Day 2 — Lay of the IT Land

On this first day of the school week, I spent the day meeting with people to get the lay of the IT land at Maru a Pula. I met with Nidhi (alumni director), Kofi, Kwesi, and Joy (computer science teachers), Margaret (librarian), and Mike (bursar). Unfortunately, the current tech picture is rather muddled. Kofi was thrust into the role of department chair by the previous principal. The combination of a full teaching load, server management, and tech support has proven too much to handle. The hiring of an external agency (High Performance Systems) has not solved the problem, as the company sends a junior technician to solve problems once each day.

Luckily, an American volunteer named Phil has just landed for a year’s service. He seems like the most likely candidate to take over server administration for the year, training someone else to replace him before he leaves. With some background in systems administration, the hope is that he can fully manage this aspect of school operations.

As if to underscore the urgency of the need, the school’s mail server experienced a hard drive failure today. The data drive, containing all of the mail and account settings, crashed. There was no mirror drive or external backup, so the data may be lost. Ironically, the mail server is new, having only been in place for six weeks. Blame is difficult to place, since HPS was supposed to manage software and backup and apparently did neither. At the same time, no one at the school took ownership of the relationship with HPS, so they were not held accountable.

Another level of confusion has been the method of platform selection. A comedy of incomplete conversations by email led to the arbitrary selection of Windows desktop clients over thin clients and Macintosh systems for the refurbishment of the first computer lab. That was the safe choice due to its popularity. I am happy to work with whatever they have. Unfortunately, these are not going to be set up in time for me to see the new lab in operation, as the school is giving the battered computer room a makeover before installing the computers.

I continue to struggle with strange proxy settings, the default for student computer use here. This apparently improves performance and limits access to blocked sites. It also blocks my FTP and mail clients, preventing me from working with the full suite of applications on my computer.

Things are slightly better on the alumni web site front. I solved one problem today, where Nidhi was not able to download the alumni database from the web site because Windows automatically denied access to any download .mdb file. Thanks, Microsoft. I discovered that there exists an option to unlock the file in its Properties window.

If you notice that my work has veered away from curricular integration into basic infrastrure needs, it’s because users cannot even consider the former without a solid, reliable foundation. That has become my primary objective now.

That’s it for today. Tomorrow, we point Phil toward the servers and set him off.

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