[cs615asa] Welcome to CS615, Spring 2016

Jan Schaumann jschauma at stevens.edu
Mon Jan 25 14:43:08 EST 2016


Welcome to the Spring 2016 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 hopefully have seen, this semester's first class will not take
place today, as Stevens cancelled classes due to the snow.  We will --
weather permitting -- meet for our first class next week.  In the mean
time, 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!  Often times just describing your
problem to somebody else helps you find the solution[1].

There is also a class Twitter account: https://twitter.com/cs615asa
I will occastionally 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.  I may
also share documents or texts as required reading on this list.

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 -- there are
no right or wrong answers, but responding is mandatory and not doing so
will affect your grade.  I will not remind you to fill these out each
week; please remind yourself.

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.

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.  The same holds for your emails, by the
way.  How you present yourself in a text medium often speaks volumes
about the level of care and attention you might give to other issues.
There are a few hints at [2].

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
yourself.  If you do, you will receive and F and the incident will be
reported to the Dean of Academics.

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.[2]  You will need it for your first

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 offers a free tier of services for new subscribers[4].  In
addition (and/or if you already have an AWS account and have used the
free tier), you can apply for $35 worth of free credits via AWS
Educate[5][6].  As this is a limited amount, it is important that 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.  I will send out another email with our
first assignments in a little bit.

I look forward to an interesting semester -- see you all in class next
week.  (Unless it snows some more, I suppose.)


[1] http://blog.codinghorror.com/rubber-duck-problem-solving/
[2] https://www.netmeister.org/blog/the-art-of-plain-text.html
[3] https://web.stevens.edu/itwiki/w/index.php/Linux_Lab
[4] https://aws.amazon.com/free/
[5] https://aws.amazon.com/education/awseducate/
[6] https://www.awseducate.com/Application?apptype=student

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