Wednesday, January 28, 2009

PCCC Emergency Notification System

Today (1/28/09) had some rather ugly weather, but school did not close. One of the things the school has added in the past few years is a system that will alert you to school closings and other important issues. Many people don't know that this system exists.

Basically (and of course, this was partially in response to the shootings at Virginia Tech a few years back), the school has an automated system that will alert you to school closings and other emergencies via phone, email, and text. You can specify up to 6 phone numbers (cell, home, work), two email addresses, and a cell phone for text messages.

Link to Full Instructions

Short version of instructions: if you log in to your school portal account in Campus Cruiser, you would click on the tab at the top labeled "Panther Alert". Click on that. Log in using your school email address - and your student ID number.

PS - remember your email is - not

Sunday, January 25, 2009

British police hackers

Information security and online privacy are things that always concern me. This is why this recent story from the Times Online in the UK is a little scary.

Basically, it's been approved that police in the UK can hack in to people's computers. I know a lot of people will say "what is the big deal"? However, I think of it this way. You wouldn't want people wandering through your house, and the same thing should go for your computer. If police wanted to go in to your house, they need cause, or a warrant.

Of course, our laws are different...but it's still scary, and instructive to see what other countries are doing. We are talking about the UK, also...a decent enough country when it comes to human rights.

I just can't see this one holding up, somehow.

Web Link:

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Opening Office 2007 files in older Office versions

I posted this last semester, but this seems to be worth a re-post.

PCCC has made it the "standard" that we are using Office 2007. This presents some issues that we haven't seen in years, the issue of backwards compatibility. In other words, let's say you are running Office 2003 at home. If I mail you a Microsoft Word document in Office 2007 format, you are basically out of luck.

...that is, without an extra piece of free software from Microsoft.

If you are running Office 2000, Office XP, or Office 2003, and can not open Office 2007 files (they have slightly different extensions, such as .docx, .xlsx, or .pptx), the free Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack program will allow you to open these files.

I would highly recommend that you download this and install it, especially if you are a PCCC student. If you do classwork on campus computers, you'd have to otherwise remember to "Save as" an older format in order to work seamlessly between campus and home, and that's really not all that seamless, is it?

PC Users: Download Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack

One problem that someone verbally asked me about - this does NOT help with Access files. If you have Access 2003 and someone sends you a database in Access 2007 format, you're out out luck, even after installing this.

Now, why they haven't pushed this out as part of their Microsoft Update, I can not tell you.

Mac users only
If you are a Office for Macintosh 2004 or Office for Macintosh X user, you will need to go through a different process. You need to download a free tool called "Open XML File Format Converter for Mac 1.0". Yeah, that's easy to figure out.
Macintosh Users Download Here

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Spring 2009 semester is here!

So, today (1/21/09) marks the beginning of the Spring 2009 semester. I'm looking forward to a good semester.

I've realized that sometimes (especially if you are not a student of mine) that my Office Hours may be hard to come by, so on the left hand side of the page, I've added a link to my Office Hours for this semester. I have it set up so that in future semesters, it should redirect to the current semester's office hours as well.

Also - if you want to get email when this site is updated...there is a link on the left hand side to feedburner. When I update, you get email, and only when I update. They're trustworthy - Google owns them.

Here's to a good semester!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A welcome change...

Welcome, President Obama.

In my relatively short lifetime, I can't recall the hope that Obama has generated as something another politician has duplicated.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Would you eat a sea kitten?

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have put together a campaign to try to convince people to stop fishing.

Oh, wait, I mean "hunting sea kittens".

Yes, PETA has decided that the name "fish" doesn't bring forward enough sympathy, so they've decided to refer to them by the name of "sea kittens". Because, you know, who would eat a kitten?

You know, I am all for people having causes, but this seems like one of those that, if you look at it objectively, is doomed to fail. I mean, we can't even switch over to the metric system even though most of the world is using it. Can anyone objectively think we'd ever drop the word "fish" in favor of "sea kitten"?

I feel like this sort of campaign just makes rational people look at a campaign like this and say "wow, they are out of touch", and it actually HURTS their cause, but that's just me.

Web Links:

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Custom images

There are plenty of images that are easy to edit, especially if you have image editing software.

However, there is a site that makes it even easier. They have 8 stock images, and you can simply type in the text that you want to appear in the images. You can save them and add them to PowerPoint presentations and other things like that.

The site includes the ability to add custom text to things like a magic eight ball, George W. Bush, and other images, and is completely free to use.

Web Links:

Monday, January 12, 2009

Dump 10 Facebook friends, get a free whopper

I think Burger King has done some interesting things in marketing in the last few years. I always loved the Burger King NFL commercials - where they put the King in to real NFL plays.

When you've got it, you've got it, and the King's got it!

The new marketing idea involves Facebook. You install the Burger King "Whopper Sacrifice" application, and use it to remove 10 friends. After you remove 10 friends, you qualify for a free Whopper at their store.

Obviously, their goal is to get Burger King on people's Facebook pages, and this is a clever use of advertising in social networking.

Web Links:

Thanks to Diana for the heads up!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Paperless Environment

For many years in the late 1990's, we heard the idea of a "paperless environment" tossed about. Obviously, this never really came about, no matter how hard we've tried. Has it reduced the amount of paper? Sure. But it definitely has not eliminated paper completely.

One of the problems is that legislation was behind the electronic signature. Basically, for many years, you needed someone's physical signature, in case they came back and challenged that they actually signed things (let's say, for credit card bills, or dropping a class). Yes, there are plenty of holes in the idea of a real signature, but it's all we had. Nowadays, you've probably seen the electronic signature pads that are in place in a lot of areas - Target, many grocery stores, and other retailers have these, and they're considered just as legal.

Going forward, paperless is a good idea, but what if you have 20 years worth of paper records?

The thing that scares users is the idea of scanning all of these things in. For example, our school must have hundreds of thousands of pieces of paper that they keep around, and can you really entrust scanning documents and making sure something isn't lost to someone with little computer experience? Probably not. Do you want to pay someone experienced $50 an hour to do repetitive work? No, you don't want that either.

This has spawned a set of companies that will scan your documents for you and store them electronically. For example, there are sites such as Pixily - which will allow you to simply mail in documents. If you know someone with a small company, this is a site that might be really useful if they've got thousands of paper records just sitting all over the place. You mail them documents, and you get scanned copies, for a pretty low price.

There are more expensive and more comprehensive companies like Digital Documents as well, but this is something that would probably be overkill for a small office.

It may seen funny, but even in a smaller environment such as my college, there are rooms devoted to paper records that could be better used for other purposes - offices, classrooms, other storage, etc. Plus, in case of a flood or other natural disaster, paper records can fail. Converting them to electronic form will not only remove the need to store the originals - it will also allow you to use normal computerized backup systems to save those records for the future.

We're not paperless yet...perhaps someday we will be.

Web Links:

Monday, January 05, 2009

Want a really fast machine?

Some machines are fast, and then there are machines that are so fast they can't even be imagined. For example, you probably have a gigabyte of RAM, maybe 2 gigabytes. The Cray XT Jaguar, a supercomputer, has 362 terabytes of RAM. In other words, if you have 2 GB of RAM, this machine has 181,000 times what your machine has. If your machine has a 500 GB hard drive, well, that's tiny compared to the 10 PETABYTE file system. In other words:

Your machine:
500,000,000,000 bytes

Their machine:
10,000,000,000,000,000 bytes

And, no, that's not a typo.

Cost? A cool $100 million dollars.

You may recall if you read Jurassic Park that the machines they used to , those were also Cray Supercomputers, but an earlier model (X-MP).

Thanks to Brandt for the heads up!

Web Link:

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Microsoft Zune disaster

Microsoft's Zune MP3 player, which they've billed as a competitor to the Apple iPod, ran in to a major problem yesterday. According to Microsoft, most 30 GB Zune players stopped working yesterday, seemingly randomly. Apparently, the problem had to do with the fact that 2008 was a leap year, and thus had 366 days.

(If this sounds familiar, this is the kind of thinking that had people worried about the year 2000 and computers.)

This is something they can fix through software in the future - however, for the moment, Microsoft's solution is for people to let the device entirely power off. The reason is because the battery can not be removed by the user. Apparently, any time after noon today (1/1/09) would be an okay time to charge and reboot the Zune without experiencing issues.

Issues like this happen all the time in Microsoft, but this is a bigger issue than that. Software engineering should have a lot of quality assurance, but honestly, people hate to have their work tested under strenuous conditions. The same problem comes up with management. Does it work? If so, ship it. Why waste a ton of money testing if odds are that we won't find a major error?

This is likely an example of that.

I am sure Microsoft will fix it, and it won't happen again, but thousands of Zune users will watch the series of "Hi, I'm a Mac" ads and pay a little more attention.

Web Link: