unreasonable behaviour leads to edubuzz / Bloglines split

Sadly, it’s time for eduBuzz and Bloglines to have at least a trial separation, if not a permanent split.

Feed aggregators like Bloglines are a good thing, making it easy for people to keep an eye on lots of blogs. But if their attention brings the site down in the process, that’s not so good. That’s more like a Denial of Service attack, as Matt has observed.

Unfortunately we’ve reached the point where we have no choice but to block the Bloglines crawler. It’s imposing such an excessive load on the site, at such regular intervals, that the service to school users is being unacceptably degraded. Often it’s so been bad that the only way out has been to power cycle the server, and that has led to more time wasted repairing damaged database tables. Our record to date is 77 concurrent connections. A bit of research has shown that, with work, our server could be configured to throttle back these connections. But scrabbling up that learning curve isn’t the most productive use of our time.

For reasons best known to Bloglines, these connections arrive mob-handed. Maybe if they trickled away in the background things would be fine? We’ve tried contacting Bloglines, but, like others before us, have found they don’t respond to emails. James Farmer got a response from a helpful Bloglines engineer but unfortunately he’s moved on.

I’m disappointed to have to do this, as I have been using Bloglines since around 2000 and still think it’s a good product. If you’re disappointed too, why not let them know. They might listen to their own survey results…

Frank Tindall’s Memoirs: a source of locally relevant contexts?

One of the principles for curriculum design under A Curriculum for Excellence is relevance. From a chance discovery in a local bookshop I’ve found a book that has potential to provide relevant local contexts for a wide range of curricular areas.

Relevance: Young people should understand the purposes of their activities. They should see the value of what they are learning and its relevance to their lives, present and future. link

The book, Memoirs and Confessions of a County Planning Officer by the late Frank Tindall, tells the story of the development of East Lothian from 1950 onwards. With a title like that, it’s not an obvious choice for the school library shelf – but it brings East Lothian’s recent history to life in a way I’ve never encountered before in more than 20 years living here.

Some topics covered include:

  • depopulation and measures taken to address it, including bringing “overspill” from Glasgow
  • flooding of the river Tyne, and work done in response
  • mineral resources, including coal and limestone
  • coastal conservation, including removal of wartime defences
  • the development of the ranger service and tourism

Somehow picking these out doesn’t do full justice to the book, though, because it makes it sound like a geography text and it’s not like that at all. It’s written as a series of stories, and you meet the characters involved. There’s endless East Lothian trivia, of course – where else could you find out where the rock went from the hole in Traprain Law, for example?

Because there are stories about every area of East Lothian, it has unusual potential to provide “hooks” for new curricular developments which are locally relevant and interesting. In many areas it would be possible, for example, to look at what the planners intended and see how things are working out now.

Reducing eduBuzz subscriptions via Bloglines?

Have you subscribed to any eduBuzz blogs via Bloglines? Do you still use it? If not, maybe you could do us a favour and delete those subscriptions?

Over the past few weeks the edubuzz service has occasionally been grinding to a halt. On those occasions, server memory resources have become exhausted, and a server restart has been necessary.

This has happened often enough now for a pattern to be apparent. On each occasion when the server load becomes excessive, there are very large numbers of internet connections from the Bloglines crawler. Tonight, for example, when it became necessary to restart there were 77 concurrent internet connections from Bloglines, almost half the connections in use. I’ve tried reporting this to Bloglines before, but didn’t get an answer.

There should be no need for Bloglines to demand updates from eduBuzz unless they’ve got users who have subscribed to eduBuzz blogs. Maybe if we can identify and get rid of redundant Bloglines subscriptions we can improve things, without having to block Bloglines?

A new look for www.edubuzz.org

The www.edubuzz.org home page has been given a new look to make it easier for people to explore the site.

There are still some loose ends to tidy up, but in keeping with the “release early, release often” philosophy, it’s time to give it a try and start listening to the feedback.

This version builds on the feedback from the last prototype. That showed that providing some pointers to help visitors start exploring was well received. That version, though, was built during the summer break but proved too complex to be sustainable under the pressures of term-time workloads.

The new version is simpler, but provides more information. It’s completely blog-based, with no bespoke code other than a customised WordPress theme, modified using standard template tags. That means maintenance can be shared, so volunteers are welcome to contribute.

Current features include:

There’s still more work to do, such as:

  • lists of project blogs
  • lists of support department blogs

Feedback welcome.

P3 blogger James has a place in web history

Just out of curiosity, I’ve been looking to see how many edubuzz pages have been archived by theinternet archive at http://archive.org. The question was spurred by Fearn Wood asking how long her Stobhill book blog would be around.

It was interesting to see that already our P3 bloggers from last year have a place in internet history, such as this blog from James.

Original bloghttps://www.edubuzz.org/hip3-3jame

Internet archive copy: http://web.archive.org/web/20070516110824/https://www.edubuzz.org/hip3-3james/

It’s encouraging to see this  being picked up so quickly, and good to know that this extra backup exists.

eduBuzz service news

An order is now being processed for an upgrade to the edubuzz server. This will mainly provide :

  • more disk space, mainly needed for storage of uploaded files such as images, audio and video
  • more memory capacity, to handle increasing numbers of users

Disk space on the current server is being used up at an ever-increasing rate.

There’s an ongoing education job to be done in reminding people not to upload huge, high-resolution image files just to illustrate blog posts. This is all part of the process of learning about using the web in the classroom, though, and perhaps to be expected at this stage.

It’s not unusual to find image files of 2MB embedded in blog posts, even though these will take over 5 minutes to load on a typical dial-up connection. This is something we maybe should have spent time on in training sessions, where we’ve tried to concentrate on using the tools, and have probably tended to avoid discussion of file size issues. We’re not alone, though: it’s clear from discussion forums that other WordPress sites have the same problem.

If you’re reading this and wondering how to avoid the problem, our advice is to avoid creating a big image in the first place. You can do this by setting your camera to take a low-resolution image. For class web use, a JPEG (.jpg)  image file will usually be around 20KB to 50KB, depending on what it contains.  About 400 to 500 pixels wide is adequate.

If you’ve already taken a large image, web sites like www.resize2mail.com offer a free,  easy-to-use resizing service. You just browse to the image on your computer, upload it, choose the size you want, and download the resized file.

eduBuzz Open Meeting

Today’s eduBuzz Open Meeting provided as usual a rich source of ideas for next steps and feedback from a range of activities over the past month.

We were pleased to welcome Alison Hunton, a parent whose two daughters Alice and Ellie are already amongst our youngest bloggers.

Topics covered included:

  • Internet skills for staff

As use of the internet becomes more embedded in school activities this is highlighting an ongoing need for training in some fairly basic web skills for staff. A useful resource for WordPress training is the Stuck With ICT site developed by Andrew Brown of LTS.

  • Internet safety for parents

Ollie Bray reported on the internet safety session recently run for Musselburgh parents. This training, based on CEOP standards, is planned for roll-out to clusters.

  • Comment spam

There were a couple of reports of nuisance comment spam, and the possibility of adding a Captcha check was discussed.

  • WordPress upgrade

A few points of feedback from the recent software upgrade arose, including the loss of the coloured text facility.

Support new web users amongst staff?

I found out today that there are staff trying to explore edubuzz who are still so unfamiliar with the web that they worry about clicking the wrong thing and breaking something, or about ending up somewhere and not being able to get back again.

No one has yet fed these points back in person: they came out of a meeting with Hilery Williams and Eleanor Carnell of Support For All today about making edubuzz more accessible.

This is good news in terms of the increase in audience, but it maybe means we need to cater more for the needs of this group. For example, our Support Wiki at https://www.edubuzz.org/support currently targets an audience who are already past that stage. We don’t provide help, for example, in using Ctrl-Z to undo actions in Windows.

Ideas from the meeting included some home page options to explain terminology like blogs. The home page is currently being worked on, and these points will be used to inform that work.

It’s clear that there’s also scope to extend CPD to include foundations of web use. This could include such things as browser commands, use of the mouse and simple searching.