Friday, December 21, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Have a great holiday break!

As you should know, Siena College will be shutting down again this year from December 22 to January 2. The campus will be closed.

This includes I&TS. While we will be keeping an eye on things and may come to fix problems, it may not be possible to do so in a timely fashion. If things do go down, it may be longer than usual to get them up and running.

Files can be accessed from home via Citrix. This lets you work on files remotely without downloading them to your computer. Use the icons on the left side of the screen to access your "My Documents" and run Office and other programs. "My Documents" on the left side of Citrix also gives you access to your other network folders: the H: drive, etc. If you click on a file, Citrix will open it in the appropriate software (Word, Excel, etc.).

If you do need to upload or download a file, use Web Folders. You can upload into your My Documents via web folders, and then move it to other folders via "My Documents" on Citrix.

E-mail is available on the web via Outlook Web Access.

If you have questions or problems, send an e-mail to the Call Center or use the Webform.

Hope your break is a good one!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

356,000 impressions

In the beginning of the term, we put a new printer in the library 24-hour computing lab.

We've had to replace the fuser. Over the course of the term, it made 356,284 impressions. Luckily, the default in the lab is for duplex printing, so the total number of pages (including single sided) is 187,006. If those pages were put end to end, they would stretch over 32 miles, all the way from Siena to Saratoga Springs. That's 37 cases of paper for one printer alone.

This is why we're looking into print management.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My second computer

The second computer I worked with was the Olivetti-Underwood Programa 101.

It was about the size of a very large typewriter. The big selling point was that this actually had memory: five memory banks that would hold up to 22 characters (all numbers plus a decimal). You could split the memory in half -- ten banks of 11 characters.

This wasn't where you'd assign a variable; you had to remember which memory location you saved a file. So you'd enter, say, 10, and then put it into the "A" memory bank. If you needed it back, you'd have to bring it back from "A" -- and if you forgot and brought it back from "A/" (called "A split"), you'd get a different number.

The calculations showed up on a paper calculator tape. After you were done, you saved the program on a magnetic card.

The calculator could add, subtract, multiply, or divide. No square root key -- I worked up a program to calculate them via Newton's Method as one of my assignments (it was solely used for math class).

It was a useful teaching tool. When I took computer courses in college (BASIC and FORTRAN, the programming was much easier not having to remember the exact memory location where the data was being stored.

Our high school spent $2000 to get it for the students in 1969. Today, you can get better functionality (except for the programming aspect) with a $5 pocket calculator.

Monday, December 17, 2007

My first computer

Here it is: Digi-Comp1

It could be programmed (by moving the little plastic tubes you can just see in the picture) to do things like count to ten (or even eleven!) in binary. You pulled the plastic handle on the right to change the numbers on the left depending on how the tubes were placed.

Just the thing to make you the hit of the science fair. Makes a great Christmas gift! (In 1963).

Friday, December 14, 2007

I&TS Newsletter online

The Winter 2008 I&TS Newsletter is now available Take a look at what’s new and upcoming at I&TS.

Articles include:

  • Convergence: a look at the future of computing by Steve Fredette of TAGSolutions.
  • Print Management: plans to implement print management to save paper in the open computing labs.
  • How safe is your password?: tips on making it safer.
  • Impatica: new software that reduce the size of PowerPoint presentations.
  • Citrix Program Neighborhood.
  • And more.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Preventing disaster

Are you running Windows Vista? Great.

But before you do anything else, do the following. Now!
  1. Do this now!
  2. Click on "Control Panel"
  3. Click on "User Accounts" (if this doesn't display, click on "User and Family Safety" first).
  4. Click on "Create a Password Reset Disk" on the left panel.
  5. Decide what to use as a disk. It can be a CD, a flash drive, or even an iPod. Plug in or put the device in a drive, wait a minute and select it from the dropdown list.
  6. When prompted, enter your current password.
  7. Click "Next."

Once the disk is created, remove the device/CD and put it in a safe place. Did I mention you should do this now (if you haven't already)?

Why is this so important? Because if you forget your Vista password (or if it becomes corrupted), you can reset it. It's a simple process and can get you up and running in a minute or two.

Without the disk, you will have to find software to crack the password, and then hope it will do the job. You could be without your computer for quite some time.

Here are more detailed instructions.

Do this now and not when you realize you need it -- because that will be too late.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Getting the word

As you may have noticed, Siena is now offering E2campus as an emergency notification system.

E2campus lets you sign up for text messages via your cell phone. If there's an emergency, you will get instant notification that there's a problem.

I did much of the research into this sort of notification. It's become a big area after the Virginia Tech shootings, and colleges are trying to find ways to get the message out that works better than e-mail. Since students are becoming more used to texting, that's the way that most systems go. It's certainly a better method of notification than e-mail, since most people carry their cell phones with them even when they may not be near a computer.

You need to create an account to be notified. Siena will not be sending a lot of messages (with luck, we'll never need it). But it's important to sign up to make sure you aren't missed.

If you have questions about how the system works, contact Sandy Serbalik.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Masters of the Universe

I have seen the future of computing (again), and it's Google Docs.

Well, not entirely. And not quite yet. But one day.

If you're not familiar, Google Docs is an online software suite. If you sign up for it (and, like all things Google, it's free), you have a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software. I've already talked about their new presentation software, but overlooked the other elements (which have been around longer).

These are all nice, basic versions of the type of software, useful for 80% of all documents. The word processor doesn't allow for the sophisticated formatting of Word 2007, but most users don't need that. The spreadsheet may not have some of the more esoteric functions, but for general use, it's plenty good.

The real strength of the application, though is the use of the web. You can give others access to your documents -- to read and to collaborate. If two people are working on a document, they can change it in real time (and others can edit things, too -- you'll see the changes as they make them). There's also an automatic feature that keeps track of all revisions; you can go back to any version of the document from the time it is created.

At this point, this doesn't replace MS Office, but this sort of collaboration is definitely going to be big in the corporate world. Microsoft is trying to establish something similar, but their Sharepoint system is much more clumsy and awkward. Eventually, they will have to offer something similar to Google's ease of use.

It's worth setting up an account. Even if you don't collaborate, having documents available on the web is well worth the cost.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


I&TS manages hundreds of computers in labs and in faculty/staff offices. We also manage dozens of systems ranging from Banner, to Citrix, to others.

And with so many systems, there's always the chance of something breaking down. And while we monitor most of the systems, we can't check out every single computer that might have a problem.

That's where we need your help. If you discover something wrong with a computer, let us know. This is especially true of lab computers. Sometimes, when something isn't working, users will move on to another computer or use a workaround. And then the next person at the computer is faced with the same problem, which never really gets the attention it deserves.

If you have a problem, let us know. An email to the Call Center only takes a minute, and will let us know there's a problem. You can also fill out the Call Center help request form. But if we don't know about an issue, we won't be able to fix it.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Vocabulary = Rice

How good is your vocabulary? Here's a little way to find out -- and help others. is a vocabulary test with a difference. Every time you get an answer right, 20 grains of rice will be donated to programs to help end hunger around the world. That may no seem like much, but the website is donating over 300 million grains each day -- and the number is increasing.

Rice is donated by various advertisers. You will see an ad after you answer each question, but that's not a big price to pay.

It's easy and a good way to improve your vocabulary while helping others.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Is "Swordfish" good enough?

How good is your password?

That's an important question. More and more things are on the Internet and depend on passwords to prevent identity theft. But if you have sensitive data online, an easily crackable password means that anyone with time and interest can get into your data.

There are many general rules:
  • Use upper and lower case, numbers, and punctuation.
  • Don't use words in the dictionary.
  • Change your password frequently, especially if it protects financial information.
  • Use a sentence for a long password. The first letters in "How I need a drink, alcoholic in nature, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics!" (for you math majors*) can be changed to "h!nada1nathl1qm" and be very hard to break.

Microsoft has a nice Password Checker web page that lets you test the strength of passwords. Try yours out. For instance the default Siena password is only medium strength, and "Swordfish" or "Password" are easy to crack.

The better the password, the safer you are.

* A famous mnemonic for the digits of pi -- count the number of letters in each word.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Who do you trust?

Internet Explorer 7 added some good security features to browsing. But, as is typical of security, the more secure something is, the less convenient.

One way to avoid some of the issues is to designate websites as trusted sites. If they're trusted, you can go to them and avoid some of the issues -- once a site is trusted, then IE won't check on some of the security issues. You're telling it in advance the site is OK, and that's good enough for IE.

It's simple to make a site trusted.
  • Click on "Tools"
  • Click on "Internet Options."
  • Click on "Security."
  • Click on "Trusted Sites" (see picture)

  • Click on "Sites."
  • Enter the web address of the site you want to make trusted.
  • Click on "Add."
  • Generally, leave "Require server verification" unchecked.
  • Click "Close."

Now that site is trusted.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Talking to your classmates

Here's a little-known fact: you can send e-mail to people in your class using the Siena system. This allows you to collaborate on projects easily.

Each class has its own mailing list. The simplest way to access yours (through Outlook Web Access) is this:
  • Open up a new mail message.
  • Type your instructor's last name in the To: box.
  • Click on the "Check Names" Button
  • The names of your instructor's class sections are listed. Find the one you're in and select it.

You can now send e-mail to the group (including the instructor).

Blackboard also has methods for sending a group e-mail. Contact for information.

Friday, November 9, 2007

If 24 was set in 1994.

Some of you old timers may get a kick out of this.

Yes, computing worked that way back then. We haven't had an information revolution; we had a communications revolution, making it easier to get in touch and to move data.

Let's talk about Citrix II -- Library CDs

The simplest applications on Citrix are the ones listed as "Library CDs." These reference books that have been put on CD, which gives you the ability to search through the text for terms of interest. Instead of pulling out a book (a thick book) of data and trying to find things in the index, you can use the CD, and Citrix lets you use it from anywhere, on or off campus.

The CDs currently available are:
  • Anchor Bible Dictionary. A searchable full-text CD of the bible, both the King James and New Revised Standard editions.
  • Civil War. All official Army documents (both Confederate and Union). Battle reports, marching orders, and much more.
  • Civil War Naval. Official reports on Civil War Naval Battles.
  • Encyclopedia of Religion. Reference work on religions and religious figures from around the world.
  • Old Testament Abstracts. A listing of abstracts of articles in Old Testament studies.
  • Past Masters. Works of philosophy, including the complete works of Aristotle, Plato, and various political philosophers.

Obviously, these are not designed for casual browsing; it's quite technical. But if you are doing research in these areas, it's a good way to find information you need from anywhere.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Let's talk about Citrix I

I've mentioned Citrix here before, but realized I never have discribed some of the things it does.

On the basic level, Citrix is a way to serve out software to desktops. You can run software without having to install it on your computer. You can also run PC software on a Macintosh, since Citrix creates its own program environment.

There are two ways to access it, depending on whether you're on the Siena network or not. From the network, you can access Citrix applications from the Start Menu; they show up as programs on the "All programs" list. There's also the Program Neighborhood Agent, an icon on the System Tray that's even more convenient (make sure you're set up for Pass-through authentication).

If you're not on Siena's network (this includes the School of Science and the residence halls), you can access Citrix via Citrix Access Gateway ( One trick, though: you need to install software to get it to work on your computer. You'll see a yellow bar on Internet Explorer, and you must click on this and install the client (if not, you'll get a nasty little warning message). Once it's installed, shut down Internet Explorer and log on again.

Note that sometimes you get the warning even if you've installed the software. If you see it again, wait. If the programs are displayed on the left, then you're set and don't need to install it again.

You should see something like this (it varies):

Macintosh users need to take further steps to get things to work, of course. See our web page for details.

What programs are available to you? Well, that's a topic for tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Success is a wonderful thing

Sometimes it takes months to solve a problem, but when you're done, it's a great feeling.

Back in July, we bought a site license for some software. And to deploy it, we wanted to be able to push it out -- not going from computer to computer. The problem is that it's more than just running the software; we needed to put in the license key and everything, plus make sure it installed without any intervention. I tried using some packaging software, but it never worked right.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I got a demo version of Macrovision's AdminStudio. What a difference.

But it's not easy. Packaging is complicated, and the software assumes a much greater technical knowledge than I have. However, after a lot of trial and error and messing around, I managed to get a package created, and to test an installation.

Of course, the first thing was a notice that there had been an upgrade. :(

More practice, but now I think we're set. Next will be a real bear: iTunes.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Strange Problems

You win some, you lose some. Just yesterday, I dealt with a computer issue: a flash drive was not letting its user save to it. But once I talked with the user, I recognized the problem: that particular mode (which someone in that department has owned) had a little switch to write-protect the files. I just had her find the switch and all was fine.

Today, however, I got a strange one: someone couldn't use Internet Explorer on our network. I poked around a discovered that it was set up to use a Proxy serverm "itgproxy." OK -- normally not a problem. You just change the setting. But the setting kept resetting itself. You'd turn it of, and check a second later and it was back again.

A Google search showed where it might have come from (a mistake by Microsoft), but no one mentioned that it would come back, and the talk about it referenced IE6, not IE7. So I'm stuck.

It certainly behaves like spyware -- you can't get rid of it -- but I can't find why it reinstalls. Deleting BHOs doesn't help. Also, it's specific to a user's profile, not to the computer.

So it's research time. Sigh. Always fun.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I'll Fly Away

Here's a pretty nice site if you know someone traveling: It keeps track of all North American flights. If you enter a flight number, you can see what the plane is doing. Very useful if you're meeting someone at the airport.

You can also see flights that originate from an airport. Fun if you are an airplane lover.

Friday, October 26, 2007

I have seen the future

No, not just science fiction. I spent the last few days as the Citrix iForum and it looks like virtual computing is going to be a big thing in the next few years.

What is virtual computing? The idea is that instead of one computer running one operating system and one group of programs, you set up a "computer within a computer" to do your work.

For instance, anyone can download Microsoft's Virtual PC for free. Once installed, you have a second computer on your first one. I use it to install software for testing. Once the test is done, I can discard the changes and have a clean computer. I have one virtual computer set up like a lab computers -- all the configurations are the same. I can test software on it without leaving my desk.

It's even more useful on the server side. If the computer where your virtual server resides is having problems, you can switch applications to a different computer, make the fix, and switch them back -- without any users noticing the difference. Instead of using one server for one application (and have it being used at 10% capacity), you can put several applications on one server and use it at 75% capacity, an efficiency of use that is bound to be attractive.

And then there are the real cutting edge devices. I saw several models of notebook computers without hard drives: they connected with a virtual server via fast wireless card and ran all programs from the server.

We're implementing some of this here at Siena; several of our applications are on virtual servers, and we're using Citrix to supply desktop programs to users in a virtual fashion. But by the time current freshman graduate, there's a good chance that their first job will be using virtual computers for all their work.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Here at I&TS we tell people to always save their work on the Network. Why?

Just the other day, a student came down to the Call Center, unable to find her files. She had saved them on the network, but they were gone. This, of course, was very upsetting.

After a few minutes work, I had everything back. All files on the network are saved -- hourly, then daily, then weekly. If you delete a file, it can be retreived. If there's a problem, you can find everything you need.

I'm busy rewriting instructions on how students can do this themselves, but for now, come down to the Call Center and we should be able to help. Faculty and Staff can follow the instructions on the web.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Time is . . .

It's been a busy day, so I need to come up with a short entry for one of my favorite websites: The industrious clock. On a practical level, all it does is tell the time. And it's not as accurate as the atomic clock.

But, boy, it's fun to watch. :)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Organization

For most people, the Start Menu has a mind of its own. Items are put there when you install them and you're stuck with what the program decides (usually in the order they've been installed, which can be confusing).

The simplest way to rearrange the items on the start menu is to drag and drop them. Find an item and click and hold the mouse button. You can then drag it along the menu. A horizontal line will indicate where it will be placed when you let go of the mouse button. If you have a folder, hold the cursor over the folder without letting go and the folder will open. You can then drag the item into the folder.

But what if you want to create a new folder?

Well, first it helps to know how the Start Menu gets its items. They are all shortcuts, placed in a particular location on your computer. When you click on "All programs," Windows lists all these shortcuts and folders. So by going onto your hard drive and changing these folders, you change the Start Menu.

Warning: Be careful, especially if you delete an item. They're not hard to get back, but it is a pain.
  • Click on "Start."
  • Click on "My Computer."
  • Click on your C: drive
  • If there's a warning, click OK to continue.
  • Find the folder "Documents and settings" and click on that.
  • Find your username. Click on that.
  • Look for a folder named "Start Menu." Click on that.
  • Finally, click on "Programs."

This is your Start Menu. And if you right click and select "New" and "Folder," you can create a new folder that shows up on the start menu. Once the folder is created, you can drag the shortcuts to it, either here or by dragging on the Start Menu.

A few folders here can make the menu that much easier to navigate.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What's on the Menu?

The problem with putting a lot of software on your computer is "Start Menu bloat." The list of programs on your Windows Start Menu gets so long that you can't find the thing you need. There are several ways to help manage this.
  • Pin items to the start menu. You've probably noticed that Windows XP puts the most commonly used programs on the Start Menu so you don't have to click on "All Programs" to see them. You can make sure certain programs show up by pinning them. Find the program icon, right click, then select "Pin to Start Menu." The program will display as soon as you click start. You can unpin an icon by right clicking and selecting "Remove from this list."
  • Use the Quick Launch Toolbar. This shows up on the toolbar with icons of programs you select. To activate, right click on the toolbar, click on "Toolbars," and make sure "Quick Launch" is selected. Once activated, drag a program item to the toolbar and it will remain there ready for quick launch without clicking on "Start."
  • Hide unused program icons. There are many programs that I use, but never run from the start menu. For instance, I never open Adobe Acrobat Reader -- I just click on a PDF file. I also have small programs that run at startup, but which I rarely use from the Start Menu. I always create a folder in my Start Menu called "Unused" and drag and drop any programs I don't access much. This also can be used for programs you've pinned to the start menu, or which you access from the desktop or by other methods. It keeps the list of programs smaller.
  • Use Folders. You can also create folders for similar software. I use a lot of different graphics programs, so I usually have a folder named "Graphics" to group them all together. How to create a folder? I'll talk about that tomorrow.
  • Use other software. If you have a lot of programs to run, you might want to consider something like Rocketdock that gives a location for program items to be displayed without using the Start Menu. There are many other programs that provide this functionality.

With a combination of the various tools and options, you can manage your Start Menu and work a bit more efficiently.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Power Outage II

Well, we're almost back to normal. Our System Administrator came in at 6 am to start getting things up to speed. By the time the college opened at 8:30, the most obvious systems (e-mail, network logins) were up and running. Our Student Information System, Banner -- an extremely complex operation to handle all the student, alumni, prospective student, and employee data -- just got online a little while ago.

A few peripheral systems (used by only a handful of people) are slow going online, but at this point, most people are able to do their jobs.

Power Outage I

Siena lost power last night around 11 pm for about 3 hourg. And withovt power, there's no computing. We have a Universal Power Source (basically a big battery), but that only lasts a half hour, and with the air conditioning out , the servers overheat before that. Result: everything crashes.

I'm posting this via cell phone (no Internet, no e-mail on campus).

It will take most of the day to restore all services. Restarting 30-40 servers is no trivial task: it has to be done in the right order. Some servers will hang up if other servers aren't running first. And it's worse if they hadn't been shutdown carefully. "Pulling the plug" on all at once creates extra problems.

We're shooting to have everything running by mid-Afternoon. In the meantime, the call center will be swamped with calls, especially since there's no good way in place to tell people the situation.

Should be an interesting day. :(

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Siena Computing Down

Due to a power failure, Siena's servers are down.  We are not sure how long it will take to restore power and to get everying up and running.

Check here for updates.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Getting rid of that pesky login

A few weeks ago, I talked about the Citrix Program Neighborhood and how it allows you to run Citrix applications in I&TS labs without having to login to Citrix. Of course, you do have to log in to the program neighborhood, and seeing the log in pop up whenever you use a lab computer can quickly stop being a novelty and move on to annoying.

Well, we've updated the system so that the window will not pop up, but you'll still be able to use Citrix. It involves something called "pass-through authentication," which means it takes the login you used when logging on to the computer and sends the information to Citrix. Since the same username and password is used, this lets you use all the applications on Citrix directly from the start menu. You'll see the appliations under "all programs."

To set up pass-through authentication and log in automatcially, do the following:
  • Right click on the Citrix icon on the taskbar. It will be displayed on the lower right near the clock and looks like a red ball on a square gray background.
  • Select "Properties."
  • Select "Pass-through authentication" from the "Login Mode" drop down.
  • Click "OK."

Now you're set for pass-through authentication. Even better: once you make the change, it will become part of your profile and thus turn off the login screen for any I&TS managed computer you log on to. You may never see it again.

The instructions and pictures on how to set this up can be found on the Automatic Login page on our website. You can find out more about what Citrix can do on our Citrix Program Neighborhood Instructions page.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Møøse à la hôtel de Sousé

Non-English speakers already know this, but for those who aren't used to them, there is a problem when you're typing a phrase in another language that has one: accent marks.

Of course, most accent marks are available, but in English keyboards, they are nowhere to be seen. Usually, they are dispensed with.

You can use the character map program (built into most word processors) to add it, but it's very inconvenient if you're using them a lot. There's also "charmap" (Click on "Start" and "Run" and use it) to bring up the list to use on the web, but that also takes some time.

The best shortcuts are the Alt key codes. (As a matter of fact, you can use this method to create any character, including all letters, though obviously it's not a good way to type an "e.") The codes are entered on the numeric keypad (not on the number keys) as you hold down the "Alt" key. Each character has a three- and four-digit code.

The basic technique is to hold down Alt and type the numbers. When you life up the Alt Key, the character will display. Thus, if you want an accent grave over the e, you look up the code (0232 or 138), hold down Alt, then type the code: è.

The only problem is knowing the codes. This website gives you a list. You can print it out and keep it handy.

Note that there are other characters that can be created this way: ¶ ± ½ ©

It will give your documents a certain savoir faire.

Monday, October 1, 2007


Today was a big day at Siena; our new college president, Fr. Kevin Mullen, was inaugurated.  It was a nice ceremony, and, I got the idea that it might be a good thing to record his speech and put it on the web.

As often the case, it was much more complicated than it could have been.  We had a little digital recorder and my original idea was to put it on the lecturn and record.  The problem was, I couldn't make sure it wouldn't slide off the top, especially since no one would know what it was. So I decided to tape it and let the condenser mic work.

So I rushed over early this morning to set things up.  And just when I turned on the digital recorder, it said "Battery low."  Ugh -- especially since I expected to let this run the entire ceremony and cut out the extraneous parts.  So I had to run back to my office for a battery.  Then, on my way back, I realized I was better off with a lavalier mic taped to the podium:  better sound, less obtrusive.  So back I went.

I managed to get things set up in plenty of time, though.  So I sat through the ceremony letting things run.  But just as I was walking out, I noticed someone doing something with the mic and the mic stand.

So I ran back.  Luckily, he was just moving things and any sounds I would cut out, so we were set.  I figured I could get it up on the web in an hour.

But when I got back, work got busy.  And I had a problem:  the file wouldn't copy from the recorder to my computer.  I got an error message, and nothing I could do would work.  Finally, I opened the file in Windows Media Player and was able to Save it -- though I got an error message.

The next step was to convert it to an MP3.  And now that didn't work:  it stuck for an hour going nowhere.  This was no good.

So I got on the Internet.  One of the best things about Windows is that somewhere you can always find software to do exactly what you needed to do, and this was no exception.  The software took the Windows Media file and let me cut out the bad parts (which were just sounds of the setup anyway).  Then I was able to convert to MP3.

Then I loaded it into Audacity, sound editing software.  And it refused to edit; everything was grayed out.  Luckily, I had Camtasia -- usually for video, but this would do.  I could edit!  I cleaned up the file and was able to save it and finally get it up on the web around 4:00 pm.  Here it is.

So, it took me three hours, using five bits of software, but everything is now just fine.

Friday, September 28, 2007


Microsoft PowerPoint is so commonly used as presentation that its in danger of losing both capital letters. It wasn't always that way, of course (Anyone remember Harvard Graphics? I was actually surprised to find out they were still in business), but by packaging PowerPoint in Microsoft Office, it introduced people to presentation software and quickly took over the market.

Now, there's an alternative. And, not surprisingly, it comes from Google.

Google is using its Google Apps to challenge Microsoft. These are Web-based word processing and spreadsheets. They are nowhere as flexible or powerful as Office (There was a story a few weeks ago that even Google doesn't use them that much), but have some nice features: you can work on files from any Internet connection and you can share your files with others, allowing multiple people to work on a file from multiple locations.

Now I find that sort of thing somewhat useful, but not a killer app. But with Google Presentation, it's a big leap in utility. After all, you often have to do presentations on the road. If it's on Google, all you need is an Internet connection. No need to bring a laptop or flash drive, or worry about compatibility.

In addition, Google Presentation has a chat feature. You could put up a presentation, have people see it and comment. You could also paste a narrative.

It is limited -- fewer fonts, fewer templates, fewer bells and whistles. But it seems set up to take some of the thunder away from powerpoint.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Jing All the Way

Here's some software I just discovered: Jing.

Jing is quick and easy screen capture software, created by Techsmith. Their giving it away right now as sort of an open beta in order to get feedback and work on features.

Jing is fun to use; it resides in memory, but once you want to capture your screen, you click to activate it. It captures both images and video and lets you share it online by creating account on Techsmith's Screencast site. Once uploaded, you can send a link to see the video or image.

It's especially handy for giving instructions. Instead of having to describe everything over the phone, you can screen capture what people need to do and send them a link. There's even annotation and audio.

I don't know how long this will be free, but you might want to check it out.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Goodness of their Hearts

If you're a student, and you want to upgrade your Microsoft Office to 2007, this is the time.

Microsoft is offering "The Ultimate Steal." They're selling copies of Microsoft Office 2007 Ultimate to college students for just $59.95. This includes:
  • Access™ 2007
  • Accounting Express 2007
  • Excel® 2007
  • InfoPath® 2007
  • Groove 2007
  • OneNote® 2007
  • Outlook® 2007 with Business Contact Manager (requires separate download)
  • PowerPoint® 2007
  • Publisher 2007
  • Word 2007

A quick google shows this package is selling for over $250 on the web.

The catch? Well, you do have to be a student (with an .edu e-mail address like And Microsoft will look for proof that you're taking classes. But their main purpose is to get you used to using their products. Sneaky, but that's common with other software companies, too.

Staff and Faculty members: you can't take advantage of this deal. If you're interested in using Office 2007, contact I&TS.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Remote Desktop

Here's a nice little tool: Remote Desktop. It lets you connect to a computer from another computer on the network. We've been using it here at Siena I&TS to install software remotely, but it can be used by faculty and staff to access their own PCs from any of the classrooms.

Why? Well, if you have software running on your computer that you want to use in class, it doesn't have to be installed on the classroom computer. This can make the process of using it easier: you don't have to request installation, and there's no issue if you change classrooms.

Once you log in, it's just like logging on to your own computer -- only remotely. Instructions can be found at Siena's Technology Pages.

Note that this can only be used on-campus on the I&TS network; for security reasons, we limit off-campus access. School of Science computers are on a separate network.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Incredible Shrinking Hard Drive

Here's a neat little comparison: a look at a 20 Gig hard drive 20 years ago, compared to one today.

That big circle thing on the left is 20 Gigs. I don't think you'd want that in your laptop.

Friday, September 21, 2007


I'll admit it. I like software. If I find a new program or utility that looks useful, I'll go out an run it to see what it does. And the nice thing about Windows is that there are so many freeware utilities to choose from.

It's hard keeping up, so I let eConsultant do it for me. They keep a list of freeware for download, grouped by function. Want to convert miles into kilometers? There's freeware for that. Just seach for "convert" on the page and find it.

Note: Some of these utilities are designed only for experts, especially if they're dealing with the Windows registry. If you're not sure about one, don't use it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Beyond Google

I happen to love Google. I was impressed when I first tried it: it was quicker than I had ever seen (back then, my preferred search engine was Altavista, which has pretty much been forgotten except for their Babelfish translator.)

Google also has some neat features and tips that can make searching easier.
  • Putting quotes around a phrase searches for that exact phrase. It's especially useful when the phrase is made up of common words. Also, it forces Google to pay attention to punctuation: looking for Connect-Ed will only get you the word "connected," but if you put quotes around it, it will go to the Connect-Ed site.
  • The minus sign has Google ignore a word. This can be useful if there are more than one versions of something. For instance, "Once a hero -moon" will focus on the TV show, not the Elizabeth Moon novel.
  • Similarly, the plus sign forces a term to be in the results.

But Google isn't perfect. One issue is that you can never tell about how legitimate a site might be, and they sites you find may not have the right information for an academic paper. There are several options:

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Mysterious Message (spoofed e-mail)

I often get questions from faculty and staff about mysterious e-mail messages they're getting. Usually it's some sort of automatic reply:

Your message did not reach some or all of the intended

11/12/2007 11:21 AM

The following recipient(s) could not be reached: on 9/14/2007 12:33 PM
You do not have permission to send to this recipient. For assistance, contact
your system administrator.

< id="28018-01-25">

This, alas, is a routine part of the Internet: the spoofed e-mail address. The reply is a function of two practices, one bad, the other a good idea (that will probably no longer exist).

It has always been trivially easy to fake an e-mail address, and spammers and virus writers have latched onto this. Spam and virus e-mail is almost always sent out with a spoofed address: one chosen at random from the many saved on the compromised computers (you'd be surprised, but there are hundreds of e-mail addresses on your computer -- and not just in your address book). This makes it harder to track down the sender.

In addition, in the old days of the Internet, when people were assumed to play nice, any incorrectly addressed e-mail would generate a message to the sender, with the idea that this will let them know their message wasn't received and allow them to fix the problem. Alas, with spoofed e-mail addresses, the e-mail is sent to someone (you) who isn't even involved with sending the message.

So you get a mysterious message. And you wonder how you could get a bounce message when you haven't even sent an e-mail to the address listed.

It's all in the spoofing. As a matter of fact, the practice of telling people they're using the wrong address is dying out. Not only does it send these mysterious messages, but it allows spammers to harvest e-mail address. (How? Send a million e-mails using random names all to one domain. You may get 999,930 bounce messages. The other 70 are "live" address that can be sold to spammers).

Let's make it clear: if you get the message, it does not mean you have a virus, or that your machine has been compromised. It merely means that some computer that has your e-mail address (which could be any computer you ever sent an e-mail to, or any web page where you ever put up your e-mail) has been compromised. It doesn't hurt to check, but it'd be very surprising if the message chose your address from your own computer.

So what to do? Well, as Estragon says, "Nothing to be done." There's no way to determine the actual sender from the bounce message (the site sending the message could, but does not pass the information along to you). The only thing you can do is delete the message.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Postini fights spam

Siena uses Postini to filter out spam. You can't run e-mail without a spam filter these days; Postini reports that up to 90% of all e-mail is spam (there are some interesting statistics on their web page).

The problem is that the harder you try to filter out spam, the more likely it is that some non-spam messages end up in your inbox. In order to release them, you need to log in to Postini.

Now, when your account was set up, you were sent an e-mail with the password. And I'm sure you kept it and can find it easily. Well, probably not.

OK. Definitely not. It's probably long gone into the bit bucket in the sky. But it's easy to get your Postini password reset:
  • Login to
  • Enter your e-mail address as your username.
  • Enter anything you want as your password. It doesn't matter.
  • Click "Login."

You will get a warning that the password is incorrect. There's also a link that says Forgot Your Password? Click on that and a new password will be sent to your inbox so you can login.

Once you've logged in, find the message you want to release and click "Deliver." You will be asked if you want to accept all e-mails from this person from now on, too.

There are also ways to block a sender, or to approve one. Click on "My Settings" and enter the names.

You can find general instructions at (pdf).

The battle against spam is even more neverending than the battle for Truth and Justice, but Postini is an excellent weapon in the battle.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Often people want to show presentations from their laptops. Siena does have the projection equipment in nearly all classrooms, and the cables necessary. But the main reason people have trouble with the projector is that their computer is not producing the video output.

Laptops all come with a place to plug a video cable, but that plug is not active by default. You need to turn it on -- and every laptop is different.

Generally, you need to press a function key (one of those keys marked F1 to F12 at the top of the keyboard). Few people use function keys any more (they were the main method of activating menus and give program commands in the days before Windows), so they aren't used to using them. And the key necessary to turn on the video output is different on different laptops.

Here are a couple of examples:

Note one key is F4 and the other is F5. It's not the characters that matter, but the icon. It usually shows two screens or a computer and a screen with a slash separating the two (and, of course, it looks a little different on every laptop brand).

But you can't just press the button. You need to hold down the Fn key. This is generally somewhere near the spacebar. Hold it down and press the key with the icon.

But wait! There's more! The display key usually toggles three ways: computer screen only, projector only, and both. It also will take a moment to change. So the proper techinque is:

  1. Press and hold down the Fn key.
  2. Press the display key and let go.
  3. Wait.
  4. If the computer screen goes blank, but the projector works, you can do it that way.
  5. If you want both to display, press and hold down the Fn key.
  6. Press the display key and let go.
  7. Wait.
  8. Repeat until everything is the way you want it.

I really wish they made this more straightforward. Maybe a sensor to active the video connector if a cable is plugged into it. As it is, it can be pretty complicated.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Not so Glorious Spam (KnujOn)

I just discovered this one yesterday (through Kim Kommando). KnujOn (pronounced "nudge on") goes after spam at the source: the companies sending it.

You don't need to join, either (though you can if you want be updated). Just send any spam e-mails to You can include the headers if you want, but they don't require them. There are also other addresses to target specific types of spam.

Knujon takes the information and goes after websites that allow spammers. They have shut down over 30,000 of them.

This won't end spam, but it should help.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood (Citrix Program Neighborhood)

If you log in to a computer in the I&TS labs, you may see a new login screen:

This is the Citrix Program Neighborhood Agent. It lets you log in to Citrix Applications without logging into Citrix itself via the web.

You log in with your network username and password. The domain is always "sienaservices" (no quotes).

You can ignore it, but it may be useful to log on. Once you have, Citrix applications (SPSS, FARS, Fathom, MapInfo, Library CDs, etc.) will display on your start menu. There will also be an icon in the system tray (near the clock) that lets you access your Citrix applications.
The system tray icon will log you in if you haven't done so already.

Eventually, we will eliminate the need to log in at all, but for now, this is a nice shortcut to applications.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Day in the Life

Just to give some idea about life here at Siena's I&TS:

I&TS runs several computing labs across campus. We are always changing things and testing things, but no matter how much you plan and test, unanticipated things go wrong once students return. One example was last week.

Without getting too technical, the labs are set up so that the local printer is set up on each computer at log in. Well, last week we got reports that this wasn't happening. Students were logging on, but no printer was displayed, making it impossible for them to print.

Now the printers in the labs are set up identically. Yet the problem was only in certain labs. Other rooms it worked perfectly.

We had several people all in the labs, logging on, logging off, using different accounts with different permissions. There was even an outside expert called in to go over the logs and scripts for anything wrong.

Finally, we found an answer: a slash character in the name of the lab's computers. Slashes are dangerous: they get mistaken for a path or web address and send the system to the wrong location. We tested it out. At first, it made no difference: the problem wasn't solved. Then, as we waited and the computers looked into their configuration data, things started being fixed. The printers were mapped.

But it took us a long time to come up with the solution. And sometimes, one character can make all sorts of difference -- and you may not notice it.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

What Snew -- Password Change/Recovery

We've added a new password change system, so you change your password without logging on to a Siena lab computer. We've set up a web page with instructions about how to change it.

Note the login: you need to enter your e-mail address (with as your username.

But one nice feature is the ability to retrieve a lost password. If you have forgotten your password, then you can go to the website, answer a few questions, and be given the chance to choose a new password. But (and this is a big one) you need to register with the system for this to work.

Registration instructions are on our web page. Basically, you log on (using your e-mail address), answer three questions, and save your answers. Once you have done that, you're set. If you forget your password, you can go to the site and get it back.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

What Snew -- Wireless

Over the next few days, I'm going to be talking about what's new here on campus with I&TS.

Let's first talk about wireless. We've expanded wireless coverage on campus.

The red areas on the map indicate wireless managed by I&TS, while the blue areas indicate a network managed by the School of Science. For a bigger picture, see

The network does extend outward from the red areas. On Move-in day, for instance, students in Plassman were often able to get a signal from the access point in the lounge. You may be able to find a signal.

Important! Make sure the id for the network is "SienaAir." Other networks may be wireless cards on nearby computers. Connecting to them could cause problems.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Here's a look at how the move-in went. Remember, Saturday were freshman and transfers; returning students came yesterday. Luckily, they are more familiar with registering (having done it before), so there are fewer problems.

As of 7:00 a.m. today, we had 2489 successful registrations. That's pretty close to the total number of students in the residences.

Here are some of the numbers:

Operating system
Windows XP: 1193 computers (60%)
Windows Vista: 497 (25%)
Macintosh: 293 (15%)

Mac OS Version (all OS X)
10.4.10: 182 (76% of Macs)
10.4.9: 31 (13%)
10.4.8: 11 (5%)
10.4.7, 10.4.6, & 10.3.9: 5 of each (2%)

Windows XP Version
Service Pack 2: 1154 (97% of XP)
Service Pack 1: 39 (3%) (I'm surprised there are any of these at all.)

Windows Vista Version
Home Premium: 291 (59% of Vista)
Ultimate: 142 (28%)
Home Basic: 48 (10%)
Business: 15 (3%)

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Move in day X

It's all over. I'm home, having showered and had dinner.

It was hectic. I walked about four miles -- all in the same building -- talked with dozens of people, solved problems for most of them (except for that pesky issue where things worked in reverse -- people who have that problem will have the Internet for a little while and then have to register later).

The final call was the roughest. Something had gone wrong with a computer display upon logging on. It probably had nothing to do with registering, but it's hard to explain that. Eventually we found the setting that controlled it, so all was well.

But, ultimately, nearly everone had Internet by the end of the day. That's good.

Move in day IX

Most everyone's set now. You can tell computers are important -- most every room I passed by a few minutes ago had their computer turned on. Often no one was near it; it's left on just as a matter of principle.

Move in day VIII

Quieter now, though we still haven't gotten to the root of that weird configuration issue. But the students are very understanding and no one seems to be complaining about the issue. It will probably fix itself over time. Since everyone has laptops with wireless, there's a little less pressure. People can connect that way.

Move in day VII

My doctor says I should get more exercise, so working today will make her happy.

Things are winding down a bit, as our helpers get more experience, more people are registered, and roommates can advise on the process (since they completed it earlier). The snags are fewer then they were a few hours ago.

Move in day VI

Our first mystery -- people can't register. They can go everywhere on the internet except the registration page. Supposed to work the other way. We're looking into it on the fly.

Always something.

Move in Day V

Lunch is almost over, so I'll be back in the dorms soon. As is often the case, there are things that we hadn't prepared for and will have to come up with work arounds. You can't tell these things until it's move-in day, and you only get one chance each year. Next year, there will be another issue we need to address (especially as software and operating systems change. But overall, it goes well: we end up with nearly all students online by the end of the day, with fewer that have to wait.

I've helped out 8 people so far who had specific problems (not counting dozens more who needed general advice). The student helpers have done similar numbers. And it will probably get busier in the afternoon.

Back to work.

Move in day IV

First break i've had since my last post. Most of the issues can be fixed, though sometimes it's just a matter of the systm catching up with the load. Several problems due to the fact that Dells shut down their network cards while on battery power -- logical but unexpected.

Move in day III

The pace is picking up. I've introduced myself to parents and students and some issues are coming.

Most have to do with being patient. We require students register their computers and when you have almost 900 people doing this over the course of a day, the system goes a little slowly. Some students are fine, but need to wait a bit, and this isn't always obvious. But people understand once you explain.

Also had one computer with a broken network card, so there's not much we can do. Luckly, it was near a wireless access point, so that can be used until the card is fixed.

Move in day II

Things have started. The helpers are in the dorms, introducing themselves. No issues yet , but it's early. No one is setting up anything yet. things should be slow for another hour or two.

Move in day I

I'm going to blog from move in, just to give people a feel for what's going on.

Right now, i'm heading off to the residence hall I will be supervising. Parents and students are already arriving. We have our own student consultants ready to go room to room.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Move-in day tomorrow

It's one of the busiest days of the year at I&TS: the day freshmen move on campus. We're expecting nearly 900 new students, all wanting to make sure they can get on the Internet.

I&TS will have help in the residence halls: special student consultants will be wandering, checking to make sure there are no problems hooking up computers and phones. Look for the people in lime green shirts. In addition, there will be a consultant in the lounge to help dispatch workers if you need someone and they're busy elsewhere. Also, I&TS staff will be available for more complex problems that require more computer expertise. Finally, you can always phone the helpdesk at 783-2573 to get help.

Some of the more common connection problems are simply fixed. You need to be aware of the following:
  • Make sure you have the correct cable. A network cable is different from the telephone/modem cable that came with your computer. Network cables are almost never part of the computer package; you need to buy them separately. They are available at the college bookstore or from any store that sells computers.

  • You will be required to log in. Make sure you get your login correct. See the Student Computing Guide if you have questions, but it's the same login for your e-mail (do not include the "").
  • Make sure your antivirus and operating system are up to date.

I'll be around to help along with everyone else. Hope it all goes well. I also may be blogging a bit during the move.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

IMPORTANT: Update your computer before coming to campus!

To avoid problems when connecting to the Internet from the Residence Halls, you must have up-to-date antivirus and operating system patches.  This includes Macs.

If you haven’t used your computer for a while (or at all), turn it on and leave it on for a day or so, connected to the Internet to download the updates automatically.  You can also update manually by going to and installing the updates.

Similarly, update your antivirus by clicking on the update menu item or button (depending on the type of antivirus).  Again, leaving the computer on and connected to the Internet can do this automatically.

We require up-to-date antivirus for Mac users.    You can download ClamXav for the mac at

Please take a few minutes to make sure you’re updates, and it will save time when you make it onto campus.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

New Educational Technologies at Siena for 2007-2008

Over the summer, I&TS has been adding new options and opportunities for faculty and staff. Some of these include:

Direct link to Faculty/Staff Technology page

We’ve set up a link in the new website for technology topics for faculty and staff, the equivalent of the old button on the technology pages. will take you directly to links for faculty and staff.

I&TS Blog

Our new Blog, Technology Goes to College, will discuss technology with an eye to how it’s used at Siena. We’ll also be using it to put out announcements via RSS feed, so you may want to subscribe to it. The address is, or see the link at

iTunes U

This is an effort in cooperation with Apple Computer to provide a location for podcasting. Audio and video files can be uploaded and can be accessed from anywhere using the free iTunes software. There can be public files, or files can be protected so only the Siena community or a particular course can access them. We are currently finalizing the contracts, but expect to have things settled soon.


We are providing support for podcasting, both through iTunes U and through other methods. Contact I&TS is you are interested in setting things up.


We have a site license for this software, which converts PowerPoint presentations into lean, web-ready presentations that don’t require students to have PowerPoint in order to view them. Presentations are also smaller, making them easier to e-mail them. They also can be uploaded directly into Blackboard. If you’re interested, contact I&TS.

Office 2007

We will not be installing Office 2007 on faculty/staff computers. However, if you wish to try it out, log on to Citrix and use the Office 2007 icons. We have configured Office 2003 (our current version) so that Office 2007 files can be read. The one exception is Access 2007; if you need to read files in Access 2007, ask the person who created them to save in Access 2003 format.

Two-Sided Printing

The printers in the I&TS labs (Hines Hall and the Library) are now set up for duplex (two-sided) printing as the default. This will result in a considerable savings of paper. Students can choose to print one-sided if they wish.

More Wireless

Wireless has been added in the Standish Library, in addition to connections in Sarazen, Serra Hall, and in selected lounges in the residence halls. A map can be found at


You’ve heard about Wikipedia, which is an encyclopedia that allows anyone to edit, collaborating on creating articles. But Wikis can be used for any collaborative purpose. Students can, for example, work together on creating a project or paper. If you’re interesting in using this for your teaching, contact I&TS.

Second Life

A “life” simulation, Second Life ( lets users interact in a virtual world. You’ll probably be hearing a lot about it in the next few months – the hype is about to hit – but it does have some nice educational uses (for instance, Vassar College has a virtual Sistine Chapel for people to view). We’ve already set up a Siena College group in Second Life; search for “Siena” in your groups and you can join.

For information on these and other new technologies for the classroom or for non-classroom teaching, contact I&TS at x2573 or at, or look at the Faculty/Staff Technology page at

Monday, August 27, 2007

Clip show (

I probably use copy and paste a dozen times a day; it's one of the most useful option on a computer.

But I sometimes have things I want to copy from one computer to another. That usually requires saving the file and moving it via e-mail or other media. is a neat way to transfer data or files from one computer to another via the internet.

It's actually so simple that it's confusing. You can go to their main page for instructions, but the general method is to create your own page on the fly. Just take your web browser and type an URL: for instance, This creates a web page for your files.

It works like a word processor. You can paste text into the blank space. You can also upload files (up to 2 Megs). Then, anyone who goes to the site your created can see and download them. And this is anyone who can find the URL, so it's not good for sensitive materials. But as a quick way to transfer information, it's a nice little service.

You can just paste text into it, and then get it

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Siena I&TS Newsletter Online

The Siena College I&TS Fall Newsletter is now online at

Articles include:

  • Information about iTunes University
  • New Technologies at Siena
  • New features in Citrix
  • Avoiding fake websites
  • Info on the Electronically Enhanced Classrooms
  • The I&TS Blog
  • Handy I&TS information

There is also a link at the Technology page (

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

No Forwarding Addresses

I have one general rule for any e-mail that's mass forwarded: It's a lie.

I'm sure you get these every once in awhile. A friend forwards you an e-mail. When you scroll down to the bottom (because there are forwards upon forwards upon forwards of names and little >>>>>>'s down the left side), you find some dire warning or call to action. Maybe it's the worst virus ever. Maybe Bill Gates is going to give you $1000. Maybe Congress is going to pass a law outlawing toenails. In any case, it tells you to forward the e-mail to everyone in your address book (often with the line, "I'd rather get this twenty times than not at all").

It's a lie.

Something about e-mail leads people to believe anything sent is the truth. This tendency has been noted, leading to such things as the Gullibility Virus warning (I shouldn't have to tell you that this is a joke, but one never knows). And with Google and other search engines, it's very easy to check for real viruses. If Microsoft calls a virus "the worst yet," you can bet it will be mentioned on,, or other news websites. It only takes a minute to check.

But, as a general rule, if you get a message that insists you forward it to all your friends, "It's a lie" is a good rule to follow.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Howling Kommando

I don't usually subscribe to e-mail newsletters. The clog the inbox and usually have nothing of note. But one I do subscribe to is the Kim Kommando Site of the Day.

Kim Kommando bills herself as "America's Digital Goddess," and has a weekly syndicated radio show in the US where she talks about computer issues (I haven't been able to catch it, but judging by her other materials, it's a good one). She also has several e-mail newsletters.

I do like her Site of the Day. It highlights both websites and software and barely a week goes by when I don't find something worth saving. It's an eclectic list, and you will probably find suggestions you hadn't seen before.

Kim also has other daily and weekly newsletters, and downloads of her podcasts. There's a lot of good information there.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

You can't get good help nowadays (A Rant)

I often have to deal with technical questions from users, and I must say, it's next to impossible to get good online help.

My case is probably unusual. Even years ago, when I called a helpdesk for support, I had already tried all the obvious solutions and had to slowly explain to the support person that, yes, I had rebooted and reinstalled and done all of his first five selections. I understand they need to go over these, however, and am pretty patient.

Now, however, it's hard to get actual manufacturer support. Some of this is understandable: if you're giving away software for free, you don't want to hire people to tell people that you have to actually click on the icon to install the program.

The trouble is when you have a very technical problem. Without formal help, you're stuck with a discussion board. With me, you get two types of answers:
  1. Answers that solve a problem I haven't asked about. The responder picked out a couple of words from my post and wrote some answer.
  2. Dead silence.

If there's anything technical, you're on your own. I recently was looking for a way to push out iTunes (good software, but it has another peeve of mine: software that thinks it knows better than you do what you want) and needed to know where certain configuration data resided. The boards at Apple were no help, and I finally had to check with trial and error (and some nice freeware that I discovered) to figure out the information. What should have taken me a day if a real technician were involved took me over a week to track down.

I don't know if there is an answer, but it would be nice if software companies put a technical manual online that indicates what files are created and changed during installation and what data resides in them. It'd also be nice if the date were readable and editable.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Essential Freeware: Hotkeycontrol

There are some things where a mouse is the perfect input device. There are other things where the keyboard makes more sense. Good software should give you the option, but otherwise good software sometimes doesn't.

I don't know about you, but I find that having to move the mouse to the system track, click on the speaker icon (assuming it's not hidden), and move the mouse a slider every time you want to adjust speaker volume (or to mute the speakers) is a complicated process for what should be a simple task. You can adjust your TV volume by pressing a button on a remote, or the volume on your iPod by touching the control.

Even within a program, it's a pain. You have to click on the program window, find the slider and move it. If you want to mute speakers because you got a phone call, this is awkward.

That's why I find Hotkeycontol XP essential. It runs in the background and you can set up key combinations to adjust or mute volume. Ctrl/+ makes things louder, while Ctrl/- makes it quieter. I also set Ctrl/Backspace to mute. One touch of a keyboard, and I can adjust things. Phone call? Just press Ctrl/Backspace and the speakers are muted.

That's just the beginning. You can also use Hotkeycontrol to open files, shut down your computer, and perform other tasks. For instance, I often need to bring up the calculator. Instead of clicking on "Start," "All Programs," "Accessories," and "Calculator," I hold down the Windows key and press "C." Up comes the calculator. Very handy. And you can use this for any program or folder you want.

It's a nice tool that saves time.

Monday, August 13, 2007

IM the Urban Spaceman (Trillium)

Most people are on AOL's instant messenger, despite efforts by Yahoo and Microsoft to have similar programs. But everyone sticks with AIM simply because it has the largest base of users and because you need to be on AIM to contact them.

There was talk about setting up interconnectivity, where you could IM people on any system much in the way you can e-mail anyone. AOL even promised it at some point, but hasn't bothered on following through. Why should they give up their advantage?

For the time being, though, the best solution is Cerulean Studios' Trillian. It allows you to log on to AIM, MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, and ICQ at the same time and talk to people on all four networks. Once configured, you can check who's online. Even better, you'll be online on all these networks (and others) for friends to contact you.

And "Cereulean" is such a nice word. :)

Friday, August 10, 2007

Set the Wayback Machine, Sherman

The Internet is in a state of constant change. Sometimes, you may want to see what a web page looked like in the past. Maybe there was a different link that's gone. Maybe you just want to see what the design looked like.

That's where the Wayback Machine at comes in. If you go to the site and enter a web page, you'll be able to see earlier versions of that page. For instance, this is the search page for Siena's technology website.

Here's a look at the earliest page available. Compare this with the current page.

Not all pages are archived (site owners can refuse to allow it), but it is a nice way to look things up. Here are a few well-known websites in the old days:

Give it a try.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Essential Freeware: Rocketdock

I discovered this a few months ago, and found it a nice little addition. I use a lot of software, and going to the Start Menu and clicking gets to be awkward, especially when the icon is buried in "All Programs."

There are various built-in ways to access. The quick launch toolbar is nice, but starts eating into space on your taskbar. Pinning to the start menu works well, but I never like to use two clicks when I can do things with one.

That's when I discovered Rocketdock. The software is based on the look and feel of the dock on a Macintosh, their attempt to come up with a substitute for the Windows Taskbar without giving in, admitting it's better, and putting one into their OS. The Mac Dock is a definite improvement, but still isn't as useful as a taskbar (notably because it lists programs that aren't running mixed in with those that are).

But as a program launcher, it's a pretty good design. Rocketdock is a version of the dock for the PC. It can be pinned to the top of the screen (so it's far away from the taskbar) and can be set to autohide. You then put programs onto the dock and use it as a location to start and run them. Nice and slick, especially for programs you don't use daily and don't want on the taskbar or pinned to the Start Menu.

It's very configurable, with icons for such things as "My Documents," "My Computer," and the Control Panel. As a matter of fact, you can use it to link to anything that has an icon.

It's a very nice bit of software.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Spy Hard (hijackthis)

Spyware is not the problem it was a few years ago. This is mainly because the antivirus software vendors wised up. For a long time, they ignored spyware, saying it wasn't their area (and the definition of spyware is tricky and they didn't want to be blocking perfectly good software in error). Now they're selling total protection, which includes protection against spyware.

Still, though you're less likely to be infected, you're more likely to have a hard time removing anything that does get through. There is never a simple solution, but there are two tools that can help.

The first is Hijackthis. This software was originally developed by a Dutch computer expert named Merijn Bellekom. Merijn also developed other software tools against spyware but had to abandon it. At one point, he announced it was to get further training. This is true, but, really, if he showed up at a job interview with the invention of Hijackthis on his resume, he'd get the job.

Now, Hijackthis is distributed by TrendMicro. It is an analysis tool. If you download it and run it, you will get a log of all potential virus entries.

It's important you don't try to analyze these yourself. Many of the entries are necessary for your software to run and if you mess with things you can have a mess.

What you can do is post the log for others to examine. I'm partial to They have standards before you can start giving advice (you need to pass a test) and you can count on getting good advice. Once you hear from them (it's a bulletin board, so you need to check it), follow their instructions and you should be able to clean even the most stubborn bits of spyware.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Getting a good start (Startup Delayer)

If you're like me, you have a lot of software that insists on running at startup. And it seems to take months for your computer to start up.

Part of that is how software is designed. At startup, Windows tries to run all programs designated to run at startup. Essentially, this means that all programs are trying to run at once, clamoring for memory space like a crowd of old hippies clamoring for free tickets at a Stones concert. Things get messy and everything takes too long to start up.

So, paradoxically, the way to quicker startups is to delay startup. If some programs wait a minute before starting, and the programs start in an orderly manner instead of a mob scene, then the total time is less.

It took me some time to find it, but it looks like Startup Delayer is your best bet. You can run it and choose to delay software for a few seconds to a few minutes. It's a neat trick.

However some software is uncooperative. AOL's Instant Messenger is a prime culprit: if it doesn't run immediately, it "fixes" the registry so it will the next time, no matter what you want. You can't wait 30 seconds for AIM to run, after all. Some other software will do this, so once you have set up Startup Delayer, restart the computer a few times and take a look at the entries; anything listed twice is software that does this (on the principle that they know more about what you want then you do). You'll have to forget about the delay for these, alas.

However, it can be a big help, especially if you want to get to work right away.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

No thanks for all the Phish

You're probably aware of this, but I thought I'd mention it: beware of phishing.

This is when scammers pretend to be a bank or other financial institution and send you an e-mail with a link. Usually, they give a seemingly urgent reason to go to the link and log in.

The entire goal is to get your login. From that point, they can go to the real site and log in as you and do whatever they want with your accounts. And, they aren't going to deposit money into them, that's for sure.

Banks don't send e-mails to their customers for anything important. If there were an issue, you'd get a letter or phone call. And don't be fooled because the website looks authentic; any web designer could do that in his sleep.

So never trust any e-mail from a "bank" (or from "Paypal" or "eBay") that urges you to log in (especially when there are spelling and grammar errors). If you have any questions, call the bank, or type their web page directly into your browser.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

I am the virus (

The first rule of virus safety (well, maybe the third) is never open an attachment if you don't know what it is. Even if it seem to come from a trusted source, any unexpected attachment should be viewed with suspicion.

Now there are many attachments that couldn't contain viruses if anyone wanted to. However, it is good policy to still be wary. A file may look like a innocent text file, but may could actually be disguised with the double extension trick (naming the file "file.txt.exe" would show up as "file.txt" on many computers, but run as a program).

It may also be hidden inside a .zip file. Some viruses are sent in an encrypted .zip file with the password in the body of the message. This often cannot be scanned by antivirus on the way in, and thus gets delivered to your mailbox.

However, there may be times when you want to be sure about the file. That's when Virustotal is worth using.

Virustotal is simple: you upload the suspecte file into their system. It is then checked against several antivirus software vendors records. This is useful: when a virus is new, not all antivirus detects it.

A few months ago, I tried this on a suspected virus. It was indicated as a virus by about half the vendors. A few hours later, I tried again; this time everyone detected it.

It isn't foolproof, but it's a good way to check if you're not sure.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Making PDFs

Many years ago, Adobe software made one of the most astute decisions of a major software company.

They were selling their Adobe Acrobat software, a way to display files for download so they could keep their formatting. They also sold a reader, Adobe Acrobat Reader, for $50. The idea was to sell Acrobat and then sell the reader.

Sales were evidently slow. No one wanted to use Acrobat when no one had the reader, and no one wanted to buy the reader just to read the occasional file they might receive. Luckily, Adobe realized the situation and started giving away the reader as a free download. And now they were able to sell Acrobat, since you could make a PDF file ("PDF" originally stood for "Portable Document Format") and know the recipient could easily get the software to read it.

But Adobe didn't let other other software create the PDFs; for a long time, that could only be done by Acrobat. However, a few years ago, Adobe got another bright idea: license the technology of some of their earlier versions of Acrobat so others could develop PDF creation software. Thus Acrobat gets some money from outdated software, the others could sell (or give away) a PDF file creator, and those who wanted the newest features would still be buying the latest version of Acrobat.

I generally use PrimoPDF, though there are several others. You install them on you computer and they generally work the same way: they install a "printer" for PDFs that shows up among your list of printing. If you choose this as your printer, you can then make PDFs from any document.

This is a very nice tool, especially for those who only occasionally need to create PDFs.

Note to Siena Faculty/Staff: Installation requires administrative rights, so contact the helpdesk if you want to install the software.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Looking for Mr. ITS

As you probably know, Siena recently revamped its web pages. At this point, most of the web addresses are pretty complicated.

Some of the I&TS pages can be reached easily, though. And we've created a new link for faculty/staff related links. This is It's the equivalent of the old Faculty/Staff computing information page that used to be linked to the old technology page. You may want to add it to your bookmarks.

Of course, the main page for technology information is at This will lead you to anything involving technology at the college. We've also added a Google Site Search link that lets you search at all Siena sites.

Other web pages and links you should know:

There are also some direct links to Siena services. These can be used if there's a problem with the technology page.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Open the Podcast bay doors, Hal.

Podcasting is one of the newer aspects of the web (well, new to many; the capability has been around a couple of years, but it's only starting to become mainstream) and we're getting a lot of questions about it.

There is a minor issue of definition. Podcasting involves creating a media file, making it available on the Internet, and notifying people that it is available (usually through an RSS feed). Sometimes people call the media file the podcast. In a sense, it is, but it only becomes real podcasting when the RSS feed is created. It sort of like the difference between a CD and broadcasting the CD on the radio: the media file is the CD.

We've set up a few podcasts, including one of our Technology Presentation for Freshman Orientation.

In addition, we're working on ways to make it easier for faculty to use this tool. We can advise on software and equipment and suggest ways to integrate audiovisual elements into teaching.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Ever find a great web page and want to bookmark it? Only you're favorite list is longer than War and Peace and you don't want to take the time to weed out the bad ones in order to be able to see anything? And, anyway, you only want to keep the web address for a few days.

Well, your answer is First of all, you have to like the name. You are used to the .com, .edu, .org, and .net domains, and you may come across .mil and .gov web domains,. If you're someone Internet savvy, you'll also know that countries outside the United States have two-letter comains: .ca for Canada, .uk for the United Kingdom, .tv for Tuvalu (a group of islands in the Pacific. Someone realized their two-letter domain is perfect for TV shows). Well, the United States has a two-letter domain: .us. It's usually used by state governments, but rarely by others. was clever enough to use this as part of their name. is billed as "social bookmarking," allowing people to share their bookmarks with others. And this is useful: you can go to the site and look for bookmarks for a particular subject. The bookmarks are ranked by how many people have marked them. Thus, if you're looking for, say, "Siena College," a search on will show you the most popular sites with "Siena College" in them. This can help you pinpoint what links might be the best for a particular subject.

But even if you don't use it for that, lets you set up a free account for your favorite bookmarks. Anyone can see it (here is mine), so you can share sites with friends. And, most importantly, you can mark sites in order to go back to them later.

There's even a small javascript that you can add to your favorites on your web browser that let's you easily mark any page you are looking at. Just click, add categories, and click "submit." You return to the page automatically, knowing you can find it in your bookmarks.

Anyone can set up an account, and it's free. Give it a try.