Comment On The Mother of all Interfaces

Back in the early 1990's, G.R.G. worked at a certain university as a programmer. In addition to breaking into server rooms and deafening cute little chinchillas, G.R.G. built one of the university's first web applications. It was a fairly simple CGI program that provided web-access to the student registration known as Old Yeller. [expand full text]
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Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 10:02 • by rdrunner
Second!

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 10:10 • by Pawel (unregistered)
LOL, enterprisy folks still know how to get the money from the client.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 10:17 • by Someone You Know
The Real WTF is that they're using the same room as both a coat room and a broom closet.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 10:21 • by Andy Goth
191375 in reply to 191373
Someone You Know:
they're using the same room as both a coat room and a broom closet.
Hell, I keep all my network junk (firewall/server, switch, modem, wireless access point, etc.) on a shelf above the coat rack in my front closet. And there are a couple vacuum cleaners in there too; I guess you could call those electric brooms. :^)

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 10:22 • by Asiago Chow (unregistered)
And the moral of the story is: If you want all-expenses-paid trips to Canada and raised floors you've got to come out of the closet.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 10:23 • by GregP (unregistered)
This reminds me of how my college changed the housing request process.

Originally, the first year I was there, everyone was scheduled to physically walk in and sign up with a new dorm. This involved talking to a real human being and having them fill things into the arcane system. They had the knowledge and training to understand the quirks which would be incomprehensible to everyone else.

The next year, they created a new website to sign up, and by "created" I mean revealed the crusty old system in web page format. Not only was it constantly crashing from the load, but even if you could get on you'd have to sit there for a while to figure out what everything meant, and how it related the printed housing numbers. It was a harrowing experience, and no one I knew actually got the place they wanted. Surprisingly my friends and I still mananged to all be in the same building, which was still good even if it wasn't the building we wanted.

I heard the year after that they fixed up the system, but by that point I didn't care and sought housing off campus.

There were similar problems with the registration system, until one of my friends figured out the old phone registration system still worked. So we all had exactly the classes we wanted, while everyone else was sitting at their computers hours later refreshing their browser in the hope that they wouldn't get an error page.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 10:23 • by conservajerk (unregistered)
Hmmmm... I just looked at jobs on the certain 3 letter company's website. They seem to think an intermediate/senior java developer in Victoria, B.C. needs only a minimum of 2 years java experience and 3 years it experience. This is senior? WTF?

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 10:32 • by snoofle
191384 in reply to 191378
conservajerk:
Hmmmm... I just looked at jobs on the certain 3 letter company's website. They seem to think an intermediate/senior java developer in Victoria, B.C. needs only a minimum of 2 years java experience and 3 years it experience. This is senior? WTF?
Sadly, it's not just them. Scan Dice/HotJobs/Monster, and you'll see countless ads for "senior developers" with 3 years of experience.

I found one today that wanted 3 years of Java and 2 years of programming experience. (no, that's not a misprint).

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 10:32 • by jtl (unregistered)
At my college the kids who knew how to ssh directly into the registration server were the ones who at least had a chance to get the schedule they wanted. The 'web portal' was always the least likely option.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 10:39 • by NewbiusMaximus (unregistered)
Developers at XXX Corp claimed that this was impossible, as they had thoroughly load-tested Mother, but eventually agreed to investigate their testing code.

Yeah, I've been on the other side of that "thoroughly load-tested" statement. Every time some customer was told that, it meant they sat down one tester with (maybe) two client computers and (if you're really lucky) some kind of automated or scripted testing software that they might know how to use.

Which, of course, gives you spectacular, catastrophic failure when more than 4 people try to use the application simultaneously. Hilarity ensues.

Note to self: get in on the wine-and-dine, "get-a-big-bonus when your shitty $4 million Rube Goldbergian system is finally cobbled together" side of the game instead of the "make things work on a reasonable budget" side of the game.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 10:49 • by Fred (unregistered)
They were surprised that college kids were up at 3 A.M? WTF!!! That's prime time in college time.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 10:52 • by conservajerk (unregistered)
191396 in reply to 191384
snoofle:
conservajerk:
Hmmmm... I just looked at jobs on the certain 3 letter company's website. They seem to think an intermediate/senior java developer in Victoria, B.C. needs only a minimum of 2 years java experience and 3 years it experience. This is senior? WTF?
Sadly, it's not just them. Scan Dice/HotJobs/Monster, and you'll see countless ads for "senior developers" with 3 years of experience.

I found one today that wanted 3 years of Java and 2 years of programming experience. (no, that's not a misprint).


LOL - I think I want to work there. If they can't even get the job ad right then what can they possibly expect from me?

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 10:53 • by Shriike (unregistered)
So, this is a really good explanation for why college is so expensive, "a few mil for a new registration system? Sure!"

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 11:01 • by SNF (unregistered)
Goddamn that makes me angry.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 11:02 • by Joe Mason (unregistered)
This sounds remarkably like the University of Waterloo, except that I thought the "dinky old CGI PC" was built and maintained by a CS prof in his office, and rather than interfacing with the "real" registration system, it just printed up official course selection sheets (normally filled out by hand) and the prof would have his grad students gather up the printouts and hand them over in batches rather than having every student stand in line separately.

And when they phased in the new super-duper web based system that didn't work and needed everyone to sign up only during their assigned block of time, the old CS-only system went away because they stopped using the old forms entirely.

If it turns out that this IS the same story, and the old system was actually on-line the whole time and I just never heard about it, I'm going to be PISSED.


Ed: Based on your description ("U of Waterloo", "Professor"), it's certainly a different place...

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 11:06 • by fluffy777
191408 in reply to 191403
When I was at UCSC, we had similar things going:

Scheduled times to register for classes (which doubled as a way to let seniors could get priority registration).

Old, telephone based backend interface, with small cgi frontend.

New, horrible web monstrosity replaces old telephone based backend. (not from a three letter company, but it did have a three letter name).

Maybe UCSC was one of the consulted.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 11:22 • by Skaven
I smell BS. It sounds like they are trotting out the IT David and Goliath story - especially when it gets to the big bonuses and windowed office for all the App Dev IT people. Like any administration reward developers for anything. ;)

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 11:24 • by Sa (unregistered)
191418 in reply to 191386
NewbiusMaximus:
Note to self: get in on the wine-and-dine, "get-a-big-bonus when your shitty $4 million Rube Goldbergian system is finally cobbled together" side of the game instead of the "make things work on a reasonable budget" side of the game.

Well, it's about time. For a while there I was afraid that you would never see the light. You're too late for the Boca trip, but I'm looking forward to seeing you in Maui next month. We'll be discussing the the new mega-site development project aboard the 45 foot schooner that the company leased for the trip.

Now that you've decided to come over to the "dark side" (yuck yuck) have your people get in touch with my people and we'll get together and discuss "old times in IT hell". We can even lay back in the Jacuzzi and read TheDailyWTF (or whatever its name is this week), drink scotch, and laugh about the old developer days.

I'll let Jack know that you've finally decided to join us later. It appears that right now he's inside the Bungalow with some lady walking on his back.

If you hurry, you can try some of these crab cake finger thingies that Jeeves is carrying around on a silver tray. Janet has Slashdot up on the 52 plasma.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 11:24 • by Scott (unregistered)
<clip>.. rewarded the folks in ADU with big bonuses and new offices with real windows ..<clip>.. As for GRG and his fellow programmer, they stayed in their small coat-room office and got a 2.3% raise at the end of that year.

This bothers me that the 2 developers didn't get anything of a reward when their system worked so well. I'm on GRG's side!

Also, I still believe that 2 developers that work well together can get more done than a large team, it's about working well together and forming a relationship with one-another so you can accomplish things.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 11:26 • by A Nonny Mouse
191420 in reply to 191376
Asiago Chow:
And the moral of the story is: If you want all-expenses-paid trips to Canada and raised floors you've got to come out of the closet.


:)

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 11:30 • by Ie (unregistered)
That's the most depressing WTF in a while. :(

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 11:34 • by Joshua Ochs (unregistered)
Yup, same thing at Northwestern University, although the culprit there was PeopleSoft. They delivered CAESAR (Course Application ..... Registration - I don't recall it all now). It similarly crashed under a few users when it went live. Took a couple years to get working at even a basic level - we took to calling it "Seizure" instead.

These universities DO have a huge talent pool willing to work for a couple extra credits; why don't they ever take advantage of that?

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 11:36 • by fmobus (unregistered)
In my university in Brazil, we had a similar, albeit successful, path.

(20 years ago) in person, time-slices by seniority and grades, cross-department allocations were sent from department to department by teletype or phone.

(15 years ago) same thing, but the registration attendants had a telnet terminal to the central server to register people in real time and solve cross-department allocations. Students had the opportunity to change their plans if their desired classes were full.

(5 years ago) web-based registration. Every student sets 3 "registration plans" during a 10 day period. After that, according to the student seniority, the "filling" of each plan was evaluated. The best plan for the student (most mandatory classes, most classes, etc) was selected. Failures, special requests, etc were handled in person during the following week.

(3 years ago) same system, but the student was allowed to make adjustments or special requests online.

Right now, the way it is, 99% of the registrations are solved online; this is specially good for students living out of town, for previously they had less vacation time. The only WTF on this system is the clumsy interface. Other than that, is reliable and fast.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 11:45 • by NewbiusMaximus (unregistered)
191432 in reply to 191423
These universities DO have a huge talent pool willing to work for a couple extra credits; why don't they ever take advantage of that?

Well, at *some* universities, it's because they really don't have a huge talent pool. At mine, for example, a prof told me that he was chatting with someone around the time they were graduating, who admitted that he'd never actually got any code to compile in his 4 years there. People outside the university weren't totally ignorant of this state of affairs, which is partly the reason I chose to get a degree in a different subject, from a different department. :P

Yeah, in general, it's stupid to not take some grad students and give them credit for building something instead of paying consultants large sums of money. I think most people who have worked in software development know that, on the average, you're going to get the same shitty product either way. But hey, the decision makers have other priorities, like getting to go on the wine/dine trips.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 11:48 • by spacix
I think I used to work for the University that has been described in these WTF postings. I too worked for one in the area which jumps from freezing cold to burning hot day to day (aka the Midwest) if not then there be striking similarities between his school and mine...

Making note of the old tree next to the building hosing the data center, which was on the 3rd floor of a building in a server room with a raised floor when I worked there, but it was moved from the "basement" of another building 7 to 10 years prior. When I left a year ago there was still Enrollment IT people in the basement area we called the "closet" because it wasn't fully finished/furnished.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 11:50 • by sf (unregistered)
191436 in reply to 191384
Well, with one year wiping tables at Starbucks and 2 years programming, you can apply.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 11:56 • by NaN
191440 in reply to 191432
NewbiusMaximus:
These universities DO have a huge talent pool willing to work for a couple extra credits; why don't they ever take advantage of that?

Well, at *some* universities, it's because they really don't have a huge talent pool. At mine, for example, a prof told me that he was chatting with someone around the time they were graduating, who admitted that he'd never actually got any code to compile in his 4 years there. People outside the university weren't totally ignorant of this state of affairs, which is partly the reason I chose to get a degree in a different subject, from a different department. :P

Yeah, in general, it's stupid to not take some grad students and give them credit for building something instead of paying consultants large sums of money. I think most people who have worked in software development know that, on the average, you're going to get the same shitty product either way. But hey, the decision makers have other priorities, like getting to go on the wine/dine trips.


Not even HelloWorld? I want to cry.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 12:05 • by Gamma (unregistered)
191442 in reply to 191425
Right now, the way it is, 99% of the registrations are solved online; this is specially good for students living out of town, for previously they had less vacation time. The only WTF on this system is the clumsy interface. Other than that, is reliable and fast.


Obviously, your university did not have the wherewithal to employ any three letter consultants.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 12:05 • by AMerrickanGirl
191443 in reply to 191440
The real WTF is that most colleges of any size use one of several standard student information systems, such as Banner, and these systems have an online component for course registrations.

Why are they reinventing the wheel? Adapt an existing product.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 12:14 • by steved
I don't see the WTF. Perhaps i'm jaded but it sounds like par for the course. Go Go Enterprisee!

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 12:15 • by Tachyon
191450 in reply to 191443
And how come they almost always suck?

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 12:19 • by FredSaw
191452 in reply to 191433
spacix:
Making note of the old tree next to the building hosing the data center
Yes, data centers will get hosed from time to time.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 12:23 • by BobB (unregistered)
Was I the only one who found the story very depressing?

Captcha: saluto - How you greeted Mussolini

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 12:24 • by SomeCoder (unregistered)
191455 in reply to 191443
AMerrickanGirl:
The real WTF is that most colleges of any size use one of several standard student information systems, such as Banner, and these systems have an online component for course registrations.

Why are they reinventing the wheel? Adapt an existing product.



Gah! Banner sucks, hard; cluttered interface that is impossible to find your way around, completely breaks the back button in your browser and is incredibly slow to boot.

Though admittedly, it's better than the horror that was the previous system my school used: A Java applet that not only required you to install Java but also tended to only work on one particular version of Java which meant that I had to head down to the school to use their computers anyway.

There are some major horrors in online stuff for universities. Anyone here used Blackboard? That's gotta be the worst system to ever be designed by man.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 12:31 • by NewbiusMaximus (unregistered)
191460 in reply to 191455
SomeCoder:
Anyone here used Blackboard? That's gotta be the worst system to ever be designed by man.

Yeah, it struck me as having been poorly thought out. Fortunately, 99% of the profs had the same opinion, and chose to use other avenues for communication. I wonder how much my university paid for it to sit there unused?

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 12:33 • by Crabs (unregistered)
191462 in reply to 191455
My school uses banner. Searching for classes is a pain (omg..why would they make the back button useless?), but the rest of it is fine, for the most part. I always seem to register for my classes on time with no problems.

We also used to use blackboard, up until the end of this semester. Blackboard is a piece. The fact that it's not integrated with the registration system at all bothers me. My teachers tried to use it the first year we got it, but then basically abandoned it. The problem was it wasn't integrated at all. Each student had to sign themselves up for blackboard, and sign themselves up for each class separately.

We are now getting a much more integrated system starting in the fall. Too bad that's my last semester, I'd like to see how it turns out.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 12:33 • by Sam (unregistered)
TRWTF? XXX = ADU

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 12:34 • by Jay (unregistered)
I have fond memories of the day that a Previous Employer had a review of our department, and they gave awards to two projects: One that had built a system that crashed several times a day, was awkward to use when it was running, and was full of security holes; and another to a team that spent $60 million and never actually deployed anything because the system crashed at about 3 users and repeatedly gave incorrect results with 1 or 2. But ... they had filled out all the paperwork correctly, so they got awards for excellence! Yes, that was the criteria for the awards: Did you fill out the paperwork correctly.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 12:34 • by Anonymous User (unregistered)
191465 in reply to 191385
jtl:
At my college the kids who knew how to ssh directly into the registration server were the ones who at least had a chance to get the schedule they wanted. The 'web portal' was always the least likely option.


Sounds like RIT's registration system...

Even then, if you SSH'd into the registration server, there was still a "waiting period" between trying to login (if you got dumped back out, you couldn't try to log in again for 1 minute). Unless, of course, you knew the code to erase that restriction...then you could just pummel the server until it let you in or crashed.

Ahhh...good times.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 12:37 • by Alin (unregistered)
191467 in reply to 191452
FredSaw:
spacix:
Making note of the old tree next to the building hosing the data center
Yes, data centers will get hosed from time to time.


Depends IF someone pushes the Big Red Button!

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 12:42 • by chikinpotpi
That. Was. Bleak.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 12:48 • by Scurvy (unregistered)
191470 in reply to 191465
Anonymous User:

Sounds like RIT's registration system...

Even then, if you SSH'd into the registration server, there was still a "waiting period" between trying to login (if you got dumped back out, you couldn't try to log in again for 1 minute). Unless, of course, you knew the code to erase that restriction...then you could just pummel the server until it let you in or crashed.

Ahhh...good times.


It also helped to know A) the people who wrote the software and/or B) the people who had admin access to the system. I don't think I ever didn't get into a class I wanted in my *ahem* 7 years there.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 12:51 • by Steve (unregistered)
"handled 85,000 registrations each semester and brought in about $400 Million a year"

That's nearly $5,000 per registration... WTF?!

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 12:55 • by anonymous (unregistered)
191472 in reply to 191471
Steve:
"handled 85,000 registrations each semester and brought in about $400 Million a year"

That's nearly $5,000 per registration... WTF?!


Actually, it's only about $2400 per registration.

Hint: Semesters... there are two of them! (more, if you count summer registrations!)

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 12:56 • by ServZero
191474 in reply to 191397
Shriike:
So, this is a really good explanation for why college is so expensive, "a few mil for a new registration system? Sure!"


You have no idea how much colleges waste on over-priced consultants and "made for academia" software solutions. My college just dropped $20,000 on a content management system for its new website when Joomla or Drupal would have done the same thing for free.

There's also a search engine optimization effort for our graduate program. Currently their cost per conversion for a filled out "request for information" form is around $600.00. They're also paying thousands of dollars for a fancy-schmancy consultant to manage their $22,000 per year AdWords budget..

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 12:58 • by akatherder
I went to a small private university (about 2300 undergrads) that specializes in technology and even they couldn't put up a decent scheduling web interface that could handle the load.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 13:09 • by random_garbage
191479 in reply to 191416
Skaven:
I smell BS. It sounds like they are trotting out the IT David and Goliath story - especially when it gets to the big bonuses and windowed office for all the App Dev IT people. Like any administration reward developers for anything. ;)


Well, you might be right, except for the half-dozen people who chimed in with "Hey - that happened at my school too"...

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 13:11 • by Peter Amstutz (unregistered)
Something similar happened when I was a student at the University of Massachusetts. The first couple years I was there (late 90s), the standard registration system for classes was touch-tone phone based. It was clunky, annoying, and tended to get overloaded during peak hours, but at least it did work.

Then somebody got the bright idea to build an online registration system. However, instead of building or adopting a system designed for the needs of a large university, they decided to adopt -- wait for it -- PeopleSoft.

Since PeopleSoft is an "enterprisy" HR system, students were now "employees", courses were now "work groups" and semesters were now "fiscal years". There was no integration of the actual course descriptions into the system, so you still needed to refer to a completely different web site (or get the phonebook-sized course guide) to figure out what classes to sign up for.

Needless to say, the system was a disaster when it deployed: totally unable to handle the load, there was an outcry from students who were unable to sign up for classes due to never actually being able to log in to the system. The user interface was slow and cryptic, and the service got badly confused when users use exotic web technologies such as the "back" button...

A couple more years of work and several million dollars later, the system was almost as good as the crappy telephone system it had replaced.

Re: The Mother of all Interfaces

2008-04-24 13:12 • by Orclev (unregistered)
191481 in reply to 191423
Joshua Ochs:
These universities DO have a huge talent pool willing to work for a couple extra credits; why don't they ever take advantage of that?


What, and trust students with something? Students aren't real people, you can't trust them to do something important!

Hardware....

2008-04-24 13:15 • by Annie Mouse (unregistered)
Sounds almost like Gov't...

If it doesn't work, throw more hardware at it. Doesn't matter the cost... just keep throwing hardware at it until it works.
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