not interest you, I recommend you stop now and go read some comics.


Some weeks back, when Jessie was in town for a short period, she suggested to me that it was time to consider buying my own fiddle. I was quite excited by this suggestion because a) I’m always happy to add a new instrument to my collection and b) it felt like a serious vote of confidence from Jessie. She recommended a few places to look, and Mom and I dug up a couple more on the internet, but I did not begin looking straight away. It takes a little time to pick an instrument, especially one as sensitive as a fiddle—it is important, I think, to try many of them to find one that suits you, they are not as forgiving an instrument as a guitar. As such, I did not truly begin my search until last week.So near the end of last week I began looking for my own fiddle. I ended up at Reed Bernstein’s on Thursday, and he spent about two and a half hours with me looking at instruments. We began by looking at the fiddles themselves; using a very nice carbon fiber bow I tried four or five different instruments until I found one with which I was happy. I love both the sound and the feel of this instrument. Which is to say that not only does it sound great, but playing it feels completely natural to me.

Once I’d pretty well settled on the fiddle, we moved on to bows. We looked first at carbon fiber bows because Reed said that in my target price range they tended to be superior to wooden ones. I played probably six to eight different carbon fiber bows—including the $500 one I’d used to find the fiddle—and narrowed it down to one bow. Then, just to sate my curiosity, Reed brought out a few wooden bows. I played four or five of these and quickly narrowed this selection down to one as well. At this point it was very nearly a tough call: the carbon fiber or the wooden bow? I played both of them successively for probably five minutes. I suspect that some of the difficulty in this decision came from innate tendency to gravitate towards more “natural” materials. However, at the end of the day, the carbon fiber bow felt easier to use, so that ended up being my choice.

Now I had selected a fiddle and a bow; I was nearly set. The next step was to find a comfortable chin rest. Apparently, at least according to Reed, many shops don’t take this step. But Reed pulled out three or four different chin rests and had me try each one to see which I preferred. I tend to center my jaw on the body of the fiddle when I play, so I ended up with a chin rest that was centered on the violin, instead of being off-center towards the top of the instrument.

And last, but not least, I chose my beautiful case. Since my parents paid for the bow for my birthday, I decided it was worth the money to buy the higher quality case. Lined with a dark green velvet, and sporting a dial indicating the humidity in the case, I could not be much happier with it. Not to mention that it is very sturdy.

As though it weren’t enough that Reed had spent over two hours with me to help me find the right instrument, he offered to let me take the instrument home without purchasing it to play it over the weekend. A fortuitous turn of events for me, since I knew it was going to be hard to walk out of there without that fiddle, but I wanted to postpone the purchase on the off chance I found something I liked better. To make the rest of this long story a little shorter, I called a few places, visited another shop, but either they had no instruments in my price range, or I didn’t like the instruments they had. So today I drove back over to Reed’s, handed him my credit card, and walked out the proud owner of my very first fiddle.

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Two More Things I Hate About You

August 2, 2007

As most of you know, I hate CU. I do not look back very fondly on my time there either as a student or an employee—though the reasons differ somewhat for each of those roles. But I would have to say that I am astounded at how many reasons CU gives me to hate them even after I have left the institution altogether.

Now that my job there is over, I have been catching up on miscellaneous things that have piled up over the last few months in my inbox. Going through all this unprocessed mail I encountered at least three different items from CU begging me for money. So, let me get this straight, CU. After having spent 3.5 years in your—*ahem*—hallowed halls and paying thousands of dollars for the privilege¹, you’re now asking me to give you money simply because you exist? I got barely anything from you in return for tuition, and now you’re asking me for a donation? And not only that, but you’re killing trees to beg for money. This from a university who won’t pay to have fliers printed on environmentally unfriendly paper for an event they are sponsoring.²

In addition to CU’s socially acceptable panhandling, I got a letter (from back in May, actually) that—once again—a server on CU had been hacked and my personal information may have been stolen. Ironically, “the virus apparently entered through a vulnerability in the anti-virus software.” I often listen to my friends talk about steps they take to prevent identity theft: never giving out their social security number over the phone, having a separate credit card for on-line purchases, etc. Every time I listen to this I think, “Yeah, but what difference does it make for me since CU insists on keeping that information on servers they can’t protect.” They were stupid enough to use your social security number as your student ID for years and they can’t even take steps to protect that information. I honestly get a letter from CU at least twice a year to warn me that my identity may have been stolen from one of their poorly maintained servers.

If I had it all to do over again, I would have dropped out of college instead of wasting so many years (and so much of my parents’ money) at CU.


¹ To say nothing of the cost of books, crappy electronic gadgets, and lab fees that were stacked on the tuition.
² Don’t get me wrong, I agree with that policy; better to print on paper that can be recycled. But does anyone else detect a little bit of a schism between that policy and their habit of sending out junk mail?

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It’s Not New Year’s…

June 20, 2007

…But I have a resolution nonetheless: I need to quit forgetting to bring my camera places. I bought it because it is very portable, it’s time I started taking advantage of that fact and just kept it with me at all times.

Corollary resolution: I need to get over my embarrassment of taking pictures of people. My Da, Doug, and Drew all get great photos and I believe that this is due in large part to their willingness to take them in the first place. (Duh.)

Finally, I think this means I’ll have to get on the ball about organizing the chaos of pictures on my computer. I really need to settle on an application to manage them and an organization scheme for them in my file system. Once that’s done, I should probably select the best ones and upload them to picasaweb. Who knows when I’ll actually have time for this…

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Curse of the Întørwëb Surveys

June 19, 2007

Found this one on my friend Megan‘s blog.


You Would Be a Pet Bird

You’re intelligent and witty, yet surprisingly low maintenance.
You charm people easily, and they usually love you a lot more than you love them.

You resent anyone who tries to own or control you. You refuse to be fenced in.

Why you would make a great pet: You’re very smart and entertaining

Why you would make a bad pet: You’re not interested in being anyone’s pet!

What you would love about being a bird: Flying, obviously

What you would hate about being a bird: Being caged

What Kind of Pet Would You Be?

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Forgive the Inelegant Prose That Follows

June 11, 2007

I had meant to write something briefly about this last week, but somehow I didn’t make the time. Now I find myself in a state of mind where it is difficult for me to concentrate enough to write something worth reading. So I will simply state it plainly. Jon—my guitar teacher—invited me to play a short set of three tunes with him at one of his shows. So last Thursday at the Laughing Goat, I got up on stage with him and backed him on The Red Box, The Humours of Barrack St., and Tamlin. Needless to say, I had a blast (in spite of missing two chord changes).

But now for the bad news; the reason that I am in such a scattered state mentally (or at least the catalyst). This morning, while walking at Chatfield with my Mom, my parents’s dog was bitten by a snake. No idea what kind of snake, Mom couldn’t tell. Having experienced certain levels of the adrenaline dump that can arise in these situations, I am not surprised.

She called me this morning—probably sometime around 10:00—to ask for help deciding what to do. She wasn’t sure whether, once the park ranger arrived to help her carry the dog to the car (thank the gods for cell phones), to drive to Castle Rock¹ to take him to his vet there, or to look for one closer by. She had to hang up before we’d really decided; so I looked on Google Maps for vet hospitals in the area, found one, and called to find out a) if they could handle this kind of injury and b) to warn them that Mom might be coming in with the dog. When Mom called back, it seemed that she and the ranger had arrived at the same conclusion I did: that she should take Nalu to this hospital that was near by. So I looked at the map and helped her figure out where she was going, then hung up and called the hospital back to let them know that she was definitely coming in.

When Mom and dog arrived, they put him on anti-venom and an assortment of other medications to treat the wound. He’ll have to stay there for at least a day, possibly more, while they monitor him and make sure nothing goes wrong. Last I heard, his temperature had gone down and he was panting less, the bite was still swelling (which is apparently not unusual), and they have him on morphine to try and help him rest. At this point, there is not much that anyone can do except wait.

Here’s hoping…


¹ At least a 30 minute drive from Chatfield.

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Why I’m Blogging and Not Working

April 26, 2007

This morning, a little after 9:00, I got a call from a fellow named Matt Rutherford. Matt is the systems administrator for the SERL (Software Engineering Research Lab) servers, the same servers that we use for our SVN repository. He needed me to go into the machine room and reboot one of them—Gatekeeper—because there was something wrong with it. Now the reason Matt couldn’t do this himself is because he lives in Niwot, or some other such non-Boulder place, and rarely finds himself on campus. You see, gentle reader, Matt is a graduate student on whom the task of administrating these computers has been dumped.

So I ankled on over to the machine room and pressed the button the KVM to switch the input devices over to Gatekeeper. “No Signal,” said the monitor. “OK,” I think to myself and proceed to try a few of the other inputs near the one labeled “Gatekeeper.” Nothing. I decided to try the inputs labeled “serl1” and “serl2.” Still nothing, not even a, “No Signal.” But I have not been defeated yet because Matt had said that, failing everything else, I could hard-reboot the computer using the power button on its front; so down I bend in search of the ubiquitous power button. And it was then that I discovered someone had removed all of the face plates from the machines—the face plates with the labels identifying which machine was which—and had left them lying on the floor.

Not to be so easily defeated, I thought, “Fine. I’ll just reboot every machine.” But at this point I failed to find anything resembling a power button on any of the machines. And so I returned to e-mail Matt—having forgotten my phone at home—and apprise him of the situation. Without access to these servers I cannot check out or commit any code, so I am in no big hurry to make enormous changes to my working copy.

“Why,” you may ask, “are you angry with the CS Dept. and not this Matt Rutherford character?” The reason is this: some time ago the CS Dept. decided that in order to save some money they wouldn’t hire systems administrators for their machines and would, instead, handle that task themselves. Which really meant that they would force graduate students to do it. Graduate students who were also matriculating at CU, doing research, and probably even working. This results in a number of problems. One, the servers are often not administered well. If you want, for instance, an SVN repository, the response is often, “Set it up yourself in your home directory and access it via SSH.” Which is fine for personal stuff, but when it’s for a research project that many people are working on, I think it deserves a better set up than that. Two, these poor graduate students have to spend a significant portion of their time dealing with problems when the shit hits the fan; time that should be spent studying, or working on their research.

There is a reason that major companies—oft times even smaller start-ups—hire full-time systems administrators: It is a full-time job! Computers are inherently riddled with problems because of their complexity. When you’re talking about a computer that is being accessed by many many people it gets worse. There are few things more helpful than a good sysadmin, and there are few things more frustrating than a poor one. So this is not Matt’s fault; SERL should not be his responsibility. This is the fault of every single professor here in the department that decided they’d save a little money by making the lives of their grad students a little more difficult.

I hope that each and every one of you loses years of vital research data because one of your servers crashes due to lack of maintenance.


UPDATE: I got Matt’s phone number from Ken and we managed to get things worked out. It turned out all three machines were off for some reason. Imagine how quick and easy that would have been to fix for someone who knew the machines. Lights were blinking, I heard the sound of fans, I had no idea that they were off. But who needs professional sysadmins when you can blindly stumble around with equipment you don’t know and try to debug problems over the phone…

FURTHER UPDATE: I think I just heard someone go into the machine room and check to make sure the machines were on. It’s a good thing we’re not duplicating effort by not having real sysadmins.

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