Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Re: An Open Letter for the Rector of PETRONAS University of Technology

The long awaited reply from the rector have arrived!!. Its accessible from UTP ELearning Moodle Site.

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Thanks for the reply Rector,


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5th March 2008
UTP Chat - Internet Relay Chat (IRC)

Dear Students ,
Further to some comments/complaints made by a couple of you on the above, please see the following explanation :

As you are aware, we faced serious network problems way back in 2005. Based on the network study conducted, it was found that the network congestions were caused by several factors including servers hosting Internet Relay Chat. After much deliberation, discussion, information exchange with other higher institutions, checking with experts as well as feedback from the students themselves, we found that the disadvantages for outweigh the advantages.


I am aware of that. However, note that I am not against the current network infrastructure which separates the 5 villages. Didn't I said in my original letter that I am a sysadmin too?, I know the advantages/disadvantages. Plus, considering I am someone in the community and experienced things first-hand, I am confident with my knowledge. What I want to fight for here, is reviving the two communication medium which was once flourished in UTP community. Below are my arguments related to your reasons + some mythbusting which somehow, UTP students, some ITMS, and those complaining students, don't understand the real technical background.


The above action had to be taken because the following happenings were noted:
1. Downloading of non-academic related materials e.g. movies, songs, graphics, etc. These are all big size files that chew up a lot of network resources which are very expensive and limited. This had hampered genuine users who are in dire needs of this resources to accomplish their tasks/assignments or any education related matters.

2. Downloading of obscene materials. These materials are then shared over the networks. Please bear in mind that these are not only violating UTP rules and regulations but also Malaysian law. (some students are now waiting disciplinary action)


This is related to the access control at the UTP gateway level. It is not related to UTPchat, neither Grapevine. I am aware of the layer-8 problem which students abusing the upstream connection and caused problem with the connection. Connection to the Internet is not related to UTPchat operation, as we are operating within the UTP LAN itself. Even if we do use the upstream connection, the IRC protocol, is a very light text communication protocol. The link utilization is very low, even lower than people browsing the Internet.

These 2 reasons, are in no way directly related with UTPchat.


3. Playing online games over the network. We also noticed some computers are never being switched off, indicating that the computers are working all night long. This is not only a waste of valuable resources including electricity but worse still it affects students performance due to insufficient rest


Games are games, IRC is IRC. I am fighting for the survival of IRC and the Forums. I myself does not play game much. Maybe once a while. But most of the time, I spend sharpening my ICT skills, and contributing to Open Source projects, and helping people at the IRC channels. Its much more fun and worthy :P.


4. There are also cases of hacking or intruding into computers of others including staff. We treat hacking activities very seriously, hence stern action has been taken on those responsible.


This is the problem of UTP designs itself, and the lack of monitoring and lack of competent people to maintain the vulnerabilities. The staff computers, are poorly maintained. The Operating Systems are not updated with latest security fixes, etc. New vulnerabilities are discovered everyday, its ITMS's job to make sure all of those computers are being patched early before anything happens.

Frankly I say this, the new network layout, in no way secure those staff computers from real crackers. Theres several ways to reach those computers, make it remotely from room, or from other ways which include going as near as possible to the computer. Nonetheless, the new layout does stop the lame-cracker-wannabees in UTP, so, I guess theres one benefit of it.

"No such thing as a 100% secure computing environment, its just the matter of time until someone figure out the method". This is why, maintenance, and competent IT security team is a must.

Again, this point does not relate in any way with my quest to revive UTPchat and its also not my quest to change this network layout as I'm quite okay with it.


5. We also noticed that the chat room is fast becoming a forum or platform to condemn certain personalities, use of abusive words, spreading of rumours, sexual harassment etc. which had offended so many people. Furthermore, hosting IRC had attracted unnecessary traffic to certain portion of the network resulting in network congestion/bottleneck and hence complaints from users.


Again I mention this, IRC is a very light text-based communication protocol. Its traffic (at least for the UTPchat IRC) does not even utilize 1% of out network bandwidth, if theres a congestion/bottleneck somewhere, there must be someone else (which I also hate), doing something.

Rumors, condemn, is a normal thing in communication. Even without those, people will still spreading rumors etc through the traditional way -> "The Mouth". These students, are already above their legal age, by rights, what they said, is their responsibility. Us operators and moderators, can only moderate them, its not our rights to stop them from voicing their opinions. In my opinion, whatever words they use, whatever rude they are, what more important, is their opinion, make it bad oponion or make it good opinion. Condemns, is also opinions in a way, but instead of stopping them (and caused them to condemn even more), find a way to resolve it. Nonetheless, whenever there are reports of objectionable content which have a valid reason, the operators/moderators will take it down. But those students, instead of reporting to us to resolve it, they report to ITMS/UTP management who dont know a thing about it. Which results on hurting innocent people (usually the operators and moderators).

For your information sir, us UTPchat IRC Operators, does have our rules in handling these abuser, such as banning, etc. Theres a popular saying "IRC is a priviledge, its not a rights. Abuse, and be ready to face the consequences". However, this require users to report to us who are abusing the system so that actions can be taken. But, those some UTP students, being themselves who don't understand the technology, take IRC as a rights for them, and instead of reporting to us for us to take action, they reported those to ITMS and even UTP management, which technically, not controlling the IRC infrastructure. And ITMS and UTP management, not doing what to do, start taking weird,annoying,irrational actions which caused problems to innocent people.

Nonetheless, even us IRC operators and Forum moderators, who technically maintain the system, have our limitation of enforcing our rules. Sometimes we need cooperation from higher authority (such as ITMS), to track down and eliminate the abuser, but we don't have that power/technical access to the facilities to track down of those - which results to -> us being blamed.

(I think this is the only point from you that valid and related to my open letter)


6. Some students employed tunneling tools to monopolise the bandwidth utilization.


HAHA!. Okay, I'm guessing this is what ITMS or those people who don't understand the real technology and complains based on rumours told you right?. HAHA! . (pardon me, I cant help it, as I am expecting this answer from you, and I really want to bust this myth)

Sir, these "tunneling to steal bandwidth" thing, is a myth. Tunneling, in computer networking term, means putting one type of traffic from a certain protocol, into another protocol for transmission. The common use of tunneling in UTP is for certain students, to access certain network protocol ports outside of UTP, such as IMAP (port 143 or 993 - for downloading email for offline viewing), SMTP (port 25 or 465 - for sending email ), SSH (port 22 - for controlling a remote computer at home/work - like me), to access external IRC network (port 6667-6669 - I need this a lot for me to communicate with other Open Source people), and others. UTP network is too restrictive which only allow port 80 and 443 (http and https), so, people who need those other protocols, had to tunnel out through some service provider. The Internet is not only what people see in the web browser, its more than that.

Granted, that through tunneling, users can also try to download from torrent or other services, nonetheless, traffic shaping (limiting speed) can always be done. A good traffic shaping rule and a dedicated and competent admininistrator who are dedicated to hunt down those abusers and take action on them, will be able to keep those at par (instead of this lazy only-port80-and-port443 rule).


We have spent so much time and effort to correct the situation resulting in the following outcome :

1. A stable and efficient production network.
2. Complaint pertaining to internet access has significantly reduced to only 3% which is only due to some site/configuration/equipment limitations.
3. Network congestion has been reduced tremendously and the network efficiently had reached more than 75%.
4. Minimized or reduced the chances of virus attack to the whole network. In term of operation, it will be more efficient and easy to isolate the network should outbreaks or attacks occur.
5. Rectification time pertaining to internet access problem or any network related problem is very much reduced. This resulted in more efficient services to all users.
6. Good feedbacks received from users pertaining to internet and network services.


This , (again) in no way related to my quest to revive UTPchat. This is more related to the network separation, and better access control at the gateways. Again, I am not fighting the network separation, and I am not fighting those NetworkBox gateways.


I believe the Internet Relay Chat is not the only way for voicing opinions , views, etc .There are more meaningful activities such as debates, elocution, and other co curriculum activities that provide opportunities to voice your opinion, develop your soft skills, etc.and engaging in intellectual discourse. There are also other activities that can nurture your creativity such as IDS, EDX etc.


Yes those are some of the options. But if you look again, they are mostly academical. Debates and elocutions, does those actually voicing a real concern which happening around and asking for a change?? - rather than debating/speaking, simply for certificates and winning competitions??. The equality is not there, only debaters can voice their opinion, but how about those people , those audience who does not have time/chance to join such thing? are they should be ignored ? are they does not have the rights to voice out?. Some people, take time to think and arrange their points, they can't quickly speakup and debate in real-time manner (I know I am. Blog, letters, and text-communication which allow some time for reply is my way to voice out). Does these people opinions, who will surely lost in a debate event because of they need time, be ignored ?. Some people also, have nervous problem which cause them unable to go to bigger public, does their opinion can be ignored too?. My answer, is a big NO.

These Internet technologies such as IRC and Forums, provide a different medium for these people to voice out, on their free time, without any limitation (that they need to join debate/elocution etc). Anyone, make it people with good grades, people with bad grades, people who does not these chances to voice out in real public, are able to voice out. The virtual environment encourage people to read the opinions itself, rather than questioning who are giving the opinions. Anyone can voice out, anyone can be listened, anyone can reply, regardless who you are.

About events like IDS/EDX/etc, those develops only skills that relates to that events (event management, communication between committee, etc). Again, they serve more academical purposes. What about people who want to develop skills different that those?. They need their own medium, they need their own community. IRC and Forums, can give them a place and communication medium for knowing/finding people who have the same interests build their own community. One notable example, is #linux of UTPchat. That IRC channel, consist of people who share enthusiasm related to the Linux operating system and Open Source world (that includes me). We use the medium for us to gather more people who share the same enthusiasm, help each other, and develop skills related to our interest. We are quite hidden from management right now, as we prefer to do our events unofficially due to bureaucracy takes too much time for us to handle. You can try asking our CIS Dept Head of Dept, Dr. Kamil. He knows about us under the name UTP Open Source Software Association, and he's been quite supportive for us.


All in all, UTP has spent a lot to develop and maintain all these facilities yearly. It is only wise that you use it for meaningful purposes whilst at the same time develop good moral values in you as individuals.
I hope you understand our rationale on the above . We only want the best for you .


For the network design implemented on 2005, I understand and accept the rationale, because I've been spent 1 whole semester during my foundation years trying to understand the network. :). But I am still not getting an acceptable rationale that UTPchat and the forums are bad.

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Considering my original open letter was misinterpreted. Let me make it clear what I am fighting for here, in point form.

  • UTPchat and Grapevine existed in UTP as a community environment since years ago. Also a symbol of Free speech in UTP.

  • UTP network redesign on 2005, caused UTPchat and Grapevine to be unstable.

  • On the same period too, theres a case which was a stupid-irresponsible UTP student, caused UTPchat and Grapevine being attacked because of false accusation through blocking our physical ports and caused the servers had to be moved around UTP. Directly caused Grapevine to die, and UTPchat to lose momentum.

  • After 3 years, those who have been in UTP since the era of UTPchat and Grapevine (including me), noticed the change in UTP community life. Students, especially younger generations, live in their own microcommunity, not knowing others besides people in their class, people who they worked together in events. We, the earlier generation, noticed that UTP students, is slowly losing the quality which our seniors had in themselves. The environment in UTP, no longer have the aura it have several years ago. Learning from our experience, we conclude that, the loss of UTPchat and Grapevine, is one of the major reason this problem to happen.

  • Me, as one of the people who are in charge of UTPchat - and the person who have been working hard to maintain the intrastructure, decided that, I must do something, before I end my studies in UTP. UTPchat must be revived, if possible, as an entity which is approved by UTP, and managed in a proper way by a community. I don't want, after I left UTP, these communities and infrastructure will die together with the loss of me. Maintaining this IRC network is hard, and I can't find any new talents who I see as capable to succeed me - mainly because, the many new students, are hidden in their room/class, trying to score 4.0 CGPA.

  • What I'm requesting here are:


    • cooperation from UTP, for UTPchat, to be revived as an approved entity. I am willing to help with the technical matters, and resolve any issues which UTP might had with us during the previous era.

    • I want the large community UTP students, to be revived back, maybe not exactly like the previous era, but having a large community who knows each other, have benefits on its own. New students must know what they have been missing. Having knowing a lot of people (especially seniors) helps them too in the future. Theres a saying, "90% of the job market, is from the hidden world of social network". Having good grades, while it helps to make students pass the filters, could not beat the power of knowing people who work in the company.

    • An official cooperation from ITMS, for us to properly control and stop abusers. Also, some additional resource - namely, a subnet, which can be accessed from any villages easily, for us to put UTPchat server. This will reduce the complexity of UTPchat (from 5 servers , to only 1) and hopefully, I am able to find someone to succeed me. This server also, will be also be used to provide a facility, for growth of usage of Open Source technology in UTP.


I hope you will consider this request. Thank you.

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Update - some additional message to Rector

Forgot to mention this, with my quest of reviving UTPchat as a proper medium of communication in UTP, I am putting together a document/plan for utilizing IRC protocol and Forums in a way that will be beneficial for students and also certain others like lecturers.

http://devel.foss.org.my/~kagesenshi/pub/colUTPit/

It is not yet complete as I still need time to gather ideas and information from several sources and put everything together. Currently I am on my internship and most of my time are focused for my current job. Nonetheless , there are still something there for you to refer to ..

Thank you
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