November 2011

Hamilton CollegeITS Newsletter Logo

From the Editor - Maureen Scoones

It seems that changes in technology are happening more rapidly than ever before. Didn't life seem simpler before the Internet? You may wonder from time to time, "how does ITS keep up?" The truth of the matter is sometimes we can't, but we will always try as we explain in the articles this month. Wishing everyone an enjoyable holiday break!


Google Gets a Face-lift - Jesse Thomas

Our July newsletter included a section about the "new look" coming to the HillConnect web interface. The updated interface is designed to make email, calendars and documents easier to use, more flexible and more consistent across a variety of browsers and devices. If you're a regular user of the web interface, you may have already noticed that Google has started to make it available to us.

Mail (click on image to see larger view)

Calendar (click on image to see larger view)

Over the next few months, Google will be phasing in the new look (and gradually phasing out the old one). Initially, you'll be able to opt-in to the new look to give it a try. In the next few weeks, the new look will become the default and you'll have the option of reverting back to the old one for a period of time. Eventually, the new look will become permanent.

To learn more about the new look and how to switch between the new and the old: http://learn.googleapps.com/new-look

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HillConnect: Keeping up-to-date with Google - Jesse Thomas

One of the major advantages of having our email and calendaring system powered by Google is that the service is constantly being improved and new features are added regularly. However, sometimes progress happens so rapidly that it can be a challenge to keep up!

Fortunately, Google provides us with some control over the release process, so we can prepare for most upcoming changes to our system. HillConnect is configured for what's called the "Scheduled Release track," which means that we get notified about upcoming features in advance and get them a little later (about a week later) than the consumer version. Sometimes we have the ability to disable new features completely, but often times not - fortunately we have plenty of notice when this happens. More information about how Google schedules and releases update is available here: http://whatsnew.googleapps.com/. It should come as no surprise that Google uses a Google calendar to keep track!

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Google Apps Tips & Tricks - Maureen Scoones

Google is committed to making all of its products easy to use. They produce many single and multiple page tips and tricks documents, particularly for email and calendar. I'll start sharing a few each month.

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Keeping your IT "Stuff" - Nikki Reynolds

Was there ever a time when you contemplated the possibility of a "paperless office" and thought how handy it would be to have everything on a disk somewhere and not have to keep fighting to sift, organize and file all of the paper attached to your work? I did, once, but "paperless" has not yet occurred. Worse, all those "little" digital files are proliferating even faster than the paper ever did, and they can be just as hard to sift, organize and file. So what's a body to do?

Back up your important stuff.
If losing a document, image, photo, video, web page or other bunch of electronic digits would impair your ability to do your job, keep up with your correspondence or set your research back, make sure you have more than one copy. If possible, keep an extra copy in a different location - as in one on campus and one off campus, not as in one on the bookshelf and the other on your desk.

Tools that can help you do this include:

  • External disk drives, such as "firewire" drives
  • USB memory sticks DVD disks
  • Your campus network storage on ESS (employees) or SSS (students)
  • Internet accessible storage, such as Apple's iCloud, Box.net, Rackspace.com or Carbonite*

Each of these tools has features and drawbacks, so it is likely that you will need to use some combination of all of these. The important points to remember:

  • File formats change over time:
    • For any storage solution, you will need to "touch" - as in open and re-save - each of your files once every couple of years. Otherwise, you'll have data that can't be translated from digits into human-readable form because the software that created the data no longer exists or can't read the old files.
    • Some of you may already have experienced that with some of the Microsoft Office files from 15 or 20 years ago.
  • Physical media deteriorate, and connection standards change:
    • If you really need to keep stuff for 10 or 20 years, you will need to copy it from one drive to another a few times over the years. Once is not enough.
  • Your campus network storage is backed up daily:
    • In addition to the copy you have on your computer or external disks, anything on the campus network storage is also backed up by ITS.
    • Your campus network storage is limited: Employees are allocated 3GB (gigabytes), with possible extensions 1GB at a time.
    • Students are allocated 200MB. While not a lot, it is a safe place to keep research papers and your student thesis.
  • Internet service providers may have constraints on use:
    • For example, "Box.net" requires a minimum of three users for their commercial discount. This could be handy of a research group, or maybe even a family, but not so much for a lone user.
  • Internet accessible storage may not be backed up:
    • Don't keep only one copy of your data, ever, and certainly not only one copy that is on the internet.
  • Internet accessible storage also changes over time:
    • Just ask the users of the Apple "Mobile Me" service. It is morphing into iCloud, and some of the services are being dropped. Be prepared to shift your data as services change.

Now you know how to insure that you don't lose any of your data, some of which we are certain is irreplaceable. None of this helps you sift or organize. We'll save that for a future article.

*ITS is providing you with information about a variety of technologies you may find useful. While we may not able to answer all of your questions for all of these technologies, we want to do our best to keep you informed.

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Browser Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes - Debby Quayle

Browser Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes (with apologies to David Bowie) - Many of us have used our favorite browser for years. It is like an old friend. And yet, when your Internet browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, etc.) isn't delivering web pages like it used to (e.g. they crawl, won't load, or features are broken), it may be time to take action. Sometimes the quickest fix is to completely quit out of your browser and then restart it or reboot your computer. When this doesn't solve the problem, you may need to empty the browser's cache and cookies (see "Cache and Cookies?" below for help). These occasionally contain outdated or conflicting information that can prevent a web page from loading or behaving correctly.

When these steps don't work, it may be time to consider whether the problem is the result of a recent browser update/upgrade. Browsers today are changing more rapidly than in the past. Some browser providers (notably Firefox and Chrome) have adopted a rapid deployment model that allows them to provide you with new features, faster browsing, and new security patches more quickly than ever. While there are advantages to the newer versions, there are occasional disadvantages too. The most common disadvantage is that some web site providers aren't able to keep up with all the changes. The result is that a site may no longer work the way it did last week (before the upgrade). It might also mean that a feature in the web-delivered application you use (e.g. Blackboard) no longer works. You might be tempted to downgrade to the previous version but this is not desirable because the new version usually includes important security patches that will prevent malicious code from attacking your computer.

What to do? If the web page or web tool that no longer works is critical, your best bet is to temporarily switch to a different browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Safari) for that one page or tool. If what is broken is not that critical, you can always try back in a day or two to see if the publisher has fixed the problem, or (worst case) wait until the next upgrade comes along in a few weeks.

If you find you need to switch to another browser for more than one web page or more than one web tool, you'll want to find an easy way to transfer your bookmarks so you can use the other browser more productively. Please see the companion article, "Browser: Now With More Sync!" for solutions.

Cache and Cookies? The browser's cache is a folder that resides on your computer's hard drive in which information related to each web site you visit is stored. This information is recalled by your browser when you return to that page, allowing it to load more quickly. Cookies are used for a variety of things, but in general they store information about you and how you interacted with a particular site. For example, it might store that you were looking for snow tires or that your name is Mary so that when you return to that site it can welcomes you by name and suggests more snow tire brands for you to consider. To learn how to empty your browser's cache and cookies, Google provides some help. On their page, please note that you must click on the "-" next to "Mozilla Firefox" before you'll see instructions for Chrome and Opera. You can ignore the warning on their page if you are already logged in to your HillConnect account.

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Browsers: Now With More Sync! - Ryan Coyle

Chances are that if you use a computer today, you don't just work on one computer. More and more of us have multiple computers that we work on throughout the day. Whether it is at home or work or increasingly on a mobile device, you interact with multiple machines. You probably have favorites or special websites and passwords that you need, spread out on each device. Wouldn't it be nice if you could keep them all synchronized? Well you can and it's easier to do than you think. Moving to synchronized bookmarks will help protect you from losing your bookmarks in the event your hard drive crashes, theft, or you succumb to viruses/malware.

The first step in the process is to find out if the browser that you're using supports synchronized bookmarks. If you're using a College-owned computer, it will have Mozilla Firefox. Good news is that Firefox supports synchronized bookmarks. The better news is that Firefox works on a variety of platforms, so if you use a Mac/PC/iPhone/Droid you can use Firefox to synchronize your bookmarks, passwords, preferences, history and tabs all across each of these devices. You can find instructions on how to set up Firefox sync here: Firefox sync.

It's important to note that iOS synchronization does not occur natively as there is no Firefox browser app. What you end up using if you are an iOS user is an app called Firefox Home. This app will provide synchronization through it's own interface with your desktop but when you launch pages from it, they will launch in Safari.

So you say that sounds awful nice, but you've given up on Firefox and you're a Chrome* person now. Well, my friends you're in luck because Chrome also supports browser synchronization. (Please note: Google Chrome Synchronization is currently disabled in HillConnect, but is available if you have a consumer Google account. ITS is currently reviewing additional services available within Google Apps for Education for future deployment, e.g. Google Sync.) The cool thing about Chrome synchronization is that it also will synchronize your apps that you have received from the Chrome Web Store, and extensions as well as all your bookmarks and related paraphernalia. You can find out how to enable sync here: Google Chrome Sync. Unfortunately there is no Chrome available for iOS devices, so if you're an iPad or iPhone user you're out of luck if you want to sync with Google. There is a Mac version available however so you can keep a PC at home and your office Mac synced if you wish. If you are using OS X Lion at home and an iOS device, as long as you're using 10.7.2 you can keep your information synched in Safari using the iCloud*.

The best part about all of these services is that once they are set up, they just work. No maintenance required. Updates to your bookmarks and such are all pushed seamlessly to each device. No manual button pushing and no remembering on your part. They are all very secure and work in the background to keep each other up to date on the changes. Taking advantage of this utility can save you quite a bit of time and headaches in case something should ever happen to any of your devices.

*ITS is providing you with information about a variety of technologies you may find useful. While we may not able to answer all of your questions for all of these technologies, we want to do our best to keep you informed.

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Web Editing Class Schedule - Maureen Scoones

SiteManager classes and working sessions continue to be offered. Whether creating a page for your administrative office, academic department, student organization, or your own professional page, SiteManager, Hamilton's own web editing tool, can be used to create your web presence.

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A Short History of IT at Hamilton – 3rd Installment - Dave Smallen

1990s – Networking of the Campus and the Computer Replacement Plan

In the early 1990s Hamilton connected with the Internet and began providing electronic mail broadly to the campus. One faculty member commented at the time that he thought "e-mail was a fad and it would soon pass." At that time, campus announcements were still distributed in paper form, often winding up several inches deep on the floor of the mail center. Students encouraged ITS to set up some way of electronically distributing notices to the campus.

Our first approach to electronic notices allowed anyone to post messages anonymously. That turned out to be a disaster, leading to inappropriate "flaming" in communications. The current "listserv" system was implemented soon after. Listserv requires posters to authenticate before sending. Hamilton is uncommon in allowing employees and leaders of student organizations to post messages directly to the campus. At most institutions such messages have to be moderated (i.e., approved by a small number of people prior to sending). Instead of central control, we developed guidelines for appropriate use of the mass e-mail lists and historically less than three percent of the messages that are posted fall outside the guidelines. Those who violate the guidelines lose their posting privileges. A few employees indicated that they still wanted to receive paper notices but the trend was becoming clear: learning to use a computer was going to be necessary if you wanted to remain in the flow of information. Paper notices were becoming obsolete.

In the fall of 1994 the Trustees approved 2.9 million dollars to wire the campus for both data and cable television. Over 2,500 "information outlets" were created in fifty campus buildings, including one voice and data port per student in residence halls (known as providing a port per pillow). This major project required digging trenches throughout the campus, installing conduits and then threading those conduits with the appropriate cables. Fortunately, the winter of 1994 was one of the mildest in the history of upstate New York, permitting the work to go on with only a couple of weeks of extremely cold conditions.

Having a reliable high-speed campus network was transformative for Hamilton. Information could now flow smoothly throughout the campus and to the wider world through our connection to the Internet. Opportunities for achieving efficiencies in operations and enhancements to the academic program were soon realized. Providing services such as on-line registration for students became a reality.

Computer purchases were increasing as employees saw the importance of being connected with the network, but most of the purchases were being made by departments, sometimes without any advice from ITS. The resulting mishmash of computers, some not even capable of connecting to the network, led to the identification of the need for an institutional approach to purchasing technology. Fortunately, at that moment the Hamilton Trustees were encouraging the campus to undertake strategic planning. The timing was right for the creation of a technology replacement plan.

In 1997, following on the work of the Committee on Information Technology, the Trustees approved an allocation of annual operating budgets to fund a replacement plan for institutional computers and printers. This was one of the first fully-funded replacement plans in higher education. This plan provided for the creation of a reserve fund for the replacement of computers on a three- four- or five year cycle. In the next decade this would be followed by similar plans for central servers, network electronics and technology classrooms. A small number of clusters of computers were created on campus and the first technology-enhanced classrooms were created containing data projectors for faculty to use during class. At the end of the decade there were four technology-enhanced classrooms on campus (compared to over seventy-five a decade later). Limited use of wireless access began appearing on campus.

While the campus was wired for cable television it would take another seven years before cable television was provided to students. Concerns were expressed by some that if students had cable television they would waste time they would otherwise use to study or interact with their peers. Maurice (Mo) Michaane '03, through his work on Student Assembly, led the effort to have Hamilton fund basic cable television for students. The original cable lineup had over thirty stations.

As the decade came to an end Hamilton created its first presence on the World Wide Web in the form of a Macintosh SE computer. In an increasingly networked world, only a small percentage of students owned computers and there was concern about creating a digital divide between those who had access to their own computer and those who would only use computers in college computer labs. The new century promised a world with access to information as never before. The Internet and the Web were about to change the way business, teaching, and learning at Hamilton were conducted.

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ITS Help Desk & Computer Lab Holiday Hours

ITS Help Desk

Fri., Nov. 18: 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Sat. & Sun., Nov 19-20: Closed
Mon. - Wed., Nov 21-23: 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Thurs. - Sun., Nov 24-27: Closed
Mon., Nov 28: Resume regular hours 8:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Multimedia Presentation Center (MPC)

Fri., Nov. 18: 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Sat. & Sun., Nov 19-20: Closed
Mon. - Wed., Nov 21-23: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Thurs. - Sat., Nov 24-26: Closed
Sun., Nov 27: 1 p.m. - 12 a.m.

Camera Loans

Any cameras on loan the week prior to Thanksgiving break must be returned by 4:30 p.m. on Friday, November 18. No cameras will be loaned for off campus use over the break.

Fri., Nov. 18 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Sat., Nov. 19- Sun., Nov. 27: Closed
Mon., Nov 28: Resume regular hours 8:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Digital Arts Lab (DAL)

Fri., Nov. 18: Closes at Noon
Sat., Nov. 19 - Sun., Nov. 27: Closed
Mon., Nov 28: Resume regular hours

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ITS Newsletter Archives

All past issues of the ITS Newsletter are available on our Web site.

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