For a first try, this project achieved reasonable success, as it was able to supply six out of the eight Shad Valley campuses with equipment and software. However, it fell short in a number of respects.
The machines arrived at campuses during the first week of the program, which was considerably later than had been planned, and later than i would have preferred. This led to greater stress on difficulties with installing equipment and installing and activating the Alias software.
This can be attributed to a number of causes. As co-ordinator i accept responsibility for the initial ten-day delay and lag times in explanations, responses to questions, and updates as programs communicated back and forth with us and with Silicon Graphics. Nonetheless i believe that the use of electronic mail significantly facilitated and speeded communication on the whole, as well as providing a more cost-effective medium than the telephone.
While the first two responses from programs appeared almost immediately, three more appeared after a second call (two weeks later), and one response a week after that. The last two responses arrived after a further gap of two weeks, one of which was delayed due to an unfortunate accident involving a Program Director. This leads me to suggest that the largest delay was in establishing the initial contact with everyone at all of the campuses, which can be remedied by ensuring that all the program directors know of this project even longer before the program begins -- ideally, before they become swamped with the flood of work they have to do to put together a Shad Valley program. Also, in many cases the Program Director, after making contact, would simply hand off responsibility to the person in charge of computing at the program. So startup might be accelerated by trying to make contact with people most directly in charge of computing at every program right away.
Hopefully, with past knowledge of the events of this year, programs will be prepared to have this project run more smoothly in the summer of 1996.
Alias supplied us all the software we needed quite quickly and easily, since lots of copies were immediately available. We ran into difficulties with Silicon Graphics, on the other hand, because of our late discovery that machines would not be supplied centrally but from individual branch managers. Availability was further hindered because the fiscal year for SGI apparently ends on the 30th of June. We had hoped that SGI would be able to provide as many machines as necessary, but due to these obstructions we were only able to obtain six machines.
Jon Barry at Alias was very helpful, quick, and efficient at sending out the software and processing the necessary paperwork, very quickly after information was sent to him. (Obtaining authorizations and encryptions, however, were an additional hassle to some campuses after they had installed their software.) Aside from the change in plans with SGI, once we contacted Heather Edwards, delivery proceeded quickly and smoothly, to her credit.
In several cases program directors sounded unsure as to what they could do with their Indy machines. The Alias software was a tremendous help in that it immediately provided an environment for creation and exploration all on its own, needing little additional content to become a hands-on workshop. Alias, however, is by nature a powerful and very complex application, and so it exhibits a steep learning curve. Without knowing what tools to try first, it's easy to get lost before seeing any rewarding results.
Again, i believe this problem can be made to go away to a large extent simply by capitalizing on our "trial run" this year. Since most campuses now have Alias materials in their hands, workshop organizers can have plenty of time to examine them and familiarize themselves with the software before workshops begin. We should consider asking Alias Research for encryptions earlier, perhaps a month or more before the program, so that people at each campus can try out the tutorials and demonstrations included on the CD-ROM. A longer encryption would be sufficient for those who had access to other SGI machines on their campus; for the remaining campuses, we would also have to ask SGI to lend equipment earlier to allow this familiarization time.
Now that program staff have had a chance to work with an Indy, this also gives everyone much more time to think about new ideas for seminars (aside from a "ready-made" Alias 3-D modeling workshop). Diverse ideas could be exploited very well, and at the same time we still have from Alias a terrific package to, in some sense, "fall back" on.
Another possibility to exploit is the IndyCam. While i was hoping we would receive them this year, they could be put to use if we request them explicitly next summer. Most exciting would be a national teleconferencing event. However, many programs this year created information sites on the World-Wide Web, both helping to record events and increasing Shad Valley's national and international exposure; this positive move could also benefit from an IndyCam (to produce quick video clips and conveniently digitize images of participants, events, and staff, for instance).