November 04, 2009

How to treat a guest

Last weekend I attended the Cyclone Ballroom Classic (woo Knox) and I stayed at ISU's student union hotel. On check-in I was able to borrow (for free) an Ethernet cable that would work in the room, in case the wireless wasn't strong enough there (it was), and told there would be a (free) registration when I first connected. I believe it asked for my name, my phone number, and maybe an email address; quick to fill out and not terribly invasive. Then I got this screen:

[Reboot now.]

This was irritating. Why should I have to reboot? I started mentally cursing incompetence, but just in case I clicked the little question-mark help button. Which took me to this screen:

[...or just renew your DHCP lease.]

And that fast, I've completely reversed my opinion of them. They're right! For the majority of users, rebooting is both simplest to explain and simplest to do—and if they're not power users they're unlikely to have any long-running tasks that would be fouled up by a reboot. And, for the power users, ISU's tech folks have helpfully clarified that yes, a simple release-and-renew is all that's actually required, and if you know what that means, you can do that and not worry that some wonky setting somewhere will break anything. So they've effectively navigated the "easy for novices, effective for experts" divide that is sometimes so tricky. (And in fact I had internet all weekend with no troubles at all.)

Contrast that with this afternoon, when I was terribly embarrassed on behalf of my college: we had a guest speaker, invited by someone in the Spanish department, to give a talk (on queer identities in post-Franco Spain, which was a neat talk, by the way). Embedded in his presentation were a few YouTube links. What happened? Well, first of all, he got defaulted to an "open" wireless network that didn't actually connect to anything. Then he switched to the main Knox wireless network, but was presented with a login/password prompt, because we have no general guest setup. Robin Ragan, the host faculty member, rushed up and used hers, but this ordeal was not yet over: he was only placed on the provisional network, from which he could click a link to download and install the stupid malware that Knox forces its users to install on all their machines. (We're still in the middle of the talk, by the way. I wanted to crawl into my shoe I was so embarrassed.) So he did, but that wasn't enough, because once it downloaded and installed and ran, it informed him that his system wasn't up-to-date enough for it, so it would shunt him over to the quarantine network until he fixed the "problem". In the end, he had to manually type in the YouTube URLs onto the desktop machine in the classroom in order to play them. This, I'd say, is how not to treat a guest. Come to think of it, I should shoot him an email and warn him to make sure the malware gets deinstalled—he was a Mac user and the stuff is known to cause 100% CPU consumption on Snow Leopard. (We reported this a month ago. The Computer Center is "looking into it".)

"Both the Arabs and Israelis have unassailable moral arguments, and anyone who does not understand how this is true cannot understand the true nature of tragedy." --Nadav Safran

Posted by blahedo at 9:45pm on 4 Nov 2009
Good grief! You just brought a flood of agony-filled memories back to me. I had (blissfully) forgotten how bad it was there. I guess it goes to show that even if you have the best Computer Science professors you won't necessarily have the best IT. Please at least tell me they support OS X to some degree now. Even into 2005 they seemed to be pretty oblivious to its existence. To be fair, I could never decide if it was worse to have Windows and be "supported" or have a Mac and have to hack and juryrig almost everything. I recall at one point that in order to register a computer on the student network you had to visit a webpage that "required" Internet Explorer. Thank goodness for user agent spoofing. Posted by Brian at 6:44am on 5 Nov 2009
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