[Haifux] Student complaints.

Yossi Gil yossi.gil at gmail.com
Mon Feb 2 21:41:40 MSK 2009


As I promised, I shamelessly copied and edited this text. For lack of a
better tool, I placed it on our Wiki. But of course, I did not tell anyone
about it, so feel free to scream and it will be promptly erased, or handled

Please see:

Shahar: I know you are reading this. Please grant Nadav Wiki access if he
does not kick you too hard.

HAIFUX: Please do not tell anyone about this page... Not until Nadav
approves it, or whenever.

Nadav: take another warning that I am going to mail some of this text to all
users of the lab - or at least to the group that complained.



On Mon, Feb 2, 2009 at 11:51 AM, Nadav Har'El <nyh at math.technion.ac.il>wrote:

> On Mon, Jan 26, 2009, Yossi Gil wrote about "[Haifux] Student complaints.":
> > Folks, here is the list of the unedited gripe list of students. As you
> will
> > see, some of the problems are educational (MS WORD is sexy), other are
> > organizational (not enough quota), while others are technical (Eclipse
> > crashes). I am asking for your help mainly in dealing with the
> > psychological  issues... Make it easier and more exciting for the
> students
> > to work with Linux.
> Hi Yossi. I am not a student at the Technion, I finished my BA 15 years ago
> already and my MSc nine years ago (boy, time flies). But I do have some
> comments that might be valuable.
> Most of the complaints deal either with either bugs in the Linux system
> or with differences between it and the Windows system they are used to.
> The first type of complaint (bugs) is valid, but a bit harsh on Linux,
> because if you go to a Windows farm, or a SGI farm (those were the
> days...),
> or whatever, and spend hours upon hours there, you're also bound to find
> problems and bugs there. These bugs should be fixed, mitigated or at worst
> documented, but there is no way to avoid them completely. The better your
> system administrator is, the less your users will notice these problems.
> If your system administrator thinks that a 10 MB quota is enough for users
> (when I was a student, this is what the t2 admins thought :-)), he can't
> blaim Linux when users constantly go over this quota.
> The second type of complaint is more problematic in my opinion. Here the
> students are almost saying "I came to the Technion knowing operating system
> X, and I don't want to learn and use another one". This is a strange
> attitude
> to come to school with. I think the students who are saying this simply
> do not understand all the value and experience they are getting by working
> on Linux for a change. Here are, for example, some of these added value
> that
> they are getting:
> 1. They are getting experience in yet another technology needed in the job
>   market. And we're not talking here about some esoteric software that
> nobody
>   will need in two years, but rather a system, Unix, that has been in
>   constant (and growing) use since the 80s and used to run some of the
>   most exciting servers we all here about on the news.
> 2. They get exposed to more software engineering philosophies, operating
>   system design issues, ways of thinking, that simply do not exist in
>   Windows. The shell (command line), scripting and automation of
> everything,
>   separation of Window system from OS, server processes, configuration
> files,
>   and much much more. And of course there is the whole free software
>   philosophy and the thriving world of free software development that
> exists
>   out there.
> 3. If they choose to use the same OS at home, they can get it absolutely
>   free. Last time I checked, students always complain about the lack of
>   money - so I find it hard to understand their desire to pay for Windows
>   and the outrageously-expensive MS-Office.
> 4. A typical Linux system has a much bigger variety of software than
> Windows,
>   simply because on Windows every piece of commercial software (which is
>   the type of software these students are wishing for) costs money.
>   In a software development lab, most likely nobody will purchase software
>   for photo editing, for OCR, for PDF encoding, for speech synthesis, or
>   who knows what a student might need for his or her project or personal
>   interests. On Linux, all of these things come (depending on how/what
>   you installed) already with your OS, absolutely free.
> 5. When they get to know Linux, they will learn that while there are indeed
>   things that are more convenient on Windows, there are other things that
>   are actually more convenient to do on Linux! Remote login and automation
>   are just two examples.
> And now we come to what I consider the greatest advantage of Linux as a
> teaching device over any commercial system, be it Windows or Sun or Mac.
> I'll start with a personal story.
> My first encounter with Unix was a bit over twenty years ago.
> My father was working in AT&T Bell Labs in New Jersey (where Unix, C, and
> a lot of other great stuff was invented). He let me - a ten year old
> boy - play around with the Unix system there from home, and gave me two
> great books to learn from (Kernighan&Pike's "The Unix Programming
> Environment"
> and Kernighen&Ritchie's "The C Programming Language").
> But after I learned the basics from the books, one of the best things about
> learning to program in Bell Labs was that the source code of everything was
> available: When I wanted to know how some feature of "vi" worked, I could
> read the code and feel Bill Joy's joy of writing it. When I wanted to
> improve
> the Basic interpreter (don't ask ;-)), I just did. When the "new line
> discipline" was invented circa 1985 (allowing backspace to actually erase
> the character instead of just moving the cursor :-)), I read the "stty"
> source code to learn how it can be enabled. And so on, and so on.
> This was an amazing learning experience. To learn that on a computer,
> everything has a reason, and that reason can be traced. If something
> doesn't work properly, a programmer's recourse isn't to complain, isn't
> to pray that it will get fixed, but it is to find and fix the bug.
> Imagine that you're studying theoretical CS without access to the library.
> You're told that you can learn what you hear in class, but if you wish to
> learn more on a certain specific topic, you can't go to the library and
> pick up a book about it. This is what learning programming on Windows is
> like: Sure, you can do the exercises you get in class. But what if during
> these exercises you discover an interesting question about the OS you're
> using or one of its applications? You can't go to the source code ("the
> library") and learn from it.
> This is, I think, something that the students need to understand.
> Learning computer programming on Linux is a gift, not a chore. I think
> that if they seriously love computers (and didn't just come to study CS
> because it's the fashion) they will be greatful for this gift for the rest
> of their life. I know that I am.
> Now I'll address some of the specific comments:
> >  הנושאים היחידים אליהם אתייחס הם נושאי לינוקס. במשך שנתיים אני נמצאת
> במעבדה
> > כמעט כל יום, > ל היום (פרט לזמן בו אני נמצאת בהרצאות)
> It is quite obvious that these students do not only program on these
> computers, but also do everything else on them. And today even more than
> in the past, people need computers for a lot of things.
> The system administrator needs to be aware of this fact and configure the
> system accordingly - he cannot be cheap in quotas, he has to install a
> large variety of software (this is quite easy to do in Linux), and has
> to listen to the needs of the students.
> Moreover, it would be ridiculous if the teachers send the students to use
> these machines, but then demand them to use Windows (e.g., by needing
> to send MS-Office documents, by asking them to install Windows software,
> etc.).
> >    ספציפית לגבי הפרויקט בשבוע האחרון קרו לנו פעמים תקלות בהעברת קבצים
> ממחשבי
> >    המעבדה הביתה. לכולנו יש בבית מחשבי windows וכאשר תכננו משימות לשבוע
> >    במחשבי המעבדה בהעברה למחשבים בבית פעמיים היו בעיות התאמת פורמט ומישהו
> היה
> >    צריך להגיע לטכניון (למחשבי linux) כדי לטפל בבעיה לאפשר לקבוצה להמשיך
> >    לעבוד בבית.
> All these format issues should be dealt with a clue stick ;-)
> The only format issue that cannot be solved in a trivial manner are the
> office formats, and even there the solution is quite clear: DON'T USE
> MS-OFFICE. Use OpenOffice, both at home (it works on Windows!) and at
> the Technion. And remember that OpenOffice *can* read MS-Office documents,
> quite well.
> When these students go out to the real world, they *will* encounter systems
> of many types, not just Windows: Linux, Unix, mainframes, embedded systems,
> and so on and so on. It's a good thing to learn how to manage working on
> different types of systems together without needing to complain about
> formats, file transfers, etc., and instead knowing how to quickly solve
> these kinds of problems when they arise.
> >    בכל פעם שעלינו להכין מצגת או גרפים אנו עוברים למחשב שאינו במעבדה בגלל
> >    שאנו רגילים לעבוד ב windows ועבודה בו חוסכת לנו זמן. הפרויקט דורש הכנת
> >    מצגות רבות במהלכו ולכן נראה לי שהמעבדה שאחת ממטרותיה היא לשרת אותו
> אמורה
> >    לספק כלים נוחים להכנת מצגות וגרפים.
> These and similar questions shows students that appear not to want to
> learn anything new in the Technion, and continue to do what they are used
> to, just because they are used to. I don't accept this attitude.
> Besides, the saying goes: "The nipple is the only intuitive interface -
> everything else is learned".
> >  אני מניחה שהמחשבים לא יועברו בחזרה ל windows בקרוב. אבל אני מקווה
> > שתלונותינו יעזרו לבאים אחרינו.
> This is a good point. Maybe you should start a document or a Wiki or
> something titled "Using the Linux Lab for a Windows User" which talks
> about all the pitfalls and surprises a Windows fan will encounter when
> he or she starts to use the Linux lab.
> >    לא ניתן להתקין plagins ותוכנות שיסייעו לנו בעבודה השוטפת על הפרויקט.
> Here the solution needs to be two two-pronged: First, the system
> administrator
> needs to be responsive and open to requests to install new software that
> students need. Second, the users should have enough quota to install new
> software on their own directory, if they wish to.
> It appears the quota problem is repeated by almost everyone who commented.
> I suggest that you should address this issue *immediately*. Disks are so
> cheap today, that there's simply no excuse to be cheap on quota. If you
> want,
> I can eleborate.
> This would be, no question about it, the first task I would ask the
> sysadmins to take care of.
> >    מחשבים לא מזהים התקני USB  לא ניתן לבצע גיבויים לפרויקט ולהעביר קבצים
> >    בין מחשבים.
> Why does this happen? This issue simply needs to be solved.
> >  *אני יודע שלרוב הבעיות ישנן פתרונות מקומיים**, **אולם אין סיבה שמעבר
> לשעות
> > הנדרשות לביצוע הפרויקט עצמו **"**נבזבז**" **עוד שעות רבות במאבקים עם
> מחשבי
> > המעבדה**!!!*
> Again, somebody who things that learning how to solve real problems that
> happen on real machines is a waste of time. I think this is valuable
> experience.
> > בהיבט השלילי הדבר שהכי מפריע בעבודה עם לינוקס הוא תחליפי האופיס שמותקנים
> בה.
> >
> > רוב המצגות והמסמכים שאנחנו כותבים נערכים גם בבית וגם במעבדה, ויש הרבה
> בעיות
> > בהעברת קבצים כאלה מאופיס של מיקרוסופט לתחליפי אופיס
> Again, did anybody tell them that they can install OpenOffice at home too,
> and save hundreds of shekels in the process?
> This was my (pretty long) 2 cents. I hope it helped, even a bit.
> Nadav.
> --
> Nadav Har'El                        |       Monday, Feb  2 2009, 8 Shevat
> 5769
> nyh at math.technion.ac.il
> |-----------------------------------------
> Phone +972-523-790466, ICQ 13349191 |I have a watch cat! If someone breaks
> in,
> http://nadav.harel.org.il           |she'll watch.
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