Sunday, May 4, 2014

Open until midnight all week

Just a reminder that we're on finals week hours this week - that means we're open until midnight (including Friday and Saturday.)
  • Monday - Friday: 7:45am to midnight.
  • Saturday: 9am to midnight
  • Sunday: 11am to midnight
The following week, we are open from 7:45am to 11pm through Wednesday, will close at 7pm on Thursday, and at 4:30pm on Friday.

Beginning May 19th, our hours through the rest of May as well as June and July are:
  • Monday to Thursday: 8am to 6pm 
  • Friday: 8am to 4:30pm
  • Closed Saturday and Sunday.
We will be closed for Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thing 11 : Sudden technology news

Heartbleed, from xkcd.com

 So, news happens... 

Generally when you were expecting to be doing something else. If you've been following the news the last few days, you'll have heard about Heartbleed, and you're probably wondering what it means for you.

Short version: A technology tool used to make secure websites secure turns out not to have been as secure as was thought. It's hard to tell how much, because it depends on a lot of factors. (Just because there is a vulnerability doesn't mean anyone tried to use it - think of it like leaving your car unlocked. Someone could steal something in it, but lots of times, they won't, and lots of times they won't even notice the car's unlocked in the first place.)

Your best practice is to
  1. first make sure the sites have fixed the problem and
  2. change your password on any site whose security matters to you (bank, financial records, email, anything that could cost you money or be used to get access to accounts that could cost you money.) 
You probably don't need to change passwords on, say, a random forum site about your hobby, or a newspaper comment login, but you might choose to do that anyway.

(This page from LifeHacker will help you figure out which sites have fixed everything. The BBC has a great roundup of information that's less technical. There's a fairly technical explanation over here from the people who found the bug.)

A lot of places are advising that if you're not already using one, using a password manager might be a sensible thing. (I've been checking out LastPass, which gets great reviews, but there's lots of others out there.)

But in general - how do we sort this stuff out? 

This series is about technological literacy in general, so I want to use this as a chance to talk about ways to find out more when the next tech thing like this hits.

My own basic process is pretty simple:
  1. Don't panic. (It doesn't help, and sometimes the advice in the first flush of an announcement isn't the useful advice.) 
  2. Look at sites I know give good information and see what they advise. 
  3. Learn how to evaluate what I'm reading. 
Obviously, steps 2 and 3 are the tricky ones. But they're like all the other information evaluation things we do. We learn to figure out whose movie reviews (or music reviews, or book reviews) we trust, because they tell us information that helps us make decisions that line up with our priorities. We learn how to figure out how to be informed about our health care. We learn how to figure out what shoes or clothes or cars to buy.

Learning to sort out technology information is pretty much the same process, just - well, add more technology. It can definitely be easy to get overwhelmed, or to get lost in jargon. But there's lots of great resources out there to help you out. What about the not-so-great resources? If you get information from a friend (especially someone who doesn't have strong skills at the thing they're talking about) do what you'd do with any recommendation from a friend - check it out somewhere else. If they're right, it'll be obvious pretty quickly.

Some places to try:

Your local technology resources: This, it depends on what the issue is. UMF isn't going to go into detail about, say, a security thing that affects Facebook or Tumblr. But they might about other issues.  
LifeHacker runs (lots!) of stories about all sorts of technology things, and also links to other sources. (Some of these are more reliable than others, but over time, I've learned which ones to pay attention to.) Even if you don't read it regularly, you might bookmark it to check if something comes up.  

A trusted online site. Some sites just have people (either running them or long-time members) who are good at explaining stuff, and highlighting the bits you really need to know. One of my current go-tos is Dreamwidth (a social journalling site) where they had a great explanation (and links to other resources) of what was going on - but I've seen similar things on a number of other sites from interested and thoughtful people.

 A news site: A lot of technology news reporting is really lousy (Sometimes they get things wrong. Sometimes they panic about the wrong thing.) But if you find a resource that seems to be good and reliable, definitely use that. I tend to default to NPR (National Public Radio), but I've seen very useful summaries come out of other sources.

Things to try:

  1. If you don't already have a good password management system (and change the important ones regularly), this would be a great time to start.
  2. Find one or two sources of technology information that are new to you. Check them out. Compare them to sources you already know. Do they help you understand what's going on? Do they seem to be accurate? 
  3. If you get a chance, share good resources with other people. (Maybe pass this post along on Facebook for people who are wondering about Heartbleed. Maybe tell a friend. Maybe explain something to your friend or parent or grandparent.) Sharing information is a really great way to make the world better. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Thing 10 : Google Drive

My Sky: from xkcd.com

 

 Cloud Storage in a nutshell: 

Google Drive is one kind of cloud storage. What's cloud storage? Once upon a time, your files lived just on your computer. Over time, we developed storage devices (tapes, floppy disks, and then on to the modern thumb/USB drives and others) that let us move files. Cloud storage is a space that is outside our computer, accessed through the Internet, where we can store files, and it can also make it easier for us to share files with other people. We don't have to rely on remembering to bring a USB drive with us. And because of the way companies design cloud storage

There's a huge number of different cloud storage tools out there. Besides Google Drive (the one that UMF uses), there are services like Dropbox, Amazon, and dozens of others.What's even better is that many of them have apps to allow you to access files on mobile devices and tablets, where it can often be fiddly to transfer files.

You can get more of an explanation over at How Stuff Works if you're curious.

Be aware! 

While cloud storage can be great, it does come with some possible drawbacks.

1) You need to have a connection to the Internet. And depending on what device you use, you may be limited in how you can use the cloud storage tools. (For example, if you use UMF's computers to access the internet, you can use the web version of your cloud storage tool, but you can't sync items with the desktop, because our computers are set up for multiple users.)

2) Your service needs to be reliable. (And even then, it's good to have a backup for big time sensitive presentations or materials, just in case.)


3) You want to be aware of privacy and security issues. If you store files with sensitive data (like budget information, tax records, medical records, etc.) you want to be especially careful. That means picking a great password. (If you're using Google Drive through UMF, UMF forces more secure passwords.)

You also want to be aware that if the company goes out of business or changes terms, you'll need to have a way to get your files. That usually means either syncing to a folder on your computer, or simply keeping up with emails and news about the service you're using.

Google Drive: 

So how do you do things? In this case, I'm going to send you off to our Guide on Google Drive, that's shiny and new. (With much thanks to my Work Initiative Student, Morgan Spencer, for her work on finding many of the resources shared here.) It includes some links to videos if you'd rather see these tools in action.

Briefly, though, on Google Drive, you can:
  • Store documents in many formats (or transfer them into Google Docs format for easier online editing)
  • Share documents with one person, a group of people, anyone who has the link to the document, or anyone on the Internet. 
  • Collaborate on documents so that each person can make edits and you can see who changed what. (Really great for collaborative assignments or projects.) 
  • Sync your files to your own computer, so they're available online and offline. 
  • If you upload images, in many cases Google Drive will try and pull out the text on the image. 

 

Things to try: 

1) If you've been at UMF more than a couple of weeks (which at this point in the semester is, well, everyone) you've probably had a bunch of files shared with you. Take a look at your Drive and see what's there. Try tidying things up - if you're like me, you might have some duplicate files, or you might need to move things around. You might want to review Thing 9 for some ideas on useful file names.

2) Do you have files in your H drive? Now is a great time to take a look through them and move them over to Google Drive.

3) If you haven't already tried a collaborative document, find a friend and try it out. (You don't need to be doing anything serious.)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Thing 9 : File naming, tagging, and other ways to find things

Winter from xkcd.com

Names matter. That's true when you're naming a cat (thank you, T.S. Eliot), a child, or a computer file. So, today's Thing is about naming files and other methods of being able to find them again later.

File names and how they matter: 

There are lots of ways to find things on your computer (or in your email or in whatever storage took you use). Today's technology makes it at lot easier to search entire files for particular words or phrases, but that doesn't mean you don't want good file names, too.

Why? Because searching can still have problems. If you have lots of files about the same topic, searching on that word may get you dozens or hundreds of files. You may misremember a particular phrase in a file, or word something differently, and miss something. Good file names and some organizational structures can help in both cases.

Also, good file names help when you come back to files after a period of time - you may not remember key phrases from a paper you wrote three years ago, but if you name your files consistently, you can find it again a lot more easily.

Some good things to consider:

Working on something with multiple versions? Consider putting a date at the beginning of the file name (Year-Month-Date will allow you to sort files by their date easily.) Otherwise, it's easy to end up with a string of files named things like Final.docx, ReallyFinal.docx, LastOne.docx, ReallyFinal2.docx (and so on.)

Consider a revision number: Another option is a project name for a file, and then a version number. So, something like English v. 2. (Obviously, you'll just edit a file in many cases, but sometimes you'll want to keep a draft copy and then open a new file.)

A particular note for submitting similar files to other people: If a hundred people apply for a job, and most of them name their resume file resume.pdf, or you're in a class with 20 people and submit files called paper.docx, it can be really confusing for the person on the other end when they have all these similarly named files floating around. Using something like your name or a form of it (for example yourname - assignment name can make it a lot easier for the person reading all those files.

If you have a lot of related files, think about a way to name that makes it easier to find the connection (a project word in the name, for example) or keep them all in the same folder. You may want date or other information in a consistent format too.

Other ways to find files:

Another way of sorting through files is what's called 'tagging'. Tagging is a kind of informal way to organize data (the fancy technical term for this is 'folksonomy') and it's used in all sorts of places - online bookmark tools, sites like LibraryThing or GoodReads, and sometimes also in file systems or note tools or other software.

The short version is that the best tagging method is one that you use and that makes sense to you. At the same time, there's a few considerations. You don't want lots of variation on the same term - you want to pick one term, for example.

The best advice is to try tagging some things, and see what works for you. But here's a few articles that give you some other ideas. Top 10 Tagging Best Practices is a good place to start (with some other interesting links), and an article from the American Bar Association has some tips if you're using tags somewhere other people can see. I review my tagging practices every six months or so, and I'm currently using a system that I use across several platforms that's making it easier for me to remember what tags I want to use.

Things to do:

1) Take an hour or so and take a look at your files. Clean up your Google Drive space or your computer files. Can you rename some? Create an archive of older files? Spring cleaning is a good habit.

2) Look at your habits for file names. Could you make them more consistent and helpful? Pay attention to how you search for files for a couple of weeks, and set up a method that works with that.

3) Do you use tools that support tagging? Experiment with other ways to organize and find your files.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Thing 8 : Presentations

From xkcd.com : "Slides"
As we're getting into the spring semester, it's time to take a look at doing excellent presentations. The basic idea, of course, is to avoid Death by PowerPoint (or whatever tool you're using.) Of course, doing that takes some planning. The good news is that there are lots of ways to create an excellent presentation, and many of them aren't that hard to do.

The basics: 

A good presentation is like telling a story: you want to make it clear what you're talking about, and then build on that in a way that makes sense to your audience. Obviously, there's a number of ways to do this - find your own style.

One of the most common tools is Microsoft's PowerPoint (or the equivalent Apple product, Keynote). But really, you can do a presentation using all sorts of tools - what matters is your content and how you present it, not the software. Prezi, a new software tool, is also getting a lot of interest: it allows for a less linear approach. (I use it for technology training, when I have a lot of screenshots, but I'm not sure what topics people will want to discuss most.) 

Also think about how you can share your presentation with people with visual or audio impairments (I usually do a thorough handout, both for these reasons and because I use very little text on my slides).

Some resources:

Garr Reynolds has written a number of books, including Presentation Zen. His blog has some amazing resources and recommendations. To start with, check out his three sets of ten tips: prepare, design, and deliver.

He has posts describing the styles of several distinctive presenters: Lawrence Lessig, Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, and the late Steve Jobs. His post on what a good PowerPoint slide looks like is also very helpful (though rather dated in details - it's almost a decade old.) He's also got a great post showing how two styles of presenting would have changed a scene in Star Wars.

Other resources:

 

Things to try:  

1) Think about any topics you may need to present. Try drafting out how your presentation might go. You don't need to write the whole thing out - just outline what the most important parts are. 

2) Watch a few excellent presentations on topics that interest you. Pay attention to how the presenters (Note: TEDTalks are excellent for this purpose.)  

3) Next time you have to present something, try one of the techniques or tools in here that's new to you. See how it works for you.  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Thing 7: Security and Phishing


Click through for the entire comic : xkcd.com : Password Strength

Welcome back to Thing 7 in our ongoing series about technology. (Find previous installments over at the tag for the series.) 

The basics: 

The comic linked above highlights some of the issues with computer passwords - we've all got lots of them these days, but many password systems aren't secure, and they rely on us using our brains. Picking too simple a password (or one that other people can easily guess) is a problem. Reusing passwords is a problem. Being unable to recognise phishing (people manipulating us to give them passwords or information) is a problem.

What you can do: 
  • Learn more about passwords and password security. 
  • Learn how to pick secure passwords. 
  • Change your passwords regularly (at least 2 times a year: 4 is probably better.) 
  • Don't reuse passwords. 
  • Consider using a password storage tool for your passwords. 
  • Learn about phishing (see the section below.)
  • Learn how to keep learning about this topic.
The last one is especially important: there are a lot of things on the horizon that are possibilities for security in the not too distant future. I've linked to some information about two-factor authentication below, which is one tool we may see a lot more of. 

Some resources: 

Pick good passwords: Some passwords (password, 12345678, etc.) are amazingly common. Don't use them.

More secure passwords mix numbers and letters. There's research suggesting that the most secure passwords are a combination of short common words that together are nonsense (as illustrated in the comic linked at the top of this entry.) However, not all places that want passwords will allow this (a lot of places require numbers or non-letter characters, or won't allow spaces.)

If you want to create random passwords, my favorite trick is to take a line from a song or piece of poetry, take the first initial of each word, and replace some of them with numbers. It's fairly easy to remember, hard to crack. This video from Mozilla's security folks has some other approaches.

(Bad ideas: Any of the common passwords or methods found in this infographic link.)

Keeping track: There are tools out there that allow you to store your passwords securely (and therefore use much longer or more complicated ones - most of these tools ) LifeHacker has an overview of different approaches and comments on their security.

(Bad way to keep track: writing it down on a slip of paper under your keyboard. Just don't.)

Learn to avoid phishing: Phishing is when people get you to tell them your password or other identifying information. Sometimes it's by sending an email pretending to be from a bank or other place you do business asking for your password. Sometimes it's a little more complicated. The OnGuardOnline.gov site has a great explanation of phishing, and the rest of the site has good information. There are even games you can play to test your knowledge (the one for phishing is over here.)

(Bad ideas: Responding to a message with your password or other identifying info. If you think it might be legit, contact them through some other method - calling them, going to the company website and finding a contact form, etc.)

Further reading:

 

Things to try: 

1) Read about some tools you're not already using.

2) Figure out which important passwords could use some updating. (And do that.)

3) Think about whether a password manager or other tool would be a good fit for you, and try one out. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

First floor recarpetting

Over the next couple of weeks, our first floor is getting some new carpet!

What does this mean for you?
  • Much of the first floor beyond the lobby will be inaccessible for the next 10-14 days. We'll post an update when we're done.
  • Computers are not available on the 1st floor. You can use the computers in the 3rd floor classroom except when there are scheduled sessions (see below for details - there are only a couple.)
  • If you need a specific item (like a reference book) that's in the closed space, the library staff would be glad to fetch it for you. 
The 3rd floor computer lab is booked on Wednesday, January 8th and Wednesday, January 15th from 10am to noon. (With snow dates on the 10th and 17th if needed). It is also booked from 1pm to 4:30 pm on Thursday, January 16th.

Happy New Year!