Thursday, May 27, 2010

Your lawmakers and technology laws

In my CIS 152 (Internet/E-Commerce Technologies) course, we discuss some of the reasons technology is ahead of the laws.  I usually then bring up a picture of Frank Lautenberg (an 86 year old Senator from Paterson) and half jokingly asking if the class thinks this guy even knows how to check his email, let alone write laws on technology.  (And yes, I am sure he has a staffer who does the work for him)

I do know there are many committees and subcommittees who specialize in certain areas, but part of the problem is the representation we have.  A government should really represent the people they represent - in demographics, education, race, occupation, etc.  However, if you look at the numbers (scroll down to "Education" or "Occupations"), you will see that over 50% of the Senate have law degrees (57/100), while only 1 of 100 has nothing beyond a high school diploma.  None have associate's degrees.  Yes, this means 99/100 Senators have at least a bachelor's degree.  Now, I understand that you do need a level of savvy to do things politically, but it is one thing to study groups you don't know, and another thing to actually be one of those people and try to be an advocate for them.

In addition, if you look under the occupations, you will see there are (as far as I can tell) no Senators and only one Representative with a degree in Computer Science (Steve Scalise from Louisiana).  Meanwhile, there are 24 members of Congress who are medical professionals.  Of course, one does not need a degree in Computer Science to understand technology, but if you are not using the technology on a daily basis as an everyday person is, you can't truly understand the challenges the way the everyday user does. 

If I needed any more proof in my mind, the article below confirmed what I thought.  In this Washington Post article, it says that a number of Congresspersons do not even know how to use an ATM, or do not use them frequently.  This is information culled from public statements, and I am sure there are many more who, if they answered honestly, would say they also do not use ATMs.  Therefore, when reform comes across the Congressional floor regarding ATM fee reform, they do not truly understand the problem (in this case, large ATM fees) as someone who pays large ATM fees does.

So, if Congresspersons do not have a deep understanding of ATMs (which I take for granted as a pretty simple technology), imagine when someone tries to explain phishing to them...or the challenges of wardriving....or why spyware should be restricted.

I am sure they have some staff members who can inform them about these things, but it is very different when a Congressperson has first hand understanding of an issue and a passion to fix it...and another thing when a staffer gives them information on a topic.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is part of the reason why technology laws are so far behind the technology.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day

Facebook certainly has had its share of controversy, and another round of controversy has come up recently.

The entire Facebook site was banned in Pakistan due to a Facebook user creating a group called "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day".  Images of the prophet Muhammed are considered offensive by many people of the Muslim religion, as shows like South Park have shown lately.  I think every group has the right to their own beliefs, and if they believe that an image of Muhammed are offensive, I don't think I have any right to tell them otherwise.

Facebook was blocked in the entire country of Pakistan as a result of this controversy.  The offensive page has been removed.  No one is quite sure whether Facebook removed it, or whether the creator did, or whether it was hacked and taken down.

Sites like Facebook present such interesting problems for governments.  In the United States, we enjoy a freedom of speech, but in other countries, this is not necessarily the case.  In a country where that is not the case, how does a government deal with a site that is based in the US (and therefore a site they have no jurisdiction over)?  Worse yet, how does a government deal with a site that contains offensive material posted by a user, as was the case here?  In Pakistan's case, they chose to simply shut off access to Facebook.   Fascinating.  One person posts something offensive, and it causes an entire country to block access to the entire site.  Think of all the losers here.  Advertisers could not get their message out, so they lose.  Facebook could not display the ads, so they lose revenue there.  People around the country who had nothing to do with this and no knowledge of it could not access the site. 

It makes me appreciate our freedoms just a little more when I read things like this.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cyber Crooks and Disasters

As always, criminals are clever. 

When disasters or other newsworthy events happen, they rush to get information out there.  The goal is to get people to visit their sites, and if they can be the first results on Google after an incident, they can often infect people before Google has a chance to filter out the results.

For example, when the recent Icelandic volcano eruption happened, the scammers were smart enough to realize people were not going to search for the actual name of the volcano (Eyjafjall), because who is going to remember that spelling?  Instead, they had results up quickly for the search terms people would likely use - things like Icelandic volcano eruption.  By getting their results on to Google quickly, they had the chance to infect people's PCs.

Interestingly enough, newspapers want to be the first people to report news to gain prestige.  They are now competing with hackers.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


I know I announced this in some of my classes, but I wanted to make a public mention of this.  I will be taking a leave of absence from PCCC next year.  Since I am tenured, this is not an end, but rather a chance for me to take some time and recharge. The College has supported me in this, so I thank them for that.

My plan is to return in the Fall 2011 semester.  I still plan on updating this blog and being around, and of course I will be at graduation this year (and next year).

Friday, May 14, 2010

10/SP Grades

I am always happy to see technology make things easier for people.

I remember when I first adjuncted a class in 2001, my students wanted to receive their grades.  They told me it took them weeks to get the information from the College.  I was happy to email the grades to them, but this being 2001, many of them did not have email (and the College didn't buy a portal until 2004 or so).

It used to be that we would have to fill out paperwork, send that paperwork to another office, and then that office would manually enter this information in to the computer.  Yes, I would take my electronic files, turn them in to paper copies, and then have someone else turn the paper copies in to electronic copies in the College's database.  Then someone would print letters, put them in envelopes, and put them in the mail, and a month later, students would get their grades.

Now, it's all electronic.  When I enter grades, the Registrar's Office just hits a button and students can access their grades.

I sent grade information in for all my classes by Wednesday of this week, so at this point, all students are able to see their Spring 2010 grades.  Two days to get grades...we have come a long way since it took a month to get them.

I think most of our professors assume you know how to get the grades (this is what a College Experience course should teach you, among other things).  If you do not, you can find the information on the College's Web site:

Friday, May 07, 2010

Blogging with Word

This blog is being done entirely in Word 2007 on my home computer. I've resisted using this so far because (as I've been discussing lately), sometimes retraining is hard for someone who is experienced with a tool. I am making a concerted effort to try to really use some of the new features.

I enjoy blogging (obviously - if I've been doing it here for four years). I typically use the Web interface to blog, but there are some advantages to using a new feature in Word 2007. Word 2007 will allow you to publish directly to many blog services, including Blogger (the site I use) and WordPress. For someone like me, who is familiar with the Web interface, this is not a big deal. However, let's take the case of a company that has no technical expertise. They want to add information to their Web site, and their Web person has integrated a blog in to their Web site (such as the site Jay Jaffe (who I met a number of years ago at a Pizzeria Uno in NYC) has his blog set up through WordPress. He publishes directly to WordPress, and it shows up on his Web site. Many companies want this type of ability. The only problem is that Web blog publishing can be complex for a new user. A good Web developer could set up someone up with a Word 2007 blog and avoid the hassle. If the person knows Word 2007, all they would have to do is click on the Office Button and select "New", and then select "New Blog Post". The account setup only needs to be done once, so you could very easily give a less savvy customer a five minute demonstration and get them blogging. Now this user will have all the Word tools they are used to: spell check (with their custom dictionary), formatting tools, thesaurus, symbols, tables, and all the rest. Once they type the blog, all they need to do is click "Publish". Adding pictures becomes a little more complex to set up, but can also be automated. The ability to give a customer push-button blogging that integrates in to their Web site is a great little feature.

One other issue that I see is that sometimes, people want to keep a record of their blogs. For example, there was a site named Gaia that had a blog function. A colleague of mine was blogging there for a few years, and the site shut down. In order for her to save old blogs, it became a real pain. If one were to use Word 2007 to do this, they could very easily click "Save" and keep a local copy of all blog entries as they publish them.

Here are instructions on how to set this up:

What's also cool is if I make changes, I can just type them in to Word and click "Publish", and it knows to "Republish" rather than create a second entry.

Still haven't figured out how to add tags, but overall a nice feature.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

New Blog Post

This is a post demonstrating that you can "push-button" publishing from Word to a blog.

From XP to 7: new features part 2

One of the new features in Windows 7 that I noticed was the addition of libraries.   Windows 7 has introduced a feature that allows me to specify a group of directories as a library.

Let's go with an example.  If you have a folder for music in your Documents folder.  However, let's say you also download song files through a program like Ares.  If you do that, you would typically have to move those files from the Downloads folder over to the Music folder in order for you to listen to the music.

Now, with the addition of Libraries, you can specify a number of folders that contain music, and simply browse to it.  For example, under your Start Menu in Windows 7, you will see an area called "Music".  This is a link to the library.  This will show you music files in all folders that it recognizes as music folders.  Right clicking on it and selecting it will allow you to add or remove folders from this list.  You can do this for pictures, videos, and documents by default.

You can also create your own custom libraries.  For example, I have three locations that I am typically using for school stuff.  The locations are my downloads folder (where electronic files I need to check go), my documents folder (where I typically keep some information), and my desktop (where I put stuff I really don't want to forget).

It is also very cool that programs optimized for this (for example, most of the Office suite) can use these libraries as well.

Though you CAN include folders from an external hard drive, you can NOT include locations on a USB drive.  That is one negative I have.  If someone is technically proficient, it should not be a problem.  For example, my USB drive is always assigned to a drive letter of "H".  Any non-work USB drive gets "F".  I think I understand why they wouldn't allow this - but there should be an option to override it.  In my case, there will never be confusion between my main USB drive and others, and I think that is why Microsoft disabled this option.  I wouldn't mind if it gave me all sorts of annoying warnings, if it allowed it.

Cool feature, though the USB drive being excluded is a bummer.

Link to more information (with pictures)