Sunday, June 28, 2009

Become a Gmail Ninja

Google's Gmail is a nice little email program, ignoring questions about privacy, of course. For example, there are ways to set it up so you can automatically filter things. If your email address is, you can create "disposable email addresses". I could send email to an it would still get to you. You could then give out one version of your email to your friends - the easy one - and use another one for Web sites you trust - and a third version for Web sites that you don't really want to have your email address, but you have to give them one for something.

The cool part is that you can then use Gmail's filtering system to automatically ignore anything sent to the junk version of your email address - so if someone emails, you could have that automatically put in to a garbage folder, or you can have it deleted automatically!

Obviously this is not something everyone can do easily. What Google decided to do is create the aforementioned Gmail Ninja site. They've divided things up in to four categories - basically, easy, medium, hard, and really complex - and this way, based on the skill level you select, it will show you tips.

I like this idea because there are plenty of Gmail help sites out there...and Google has taken ownership of it and organized it in a logical way.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Goodbye, Fly Clear

A few years after the 2001 WTC attacks, there was a program started called Fly Clear. The basic idea was to give people (read: people who are too important to wait in line with the rest of us - and yes I just made a snarky comment) the chance to skip the long lines at the standard security check-in. The sad part is that many people paid ahead of time, and as I mentioned at some point, when you pay ahead of time, companies now owe you something. Whether this is a gift card or a service, it doesn't matter. As soon as the company bankrupt, they owe you something, but you don't necessarily get it back. Accounting students may recognize the concept of journal entries embedded in there somewhere.

The other question in situations like this is what happens to your private information. SOMEONE is going to buy this company. In this case, there is important information about their customers - passport numbers and driver's license numbers (needed to fly), THUMBPRINTS (FlyClear used biometric identification) and SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS (they did background checks on all people using the service). What happens to the privacy practices that you agreed to when a company is sold? You would hope that they abide by the privacy practices you agreed to, but this isn't necessarily something they HAVE to do. Even worse, what if a less honorable corporation buys out this company? They could cause a lot of trouble with the information they have. Think like a hacker for a moment. If you had the money, you could purchase this company's assets, and now you have their database of thumbprints, document numbers, and other things. And the people involved? Rich people, who don't want to wait in line like everyone else.

Yeah, there could be some problems if an unethical corporation buys FlyClear, but hey, maybe I am just the type that thinks the worst in a situation like this.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Free Web tutorials

One thing I love about the Internet is that is offers free learning in a lot of ways. Back in 1999, I taught myself Perl basically overnight using Web-based tutorials (training). Of course, I already had been programming in school for years, so it was learning the language syntax rather than learning how to program. I already understood loops and if statements and classes and all that, so it just became learning a new set of words. With Perl, however, there was the wonderful word of "regular expressions"that I had never seen, so that took a while to master. Instead of having to do a lot of complicated searching, for example, you can replace one set of characters inside a string with another using commands like this:

That would take you a few lines of C++ code, for example. I was always taught that you want to choose the right programming language based on the task you wanted to do, and for string manipulation or interacting with the operating system, Perl is much better than C++.

Anyway, point being, once you have a foundation, you can always update your skills. I've had to do that this summer - I went to a four-day PHP training. If you don't have a job paying for it, you can always find things online that will help you. For example, a friend recommended a site called W3Schools to me a while ago, and they seem to have some nice free content.

Just remember, especially for those of you in the Information Technology field...learning is not a product - you don't just learn and that's it. You will need to keep learning over time, especially in this field.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Youtube Annotations

Technology changes all the time, even in the short time that I've been involved in it. One of the things I remember is how difficult image editing was in 1995. It's become easy to do, not only using application software, but now even using Web based applications, such as Youtube. Youtube has even added the ability to add annotations - stories, notes, and even links. This is not brand new - it was added last June - but it is a neat little feature, and of course, Youtube will certainly keep adding features. Now, maintaining the site has certainly cost Google money (estimates are as high as $500 million dollars), but they can afford it. Amazing, when you think about it, huh?

Security Sense Summer 2009

My colleague David Csuha has posted his latest "Security Sense" newsletter. His newsletter promotes some good security habits, among other things.

I particularly love the section this month about peer to peer file sharing (Limewire, etc) put people's security at risk. This doesn't require any hacking skills. ANYONE with Limewire can do this. David shows a few things, including a bank vice president who is sharing her personal photos and credit reports, and a model sharing her resume and some, er, risque pictures.

He also discusses how Twitter is being used by places such as the New Jersey State Police to disseminate information in ways that Web sites or emails don't accomplish.

Read more...Summer 2009 Security Sense

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Old Data Never Dies

In 1997, I was working for a department at Montclair State University. The woman in charge had a lot of large files, and a need to be portable, so she used Zip disks (this is before the days of USB flash drives). At one point, one disk stopped working, and she hadn't backed it up, and was very upset that her data was gone forever.

Except that it wasn't. Many people don't realize that just because you delete something doesn't mean it is gone forever. The malfunctioning disk was sent to data recovery specialists, who recovered about 99% of what was originally on the disk. I looked like a genius for knowing that this type of company existed.

Whether a disk fails, things CAN be recovered. The key is, how important is the data? There is usually a price associated with this.

Another thing - if you delete something from your hard drive, it's not gone. Going back to the Microsoft DOS days, there used to be ways to undelete files. When you delete a file, it's not shredded; the hard drive simply says "oh, okay, I can use that space to save stuff now" - which means the original file is still there, just not being recognized by your operating system.

The next step up is computer forensics. There are more advanced ways to pull information off of a hard drive, which means that if you plan on being investigated by the FBI, deleting is NOT enough.

Anyway, some students in our Cyber Security and Computer Forensics certificate decided to put the skills learned in to use and open up a data recovery consulting firm called Old Data Never Dies. I've had most of the students in at least one class, and it's great to see the growth they've all undergone since the "Introduction to Windows" class days to the point where they are now.

The company's Web site can be found below.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Bada Bing

Microsoft has had a search engine for a while, and it just doesn't compete with Google - not that much does these days. They've decided to repackage their existing MSN and Live search tools in to a new tool with a new name: Microsoft Bing.

They feel like they'll be able to compete with Google for ad revenue with this change.

I took a quick look - it has a nice look, and they stole the "simple" approach from Google. Instead of a hugely cluttered page, it's much simpler than before, and I like the "Popular Now" feature. I did a few searches, and Google still came out ahead in terms of finding what I want. However, this might be something that gets them some attention. I'd encourage you to check it out, if nothing else!

Story about Bing

Saturday, June 06, 2009

How to attract Web site visitors

One of the things we don't spend a lot of time on in our curriculum is how people can attract people to their Web site. You can have the best looking Web site, one that does a ton of cool stuff, but if no one visits it, you've got a problem. As a Web developer, customers will look to you for some expertise in this area.

Of course, one of the best things that can be done is for a person to start advertising themselves - print new business cards with the Web site address, add the address to existing publications (menus, newsletters, whatever), etc. Making information available is definitely one of the goals of a Web site, and if putting prices or directions on the Internet helps someone find you without calling your employees, you've saved time, and therefore money.

However, this does not address how to attract new customers, which should also be part of a Web presence goal. Let's say you did a Web site for a small pizza place in Paterson. Someone new to the area says "I want a pizza" and puts pizza paterson nj in to Google...will your site show up? Will it show up high on Google's rankings?

(Those are two VERY different questions, by the way)

You can submit your Web site to just about any search engine for free. For example, you can add it to Google here:

The only problem is, you're not going to show up at the top of the rankings.

You could also pay to have this done, and it's typically around $50-$100 to submit your site to over 100 search engines, big and small. It sounds like a lot of money, perhaps, but if you're being paid $30 an hour to do Web site design, it would take you more than 3 hours to submit to that many search engines. It might be worth charging the customer for that and letting the service do the work for you. (an example of how this service works)

There are also ways you can optimize your placement. There is no one solution that is perfect - no one knows the exact formula Google uses to rank pages, though we have guesses. There are times where you can re-order words, change HTML code, etc. to improve your ranking on Google. The META tag keyword choice is important - what words to choose? How many to use? Use too many and your keywords seem less important to Google, too few and you may not be found.

Though it is an expense, sometimes it pays off to pay to advertise the Web site. There are many services, including Google AdSense, that will allow you to advertise. There are also more targeted Web sites. For example, you can advertise locally on, or on local sites like or This way, you are relatively sure you are getting people who are local to you. If you are dealing with a client base who speak another language, knowing local publications in that language can help as well (for example, for Spanish speakers).

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Inbox Zero

One of the problems in this electronic age is that there are so many emails that need to be answered. Personally, I have a hard time keeping up at times; I have around 100-150 students a semester. Add to that vendors, colleagues, students interested in our CIS department programs or Graphic Design programs, adjunct faculty, and prospective students, and I have a lot of people who send me email messages.

One of the first things that has to go on my work email is forwards. Sometimes, students (and colleagues) decide to send me forwards, and I have to be firm about that not being okay. For example, I recently received a forward about how teaching math has changed. It's cute and all, but I've seen it about four times already, plus, it's not appropriate use of my work email. (Most companies have formal policies on email like this one specifically requiring email use be restricted to work purposes only).

Secondly, the use of templates has helped me a lot. I've got some templates set up for students who email with questions regarding the Graphic Design program, as well as potential adjuncts who send resumes in (my department chair, Professor Siegel, has had me overseeing this lately). Instead of having to think I can copy and paste from my Flash drive. For example, if I get a resume from a potential adjunct, I have this template handy:


My name is Eric Cameron. I am a member of the CIS faculty at PCCC. Your resume was forwarded to me.

The school typically requires a Master's Degree from teaching applicants, but we will keep your resume on file.

The school typically requires prior teaching experience from teaching applicants, but we will keep your resume on file.

At the moment, our department is in the process of reviewing resumes for the Fall 2009 semester. We are specifically looking for someone who can teach daytime courses. Please let me know if you would have any availability for teaching day courses.

We will keep your resume on file as we look to fill courses.


Eric Cameron
Assistant Professor, CIS/Engineering Department
Coordinator, Graphic Design Certificate
Passaic County Community College

Now, notice there are three parts in there that I've highlighted in red. The reason is that most resumes will not see the first two lines (about the Master's degree and about the teaching experience). Those are there because at times I saw people sending in resumes with no Master's degree or no teaching experience. Our department rarely hires someone with no teaching experience, and even more rarely hires someone without the Master's degree. So, basically, when I get a resume, I open it up, check the experience and education, and reply. I paste the template in to an email and just cut out the parts that don't apply.

This has saved me a ton of time, and it helps the department. If someone sends a resume, and doesn't hear anything for six months, they are less likely to respond if we do call them eventually. Some of these folks ended up getting called in January this year when a class opened up. At least they knew that we had previously looked at their resume.

Tips like this, tips that I have implemented, have come from a site that had a series of articles called "Inbox Zero" - a free set of articles that discuss strategies to be more effective. This includes things like filters, etiquette (do you send a "thank you" email, or no?), and other tips.

Definitely worth a read if you deal with large amounts of email messages and feel overwhelmed.