Our addition to the program this year was relatively recent occurrence, and so this conference came as a bit of a surprise, wedged as it is just before I leave next Monday for the Portal 2008 conference at Gettysburg College.
In the interest of diplomacy, I feel obligated here to mostly withhold my more candid observations about the conference. I will say that my university remains far ahead of other schools in terms of what we offer portal users, technologically. Say what you will about our relatively low-tech JSP + JSTL approach, but it works. There seems to be a significant struggled for consortium members (attendees of the conference) to develop useful applications: in the absence of development manpower, they turn to CampusEAI and its community resources for code, but CampusEAI’s understandable approach is to abstract much of what they write to be n-tier and properly MVC therefore applicable to any school on any platform. Thus, even with the bulk of the code written, there’s still the crucial step of writing the data access layer that hooks the business logic to whatever data store the school has. Generally speaking, it seems, schools that don’t have the technical resources or man hours to develop their own portlets also don’t have the technical resources or man hours to customize and personalize these shared resources for their environment.
Then, too, a great deal of the trouble experienced by schools is more infrastructure: we long ago abandoned Oracle Portal, which is the primary focus of CampusEAI1, because it was ridiculously expensive, required a shitpile of hardware thrown at it, and was still an unreliable, clunky Frankenstein’s monster of a product, loosely cobbled together from a mix of open-source components and proprietary glue layers. It also looks like hell, allowing for very little customization. I am not afraid to dismiss this product on its lack of technical merits: Oracle Portal is utter excrement, and you’d be better served by something like uPortal or Liferay.
Since a lot of the conference, therefore, was geared toward solving problems that we don’t have, not every session was particularly helpful. I did, however, meet some very cool people. The folks from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute come immediately to mind; we talked with them quite a bit, in part because they’re cool guys, but also because they are the lead developers for the Bedework web calendar, which we’re looking into implementing at USF. We also talked a lot with some folks from Loyola-Marymount, as well as Loyola University Chicago.
So, in that respect, the conference was a lot of fun; I’m not an immediately personable guy, so networking in the social sense isn’t always easy for me, but I think I’m coming into my own here.
I still don’t care for Cleveland. We were in the middle of downtown Cleveland, and besides being an odd mix of grand marble bank headquarters and run-down storefonts, it was also a virtual ghost town. Perhaps it was the heavy construction going on, but the streets were deserted by 6pm, leaving only the inescapable homeless people inventing sob stories as they asked you for change. The problem is so bad, apparently, that the city puts up signs advising pedestrians not to give any money to the homeless; pathetically, it’s a bit like signs at the zoo warning onlookers not to feed the animals.
I should point out that I had good beer while I was there: we ate at the Winking Lizard one night, and an Irish pub called Flannery’s the next; I had Bell’s Oberon on tap at the former and Murphy’s Stout on tap at the latter, and it was bliss. Also, Flannery’s has the best onion rings I’ve ever tasted. They were so good, I think they more or less trump everything else about my trip.
- They recently began investing more into open-source solutions like uPortal and Sakai, under the technical leadership of the very smart Jason Shao[↩]