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Dorm Storm? 628

Posted by michael
from the storm's-a-coming dept.
The Ape With No Name writes: "I work as a network technician at a major Southern university and we are gearing up for what is lovingly called "Dorm Storm," aka the weekend the students return to their dorm rooms, ethernet connections and BearShare. We'll move in approx. 3500 students, install and configure 1500 or so network cards and troubleshoot hundreds of circuit, switch and routing problems over the course of the next two weeks (with less than 50 people or so). I was wondering if anybody out in the academic computing community had some advice, stories to relate, yarns to spin for the rest of Slashdot with regard to other universities and their networking for students. You might think you have had a hell of a time setting up machines for users, but this becomes a Sisyphean task when you face a wireless, IP only, Novell setup for a grumpy architecture student on a budget Win2K laptop - one after another after another!"
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Dorm Storm?

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  • Geez, I'm going through that right now. I'm starting my last year at SPSU [spsu.edu], but also my first year as a resident assistant in the dorms. After checking in all the students, the next thing we face is helping the newbies with getting set up on the network. Many do know what they're doing, but some (like the ladies and some REALLY dumb freshmen) that just like to plug telephone cords into their NIC's. Anyway, aside from them, it's not too difficult, but we only have 400 residents in 2 dorms, and maybe 50-70% with computers. It's not anyone's duty to help, but most of us do it out of the kindness of our heart (or for the affection of one of the ladies, as the case may be for some single RA's here).
    Anyway, the only problem I've seen this year is just the arrogant "freshies" as we lovingly call them. They insist on giving bad advice, plugging things in wrong, using the wrong settings and workgroup, etc. Some love to run Win2k Adv Server, and leave the DNS and WINS services on...
  • by verbatim (18390) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @11:14PM (#2113386) Homepage
    As a technician that will bear the sole responsability of installing over 500 network adaptors in the first few weeks of September, let me ask new and returning students for a few favours:

    1) please be patient when wating for an appointment, and please don't be mad at the technician for scheduling difficulties.

    2) understand that the technician has nothing to do with (a) network administration, (b) vanity hostname assignment, or (c) 'hooking people up' with free network access (it makes me fell like Jim Carrey's character from Cable Guy).

    3) No, I will NOT configure your Linux box to route the connection into your other computers.

    4) No, I will NOT help setup that webserver for you.

    5) Please do not ask me why your cheap-ass soundcard is incompatable with the new ethernet adaptor.

    6) No, a 386 does not have a PCI bus. No, I can't force it in. No, we don't carry any ISA cards, but will happily install one that you purchase.

    7) The PCI cards cost $80. The PCMCIA cards cost $180. Smaller does not equal cheaper.

    8) No, you can't have a vanity hostname (see 2.b)

    9) Yes, this service is for 'academic use only'. Do I care if your research major is erotic adult material? No. And I don't want to know.

    10) Please have your installation media handy. I don't care if it is a CD-R with a warez group name inked on the front - just have the fucking media... you have any idea of how many different versions of windows there are?

    11) sorry, we do not support Linux.

    12) No, you cannot run a DHCP server on our network.

    13) Yes, we have a very fast connection.

    14) No, you cannot use an analogue modem because the phone lines carry a charge. No, sir, an electrical voltage kind of charge.

    15) No, I cannot give you a static IP (see 2.b)

    16) No, I will not give you an upgrade to Windows 2000.

    17) No, I do not have any Linux CD's with me.

    18) No, I will NOT remove the warranty sticker. Please have your dealer install an interface card.

    I am there to install an Ethernet card and install the drivers for our supported platforms - which are _clearly_ stated on all of the reading materials.

    The thing that _pisses_ me off is people that complain about the cost of our network services. We run at least four times faster than cable (and download and upload speeds are the same and uncapped) and charge only HALF the price. Yes, that is still more than a regular dial-up ISP, but you are getting a LOT more value for your dollar.

    I will NOT diagnose/repair general computer problems. I do not care that you've been waiting for a week because I have been working as fast as I can. Complain to my manager and maybe they'll get another technician on the job. I do not have the power to hire extra help.

    Just another fustrated tech person who tries to do his best and get the job done well. We need your patience, cooperation, and support. Thanks.

    :)

  • Get some tech-savvy student volunteers to help out with the setup. No admin privileges, just things like explaining people's context, the fact that they have to locate a NIC driver for their particular hardware, etc.

    At least the girls' dorms will get hooked up quickly that way ;)

  • by rjamestaylor (117847) <rjamestaylor@gmail.com> on Thursday August 16, 2001 @01:02AM (#2118530) Homepage Journal
    The University of North Texas Business Department decided that every student taking a business class (any business class) would receive a free floppy diskette for each business class they take. One twist: each diskette would be labeled for the student and class for which they were receiving this diskette. These labels were to be hand-applied. To each diskette.

    Now, UNT (watch those radio call-letter jokes, folks) has a good population and more than Marketing and Accounting fall under business. Many students from various disciplines take classes from the Business department. I know...now.

    Yeah, it's not as bad as having to configure BearShare for the hapless, but tedious, laborious work it was, nonetheless.

    To pass the time the group of us (working in Technical Support for the B-Dept) would try to find out which female would be looking to get married soon -- ranked, of course, by the madien name and how "unfortunate" it was. Then, we chose which males would be most unlikely to marry, based, again, on the unfortunate nature of there last names. Thousands of little diskettes...all hand labeled...I'm sure the bosses wondered why we'd suddenly burst out laughing...

    One other incident - a student continued to access the campus BBS (run on the Univeristy's VAX) with phony names and would troll the boards. (Gee...why does this sound familar?...) Anyway, we warned him that it was against system policy to sign in as a psuedonym once you were found to break etiquitte, especially. ("Carl Marks" was one...not real bright this troll). Anyway, one night he logs in under a psuedonym (we traced the connection to his dorm room) so we thought we should teach him a lesson. We called the residence hall and spoke to the resident assistant and told him that this student was improperly accessing the BBS, and would he go to his room and tell him to stop breaking the rules (the phone was busy -- dial-up access back then). The RA misunderstood the severity of the situation and called campus police who raided the poor guy's room, shouting, "Hands off the keyboard -- step away from the computer." Don't know if the guns were drawn... Wow. They thought he was hacking into the administration system or something. Hilarious, but not at all what we intended. Sadly, he withdrew from the University after this incident.

    (maybe he's lurking Slashdot now...Hello? Carl? you there?)

  • by wesman (6993) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @09:38PM (#2122112)
    Use cards from the same vendor. Don't support any windows 3.x machines. Older macs are easy but take a variety of cards. Easy to support but hard to stock card inventory. Laptops are picky and we never got 1 card to work in every laptop. We kept a few of another brand just in case. Buy 15 extra dongles for every 100 pc cards. A trouble ticketing system is a must. A large percentage of your users will be able to get everything working on their own. Many will help neighbors. It is a great way to meet new people.

    • Alert: this is not a troll, and I am only 30 years old. (Old enough to remember when dorm room connections were almost always dial-in, and that Mosaic browser in the computer lab was the cool new thing.)

      Why bother to support broadband connections in the dorms?

      I may be way off the mark, but I can't imagine the technophobic, behind-the-times profs I had in school putting enough course material online to warrant a wired dorm room. And that goes DOUBLE for the CS profs... man, we used to joke about how that weird Fortran prof probably used a punch-card word processor.

      But suddenly now it's an educational Utopia where all the course material and TA office hours and crap are online? I have a hard time believing it.

      Personally I consdier connectivity to be as important as running water, but I don't know if I can justify it in an educational setting. There are still computer labs, and there's always Earthlink if you really need it.

      It seems to me that this is being done all over just because it seems like a good idea, when in fact it may not be. If connectivity is so damn important, why don't they provide computers too?

      (I almost canceled this post, it's a bit cynical even for me.)
      • Sorry, you're wrong. At large state universities and likely more and more at smaller institutions, online access is not only an advantage, it's _required_ for many of the classes. It's very common at UW for students to be required to subscribe to a mailing list or listserv the first day of class, and for TA's to conduct their office hours via email since we can't all jam in their mini-cube. (ah, the wonders of a state institution)

        it's not just a case of over-embracing technology, we're to the point where these things are part of what allows the whole system to work. Assignments are turned in online sometimes, grades and schedules are managed via secure hhtp, and the servers house our homework.

        • Settle down, I admitted I could be off the mark. Frankly I'm GLAD that my creepy Fortran prof has probably had to adapt to the changing times. I am GENUINELY surprised that the web has become a useful academic tool though. I figured it would take a lot longer -- I thought the people I gradutated with would have to be the generation of profs that pushed those changes through.
      • The Computer Science department at BYU where I was attending Grad School actually requires internet access of some sort for every class. Professors no longer hand out a syllabus at the start of the semester. Students are expected to read it online. All homework assignments are posted online. Every class has a newsgroup and students are held responsible for information, assignments and schedule changes posted to the class newsgroup.

        In many classes, all grades are distributed only through an online system that requires a student ID and password to gain access.



        Besides, the school uses broadband internet access as a lure to get people to live in the dorms. Most people here live off-campus after their freshman year, and the school is trying to get more people to come back as sophomores and longer. Broadband internet is the number one reason folks choose to stay in the dorms.

  • With all these stories about how to make the network admins life easier, how about a question to bypass some network admin restrictions.

    Specifically, I'm wondering if anyone knows of a place which will tunnel (PPTP or other VPN style) static IP addresses through outgoing connections. Basically, if you're connected in your dorm with outgoing only connections, and a dynamic IP, I know there's technically a way to tunnel out to a static IP and then be able to receive incoming connections through that tunnel. At $5-10 a month I bet you could get a lot of takers. I know I'd use it since my Verizon DSL doesn't allow incoming connections (for the most part).

  • Those three things are the best things you can do to ensure a smooth transition for all the students. As an ITA (Information Technology Advisor) at the University of Pennsylvania, I have handled Fall Crush (or Dorm Storm) for two years in a row now. The best thing you can do is to get teams for each dorm together, and get them in a week early so that they can go through training. Teach them how to take apart the computer, put it back together, install ram, ethernet, etc. Give them screwdrivers, cover your ass clips... I mean static clips, and pamphlets with the most common ip addresses (like mail servers, etc) Show them how to set up outlook, install anti-virus, SecureCRT, etc.

    The second thing you should do is implement a structure that goes from novice tech support students to medium skill students to paid staff helpers. When the first level person doesn't know how to do soemthing, have them escalate the problem to the second tier. 95% of all problems should be handled by the first 2 tiers. If it is a really difficult or unusual case, escalate it to the staff.

    The other part of the structure is to ahve a web site that people can access easily to add themselves to a queue. Give your tech support peeps access to this and use it as a way to get in touch with the cases, make notes about them, and escalate the problem if necessary. Put up posters advertising the website in all dorms and computer labs, and make it the point of contact for all tech support.

    I personally think UPenn's model is very good, and apparently they have been voted one of the best Residential Computing services in the nation. For more information, check out http://www.rescomp.upenn.edu [upenn.edu] Hope this helps!

    (here's a hint: make CDs full of essential software (secureCRT, Eudora, Anti-virus, etc) and distribute it to all the students. Also, give out free ethernet cables if you can... it makes everything much smoother.)

  • by km790816 (78280) <wqhq3gx02@snCOMM ... .com minus punct> on Thursday August 16, 2001 @03:14AM (#2127591)
    At ISU, a guy wrote a program to index all of the files shared on the network and then allowed people to search using a web interface. What a great way to reduce bandwidth. We had over 2TB of files shared at one point...over a dozen guys were sharing over 100GB. He wrote StrangeSearch [strangesearch.net] on a Win2k box with Win32. I've written something very similiar in C#. A friend of mine used PHP and Samba. Anyone else do this?
  • by Therlin (126989) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @09:41PM (#2127977)
    Napster and all those other peer to peer programs were really eating our bandwidth because of all the computers in the dorms. So now we reduce the available bandwidth for those ports/programs to almost nothing during the day. We then let them do whatever they want to (within certain limits) in the evening hours until a couple hours before the new business days.

    Probably not the best solution but it's working out for us.
    • by xixax (44677) on Thursday August 16, 2001 @01:00AM (#2132320)
      A friend was berated by a student last week after a said student maxxed out his download quota and the account was locked. Apparently he was doing "vitally important research". The guy backed down when given a list and asked to identify which pR0n and MP3 downloads were so important to his course.

      Xix.
    • by b0r1s (170449) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @09:53PM (#2140788) Homepage
      my school [hmc.edu] has a slightly different solution ... each IP gets 1.5 GB a day of bandwidth. Exceed that, you and the admins get an email, explaining that bandwidth costs money and also explaining that it's very hard to exceed a gig a day in legal downloads. Three emails in one semester, and the admin's start threatening that you'll lose TCP/IP access beyond the router if it doesnt stop immediately.

      I've actually challenged the "its hard to exceed this legally" nonsense, because I download quite a few operating system ISO every few weeks, usually all in one day, when I need to use them, but as a whole, it's a decent policy. As an student sysadmin, I know that very rarely does anyone actually exceed a gig a day, and on top of that, I know that most of the emails go ignored as "one time accidents"... Only once do I know of the school actually cutting someone off at the router, because the person thought it was cool to run a warez box from the dorms.
      • A friend of mine who lived in my dorm here [uci.edu] was a really big sitcom-episode-trader kind of person. Simpsons, Seinfeld, Titus, Family Guy, etc. He was running some form of Gnutella clone, and he somehow managed to exceed 87 gb uploaded in one month. The network folks sent him an email kindly asking him to quit it... and he taped it to his door, with the big numbers circled. =)
  • by SwtValleyHighHooker (513014) on Thursday August 16, 2001 @01:27AM (#2129732)
    If any of you guys have Cisco switchs then you can use Vlan Management Policy Server. [cisco.com] It allows you to assign students to vlans based on mac addresses. I designed a system built around this switching feature. When a student plugs into a dorm port, the first packet they send triggers the switch to look up their mac address in a central database. Barring an entry they are dumped into a fallback VLAN where I position a DHCP, DNS, HTTP multihomed server. The DHCP assigns them a non-routable IP address to communicate with one side of the box. I then instruct them(through check-in documentation) to open their browser. I wrote a tricked out named.conf, that no matter what domain they request, it always returns the IP of my server. Thus, they will connect to my server and I can collect information, including their Mac address from the arp cache...they fill out the form and their data is dumped into a database, a perl script is called to add their mac address and vlan assignment to the VMPS database(a flat text file) and fire out a SNMP packet out the public interface to tell the VMPS switch to grab the VMPS file and refresh it's tables. Viola! Totally automatic...we were having trouble keeping up with the volume of activations, so I had to think of something(there are 3 of us for 3500 ports, and 2 are student aides).
  • by green pizza (159161) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @11:08PM (#2132327) Homepage
    At the university I recently graduated from, dorm dwellers had to meet strict guidelines to connect their computers to the LAN. It was a bit of a pain at first, but the years went very smoothly.

    Each dorm room was configured for two residents, and thus had two phone jacks and two switched 10/100BT ethernet drops.

    The guidelines were as follows:
    • Windows only (Win95/98/ME/NT4/2K)
    • Desktops *had* to use a campus-provided (free) 3Com NIC
    • Laptops *had* to use a campus-provided 3Com PCMCIA/Cardbus NIC (not free, but only $50)
    • The NICs were distributed with the MAC addresses already recorded and configured into the DHCP servers. Thus, the user always got the same IP address.
    • "Academic file sharing" (windows file sharing not requiring a password) was welcome. Warez was not. Napster, etc were blocked, but all outgoing requests were logged and investgations were made.
    • NICs had to be plugged directly into the wall jacks, no hubs, switches, or routers. The LAN level switches monitored MAC addresses to enforce this.
    • EVERYTHING was logged at the switch and router levels. Violators *were* contacted, warned, and often expelled.
    Harsh, perhaps. But I can't recall a single problem aside from a few intial NIC driver issues (which 3Com and the university were able to resolve quite quickly). Verbose, step-by-step installation procedures with screenshots for every modern version of Windows were included with the NIC. Free installation and setup was also available.

    Thankfully, the rest of the university was a pleasent blend of Windows, MacOS, Linux, and commerical Unix. "Housing and Dining" was the only department with the Windows and our NIC only policy.

    Had I not lived through it, I would probably bash and complain about such strict regulations. But, hey, it worked. Bandwidth was plentiful and the LAN was always up.
    • by Jeremy Gray (223298) on Thursday August 16, 2001 @12:24AM (#2131615)
      Strict guidlines are good but these "network administrators" had their heads in the sand or perhaps somewhere even darker.

      Of course, whoever run this network was a obviously a bunch of jack-booted microsoft thugs whose hobbies include generating mountains of logfiles.

      What I want to know is which unix was running the workstation that ran Perl to analyze all that crap.
    • i'd think that a much better policy would be to only 'officially' support windows - if you want to run another OS, you have to figure it out. It's not too much better, but I would hate to have to use windows.
    • by Tim (686) <timr.alumni@washington@edu> on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @11:58PM (#2142382) Homepage
      "Thankfully, the rest of the university was a pleasent blend of Windows, MacOS, Linux, and commerical Unix. "Housing and Dining" was the only department with the Windows and our NIC only policy."

      And you were also probably the least used network on campus. Maybe that's why you had so few network problems. And it's not that impressive a statistic, precisely because you serverely and arbitrarily limited the functionality of your network service to attain the (less important) standard of uptime.

      I mean, listen to yourself! You required users to buy your NIC (at $50?!?), use only the operating systems that you allowed (I still haven't figured out what you're preventing by not allowing Linux as a client OS, aside from happy users), you misused the concept of DHCP, and you completely violated any standards of academic opennes and integrity. Your network sounds not like a success, but a disaster!

      I wouldn't be so harsh about most of your policies, if you didn't also mix in a number of shortsighted, non-benificial rules in there as well. What the hell do you care what the user does behind his/her dorm-room port? Are you filtering packets? Blocking ports? Yes? Then it doesn't matter if Joe User wants to set up a single windows PC, or establish a 10 computer NAT network in their room, hidden behind a linux firewall. Second, why would you want to alienate technically savvy users by requiring them to use hardware or software different from what they already have? If a Joe User can do his own install, do you care *what* he installs? Of course not! Your rules provide no benefit, other than to stroke your own sense of power.

      If I were both a competent network user and a paying student at your university, I know I would've done my best to get you fired. Sheesh.
      • I wouldn't be so harsh about most of your policies, if you didn't also mix in a number of shortsighted, non-benificial rules in there as well. What the hell do you care what the user does behind his/her dorm-room port? Are you filtering packets? Blocking ports? Yes? Then it doesn't matter if Joe User wants to set up a single windows PC, or establish a 10 computer NAT network in their room, hidden behind a linux firewall. Second, why would you want to alienate technically savvy users by requiring them to use hardware or software different from what they already have? If a Joe User can do his own install, do you care *what* he installs? Of course not!

        Spoken like a person who's never had to do tech support.

        Any user whose install doesn't go *perfectly* or who doesn't know how to install/configure network gear will be asking tech support for help. If there's one and only one allowed configuration, there's one and only one way to set up one's network card. Tech support is easy.

        Allow arbitrary hardware and software to be used, and you have a geometrically increasing number of configurations that your tech support staff will be asked to troubleshoot.

        Only give tech support for sanctioned configurations? That won't work very well. Joe Idiot will say, "But I paid to be on this network! Set up my machine!", or "But it's *almost* the sanctioned configuration! Now tell me why my FooCom 7 card is barfing!". Joe Linuxd00d will say, "Um, sure I'm using Windows. Help me debug my firewalling rules.". Even if you hang up on these people, you'll still get the calls.

        The university's networking department has to deal with all of this crud on a budget that is almost certainly far too small. I have no problem at all with them restricting hardware and software for machines connected to the dorm network drops - they're paying for the network infrastructure and support, so they have every right to say what they'll let people do on the network.
        • by Tim (686) <timr.alumni@washington@edu> on Thursday August 16, 2001 @12:25AM (#2131617) Homepage
          "Spoken like a person who's never had to do tech support."

          Spoken like a person who has no respect for his users.

          There's a fundamental difference in philosophy here. One camp would suggest that the tail wags the dog--the network admins get to say who can use the network, and how the network gets used, because it's their job to keep the network up. The other camp--the dog-wags-tail group--would acknowledge that they A) are working at a university B) would have no power if it weren't for the users they serve and C) only really have to deal with a single mad rush for a few weeks at the beginning of the year. These people would have to begrudgingly accept a few rough weeks at the beginning of term as a part of the job.

          Yes, users can call tech support with stupid/unanswerable/unsupported questions. Yes, you can simply refuse to answer those questions. Yes, these users still take up a call. How many times do you think they'll call back if you tell them no?

          I have worked tech support, and I do understand the frustration. However, I also know that imposing arbitrary restrictions isn't the answer. Sooner or later, your users will figure things out, and if your restrictions are too imposing, someone will be clogging your lines with complaints, instead of questions--or worse, calling the dean to get you canned. Being draconian is never a winning strategy.
          • imposing arbitrary restrictions isn't the answer

            I agree. My answer would be that there is only one *supported* configuration. You can use our NIC, Windows 9x, NT, or 2000, and we have a first-call, first-served policy; or fix it yourself.

            The users should be allowed (even encouraged) to run their own OS, but restricted from putting up servers just like most ISP's AUP's dictate. No one can run DNS, you can only run DHCP behind a firewall (and if it leaks, your IP gets shut off until you procure a clue.)

        • by the gnat (153162) on Thursday August 16, 2001 @12:54AM (#2157917)
          No. My university only supports Windows and Macintosh on student machines. Our policy is that Linux is for people who know what they're doing. We won't do any setup- the basic network info can be deduced from Windows/Mac instructions.

          On the other hand, we don't discourage Linux use. I've run Linux, Solaris, and now Irix from my dorm room, even though I only do Macintosh support (I've avoided Windows, thank god). You'll get nasty messages if you're insecure or sucking bandwidth, but there's no policy against Unix or even running (secured) servers. People just know not to call us for help because they can't get printing working under RedHat. It's not that hard.

          And students usually pay for network access. The only fair rules are "don't make life difficult for other users or net admins". This means no bandwidth hogging, no warez/mp3z servers, no packet sniffing Linux boxes or trojaned Windows machines. As long as students play nice and don't fuck up the network, admins should not care what they run on it.

          And in fact, we have proportionally far more network abuse (intentional or not) from Windows users than from anyone else. The few of us here who use Linux usually know what we're doing.
  • It all breaks down to a few lines of service:

    (1) self serve:

    Students are required to do everything themselves. Life is easy for the school techs because they can support people as they need it and (when the load becomes heavy) simply point people to the fine reading materials while they wait.

    (2) partial serve:

    Students with more experience are hired as "assistants" who do the redundant stuff that any MCS... umm... trained mon... err... junior technician can handle. Anything out of the ordinary is handled by a trained, experienced, professional who hasn't been bogged down by the "usual" install stuff.

    (3) full service

    Technicians from the institution spoon-feed network goodness to all the new luse^H^H^H^Husers.

    1 - low cost, high support requests, possible problems with badly configured computers.
    2 - medium cost, low requests, (risk factors?)
    3 - high cost, high requests, good results

    I think 3 is a good option in environments where the network is sensetive to, oh... I don't know... clients running DHCP and DNS servers from their rooms... steal^H^H^H^H^Hborrowing IP addresses of others, etc.

    OTOH, from a service standpoint, #2 might be the best choice. Have an immediate support person and, if a problem arises, a more technical person is available.

    Work with what you have, and see where you can go.

    Good luck all.
  • by dopplex (242543)
    At my school a subportion of the students are trained to help with computer problems. These students are usually work-study students, and also usually have a decent amount of computer background. While most of them are completely inequipped to deal with any serious technical problems, the student base providing top level support frees those who are more competent to deal with the real issues. In order to make sure that the students who are the "Information Technology Advisors"(ITAs) (Who don't necessarily have much prior technical experience) are qualified, they all have to come in a week and a half early, and are given training courses. While I don't have a behind the scenes perspective, the system does seem to work pretty well, and although the ITAs are very busy at the start of the year, nobody seems overwhelmed. (Plus the people who do the REAL work and who aren't students don't have to deal with individual problems and are free to run around dealing with all the problems generated by the newfound network load of thousands of mp3s and movies being traded over the network all at once...)
  • by Cycon (11899) <moc.ruetamAlanoisseforPeht ]ta[ evets> on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @09:53PM (#2135329) Homepage
    ...but this is a great way to meet women.

    No, seriously. Especially if you're not getting paid to do it, but are just helping out a friend-of-a-friend kinda situation. You're doing something you know how to do for someone who doesn't, and there's a pretty good amount of downtime in between reboots and so on. It's a great opportunity to meet some new people, and mingle with the ladies.

    Just don't come on too strong, or act like there's anything special about what you know. Sitting around in someone's dorm is a great way to learn a bit about them too. Ask about the people in the pictures on their desk. Ask if they have a particular interest in the artist who did the painting they have a poster of on the wall.

    There's no reason that you should look at this as a "Sisyphean task" ... it's more of an opportunity to meet some new people.

    --Cycon

    • Of course the unspoken assumption is that "The Ape With No Name" is a heterosexual male in search of a partner.

    • by demaria (122790) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @10:32PM (#2157131) Homepage
      Nope man. Doesn't work. You forever get assigned to the realm of "the guy who can fix my computer".
      • by J.J. (27067) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @10:43PM (#2118156)
        Only on Slashdot can that comment be "Insightful," as opposed to "Funny"
      • It's worse than that (Score:3, Informative)

        by Goonie (8651)
        You get assigned to the category of "the guy that not only can fix my computer, but can be called up at any time of the day or night to fix my (or my friend's) computer for free". Whilst on campus, the *only* people who should know about your tech-savvy status are fellow hackers/geeks so you can set up LAN games and so on . . .

        Being the designated computer geek will *NOT* get you laid. It will *NOT* win you friends. All it will get is people calling you any time of the day or night, particularly the week where all the arts students with the crappy old computers and rotting floppies ask you whether you can recover their Word 6.0 document for them . . .

        • Jesus - listen to what you just said!
          the guy that ... can be called up at any time of the day or night

          Just show up with a six-pack and make it a fix-my-computer/social visit. Did you ever think that if they are calling in the middle of the night it might lead elsewhere?

      • by Jason_Knx (244168) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @10:45PM (#2138894)
        What you do then is speak to them about everything but computers while you set theirs up. Then you look like somone who has another life who also just happens to know computers. Only tell them what's going on if they ask a question. The less specific they are the less specific you are. You'll still be "the guy who can fix my computer" but you may also be somone to associate with beyond computers.
      • by DigitalGodBoy (142596) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @11:52PM (#2142303) Homepage
        I always wear my black shirt that says in large white letters:

        No, I will not fix your computer.

        That way, they know I'm helping them out of the kindness of my heart.

        Plus it's good for a few laughs from other geeks as you proceed thru the halls.
      • Look, if all you do is show up, sit down, say very little, and eat all her pizza or bolt like a scared rabbit once the job's done, then you'll be nothing more than the Computer Guy.

        Don't look at having geek-skills as a way to guarantee you'll score. All it is is an opening. Other guys usually have to buy her a drink (or several), compete with a dozen other guys, get her away from her friends, impress her with dance-skills and somehow manage to charm her over the noise of a nightclub. As a geek, you get invited into her room, get to do her a favour, and have a perfect opportunity to chat to her and show her that you're an actual human being, and can be witty, interesting and smart.

        And most girls (particularly university girls) really do value brains more than guys do. If she's after a jock, then you're wasting your time trying to pull her, but she may have friends who're more interested in someone who looks OK and can actually hold a conversation and make them laugh than they are in someone who's on the football team, but who's more interested in being a drunken-caveman-fratboy.

        Oh, and one piece of advice - download some file recovery software. You have no idea how grateful someone who's fairly inexperienced with computers will be when you magic a deleted file back into existance from their floppy drive. A common problem that need not be the disaster it seems.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 16, 2001 @12:34AM (#2136016)
    Actually, you could probably have about 250 people if you allow some knowledgable students to act as "support specialists".

    Essentially take the good junior, senior, and grad students and make them an offer to be able to move into the dorms a day or two early, get a free t-shirt, and eat for free for that week... Then in return, they work their TAILs (pun intended) off for the next week or so setting up PC's for people moving in...

    We did that for the "move in crew" - the people who helped you schlep your stuff to your dorm room in a laundry cart - they moved in a coouple of days early for training, etc. but it worked out well.

    They got to hit the campus before everyone else, before the traffic jams, packed Wal-Mart's and grocery stores, got their room set up, and even snuck in a semester's worth of their favorite alcoholic beverages before the usual security forces were on duty :->

    PLUS, you got to meet every hot looking chick before everyone else did... Some of them couldn't wait to get movin if ya know what I mean...

    Aside from the free crew - make sure you have standard procedures set up for accomodating Macs, PC's, Linux boxes, and Laptops. Only support about 5 different interface cards. PUBLISH PUBLISH PUBLISH what you support. Anything else - don't even install it if it's in there when the tech shows up. Tell them it's not supported, and you're not allowed to install it. Tell them they can buy a supported card at a hefty discount from Academic Computing or whatever and walk out. Stick with what you know and it'll go smoothly for everyone. Just one "unsupported" install will have a ripple effect that will adversely affect everyone's appointment for days...

    And yes, definately give lessons to these geeks on people skills... Flat out tell them to FAKE BEING NICE. No condecending attitudes... Tell them it will get them dates! That alone will force MOST of them to be nice.

    Leave a simple survey URL to be completed once they're online. The tech getting the highest score gets a free hard drive, or some RAM, or some food points or whatever... It's cheap encouragement...
  • by whatnotever (116284) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @09:50PM (#2137362)
    'Nuff said? ;-)

    Heh. Well, being assigned as the sole CA (Computer Assistant) for the freshman girls' dorm was both good and bad. I mean, nubile young things giving me massages or sitting in my lap wasn't all that bad, but eventually some of them progressed to full-blown (no pun, really) sexual harassment.

    Oh, the work? Nah. "I really have no idea how to fix this" worked well in plenty of cases. I would just pass it on to another CA, who might or might not get around to it. We weren't the most efficient organization, really...
    • ...but eventually some of them progressed to full-blown (no pun, really) sexual harassment.

      It's not harrassment if you enjoy it, and if you didn't enjoy it...man, i pity you.
      • Trust me, there are situations that just *aren't* all that enjoyable, even if you're a sex-starved geek. The harassment from the aforementioned nubile young things wasn't too much of a problem. It was the obnoxious, unattractive, self-described dyke who sort of got to me...

        It's cool, though. She didn't have 'net access for almost a whole semester. ;-) (Really, though, I had no idea how to fix her computer, nor did anyone else, and she didn't seem too bothered by it, anyway.)
  • how we do it (Score:5, Informative)

    by PapaZit (33585) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @09:49PM (#2137390)
    At the university where I work, we've been gearing up for the last few weeks. We have guides that answer the common questions for the users intelligent enough to read them. For the rest, we'll have every warm body helping with phones or going from room to room to help with setup.

    One of the most important bits: have a clear SLA. Be sure that you know and users know exactly what you do and don't support. At this point, inconsistency is a killer, because if one guy's willing to do more than the others, users will keep calling back until they get that one guy. If anything's changed since last spring, be sure that <em>everyone</em> knows exactly what was changed and why.

    Give your specialists some cross training. Be sure that your mac guys can do basic windows troubleshooting, and vice versa. It seems like all the Mac questions hit at once. It must be a mac user group mind thing. ;)

    It's too late for this year, but automate as much as you can for next year. If you give your users access to your help database and you give them documentation, a few will check there. Set up web forms for network registration, account registration, etc.

    Whenever your department doesn't do something, find out who does, and make sure that your info's correct. Students will call IT wanting to know how to register for classes online, or how to set up their telephone. That might be enrollment or the registrar or telecom or someone else. Be sure that you know, and that it's documented so that you're not sending users on wild goose chases. Otherwise, they'll call back (or worse, be referred back by another clueless department), and the second time around, they'll be pissed.

    Most importantly, schedule breaks. We tend to push ourselves too hard during this time of the year. A lot of people just keep going "for another five minutes" until they pass out because they've been working for 6 hours straight without stopping for food or toilet breaks. If you've got someone who won't stop, force them to get coffee for everyone else. That'll get them away from the users for a minute, at least.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @09:49PM (#2137673)
    128.169.131.102 - - [19/Jul/2001:19:27:48 -0400] "GET /default.ida?... HTTP/1.0" 400 327
    102.131.169.128.in-addr.arpa name = SAPITS1.ADMIN.UTK.EDU.
    -Justin
  • by jack deadmeat (515264) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @11:24PM (#2138654)
    Back in 94 my university decided to wire all the dorms through the steam tunnels. Made sense at the time- there was an exit from the tunnels that ended up by main network room- just get some really looong cable and run it to the dorms, stick a router in the closet, and viola, campus wide ethernet.

    Except they forgot to secure the wires in any way. And, while the tunnels weren't used to provide steam to the whole campus anymore, they still did pass near several heat sources. And you (very occasionaly) ran into racoons in there, for fsck's sake (Warm + underground + old grates = racoon heaven). The racoons tend to run like hell when people came around, except for that one poor bastard who ran into momma racoon.

    First time I ever heard of a network tech needing to get a rabies shot because of the job. (Those things are vicious.)

    The 'tunnels' were about 3 ft wide, 6 ft tall in most places, connected most major buildings (including the Athletic Center- great for midnight skinny dipping, but I digess), and a bunch of techs with cable ran wire all summer.

    Then the students showed up. And the SF fans took out their skeleton keys, and lockpicks... and costumes.

    Yes kids, AD&D in the tunnel systems is not just an urban legend or a myth from the Big U. Although no one ever built an APPASMU as far as I know.

    People running around in tunnels in near darkness plus cramped tunnels plus exposed cables...

    One pratfall later, you just un-wired all the freshman dorms.

    It would have caused much more of a fuss, except back then, only about 30 students (out of about 1000 freshmen) had even signed up for ethernet! No one got all that bent out of shape over a blown gopher session anyway.

    Then that winter, the cables running through one of the tunnels overheated. The idea that some of the steam tunnels might actually pass near some working boilers never occured to anyone, amazingly enough.

    So they got a whole bunch of PVC tubing, insulated it, and re-ran the whole thing to the freshman dorms... again.

    Supposedly, a few students tried running cables to various locations near surface grates to set up a WAN back in 98 or so- don't think anything ever came of it though.

    While you are trying to set up accounts for thousands of students who need their pr0n, just remmeber, you could be facing down a crazed momma racoon instead.
  • I lived in the dorms 2 years ago. They sell a really cheap NIC, it was like $9. The only problem was that they didn't have or give us the drivers for it. I gave up after about 2 hours trying to get it to work, by bringing disks to the library to find the drivers. I managed to really fubar windows in the progress. I ended up formating and reinstalling. Then dropped the computer off to them to install and setup. Got it back the next day and it worked(bastards wouldn't give out the #$&^in driver disk so I could do it).

    When I went to pick my computer up I watched them stick the cards in and use a drivers disk they wouldn't give us. They had LOTS and LOTS of computers to install because of this. They were working on computers for a good two weeks and regularly throughout the year when someone would get a new computer. Hopefully they are smart enough to provide a drivers disk with the NICs they sale this time around.

    A month or so later, I had fun downloading a redhat iso from the local sunsite. It took me longer to burn it then to download it... =)
  • by The Wing Lover (106357) <awh@awh.org> on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @09:47PM (#2139204) Homepage
    I was the system administrator of my university's computer science club's machines the first term that the dorms were wired for Ethernet. Previously there'd only been dial-up access, with of course dynamic IP addresses.

    Well, one day, I noticed that our favourite luser was up to his old tricks again; logging in using stolen usernames, writing programs to tie up resources, flood the network, store gigs and gigs in /tmp, etc. I messaged him and politely asked him to stop it. He wouldn't. In fact, he was pretty cocky about it. "You don't know who I am, and you'll never catch me!"

    Imagine his surprise when 3 Very Big Guys [tm] from the Computer Scient Club knocked on his door and said "stop doing that." I guess he'd forgotten, in his excitement, that he was now on a static IP, and doing an IP-to-physical room translation was pretty easy.

  • Students know best (Score:2, Interesting)

    by MikeLRoy (246462)
    There are many universities where admin simply gives the task to students. They build and run their own routers, wiring, etc, off one large connection to the rest of the U.

    Whether or not you do that is irrelevant, however... Give some of the kids some admin responsibilities (or pay?), and let them deal with some of the simple problems. Lots of those kids can probably fix things anyways.

  • Wondering (Score:4, Insightful)

    by number one duck (319827) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @09:40PM (#2139596) Journal
    Does the network topology at these places change enough between May and September that it is *really* a problem of troubleshooting the network all over again? I can certainly understand installing all the cards and such for the incoming students (at ridiculous fees, of course), but aren't most campus networks already hardened against this kind of abuse?

    I'm suspicious, I think you might just be feeling a little down, watching your fat summer pipe go down the tubes again and all. :)

    • Re:Wondering (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Wolfstar (131012) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @09:54PM (#2137546)
      Not really, and for several really good reasons.

      First off, he says that out of the 3500 students invading the campus, 1500 of them will be screaming Mommy when they head in and try and get connected. This is about right for A) The incoming Freshmen, and B) The terminally stupid upperclassmen.

      Also, the number of people bringing computers to school with them and thinking that the archaic 8088 XT that they just dug out of the basement - usually because their parents can't or won't let them take the high-end 486 that the family uses - might be a bit surprising. (This is of course an exaggeration, I hope. None of my friends who've been there and done that ever mentioned anything quite so drastic.)

      Also, there's the fact that, while the NETWORK might be able to take the abuse, it's not guaranteed that the Network ADMINS can handle the stupidity. Super-cheap-laptop + Win2K + Novell + Wireless = Twitching Admin. I really can begin to imagine the hell of it all compressed into three days or so, because - even if it wasn't tech related - I've worked the bookstore during hell week at a fairly large University before. You can't begin to imagine the disruption of life that occurs to the people who work on campuses at the end of the summer unless you've been one.

      And yes, I imagine he IS in fact crying over his lost phat pipe. =)

      • Also, the number of people bringing computers to school with them and thinking that the archaic 8088 XT that they just dug out of the basement - usually because their parents can't or won't let them take the high-end 486 that the family uses - might be a bit surprising.

        Once a girl down the hall asked me to help set her computer up. She had just gotten it shipped from Hawaii, and it was still in the box. I unpacked it and connected all the cords, and turned the switch on.

        "Welcome to Windows 3.1"

        She had paid $60 to ship the thing, easily twice what it was worth. I felt bad.
  • Some Tips (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Redking (89329) <stevenw.redking@com> on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @09:48PM (#2139839) Homepage Journal
    1) Have people fill out forms early, like what OS, what brand of NIC, etc... On the form, give them tips on helping them determine such info from their computer. Require all people seeking ethernet connections to have this form on them when they call/ask for help. This will help with the redundant questions..."what OS are you running?" "uh...i dunno" "well, reboot and tell me what you see on the screen."

    2) Post network info in BIG poster boards attached to the dorm bulletin boards right at the entrance to each dorm. Some genius admins have directions to getting ethernet posted on the web. That sure helps when you have no ethernet connection in your dorm.

    3) Plan conservatively when making troublshooting appointments. People get discouraged when you tell them you'll send a tech to their dorm at 7:30pm and the tech doesn't show because he's still at another dorm rebooting for the 9th time. People will be surprised the tech is early and appreciate him/her spending extra time troubleshooting their connections. It's better to take it slow, get one problem done right then do quick fixes and make repeat visits.

    4) Have a TOS in plain english. List programs people are discouraged to use. If you have a per port traffic limit, publish an easy link for people to check how much they've used.

    That's about it!
  • by cheinonen (318646) <cheinonen AT hotmail DOT com> on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @10:42PM (#2140435)
    1. Make sure you have at least one expert for every 4-5 other tech people you have. If you are training people for 2-3 days before they work, they're going to screw up sometimes, and you're going to have to fix it. If you have 2 expert techs for 30 newbies, you're going to be swamped with problems continually.

    2. Make sure people sign out when they are going to do an install so people know where they are. Walkie Talkies for the higher level techs can be a good idea, and if you have desks spread out to the different dorms, you're definately going to want a good way to communicate. When you can't track down the Level 2 tech because he didn't sign out for an install, it's going to be frustrating.

    3. When people say "I'll try to do it myself", unless they have an iMac, tell them just to wait for a while and someone can do it for them. Once you've done 50 of these, you can do it in your sleep. However, if they've severely screwed up the machine before you get there, it makes your job a lot harder.

    4. Make sure the computer runs before you get there. You're job is to fix the network, not to get their CD-R drive working, not to show them how to download pr0n, or how to install Quake 3. If you fix a printer or something else, they are going to tell their friends to call your office when their printer breaks, and your boss is going to hate you. If you are really nice and fix it, make sure they know never to call you guys about it again.

    5. Send everyone out with certain things: Screwdriver (multiple bits, you can get them cheap), a 50' ethernet cable that you know works (can reach across the dorm room, can eliminate cable as an option), a PCI card, an ISA card, a CD with drivers for all the cards you support. You'll be amazed how many people try to use a phone cord instead of Cat5, so you'll want the cable for sure. Bring cards that you know work so you can eliminate the card being broken quickly.

    6. Remember - Computers don't always work like you think they should. You'll find that a card will work in one PCI slot but not another. That if an ISA card is in one slot but not another, the PCI card will stop working. There are a million little things like this that cause problems because you think it should work, but it won't. Experiment with things like this. Make sure to check the BIOS and that it doesn't have some stupid issues. Don't be afraid to disable something in Windows Control Panel, but ASK FIRST.

    7. Since you should keep computerized records of all these appointments, if there is anything strange about the install (had to use a certain PCI slot, had to disable something), make a note of it and keep that around. This will help immensely in the future. You might do a million installs the first few days, but if you keep track of them, when you have to fix them later you will be really happy you did.

    8. Laptops suck. They love certain PCMCIA cards, they hate certain ones. We had a card that IBM's would never work with, but everyone else loved. I think IBM had a deal with 3Com so you couldn't use cheap cards in their laptops.

    9. Remember, the low level techs that don't know as much and cause more problems than they fix? They're very good at going and getting you food and drinks. They're beeter at doing that then fixing a computer they don't understand.

    10. Figure out who knows Macs, who knows NT/2000, who only knows 95/98, and if anyone knows Linux. Keep a list so people go to a computer they know. Have people write down what kind of computer and card they have when you go to do an install for them. It saves time and makes everyone happier.

    If you like doing installs, this is a really fun week, and after a day or two it gets really, really easy to do. You also get good stories:

    Compaq's had the expansion slot covers soldered at 10 points on certain models. They were not easy to get off. Nothing makes a parent feel confident like you ripping off their computer case and attacking the case with screwdriver with all your might to force it open. Sony VAIO desktops had this issue as well, but they were far less common. This week also teaches you what computer makers do a great job with their computers (Dell, Apple), and those that don't as much (almost everyone else).

  • by gott (12922) on Thursday August 16, 2001 @12:23AM (#2141214) Homepage
    TAMU will be introducing 10,000 students to the dorms next week. All dorm rooms have two ethernet ports. When a student plugs in, they are taken to a registration page (regardless of their destination) where they can register their machine and assign a DNS hostname. They are then free to use the network.

    One IP address per student is allowed. They can change their hostname at will. All configurations are done via DHCP, so any machine that can speak TCP/IP and DHCP are welcome on the ResNet.

    http://cis.tamu.edu/help/resnet_registration.php 3 for somewhat up-to-date information (we will not be supporting the PH nameserver for more than afew weeks, hopefully).
    • All dorm rooms have two ethernet ports. When a student plugs in, they are taken to a registration page (regardless of their destination) where they can register their machine and assign a DNS hostname. They are then free to use the network.

      How did you pull that off? What DHCP/router trickery did you do to make the web browser automatically go to the registration page upon browser launch on the new network? It sounds quite cool and useful, but I can't for the life of me figure out how you did it.
  • by avtr (457172) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @09:49PM (#2144345)
    I'll be doing this myself as a ResNet consultant for a major east coast university. Some quick tips:

    1) If a user has crappy hardware, tell him or her so. Make them splurge for a 3com. When you're configuring that many students, if 1% of them are running cheap-ass ethernet cards that their local vendors told them would "speed up the internet" or some such nonsense, I can guarantee you'll be spending plenty of time supporting that 1% over the phone for the rest of the year. Nip the problems in the bud.

    2) Definitely keep it as simple as possible. Make flowcharts. Win98? Ok, open box, insert card, driver disk / os disk, so on and so forth. Make sure everyone working gets a flowchart. Make them for the top 5 operating systems at your school. If the situation they encounter doesn't work / doesn't have a flow chart, have the consultant refer the problem to his manager. This minimizes hassles for everyone - flowcharts help your techies streamline things, and as a bonus you only get problems that require actual thought.

    3) HIRE AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE. One day of training for 1 consultant for every 50 anticipated setups per week. (Our "Dorm Storm" lasts for three weeks. YMMV) Seem excessive? This is 10 setups a day - enough to compensate for the average difficult setup. More will leave your techies bored. Training should include NIC installation, different OS's, common user questions and the like. Bonus: handing out cd's with an automated installation and config program
    is a good idea. Handing out static wrist guards so that someone working under you doesn't fry an expensive machine and piss of someone's daddy is a *great* idea.

    4) Only higher tech support that is friendly. These people will be interacting IRL - they'd better be able to at least fake people skills.

    5) Keep everything as low stress as possible. That means air conditioning everywhere (it's the little things), free coffee for techies / walk in students, and anything else that makes this massive hassle a little less of, well, a massive hassle.

    6) Past five o clock, stay open with a skeleton staff, and have consultants ready to drop in on the dorm who are on call (i.e. have immediate phone access and the ability to go at a moment's notice.) Don't abuse this privilege, but do use it.

    7) Lastly, be prompt. Have everyone who doesn't get serviced by flowcharts go to the first manager AND DEALT WITH IMMEDIATELY. More than 24 hours for turnaround is too late, especially with this heat. Those who can't get helped by the managers should be an extremely small group - have one more manager and/or an emergency response team to deal with these guys.

    Good luck with yours... I'm at 1.5 weeks and counting...
  • Ugh. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by YIAAL (129110) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @09:37PM (#2144508) Homepage
    This is a side of universal campus computing that doesn't get enough attention. Everyone is excited about building the networks, but the support obligations that the network creates are another question. Probably the best you can do is to have a really good FAQ available, and then do what everyone else does: rely on the students who know what's going on to share their expertise with the ones who don't. Could the tech revolution exist at all without free customer-to-customer peer tech support?
    • Do what WSU does, sell cheap beer ($8/rack or so). People will be more interested in getting drunk than downloading porn/mp3s.

    • by BigBlockMopar (191202) on Thursday August 16, 2001 @12:06AM (#2121952) Homepage

      Everyone is excited about building the networks, but the support obligations that the network creates are another question.

      Bah. It's not a problem at all.

      Set up a DHCP server. Circulate a photocopy:


      "Your network connection is through DHCP-addressed Ethernet.

      Your e-mail address is $DORM_ROOM@$CAMPUS.$UNIVERSITY.edu.

      Your password is ($DORM_ROOM * $SOCIAL_SECURITY_NUMBER) / $MOTHERS_YEAR_OF_BIRTH.

      If you can't get it working with these instructions, drop out now and save your parents a whole lot of money.

      Welcome to the $UNIVERSITY at $CAMPUS, have an adequate education."

    • Re:Ugh. (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anne_Nonymous (313852) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @10:02PM (#2140081) Homepage Journal
      >> rely on the students who know what's going on to share their expertise with the ones who don't.

      Yeah, double ditto on this!!! Definitely, ask for help.

      1. Techies are always willing to show off.
      2. College students are idealistic, and thus willing to give their time freely.
      3. XY college students need an excuse, any excuse, to interact with XX college students.
  • Self Install Guide (Score:4, Insightful)

    by isaac_akira (88220) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @09:35PM (#2144955)
    Seems like putting a small self install guide in all the dorm rooms might be a start. At least the more tech savvy users could be up and running on their own if you give them the vital info (router, dns, etc). That's one less user you have to deal with yourself.
    • by kchayer (161217)
      Seems like putting a small self install guide in all the dorm rooms might be a start...

      We [bbcnet.edu] do it that way. Once someone applies for and receives his account information, we send them to their floor's RA who has a couple of instruction packet to lend out. The packet walks them through installing basic Windows networking services, then they login with a generic "newuser" account, which automatically upgrades their Novell client to a modern version. We then use Novell's Application Launcher to install Netscape and McAfee virus protection--one click install for each. Netscape settings are downloaded from the login script; DHCP provides IP configuration; and we give them basic email account configuration instructions.

      We leave it up to the user to get their network card installed. Some of them have their friends do it, some do it themselves, and others pay us during our off-time. For those who either can't figure out the packet, or have problems with the procedure, we schedule a time to visit and get things working for them. We update our instructions periodically as we discover common problems and solutions to those issues. I suppose the toughest part--anywhere--is the fact that we're dealing with all sorts of different computer models. Some certainly present interesting quirks.

      We're a fairly small school, and not everybody has computers, so it goes pretty well. There's only a couple of us to handle it all. Word gets around and users help each other out quite a bit. We keep as much as we can centralized and generic, and automate settings and such through login scripts and such.

      We avoid a lot of issues but not officially supporting them, like file sharing and network gaming. People do it, and we don't have any reason to stop it, but they have to help each other out. We don't let them call up and get our help for things like that. "Research only" is the official policy.

    • by edp (171151) on Thursday August 16, 2001 @08:57AM (#2154103) Homepage

      A self-install guide was my first thought too, but with an important addition. Most installation instructions I see, even most instructions of any sort, show all signs of being written by somebody who knows the procedure and writes it down. This usually yields a set of instructions that does not work, because the person who writes down the procedure knows what the instructions mean and also believes some steps are obvious and not worth mentioning. They might not even be conscious of them. E.g., "Set XYZ to ABC mode," rather than "In the XYZ section, click the radio button next to ABC mode and then click Okay."

      A better procedure is to write instructions, give them to a complete novice, sit them in front of a computer, then shut up and watch. Write down every confusion they have, then rewrite the instructions, and repeat until you have instructions that you know work for a novice.

  • by zpengo (99887) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @09:39PM (#2154071) Homepage
    You might look into what Arizona State has done to overcome their amazing feat: They're making it *mandatory* for business students to have laptops with wireless ethernet cards, which are then going to connect to a variety of online academic services, including those used during class. There's been a lot of news on it recently, and Google should be able to get you what you need.
    • mandatory laptops (Score:4, Insightful)

      by No Such Agency (136681) <abmackay&gmail,com> on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @11:13PM (#2133551)
      This recent trend towards mandatory laptop computers for students is a BAD idea! As a university student I couldn't afford a computer of *any* kind until about 4th year when I needed it to write up my honours thesis (and had saved up for years). If I'd been required to buy a laptop (typically, $1000's more than a desktop machine) upon arrival, that would have been an egregious financial burden on me. (I still have that desktop machine, in fact I'm typing this on it now... 5 years later).

      Summary: mandatory laptops = kicking poor students in a vulnerable spot.

      • Come 'on - you can get pretty decent laptops for UNDER a grand now! Thousands more?! I'm sorry that you can't afford the Cadillac, try this Hyundai model - it works just fine.

        500mhz or higher laptops are in the $900-$1000 range from HP and others. Sure, the screen isn't 16inches, the HD not 20gig, and the RAM a little low (upgrades cheaply though) but this whine is just pathetic. Kripes, mine even had a silly DVD player in it. Get your head out of the sand and shop around a little and stop talking out of your ass.

        Watch your WalMart ads, that's what I did and I've got a servicable laptop without having to get a loan. They sell off last years models at fire sale prices and they work fine.

        http://www.walmart.com/catalog/product.gsp?cat=3 95 1&product_id=1242616&path=0:3944:3951:4070:56812&d ept=3944

        There was another one in a recent sales ad too, an HP model think, that now sells for LESS than what I paid for mine, has 200mhz more CPU, a faster DVD, and a drive double the size of the one I bought! Heck, I just took the online sales-ad into my local store, had them match the price, and walked out with my new toy....

        This is an investment in YOUR future, don't be penny wise and pound foolish!

        • Um, I'm gonna ignore the obnoxious and insulting title of your post for now. This discussion is a few days old now and I don't expect anybody except you to read this, so this is simply for your own information. While it's true that older laptops can be bought cheaply second hand or on sale, universities have a tendency to demand purchase of a particular model, or from a list of acceptable models. They do this for good reasons related to having to support the damn things (and bad reasons having to do with their own profit), and they don't usually pick the cheapest available ones. Hence, a financial burden.
      • by Knara (9377)
        I couldn't agree more with this. We had a "movement" (read: Adminstration pushed plan with the backing of some "students" who basically were in it for some more scribbles on their resume) a few years ago on the campus I am currently working/studying on. The plan, of course, was (eventually) for all incoming freshmen (regardless of their degree program, how ridiculous is it for a theater arts major to be required to have a laptop?) to pay some $xxxx amount of money per semester to get this laptop.

        Now, let's make the (rash and perhaps partially correct) assumption that mommy and daddy have enough money to foot the bill for this little toy. Well, it turns out that like many Universities, they lacked the infrastructure (or even the _plan_ for infrastruction) to support 2000 new students with laptops. Furthermore, they lacked faculty support (CS department wanting to know why student who spend most of their time hacking on Sun machines were going to need laptops), student support, and though I wasn't working for the IS department here at the time, I'm guessing IS support. So, after a "campus meeting", during which a few gamers expressed their glee that now they'd be able to play a kickass game of Quake in freshman Physics lecture, the "decision" was may to delay the plan's implementation while they "studied the issue further", or some such nonsense.

        Why do I say it is nonsense? Because the very next semester, the pilot program had already started (with, you guessed it, theater arts being one of the pilot degree programs). And to add to the foolishness, under the nose of nearly everyone the science and engineering college is requiring little WinCE gadgets for all incoming freshmen (which, of course, ended up requiring the IS department to give those little toys to all their staff members this summer _just_ so that they could be able to support them). Nevermind that the "plans" for using them are little more than vaporware (I'm told that one CS professor has some software developed over the summer to use in lecture notes in the CS Intro series, but other than that...), or that the wireless network on campus won't be anywhere near adequate to support a couple thousand people for another year or two. Oh, did I mention the WinCE pocket rockets run around $600 a piece?

        And why do we have these lovely bits of technology? We're told it's to "make the University more competative with other schools around the country", but it's not the faculty, staff, or students who want these things. It's the administration with their "technology makes education better" mindset. It seems to be a foregone conclusion that if you introduce technology to an educational setting the quality of education automagically increases. Then again, these people often haven't set foot in a classroom for decades, if ever in a non-priviledged situation, so their experience with that kind of educational environment is lacking.

        The point? Students don't _need_ laptops. In my experience they're more of a pain in the ass for everyone, rather than being a benefit. They cost too much for the average student's budget, and most professors don't know what to do in order to make them valuable in terms of assisting their course plans (putting notes in PDF form to reduce photocopy costs really doesn't count). Support for them can be a pain (unless everyone uses the exact same system/software combo, which seems like a pipe dream to me), assuming you can organize any at all (it was amusing to watch the IS folks play a game of "not it" when it came to WinCE gadget support).

        In short, Friends Don't Let Friends Support Manditory Laptop Programs.
      • by Eil (82413)

        My friend once made an offhand remark a few years back. At the time, I thought he was merely being sarcastic. He said, "I kid you not, colleges exist only to make money."

        I know, I know, acedemic institutions are supposed to exist solely for the purpose of education. And, for the most part, they fulfill that adequately. But why, when colleges get all these grants and donations, do the students have to pay through the arse for education?

        Not just for the tuition either. Think about it. You have to pay for *everything*. Books, supplies, meals, rooms. Even frigging lab hours. This is one of the reasons I'm partially disgusted at colleges and universities. I'd like to hear other people's comments on this. Don't just mod me down (which I know you will), please tell me if and why I'm wrong.
  • True Story (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dr. Manhattan (29720) <{sorceror171} {at} {gmail.com}> on Thursday August 16, 2001 @08:59AM (#2154140) Homepage
    When I was an admin for a dorm network at the University of Michigan, we had one dorm router that would go down every weekend, without fail, on Saturday morning, and it wouldn't get fixed 'til Monday morning.

    The tech would go in to the closet, move the brooms and buckets and ironing board and cleaning supplies out of the way, and find it had just spontaneously restarted and needed to be intitialized. It was like the power had failed, but no sign of any other problems, and if that circuit had failed it would have knocked out half the basement.

    Eventually someone was in on Saturday morning, saw that it was down, and raced over to see what was up. I'm sure you can guess what he found...

    Yup, this kid always did his laundry on Saturday morning, and he'd use the ironing board there to iron his clothes. And he'd unplug the router to plug in his iron, then plug it back in when he was done.

  • At UPenn (Score:3, Informative)

    by Elwood P Dowd (16933) <judgmentalist@gmail.com> on Thursday August 16, 2001 @01:09AM (#2155478) Journal
    At the lovely University of Pennsylvania, it's a total breeze. We have so many freshman that want to get an on campus job that they don't realize how badly they're being ripped off. So they sign up to be "Information Technology Advisors" and there are about 15 per dorm. One sits with a laptop at the front desk and people ask him for help. The other 14 sit in the computer lab on our bulletin board waiting for jobs to show up. We do a couple thousand cases in a week.

    They show up a week early for school for "training" where someone shows them how to download ethernet drivers onto a floppy from a website. And click on windows control panels to enable DHCP. Anything more complicated gets refered up to more experienced (And more paid) personel.

    I assume this is the way most schools do things. It's kindof cut and dried, cheap, and effective.
  • by Fogie (4006) <(foglera) (at) (cc.wwu.edu)> on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @10:34PM (#2157121) Homepage

    I'll include some great war stories from the dorm trenches at my particular university:

    The Residential Technology department (ResTek [wwu.edu]) has a program called TekHelps... 8-12 volunteers for each hall process work tickets for students needing to hook up ethernet for the first 2 weeks of school. We moved in 2 days early for training. Their policy was "TekHelps can touch the computer", which meant the user had to sit their and possibly learn how to operate the computer Daddy had bought for them. Cons: no pay, too much work. Pros: experience for resume, early move-in, many ignorant dorm honies. (Many of the girls I helped continued contacting me throughout the school year for my geek prowess.)

    As far as ResTek themselves, they wouldn't hire me into a paid position (despite my previous experience as a lab consultant at a previous university). I later discovered they had a policy of avoiding people with experience, and preferred people-skills. They figured they can train them later and be friendly for now. This is what happens when non-techie managers are in charge.

    This ignorance extends to their ethernet network. All the residence halls are either 10 mbit or 100 mbit depending. Internal LAN thoroughput is dandy... I was pulling, umm, academic documents off people's FTP servers at 1-2 mbits. Once you left the LAN and went out through the ResTek Qwest Internet link, it all went to hell. ResTek is fond of the term "T1", but they really just have a fractional DS3 connection, and they buy chunks 1.54 mbits at a time.

    Picture 2700 students trying to cram data through 4 mbits of pipe. Yeah. That was the beginning of the year, and after many frustrating e-mails and calls to ResTek they added another "T1", or just upped the cap on the Qwest link. Ping times were still 1200+ 24/7 (no gaming for you!), and thoroughput was usually less than a 28.8 modem. More angry calls until the end of winter quarter.

    End of winter quarter, and the pipe is cranked to 7 mbits. Ping times go down to 600-800, with decent pings late late at night. There's a twist at this point, though. ResTek was running an HTTP proxy server that leeched off the seperate academic link... 10 mbits of virgin pipe just asking to be sucked up by Napster transfers and porn. Up until that point the proxy had been sucking 3 mbits 24/7 off the academic pipe, and the academic technology dept (my employer, as a matter of fact) finally shut that little scheme down.

    This coming year they added two more halls and the pipe is now 9 mbits. The number of people on the network will be close to 3600, and I feel the utmost pity for those poor souls. I will be living in a lake house sitting on a fat DSL connection cackling like a madman.

    All in all it was a nightmare dealing with their ignorance and denial of the problem. They remained convinced that if they stopped the top 15 bandwidth users everything would be fine. That's the last time I try to explain to a manager how you can't cram almost 3000 people down 7 mbits. One of their staff members answered my complaint with "move off campus and get a cable modem", which I did at the end of the year. :)

    Now that the story is done, here's some tips to reduce headaches:

    • Paper documentation is a good thing. Keep the wording simple, and remember that kids bring Macs, too.
    • If you're distributing information to students prior to them moving in (we have an info fair here a month before school), tell them to bring their system disks.
    • Educate them on file sharing programs. A lot of bandwidth was wasted on out-going Napster/Gnutella/etc connections. Some schmuck in Kansas downloading the latest boy band release does not deserve your bandwidth.
    • Keep an eye on bandwidth usage. Talk with people who seem to be abusing the system. All good things in moderation.
    • Keep your staff geeky and smart. Customer service and knowledge can co-exist. Pull in those CS majors and have a ball.
    • Run a lean ship. Users don't care if your staff have shiny t-shirts, they want reliability and performance. The number of dorm students with computers is approaching 90% these days... plan accordingly as far as bandwidth.

    That's my essay, hope it helps people reduce headaches for poor college kids... I don't want my suffering to be in vain. ;)

  • by ZoneGray (168419) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @10:22PM (#2157200) Homepage
    It's simply a matter of keeping your eye on the real priorities. Attractive females get the best service, get their systems tuned to the max. Everybody else can damn well figure it out for themselves.
  • Rutgers University (Score:3, Informative)

    by jgaynor (205453) <.jon. .at. .gaynor.org.> on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @10:22PM (#2157202) Homepage

    I'm campus contact for College Ave campus of Rutgers U. We've had pretty massive host growth [rutgers.edu]. User education is the KEY to reducing workload on your techs and admin. Three words will set you free:

    LITERATURE LITERATURE LITERATURE. Make up pamphlets about the following subjects, distribute them to EVERY ROOM and email them to students and parents over the summer preceeding the semester on the following subjects:

    -How to get and install a network card

    -How to register for an IP address online

    -How to set up IP in various OS's (Win9x, win2k, Mac OS 7, Mac OS X, command line linux)

    -What rules you'll have to abide by concerning bandwidth caps, providing access and illegal activities

    After you get everyone online youll have users screaming about configuring stupid crap like outlook and AOL. Create online documentation about these and make people aware of them.

    Mind you Rutgers doesn't use DHCP, so that registering stuff might sound a little non-kosher to you small network DHCP guys :). We've tried, DHCP just isnt an option across ATM, more than two dozen routers and a few hundred VLANs.

  • My Experience (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hrunting (2191) on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @10:18PM (#2157270) Homepage
    I went to school at Lehigh University [lehigh.edu] in Pennsylvania, one of the earlier schools to have a mandate that all students should be "wired" (as they called it). When I arrived as a freshman in 1995, all non-Greek on-campus housing was wired with 10baseT LAN access and all libraries and academic buildings (save for the Architecture building, funny enough) had access to the same network. Remember, this is the first year that Windows 95 came out. Through the network, not only did you have access to the Internet, but you also had a complete suite of software available without any installation hassles, including Maple, Word, Excel, and various other programs required for all your classes. By my sophomore year, when I started working for the IT guys as a part-time student installer, every on-campus student could bring in their machine and plug it in. I spent a good deal of time running around to various buildings, installing ethernet cards and making sure people could print, login, stuff like that.

    The number one most important thing for a large-scale mass install like this is excellent documentation. I'm not talking user manuals, but step-by-step, written for special-ed third grader instructions. The docs for this project were excellent. I may have helped out maybe 50 people tops in those first couple of move-in weeks. I think the figures I remember were something like 70% of people needed no help beyond the instructions. That's pretty good when you're dealing with 5000 students, 3500 of which had older computers that were setup on the network the previous year (those are more difficult because they still have all their settings in place for older configurations).

    The second most important tip is to have well-written support software. The software that Lehigh had doing the dirty work of configuring network settings, initializing programs for network use, and setting up printers and connections was pretty solid. Everyone once and while you'd get some oddball Packard Bell that didn't like it, but for the most part, it was solid. Macs were even supported well (indeed first, because the school actually transitioned from all Macs to all PCs during this period). People running Linux were usually clued in on their own, so no help needed there. In contrast, other friends have reported stories to me of utter nightmare installs due to programs crashing, wiping out configuration settings, installing the wrong software, etc. at other universities. If you don't have solid software that you yourself are comfortable using, don't push it out onto thousands of incoming freshmen. Every tiny annoyance you see will become a full-blown logistical nightmare as you try and coordinate your support staff to fix it.

    Finally, use e-mail effectively. Our student consultants were all setup with mailing lists that we could post problems and solutions (mostly solutions) for even the rarest of situations. We were all told to do this and told to watch for the information as well. Information flows a lot better when a bunch of geeks can read threads of problems and solutions than when you go over it during organizational meetings. For us, those usually were reserved for congratulatory pizza and the occasional mass wishlist.

    Of course, all that is probably a little dated (we didn't have wireless LANs yet when I left), but as far as logistics goes, it's pretty much the same good advice.

    Documentation. Solid software. Communication. If you've got that, you should be fine.
  • Similar Problems (Score:4, Informative)

    by TedCheshireAcad (311748) <ted@nOSpAM.fc.rit.edu> on Wednesday August 15, 2001 @10:09PM (#2157327) Homepage
    I admin for a private high school in Connecticut, and I get this problem every year. Kids already have a NIC, but it's not set up right. Or something else obscure doesn't work. Here are a few helpers to get you through the mad rush.

    1. Hire help. Cheap help. Go to the local high schools, and offer $50 bucks and pizza for a day of installing NIC's. Get tech-savvy students(duh).

    2. Insist that your job is *only* setting them up on the network. If it doesn't work on the first plug, move on and come back to that person later.

    3. Use only one type of NIC. I use 3Com 3C-905B cards. Carry a driver diskette with you.

    4. Never help anyone with a Compaq Presario. They are a nightmare. Corollary: If you get suckered into helping anyone with a Presario, never, ever, call Compaq Tech Support asking for a recovery disk.

    5. Set up a help desk site with common problems and solutions. Easy with PHP or something.

    6. If students are savvy enough to do their own stuff, by all means, let them. This means anyone running Linux, so just give them the NIC, and tell them to have fun.

    7. Block outgoing P2P. It will save you lots of bandwidth.

    8. Use 10-Mbit hubs or switches in your dorms. This will keep the rest of your network (100Mbit?) nice and tidy from P2P traffic.

    9. Keep a close eye on possible haxors. You know how to identify them, the kids who bring their own Cisco routers to school. They're the ones who are going to bring down your gateways.

    10. Breathe. Just take it easy, and remember, they're only computers.

    Hope this helps.

    Ted (Ted.Dziuba@LEGIT_MAIL_PLZ.cheshireacademy.org)

    "Quoth the Penguin, pipe grep more"
    • So who's responsible when one of your high school helpers burns someone's personal computer up?

      I'm not trying to be rude, I'm curious. I'd be very worried about liability for things like this.

    • by "Zow" (6449)
      9. Keep a close eye on possible haxors. You know how to identify them, the kids who bring their own Cisco routers to school.

      Be more concerned about the ones that bring someone else's Cisco routers with them.

    • Re:Similar Problems (Score:3, Informative)

      by hearingaid (216439)
      Never help anyone with a Compaq Presario. They are a nightmare. Corollary: If you get suckered into helping anyone with a Presario, never, ever, call Compaq Tech Support asking for a recovery disk.

      on the upside, Compaq now has its recovery disks and other stuff available for download. at least for the battered old Deskpro I use as a firewall. :)

  • by Jett (135113) on Thursday August 16, 2001 @02:11AM (#2157950)
    I've worked for the past several years of college for the ResNet at my school. We too are in the process of getting prepared for the coming hordes but still have a few more weeks to go thankfully. The big thing I've been working on recently is putting together our manual. In it we have customer service guidelines, troubleshooting checklists, terminology definitions, job description (with specific duties clearly stated), and lots of other misc. things that all my co-workers should know. One thing I would like to state clearly to anyone involved in getting large amounts of people online in a short amount of time: DHCP IS THE SHIT. There is no other way to put it, DHCP kicks all ass. Before we had DHCP here we had to visit every single person who wanted online and issue them an IP, now anyone with low-level networking skills can get themself online (most the time you plug it in and it JUST WORKS). It makes the job 1000x easier. So if you work somewhere that doesn't have DHCP, you should bitch and moan and raise hell until you get it, it is really good stuff. That said, the way things go around here in the beginning of the year: We hand out information sheets to anyone who will take one, on these sheets are simple instructions on how to get online and some basic information about available network resources. Anyone who can't do it themselves calls our voicemail and says what they need. We then come out to their place and do it for them (or call and talk them thru it). If they need an ethernet card we can sell them one and install it, or they can get one on their own and we'll install it for them if they need us to. After a few weeks and demand for network hookups has died down some we have expanded services. Pretty much any computer problem we'll come out and see what we can do about it. OS reinstalls, software installs, hardware installs, help setting up email clients, etc. etc. etc. You name it we'll at least take a look at it, unless we're busy getting people online. The job is pretty easy for the most part. For awhile I was really bored and got into this thing where I would see how fast I could install a NIC. If nothing went wrong I could do it in about a minute or two, depending on case design and CPU speed. You run into lots of weird computer things, strange hardware, really bizzare problems. The worst part is dealing with the residents. It is interesting to see so many different people's dorms and stuff (you'd probably be amazed at some of the weird shit I've seen), but a lot of them don't really care about anything except the computer working how they want it too. You explain what you are doing hoping they will learn and not need your help again, they don't pay attention. Some of them are really rude and unfriendly for no reason. You try to be friendly and helpful and they treat you like total shit, and since it's your job you have to stay friendly and helpful. On the other hand, there are really nice people. I've been offered alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, food, money, dates, and numerous other things on the job. As another poster said, it is a great way to meet girls. It feels great to fix someones computer and have them get really happy and be just so incredibly thankful. Knowing that there are times where I just totally make someones day is the reason I stick with this job. That and the fact that I can educate people about computers.
  • by headless_ringmaster (248904) on Thursday August 16, 2001 @04:02AM (#2158325)
    While working IT at a UC school, we had the same situation. My co-worker then (and now partner for a company) wrote RNM: ResNet Monitor--Essentially a set of scripts to work with Ted Newman's DHCP server on a Linux/Unix system. The project is very robust, expandable for your organization, and GPL'd.

    check out: http://sourceforge.net/projects/rnm/

    Our company, Anylevel, Inc, uses this for contract work in doing the same thing. Check out www.anylevel.com (down now - changing DNS's - will be up in a day or two)-- there's more info there when the site comes up.

    pzugnoni@pellam.ucr.edu

"The vast majority of successful major crimes against property are perpetrated by individuals abusing positions of trust." -- Lawrence Dalzell

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