Adding Obama to my spell check

I don’t know why it took this long (maybe I didn’t think he would win?) but I added “Obama” to my personal dictionary today so that my spell checker would stop putting a red line under his name every time I wrote it.

Now that Obama is in my spell check, he must be legit, at least to me. But I have to wonder when “Obama” will become part of the generic spell check for all software?

How many of you have added Obama to your personal dictionary?

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Librarians out-Googling, Google?

I just ran into an interesting article about a project called Reference Extract. The idea is to build a search engine that provides more relevant hits for search terms and it tries to accomplish this by using real live librarians.

Search relevancy is easily illustrated every time you search for something. Google indexes so many pages that when a user searches for a term like “bostelle UWT” because they want my work phone number, the correct hit is all the way at the bottom of the page.  Information experts know that most users will actually try the search again rather than even bother looking past the first two or so searches.

Thus relevancy is crucial to making a search engine work and Mike’s group wants to make search engines work better.

The problem is that Google has “pretty good” relevancy, is easy to use, widely accepted, and widely trusted (rightly or wrongly). I think what these librarians are trying to do is noble and encourage them whole-heartedly in the endeavor.

But that’s a huge mountain to climb.

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Learning Cave

We’re getting there!

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The real threat is you

Some time ago I gave the staff here a “brown bag” presentation on the shifting nature of security and how the triple threats of complexity, extensibility, and connectivity meant that threats to data security were going to be around for the foreseeable future.

A simple computer, like a hand held television remote, is easier to write clean code for and if security measures were needed (which they probably will be one day!) it should be easier to lock down than something extraordinarily complicated like this computer (which is currently running… 44 processes, that I KNOW of!). So, the complexity of a device, in part determines the vulnerability of the device to attacks.

Extensibility just means that you can add or remove software or hardware from the device. Taking away that ability is one of the keys to network security and is why most network admins limit user rights to install third party software. This doesn’t prevent stuff like buffer overflow attacks (which is a means of elevating user privileges) or brute force password cracks but it does prevent casual and even some intentional compromises.

Connectivity is the third rail; it’s the thing that powers most modern data safety issues. Since our computers are always connected to the internet, the opportunity for attack and the spread of infection increases exponentially. In the old days we had computer viruses, but to get them and transfer them you usually had to use a vector like a floppy disk (though IRC was a vector too). Now that we are all connected all the time, we are the vector.

All that is to say that (technologically) viruses, cracking, and hacking are going to be with us for the foreseeable future. In fact we are seeing that the attackers are jumping from device to device; as our cell-phone become more complex, more connected, and more extensible they are naturally becoming the new platform for attacks.

But technology is nothing compared to good ole-fashioned human interaction as evidenced by the now infamous crack of Sarah Palin’s email account. This cracker was able to get into her account by simply answering the secret question that her email prompted her for when he said that he had “lost” the password to the account. Since she’s a public figure and has given many speeches which include a lot of details about her private life she made the mistake of telling people where she and Todd met. This just so happens to be the secret question on her Yahoo mail, and the kid was able to crack her password, reset it and download all her mail.

But you don’t have to be a public figure to have this happen to you. You could have a disgruntled co-worker crack your email account, they probably know a ton about you and I’d be willing to guess that they know at least one of your “secret” questions. Do they know what your dog’s name is? Probably. You might even publish the name of your dog on your flickr account, or your daughter’s name, so on.

What I’m getting at is that security is important and keeping some things secret in this day and age is an important part of that security.

One other important way to keep passwords and the like safe is to never, ever, ever, give them out over the phone or via email. Sure, the guy on the other end of the phone might sound like he works for IT and he might even say something like “it looks like someone is breaking into your account, so we need to reset your password” but any domain admin worth his weight in Mountain Dew can reset your password to whatever he wants, without calling you first! So, never, ever, ever, give someone your password over the phone and, of course the same goes for giving out your password over email and so on.

The point of all this is that we are always going to be vulnerable, the nature of our technology makes it so by virtue of the fact that it is complex, extensible, and connected. But we are the real threat to data security and there are practical things that we can do that will make us less vulnerable.

  1. Update your computer
  2. Get a virus scanner
  3. Install a firewall
  4. If you use Windows, make your every day account be a power user and create a special admin user that you use to install software
  5. Change your email challenge questions to something more private
  6. Assume that email isn’t private
  7. Never give your username and password out to anyone, ever.

If you do those things you will be doing your part to ensure the safety of yours and others’ data.

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PicApp

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I was reading PCMagazine and they said this site called PicApp might be useful. Evidently what it provides are royalty free (sort of) images for you to use in your blog or other web 2.0 application.  I’m just testing to see what it does!

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Slow Printing of PowerPoint in the library

I’ve gotten word that there’s a PowerPoint presentation on Blackboard that is printing really, really slowly. I haven’t really “gotten word” I mean to say that I’ve seen it happen. So, I did a little testing and feel like the most likely culprit is the fact that some of you are printing the document in full color.

The printers in the library aren’t capable of color so there’s no point in trying to print them full color. Instead, you should save yourself a bunch of time by printing them in good old black and white!

To do that you simply open the file in PowerPoint, click on the Office bubble in the upper left corner and click on Print.

Then, in the printing sub-menu select “Pure black and white” from the bottom drop down list. If you want to print them as handouts instead of single slides you can also select this at this point with the drop down list directly above the “Color/Grayscale” list where you just selected “pure black and white.” Then I like to change the number of slides per page to something like 3 so that I can take notes.

Anyway, that’s it, if that’s still printing slow or you have other suggestions, let me know.

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First week’s stats

I had hoped to get these stats out at the same time that Don published his gate count for the week, but as it turns out I had a ton of other stuff to do and this is a bit of a rushed job.

Irregardless (as Don would say) here are the Google analytics of UWT Library Homepage and a breakdown of all the local logons for the first week.

The Google analytics are interesting because I was able to easily compare a past period with the latest data. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to compare like periods (the first week of class) because we didn’t have Google analytics installed on the library homepage until mid-way though Spring quarter. So, I did the next best thing; I compared the last week of Spring quarter (traditionally a very busy time) with the first week of Fall quarter. I’m not sure how significant it is but there is an increase in October over June.

Basically, in the first week of class we had 6,250 visits to the UWT Library Homepage, which is a 23% increase over the 5,092 visits that we had at the busiest time of the quarter last year, not bad. The other interesting trend is the days that people are most likely to visit has remained constant; Monday through Thursday bear the brunt of our total workload, Friday and Saturday have comparatively far fewer visitors and Sunday starts picking up again slightly. We see this pattern in every week, regardless of finals, or even if there’s a break.

Of course, if you look at the second document, the local logons (which measure the number of and length of students logging on to the library’s computers) mirror and actually amplify some of the statistics that we see when looking at web usage. So, for example, Monday through Thursday we average 296.5 logons per day and Friday through Sunday we averaged 58.3 logons per day. In fact, we do 60% more logons on our slowest day (Tuesday – 277) during the week than we do for an entire weekend (totals 175). This statistic is reinforced when you look at the total number of “logons per hour open” on any of the week days (20-23 per hour) and on any of the weekend days where we are doing a paltry 5 logons per hour on a day like Saturday or Sunday.

It isn’t all bad, the main difference between the weekends and the weekdays seems to be that the users stay longer on the weekends (73 min./logon on Saturday and Sunday) than they do on the average weekday (30 min./logon on average). So, clearly the people who do come on the weekends are here for serious study.

Anyway, that’s a sort of overview of what’s going on with library computing this week. If you have some time and you’re really interested check out the Google Analytics document, it’s fascinating the level of granularity that they are collecting on our behalf. I’m talking to you, person who hit our homepage from Egypt using an Opera browser!

Later.

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GERMS!

My best friend just got a serious case of the Flu, which reminded me that Flu season is here and that public keyboards are a great vector for germs. Now, I’m no germ-o-phobe but I think a few sensible precautions are in order.

  1. Wash your hands after you’re done with the public computers
  2. Don’t touch your face before you wash your hands
  3. Cover your cough

Again, you don’t have to be obsessive about it but an ounce of prevention will go a long way. Also, there is an abundance of Flu vaccine this year and anyone who wants or needs one should be able to get it.

So, take care and enjoy the library computers!

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Protect your laptop!

I was just catching up on some technology stuff from the past week when I came across a small blurb in the UW “OnTech” email list that made me stand up and take notice. It turns out that UW Technology (the Seattle unit in charge of all technology which is horribly misnamed “UWT”) has created what could be called a “Software LoJack” for your laptops. Basically the software sits on your computer and occasionally sends out a signal giving away the location of the device. Then you (and only you) can retrieve that data and use it however you want.

Obviously, you shouldn’t get all Death Wish on someone if you track your stolen computer down, probably best to call the cops. There are other questions I have as well; such as how easily the client is fooled and how you get the actual information and how granular it is. But as far as a tool that is lightweight and secure (the data is only accessible to one user — you) it looks pretty neat and I’ll be installing it on some staff laptops here in the library to test it.

The software is free to all community members and private businesses. Install it and let me know what you think!

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Changes to the printing system

“Where’d the printers go?” I hear that all the time and it’s a perfectly sensible question since, on it’s face, the library seemed to have lost all their printers and is only left with three old copiers.

It’s true, the library lost the print station and both of the old Xerox printers. The old system where students would all queue up behind the one release station has been replaced with a new system. In its place we have three copy machines which are attached to the Pharos queue system.  This means that instead of the old system with one release station and two printers, we now have three release stations each with their own printers.  AND! Each printer is also a copier.

So, “where are the printers?” They are over here, attached to the copiers!

P.S. Don’t forget to update your Pharos print drivers on your laptop, the ones from last quarter no longer work!

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