Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I'll Fly Away

Here's a pretty nice site if you know someone traveling: Flightaware.com. It keeps track of all North American flights. If you enter a flight number, you can see what the plane is doing. Very useful if you're meeting someone at the airport.

You can also see flights that originate from an airport. Fun if you are an airplane lover.

Friday, October 26, 2007

I have seen the future

No, not just science fiction. I spent the last few days as the Citrix iForum and it looks like virtual computing is going to be a big thing in the next few years.

What is virtual computing? The idea is that instead of one computer running one operating system and one group of programs, you set up a "computer within a computer" to do your work.

For instance, anyone can download Microsoft's Virtual PC for free. Once installed, you have a second computer on your first one. I use it to install software for testing. Once the test is done, I can discard the changes and have a clean computer. I have one virtual computer set up like a lab computers -- all the configurations are the same. I can test software on it without leaving my desk.

It's even more useful on the server side. If the computer where your virtual server resides is having problems, you can switch applications to a different computer, make the fix, and switch them back -- without any users noticing the difference. Instead of using one server for one application (and have it being used at 10% capacity), you can put several applications on one server and use it at 75% capacity, an efficiency of use that is bound to be attractive.

And then there are the real cutting edge devices. I saw several models of notebook computers without hard drives: they connected with a virtual server via fast wireless card and ran all programs from the server.

We're implementing some of this here at Siena; several of our applications are on virtual servers, and we're using Citrix to supply desktop programs to users in a virtual fashion. But by the time current freshman graduate, there's a good chance that their first job will be using virtual computers for all their work.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Here at I&TS we tell people to always save their work on the Network. Why?

Just the other day, a student came down to the Call Center, unable to find her files. She had saved them on the network, but they were gone. This, of course, was very upsetting.

After a few minutes work, I had everything back. All files on the network are saved -- hourly, then daily, then weekly. If you delete a file, it can be retreived. If there's a problem, you can find everything you need.

I'm busy rewriting instructions on how students can do this themselves, but for now, come down to the Call Center and we should be able to help. Faculty and Staff can follow the instructions on the web.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Time is . . .

It's been a busy day, so I need to come up with a short entry for one of my favorite websites: The industrious clock. On a practical level, all it does is tell the time. And it's not as accurate as the atomic clock.

But, boy, it's fun to watch. :)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Organization

For most people, the Start Menu has a mind of its own. Items are put there when you install them and you're stuck with what the program decides (usually in the order they've been installed, which can be confusing).

The simplest way to rearrange the items on the start menu is to drag and drop them. Find an item and click and hold the mouse button. You can then drag it along the menu. A horizontal line will indicate where it will be placed when you let go of the mouse button. If you have a folder, hold the cursor over the folder without letting go and the folder will open. You can then drag the item into the folder.

But what if you want to create a new folder?

Well, first it helps to know how the Start Menu gets its items. They are all shortcuts, placed in a particular location on your computer. When you click on "All programs," Windows lists all these shortcuts and folders. So by going onto your hard drive and changing these folders, you change the Start Menu.

Warning: Be careful, especially if you delete an item. They're not hard to get back, but it is a pain.
  • Click on "Start."
  • Click on "My Computer."
  • Click on your C: drive
  • If there's a warning, click OK to continue.
  • Find the folder "Documents and settings" and click on that.
  • Find your username. Click on that.
  • Look for a folder named "Start Menu." Click on that.
  • Finally, click on "Programs."

This is your Start Menu. And if you right click and select "New" and "Folder," you can create a new folder that shows up on the start menu. Once the folder is created, you can drag the shortcuts to it, either here or by dragging on the Start Menu.

A few folders here can make the menu that much easier to navigate.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What's on the Menu?

The problem with putting a lot of software on your computer is "Start Menu bloat." The list of programs on your Windows Start Menu gets so long that you can't find the thing you need. There are several ways to help manage this.
  • Pin items to the start menu. You've probably noticed that Windows XP puts the most commonly used programs on the Start Menu so you don't have to click on "All Programs" to see them. You can make sure certain programs show up by pinning them. Find the program icon, right click, then select "Pin to Start Menu." The program will display as soon as you click start. You can unpin an icon by right clicking and selecting "Remove from this list."
  • Use the Quick Launch Toolbar. This shows up on the toolbar with icons of programs you select. To activate, right click on the toolbar, click on "Toolbars," and make sure "Quick Launch" is selected. Once activated, drag a program item to the toolbar and it will remain there ready for quick launch without clicking on "Start."
  • Hide unused program icons. There are many programs that I use, but never run from the start menu. For instance, I never open Adobe Acrobat Reader -- I just click on a PDF file. I also have small programs that run at startup, but which I rarely use from the Start Menu. I always create a folder in my Start Menu called "Unused" and drag and drop any programs I don't access much. This also can be used for programs you've pinned to the start menu, or which you access from the desktop or by other methods. It keeps the list of programs smaller.
  • Use Folders. You can also create folders for similar software. I use a lot of different graphics programs, so I usually have a folder named "Graphics" to group them all together. How to create a folder? I'll talk about that tomorrow.
  • Use other software. If you have a lot of programs to run, you might want to consider something like Rocketdock that gives a location for program items to be displayed without using the Start Menu. There are many other programs that provide this functionality.

With a combination of the various tools and options, you can manage your Start Menu and work a bit more efficiently.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Power Outage II

Well, we're almost back to normal. Our System Administrator came in at 6 am to start getting things up to speed. By the time the college opened at 8:30, the most obvious systems (e-mail, network logins) were up and running. Our Student Information System, Banner -- an extremely complex operation to handle all the student, alumni, prospective student, and employee data -- just got online a little while ago.

A few peripheral systems (used by only a handful of people) are slow going online, but at this point, most people are able to do their jobs.

Power Outage I

Siena lost power last night around 11 pm for about 3 hourg. And withovt power, there's no computing. We have a Universal Power Source (basically a big battery), but that only lasts a half hour, and with the air conditioning out , the servers overheat before that. Result: everything crashes.

I'm posting this via cell phone (no Internet, no e-mail on campus).

It will take most of the day to restore all services. Restarting 30-40 servers is no trivial task: it has to be done in the right order. Some servers will hang up if other servers aren't running first. And it's worse if they hadn't been shutdown carefully. "Pulling the plug" on all at once creates extra problems.

We're shooting to have everything running by mid-Afternoon. In the meantime, the call center will be swamped with calls, especially since there's no good way in place to tell people the situation.

Should be an interesting day. :(

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Siena Computing Down

Due to a power failure, Siena's servers are down.  We are not sure how long it will take to restore power and to get everying up and running.

Check here for updates.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Getting rid of that pesky login

A few weeks ago, I talked about the Citrix Program Neighborhood and how it allows you to run Citrix applications in I&TS labs without having to login to Citrix. Of course, you do have to log in to the program neighborhood, and seeing the log in pop up whenever you use a lab computer can quickly stop being a novelty and move on to annoying.

Well, we've updated the system so that the window will not pop up, but you'll still be able to use Citrix. It involves something called "pass-through authentication," which means it takes the login you used when logging on to the computer and sends the information to Citrix. Since the same username and password is used, this lets you use all the applications on Citrix directly from the start menu. You'll see the appliations under "all programs."

To set up pass-through authentication and log in automatcially, do the following:
  • Right click on the Citrix icon on the taskbar. It will be displayed on the lower right near the clock and looks like a red ball on a square gray background.
  • Select "Properties."
  • Select "Pass-through authentication" from the "Login Mode" drop down.
  • Click "OK."

Now you're set for pass-through authentication. Even better: once you make the change, it will become part of your profile and thus turn off the login screen for any I&TS managed computer you log on to. You may never see it again.

The instructions and pictures on how to set this up can be found on the Automatic Login page on our website. You can find out more about what Citrix can do on our Citrix Program Neighborhood Instructions page.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Møøse à la hôtel de Sousé

Non-English speakers already know this, but for those who aren't used to them, there is a problem when you're typing a phrase in another language that has one: accent marks.

Of course, most accent marks are available, but in English keyboards, they are nowhere to be seen. Usually, they are dispensed with.

You can use the character map program (built into most word processors) to add it, but it's very inconvenient if you're using them a lot. There's also "charmap" (Click on "Start" and "Run" and use it) to bring up the list to use on the web, but that also takes some time.

The best shortcuts are the Alt key codes. (As a matter of fact, you can use this method to create any character, including all letters, though obviously it's not a good way to type an "e.") The codes are entered on the numeric keypad (not on the number keys) as you hold down the "Alt" key. Each character has a three- and four-digit code.

The basic technique is to hold down Alt and type the numbers. When you life up the Alt Key, the character will display. Thus, if you want an accent grave over the e, you look up the code (0232 or 138), hold down Alt, then type the code: è.

The only problem is knowing the codes. This website gives you a list. You can print it out and keep it handy.

Note that there are other characters that can be created this way: ¶ ± ½ ©

It will give your documents a certain savoir faire.

Monday, October 1, 2007


Today was a big day at Siena; our new college president, Fr. Kevin Mullen, was inaugurated.  It was a nice ceremony, and, I got the idea that it might be a good thing to record his speech and put it on the web.

As often the case, it was much more complicated than it could have been.  We had a little digital recorder and my original idea was to put it on the lecturn and record.  The problem was, I couldn't make sure it wouldn't slide off the top, especially since no one would know what it was. So I decided to tape it and let the condenser mic work.

So I rushed over early this morning to set things up.  And just when I turned on the digital recorder, it said "Battery low."  Ugh -- especially since I expected to let this run the entire ceremony and cut out the extraneous parts.  So I had to run back to my office for a battery.  Then, on my way back, I realized I was better off with a lavalier mic taped to the podium:  better sound, less obtrusive.  So back I went.

I managed to get things set up in plenty of time, though.  So I sat through the ceremony letting things run.  But just as I was walking out, I noticed someone doing something with the mic and the mic stand.

So I ran back.  Luckily, he was just moving things and any sounds I would cut out, so we were set.  I figured I could get it up on the web in an hour.

But when I got back, work got busy.  And I had a problem:  the file wouldn't copy from the recorder to my computer.  I got an error message, and nothing I could do would work.  Finally, I opened the file in Windows Media Player and was able to Save it -- though I got an error message.

The next step was to convert it to an MP3.  And now that didn't work:  it stuck for an hour going nowhere.  This was no good.

So I got on the Internet.  One of the best things about Windows is that somewhere you can always find software to do exactly what you needed to do, and this was no exception.  The software took the Windows Media file and let me cut out the bad parts (which were just sounds of the setup anyway).  Then I was able to convert to MP3.

Then I loaded it into Audacity, sound editing software.  And it refused to edit; everything was grayed out.  Luckily, I had Camtasia -- usually for video, but this would do.  I could edit!  I cleaned up the file and was able to save it and finally get it up on the web around 4:00 pm.  Here it is.

So, it took me three hours, using five bits of software, but everything is now just fine.