Information Systems

Tech Talk

  • A note from Curt

    Posted January 27, 2016

    Good day, all, and thanks for reading this week’s Tech Talk. Guest contributors this week are Allen Golbig and John Krug, with a special appearance from Director of Finance Brian Lipinski. Allen and JK are responsible for managing school servers and databases, most notably the mail server and the file server. Allen handles many Power School, Follett, and other database tasks and is a backup for JK’s server duties. Allen joined the IS team this fall. He is also a Lab parent with a son at Earl Shapiro Hall.

  • Spam Facts

    Posted January 27, 2016

    We all receive some amount of unsolicited email (spam). Some, more than others.
    Here are some of the ways we keep spam from your inbox.

    Each message is parsed by the incoming server for:

    • Content: A database of just about every word and the frequency of that word being in a message previously classified as spam is used.
    • Links: This is known as "intent" in tech jargon, since the intent is to lead you somewhere bad. The list of known phishing or virus laden sites is updated several times every day.
    • Source: Where the message originated. Every day, thousands of new computers and user accounts across the world are compromised and used to send out spam (it has even happened here!). This list is also frequently updated.

    Many other metrics are used, including the color and size of text, apparent attempts to disguise the sender and more.

    So far this year, we received a daily average of about 35 thousand messages from outside the Lab School, over 77% of which were blocked by our filter. Imagine 3 more messages for every one you do receive and they are all spam! Yuck.

    You can help reduce the amount of spam attempting to reach your inbox by limiting the places you give out your school email address. It is worth reading "Can I use my school e-mail account for personal business?" in our tech support center at http://www.ucls.uchicago.edu/labnet/tech-support-center/KnowledgeBase — John Krug

  • How Hardware Repair/Replace Decisions Are Made

    Posted January 27, 2016

    So let’s say you experience a hardware failure on your school computer. How does IS go about determining whether to repair or replace it? The main factors we consider are the severity and/or repair cost of the damage and the age of the computer. Some failures are quite costly to repair; broken screens and failed logic boards tend to incur the highest repair costs. Liquid spills and more severe drops can also be expensive.

    We check the inventory database to see when the computer was purchased. If the computer is more than halfway through its life cycle, and the repair costs are high, we are likely to replace it and scrap the damaged units for parts. If the computer is less than halfway through its life cycle, we repair it unless the cost of repair is within shouting distance of the replacement cost. There are borderline calls sometimes depending on the situation. In that case the decision to repair or replace is made by Rob Koontz in his role as Manager of Information Systems.

    Of course, many hardware failures can be prevented. Keep liquids away from your computer, avoid putting your computer within reach of inquisitive toddlers, and don’t lift a laptop by the screen. — Curt Lieneck

  • Before You Buy Tech...

    Posted January 27, 2016

    Before purchasing any audio/visual equipment, computer hardware, software/apps, printers, or any kind of information technology for use at Lab, you must notify the Information Systems team. This applies no matter which purchasing method and funding source you use. We need to know what you wish to procure before you buy so we can inventory and insure the item(s) and determine the level of support the team can provide.

    If you buy first and consult later, you may find your item is incompatible with Lab’s systems, or unable to be supported, or unable to be funded by Lab, or all of the above. To prevent all this trouble, check with Curt’s team up front. — Director of Finance Brian Lipinski

  • The Golden Rule of Logging In To Schoology

    Posted January 27, 2016
    1. Navigate to Lab's Schoology page: http://ucls.schoology.com
    2. Log in using your Powerschool username and password (NOT email address) — Allen, JK, and Joe

DIT Bits Blog

  • Talking with "New" Teachers

    01/22/2016 2:30 PM

    It was my pleasure to spend an hour talking with our "new" teachers earlier this week. Of course, these highly experienced teachers are only new to Lab, but it is always an enjoyable exercise to find out what they think of Lab and learn more about the remarkable skills and talents they bring to the Schools.

    The topic I was assigned -- sharing what I see as the "big picture" at Lab -- was not technology specific, so I took the opportunity to talk about the many hats I've worn here and the kind of work I've done with kids and grown ups in many different places and roles dating back to 1977.

    I never much cared for complacency and don't like doing the same thing over and over again, as my resume clearly indicates; no doubt some audience members think I'm a little nuts for changing roles so often. A career like that is not everyone's cup of tea.

    My intention was to give one example of the freedom Lab offers for professionally restless people like me to reinvent themselves, their teaching practices, and the relationship they have with the Schools.  It's one of the very best things about Lab, and as we grow, there will only be more such opportunities for finding new, creative ways to keep things fresh and challenging ourselves to reach higher and take more risks. It's an exciting time.

    I had no idea if this would be of any help to my audience or not. The good news is that I've gotten some positive feedback on the session and made some personal connections with teachers I don't get to see as often as I'd like. I hope I have a similar opportunity next year!

    Of course, I couldn't help sneaking in a few pieces of advice. Some of them may be obvious (I have been told by people who love me that I've redefined the art of stating the obvious), but I couldn't resist having a bully pulpit for a few minutes.  Here's what I ended with:


    • Lab needs people who have the chops to say when the emperor is wearing no clothes.  Don't hesitate to be one, because sometimes we need a constructive kick in the pants. Challenge the status quo and bring your best thinking to it; lean into discomfort, have no fear of being direct and challenge each other to be better no matter how good you are. 
    • Keep a focus outside Lab to fuel your teaching. A certain insularity can creep up on you here, and you have to watch out for it. 
    • Let the kids lead. You get great kids to work with here. The unplanned things that happen are often the best.
    • We tend to think things to death before acting, and occasionally get more caught up in adult process issues than is good for kids. You'll know it's happening when you feel like you are swimming upstream, or riding a tricycle through a pool of molasses.  It's OK to call shenanigans when we are overthinking things. Bringing clarity and candor to our conversations is always a good thing.
    • Administrators are here to help. We really do care and work hard to be responsive to all. We often have to swim upstream to get things done, too, and the current is usually stronger for us than it is for you. That's because we are responsible for all parts of the school and have to consider the bigger picture. We're also more directly accountable to the University. Don’t assume we don’t care if it takes longer than you would like to address your concerns or meet your expectations.