Saturday, December 13, 2008

Equipment issues

Equipment problems related to the power outage. Has delayed restoration of service. We are still working on the issue.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Restoring the network

Power has been restored to Hines Hall.

I&TS will be working on restoring services. Barring any more setbacks, we hope to have service restored by about 9:00 am Saturday.

Campus Outage

We have now lost power campuswide. No computing services are available.

We estimate it will take at least six hours after power is restored for services to be available.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Power Outage

A power outage is affecting the East side of the campus, including the library. Some computing services may be affected.

At this point, e -mail and the network are still unaffected, though areas without power won't be able to access the network until power is restored.

We will restore services once power is restored.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Saving Word Files from E-mail

Some students have evidently been having problems with saving Word files they've opened in Outlook Web Access.

When a Word file is sent as an attachment, and you open it in Outlook Web Access, it opens Microsoft Word on your computer. But there's a problem -- the file is saved in a temporary folder. Thus, any changes to the file are saved to this temporary file and not in the copy in the e-mail.

If you open the file again from the e-mail message, you won't find your changes.

The temporary file also may be hard to find; it's in an obscure folder on your computer and may even have a completely different name.  It's possible -- though not easy -- to find this, and the folder may well be deleted by the time you go looking.

The solution is to plan ahead.  There are two things you can do to save your work.

  • Save the attachment instead of opening it.  When you click on the attachment, you are given the options to Save or Open. Always choose "Save" and save the file to your hard drive.  Then click on it to open.  Now your changes will be kept.
  • Use "save as" instead of "save." If you have opened the attachment, that's fine.  But don't just save the file.  Select "Save as" from the Office Button (at the top left of the screen).  Select a location and name and save the file there. Your changes are now on your hard drive.  You can do this the first time you save the file, or the last, but you must do it at some point or your work will be lost.

Remember -- unless you take either of these steps, any changes you save are only temporary.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

$5 Million a Year

Want to know why spyware is so prevalent?  Check out this New York Times article. It's about our old friend, Antivirus XP 2008.

Antivirus XP Not only is the software bilking users for $49.95 for their less-than-useless product, but once they get your credit card number, they can go to town with it before you realize it. 


A hacker gained access to the spyware maker's data and posted it on line. The numbers add up to an estimated $5 million a year. And while many of those pushing the software won't make quite that much, it's a figure that certainly makes them happy to try.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More on XP Antivirus 2008

I've talked about this nasty bit of spyware before. But just as an example of how aggressive it can be, I just came across a case where someone got the warning on a thin client.

A thin client is a very stripped down and locked down computer. The only thing it has is an operating system, a web browser, and a link to Citrix to access some software. It also doesn't use administrator rights.  It's about as likely to get a virus as a pocket calculator.

Someone here got the XP Antivirus warning that they were badly infected.  Of course, it couldn't happen; you have to jump through a lot of very complicated hoops to change software on a thin client.  But the spyware insisted the computer was infected and kept sending popups and warning when you tried to leave the page.

They even recurred when the user logged off.

After a shutdown, they were gone.  Evidently there was something that remained in memory even if you were logged off, but when a shutdown cleared the memory, it fixed it.

Just one more example of how nasty this spyware is.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Print Management in the labs

We have installed PaperCut software in labs as a reminder to be green. For now, the system is being used as a way to track printing usage and to make students aware of how much they are printing.

Printing is an expense. While students do need to print out documents, there is still a lot of paper wasted on things like sending the same document to the printer multiple times, printing pages you really don’t need, printing color when black ink will do, or printing out things that you can read online. Take a look in the labs and you’ll often see the scrap paper just thrown into recycling.

imageHere's a scene from another college lab (click to enlarge).  We're probably not this bad.  Probably.

So, for now, I&TS has installed software called “PaperCut” on lab computers in Hines and the Library. When you log in, you will see a tally of the number of pages you’ve sent to the printer. Accounts start out with 300 pages; you’ll see the number get smaller when you print. The each sheet of paper is counted (one double sided sheet only counts as one), with color printing counting couting five sheets to reflect the extra cost. After each print job, your account will reflect the number of pages you have printed.

We are not actually charging money to students to print. The entire purpose is to make people aware of how much paper they are using and to think about being more environmentally conscious. Details on the systems, and on ways on how to save paper, can be found on the I&TS PaperCut Website.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

New Spyware Threat

There a new nasty and aggressive type of malware that can be very difficult to remove. It calls itself XP Antivirus, but it is a total ripoff.

It will usually show up as a pop-up warning you that there is some sort of scary activity going on, with a link to download the software to protect yourself. The warning is a lie, and if you do download the software (a process that sometimes happens automatically without you doing anything to start it), XP Antivirus will install itself, giving you popups, and a lot of dire spyware warnings (all false except for the spyware XP Antivirus installs itself). And you will be required to purchase the program in order to “clean” your computer – really just turn off the fake warnings and keeping any spyware XP Antivirus installed.

It is one of the most despicable of scams. In addition, the software can really screw up your computer; there was one student whose desktop didn’t display once he got infected. I’ve also seen the Windows automatic update turned off – and you can’t turn it back on.

And it hides from many antispyware programs, so cleaning can be difficult. I've tried several times to use things like Ad-Aware, Spybot, Hijackthis, and even Vundofix -- all generally good programs, but no match for this one.

Luckily, there is now fix. Malwarebytes – a new anti-spyware program from – seems to clean it up quite well. If you’re infected, download the final, install it, and let it scan. Malwarebytes is new, so XP Antivirus isn’t set up to hide from it (yet). I’ve gotten some very good results on badly infected machines.

Of course, XP Antivirus will probably figure out a way to defeat Malwarebytes.  These type of spyware blackmailers are basically lower than pond scum, but, alas, they don't care.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Back to Basics: Setting Your Home Page

There are some computing tasks that are so basic that sometimes we forget users might not know how to do them.  I'll be putting up some posts to cover some of these.

First off, there's setting your Internet home page. Internet Service Providers and some software want you to go to their home page and assume that you probably aren't going to change it yourself. And you'll often find Dell Computers, for instance, whose home page is the Dell website.

That's fine if you want it that way.  But if you don't want it that way, there are easy ways to change things.  Here are the instructions for various browsers.

  • Internet Explorer. Click on "Tools," then "Internet Options." You can type in a page, click on "Use Current" to pick the current page, or click "Use Blank" to display a blank page.  If you put more than one website in the box, one on each line, you can open multiple websites in different tabs.
  • Firefox. Click on "Tools," then "Options," and click on the "Main" tab. You can type in a page, click on "Use Current," or select from other options.
  • Safari. Click on "Edit," then "Preferences." 
  • Opera. Click on "Tools," then "Preferences." The options are similar to other browsers.  However, I would recommend you select "Start with Blank Page" from the dropdown list. That will bring up the speed dial, which lets you choose from up to nine web pages.
  • Google Chrome. Doesn't actually have a home page.  It displays the most recently used pages, with the pages you visit the most shown first.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Beware iTunes 8!

While I actually like the software (though a nice feature in theory, I personally find Genius pretty silly -- it doesn't recognize half my songs and its playlists are no better than random), you should not install it at the point if you're running Windows Vista.

There are reports that if you plug in your iPod or iPhone when you iTunes 8 on a Vista machine, your computer will crash.  See this article.

If you don't have an iPod or iPhone, or you're not using Vista, it should be OK.  Otherwise, though wait for the next upgrade.

Oh, and if you've already upgraded, you're stuck.  iTunes 8 makes changes to your library so it cannot be read by iTunes 7.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Rant -- Downloaders

I like to buy and download music. And I've been noticing a very annoying trend.

The various sites for legal download all require that you install special "downloading software" on your computer.  So if you buy something from Amazon, they want you to install their downloader. Then, when you go to eMusic, you need to install their downloader. And, iTunes, of course, has you install iTunes, which contains a downloader.

So now I have multiple bits of software that all do the same thing, just for different websites.  And it's all so unnecessary:  there's a download capability built into every web browser ever made.

Yes, these help sort your files after they're downloaded, but even that is fairly pointless.  If you use iTunes as your player, you still have to move the file so iTunes will recognize it.  Heck, you probably have to move the file anyway to get it onto any player. And the downloaders don't give you the option but to save the file to where they think it should be.

I'm strongly against taking options away from users, and any software that doesn't let you specify such things is inherently flawed in the first place.

The downloaders don't work together at all, so you have to load up your computer with all sorts of crap just in case you want to download again from the same site.

Amazon, at least, lets you download manually (even though they try to imply that's not a cool way to do it).

I've seen this with other software, too.  IIRC, McAfee installs one if you want to use their software.  You need to download their downloader to download the software. 

What next?  Downloading a downloader to download the downloader?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Browser Wars -- the New Kid in Town

Google has jumped into the browser wars with their own new browser, Chrome.  I've been testing it a bit and I'm favorably impressed.

The most obvious improvement is speed.  It is definitely one of the fastest -- if not the fastest.  Pages come up with surprising speed.

I also like the automatic search function:  type in your search terms in the address bar and it will do a Google search (by default) for the words.  However, you can specify other searches by It will also fill in the web address as you type. 

imageThe interface may take some getting used to. It has no menu options.  The top of the browser shows tabs, and there are only a limited number of icons (4-5) to choose from.  Your bookmarks toolbar also shows up.  Bookmarks are on a dropdown list at the right.

Another nice feature of Chrome is the built-in spellcheck (also in Firefox).  It also handles tabs very logically.

Chrome uses for a default page a variation on Opera's Speed Dial option. In Opera, you select up to nine pages to display when you open a tab; Chrome just takes the most popular items in your browsing history.  Easy to use, but I can see issues if you want a particular page showing up even though you visit it less often than others.

On the down side, Chrome has very limited user customization; only Safari is worse.  It also doesn't seem to support RSS feeds and I've been having some problems accessing some websites (one refuses to accept my login -- it's a site where different users have different preferences; I can log on, but when I try to go to the private areas, it doesn't work). I'm also having problems with some Java pages.

Last year, I checked out and compared the various web browsers and listed the features I wanted in my ideal browser.  Chrome has an impressive number of the features on that list.  It still needs work, but so far I like it better than MSIE or Safari, and it's pushing Firefox, and even Opera (my favorite) a bit.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Move-in day VI

This has been different than other years. Fewer issues but they are harder to troubleshoot.

Move -in V

Now that i'm a bit calmer, let me explain. I had spent nearly an hour trying to connect. Norton 360 was on the machine and prevented it from getting an IP address or talk to the DHCP server. It took me ages to try to uninstall, since it seems to do nothing unless you wait 10 minutes (and this was a fast machine). ItLs taken over 15 minutes and it's still uninstalling.

No excuse for that.

Move-in day IV

Symantec software is garbage!

Move-in Day III

Good news, everyone! The problem I mentioned in the previous post just went away by itself. It was just a matter of patience (though there may be an issue with the switch - one wing of the building i'm in has similar problems.

One student showed up withou XP service pack 2, which is several years old. I'll have to dig up a cd with it.

Move-in II

It got busy fast -- one computer that couldn't seem to get any connection. Couldn't find the answer to that, but the student was pretty nice about it. Another had a bad cable, exacerbated by a ptoblem with Office that kept trying and failing to install something (I have no idea why it was set up like that).

The third was easy - the network card was turned off. It's part of Dell's setup that makes some sense, but is a pain for us.

Move-in Day I

Once again, it's move-in day.

Freshmen are arriving on campus as I type, and soon I'll be in the residence halls helping them get their computers connected.

We hire student helpers to handle most of the job -- passing out instructions, answering questions -- but there are always complications that we couldn't foresee.  So I'll be there to help figure out why people are having problems.

I'll be reporting throughout the day.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Software Graveyard -- MultiMate

One of the early PC word processors, MultiMate was a pretty solid success.

They did something very smart in their design of the software:  they made it look like the Wang word processing software that was popular on minicomputers of the time.  If you knew how to use Wang word processing, you could learn MultiMate in a few minutes. A template that explained the function keys was all you needed.

This allowed businesses to switch to PCs without having to spend a lot of time retraining their users.

Another feature of MultiMate was that it loaded one page in memory at a time.  This seems like an inconvenience (and it was -- if you accidentally pressed PgDown, you'd have to wait until the page displayed, then press PgUp and wait again), but it made sense.  In a time when few computers had hard drives and memory was limited to 256K (that K, not Meg), it allowed long documents to be created and edited.  You didn't have to worry if the 200-page document could fit into RAM -- it would.

Still, what made MultiMate popular also contributed to its demise. People who came to computers without experience with the Wang didn't care that they were similar; they wanted just to be able to use a word processor.  In addition, MultiMate was slow to add features and printer support that other word processors had as standard.

When Windows came along, MultiMate's parent company, Ashton-Tate, decided not to bother with it.  It seems to be gone completely (the only software I could found with that name is used to manage the mating of cows by ranchers).

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Software Graveyard -- Remember these?

Silicon Valley Insider has listed some of Tech's forgotten brands --25 software and services that were very popular at the time, but which have been forgotten.

The list (with my comments):

  1. 1. AltaVista -- THE search engine before Google came along. First online translator with Babelfish.
  2. 2. Amiga -- Very popular home computer.
  3. 3. Atari -- The top gaming system for a number of years.
  4. 4. Broderbund -- Their software was everywhere. Where in the world are they now? Probably in the Print Shop.
  5. 5. CDNow -- The of CDs; now just amazon.
  6. 6. Commodore -- VIC 20. 20 K memory! What power!
  7. 7. Compuserve -- Information service; killed by AOL & the Internet.
  8. 8. CueCat -- One of the stupidest ideas ever.
  9. 9. Cyberian Outpost
  10. 10. Divx
  11. 11. Egghead Software -- Your mall computer store.
  12. 12. eToys -- of toys. Or tried to be.
  13. 13. Geocities -- Everyone's first web page.
  14. 14. Inktomi -- Search engine software. Googled.
  15. 15. Iomega -- Drive maker. Their Zip drive external drive was going to be the next big thing. Stock was big until hard drives became bigger and the bubble burst.
  16. 16. Lotus -- The most popular business software of the 80s. Best selling title for years. Botched the changeover to Windows and let Excel take over.
  17. 17. Lycos -- Nice search engine, but no match for others.
  18. 18. Netscape -- First serious web browser. MSIE overwhelmed it; became irrelevant once Firefox was introduced.
  19. 19. Packard Bell -- Cheap (and lousy) computers were sold everywhere but computer stores.
  20. 20. Prodigy -- Online service from Sears with crude graphics; competed with Compuserve, but AOL killed it.
  21. 21. Silicon Graphics
  22. 22. Tandy -- TRS-80 was one of the first home computers
  23. 23. Tomagatchi -- Virtual pets. An idea whose time had not come.
  24. 24. U.S. Robotics -- Top modem maker. Remember dial-up? Built-in modems were the beginning of the end.
  25. 25. WordPerfect -- The top word processor, replaced by Word (and still beloved). Bad marketing hurt them, as did the move to Windows.

I can add some others -- GEnie, WordStar (and Wordstar 2000), Multi-Mate, Lotus Symphony -- but these are names that will soon be forgotten.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Essential Freeware -- Defraggler

I'm not a big fan of defragmenting a hard drive. Back in the days of DOS, it was often a useful task to help improve performance, but now it isn't all that important to the average user.

Why do files get fragmented? Because of how files are saved. If you have an empty hard disk, your file gets saved in one section of it.  The next file gets saved in the section next to it.

Now, suppose you want to add to the first file. You can't save the data in the next section -- the new file is using it. So you save it in a section separate from the rest.

Generally this was not a problem, even in the DOS days.  But if a file was spread out in too many sections of the hard disk -- fairly common as files got bigger -- the computer could slow down as it picked up pieces of the file from all over instead of one location.

Defragmentation moves sections of files so that they are all together. In the DOS days, you could see better performance. Nowadays, it doesn't matter as much:  hard drives are faster.

Windows has always had a defragmentation tool, but it was difficult to use. You needed to shut down all programs (including your screen saver), since if a program accessed any part of the hard drive during the scan, it started all over from the beginning. Since it could take an hour to defragment, it was frustrating if that happened 45 minutes into the process.

And, this meant you couldn't use your computer. Defraging was an overnight process.

That's why I was impressed by Defraggler. It's defragmentation done right. It's not bothered if the computer accesses the hard drive during use; it merely ignores files that aren't free. It also gives you the option of defragmenting individual files or directories.

It was developed by the same people who created CCleaner, so it runs simply and easily.

This is finally a way to balance the difficulty of defragmentation with the need.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Update your Computer

Remember -- students must have all their updates installed before coming onto campus. This includes all Windows updates plus all updates for your antivirus.

To make sure you're updated, leave your computer on over night. New updates will be downloaded. You will see an icon in the system tray (near the clock) that alerts you to this.  Click on it to make sure you've installed the updates.

For a quicker way, go to to download and install updates immediately.

You'll need to do the same thing for your antivirus software. There is usually an option to do an update, select it and install.

If you're not up-to-date when you come on campus, you'll have to do it then.  Better to be ready than to have to take the extra time to get on the Internet.

The Ultimate Steal has returned

Last year, Microsoft offered "The Ultimate Steal" for college students -- Microsoft Office 2007 Ultimate -- for only $59.95.

It was supposed to be only for a limited time and did end back in March. But evidently it was a success, since Microsoft is making the same offer this year.  If you go to the Ultimate Steal website, you can sign up for the offer.

Like last year, this is only for students with a .edu address, and you may have to provide proof that you're attending classes. But it is a big savings (a quick check shows this package can cost over $350).

Friday, August 22, 2008

Why so slow?

The slowness issue is one we're always having to deal with. People complain that their computer is slow to start up.  There are generally four types of slowdowns, and all have different solutions.

Slow to reach the login prompt.

The most common cause of this is that software is being installed. We generally release software and updates on Thursday. People are good about leaving their computers on, but sometimes a restart is required. You turn things off Friday, then when you restart on Monday, the software needs to be installed, so it takes several minutes to reach the prompt.

The best solution is to restart the computer when you go home instead of just logging off. It will install the software and be ready to go the next time you log in.

Slow to reach the desktop after logging in.

This is generally due to having a large profile.  It wouldn't hurt to use something like CCleaner to clean up unnecessary files.

Slow before you can start working.

This is usually due to software starting up.  If you have a lot, it can take some time before it's all ready.  One option is to use Startup Delayer to manage your start up.  Another is to uninstall any programs you don't need to run at startup. For instance, you can manually start AIM instead of doing it automatically on each startup.  The less running at start up the better.

Always slow.

This may be a virus or spyware problem.  It may be worthwhile to do a scan at Trend Micro's Housecall to see if there's anything causing trouble.

Another potential cause is lack of memory. Computers require more memory each year, and what was ample five years ago is barely enough to do anything today. If you notice your hard drive is constantly running, that's a good sign there's a memory problem. Buy new memory (or a new computer) and many of these problems will go away.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The S-L-O-W Computer

Many of you have been away for awhile.  Often, a long while. That's fine, but it can cause problems when you first start up your computer.

I&TS and Microsoft are always pushing out updates to Windows and to other software. If your computer has been shut off, these have not been installed. So when you log on, it may take a very long time before you can use the computer as the many updates are put onto your computer all at once.

Eventually, all updates will be added and things will run smoothly. However, it sometimes takes several logons to install everything (one update will require another one be installed first, for instance).

If you're patient, eventually everything will be set.  One way to reduce the issue is to leave your computer on (but not logged in) when you leave for the day. That will allow software to be installed overnight.

Sorry for the inconvenience, but it's necessary to keep your computer up-to-date.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Network services up and running

We've gotten network services up and running. 

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Network Outage

Due to a power outage, the Siena network went down on Sunday night around 9:00 pm. Power has been restored, but it will take time for the servers to be up and running.

We are hoping to have everything fixed by midday Monday.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


It's orientation here at Siena, with a couple of hundred students showing up to learn about what they need to learn to start learning.

It's a busy two weeks for I&TS. We give training sessions to each group -- three a day for a half hour each.  Now, a half hour is hardly enough time to learn how everything works, and, coupled with all the other information that students are absorbing these two days, we don't really expect people to remember everything. It really only boils down to three pieces of information:  their username, their password, and our website (

And even that may be too much.  I got an email -- originally sent to another department of the college -- that a student couldn't log on to the system.  He had gotten his password wrong (this despite having to use it at least twice during the class), and evidently forgot the way it is created (despite the fact that it's mentioned many times). He didn't even go to the website ( to see if the answer is there, nor did he evidently check the handout that explains how the password was created.


Luckily, most students do better than this.

Monday, July 14, 2008


The days of the floppy disk are over. The flash drive (or thumb drive or memory stick or memory key -- everyone calls it by a different name) is by far a better and more efficient way of saving files. They hold far more data (you can get a Gig of memory -- the equivalent of nearly 600 floppies -- for under $15), they're safer and, they work like a hard drive in that software can run from them*.

That leads to a great little website: The site has users package applications that will run on a flash drive. What's the advantage? Well, if your web browser is on your flash drive, your bookmarks travel with you. You can run Instant Messaging from any computer, even if it's not installed. You can work on your files or view PDFs.

Some of the applications available on Portableapps include OpenOffice, Firefox, GIMP graphics editor, CLAM-AV antivirus and quite a few others. I wish there were more options available, but it's enough to get you started, and more are added each month.

You just download and install the Portableapps software onto your flash drive. Once that's set up, download the apps you want to use from the Portableapps website. Then, when you plug it in, you will be given the option of starting Portableapps. It puts an icon on your system tray that allows you to access whatever apps you have installed.

It's a nice idea, and as more software becomes available, will be even better.

*An iPod is basically just a big flash drive with audio output and special software.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Here's another nice little utility that can make for much safer web browsing. Sandboxie runs programs in a sandbox. This means that the program you're running doesn't interact with your computer. Everything remains in the sandbox.

This is a nice add-on for your web browser. If you run it sandboxed, then any spyware or viruses that infect you via the browser will remain in the sandbox. They will not affect your computer and can be deleted along with the sandbox when you're done.

There are many potential uses. You won't have to fear Active-X controls, for instance: they can't do any damage to anything but the sandboxed program (and which is easily deleted if there is a problem).

If you do want to keep a file, Sandboxie lets you do this, but it always requires a confirmation on your part. Nothing will be put onto your computer without your knowledge.

An impressive little program.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Advanced WindowsCare

We need to use a lot of different tools to fix and optimize computers.  It's a pain to have to search for different software for different problems, and that's why Advanced WindowsCare is a nice option. It lets you perform several cleaning tasks with a single scan.

The software can do seven different scans:

  • Spyware Removal. I haven't been able to give this a full test on an infected machine, but it does seem to find some of the more common types of spyware and gives you a chance to clean it. I wouldn't use it for this purpose alone, but it should be used when scanning.
  • Security Defense. Much like Spyware Blaster, this software set registry keys so that spyware can't infect your computer. You'll get a very large number of "errors" the first time you scan, but that only means that you need to set it up to protect against spyware, not that you have it.
  • Registry Fix. Like CCleaner, this repairs problems with your registry. Advanced WindowsCare automatically backs up the registry the first time you run it, so you don't have to worry about it messing things up.
  • System Optimization. Optimizes the system for better performance.
  • Startup Manage. Like msconfig, this lets you manage your startup items and turn off things you don't need -- and gives you a guide as to what is safe to turn off.
  • Privacy Sweep. Cleans out your activity and web browsing records.
  • Junk Files Clean. Deletes unneeded files from your profile.

There are also some additional bits of software that keeps you computer running better, including SmartRAM, which releases RAM so it can be reused when software stops running.

It's a very nice all-in-one tool for optimizing and repairing your computer.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Resnet in Canada

I recently returned from this year's Resnet Conference in Fredericton, NB. 

Resnet is a conference of college IT professionals, with special focus on student computing. It's a great place to network with other computer professionals and pick up ideas.

Fredericton is a beautiful city.  I spent my free time wandering in the city. It dates from the 18th century, when New Brunswick became part of British Canada and the main downtown is on the Saint John River with a beautiful park on the river side. In the center of town is the garrison district, which used to be the British garrison in colonial days.

I went on the free tour of the district. I was actually the only one on the tour, but there was the tour guide, her supervisor (it was her first tour), and a few of their friends. They showed me the city hall (which has burned down three times), the courthouse (formerly the teacher's school, and which burned down once), the old barracks (now an arts center), and everything else.  I also walked across an old railroad bridge that is now a hiking trail (part of the Trans Canada Trail), saw a the arboretum, and generally enjoyed the city.

But the conference was a good one.  I went to sessions on using Web 2.0 in teaching, on Facebook, how to use thin clients in labs, and other technical topics. The best was a "Birds of a Feather" session where we got together and swapped information about our favorite software.  I'll be testing out a few of these and writing about them in upcoming blogs.

The conference ended with a dinner and a concert. Actually, we were supposed to be seeing a public outdoor concert by a local Celtic music group, Bottoms Up, but there wasimg285 a threat of rain, so they moved everything into the dining tent. After dinner, they opened things up so anyone could come in and listen to the band, or just listen from the lawn.  There was even a changing of the guard ceremony.


A great conference in a wonderful city.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


There is an Internet joke about the Gullibility Virus, that is based on the propensity for users to forward e-mails to everyone the know without questioning whether the message is legitimate.

Virus (and other) hoaxes are part of the Internet. They never die out completely, but mutate into new forms. The key identifier is that they tell you to send an e-mail to as many people as possible. This is often supposedly because of a terrible virus, or because of some benefit of payment. The funny thing is that these hoaxes appear every few years with slightly different wording, but when you read a new one it's perfectly obvious where it came from.

Today we got hit with one of these, an e-mail telling you that if you forward messages to everyone you know, Microsoft will track it and pay you $10,000. I would think that this would seem absurd on the face of it -- Microsoft is rich, but not that rich -- but we still had people forwarding it to people in their address book.

It would only take a moment to double check the story.  In this case the message said the offer was made on GoodMorningAmericaToday. Notwithstanding the fact that those are two different shows, you would have thought that it might be mentioned on the Good Morning America or Today Show website.  And, with the amount of money promised, it should have shown up on all news websites:  CNN, Yahoo, Fox News, etc. How much trouble would it be to check this out?

Unfortunately, too many people don't follow this elementary precaution and do as the message says and forward it to as many people as possible (always without stripping out all addresses in the body of the message).

My rule of thumb on this is simple:  never believe a forwarded message.  And the odds the message is true are inversely proportional to the number of total recipients times the number of times "FWD" appears in the subject line.

In any case, never forward these messages. And if you are tempted, double check any of the claims made in the messages (if, say, CNN supposedly announced a new, dangerous virus, then double check the CNN web page).

It's not that hard. And wouldn't it be better not to appear so gullible?

Friday, June 6, 2008

What's in a Filename?

A question came up today from a Macintosh user, asking why her professor couldn't read an Office 2008 file she sent. 

We installed the Microsoft Office Conversion Pack back in the fall, so the professor's computer should have been able to read the file. But, after a couple of questions, I discovered the issue wasn't the file format itself, but rather the name of the file.

Windows computers use file extensions to identify a file. This dates back from the early DOS days, when you were restricted to the 8.3 format:  eight character names (maximum -- it could be less) with a three-character extension, separated by a dot. Thus, you'd name a file "file.txt." The various extensions indicated the type of file: .wks for Lotus, .dbf for dBase, .ws for Wordstar, etc. (Word Perfect didn't automatically attach an extension).

When Windows was developed, Microsoft set up a scheme where a file was identified by its extension.  If it matched one of the programs installed on your computer, you could double click on the file and open it.

Macintosh took a different route. The files were read by the system and identified so they could open with a click.

I'll admit I'm partial to the Windows system. It allows you to do things like change an extension from .csv (which is read in Excel) to .txt (which is read by a text editor) and then tweak the data. This is useful when the output of a database needs to be fixed.

In any case, Macintosh users are not used to adding extensions (they aren't done automatically like in Windows).  If you're sending a file to a PC user, just give it an extension:  .doc for Word, .xls for Excel, etc.  Your recipient will be able to open it without making changes to the filename.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Hidden Messages

Siena had an e-mail storage quota to reduce storage space and, occasionally, you may get a message saying your over quota. This can be fixed by deleting messages and then emptying the Deleted Messages folder.

But, sometimes, it doesn't look like you have too many messages. Your inbox is small, and you've already emptied the deleted items.

There's another place to check:  the Sent Items folder. Outlook keeps a copy of every message you send. After awhile, this can take up a lot of space.  If you delete these messages and then empty the Recycle Bin, you'll be fine.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Starting Over

Ever notice that your computer sometimes takes extra time until you see the login prompt?

That's often due to the fact that I&TS has pushed out new software. Sometimes, that requires that the installation be completed after a restart, and, for some installations, we don't force a restart.

It seems especially long because you aren't given any indication of what's happening. Normally when you install software, a screen gives you some idea of its progress, as well as indicating what is happening. For these programs, there is just a vague message.

But this is easily fixed. When you go home at night, shut down and restart your computer. You don't have to be there during the restart, and will see the login prompt the next morning.

After this, though, the computer should start much more quickly.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

No More Bounces

I talked before about the problem with bounce messages (the technical term is Non-Delivery Reports or NDRs) filling people's inbox.

The good news is that we've set things up so that these will now be caught by the spam filters.

The bad news is that any legitimate NDRs will also be caught by the spam filters.  If you send a message and get the address wrong you will not get a direct notification.

You can check by logging on to Postini and checking your quarantined messages for those you tried to send. The messages will also be listed in your daily span quarantine report.

I wish there was a way to differentiate between spam NDRs and legitimate ones, but the computer had no way to accurately determine what is good and what is bad. Since the problem with NDR spam is a major one, that's what we fixed, even though it has its downside.

Security and convenience are always a balancing act:  how to provide security without sacrificing convenience is something we wrestle with all the time.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


People wonder why we stress computer security so much. Some of it is inconvenient, and what problems could one or two insecure computers cause?

Plenty.  That was demonstrated a few days ago. We discovered that e-mail wasn't being delivered to outside addresses. After some research, we found the cause: our spam filtering service (Postini) noticed spam activity coming from Siena addresses and blocked us as a spammer.

And what caused this?  One user.

The person involved downloaded a virus, and suddenly our system was sending out thousands of spam messages.  Because of the user, everyone else on the system could not send e-mail to anything other than Siena addresses until we fixed the problem.

Obviously, the person involved did not know there was a problem. But, by failing to secure their computer, it inconvenienced the entire campus community.

Computing is interconnected more than ever these days, and it's important that people protect their computers, not just because of what problems it will cause them, but also because of the problems it causes others.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Computers need vacations, too.

We've been getting a few very strange problems here at I&TS, all derived from a common cause. The issue often seems to be that people do not restart or shut down their computers for long periods of time.

While I&TS requests people leave their computers on Thursday nights for upgrades, some people never shut down their computers. This isn't bad in the short term, but if left on for weeks on end, there are sometimes issues with connecting with the network. You may not be able to find files you want, or have a slow login time as files are synchronized.

It also uses extra energy, of course. Most computers go into sleep mode, so only use a little power, but it's more than if the computer is turned off.

It's good practice to turn off the computer every once in awhile. For instance, on Friday you can shut it down for the weekend.

Also, if you suddenly can't find files (and you know you haven't deleted them), try restarting the computer and synchronizing. It may fix things.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Download Paper!

You can now download paper on your computer.

Well, not exactly paper. Things like graph paper, lined paper, ledgers, music notatation, and other standard types of paper you usually find in stationery stores.  Just go to

The idea is both simple and brilliant.  They have created a bunch of PDF files for downloading. Just pick one, save it to your computer, and print.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Ahead of the Curve

People don't know how to use PowerPoint.

Oh, they can create presentations, but they don't know how to use it. So you end up with "Death by PowerPoint," with the presenter reading off the screen (The classic joke about this is "The Gettysburg Address in PowerPoint").

In addition, the setup of PowerPoint lends itself to the bullet point model.  When you click on a new slide, that's what you get. And while bullets can be useful, if all the slides are nothing but bullets, your presentations quite often become sleep aids.

About a year ago, I went to a conference where one of the presenter showed a new, more effective way of using PowerPoint.  Instead of using bullets, you follow a few general principles:

  • A full sentence as the title.
  • An illustration that demonstrates what the title is talking about.
  • Lots of white space.

I started using this last year and discovered it made the presentations much better. Instead of them being the presentation notes for what you're saying, they become the illustrations for the words. People listen to you, but have a concrete image to help them remember.

Well, now Microsoft is taking notice. In their Office Hours blog, they recently did an article called "PowerPoint without Bullets."  And the result was much like I saw in that presentation last year.

PowerPoint without Bullets

A full sentence?  Check.  An illustration? Yup.  Lots of white space? Yessiree. It's a good feeling to be ahead of the curve.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lost without Translation (Zamzar)

There are so many different different file formats that few people can read them all.  So what do you do if you want something in a particular format and don't want to buy the software to read it?  Go to Zamzar.

It works pretty easily.  Upload a file you want converted, select the type of file you want to be converted to, and give an e-mail address to receive the message. The converted file will be e-mailed to you.

You're limited to 100 Megs (though you can subscribe if you need more), but it's useful for that .wps file you just can't read.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Ouch! by the Rutles.The SANS Institute is a organization of computer security professionals that provides training courses. But they also provide services to the general public, and their Ouch! newsletter is a great resource.

Ouch! covers current security threats -- spyware, viruses, phishing, bots, and other ways that hackers try to get personal data from your computer.  There are also security tips.

Ouch! comes out once a month. You can get an e-mail version by signing up at their web page.  It's a good way to keep up on potential threats.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Essential Freeware: At Last! (Taskbar Shuffle)

For a dozen years, there's been one functionality I wished that Windows would include:  the ability to move taskbar buttons. For instance, I like to keep my Outlook inbox as the first button on the taskbar, so I always know where it is. But if for some reason I have to close Outlook, then the button is in the wrong place and the only way to to move it where I want it is to shut down things.*

I kept waiting for Microsoft to add this functionality -- it seems simple enough -- or for someone to create software to do it.

And, finally, I found it: Taskbar Shuffle. It's probably been around for a bit (this is version 2.5), but I finally heard about it. The program runs in the background and lets you move your buttons around as much as you like. 

You can also group them on the taskbar. I don't like Microsoft's grouping function, since if you have several windows open, it's sometimes hard to keep them straight.  This will group several buttons so they're right next to each other -- and do it automatically.

It also lets you move system tray icons around and shut down buttons with a click.

All in all, an excellent addition to your Windows utilities.

*You can do it with RocketDock -- it has the option to minimize windows to the Dock.  I don't find that particularly useful, except for this. Turn it on, minimize the windows (except for the one you want to move), then turn it off.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Mozy for the Mac

I've written before about Mozy, an automatic backup utility.  It's a nice way to backup your files in another location so that if something happens to your computer, you can get them back.

Mozy has just announced a version for the Mac. You can download the software and automatically back up your data.

The main drawback is that, unlike Mozy for the PC, the Mac version is not free.  You will need to buy a subscription for $4.95 a month. Still, it may be worth it to keep your data safe, both from a computer crash, and when you get a new computer and want to transfer files.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I make the rules

All mail programs let you set up filters to manage what gets into your inbox.  I find that people don't use these nearly enough. Not every message needs immediate attention; some can be moved to different locations. In addition, creating filters means you don't have to move messages into folders manually.

For instance, I get messages from a writing group I'm taking part in. In my Eudora mail client at home, those messages are put into their own folder so I don't have to have them clogging my inbox.

Here at Siena, we use Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Web Access. Microsoft, as is all-too-often their wont, has given the filters a different name than what everyone else uses:  they call them rules.  I never could understand that thinking.  When there is a standard term for something, shouldn't everyone be using it? (Though I will give Microsoft a pass for not using the term "MAC address.")

In any case, you create these in Outlook by using the rules wizard.  In Outlook Web Access, there is a rules creation form (discussed as a part of forwarding e-mail, but the same instructions apply to other rules).

Using rules is especially useful when you subscribe to a mailing list. Some lists have hundreds of messages a day, so by creating a rule, you can keep them out of your inbox. It's also easier to manage them:  if you want to get rid of them, just highlight and delete.

With a judicious application of rules, you can save your inbox for messages that you really want to be notified about, while still keeping the others to read when you have the chance.

*The worst example was when Lotus Notes used "database" to designate what were essentially discussion boards.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Office 2007

No, not this one:

The Office Cast 

This one:

office logo

Siena will be deploying Office 2007 over the summer. It's a big change from Office 2003, and the biggest change in Office software in about 15 years. For the first time since then, things look different.  It's not hard to figure it out, but the first time you'll probably be confused. 

The first thing you need to know is one simple fact.  This:


is a button, not a design element. It's called the Office Button (sometimes, to add confusion, people call it "the pearl") and it works like the "File" menu in previous versions of Office.  I expect that most of our helpdesk calls from new Office users will be about issues that can be solved by clicking the Office Button.

Information about the roll out, plus some ways to get help, are on our Office 2007 page. It's still being built, but already has some tips and suggestions on how to use it.

I think overall most people will like using the new programs.  The menus, though different, are more logically designed. The new ribbon bar shows more options, and there are some great features built in. There are also new Office programs like OneNote (which I find a great tool) to make things easier.

I'll be talking about some of the new options from time to time here on the blog.  If you have specific questions, contact the call center.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Best Game Ever

I've enjoyed several of the "missions" of Improv Everywhere, which sets up surprise -- well, I guess you'd call them performances -- in public places. The latest, though, is just wonderful.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


We've been getting some complaints about e-mail messages flooding people's inboxes. It's evidently an issue with spoofed e-mail address.  As I said previously, Don't Panic.

I wish there were a solution to the problem, but spam is here to stay, and spammers don't care how many people they inconvenience.  If you're using Outlook, you can set up rules to keep these from being delivered to your inbox.  However, with bounce messages, it may be difficult to find a common phrase.

For faculty and staff, I'd suggest you create a folder in Outlook. Right click on your name in the list of folders and create a new folder. Then click on "Rules" under "Tools," and follow the prompts to move mail to the folder.  You can then check the folder to make sure that nothing important was accidentally sent there.

Students can also set up folders (using the same directions as in the previous paragraph) and rules in Outlook Web Access (there is a button for rules at the bottom left of the screen, but there are fewer options than with Outlook on the desktop).

These mailstorms pass. After a few days, the spammer will chose another e-mail address at random and you will stop getting the messages.  It's a pain, but there's just no way to stop someone from spoofing your e-mail address.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Bungle in the Jungle

Back in July, I reviewed the major web browsers, including Safari. My conclusion then was that, for any practical use, Safari was by far the worst web browser of those I tried.

Well, it's been some time, and Safari has come up with a new and improved version (the one I reviewed was a beta version, too). So I decided to revisit.

The good news is that Safari is no longer #5 of the five I've tested; the bad news is that the reason for this is that Netscape is no longer being made.

At the time, I said the following about Safari:

The first problem is that Safari just doesn't get tabbed browsing. The default is to always open a new window for any links that require one; in order to use a tab, you have to hold down CTRL while clicking.

No change.  You still need to hold down the CTRL key to open a new tab.  Why is Safari the only browser that requires this?

There's also the built-in search. Where other browsers give you many choices of search engines for the bar (and MSIE and Opera allow you to add any site's search engine to the search), Safari gives you two: Google and Yahoo.

No change. Again, why is Safari the only browser that doesn't offer this?

The way Safari handles bookmarks is different without being better. Other browsers have a dropdown list of bookmarks, along with a way of creating a toolbar of your favorites. Safari has no dropdown list, just the toolbar.

No change.  And I didn't mention that managing bookmarks is fairly complicated (MSIE leads in that category).

The handling of RSS feeds is crude to say the least.

This has been improved slightly -- the feeds do notify you of changes.  But adding a feed is much more complicated than for other browsers:  it takes an extra step in Safari and is complicated to manage on the bookmark bar. 

In addition, there are no add-ins available, so what you get is what you get.

No change.

On the plus side, it does seem to be fast.  On the minus side, the text has a very blurred look, due to Safari's refusal to use Microsoft's text smoothing in preference to their own.

So, ultimately, the latest Safari is still just lost in the jungle again.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Look Ma. No Cable.

Whenever I'm at a loss for something to write here, I can always count on Kim Kommando to come up with an interesting web page to talk about.  Today it's

If you have a cell phone or PDA, it's sometimes inconvenient to have to synch to your PC in order to transfer files from your PC to your PDA.  There are also problems if you're not in the office. You may want to move a file to your PDA while you're at a conference, but, without your cable, you're out of luck.

So, what the solution?  Obviously, it's Beam-it-up-Scotty, or I wouldn't be asking the question.

It's simple to use.  Go to the site and upload the file. Then enter your phone number.  In a few moments, you'll get a text message with a link to download the file onto your phone.

The first time you try it, you'll be sent an e-mail to confirm.  Once you've done that, the text message will display, and you won't need to confirm again.

I wouldn't expect to use it often, but it's certainly a nice alternative if you left your cable at home.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Just for fun: Hulu

If you need to kill some time watching movies or TV for free, you might want to check out

The site had dozens of movies and TV shows available to watch on your computer.  Think of it as the pro version of Youtube.

Some of the TV shows are currently in production, and others are old favorites.  I could find gems like the entire run of Arrested Development (a favorite of mine.  I didn't have to buy the DVDs) and the first two seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The movies also include some nice surprises, from horror to Oscar-winning films.

The movies are free -- sort of.  You do have to watch ads in order to see them, but that's no worse than broadcast or cable, and you can watch whatever you want whenever you want to.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Blogging made easy

Microsoft is trying to googlize itself by competing with the various Google apps (Just as Google is doing the same with Microsoft applications). They've rolled out their Windows Live service with a bunch of features.

I haven't been able to try them all, but the most impressive one is Windows Live Writer.

I've been using Googles Blogger/Blogspot for my blogs.  It's good, but I've had problems with formatting.  When start a new paragraph, I want a new paragraph, and Blogger seems to mash them together when you add a graphic.  I also don't care for the fact that when you add a graphic, it's always at the top of the post and wrecks havoc with the paragraphing.

Microsoft's Live Writer is desktop blog writing software. It works like a word processor, but takes into account how blogs work. You write your entry and then publish it to your blog, and yes, it works with Blogger/Blogspot.

There are also other features.  I haven't tested them out yet, though the mail looks interesting.  But you may want to check out Live Writer at the Windows Live website.

Monday, March 31, 2008

It only takes two.

One of the nicest features of the Opera web browser is its speed dial feature. Speed dial displays your most commonly used web pages on a single page with thumbnails. Click on the picture, and you go to the page. Very convenient.

As is often the case with Opera (which has consistently been the most innovative web browser when it comes to new features), others are following suit. Firefox now had an add-in that gives this functionality, but you don't need Firefox to use it. That's where comes in.

You go to the website and create a free account. Then, you can put your favorites links on a single page. There are also tabs to allow you to keep links that you want, but which you don't need to use every day.

Some of this can be done on, but the drawback is that doesn't let you easily sort your links. By default, the most recent one is the first one, so a link you use often can get lost (there are ways, but it's not as easy as Only2clicks).

Once you create your account, you then make Only2clicks your home page. Then you can get to your favorite web pages in only two clicks (I wonder if that has anything to do with the name). In addition, you can add a button to your bookmarks so you can add websites on the fly.

It also allows for more pages than the nine that Opera does.

All in all, something worth considering for your web page.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Printing by the numbers

We've calculated just how much paper we've been using in the computing labs this year. The numbers are a bit incomplete, but they are definitely large.

In the Hines Hall 116 lab, students have printed 174,912 sheets of paper since we started collecting data in November. That's just short of 35 cases. Assuming we pay $27 a case, it means the cost was $945. And that is just for paper -- toner, electricity, and printer repair will triple that at least.

In the Library 24-hour lab, students have printed 178,330. That sounds pretty comparable to the Hines Lab except for one thing: we started collecting data in January. Over the same period, the Hines Lab only used 99,820 sheets. The Library lab used 91,290 sheets in January alone. The total cost (including toner, etc.) is also around $3000, for three months rather than five -- and the Library lab printed a bunch of things in the time when we weren't counting it.

Finally, there are the other library labs -- the reference cluster, the clusters in the basement and third floor. They added another 47,407 sheets in the three months we were counting.

The total costs for printing in the labs is well over $10,000 a year. If cut just 20%, that's over $2000 that can be used elsewhere on campus.

It's not just a good idea from a green point of view to cut back on printing, but it also would let the college provide more services to students. Wouldn't you prefer that to paper that is just going to be recycled anyway?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spam Proof

Here's a neat little website I learned about from Kim Kommando (her Cool Site of the Day mailing list is one of the best around -- I usually add at least one site a week to my bookmarks).

It's the Spam Proof E-mail Generator. If you put your e-mail on the web, spambots will find it, harvest it, and flood you with spam. This neat little website lets you create a graphic of your e-mail address. Spambots won't be able to read it and probably won't even recognize it. But humans can, and you can put the address on the web.

This is what the address would look like:

Easy enough for others to read, but, for spammers, it's only a picture.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Keeping In Sync

Saw a nice little feature in Google Calendar today.

As you probably know, if you set up an account on gmail, you have access to a calendar function. I liked the idea, but I need to keep my calendar on Outlook. This doesn't allow me to share my calendar or access it away from work.

Google has now added Google Calendar Sync. This is software you download which synchronizes the Outlook and Google calendars. You can set the type of synch (Google to Outlook, Outlook to Google, or two-way) and the interval (at least every ten minutes).

It makes both Outlook and Google Calendar more useful.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Six of a Kind

One comment on the blog entry on saving paper deserves recognition: Print out PowerPoint with six documents to a page. This is a big saving of paper (obviously) and the six to a page printout is easy to read and refer to.

It's simple to do. Click on "Print" to bring up the Print Dialog box.

Under "Print Format" (left arrow), choose "Handouts" from the dropdown list. You can specify the number of slides per page, but six works just fine.

This is a simple way to save a lot of paper.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Mean Mister Mustard

Paper costs money. So does toner, fusers, and other equipment needed to print paper. At a time when we are all trying to be a little bit greener, it makes sense to do what you can to reduce the amount of paper you use. Some suggestions:
  • Print two-sided. This is the default in many of the labs, and cuts paper use considerably.
  • Think before printing. Is the document really ready for printing? Give it another look to find errors that might make you need to print it again.
  • Print selected page. OK. There's an error on page four. Do you really need to print pages 1-3? Office lets you print selected pages simply by typing the page numbers in the print dialog box. It even understands commas and hyphens: 1, 3-4, 7 will print pages 1, 3, 4, and 7.
  • Choose Print Preview before printing out web pages. Web pages have the nasty habit of including an extra page is one line of irrelevant text. Your web browser has a print preview setting that lets you avoid printing out those pages.
  • Use Electrons, not trees. If you need to share a document with classments, do it electronically. You probably have an electronic version to begin with (via the web or your own work), so why do you need to print it out? E-mail it to your classmates, or use Blackboard the share it (contact your instructor to find out how).

If you work on reducing your paper consumption, there will be less waste and the campus will be a little bit greener.

Remember, even Mr. Mustard tried to save paper. So should you.

(If you have additional suggestions, put them in the comments of the blog.)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Don't Panic

A couple of weeks ago, I talked a little about how spammers use your own e-mail addresses as a way to trick spam filters. And though it was implied, I forgot to talk about one more issue that this creates: the fake bounce messages.

Many years ago, when the Internet was made up of nothing but nice people, the idea of spam and viruses were never a consideration. And the network was not always reliable. E-mail addresses changed or there were problems. Someone got the idea that one solution would be the equivalent of a "return-to-sender" in postal mail. So they set up the bounce message. It would tell the sender that the message didn't reach a recipient, and give a reason (no such address, mailbox full, etc.). This was useful for troubleshooting and as general information.

But viruses and later spammers eventually learned to "spoof" an e-mail address. This means to put a fake e-mail in the "From:" field of a message. This is usually chosen at random from the list of addresses to be spammed. The result is that you can get a bounce message saying the message is undeliverable -- even when you haven't sent a message.

This doesn't mean you have a virus. It's just that your e-mail address won the (un)lucky drawing. You can safely ignore the message. You may get several of them for a few days and then not see any more.

There's no real prevention. The reduce these (and for other reasons -- spammers use the bounce messages to determine what e-mails addresses are good ones), most system administrators turn off this feature. But there are always a few who don't bother or who aren't up to date with best practices, so the messages will be with us for a long time. Just delete the message and move on.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Essential Freeware: CCleaner

Someone left a message in the comments of the blog recommending I talk about Ccleaner. Since I've always looking for topics, that seemed as good a one as any.

Ccleaner (originally called Crap Cleaner) is a utility that cleans up unnecessary files from your computer. This includes temporary Internet files, cookies, files in the recycle bin, and some unnecessary registry items. It will do a scan of your hard drive for the files and let you specify which ones you want to delete.

Note: Be careful when deleting registry entries. While I've never have had any problems deleting the software's suggestions, there is some potential that it could cause them.

Ccleaner is a nice way to make sure your hard drive isn't bogged down with useless items.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Essential Freeware: Ad-Aware

Not so long ago, when we mentioned "spyware" to students, they didn't know what you meant. Now, they do -- it's software that takes over your computer, usually changing your home page of adding popups.

Ad-Aware is software to help fix that. It scans your computer and fixes and spyware problems you might have. It's an essential cleaning tool.

Ad-Aware is made by Lavasoft and comes in both a free and paid version. Obviously, I'm partial to the free one. It does a nice job of cleaning the computer. You can download it from Download the file, update it, and run the scan.

The program lists both critical and non-critical spyware that it finds on your computer. Its defintion of spyware is pretty restrictive, so it catches a lot of things. If you run a scan, the most common thing you'll find will be tracking cookies. Those are a minor threat (and Ad-Aware identifies them as such). What that means is that a website is keeping track of your browsing. While there are privacy concerns, they will not affect how your computer operates.

If you run an Ad-Aware scan weekly, it'll go far to prevent spyware problems. In addition, the software can fix things if you're infected with spyware.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Snopes is Your Friend.

I mentioned Snopes earlier this week, and figured it needed some explanation.

Snopes has been around for at least ten years, and is a repository of urban legends run by Barbara and David Mikkelson. Every day (sometimes more often), the investigate reports of rumors and stories and try to determine their truthfulness. This isn't just an Internet search; they try to track down the people involved and interview them about the legend. The result is a definitive answer as to the truth of legends like "David Rice Atchinson was president of the US for one day"(he wasn't) or "Walt Disney's body was put into cryogenic storage" (of course not).

How does this fit in with computers? Well, there are many computing urban legends, about Computer Viruses, the Internet, and messages forwarded to your inbox. It's worthwhile checking out Snopes whenever you get any warning about computing issues that doesn't come from I&TS or directly from some other computer experts.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

When to contact I&TS

First of all, I&TS does not repair student computers. There are potential warantee issues, plus the fact that we don't have the staff to offer the service.But, when it comes to viruses and spyware, there are gray areas. I&TS can be involved to various degrees, depending on the issue.

But how do you know it's a virus or spyware? Here are some tips:

It is a virus if
  • I&TS has shut off your Internet connection.

In this case, and this case only, I&TS may want to double check that your computer is clean before allowing you on the network.

It is spyware if

  • You get popups that display even when you aren't browsing the web.
  • You can't reach certain websites.
  • Your home page has changed and won't change back to the right one.

If you have these symptoms, you can contact the Call Center at x2573 for advice on how to fix it. I&TS will not look at your computer, but we will give you advice on how to fix the problem yourself.

It's not a virus or spyware if

  • You cannot reach your desktop.
  • The hard drive is making unusual noise.
  • There are problems with peripheral devices like flash drives, printers, etc.
  • There is a problem with the monitor display

If your problem is of this nature, you should contact your computer manufacturer.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

IM the Helpdesk

In order to add new ways to contact I&TS, we have added Instant Messaging to contact us.

If you have AIM, you can contact I&TS by sending a message to ccsiena200809. Consultants will be on duty during regular helpdesk hours -- 8:00 am to 5:00 pm weekdays.

Please note that this should be used for issues that pertain to Siena computing such as viruses, spypware, how to use Siena systems and software, phone issues, etc.

Monday, February 11, 2008


I got my first question about a virus hoax this year today. That's progress.

What is a virus hoax? It's an e-mail message warning you of a virus. The first sign of one, is this warning:


That's the entire point of the hoax: to get you to e-mail the message to everyone you know.

Luckily, here at Siena, most faculty know not to do this, or at least to contact I&TS first. But students sometimes get caught.

It's a nice exercise in social engineering, of course. That's the term for fooling people into doing what you want them to do. This is harmless (other than causing needless anxiety), but other forms of social engineering are used to steal passwords and other security information.

It used to be you could plan for these every October. In September, thousands of Freshmen across the US got their first e-mail accounts, and by October, they learned how to FWD:FWD:FWD:FWD mail. Now it's less predictable and can happen at any time.

The messages can take many forms, but, oddly enough, they all contain this paragraph:

This is the worst virus announced by XXXX. It has been classified by Microsoft as the most destructive virus ever. This virus was discovered by McAfee yesterday, and there is no repair yet for this kind of virus. This virus simply destroys the Zero Sector of the Hard Disc, where the vital information is kept.

I've been seeing these for over ten years, and 85% of them have some variation of this. The name of who announces it, who classifies it, and who discovers it varies, but the "Zero Sector of the Hard Disc" is almost a constant.

But that doesn't mean it doesn't change. The subject line varies, with new variants every few months. But lately, they've been adding this line:

checked, and it is for real!!

Snopes is a site that debunks urban legends and hoaxes, and is a good way to check if a message is real or not. But the link given goes to a different message, one about a real virus. If you click on it and read it, you'll see it has nothing to do with what is in the warning e-mail (No "Zero Sector on the Hard Drive"). The sender is betting that you won't click on the link, and if you do click on it, you won't read the message to see that the link has nothing to do with the warning.

Until the Gullibility Virus is eradicated, virus hoaxes are going to show up from time to time. If you get one, search for the subject line in Google and you'll usually see it's just a trick.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Cache and Carry

When web browsers were first developed, the Internet was slow. And slow Internet caused problems displaying pages and graphics. So web browsers created cache files.

The idea was simple. If you went to a website, the site was saved on your hard drive. If you went there again, your browser would check to see if the site had been updated. If it had, it downloaded the new page. But if the site has remained the same, it displayed the cached version. This loaded faster since the page didn't have to be downloaded.

Nowadays, this caching isn't really an issue for most users, especially since pages have dynamic content and change much more often then they did in the early days. But the cache remains, taking up space on your hard drive. It's always a good idea to clear it. Each browser has a different method.
  • Internet Explorer. MSIC doesn't have cache files -- it has "Temporary Internet Files" Microsoft has a propensity for renaming things that already have perfectly good names. You clear your Temporary Internet files by clicking on "Tools," and "Internet Options." In MSIE 7, look for a section that says "Browsing History" and click on "Delete." There are several options. Most are fine to delete except for "cookies." Not that deleting cookies are a problem, but sometimes the data is used for logins and such; if deleted, you may have to log on to sites that kept your login data for cookies. Your call.
  • Firefox. Click on "Tools," "Options," and "Advanced." There is a "Clear Cache" button.

You should clear your cache from time to time just as basic maintenance. Also, it can be a place where spyware hides, so clearing it can occasionally help in that respect.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Power has returned

It didn't affect I&TS services much, though Blackboard (not run by I&TS was down). Things should be back on line soon, if not already.

Power Outage

There was a power outage on campus that affected the Standish Library and some of the residence halls. This may cause problems with some computing services. Once power is restored, we will boot up any systems that may have been affected.

The Great Profile

Faculty and staff on the I&TS network may occasionally get a message that they have exceeded their profile storage space and they can't log off the computer.

We try to have generous limits on the profile size. However, sometimes software puts data in the profile -- often temporary files that can go elsewhere (peeve) -- that fills up the space quickly. This also occurs at Siena if you download pictures into your profile instead of elsewhere.

To avoid downloading the pictures, save them in the "username pictures" folder in your "My Documents." If you see a folder called "My Pictures" without your username, switch -- this is the one in the profile.

Some software also causes problems with the profile. The most egregious offender is Google Earth. One Google Earth session can seriously mess up your profile as it saves temp files there. However, there is a way to use Google Earth without having a problem. I&TS has developed a file that will clean out your profile when you exit Google Earth, avoiding the issue. If you want to use Google Earth, let us know and we can install it.

You can also clean your profile yourself. Instructions are at the web page. Here's a direct link.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Citrix on a Mac

Good news for Mac users: Citrix has just released a new client for the Mac that makes using Citrix much easier.

Citrix is a form of virtual computing, where you can run programs remotely. For instance, we have some databases in the library that are open to the Siena community. Instead of having to go down to the library, you can research them from your computer. There's also software (like SPSS) that can be accessed.

This works on the Macintosh, even if they are Windows programs. Since your computer is only a terminal in a Citrix session, the Operating System makes no difference.

The new software can be found on the Citrix site. Once you install and configure it, you can log on the Citrix, and click on any program you see to run it. It will ask to open the program in the Citrix client; once you choose "yes," then the program will run.

Files will be saved in your network "My Documents" folder, and can be downloaded or worked on again through Citrix.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Software Graveyard: Harvard Graphics & Zenographics Mirage

As is obvious, PowerPoint is the undisputed king of presentation software (OpenOffice's Impress is trying, and Google is getting into the act with Google Presentations, but they are currently still only minor pretenders to the throne). But before PowerPoint, there was Harvard Presenatation Graphics.

Actually, there still is. But you don't hear about how someone is going to do a Harvard Graphics presentation. Still Harvard was the first. Before Windows came out, it was the software you used to create a presentation. Similar in design to PowerPoint (though I don't recall if it had the outline feature), it let you create presentations even before there was a good way to present them. But it remained the leader until Microsoft bundled PowerPoint with Office. Few people were willing to buy a stand-alone program for the one or two presentations they made a year, but if it was part of the Office Suite, anyway, you had it and learned to use it. Harvard Graphics just faded and was forgotten.

I doubt anyone remembers Zenographics Mirage; I only know about it because I used it for several years to create slides (the type you projected in a Kodak Carousel). I worked at a graphic design firm, and created what would now be PowerPoint slides for presentations (GE was our biggest customer). Mirage (and its graphic entry software, Ego) used a digitizer to trace images. I would put them onto the digitizer board and touch it with a pen to indicate the image. Mirage/Ego was not good with curves at all (It took me weeks to get a decent version of the GE logo* when they changed it**)

But Mirage was difficult for the average user to use, and you had to create each slide individually. Even such things as aligning text was a chore. It probably was never going to be popular software, but it did the job in the days before more advanced software was developed.

*Known in Schenectady and "the meatball." There was also the "flying meatball" with the words General Electric and the logo in the middle.

**The logo was changed in the late 70s. No one outside of GE ever noticed the changes.

Monday, February 4, 2008

"You" isn't you.

We've been getting a few questions lately about our spam filters. We use Postini to filter out spam, and it does a pretty good job.

But no spam filter is perfect. The more restrictive it is, the more likely it will block a message you want to recieve. I noticed this recently with my Yahoo e-mail: it had taken it on its own to block mail from a bunch of senders I wanted to allow. Luckly, you can just specify the message as not spam and then Yahoo will let it through.

So Postini, like all spam filters, has a procedure to notify you of messages blocked by your spam filter. And each day, Siena e-mail users get an e-mail listing what has been blocked.

If you go down the list, there's a good chance you'll see an e-mail "from" your own e-mail address. We've been getting calls about people who are worried that this might mean their accont has been compromised.

Well, fear not. It is trivial to fake an e-mail address. Back when I was using Netscape mail, you could put anything you want in the "from:" field*. This has become more difficult for the average user, but if you're sending spam, it's ridiculously easy.

Think of the "From:" on an e-mail as the return address on an envelope. There's no way to prevent someone from using your real address, even if you haven't sent the letter.

So why use your e-mail address for spam? There are two general reasons:

  1. Many people put their own e-mail on a whitelist, so that if they e-mail themselves (say, a copy of an e-mail or as a way to transfer files), it will bypass the spam filters. Note, "bypass the spam filters." That phrase attracts spammers like garbage attracts cockroaches. So they develop software to match the "From:" field to the "To:" field. (Postini doesn't consider the "From:" field when scanning e-mail.)
  2. Some spam chooses an e-mail address at random from the list of addressees to make it harder to trace. If it's yours, then you're the lucky one (you'll also get messages that your e-mail cannot be delivered).

So, what do you do? Nothing. It would be impossible to track down who actually sent the message (at least, impossible without getting law enforcement authorities with the right to subpoena involved). The fact that your name is being used is just luck of the draw, and doesn't mean there's anything wrong with your computer or that your e-mail account has been hacked. It can be safely ignored; just delete the message and don't think about it.

*Much of the early software for the Internet was based on the idea that "We're all good people and will play nice," so security wasn't even considered.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What are they thinking?

For some reason, I like office supply stores. I enjoy looking at paper, and desk caddies, and envelopes, and rubber bands, and . . . oh, yes, computers and software. And there's actually a Staples a couple of blocks from me, so I get a little exercise walking over and checking it out.

Yesterday, I was looking at the software aisle for maybe a game or something for my home computer when a couple started looking, too. They spotted one of the bargain disks and said, "Oh, there it is. PowerPoint."

Well, I figured they could use some help and pointed out that it was a disk on how to use PowerPoint, not the software itself. They told me that their daughter needed PowerPoint for school. I told them about PowerPoint, that it wasn't cheap, and discussed potential replacements.

I happened to ask what school their daughter was going to, figuring it would be a local college.

"She's in the ninth grade," they said.

I think they noticed my double-take.

Now, I can understand why a teacher might want a ninth grader to use PowerPoint: it's a program used in college and the business world, so the practice is useful. But to expect them to have access to PowerPoint is just crazy. The school does evidently have computers in their library, but don't let students use them for PowerPoint (probably for good reason: they're probably there to let students use the Internet for research). But if you're going to insist on they're having the program ($109 alone, or $129 in the most basic Office Suite), the students should have a place like a computing lab where they can use it without buying it. What if the student couldn't afford a computer at home?

I still keep shaking my head over this.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Avoiding E-mail Overload

Microsoft has put out a very good guide to help you reduce the feeling that you're getting overloaded by e-mail. The main suggestions are:
  • Slash the number of new messages by unsubscribing to e-mail lists.
  • Respond appropriately by not responding to every message.
  • Take advantage of subject lines so people don't have to read the message to know what it's about.
  • Summarize a message when forwarding and copying*
  • Be disciplined and don't check your e-mail every five minutes. It will be there for you.
  • Use e-mail tools.

The last one is the most overlooked option. Your e-mail client offers some good tools that can manage messages. For instance, I subscribe to several mailing lists. I use Outlook's Rules function to sort the messages into folders as they come in. The messages don't come into my Inbox and I don't get warnings as they arrive. Instead, when I have a moment, I check the folder.

There are also things you can do to help others. For instance, don't click the "Reply to All" button. Too often, people click this automatically, so everyone who recieved the message will also get your reply. There are very few cases where that is necessary; replying to the sender is sufficient. But if you use "Reply to All," people who weren't interested in the first message will get a second message they're not interested in. If you're discussing things among a group, then "Reply to All" makes sense, but not for general messages sent to groups. Alway use "Reply" unless you can come up with a good reason to reply to everyone.

*This is a real peeve of mine. Everyone has gotten the old "Fwd:Fwd:Fwd:Fwd:Fwd:" subject line where you have to scroll down four pages of nothing in order to get to the original forwarded message. Don't send off this sort of thing -- or, at least, delete everything except the message that you want to forward in the first place.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Registering your new games

Good news, everyone (well, not news, but it's still good): Siena does allow gaming systems like Playstation Plus, Xbox, Wii, etc. on its network. You just need to register your system and will be allowed to game online.

Some students have been having some problems registering. The issue is that the registration requires that you enter an Mac Address. This has nothing to do with Macintosh computers (though Macs do have Mac Addresses. Confused yet?). The Mac Address is a standard set of letters and numbers that uniquely identify network devices. Mac Address consist of six pairs of hexidecimal characters, usually written as separated by colons of hyphens: 01:23:45:67:89:ab ("hexidecimal" means the letters a-f are used in addition to 0-9). Each gaming device (and any network devices) is assigned a Mac Address (sometimes called a "Physical Address" -- for some reason, Microsoft doesn't like using "Mac.").

OK, the technical part is over. Let's go back to the instructions.

When you go to register your Gaming system, there are instructions on finding your Mac Address at the top left of the page.

Click on the name of your device for instructions on how to find the information.