Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Conficker - The April Fool's Day Virus

Tomorrow (4/1/09) is a very important day. A virus is set to do some very nasty things tomorrow, or so they say. Basically, this Internet worm has infected many computers, and is set to start being exceptionally nasty starting tomorrow.

There have been many viruses that people see as something that could be a catastrophe that turn out to be nothing, but this one seems like it might have some teeth to it. Technical details are in the article linked above, but tomorrow could be a very interesting day. I wanted to make sure I said this before tomorrow arrives. Could it be that tomorrow we will wake up and the Internet will be crippled because of this virus? Will the estimated 3 million infected machines rise up and launch computer attacks on government sites, or e-commerce sites, or email sites? Or will this be something that just sort of overhyped, as many computer viruses were?

PC Magazine has a "To-Do" list - for home users and network administrators alike - on how to make sure they are protected. Basically, if you have an anti-virus software package installed and updated, and you've been running Windows (or Microsoft) Update, you should be okay. This is why I am secure enough to leave my home PC on tomorrow when I go to teach.

That is, if all the computers in the world haven't gone down by 11:45 am! :)

Thanks to Sue for the heads up on the "To-Do List"!

Monday, March 30, 2009

MLK Scholarship 2009-2010

This is the time of year for scholarships!

PCCC can nominate one student for this award.

The NJ Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Commission is proud to announce the 2008 - 2009 King Scholarship Program. Established in 1999 in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the King Scholarship Program recognizes NJ college students for their academic and extracurricular achievements to further the causes championed by the civil rights leader. Scholarships in the amount of $5000 are awarded annually.

Students must submit their application and supporting documentation to the Office of the Dean for Evening Administration/Associate Dean for Student Affairs (E101) by the deadline of May 14, 2009.

Eligibility Requirements
  • Show evidence that they intend to pursue a course of study in social work, labor, history, political science, divinity or religion, sociology, psychology or other fields that will enable them to further the causes championed by Dr.King.
  • Have attained a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
  • Have demonstrated leadership ability through participation in community service, and/or co-curricular activities.
  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident in the state of New Jersey.
  • Must have completed 15 credits.
Visit www.njmlkcommission.com for more information and/or an application. Remember - the documentation must be submitted to PCCC, not to the NJ MLK Commission.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Registration for 2009 Summer and Fall, already!

Advising and registration for the 2009 Summer and Fall semesters starts Monday (3/30/09)...already.

First step - see an advisor. If you are a college level student, you should no longer see anyone from the Center for Student Success for advice on classes - they are generalists. They know a bit about most programs, but are not experts in any of them - there are way too many programs for them to have expert level understanding of all of them.

IT and Business majors - this especially applies for you! There are many options and many schools with different transfer requirements, and it pays to see a faculty advisor. We don't get paid extra for this - I feel like this is one of those real chances we have as faculty members to make a real impact in a one-on-one fashion. Just remember you can see anyone in your major - so find someone who has convenient office hours and someone you can trust to ask some questions. See an advisor ... register now and get the sections of the classes you want and avoid the gym registration and avoid a class at 8:55 am followed by a class at 2:50 pm because all the sections are full.

I guarantee the nurses will start filling up the Anatomy and Physiology courses by 10 am Monday.

If you want to ask questions of me, my office hours are as always posted on the left hand side of my blog.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Free Applications for Windows

What a lot of people don't realize is that there are some very good quality software packages that are freeware that are just as effective as the paid ones.

(Side note: for some reason, what I just typed reminds me of a quote from the movie "Real Genius" - starring a very young Val Kilmer - "there's a lot of decaffeinated brands on the market that are just as tasty as the real thing". Classic when seen in context).

There are probably about 10,000 sites that have done this, but there is a site called freeapps.co.uk that promotes many of these products. It has a list of products for the Windows operating system here:

What's kind of nice is that a lot of the things my student end up wondering how to get for free - for example, free anti-virus, free digital photo editors, free alternatives to Microsoft Office...most of the common software packages are listed there, and you can click on one for a more detailed description and a link to the publisher's Web site. This is a site that's trustworthy, and it does link directly to the download sites - you won't have to worry about spyware, you are downloading from the people who created the software.

If you are looking for something free (and also LEGAL), this is a nice little site to check out.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Twitter in the NBA and poor netiquette

Twitter is one of the social networking applications for the Internet - you have the ability to post status updates from mobile devices, etc. Before Facebook and Myspace had mobile applications, this was THE mobile social network. According to Wikipedia, it's still the third most common social networking application, ahead of sites like Friendster and HI5, and behind only Facebook and Myspace.

One of the issues I find in the classroom sometimes is poor etiquette. For example, there are times I am in the middle of teaching a lesson, and I see a student texting or doing something on their phone. It becomes distracting, and it is a little frustrating to deal with. As such, it causes me to lose focus, and therefore, affects the learning environment for the entire class.

I (and many professors) feel like it is rude when students do that ... and that the class isn't important to them. This is why this article was something I can relate to:

Basically, a player from the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, Charlie Villanueva, updated his status on Twitter during halftime of a game. His coach, Scott Skiles, got pretty upset about it, and, much like some students may think, he didn't think it was a big deal. The coach, on the other hand, felt like it showed a lack of focus on the game by the forward.

On some level I can relate with Coach Skiles.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Security, or lack thereof

In another case of security being an illusion, a man from New Zealand bought a used MP3 player in a thrift store while visiting the United States.

Stored on the device, instead of songs, were pieces of information - solider names (not so bad), soldier cell phone numbers (a little worse), soldier social security numbers (bad), lists of equipment that had been shipped to Iraq and Afghanistan (really bad), and information about military missions being run in those countries (outrageously bad).

Now, not all of this information was up to date (most dated in 2005 or so, and this story broke in 2008), but still - this is a case of someone who was honest and came forward. It scares me to think of what happens when this falls in to the hands of someone a little less ethical. I also have this feeling that, for every one case that is made public, there are hundreds more that are not reported. Think about it - even if you have the most hacker proof firewalls in the world, all it takes is one employee to do something like this, and people could die.

Link to article

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Internet Explorer 8, complete with "porn mode"

Microsoft is working on Internet Explorer 8, which will include some tools that were not in previous versions. One of the things they've "borrowed" from other browsers is an anonymized browsing experience - "InPrivate" mode - it will not store cookies, browsing data, and history, instead, those things will all disappear as soon as the browser is closed. Of course, this has led to people calling this "porn mode", because you know, this is either being used by paranoid people or people who are doing things wrong, right?

(well, no, I would love this on a public computer to prevent people from trying to get my passwords and private communications, but that's another story)

In addition, there are supposed to be other tools that add privacy protection. Of course, since Internet Explorer is still the default Windows browser, that will still be the one hackers go after first, but it is good that Microsoft is at least trying to make privacy a priority.

At the moment, it is still in "beta" - so it is still considered to be in testing. Once there is a final release, it will likely be pushed out as part of the Microsoft Updates, but for the moment, you can only getting it by downloading it yourself. It is, of course, free.

IE 8 Beta Download

Monday, March 09, 2009


The best way to get your foot in the door is of course ... to know someone.

But, barring that, a resume is nearly a requirement for many jobs, and having a good one certainly would give you a leg up.

If you are a student at PCCC, one of the first things I would do is contact the Career Services office. They can provide some of the initial guidance that you would need to set up a resume.

Larger companies will typically use a resume parser to automatically cut down on the amount of resumes they review. That's right - a human might not even see your resume! These software packages rank candidates based on the job criteria. This is why it is important to get your resume checked out by someone with some expertise, because they know what keywords to put in there.

It's also important to make small changes to the resume to emphasize the skills they are looking for (this also can be done using a separate "cover letter").

People majoring in the Information Technology program, for example, may see an ad that says "Security+ certification required". Why do they put that? Because they are getting a lot of resumes and someone told them "get me someone with Security+". If this keyword does not show up on your resume, guess what? You're not getting past the parser software.

One way around this, especially if you have other certifications, is to throw the keywords in the resume. Let's say you have a SSCP certification - this is similar in content to the Security+ exam. If you read an advertisement and it says "Security+ required" - don't just assume that the person will figure out that your certification is similar. You're trying to get in the door!

If the ad asks for something specific, I'd change my resume a little to make sure those keywords show up. For example, if you formerly listed SSCP, change it to say SSCP (similar to Security+ certification). This way, the resume parser doesn't ignore your resume.

Likewise, even if you don't have the certification, you can say that you are studying for it - for example, you could put under your education that you are "Currently pursuing Security+ certification". Of course, if it says "required", a human might still parse you out. However, if it said "Security+ preferred", that might be enough to get you in the door, if your resume fits the other qualifications.

All of the tips I really have are for tweaking and changing resumes - your first start should be to get your resume looked at by someone - like I said before, Career Services does good work, and the woman in charge (Adrienne Wolff) seems very good at what she does. If you're not a student or have graduated, you can always pay for this service (Google "Resume Consultants"). You may say "$200 is a lot of money!!". However, if this gets you a job paying $5 an hour more than you make now...or if it gets you a job when you are unemployed...it may be an investment worth making.

Thanks to David Csuha for getting me thinking about this.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Cost to Drive

I ran across this Web site that will tell you, using today's average gas prices, what the average cost would be for a round trip to a location. For example, did you know that a trip from New York to Los Angeles costs $346 in a Hummer H3 and $111 in a Toyota Prius? They love showing that on their site. For example, I used this once when a few friends and I took a trip up north, it allowed us to budget for gas pretty exactly. Sometimes it is a little sobering to see how much a commute really costs you in gas - for example, I showed this to a co-worker, and he realized that he was paying $6 a day in gas just to get to school...and that's before tolls and wear and tear on his car.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

Scams: Jury Duty

There are all sorts of scams that don't require a computer to do. For example, with a little bit of work on the computer, I can find out your name, phone number, address, and what types of credit cards you have. I could then call and say "Hi, I am from Mastercard, I am looking for yourname. We have reports of fraudulent charges on your account". I could ask something that would scare you - like did you order $4,000 worth of video games to be shipped to South Korea". Of course, that is how scams really work. They create fear, so that you go along with them. In this case, the person would promise to clear the fake charges off your account, but only after "verifying" some information. To do so, they'd ask some really obvious information, and then eventually get your credit card information from you.

I read about something that was new to me - a similar scam regarding jury duty. The person wishing to scam you will call and say that a warrant has been issued for your arrest due to you missing jury duty multiple times. They'd ask for information for verification purposes to clear this, and of course when they ask for things like social security number, that is when they are getting the information they want.

The question I get asked when I bring these things up in class is "so how do I know it is real"? If you are not sure - call the company back. If it is a credit card, call the number on the back and get the fraud department on the phone. If it is a jury duty issue, get the county clerk on the line. If someone is calling you about it, then you should be able to call them and get the same information and get it worked out, and I am much more inclined to trust it if I am the one placing the call.

Link to jury duty scam article (fbi.gov)