Monday, August 31, 2009

Telemarketing Laws Changing Tomorrow

Tomorrow (9/1/09) marks the change in telemarketing laws, again. Starting tomorrow, most for-profit companies that you don't have a relationship with will not be allowed to call you using pre-recorded messages. I personally don't receive a lot of calls, mainly because I registered myself for the national "Do Not Call" registry.

I was going to link here to a blog post I wrote on the national "Do Not Call" registry (, but in searching for it, it appears that I never got around to writing about that. Coming soon!

In some of my classes, we talk about how the laws are behind the technology, and this is one of those examples. Phones get invented, people decide to start using them to market things, people invent technology to automate marketing of things, laws come in to place 20 years later restricting this practice.

Better late than never, though, and this should cut down on some of the more annoying calls you get at home.

Link to Story

Friday, August 28, 2009

In Local News...

One thing that is great about the Internet is the availability of information. For example, it was near impossible twenty years ago to follow local news outside of your area. Now, if you want to see what is going on locally in any area, you can find resources.

For example, as of today, Paterson is mulling an adult curfew and the Paterson schools have a new round of educational reform. How do I know this? Paterson is large enough that it warrants a Web site devoted to local Paterson news.

I am especially impressed with the business model. You'll notice that the people running the site have done an excellent job with ad placement and ad relevancy. Since this is a site devoted to a very specific group, local printing companies, realtors, lawyers, and insurance agents can be confident that they are getting their money's worth. It's also nice to see local opinions on national matters, because there are only so many times you can read the same national opinions on issues.

Web Link:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Video Games and the Scientific Method

I think sometimes students wonder why they have to take science courses as part of any major. Part of the reason is to teach the scientific method. No matter whether you are taking biology, chemistry, physics, or some of the other sciences, you should be learning to form hypotheses and conduct experiments to see your ideas hold true ("the scientific method").

What amazes me is that this skill doesn't seem to stick. Politicians and other people toss out ideas that just don't hold up when investigated. For example, video games are for kids (wrong: statistics show that the average age of gamers is 35). Another example, video gamers are men (true, but not as extreme as portrayed: 40% of gamers are women). If you go with the false belief that teenage boys are the only people playing video games, you can draw many poor conclusions. For example, IF most people playing video games were male teenagers, you can draw conclusions about the content that should be available on these systems.

I ran across the article linked below and it just made me think how sometimes it's easier to go with anecdotal knowledge rather than do any research. For example "every time I go in to Game Stop, it's filled with teenagers". Well, this may be true, but this is not the only place that people buy video games. Evidence can be disputed with research. Research may indicate that adults buy their video games online rather than in stores like Game Stop, for the convenience or price or whatever. However, you could draw an incorrect conclusion just by walking in to a few stores and making a generalization.

Anyway, this article is a little bit biased for gamers, but an interesting read nonetheless.

Link to article

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Textbook tax credit

This just came across the email at school and I thought it was worth sharing. Here is the email we received from our bookstore manager:

Recently, the Obama administration launched economic stimulus package includes a new Textbook Tax Credit for which many PCCC students are eligible. This new government program will now reimburse students for up to 100% of the cost of required textbooks and other course materials. For example, if your student has out-of-pocket course material expenses or tuition and fees during 2009 or 2010 and no other financial grant aid covers those expenses, they would be able to claim the expenses as a credit. For each student the credit is limited to $2,500.

In the past, the Hope and Lifetime Learning credits did not cover textbooks. This exclusion disadvantaged many students for which textbooks are a high proportion of their total costs of higher education. This stimulus bill creates the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which will credit 100% of a student’s first $2000 in tuition, fees, and course materials, and 25% of the next $2000. The credit is also 40% refundable, so even if a student doesn’t owe taxes, he or she can effectively get a 40% rebate from the federal government for all tuition, fees and course materials.

At the bookstore, we are very excited about this new government program and want to ensure that our students are aware of this new opportunity. We are spreading the word here in the Bookstore, but it would make a huge difference if you could help us raise awareness by mentioning this tax credit in class to ensure that all students hear about it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Registry Cleaning

In my CIS 101 class, there is usually some sort of discussion of how programs get installed. Many times, whether in class or after class, I get a question that goes along these lines:

"Can I just copy the folder where Microsoft Office is to another computer?"

Now, back in the Microsoft DOS days, that would typically work, but Windows made it a little more complicated. There are a few things that are done during the installation process that you don't see. For example, some files are put in other folders on the hard drive, typically a subfolder under your Windows folder. In addition, some "services" are installed, and some information is written to a location called "the registry". So, with all that in mind, the operating system was designed to include an installation process, in part to make software piracy more difficult. Not all programs take advantage of this, but many do.

The problem with this is that when stuff is written to the registry, it doesn't always get cleaned out well when programs are uninstalled, etc. This leads to your registry being slower, as it is filled with junk that slows down your machine. A lot of people wonder why they can just reinstall the Windows operating system and see substantial improvements in speed. Part of the reason is the registry.

However, there are ways to fix this, and there is one program that does this for free, Eusing Free Registry Cleaner. This program will go through and clean up the mess left behind by sloppy uninstall programs. Definitely worth a download and a run. This is something I typically run every few months or so, and it always finds a bunch of errors it can fix. This is a program that I would recommend, especially with it being free and all.  The one concern I have is the limited support for Vista and Windows 7.

Link to Download

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fat Fingers

Late last year, I got a PS3 for myself, and I was looking to pick up a few games for it. One game I wanted was Guitar Hero, and I wasn't finding very good prices. I went to eBay, and same thing, there weren't a ton of great prices. I decided to try a site that I've used called fat fingers.

When an eBay seller lists an item for sale, they specify the keywords that go in the listing title, etc. People make mistakes, and if they make typographical errors, the end result is sometimes that they just don't get people to see their item. If no one sees it, no one buys it.

Anyway, fat fingers is a free site that will find auctions that are spelled wrong. For example, I was able to find an auction for "Gutar Hero" when I searched, and it was an auction starting at $5. I bid $5, and no one else bid on the item (because they didn't find it due to the spelling error), and I got a brand new copy of Guitar Hero for $5 plus shipping. When I bought this, this was an excellent price for it.

Note that this works well especially with eBay auctions. If it is a "fixed price" auction, you probably aren't getting a deal, but if it is an auction, you have a great chance of putting in a low bid and winning something.

I am still shocked that eBay hasn't found some way to fix this, because when their sellers lose money, they also lose money on commission.

Anyway, here's the site:

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Physics for Free!

As an undergraduate in Computer Science, I was required to take a two semester lab science sequence. In addition, I was required to take Calculus I, Calculus II, and Linear Algebra from the math area. With proper manipulation of my free electives, I was able to take a few extra courses and end up with both math and physics minors. Where an ex-girlfriend of mine was taking classes like "Rock and Rap as Cultural Phenomena" (no kidding), I was taking four-credit lab sciences like Electricity and Magnetism and higher level math classes like Linear Algebra to complete requirements. I finished my degree with 130 credits - two more than the minimum - with those two minors.

Physics, in particular, always used to fascinate me. It was always complicated, but very interesting to solve problems using the theories provided. It's an incredibly interesting subject, but it does involve a lot of higher level math, and that usually seems to be a deterrent for people. I think people would get more out of that type of science than, say, Meteorology, but that's just me. Not that there is anything wrong with Meteorology, but I think Physics really was a class that taught me how to think and apply math and science to real world problems, and I am glad I ended up going that route.

If you ever did want to learn a little about it, a professor of Physics has actually taken the time to write a free textbook, and has made it available on the Web. You can find it at the address below:

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Fall schedule updates

I had a minor change to my Fall 2009 schedule. I will be teaching a regular CIS 101 course CIS 101 M09 instead of the CIS 101 learning community course. If you have friends in CIS 101 M09 you can feel free to warn them to get out now.

Original Post with my Fall schedule

Monday, August 03, 2009

My experience with the legal system

I believe I mentioned that I was on jury duty for the county I live in a few weeks ago. It was certainly an interesting experience. I ended up getting selected for a trial and serving on a jury for a criminal case. The case involved a defendant who had been pulled over and found with drugs in his car. While the arrest was happening, an officer sustained an injury.

(For the record, the judge did say that we can discuss these things, for anyone wondering. I am going to avoid specifics and stick with my impressions of the whole experience)

First of all, it amazed me that it took two full days to pick a jury. The first two days I served were not anything to do with the trial; instead, I was waiting in a jury box watching people get selected and then struck by the attorneys. What amazed me was that they interviewed each prospective juror individually. The problem I have with the situation is that so much of this could be improved with technology. You had 75 people come in a room Tuesday with me, and most of them ended up dismissed because of the ways they answered the juror questionnaire. In order to be dismissed, they first had to go and sit with the judge and lawyers for a few minutes. I immediately thought of little touch screen devices, asking the same questions they were asking people on paper, and based on people's responses, automatically filtering people out if necessary. There are certain reasons that people can be dismissed, and that I won't talk about, but if those reasons showed up during the survey, why did the person need to wait the entire day sitting on the benches waiting? People literally waited 6 hours to walk up to the judge, give him their juror survey, and be sent out of the room immediately. Some of the questions saw the judge ask a follow up question. The mobile devices I am imagining could be programmed to do the same - if someone says "yes" to this question, ask this follow up yes/no question.

I'm going to make up a silly example here, just so I am not specific about the questions on the actual survey. Let's pretend the case has something to do with cats, and they are going to bring in 10 cats. Your jury questionnaire would probably ask each juror if they are allergic to cats, because you then would not be able to be around so many cats. If we had this device, anyone who was allergic to cats would be able to be dismissed back in to the jury pool and either put on another case or send home (because you CAN be called as a prospective juror for multiple trials in the same day). Heck, the survey could even be done before you go in to any courtroom, and anyone allergic to cats could be routed to another trial that does not involve cats.

Now, why not do this survey from home, which did cross my mind? You can not yet assume everyone has access to the technology and the ability to use it, and you also don't want to worry about people's forms being stolen and used by a stranger, so an in-person verification at the courthouse may be necessary.

One the jury was selected, the judge asked for our cell phone and home phone numbers, in case there was an emergency. We reported to a jury room for 9 am and proceeded to wait each of the three days the trial was going on. It would be very labor intensive to expect someone to call all 14 of us (12 jurors, two alternates), but why not use an alert system? Much like PCCC's Emergency Alert System - the "Panther Alert" - the courts could have said "the judge is busy, be here for 10:30 am instead of 9 am today". That would have allowed me and the other jurors a little time to run a few errands.

At the end of the trial, if you want to see the transcripts (for example, let's say we wanted to see exactly what one witness said, word for word). In order to do so, they print things out and you have to look through pages and pages to find it. Why not put this on a very simple device that would let you view the document and use "Find"? You save paper waste, you also save on having to pay to shred these documents, and you make your jury more efficient. You don't need a cutting edge laptop to do this - you could do this on a very basic machine that needs only the operating system and Adobe Acrobat on it.

It was an interesting experience, but the only thing that really bothered me was the fact that so much of my time was wasted just sitting there. Technology can alleviate these issues and I am sure it will in the future.