Friday, September 4, 2009

Wireless in the Townhouses

ITS has completed installed wireless in the Townhouses. This means that all residence halls have wireless Internet.

We had been planning to install this by the end of the term, but everything fell into place so we were able to complete the job before the term began.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Basics: Function Keys.

Back in DOS days, the function keys were essential; now that we're using windows, they are an afterthought.  But they still can be useful; if you're typing something, it's usually faster to use them than to find the mouse and move it where it you want it.

Here is a brief listing of some useful function keys in Office:

To do this Press
Get Help or visit Microsoft Office Online. F1
Repeat the last action. This is especially useful in Excel; I use it to delete non-contiguous columns multiple times. F4
Choose the Go To command to let your find and replace. F5
Go to the next pane or frame. F6
Choose the Spelling and begin a spell check. F7
Extend a selection. If you've selected a character, this will select a word.  Pressing it again will select the paragraph. F8
Show KeyTips. You can then press the indicated key to activate items on the ribbon. F10
Choose the Save As command F12

One of my favorite and most useful features of MS Word has been something that's been unchanged as part of the program since DOS days, but which is poorly documented: The Case Toggle.  It switches characters from upper case to lower case and vice versa.  It also capitalizes words.  So if you have your caps lock on and end up typing a whole sentence, you don't have to retype it all.

To change the case, highlight the text and then hold down the Shift key and press the F3 key.  The text will change case, changing UPPER CASE to lower case; lower case to Capitalizing Each Word; and Capitalized Words to UPPER CASE.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Wireless vs. Wired

Everyone loves wireless, and it's certainly convenient. But it does have drawbacks.

The main one is security.  Wireless signals are sent out for anyone to intercept. For general web surfing, this doesn't matter, but if you're sending personal information over a wireless card, it can be concern.  Be careful when using wireless to make sure you have a secure connection when sending any personal data. This can still be intercepted and read, but the data is encrypted and difficult to decrypt.* If you're dealing with highly sensitive information, it's safer to use a wired connection if possible.  The chance of interception is not high, but the consequences could be disastrous.

A second issue is speed. Wireless connections often aren't as fast as a wired ones. This is especially true of older wireless cards.  The new 802.11n standard is rated as being faster than many wired connections, but often doesn't work at its rated speed, and wireless slows down as more people use the same access point (like here at Siena).  You may notice slower download times or choppy video and audio playback. Switching to a wired connection will fix this.

For general use, wireless is a good feature.  But there are specific areas where it's better to have a wired connection that get better speed and security.


*Not impossible, given enough time, but a hacker is more likely not to bother and look for easier pickings.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Basics: Faster Scrolling

I'm always looking for ways to work faster, and sometimes I discover that people don't know about some simple tricks I've used for years.

image For instance, suppose you're on a window with a scroll bar (the bar at the right side). Most people will click on the arrow at the bottom (red arrow). But that only scrolls down a line at a time.  You either have to click quite a few times, or hold down and wait.

It's much better to click on the scroll bar (green arrow).  This moves down a screen at a time.  Another quick way is to click and drag the slider (at the top of the scroll bar). Another advantage of these two methods is that the spot is a much easier target to click on than the down arrow.  These also work moving up, of course.

And here's another tip when your browsing the web:  use your spacebar.  This will scroll down a page at a time, much faster and easier than using the scroll wheel on your mouse or the scroll bar.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Setting up your Smartphone E-mail

Siena's e-mail system does support a connection with a smartphone like a Palm, Blackberry, or iPhone. While we can't give detailed instructions, setup is generally easy. 

Most phones have a setup utility to help with setup. They ask you for your e-mail address and password and can figure out the setting from that. 

If that doesn't work, you can do it manually.  Here are a few tips:

  • If there's a "Microsoft Exchange Server" option, use that.
  • If there's no "Microsoft Exchange Server" option, select "POP3" as the protocol.
  • The incoming mail server is ""
  • The outgoing mail server is ""
  • The connection should be using SSL security. There is generally a check box for that.
  • If a log-in name is asked, don't include ""

It may take some fiddling with manual information to get things to work. You may have to contact your phone provider to find out what you need to do.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Basics: Installing a font

Windows comes with some nice fonts, but, if you're like me, you sometimes need something different. Luckily, it's easy to find new fonts and install them on your computer.

First, of course, you have to find them.  There are many free font sites on the web; a search on "Free fonts" will find many of them.  But there are several things you need to know:

  • Watch out for viruses.  Font files have a .ttf extension or they may be within a zip file. You should be wary of other extensions.
  • Make sure all characters are there.  Some fonts only have the alphanumeric characters and a handful of punctuation marks. These may do the job for you, but if you need something other than the basic characters, they aren't going to be useful.

When you find a font you like, download the file.  If it's in a zip file, double click to open the file and then save it. It's usually easier if you avoid the desktop; the font installer doesn't always recognize "desktop" as a location and you need to figure out the path.  A folder named "fonts" on your hard drive is ideal.

The next step is to add the font. 

For Windows XP:

  • Click on "Start."
  • Click on "Control Panel."
  • Click on "Appearances and Themes" (if it doesn't display, go on to the next step).
  • Click on "Fonts."
  • Click on "File."
  • Click on "Install New Fonts."
  • Navigate to the folder where you downloaded the font.  Find the font, click on it, and click OK.

For Windows Vista:

  • Click on "Start."
  • Click on "Control Panel."
  • Click on "Appearances and Personalization."
  • Click on "Install or remove a font" under "Fonts."
  • Right click and select "Install New Fonts."
  • Navigate to the folder where you downloaded the font.  Find the font, click on it, and click OK.

The font will be installed.

One rule for the proper use of fonts in a document:  Never use too many. Generally stick with two fonts, one for the main text and a different font for headings and titles.  Use fancy display fonts sparingly; what looks good in a six-word headline can be unreadable if used for a paragraph of text.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Wireless Project Completed

Siena now has upgraded its wireless availability in residence halls and throughout campus. We now have wireless in Hennepin, Hines, Padua, Plassmann, and Ryan Halls.  This is in addition to existing coverage in Serra Hall, the Sarazen Student Center, Standish Library, Roger Bacon and Morell.  A map of the current coverage is at the SienaAir web page. (Note -- in the map, red and blue designates wireless areas).

The system is features new 802.11n access points. This means that you can connect at the highest possible speed.  If you have an older wireless card, it will work fine, but at lower speeds.

We are planning to add wireless to Siena, Foy, Kiernan, MAC, and the Townhouses in 2010.  The Townhouses will have high priority in that project.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Rant: Bad Uninstallers

I recently started having problems with a program I needed; it kept coming up with errors when I tried to run it.  No problem, I thought.  I'll just uninstall it and reinstall and all will be well.

It wasn't.  I keep getting errors from the uninstaller.  First, it has to "verify application requirements."  Huh?  If the program has been installed, obviously the requirements have been met. Why on Earth is it checking?  And why does it fail?

I've seen other variations.  Some programs search for the original installation file.  If you deleted it, or installed it in a temporary folder, it can't find it, so the program can't be deleted.

The worst was many years ago (back in the days of DOS) when I installed a demo program.  I didn't like it, so I uninstalled.  But the uninstaller didn't work properly, so my program kept trying to run the demo program.  When I contacted the company, they told me to go into debug mode.

For those who don't know, debug mode let you edit and change the actual code of the operating system.  It requires someone who, if not an expert in code, at least knows something about what the various hexidecimal codes meant.  To tell the average user to mess with this is like telling someone to take a hammer to a fragile glass sculpture in order to get it into position.  It might work, but if you make the wrong move, it will wreck everything.

For me, an uninstaller should do two things:  delete the files from your hard drive and remove all registry entries that were put in by the installer.  It shouldn't be too hard, but programmers seem to want to combine the installer and uninstaller, thus making it impossible to fix problems because you can't do a new, clean install.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Be careful where you save!

clip_image002Many students use e-mail to send documents to themselves when working in labs. This is fine, but be very careful when you save.

If you open the file by clicking on an e-mail, it will not be saved in “My Documents.” When you log off the computer, your work will be lost. We get questions about these missing files from students this time of year, and there’s usually nothing we can do to help.

To prevent this:

  • Use a flash drive to save your documents instead of e-mailing them to yourself.
  • If you do e-mail, do not open the file by clicking on it. Instead, save the file in “My Documents” and open it there.

If you just click "save," the file will be lost when you log off. Don’t find this out the hard way.

Did you know? Files saved in “My Documents” are available on any I&TS lab computer. If you save the file there, you don’t need to e-mail it to yourself. Just log on and you’ll find it in “My Documents.”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It's about Time! (Threatfire)

imageThere's a new tool in the antivirus toolbox that looks very promising.  Threatfire works with other antivirus to detect viruses and spyware in a different way:  it detect malware behavior, and not specific malware infections.

This is big.  For many years, I've been making the point about antivirus software:  it's flawed because it depends on virus definitions -- an identifying code specific to a particular virus -- for detection.  This means you need to constantly update.  And now, with the constant mutations of Antivirus XP and its clones, the updates are always way behind the virus makers.

Threatfire doesn't need updated definitions.  Bad behavior is bad behavior no matter what the software.  If something is causing popups, it will find the process and fix it, even if it never saw that particular code before.

You would think this could have been done before now. It actually has been tried, but the nature of computer journalism gave people the impression that the virus definition model was superior.  Years ago, computer magazines would test both behavior-based and definition-based antivirus.  Both would be equally good at detecting viruses and protecting the computer.  But the definition-based antivirus would say "You were infected by the stoned virus" while the behavior-based one would say "You were infected with a virus."  Because definition-based antivirus could name the actual virus, it got higher ratings even though it was no better at protection than the other.

Threatfire is not a replacement for your antivirus, but rather a supplement to it. It will protect against the malware your McAfee or Avast or AVG or Symantec doesn't know about it.

I have only been able to give it a limited test; it seems to work quietly in the background and I haven't had any viruses to test it with.  But assuming it works even close to as advertised, it's an solution that's a decade or more overdue.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Save Ink!

Here's a neat little way to save in when printing:  EcoFont.

It's a great idea: a font with small holes in it. Because of the holes, less ink is required.

At small sizes, like 12 points, the holes are barely noticeable.  It's a tiny big gray, but not enough to make it hard to read.

Just download the font and install it to increase the life of your print cartridges.

(Suggested by Kim Komando).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Basics: The Task Manager

One of the most useful tools for determining what's going on with your computer is the Task Manager. This program lists what currently running on your computer and lets you determine what's using up memory.  You can also use it to shut down things that you don't want running.

Task ManagerTo access the Task Manager, press Ctrl-Alt-Delete (all three keys at once). In some cases, it will pop up; in other configurations, this will bring up a list of options. "Task Manager" is one of them.

There are several tabs on the Task Manager.

  • Applications -- these are programs currently running on the computer. If you click on one and then select "End Task," the program will close. This can be useful if the program stops responding (which will show in the status). You can end the program if it's frozen.
  • Processes -- This is trickier.  These are various processes running on the computer. Sometimes, you can kill a rogue process like a virus so that you can run other programs. You can also use it to shut down things that are taking up too much memory. The processes can be sorted so you can see which one is taking up memory (ignore "System Idle Processes"; that's just free memory, so you want it to be high). Note: If you end the wrong process, the computer might crash. But don't let this faze you:  a restart will fix things.
  • Performance -- Shows how much memory is being used.  If the CPU usage is at 100%, your computer is going to run slow.  The task manager also puts an icon near the clock on the taskbar; it will indicate how much memory is being used with a bright green bar. 
  • Networking -- Shows how your local area connection is working.

How is this useful?  In several ways:

  • If a program is not responding, open the Task Manager and look at the Applications tab.  Look for tasks listed as "not responding."  Click on them and then on "End Task" to free things up (you will get a warning window before they shut down).  It may take a few moments for it to work, but it's quicker than restarting the computer.
  • If your computer is running very slowly, open the Task Manager and look at the processes.  Click on the heading "CPU" twice to sort largest to smallest.  The processes at the top (not counting "System Idle Process") are taking up the most CPU time.  If you can determine what they are, you can end them, or reconfigure. 
  • Occasionally, you may find that your taskbar has disappeared and you can't get it back.  Go into the Task Manager, click on "File" on the menu, and then "New Task (Run)."  Type "Explorer" in the space and click OK.  The taskbar should return.

The Task Manager is a handy way to maintain your computer.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Don't Fall for it

We've been getting some cases of people's e-mail accounts being compromised and used for sending spam. This was generally because the user gave out his password.  Most commonly, people are tricked into it by an e-mail requesting the password.  Here is one example:

From: <Address removed>

Sent: Wednesday, April 01, 2009 7:03 PM





This mail is to inform all our {EDU WEBMAIL} users that we will be upgrading our site in a couple of days from now. So you as a Subscriber of our site you are required to send us your Email account details so as to enable us know if you are still making use of your mail box.


Further informed that we will be deleting all mail account that is not functioning so as to create more space for new user. so you are to send us your mail account details which are as follows:


*User name:



Failure to do this will immediately render your email address deactivated from our database.


Your response should be send to the following e-mail address.


Your Admin Manager: <email address removed>


Yours In Service.





There are several things about this that should raise alarms.

  • First of all, no I&TS department will ever ask for your password. There is absolutely no need for it. In the case above, if we were upgrading our site, we'd would use your same user settings.  If, for some reason, we couldn't use your current username and password, we would create new accounts and let you know what the new information is. We would never have to ask for your password.
  • Note the phrase:  "we will be deleting all mail account that is not functioning." IT departments know the English language well enough to handle basic subject/verb agreement.
  • Though I hid it, the e-mail address for the Admin Manager was not a address (it was from the .info domain, which is not all that reputable in any case).  Even if we for some reason needed this information (as I mentioned, we don't), we would ask you to send the e-mail to a e-mail address.  This is a given.
  • At a college, it's pretty easy to know what student accounts are active and which aren't.  There is no reason at all to delete an account before you graduate. 
  • If space is needed, and we can't add memory, the solution would be to set quotas, not delete accounts.
  • "FROM THE EDU EMAIL SUPPORT TEAM."  Maybe it's just me, but I'm always suspicious about anything that comes from a "team."  Scammers always seem to use it.  While it can be legitimate, it's at least a warning flag.

There are many other signs of that an e-mail is fake; if you have an example, add a comment.  But the first rule is always the best: never give out personal information when replying to an e-mail.  If you have any doubts, contact the "sender" by another means -- by phone (finding the number in the phone book, not in the e-mail) or by visiting their web page (by typing the address into the address bar, not clicking on a link).

Here's a good overview of how to remain safe from phishing e-mails like this.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Filefixer Pro Repair Tools

I mentioned Filefixer Pro a few days ago.  At the time, there was no tool to repair files encrypted by the program.

That's changed.  The first was reported here by "Bobby" in the comments to my post.  Anti-Filefix does seem to be able to unencrypt the files.  I haven't been able to test it (I don't have any infected computers), but is looks pretty simple.  I can't guarantee it, but it was worth a try.

And now, Symantec has come up with a decrypting tool.  (Link is at the bottom of the page or you can download it directly).

So, for now, the tools are there.  But who knows what tomorrow may bring?

I had a particularly stubborn infections yesterday.  The software prevented Malwarebytes, SuperAntispyware, or Combofix from working, even in safe mode (I didn't have a chance to use Smitfraudfix).  The student was finally able to clean it using Norman Malware Cleaner, a tool I'd never tried before and which I don't recall where I found.  Evidently, Antivirus 360 didn't know about it either, since it didn't stop it from running.

I did learn one trick that I didn't get a chance to test out, though. Some sources say that if you can't install Malwarebytes to clean the computer, rename the Malwarebytes installation file (the name doesn't matter).  It looks like the virus identifies the software by name and will let it install if it's not called "malwarebytes."  You may also need to rename the executable in addition to the installation file.

AVG 7.5 Support Discontinued

AVG has announced that they have discontinued support for version 7.5 of they software at the end of February.  This means that if you're using it, you will no longer get updates.

You will need to update your antivirus. If you have AVG 7.5, you probably have already seen a warning screen. 

imageFirst of all, don't be fooled; the "warning screen" may, upon closer inspection, be an Antivirus 360 warning.  You don't want to mess with that.  AVG has the AVG logo on it -- a square with four different colored sections.  Anything else is suspicious.

Another sign that this is legitimate is that when you close the window, it stays closed.  In any case, your best solution is to go directly to the AVG download page at and find the free version.  Current version number is 8.5.  AVG will suggest you get the paid version, of course, but the free version is easy to find.

Important!  There are reports of problems on Vista machines with AVG 8.0 running Firefox.  If you use Firefox, do not install the AVG linkscanner or toolbar when installing AVG.  If the problem still recurs, uninstall AVG and switch to Avast Antivirus.