[cs615asa] Welcome!

Jan Schaumann jschauma at stevens.edu
Fri Jan 23 18:31:16 EST 2015


Welcome to the Spring 2015 Semester edition of CS615 "Aspects of System

System Administrators need to be able to read a lot of documentation and
text.  By "read", we don't mean "skim quickly and tweet about it", but
rather: "actually read and understand".  This email will be your first
exercise in this critical skill.

As you no doubt have realized, our first class of the semester will be
this coming Monday, January 26th, and I thought it might be useful to
send out an initial email with some meta information so that we can
minimize the time spent on administrative stuff in class.

You may have noticed that this class does not have a "Canvas" or
"Moodle" online thingy; instead, it has a lovingly hand-crafted,
artisanal, locally produced, old-fashioned course website:

This page has all the information about the class you should need.
Please do read it carefully.  Lecture slides and homework assignments
listed there are from the previous year and will be updated throughout
the semester.

Our primary method of communication about anything relating to this
class will be (aside from good old in-class face-to-face exchanges)
email.  Specifically: this mailing list.

If you have questions, please send them to this mailing list.  (If you
send it to me alone, chances are I will tell you to resend the same mail
to the mailing list.)  If you see a question on the mailing list to
which you think you know the answer, please respond on the mailing list.
Being able to efficiently communicating via email is a crucial skill --
you should practice it!

I also would like to encourage you to have discussions amongst
yourselves using IRC, since that, too, is a popular and common
communications medium used by all IT professionals and System
Administrators in particular.  I've created a chatroom "#cs615asa" on
Freenode, please join the channel and talk amongst yourselves.  Often
times just describing your problem to somebody else helps you find the

(If you have no idea what IRC is or how to use it... well, there's an
internet full of all sorts of information out there.  Learning how to
ask it the right questions is another skill we all need to refine

Finally, there is a class Twitter account: https://twitter.com/cs615asa
I will post (hopefully) interesting or amusing links relating to the
general topic of System Administration there.  You are not required to
follow this account or read anything posted there ("no, this will not be
on the test"), but you may still find it of interest.

The area of System Administration is very wide; we cannot cover in
sufficient detail every single aspect.  As we go through the semester,
we will follow the syllabus as outlined on the course website and each
class will cover the basics of each topic.  There is no required course
book, but a few recommended texts are listed on the website.

You should feel encouraged to read up on each topic via the referenced
reading materials and independent study.  Please share any interesting
links or articles you come across with the class on this mailing list.

Each class will have a pre-class questionnaire, asking you a few basic
questions about the topic at hand.  This will not be graded, but should
be a help for both me and you to assess your understanding.  I very much
encourage you to revisit the questionnaire after each class to see if
your understanding has improved and what you may have learned.

Each class (after this Monday's first class) will begin with one or two
brief presentation by you.  These presentations will be in the style of
so-called "ignite talks"[2]: 5 minutes (hard limit), 20 slides
auto-advancing every 15 seconds.  You can present any topic you like so
long as you can convince me that it relates to System Administration.

If you would like to volunteer to present at any given class, please
email me.  If no volunteers can be found by the Friday before class,
then I will randomly select a presenter.

Presentations are not graded, but intended to give you some practice in
speaking in front of others.  Note: you will quickly find that 5 minutes
is not a long time, so choose your topic and the point you'd like to
make wisely.

There will be a few graded homework assignments; some of them will be
individual work, and some may be group assignments.  All of the
assignments will require you to write up documentation how you solved
the problem, as writing clear technical documentation is another
important skill to hone.  I know that English is not the first language
for many of you: please use a spell-checker and carefully re-read your
documents before submission.

Any and all work for the homework submissions must be done by you.  You
are always welcome to ask questions or to discuss solutions or different
approaches, to work together on common problems, but you may not submit
work not done by yourself.  You must not copy and paste solutions from
other students, from previous semesters, from the internet, from your
grandma, or from anywhere else and pretend that you did the work

All work for this class will be done exclusively using command-line
tools on Unix systems.  If you are not comfortable operating on the
command-line, then this class is not for you and I recommend that you
drop it.  All work will be done and graded on linux-lab.cs.stevens.edu,
on which you should already have an account.  (If you do not, now would
be a very good time to get it.[3])

We will be using Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) in this class.
You are not expected to be familiar with EC2, but, consistent with the
above, all interactions with EC2 will be done using the command-line
utilities available on linux-lab.cs.stevens.edu.  Amazon has made
available to me course credits for this class to allow you to use AWS.
It is your responsibility to create an AWS account for yourself.  If you
do not have one already, now would be a very good time to get one.[4]

I will email each of you a credit code worth $100.  That will be more
than enough for all the exercises in this class, so long as you remember
to terminate any running resources after you are finished with your
assignments.  You are responsible for any costs incurred beyond this
amount, even if they resulted out of an error or negligence on your

System Administration requires a lot of self-directed learning, critical
reading, experimentation and initiative.  You will get the most out of
this class if you follow the examples from each lecture well beyond the
homework assignments, which primarily exist because I have to give you a
grade at the end of the semester.  What you take away from this class
and what you ultimately learn is entirely up to you.

If you have managed to read (actually read!) this far: congratulations,
you're off to a good start.  Continue by filling out this pre-lecture

I look forward to an interesting semester -- see you all in class on


[1] http://blog.codinghorror.com/rubber-duck-problem-solving/
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignite_%28event%29
[3] https://web.stevens.edu/itwiki/w/index.php/Linux_Lab
[4] https://aws.amazon.com/

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