Frequently asked questions about this server brought to you by TECFA's #1 Webmaster. Mostly a complicated way to explain why small units can't have a really cool server. Though sometimes I just wonder ... and who knows? It might happen this summer or next summer or ...
Version 0.1 (Feb 1996) AND NOT UPDATED SINCE ! Use your own judgement to find out what is obsolete :)

Table of Contents

A. General

  1. What is this server for/about?:

    It is TECFA's own little http server and has several purposes.

    1. We use it for ourselves, e.g. as internal information system (for teaching and research), as "a door to the www", as interface to locally installed guides and manuals etc.

    2. It is a platform that shows some of our research work

    3. We also provide some service pages for some communities related to educational technology.

  2. How old is this server?

    Good question. Besides the CERN server (of course!) it is rumored to be Switzerland's oldest WWW server (early spring 1993). About as old as the first available version of the Mosaic client (our first server run under the FTP demon).

  3. How I can I find generally interesting things ?

    Basically there are 2 solutions:

    1. Operate full text search. Note that we maintain several sub-collections, e.g. Teaching | Research | installed Guides

    2. Use one of our index pages and surf.

  4. How can I find out more about Tecfa (research & education) ?

    That shouldn't be too hard. Read about "TECFA: TEChnologies de Formation et Apprentissage" first. Start from one of our 2 home pages, or directly browse through the "Overview of Research Projects at TECFA" or the"Teaching" page.

  5. Why the use of english instead of french ?

    Despite its smallness, TECFA operates internationally. And we don't have the resources to maintain a bi-lingual server.

B. Do you provide any good service pages?

Somewhat ....

  1. Local folks can use our local home page as "door" to the Web and to the University of Geneva (Note that there is no official UniGE server yet, though there is a hidden something under construction that will officially represent all of us.)

  2. Here are some pages of interest to educational technology: Educational Technology (WWW VL page, Sub-pages: Education, MUDs, Institutions). An other example is a a list of interesting on-line journals.

  3. There are some other pages you can find from our internal home page. Note that we place high emphasis on stability. Major links haven't been moved in the last three years.

  4. We also have a nice local guides library for the tools we are using as well as some gateways to Unix information. Feel free to link them, but please do consider using a server near-by that has the same information.

C. General Server Maintenance

  1. Why do most of your pages look so crummy ?

    Because we don't have the resources to invest much time into our server. If you look at our members's list you can see that we have only four permanent positions. Most research and teaching collaborators are either graduate students or work full-time on research contracts. They won't make career by maintaining WWW pages. Me either BTW!

  2. OK, but you could still improve navigation !

    Yes, and sometimes we will look into it.

  3. Your icons are used a bit randomly and they are ugly too!

    YES. E.g. I painted this icon back in 1993 as a quick hack to play around with a navigation bar of which you can still see undeleted traces (e.g. on this now pretty useless index page) back when we just got our first Mosaic browser.... but nobody ever wanted to take up this work.

  4. Some of your pages seem to be outdated:

    Yes indeed, so use your own judgment. However, important pages are fairly well maintained (though sometimes they may contain outdated links).

    We don't have any real excuses for our bad maintenance of the Virtual WWW VL on Educational Technology (except that fact that 1995 has been particularly bad in terms of workload). Now here are the good news: Starting this spring (1996) we will receive funding for those pages and promised: things will change!

  5. Despite inevitable shortcomings I also want a WWW Server for my little academic unit, can you give me any advice ?


    1. Make sure that every member of your unit can identify with this project. You do not have time to do everything yourself! Install all necessary tools they need (e.g. see a subset of what we have). Try to train a few people !

    2. Plan your server! Go and get advice (e.g. see the The Yale Style Guide or SUN's Style Guide). Don't believe everything they (especially SUN) say, but think about it. E.g. they claim that users prefer short pages. That may be true, but have you ever been lost @SUN ? Trying hard to find information you just read 50 clicks ago ? You can always identify a long page, you can search for words, you can scroll back and forth (that's pretty easy on your mind) AND with the Internet being so totally slow now you can STICK to a page once you managed to download it :) ... but please do build at least a simple internal TOCs. This said, some of our pages are too long (agreed) but they are easier to maintain.

    3. Also be aware that planning only works it allows for change and if your people can identify with it! The neat trick is to provide sufficient tools for them so that WWWing does not need a lot of additional time. Remember, except for a few cases (John December's and alike) you won't make career by building WWW pages! Members of your department do know that.

    4. Plan for different ways to provide information and HTML. E.g. don't have people write fancy multi-media articles in raw HTML or with "Page Mill"-like tools and such. Rather let them use their ordinary tools (Framemaker, Work, Latex or whatever) and give them the best filters on a finger tip (and provide sytle sheets needed). However, get modern HTML power tools for WWW-only publications. Also, use light-weight data bases for "index card" type of information (we did not and now regret). In short: Get the right tools and remember that there is no single www/html tool that does everything! (you can start browsing from another of our crummy index pages).

  6. I just LOVE backgrounds and image maps. Why don't you have any ?

    Backgrounded pages look nice, but are often very hard to read. Most so called WebDesigners don't realize that some backgrounds make it REALLY hard on some machines (e.g.on our SUN workstations).

    Image maps are totally crummy because you can't see where you go! If you MUST use image maps, please enhance them with JavaScript so that at least people using Netscape can "see" where they are heading for. In addition, Bitmaps are slow and did contribute to the actual desparate state of the Internet. Instead use HTML3 tables for some layouts. Most graphical browsers now can do tables. (Make sure to insert <br> tags in the cells for people using Lynx.

    PLEASE read this email message ! In addition some of our students use maps. They surely want pretty things, we are a bit too old for that.

D: Education and the Web

  1. How come TECFA doesn't do any research in that area?

    There are basically 2 reasons:

    1. Our research is mostly centered around "advanced Learning Environments" and not development. The WWW hasn't been really an exciting thing to invest for a small unit. However, this may be different in the future. E.g. look at our prototypical MOO/WWW server. We currently also look into new trends such as cooperation tools over the WWW, mobile Code (e.g. Javascript ,Java, "Safe" TCL and Perl), new multimedia formats (e.g. VRML, Shockwave, etc.) and we teach some of that to our students.

    2. No time (again). Life is about choice.

  2. OK agreed. But do you have something to say about "Education and the Web"?

    Sure, we do have a series of lightweight articles on that topic (though some of them are NOT on-line). E.g. Check the section on Computer Mediated Communication, Information Systems and Virtual Worlds (needs some updating). Also, note that we use the Web quite intensively as teaching tool. E.g. the outlines of our courses are on-line, some teaching material is too, and our students turn in assignments in HTML form. The Web has been created by Tim as tool for cooperation and we use it mainly for that purpose. Sorry, no report (yet) on using the Web in our "semi-distance teaching" diploma formula.

  3. Do you teach about things about the WWW in education ?.

    Yes, we do that. Firstly we teach technical aspects of the Internet. Even before students enroll into our diploma courses, they have to follow a technical introduction course. Most student assignments have to be turned in as HTML. Secondly we address several aspects of CMC, teaching and learning. The "CMC-teaching at TECFA" page has some pointers (needs some more work though).

E. Contact Information

  1. Who is in charge here ?

    Daniel Schneider is the official #1 WebMaster. However, anybody at Tecfa has access to the server and most people do maintain areas or help maintaining major pages. We encourage ourselves to sign our pages. Don't send email about randomly selected pages to the webmaster :)

  2. I sent you some email and didn't get any replay

    Yes that can happen. Basically a resource problem again. Try it again and scream ! Also note that it sometimes can take up to 6 month before anything is done with your mail (a lot of mail is being safely filtered away for later processing).

UP TO: TECFA's official home page * TECFA's internal home page