Thursday, May 29, 2008


People wonder why we stress computer security so much. Some of it is inconvenient, and what problems could one or two insecure computers cause?

Plenty.  That was demonstrated a few days ago. We discovered that e-mail wasn't being delivered to outside addresses. After some research, we found the cause: our spam filtering service (Postini) noticed spam activity coming from Siena addresses and blocked us as a spammer.

And what caused this?  One user.

The person involved downloaded a virus, and suddenly our system was sending out thousands of spam messages.  Because of the user, everyone else on the system could not send e-mail to anything other than Siena addresses until we fixed the problem.

Obviously, the person involved did not know there was a problem. But, by failing to secure their computer, it inconvenienced the entire campus community.

Computing is interconnected more than ever these days, and it's important that people protect their computers, not just because of what problems it will cause them, but also because of the problems it causes others.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Computers need vacations, too.

We've been getting a few very strange problems here at I&TS, all derived from a common cause. The issue often seems to be that people do not restart or shut down their computers for long periods of time.

While I&TS requests people leave their computers on Thursday nights for upgrades, some people never shut down their computers. This isn't bad in the short term, but if left on for weeks on end, there are sometimes issues with connecting with the network. You may not be able to find files you want, or have a slow login time as files are synchronized.

It also uses extra energy, of course. Most computers go into sleep mode, so only use a little power, but it's more than if the computer is turned off.

It's good practice to turn off the computer every once in awhile. For instance, on Friday you can shut it down for the weekend.

Also, if you suddenly can't find files (and you know you haven't deleted them), try restarting the computer and synchronizing. It may fix things.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Download Paper!

You can now download paper on your computer.

Well, not exactly paper. Things like graph paper, lined paper, ledgers, music notatation, and other standard types of paper you usually find in stationery stores.  Just go to

The idea is both simple and brilliant.  They have created a bunch of PDF files for downloading. Just pick one, save it to your computer, and print.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Ahead of the Curve

People don't know how to use PowerPoint.

Oh, they can create presentations, but they don't know how to use it. So you end up with "Death by PowerPoint," with the presenter reading off the screen (The classic joke about this is "The Gettysburg Address in PowerPoint").

In addition, the setup of PowerPoint lends itself to the bullet point model.  When you click on a new slide, that's what you get. And while bullets can be useful, if all the slides are nothing but bullets, your presentations quite often become sleep aids.

About a year ago, I went to a conference where one of the presenter showed a new, more effective way of using PowerPoint.  Instead of using bullets, you follow a few general principles:

  • A full sentence as the title.
  • An illustration that demonstrates what the title is talking about.
  • Lots of white space.

I started using this last year and discovered it made the presentations much better. Instead of them being the presentation notes for what you're saying, they become the illustrations for the words. People listen to you, but have a concrete image to help them remember.

Well, now Microsoft is taking notice. In their Office Hours blog, they recently did an article called "PowerPoint without Bullets."  And the result was much like I saw in that presentation last year.

PowerPoint without Bullets

A full sentence?  Check.  An illustration? Yup.  Lots of white space? Yessiree. It's a good feeling to be ahead of the curve.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lost without Translation (Zamzar)

There are so many different different file formats that few people can read them all.  So what do you do if you want something in a particular format and don't want to buy the software to read it?  Go to Zamzar.

It works pretty easily.  Upload a file you want converted, select the type of file you want to be converted to, and give an e-mail address to receive the message. The converted file will be e-mailed to you.

You're limited to 100 Megs (though you can subscribe if you need more), but it's useful for that .wps file you just can't read.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Ouch! by the Rutles.The SANS Institute is a organization of computer security professionals that provides training courses. But they also provide services to the general public, and their Ouch! newsletter is a great resource.

Ouch! covers current security threats -- spyware, viruses, phishing, bots, and other ways that hackers try to get personal data from your computer.  There are also security tips.

Ouch! comes out once a month. You can get an e-mail version by signing up at their web page.  It's a good way to keep up on potential threats.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Essential Freeware: At Last! (Taskbar Shuffle)

For a dozen years, there's been one functionality I wished that Windows would include:  the ability to move taskbar buttons. For instance, I like to keep my Outlook inbox as the first button on the taskbar, so I always know where it is. But if for some reason I have to close Outlook, then the button is in the wrong place and the only way to to move it where I want it is to shut down things.*

I kept waiting for Microsoft to add this functionality -- it seems simple enough -- or for someone to create software to do it.

And, finally, I found it: Taskbar Shuffle. It's probably been around for a bit (this is version 2.5), but I finally heard about it. The program runs in the background and lets you move your buttons around as much as you like. 

You can also group them on the taskbar. I don't like Microsoft's grouping function, since if you have several windows open, it's sometimes hard to keep them straight.  This will group several buttons so they're right next to each other -- and do it automatically.

It also lets you move system tray icons around and shut down buttons with a click.

All in all, an excellent addition to your Windows utilities.

*You can do it with RocketDock -- it has the option to minimize windows to the Dock.  I don't find that particularly useful, except for this. Turn it on, minimize the windows (except for the one you want to move), then turn it off.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Mozy for the Mac

I've written before about Mozy, an automatic backup utility.  It's a nice way to backup your files in another location so that if something happens to your computer, you can get them back.

Mozy has just announced a version for the Mac. You can download the software and automatically back up your data.

The main drawback is that, unlike Mozy for the PC, the Mac version is not free.  You will need to buy a subscription for $4.95 a month. Still, it may be worth it to keep your data safe, both from a computer crash, and when you get a new computer and want to transfer files.