My wife attends the University of Houston.

Normally, I reserve this space for discussing Health IT matters, but in this case I must make an exception. UH is one of the most frustrating institutions I know of. I believe, that UH has one of the most ineffective Information Infrastructures I have ever seen. So I am devoting a new topic in my blog to discussing my frustrations with it. My wife (Laura) and I have been having multiple, serious frustrations for some time, and each time I imagine that I should write something about it. But I do not want to start yet another blog, so I am going to use a category of this blog for now.  Perhaps I will use RSS etc to turn this into a separate blog. If you are interested in my Health IT posts… please skip this.

Today is down. Vnet is the portal for students to receive course materials from their professors. Why? As best I can tell, it is down because it is test-time. The university education website is down… when it is needed most. It is probably down because it is being flooded with users. It is being flooded with users since so many students have a test tomorrow.

In short, vnet is exactly the sort of tool that breaks when you need it most.

There is little that vnet does, that Moodle does not do. Moodle, because it runs on Linux, can happily sit in the cloud at Amazon or Rackspace, which means that it can scale (in an automated fashion) to the point that entire countries could hit the website at the same time.

But instead it is being hosted either by the school or by vnet. In either case, it breaks constantly. According to this video vnet “leverages open source”. However, the vnet website has no mention of downloads, community or license. That usually means that the application is 100% proprietary. Further, it is easy enough to conclude that VNET was primarily developed by UH.

I am sure that VNET has some features that Moodle does not. But instead of adding to Moodle, and using a known-good platform, UH has decided to use a platform that they built themselves.

Now my wife cannot get to her documents. And I am sitting here pressing “refresh” in the hopes that I will be able to get onto the site, so that my wife can pass her Genetics class.


One thought on “

  1. Why are you sitting there hitting refresh?

    Barring any obscene Flash or heavily AJAX’d pages a bash script using cURL would readily automate the fetching of course materials.

    I feel your pain though, as of 3 years ago when I graduated, Kent State was just getting into the whole course-materials-on-the-portal thing. Being a CS student we had been doing that for years, albeit on the very raw pages turned out by the grey-hairs in that department.

    Kent is improving though, they just switched from internal email (POP/SMTP, slow as hell, 50MB limit) to GMail with its sweet delicious IMAP and multi-gigabyte storage. Actually makes my lifetime alumni email account worth having.

    The trick is to provide constructive feedback to the right people. That includes professors (who are often just as frustrated as students), technical staff (be nice to the low level techs and they’ll hand out contact info for people who can accept feedback and do something about it), and of course the board/deans/execs (approached casually at dinners and such).

    Good luck to the missus on her exams!

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