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Supporting NYS test scoring….staring ASAP

This is a big deal for us.  I work for a RIC (regional information center) in western NY.  Its a BOCES, if you know what that is.  One of the big services that we offer is the processing of physical test scoring sheets.  We have a customer developed piece of software, developed using ASP, by my colleague Gary and supported by my other colleague Mike.

If you know NYS and the emphasis on test scoring – then you know this is a big deal.  These are a few high points from a conversation the other day with Mike.

ASAP is our custom developed software (Gary and now Mike support it) – written in ASP (microsoft)

The software processes test scoring scans and creates extracts of data.  Digital results, of course.

There are many school districts in the state that use our service.  Not just our own districts (WFLBOCES has 26 districts it supports).  Downstate districts also use our service.  They send us their test scan sheets and we scan then, process the data and send it back to them.  We do not keep it.  Its is their data.  The district then moves the data into what NYS called the level 0 warehouse.  this is where all the district test data goes.

Someone at the district then looks critically at the data extract and verifies its accuracy.  Often times, there are discrepencies that must be resolved.  Trust me, NYS is VERY finicky.  When this happens, the district sends us a copy of the extracted data (we NEVER touch the data in the level 0 warehouse.)  We look at, find the problems – invalid marks on test sheets, names on forms etc.  hanging chads (remember 2000?).  We make a correction, or diagnosis, sometimes creating new extracts for the district.  If a new extract is created, the district then loads that again, and has to wait til Wednesdays (I think that is the day new data is loaded into the level 0 warehouse.)

This is a big deal for us.  We process a lot of test data throughout the year.

A little more detail on this service and process provided on the Edutech web site.  Test scoring 101.

And a little more detail about test scoring and data extracts.

This is a helpful video that explains this process and its timeline in a little more detail.

The Blackboard behemoth

I support 10 web sites in my job that are traditional SchoolWorld web sites.  Some time not too long ago, BB purchased SchoolWorld – or they at least merged.  I heard a couple weeks ago that the SchoolWorld sites would no longer be technically supported at the end of this month – June 2015.  I also heard that the product itself would be experiencing and EOL date next June, 2016.

We recently set up a new SchoolWorld site.  My customer said something about how they used SchoolSites, not SchoolWorld for something.  I told him his new site would be a SchoolWorld site.

So – I am trying to get my head around the Blackboard juggernog a bit more.

Random things about BB that I am absorbing…

BB is Blackboard – they hold an annual moot in DC for a couple days in July.  If I was not going on vaca this year, I may have considered going.

BB is aka Blackboard, BB online, BB engage, formally know as Edlin, BB world, this is from their web page –

Lots of products – dept to their products Mission statement with anaylitics

This is probably the most relevant news header for what I am trying to understand

Ed-tech giant Blackboard acquires Schoolwires to help build school websites and apps for K-12 students

This is what I support – school websites for k-12 students.

This is a little disconcerting – reminds me of Microsoft back in the day….gobbling up anything that looks like it could make them $$ or at least threaten their monopoly.

Last year, Blackboard acquired MyEdu to help reduce the number of unemployed college graduates, and today’s news takes Blackboard’s total acquisition count up to 11 in the past 5 years alone, having taken on ParentLink (2014), CardSmith (2014), Perceptis (2014), NetSpot (2012), Moodlerooms (2012), Presidium Learning (2011), Elluminate (2010), Wimba (2010), and Saf-T-Net (2010). Between 2006 and 2012, it’s estimated that Blackboard spent around $500 million buying other companies.

Since 2011, Blackboard has provided website hosting and CMS for schools, following a merger with Edline. So with today’s acquisition news, Blackboard is cementing its position in this space, adding that “school websites and apps are the natural way” to improve teaching and learning.

Well – this may be a good place to keep up with things happening there….

New schoolWorld web site and stuff I am still learning

Hopefully, I learn every day, something. That is probably true. Blogging about things increases understanding of the subject. By writing about it, you think critically about it. Thinking critically about it makes you, well, consider it at a deeper level. A favorite term of mine from my development days is *grokking, pronounced: grawking. Understanding something at a very deep level.

Do it, do it again, explain it to someone else, teach it, do it again and again….then you start to approach grokking.

SchoolWorld is a company that makes web sites. For teachers, for schools etc. We use it for both. I support the websites used for schools. I work for WFLBOCES, as part of our mission, we supply and support websites for our schools or buildings. We have about 10 that each has their own website. Each site has people or content champions, I like to call them, who feed the beast. The beast being the website. If the website is not championed or feed, it is irrelevant. Most of the champions are self sufficient, I get them started, occasionally answer a question for them, maybe upload a file or fix a link or add a graphic or embed a video piece. But, for the most part, they do the work of feeding the site.

We are opening a new school this fall called ptech (pathways technology early college high school). A very innovative approach to high school and being of college. Even President Obama knows a little about it.

We put our new site up this week and I created webmaster accounts for my content champions for the site.

The site was only up a couple days when my content champion, Emory was asking for changes to the design of the site.  This is a true champion.  He wants to control the look and where he can place things on the site.  He has used other web sites like google sites.  He already has content on the google site, so it was quick and easy to copy it into the schoolWorld site.

Emory emailed the support team with a couple requests – he asked me first, and I told him I had no more power than him, both our accounts are webmaster.  The schoolworld support team emailed him back with good answers.


Hi Jevon, 
I am looking at some basic changes: 
Our site is: and it just went live this past week and I completed adding the content this past weekend…
Here are some of the changes/updates I’d like to make….
Add our logo to the left of the main title (upper row)
Change the yellow highlight to a color shade of green
Add an editor space above New Feature  (on the main homepage)
Also, when I looked at the example from SchoolWorld Templates, using the site, they have a Spotlights feature on the right-hand side of the main picture. How do you do this? And what editor space is available for this?
Thank you for any help you can provide. I have attached the current logo for our school. 



Thank you for responding so quickly.  James actually provided us with a logo to be added to your site.  Our Design team has the logo, but are unable to apply it at this time due to some hardware issues on our end.  We hope to have access to the server that houses the images soon and will apply the logo at that time.

Please refresh your browser and take a look at the new green to see if this will suffice.

We are unable to add an editor to the area of the site that you have referenced.  This particular template displays its Home Page Text directly to the left of the main image, just below the top navigation area.

Lastly, we have enabled the Spotlight module.  You may need to add it to your admin area after logging in.   This will allow you to create and edit your Spotlight stories that display on the right hand side of the page, similar to the example site you provided.  Thank you in advance for your response.


SchoolWorld Technical Support

Blackboard Inc.

Schoolworld added another module – spotlights – so my content champion could continue to be a champion.  They were willing to change the color scheme simple enough and added the new module without any additional changes or other bureaucracy.

Moral of the story?

find your site champion

support your site champion

Point them at the schoolWorld support and let them do what they can for him.

SchoolWorld has lots of little modules that it can move in and out to provide more or less functionality for the web site.  Similiar to moodle and plugins.  Content management sites like this are designed to be flexible and are build in small modules that can be added or removed.

The end.

Annual MS Access tasks – and my blood pressure

I have a customer who is using a 17 year old MS Access application.  I have been supporting it for a couple years now.  supporting meaning when something needs to be updated or when somethings does not work and Access gives error messages – I need to figure out why, fix it and move on.

Let me say that again…..

Support = Resolving a problem and moving on.

I am smart when I blog about the things I do, solve, figure out, work through etc.  Especially when that thing is a annual thing.

Yesterday, I got a message from my customer that said this

Hi James!
 I’m hoping you can help me rather quickly. I created the calendar for next year and something went wrong. The calendar generated fine. Then I went in to designate holiday weeks. So I chose the following:
12/21 – 12/25 and 12/28 – 1/1
2/15 – 2/19
3/28 – 4/1
 However when I went to book kits the weeks were messed up.  So the week of 12/21 is not there which is correct, but I think the system shifts the week numbers or dates somehow because all the other dates I chose 12/28, 2/15, and 3/28 are still there and the week after each of those is gone (designated as a holiday).  So I went in to fix the 12/28 but I cannot retrieve the week of 1/4. I did not try to fix the others. 
 So in summary, I need the above weeks designated as holiday weeks so the kits do not book on those dates and I need the following weeks back in the system: 1/4-8,  2/22-26, and 4/4-8.
 If you have questions let me know.
My first course of action is to figure out what she is talking about.  Then determine why this is happening.  Then set out to resolve the issue.  To my customer, its just one step “give james problem – james solve problem”.  I often need/require her to be more specific and provide details, lots of them.  She is better now about details, as you can see by her message.
I think the problem she is describing is due to how she completes the task – the steps she takes.  I solved this a year ago by going into the table and actually removing records generated – rather than using the application to do it.  Probably not the best solution, BUT, it works.  I had her regenerate the weeks of the year and then I went into the schoolyearWeeks table and manually removed the 4 weeks.

Once that was done, I got another message from her ”

thanks James. The dates look good BUT… when I book any kit the “return” date isn’t working correctly.  So if I book a kit ex. es115 for 1/4/16 it should automatically have a return date for the given number of weeks we designated it for. Instead the message comes up that “your return date is beyond the given time……”  So it seems the calendar is not catching the number of weeks each kit is allowed. hope that makes sense. Just try to book any kit and it should come up. Try Sodus, primary, bassage and book a kit.
 Thanks as always for all your help!

I went into the application and found where there is a hard coded value in a query.
” vWeeksPastEnd = DateDiff(“ww”, #8/31/2016#, vEndDate)”
Really, a hard coded value?  Well – its a simple fix, change the date.
I found the code by opening the form that generated the error (above), putting the DB into design mode, clicking the select control that generated the error, viewing the properties and going into the on-click event – which brought up the VB code window.  Then I searched for the error and found the code.
  If vWeeksPastEnd <= 0 Then
[vEndID] = DLookup(“[SchoolWeekID]”, “tblSchoolWeeks”, “[Week_Number] = ” & vEndWeek & ” and [SchoolYearID] = ” & [Forms]![frmBooking – District]![vSchoolYearID])
MsgBox “Your Return Date is beyond the last week for kit returns!” & Chr(13) & Chr(10) & “Your Kit Return Date has been shortened.”
[vEndID] = DLookup(“[SchoolWeekID]”, “tblSchoolWeeks”, “[Week_Number] = ” & vEndWeek – vWeeksPastEnd & ” and [SchoolYearID] = ” & [Forms]![frmBooking – District]![vSchoolYearID])
vWeeks = vWeeks – vWeeksPastEnd
End If
Once I had that, I was able to find the variable vWeeksPastEnd , and ……. find the hard coded date.
I should really figure out how to automatically change that date, but that is too much work (i am lazy) – plus I do not have a rule to determine when to change the date to the next year.  When my customer decides to do the bookings.  Rather, I blog it and make a note somewhere about annual maintenance tasks.  So the next time I see this error, I know just what to do and have to do very little thinking – but rather just executing the steps already thought out.  I do not mind doing that, what I do mind is having to solve the problem again.
Moral of the story?
Annual Access maintenance points
May 2016 (the next time I have to do this)
– Remove the *holiday weeks (4 of them) manually from the tblschoolWeeks (12/21,12/28, 2/15, 3/28)
– change the hard coded date in the Form_frmBooking form from 8/31/2016 to 8/31/2017

Practice – practice – practice

Not exciting but sooooo necessary.  Practice those schoolworld web site support tasks.  Know them, be intimate with them.  Help your customers who see it as something much less clear than you.  Most of them anyway.

The past couple days, I have uploaded new files to the site – to a page.  Doing so allows me to think critically about where the file is?  Filecabinet or on a page.  I advocate using the file cabinet most of the time.  Why?  Because you only maintain a single copy of the file and reference it from places on the site.  An old concept associated with content management systems…..but, most people using the system do not have that clear understanding.

When you make an update to something, look at it critically and change the way the file uploads are stored and referenced, if applicable.  for example.  We have a password protected page on one of our sites that has a bunch of files associated with the page.  Actually, there are 2 pages associated with the main page – the associated pages have the files attached to them.

the past couple days, I have updated two files on one of the pages.  I did not change the name of the file, but did upload it and replace it in the page, not the file cabinet.   I considered uploading the updated files to the file cabinet and then copying the reference to them into the pages.  BUT, since these are stored to a password protected page – and nowhere else on the site….I left them on the page.

The important thing is the thinking.  The rolling around in it, thinking about the best way to support and update content – people.  To be ready to be helpful to the people who are championing the site – meaning adding new content.

I try not to speak too technically about the sites and their content – instead, I try to think how the person I am working with is seeing the site.  When do they want from it.  This helps me to be clear in my thinking, understanding etc.

I also reminded myself that I installed Dreamweaver a couple weeks ago so I could re-build a big ole nasty html page and NOT IN THE SCHOOLWORLD provided editor.  Ugh.  I found the file I had changed using dreamweaver, updated it and then copied and pasted that code into the HTML version of the page in schoolworld.  SO much easier for this task.

Dreamweaver is what I used to call a front end editing program.  AKA an HTML – CSS page builder.  Very good at helping you build pages with straight html and css.

Web servers…..remoting in – taking control

A dumb title.  This is a reflective post for my brain.  I have a sense of some things that happened yesterday that are important in my overall support and nurturing of the web security camera system.

the players: a web server running Windows 7, not Windows server.  Genetec software.  Frontrunners systems.

There is a web server running in our network (which is why Dave D says “I cant even access the server on my network”… the server runs Genetec software.  Frontrunner is the network – physical side of things BUT also is trained to work with the Genetec software along with their hardware.  I am merely a dude whose organization is using the Genetec – Frontrunner model.

Frontrunner are the people who come in a physically wire the hardware to the network.  They work with our networking people and set up new switches and configure / assign IP addresses for each item on the network (these items are mainly cameras and a few hand held Intercoms.

Yesterday, I worked with a frontrunner engineer who knew how to support the Genetec software.  He showed me how to assess the health of the web server that is supporting the software.  Derrick – frontrunner engineer also explained and created an account for me to access the web server.  Now I can remote into it and ensure that things are healthy.  etc.  I should share this information with our own engineer Dave D – who did make the comment a while back about not being able to access the server on the network.  The web server has a Genetec software service that needs to be running, like a SQL server or ColdFusion server has a service that runs on a Windows server.   I helped him think though a problem that was occurring in the Genetec software – finding the common denominator – helped us realize the problem was not in our network, but on the server.

In other words – if a camera or a device on the system is non-responsive – then the problem is either

a – in the device (not likely)

b – in the network (ip address Vlan conf) – likely

c – on the server (service did not restart properly after a Windows update) – possible.

the problem is one of those.  my job here is to help determine which it is.

Derrick the frontrunner engineer said “its either the network or the server, im guessing network”.  I helped him see the common denominator in the problem was the server, so he looked there and saw the issue.

I watched the items (entire partition – and then the individual doors – come back on line) after he reset the Genetec Software service, on the server.

There is even a watchdog service on the server that *watches the critical Genetec Server service and if it is not running, starts it.  Wonder if that is working?  The service was running yesterday – only the software relying on the service got a little discombobulated….

There is also a Genetec Security center mobile service that provides web access to the system.  If I ever see a problem with the web client(s) not connecting to the server – then I could remote in and check this service.  Its something, what I call low hanging fruit.  I probably end up contacting the vendor (frontrunner) and they resolve the issue – BUT, its nice and smart to vet out as much low hanging fruit as possible.

While on the server browsing around a bit – I can see two vary large drives (1.81 TB) tarabytes – thats trillons of bytes… This is a video server – in a way, its a web server who has the responsibility to keep 30 days worth of 24 hr recording for about 80 cameras.  That would be a lot of video storage.  One of the two large drives reports only 42 GB available (of 1.8 TB) – this must be where all this video is kept.  There is a recovery drive (10 GB) that is virtually empty.

I am guessing that this is genetec’s server – not ours.  We provided the network to plug the server into, but the server is part of the entire Genetec – frontrunner service.  They put the software on it, set it up etc. They are the main admins.  Derrick from Frontrunner said something like “Its ok for customers to have accounts on the server”.  this is also why Dave D complains and days “I don’t know $#$# about that server”.

Frontrunner Network Systems delivers world class IP Physical Security, Access Control, Data and Voice Systems and Services” – from their website.  Access control systems

Genetec is a partner of Frontrunner systems.  Frontrunner is the big player, will all the infrastructure.  Genetec is one of many software’s that partner with Frontrunner.

Genetec’s engineers had the intuition that the typical analog or digital point-to-point telecom architecture would be short lived. More so, Genetec believed that the direction of the future was the multipoint to multipoint networked architecture. The sophisticated intelligence of software created to manage a complex network offered a major opportunity and would usher in new possibilities to customers worldwide. Thus, Genetec pioneered the first fully IP-based security system. Despite industry scepticism of this new market technology, Genetec’s team developed and perfected the solution.

Troubleshooting a problem in the web security camera software

Today, I was greeted with a big red email (priority).  It said “I cannot unlock the doors using the software”.  Not a collosal issue, since the person had a backup plan and could still open the doors from her seat.  Actually, this problem existed for each of the entry ways in our configuration.  We have 3 doorways, which are represented in the software as literal doors.


First thing I did was report the problem to our helpdesk (for records) then visited the person who reported the problem – verify the problem first.  I logged into the software and saw the same issue. Each of the Doors was off line, the software would not communicate with them.   I contacted my frontrunner guy – who configures the software to report the issue.

We discussed the issue a little – turned it over – found the common denominator in the problem, which was the server not the network.  Is the problem in the network or in the server?  A couple times previously, the problem was in the network.  A guy on our side did something that caused that part of the network supporting the cameras (ips), to go down.

The problem could also be in an account – permissions, but if cameras or doors or entire partitions are off line – that suggests either a problem in the Network or on the server.  Network or Server?

In this case, it was server.  Working with my frontrunner contact – we went into the genetec software – as an admin, to the Config tool | System | roles

Turns out the problem was caused by the server (Windows 7) updating automatically and not restarting the Genetec

Once that service was restarted, my genetec session logged out, eventually logged back in and the Doors each came back on line one after the other.

The postmordem analysis steps – takeways

  1. verify the problem – see it
  2. Determine where you think the problem is coming from (in this case Server or Network)
  3. try some low level troubleshooting – low handing fruit first – least invasive (impacts fewest users)
  4. If problem cannot be corrected in heavy client with a refresh – check the system properties that monitor the server health
  5. If problem persist – remote into the web server and check the Windows service (Genetec Server) – restart it
  6. Restarting the service is less invasive then rebooting the server

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