Plans v2 FAQ

Plan history:

Where did plans come from?

In the days of old, Grinnell College had a Vax computer system. One of the standard commands available on this system was called 'finger'. This command gave various information about a user, including showing the person's .plan file. Each user had their own .plan file, which was originally meant for people at companies and elsewhere to post what their work plans were. The .plan file at Grinnell College (and many other places) gained a social aspect however. People started posting notes to their friends, writing stories, or writing whatever else they felt like writing. At Grinnell College, a small group of students called the 'VAXGods' wrote and maintained scripts to allow users to automatically keep track of which of their friends had updated their .plan files.

During the summer of 2000, the Vax at Grinnell College was phased out of operation. There was a time period in which no sort of plan system existed at Grinnell College. During this time period however, older students felt a strong dismay over the loss of the popular plans system. Thoughts floated around about creating a new web-based version of plans, and so Rachel Heck ('01) was the first to take the initiative in creating a web-based plan system.

She wrote the original version (what we consider Plans v0) of the Grinnell web-based plans system with just a few friends in mind. The system grew very quickly in popularity. Since this original system was designed with only a few users in mind, problems started to arise with the swelling numbers of plan users. So in the spring of 2001, Rachel wrote a new version of plans (Plans v1) that had certain improvements, such as being backed by a database, with Andrew Kensler ('01) giving suggestions and writing the search page. In the spring of 2001 Rachel turned control of plans over to the current maintainers of plans. The current maintainers then significantly altered Plans v1, adding on certain customization abilities, and other abilities. By autumn 2001, it was apparent that the plan user base was becomming too large for the program to handle well, and so Plans v2 was introduced in the spring of 2002. During the summer of 2003, events occured which led to Plans being hosted by a commercial web host instead of being hosted by Grinnell College.

Is the program a class project, or a commercial product or what?

Plans is not, nor ever was a class project (although we know of at least one class project that tried to come up with a better version of plans which failed). Running the plans system has very much been an educational experience to say the least. Anyway, plans are not a commercial project, but simply a student run um... something or other.

Problems with Plans:

What should I do if I find a bug in the program, have a comment, question or criticism, or if the program simply isn't working?


I can log in, but then when I click on anything it tells me that I am a guest, what should I do?

The Plans system uses what are known as cookies, so that while you are logged into Plans you get the style/interface/etc. of your choosing, as well as giving you your autofinger list. However you can set your internet browser to not accept cookies. Normally the cookie takes effect after you receive the first page after you log in. If your browser is set to not accept cookies, then you can log in and get the first page as normal, but then if you click to receive any other page, Plans does not know who you are and so considers you a guest (you will see that the style reverts back to the default pastel color scheme).

So what you need to do is check the settings on your browser and check the option to allow cookies. In some browsers if the security setting is set to the most protective you may need to lower the security a notch. Just remember to switch it back afterwards if you are wanting to keep that more protective setting while surfing the general internet.

[More specific instructions for each of the main browsers will eventually be put here.]

Where can I get a copy of the source code for Plans?

Plans CVS (Click on the 'Browse CVS' link near the bottom, and then select 'grinnellplans').

Getting a new plan:

What criteria do I have to meet to be given a plan?

We do however, reserve the right to refuse a person or group an account, for any reason regardless of whether or not they meet these criteria. We also reserve the right to remove an account at any time, for any reason.

Can campus groups have plans?

Yes, however we have no interest in determining who or what should be a group, and so we defer the determining of groups to SGA. To prove to us that you are an SGA recognized group, when requesting a plan, you must send the request e-mail from the group's email account (i.e. instead of sending the request from your personal email account,, you must send it from your group's email account,

Can administrators/faculty of colleges in Grinnell, Iowa have plans?


What do I do/Who do I contact if I want a new plan?

Our first request is that you read this faq, and browse Plans using the guest feature to get an idea of what Plans are about (currently disabled). Then if you want a plan, simply send an email with a brief message indicating that you'd like a plan to If you are requesting a group account, please be sure to send the request from your groups email account.

About plan features:

How do I put in a link to another person's plan?

Simply put the person's username inside of brackets on your plan. i.e. to put a link to the plans plan, you would put [plans] somewhere on your plan.

How do I put in a link to a message on the Notes board?

When you view the messages within a thread, the number to the far left just under the title of the message is the id number of the message. To make a link that message, simply enclose the id number between square brackets. For example:


How do I put in a link to a webpage outside of Plans?

There are several ways of making such a link. The first way is as such:

[|Grinnell Plans Homepage]  

which will give you this: Grinnell Plans Homepage

The second way is as such:


Which will give you:

The final way is as such:

<a href="">Grinnell Plans</a>

which will give you: Grinnell Plans

Is there a way to see who has you on their autoread list?

No, however to let you know the cause of the rumor you heard: in the distant past there had been ways, but these ways were never intended to be available for plan users to use.

Will there ever be a way to see who has you on their autoread list?

No. We want to encourage people to read other people's plans without fear of other people knowing which plans they read, and to encourage people to write plans without censuring themselves based upon the knowledge of who reads their plan. Although in reality a public forum, plans tend to give people a sense of false secrecy, in which a plan writer is aware of the public nature of plans, but yet is allowed to, under the veil of false secrecy, to communicate things publicly which they would like to communicate, but which in regular public discourse, they may shy away from. Thus plans at times can reflect a very interesting side of Grinnell which otherwise might not be seen. As such, to allow the public to see who is on their autoread lists would is essence destroy plans. Therefor, we will never provide a way to see who is on your autoread list.

What is this three tiered Autoread list thing?

The autoread list is a mechanism whereby a plan person can select which plans of other users interest them, and know if those plans have been updated since the person last read the users plan. For example, if you put me on your autoread list, and read my plan, then if afterwards I update my plan, you will see my username on your autoread list as having a new plan. In a way, the three tiered autoread list is almost like having three seperate autoread lists. It allows you to put the people in which you are most interested in keeping up with their plans in level 1, and the people that you are less interest in keeping up with in level 2, etc. This means that if you have only a limited amount of time to read plans, you can easily read the new plans of just those who you are most interested in. Please note that this is just one potential hierarchy that can be attached to the three tiered autoread list, and that you are free to use whatever categorization you wish. Also, remember that you can simply set everyone on your list to level 1 and hence not have to bother with the three tiered system.

When there is a new plan that you haven't read, it will appear under the title of the level that you have selected. For instance if you have me on level 1, and I've updated my plan, when you click on level 1, the title level 1 will no longer be a link, but will now be a colored text, and under where it says level 1, you will see my username as a link that you can click to read my plan. To see what new plans there are for people on level 2, click on the level 2, and if there are any new plans, links to the new plans will appear under the colored text that says level 2.

What is the percent thing at the bottom of the Edit Page?

There is now a small meter displayed below your plan on the edit page. If you have a Javascript enabled browser it will show you approximately how close you are to the maximum plan size. If you exceed 100%, the bottom of your plan may be cut off. (Patch submitted by Andrew Kensler).

What basic HTML can I use in plans, and how do I use it?

Opening tags go inside of angle brackets, like this: <tag>

For every opening tag, there must be a closing tag to match it, with the exception of the <hr> tag which will get replaced with a horizontal line. You close a tag by starting it with a slash: </tag>

There are three formatting tags available: bold <b>, underline <u>, and italics <i>.

You can also use more than one tag at a time as I have done with the header of this section.

<b><i>This text is bold and italicized</i></b>

becomes This text is bold and italicized.

If there are any questions about using the HTML tags for formatting your plan, please feel free to contact us at and we'll be happy to answer them.

Are there additional things that you can put in your plan?

Yes, currently you can put [date] on your plan and then when you press the submit button it will get converted to the date and time at which you pressed the submit button. When you edit your plan again, the date and time will not be converted back to [date].

Are you going to ever add in more html tags for plan users to use?

At this time there are no plans to do so. Although we change the interface of plans, the central focus of plans remains the same in that it is about the text message that users wish to send out. The few html tags currently allowed seem adequate for allowing plan users to communicate in text. Furthermore, to be quite honest, disallowing html tags is quite easy, it is harder (and adds on significantly to processing power needed) to then allow html tags back in. So we want to keep the processing required to a reasonable amount (while at the same time not allowing people to put in whatever html they want), and so we are content with what is currently allowed.

What is this Reg. Exp. thing on the search page?

Reg. Exp. is short for regular expressions. It's a way of describing a pattern in text. This gives you a much more flexible search.

How do I use Reg. Exp.?

What follows is Andrew Kensler's explanation of how to use Reg. Exp.:

A . matches any character. For example, b.t will match "bit", "bat", "bot", "but", "bet", etc.

Putting a series of characters in square brackets means that it will match any one of those letters. Thus you can write b[iaoe]t which will match "bit", "bat", "bot", "bet", etc., but not "but". You can also write a range using a hyphen, e.g. [0-9] will match any digit. If you put a ^ right after the opening bracket, that means any character except those. So [^0-9a-z] means any character that's not a number or a letter.

A ? after something means that whatever is just before it is optional and may or may not be there. Thus bo?at will match will match either "boat" or "bat". If you want to make more than one character optional, you can put it in parenthesis. Thus mount(ain)? matches either "mount" or "mountain.

A * works similiarly except that it means that it matches something zero or more times. So ba*h will match "bh", "bah", "baah", "baaah", etc. Again, you can use parenthesis so b(an)*a will match "ba", "bana", "banana", "bananana", etc.

If you want something like that but where it must appear at least once, use a + sign. Thus bana(na)+ will match "banana", "bananana", "banananana", etc. like above but not "banan" or "bana" or anything shorter.

You can also give multiple possibilities and seperate them with a | Thus if you had a thing for fruit, you could search for banana|apple|pear|peach to find any of them.

You can combine all of these however you like. You're welcome to search for (captain [0-9]+)|(b(an)*a) or something like that.

One last little gotcha, though: if you want to search for any of these characters litterally, put a backslash, \, before the character. So if you really want to search for a question mark, use \? as the regular expression.

If this doesn't make sense, then just leave the Reg. Exp. box unchecked and it will search for whatever you typed literally.

Privacy on Plans:

How private are my postings on Plans

Plans is intended to be a private forum and anything said within Plans should, by default, be considered to be in confidence. We strongly discourage distributing any material outside of Plans without first gettting permission from the author.

The outside world can only view your plan if you set it to be guest-readable in the preferences. However, Plans is only as secret as the least-trusted user and the administrators have no way to detect or intervene when someone does leak personal information.