“It took the night just to find the place.
A minor quirk in the navigation.
I’m so confused that I don’t know if we’re coming or going” – The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets
I ordered pizza the other night, and after about half an hour, got a call from the pizza driver. “I’m out front,” she said. I thought it was odd that she hadn’t rung the doorbell, but said, “OK, I’ll be at the door in a second,” and hung up. I then opened my door to see … no one. I waited a few seconds and then called the restaurant and explained what had happened. A minute later the driver called back. I opened the door and … still no one. I started asking questions like, “Where are you?”
“In front of your house.”
“No, I’m on my porch and I don’t see you.”
I started walking down my drive, looking up and down the street. Then I saw the car, parked in front of my neighbor’s house. I told the driver, “You’re at the wrong house.”
“Well, that’s where my GPS said to go.”
I paid for my pizza and went back inside, wondering about her future as a driver. Both my house and my neighbor’s house have numbers on them. That didn’t help her because she wasn’t looking at the numbers, just at what her GPS said.
The Internet is sometimes that way; we don’t always pay close attention to the websites we go to. Oh, we know the addresses of the ones we use all the time, but we may not always take a close look at links before we click them. Sometimes that’s just being too much in a hurry to take care, and sometimes it’s because we don’t really know what a Web address means.
Everybody knows an address begins with “www” and ends with “.com,” unless it’s “.edu” or “.org” or something else, right? Except sometimes an address doesn’t have a “www” in it. Why is that? Most people don’t know. In fact, the real addresses of the Web are IP addresses; each device (server, PC, tablet, smartphone, etc.) attached to the Internet has to have one. An IP (Internet protocol) address is a unique number to identify every device, so that your browser, email and other applications can find their way from one side of the Internet to another. The things we humans call addresses are URLs (uniform resource locators) and they’re part of the Domain Name System. The reason the system exists is that it would be incredibly difficult for us to remember the actual IP addresses (“Now let’s see, Google is 184.108.40.206, and OSU Mail is 220.127.116.11 …”); hence URLs.
The Domain Name System (DNS for short) defines how the URL looks based on a hierarchy. At the highest level are what are called top-level domains , which tell you what type of website you’re connecting to. This is the part that comes at the end of the URL: .com, .edu., .org and so on. Some of them describe what type of entity owns the address: .com for businesses, .org for non-business groups, .edu for universities, .mil for U.S. military. There are a lot of these. There are also two-letter TLDs that identify the country in which the domain is registered. You can see a full list of TLDs here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Internet_top-level_domains.
The next part of the address is the actual domain name, the part for which you have to register (and generally pay). The domain name is paired with a TLD for registration purposes, so registering “okstate.edu” is not the same as registering “okstate.com”; businesses and other organizations will often register as many of the most popular TLDs for their domain name as possible to help with branding and to avoid confusion.
The next parts of the URL are also important, although a working URL can have one, several or none of them. This is where (if it’s used) you can find the “www” in addresses; this part is intended to identify the actual server that is hosting the website or other Internet service (e.g., email). This section of the URL can be multiple names, which indicates a hierarchy of services within the domain, whether by a separate server, a virtual machine or some other method. So our support site, http://support.dasnr.okstate.edu shows that we are the DASNR support group at Oklahoma State University; the mail site, http://mail.okstate.edu is pretty obviously the mail server at OSU.
Using server names deceptively is also often a method used to trick people into thinking that they’re clicking on a good link when they’re not. If I want to scam people into giving me their bank account info, I can get more people to click my fake link if it points to something like “http://citibank.12.com” than if my URL reads “http://www.12.com.” Using a word that people expect to see in the URL makes it harder to spot the problem. It’s a good idea to scan the URLs of any links you’re planning to click pretty closely so you can spot any bogus links.
Microsoft Office Resources
“Malcolm solves his problems with a chainsaw, and he never has the same problem twice!”
–The Arrogant Worms
Terry Pratchett has a line from one of his books about how clichés become clichés; he claims that they are the hammers and saws in the toolbox of conversation. It’s a good metaphor, and something that I think can be applied to other things as well. For example, I think it works very well for our various software suites: the Office products (Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, etc.) are clearly the hammers, saws, screwdrivers and so on – the basic tools that you’ll use almost anytime you’re working on your computer.
Recently we’ve added another set of tools with the licensing of Adobe’s Creative Suite. In our metaphor, these are specialist tools: the coping saw, specialized screwdrivers, perhaps a brass hammer. In a previous post, I talked about where to find good information about those tools, but what if you need help with the basic tools? Perhaps there’s something you don’t understand about one of the Office suite’s components. Perhaps you’re trying to do a particular thing, and you’re having trouble getting where you want to go. What options do you have?
First, you can always call your support specialist. We have a decent amount of knowledge on MS Office, although there are gaps in our knowledge; as support specialists, we tend to be more focused on installing/maintaining/fixing rather than using the tools.
Second, you can check the repository of how-to documents we’ve created at our support site. We’ve covered a lot of the things OCES people want and need to do in Office, although by no means all of it. We’ve got a lot of step-by-step instructions ready for download and use. You should check them out.
Third, there are some good sites on the Web with tutorials for the Office suite. Microsoft naturally has a good set of tools, covering several versions of Office, including mobile versions. Another site I recently found, thanks to a former co-worker, is GCF Learn Free. They’ve got a nice suite of tutorials on the Office applications, and if you poke around on the site, you’ll find that they cover a lot more than just Office.
Office is a great set of tools for our work, and the more we know about it, the better off we’ll be. If you’ve got things you want to learn about, I hope you’ll let us know and that you’ll check out the options I’ve mentioned here.
End User Appreciation
As I was going to lunch yesterday I noticed that a lot of the restaurants were starting to advertise their new/returning fish* items on their menus. This signaled to me that Lent was fast approaching. For those who do not know Lent is a religious season that starts roughly six weeks before Easter. Many of the Christians who observe the Lenten season use it as a time of self-reflection, atonement, penance, and repentance. At this point you are probably wondering where I am going with this and what this has to do with IT.
“And I’m never going back to my old school”
–Donald Fagen and Walter Becker
Learning is one of those things that we never get to stop doing. I can remember at various times in my life looking forward to the end of school, whether just the end of the year or a graduation, but even then I never really wanted to stop learning.
Which is a good thing, since I can’t afford to. If I don’t work to keep up with changing technologies, pretty soon I won’t be able to do my job any more. That would not be a Good Thing.
There are several routes I take to keep up knowledge in my field; many of you probably do the same things. I subscribe to several professional journals (paper and electronic), read blogs written by other IT folks, participate in online discussion forums, sometimes even read books.
And, just this last year, I’ve been going back to school. Not pursuing an advanced degree – I’ve considered that, but not at this time. No, I’ve been taking online courses through Coursera, just for the sake of learning things that will be useful to me.
Coursera is a clearing house for MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses. They’re provided (in a number of languages) by universities all over the world, for the low, low cost of free. (Some of the courses have options for getting certificates; this usually involves a cost, but the cost to take a course for your own personal benefit is zero.)
It can take some discipline to work through a course like these, especially if you know you’re not paying for it, but it can be worth it. I’ve learned a lot this last year, and I’m looking forward to starting a new course on Friday.
Give Coursera a shot – there may be something you’ll find useful or interesting, something that will help you do your job better. And if we all get better, imagine how great OCES can be.
Outlook for Mobile Devices (iOS and Android)
Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane
I ain’t got time to take a fast train
Lonely days are gone, I’m a-goin’ home
‘Cause my baby just wrote me a letter
Well, she wrote me a letter
Said she couldn’t live without me no more …
–Wayne Carson Thompson
When Wayne Carson wrote that tune back in 1967, it resonated with people. Everyone knew what it was like to get a letter from a loved one far away, the sense of anticipation as you recognized the handwriting, the joy of opening it and reading what he or she had to say. There were, of course, other ways to communicate; telephones worked just fine, and the telegram had been around for more than a century, but a letter was more personal, a thing that you wrote and touched yourself.
Today, of course, Mr. Thompson would have to talk about email, or texting, or Twitter, or something like that. (“Lonely days are gone, I’m a-goin’ home, my baby just Tweeted an e-vite!”… Maybe it’s a good thing that he wrote it almost fifty years ago.
Anyway, the important thing about communicating is that you communicate, and in today’s world, for most people, that means the phone. Our phones let us talk, text, email, post to Facebook and so on; without our phones, most of us are lost, wondering what’s going on. Does the world still exist? Does anyone still care about us? We don’t know, at least until we find a spot to plug in our phones.
If you’re using your phone for work (and who isn’t?), then you probably get email on it. The same is likely true of any tablets you or your office own. There’s a new tool to make that even more useful – Microsoft Outlook.
With little fanfare, Microsoft released iOS and Android versions of Outlook this past week, and the reviews have been great. It’s a major improvement over the default iOS Mail app, and it brings some new capabilities to the tablet or phone – mainly it can handle sending and saving email attachments, which Mail does not. It also makes it easier to find emails, allows you to easily view your calendar and contacts, and otherwise use more of the functionality of your OSU email. (It’s also quite an improvement on the Gmail app, if you use that.) All in all, it’s a really nice update for your Android or iOS device.
One last thing: this is still technically a preview app, which shows where Microsoft is going. It has a great deal of functionality, but it isn’t perfect, and it will almost certainly change as it matures. Be aware of this, and I think you’ll enjoy using it.
A Week in Someone Else’s Shoes.
I don’t know about you, but it seems like every time I stop, someone is telling me what new tablet I should be using. Android? iOS? Windows? Which one should I get? Sadly, I can’t help you decide. I can, however, tell you about my experience with a Google Nexus 7 tablet.
The Nexus 7 is a 7″ “wide screen” tablet. The picture below shows it in comparison to a standard size iPad (8.9″). The device is much lighter than the iPad and has a rubberized back cover to help you keep a grip on it. The Nexus has two sizes for storage (16GB and 32GB), but (like the iPad) it doesn’t have a slot for a memory card.
The Nexus 7 is an Android based tablet. When I unpacked the tablet I plugged it in and allowed it to charge up overnight. After that I powered on the tablet and was greeted with a request to sign in with a Gmail account, create a new Gmail account, or skip this step. After logging into the tablet, I was notified that there were some updates available. The device was a 2013 model, so this wasn’t entirely unexpected. I followed the on screen directions and the tablet proceeded smoothly through the update process. At the end of the process the device had updated itself to Android v5.0.2.
By this time I was tired of the keyboard click sounds, so I decided to turn that off. Unfortunately that’s not as straight forward as it might seem. Part of the strength of the Android platform is the ability to configure things in more detail. The flip side of that is that sometimes you have to hunt a bit to find the configuration setting you’re after. I used the following instructions to turn things off: https://support.google.com/nexus/answer/2819577?hl=en.
After that, I decided to go ahead and set up a few applications I knew I’d want to use, try out, or are just generally popular. It’s not a short list.
- Google Gmail
- Google Contacts
- Google Calendar
- Google Chrome
- Google Office-based apps (Docs, Sheets, and Slides)
- Google Drive
- Google Maps
- Google Earth
- Google Hangouts
- Google Analytics
- Firefox Browser
- The Weather Channel
- Amazon Shopping
- Amazon Music
- Amazon Kindle Reader
- Microsoft Word (Viewer)
- Microsoft Excel (Viewer)
- Microsoft PowerPoint (Viewer)
- Microsoft One Note
- Microsoft One Drive
- Microsoft Lync
With a few exceptions and some minor differences all of these apps work in a very similar fashion to their sibling apps on other mobile operating systems.
One of the problems I have with my (admittedly older) iPad is that charging is slow. We’re talking “overnight to get to 100%” slow. Surprisingly, this tablet charges fully in about 2-3 hours. The only reason I initially charged it overnight was because I went home before I was ready to work with it. I can go about 6-8 hours of moderately intense use without needing a charge, which typically means I can actually use it all weekend and not have to worry about charging. Things that are busy or visually intense, such as action games or video playback, probably shorten that somewhat, so I would expect less stamina if I were watching Netflix or something similar.
All in all, the device is a nice fit for me, not too large or heavy, and yet bigger than the screen on my phone. For me, it’s a more comfortable format for reading emails, articles and ebooks, and other ‘light’ tasks. I probably wouldn’t try to write an in-depth article on it, but for paragraph length responses I think it would be fine.