These days, the importance of safeguarding personal data is a hot topic of conversation not only at Penn State, but also at many other institutions including the federal government. In July, the House Committee on Ways and Means approved the Social Security Number Privacy and Identity Theft Prevention Act, a bill designed to put further restrictions on the use and display of Social Security numbers (SSNs) in an effort to better protect identities. Although this bill is not yet law, it signifies that the prevention of identity theft has become a national concern.
Recognizing that concern, Penn State is just three months away from adopting a new Penn State ID number (PSU ID) in place of SSNs as the primary identifier of students, faculty and staff. "We're looking to protect private information from unintentional exposure and intentional identity theft," said David Lindstrom, Chief Privacy Officer at the University. "The less we use, display and make available private information, the better we control the risk."
Since SSNs are a potential target for would-be identity thieves, Penn State has recently created a new University policy to protect the privacy and confidentiality of an individual's SSN. Policy AD19, which will govern the future use of SSNs, takes effect January 1, 2005, when the new PSU ID is adopted. It has been published now to give University offices time to comply with its provisions.
According to Kathy Plavko, manager on the SSN Project team, the new policy-available at http://guru.psu.edu/policies/AD19.html -is designed to reduce potential identity theft risk for students, faculty and staff. Plavko stresses that following the policy guidelines is essential for the University community, citing that as many as 27.3 million people fell victim to identity theft between 1998 and 2003, including 9.9 million during the last y ear, according to a Federal Trade Commission survey performed in 2003.
"This effort can only be successful if we have the full participation of every employee at the University in evaluating what they need to do to comply with the new policy and in being prepared for the changes that will take effect on January 1," said Plavko.Faculty and staff responsible for their own local data
As part of that preparation, Plavko explains that faculty and staff are responsible for the data files stored on their computers that contain SSNs. For example, files like grade books, class lists and other listings containing SSNs should be deleted if they no longer are needed. Otherwise, they should be saved to a CD and secured or printed and filed in a secured location, and then deleted from the computer. SSNs also can be converted to the new PSU IDs if it is necessary to retain this information for continued use after January 1.
Plavko also emphasizes that faculty and staff should begin to clean up data on their computers now.
Files that need to be converted to use the new PSU ID can be converted beginning December 20. There will be a 90-day window, ending March 31, 2005, to complete these conversions.
Each college, department and campus has its own local SSN contact listed at http://ais.its.psu.edu/ssn/media/LocalSSNContacts7.pdf to coordinate these efforts and specific information for faculty/staff conversions is available on the SSN Project Web site at http://ais.its.psu.edu/ssn.Key provisions for faculty and staff to ensure compliance with policy AD19
When assessing local files, follow these provisions from policy AD19:
Any spreadsheet, database, online list or electronic document containing SSNs must be either deleted, printed and secured, stored securely off-line on a CD or converted unless the Chief Privacy Officer grants an exception.
Documents that contain SSNs in Microsoft Word and e-mail messages must be secured, but do not need to be converted. Unnecessary files of this type should be deleted.
Both current and historical records containing SSNs in off-line storage such as paper, tape, cartridge, microfiche, microfilm or magnetic media do not need to be converted as long as access to them is limited and secured.
All online and off-line records containing SSNs will be considered confidential information. If an employee has any such records that he/she will no longer need, they should be purged in compliance with the General Retention Schedule for University Records. See http://guru.psu.edu/gfug/appendices/APP18.html for details.
Even after the launch of the new PSU ID on January 1, the University still will be required to collect the SSN of any person who wishes to enroll in academic offerings and any person employed at Penn State. Only authorized employees, however, will have access to these SSNs.
"Social Security numbers are still the unique national identifier. We need to collect them for the purpose of paying employees, coordinating health care and health care payments and reporting to other federal agencies that still work in an SSN environment," said Lindstrom.
Lindstrom added that any offices that have been granted permission from the Chief Privacy Officer to store SSNs within their systems will need to be certified as a Penn State Trusted Network. This requirement will help avoid the type of security breach that recently occurred at the California Polytechnic State University, in which 652 students may have had their SSNs compromised after a computer virus infected a computer with their personal details on it.
"Any system with confidential information should have to meet minimum security requirements," said Lindstrom. The Privacy Office and Security Operations and Services, a unit of Information Technology Services, are working together to evaluate the current security requirements at Penn State.Central systems transition
To facilitate the SSN-to-PSU ID changeover, all University Administrative Information Systems, including IBIS, ISIS, the Data Warehouse and eLion, will be taken off-line for conversion at midnight Saturday, December 18. Systems will be back online on or after December 26 as testing is completed. Beginning January 1, 2005, the PSU ID will be used in these systems and in all internal processes that do not require SSNs for reporting or taxation purposes. The University still will need to collect individuals' SSNs for certain business processes, but use of SSNs will be strictly limited by policy AD19.
Apart from the conversion of Administrative Information Systems, each department, college and campus is responsible for converting its own unique academic and administrative procedures, processes and forms to use the new PSU ID.
For more information about Penn State's SSN Conversion, visit the faculty/staff information overview on the official SSN Project Web site at http://ais.its.psu.edu/ssn.
Last time around, this series took a peek behind closed doors at Hollywood's dirty little secrets (sounds juicy that way, doesn't it?) by investigating the process by which movie animations are created. But as we all know, there's more to generating a believable virtual object than simply making it move; it has to look right, too. And rendering is a major part of that process.1. What are we talking about?
"Rendering" is one of those terms that gets tossed around a lot, without being generally well understood. For the purposes of this article, we're going to define Rendering as the simulation, within a virtual environment, of the effects of real light falling upon a real object. Or, to put it another way, making computer-generated objects look as if they were real objects.
Consider your own hand, for example. It looks very different when held up to a window, when backlit by firelight or when held under water. It's still the same hand, of course, but the lighting effects are drastically different. And it would look very much more different still if it were made of aluminum or sawdust or plastic. Having seen these effects every day of our lives, we take them for granted-so much so that when we don't see them in a computer-created object, we know instantly that something's wrong.
Simulating these various-and constantly changing-shadows and reflections is an extremely complex operation that requires a lot of CPU cycles from an animation workstation, which is why CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) is such a recent phenomenon.2. Setting the Stage
Faithful readers will remember this beast as the Martian War Machine from part one of this series. It's standing over the edge of a crater here, and ought to be bathed in firelight from the burning Martian projectile ship beneath. Yet obviously it isn't.
Notice, by the way, in this Maya screen shot, that there is already a bit of pseudo-rendering in the image. The upper surfaces of the metal War Machine are light, while the lower ones are darker, as if there were a weak light shining from above. That's because Maya puts a dim default lighting into its workspace, just to help the user get a feel for the three-dimensional relationships among the onscreen objects. It has nothing to do with the lighting on the final rendered output image. (The greenish blob in the lower center of the frame, by the way, is how flames are represented on-screen in the Maya modeling phase).
Step one is to decide upon the characteristics of the animated object. Is it made of plastic? Metal? Glass? What color is it? Transparent? Translucent? Does it have a smooth and shiny surface, or is it dull? (Of course many of the movies produced with CGI are very dull indeed, but that's outside the scope of this article).
We can see how this is done in Maya. This is for the control cab, or "hood" of the War Machine, and the idea is to give it the look of shiny plastic or painted metal. So first, we choose a material type of Phong (named for its inventor, Phong Biu-Tuong, for you CGI trivia buffs). Phong and the similar Phong E are material types with high specularity, or reflectiveness, and will suit the Martian quite well. I chose a white coloring for the surface, to give it a glossy, businesslike look. Note that there are many characteristics of our Phong surface that are adjustable with slider bars. Since this is a fairly simple surface, most of these are left at the defaults, except for the specular color (white) and the reflectivity, which I boosted to a fairly high .802 value.
Step two is to define some lights for our scene. In Maya (as in many other 3D modeling packages), a light is just another object, with characteristics such as direction, diffusion, intensity, etc.
Those who know anything about portrait photography will already be aware that the most common lighting setup is to use a relatively bright key light above and a bit to one side of the subject, and a less bright fill light low and on the opposite side. And in many instances, some variation on this basic scheme will work well in a virtual environment. But nature is seldom so neatly arranged, and since we're trying to simulate nature here, we're forced to be a bit more creative. For the crater from which the Martian emerges, I needed the wavering glow of a fire, plus some flickering bright-violet lights that would simulate the light of welding torches, all to give the War Machine a suitably sinister entrance.
The fire itself gave some glow, but I found that it wasn't enough to bring out the detail of the towering alien device, so I created a point-source orange light deep in the crater and out of sight.
It took a bit of fiddling to get the intensity just right, but after setting the color and positioning it for maximum effect, this was a pretty simple job.
Somewhat more difficult were the arc-welding lights I wanted. To get the appropriate flicker effect, I created two more point lights in the crater, this time a harsh, bright purple. Then I created two small opaque half-cylinder objects and animated them to revolve rapidly around the two lights like shutters, only at an irregular rate. Perfect. Now only one part remained: The crater wall over which the Martian would step to begin its career of havoc upon unsuspecting humanity. This was created from a NURBS (NonRational Uniform B-spline, remember?) plane that I sculpted into a rough crater shape. Obviously, a mound of earth isn't going to be shiny and white, so it had to be a dull, flat surface that would resemble heaped clay.
This was done by assigning a Lambert material to the crater; the Lambert type is suited to dull, minimally-reflective surfaces. I colored it a dark clay-brown, then applied a bump mapping texture map to it. "Bump mapping" simply means applying an image file of grayscale pixels (the "texture map") to an object, to give it apparent texture without actually altering the object itself. Human skin is usually given texture with an appropriate texture map, as is wood, brick or any other non-smooth object.
All of these "materials" and maps, along with their respective characteristics, are properly called shaders, and the combination of them into daisy-chains of surface-modifying properties are called shader networks. Here's a sample (this one from Curious Labs' Poser software) of a very simple shader network, used to define the characteristics of a character's green eyes (Figure 5). It graphically shows how each shader node (set of properties) links to another, to provide the final effect.
And what about the hellish flames licking cruelly up from between the alien invader's all-destroying feet? (A Martian War Machine should always be described with as many lurid pulp-magazine adjectives as possible). They were created with Maya's Fire Effect, which is actually a type of particle effect that glows and whose motion characteristics can be manipulated to simulate the appearance of real-world flames. It's not easy to work with, and takes some getting used to, but the results can be quite effective. Figure 6 shows the settings I used for the flames beneath the War Machine.3. All Together, Now!
Okay, so now we've got our animated Martian War Machine (from Part 1), our lighting and our surface textures and colors. Since Maya's modeling window doesn't show any shading or lighting effects the way they'll appear in the final render (for which CPUs the world over are deeply grateful), it's now time to hit the Render button and see what our scene looks like.
Not too bad for a first attempt. Of course, the flickering lights from the busy Martian arc-welders don't show up in a still photo, and the flames are pretty dim against that ugly blank background, but there's a definite improvement already.4. Time Out
So much for rendering a single frame. But animations are normally done at 24 frames per second, which means that a mere 30-second animation is going to require 720 separate images to be rendered. Just how long this takes will depend upon the speed of your machine, but even a relatively simple animated object like the Martian War Machine is going to keep Mr. CPU mighty busy for a long time to render an animation of any size, using Maya's built-in rendering engine. And for really complex scenes, the problem multiplies exponentially. As an example, I have created a fairly complicated Maya scene that requires a little over four minutes to render a single preview frame at production-level definition, using the Maya native renderer. At four minutes per frame and 24 frames per second, that's 96 minutes (a.k.a. 1.6 hours) to generate a single second of on-screen animation! With both processors puffing and straining, my workstation is clearly not going to be much good for anything else during a render of any real length. How does Hollywood-where time is big money-handle this situation?
Well, the industrial-strength high-end renderer of choice for most major animation studios is RenderMan, a product of Pixar (whose CEO just happens to be the same nice fellow who runs Apple Computer). Using RenderMan, an animation job can be submitted to remote render servers on a network, so that processing all those frames doesn't tie up your local machine. That way, animators can move on to something else while their most current sequences are being rendered, instead of falling asleep at their consoles over half-eaten bags of corn chips and stale soft drinks. A collection of such networked remote render servers is called a render farm (or as some of the folks at WETA Digital like to say, a "render wall"). Without render farms, big-budget productions like Finding Nemo or Lord of the Rings would be stupendously time-consuming and difficult-instead of just horribly time-consuming and difficult.
Since Maya is the most popular animator/modeler and RenderMan is the most popular renderer, Pixar produces a simple plug-in (called MTOR) for Maya that allows a single frame or an entire animated sequence to be directly batch-submitted to a render farm, freeing up the local workstation for other tasks. The plug-in is currently only available for Maya, but the RenderMan Artist Tools toolkit is capable of processing a RIB (Renderman Interface Bytestream) file generated by any imaging software.
Note, by the way, that, respected and popular as it is, RenderMan definitely isn't the only product that can be used to do remote rendering or construct an animation render farm by any means. There are certainly others, most of which adhere to the RenderMan standard ("RenderMan" is both a suite of Pixar software products and a set of technical specifications defining the interaction of modeling and rendering programs). But insofar as there can be said to be anything approaching an "industry standard" renderer in the high-end digital effects world, RenderMan is it.Coming Attractions
Well, here we are with our rendered, illuminated and textured Martian War Machine, standing embarrassingly unimpressive against a stark and featureless white sky. Obviously we need more before this scene is suitable for showing to even the most favorably-disposed audience! So what do we do now? Tune in again next issue for our exciting conclusion, Part Three: Compositing and Editing.
Definitions of "rendering":
An animator's resume (for those considering doing this professionally):
The RenderMan Interface Specification:
The Alias (Maya) home page (Alias was formerly a division of SGI, but is now an independently-owned software company):
Some interesting sites for 3D artists, both animated and still:
All the Maya screenshots for this series were taken from Maya Unlimited, V5 and V6. Maya Unlimited runs on Irix, Windows XP, Red Hat Linux and Apple OS X. For details, check the Alias website above.
Before Multilingual Computing
In the beginning there was the mainframe, and the mainframe had an English keyboard, and the keyboard had no accent characters, and all were content. Then others heard of the computer and its miraculous powers, and there was rejoicing around the world. However, the keyboard had no accents and the keyboard could not make math symbols and the keyboard could not output Russian, Chinese, Spanish or any language other than English or Swahili. Then a great sadness fell upon the nations of the world, and the great international computer scientists met and asked "What shall we do?" (and some may have whispered "Drat those non-English scripts! Now what?") Thirty years later, we are finally beginning to approach a universal solution to support computing in all languages.
In today's world, it is in fact possible to type and process other languages besides English, but few users will ever claim that it is as easy as typing and processing English. ANGEL Help Desk Coordinator and Hungarian native speaker Irma Giannetti noted, "I just stumbled onto the Hungarian keyboard by accident; it shouldn't be so difficult." However, the Penn State computing and foreign language communities have been working together in the past few years to provide utilities and instructions for students, staff, and faculty to make the process a little easier.
Penn State's Role in Facilitating International Computing
What exactly has Penn State done to facilitate non-English computing? There are a variety of factors and tools to consider, but with suggestions from different language departments, Classroom and Lab Computing, part of Information Technology Services (ITS), has installed the following utilities in its University Park Student Computing Labs:
In addition, both Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT), a unit of ITS, and the Center for Language Acquisition provide online instructions for configuring computers to work with a variety of languages from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere. Some of this documentation has been modified by language programs such as the Spanish Basic Language Program for use in working with their own languages, and some members of the Help Desk staff are providing information to help their customers activate and use the utilities necessary to work with non-English languages on their systems.
Finally, the Penn State CALPER Foreign Language Resource Center (http://calper.la.psu.edu/cmc.php), administered by the Center for Language Acquisition, has developed Unicode-compliant (see below) blog, Wiki, online chat, and message board tools which are open to all Penn State and non-Penn State users.
The major beneficiaries for these utilities are obviously students and instructors working in foreign languages, but they are not the only users who can take advantage of these resources. Students, staff, and instructors from outside the U.S. or those who know other languages can also benefit. In fact, the installation of fonts for South Asian scripts from India was not suggested by a language department, but by Jerrold Maddox, an instructor in the College of Arts and Architecture who teaches a course in Web development, and is encouraging international students to post material in their native languages.
Similarly, both TLT and the Penn State Center for Language Acquisition have consulted with instructors who need to be able to type or read languages besides English, but are not able to easily change their computer settings to do so.
The Importance of Unicode
Ten years ago, configuring your computer system to use languages other than English primarily meant installing some special fonts on your machine and memorizing some keyboard codes. However, the demands of the Internet along with electronic communication and data transmission have forced the technology community to reevaluate how language data is processed. In the older "internationalization" models, users had to have the same system or the same fonts in order to read the non-English text correctly. If a user's computer did not have the correct font, the content would be unreadable.
Different operating system vendors and countries came up with their own standards for different languages, but the content was not always transferable. A Russian document written in Windows might not be readable on a Macintosh or Linux machine and vice versa. To counteract these compatibility problems, an encoding system called Unicode was developed and accepted by most major technology vendors including Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, Macromedia, and others.
The Unicode system essentially assigns a unique number to every character in every script of the world's languages. Fonts have been redesigned so that the correct character is displayed when the system sees a particular Unicode numeric code. As long as an appropriate Unicode-compliant font is in place, a computer should be able to correctly display the text, even if it was originally written with a different font. This would be similar to English text which is readable even if the font switches from Times New Roman to Arial.
Configuring Your System
Although most technology vendors agree on the value of Unicode, there has been a sizeable lag in time between creating the theoretical standard and implementing it for different platforms, applications, and scripts. Unicode compliance for East Asian languages is fairly complete across platforms, but Unicode support for other scripts, such as Armenian or Georgian, is still lagging. In addition, other factors such as whether a script is typed left-to-right (LTR) or right-to-left (RTL) as in the Middle East or whether each symbol is a letter, a syllable as in some Japanese scripts, or a concept as in Chinese will affect how utilities function. In short, languages and scripts each have their own quirks.
To fully internationalize your system for a particular language, your computer should have a Unicode-compliant font for the script and a matching keyboard or input utility which correctly matches the character with its Unicode value. In addition, some users may require fonts and utilities which work with pre-Unicode systems or "legacy" encodings. The "By Language" section of the TLT Computing with Accents Web site at http://tlt.its.psu.edu/suggestions/international/bylanguage/index.html includes pages for different languages which list font, utilities, and other factors important for each language. (Note: Western European languages like French, Spanish, or German use the same fonts as English; the only difference is that certain accent codes must be memorized).
Once these fonts and keyboard utilities are installed, it is a matter of activating the keyboard and using those software applications which can recognize them. Currently, these include recent versions of Microsoft Office (Office 2004 only on the Macintosh platform), Star Office, Adobe InDesign and Photoshop, Netscape Composer, Notepad for Windows, Text Edit for the Macintosh and others. Some products may be able to read Unicode text, but may not be able to type it. For these products, cutting and pasting from another text editor may be the best solution for now.
Another point to consider is that just because you are able to read and work with Unicode on your machine, it does not mean all other users are equally enabled. You may be able to create a Unicode-compliant Web site and view it correctly, but users with a different browser or missing a font may not be so lucky. You may need to provide instructions on how to help other users configure their systems. As you can see, foreign language technology is advancing, but still nowhere as universally or easily implemented as English.
Although the current methods for multilingual computing are more complex than most users would like, the outlook is actually very promising. Three years ago, only Windows and Unix were fully Unicode-compliant and only the major scripts of the world were supported in all browsers. It was very difficult to post material in other scripts on the Web without very specialized knowledge of encoding systems. Now all modern operating systems are in Unicode, all the recent versions of each browser recognize Unicode, and support for lesser-known scripts have been included in most platforms.
Most importantly, more Unicode-aware applications and keyboards have been developed so that it is more possible than ever to be able to create and share Unicode documents. In Netscape, Mozilla, and Firefox, instructors can type material in different scripts directly into ANGEL and other Web tools and the content will be readable on other browsers. Unicode has become so common that many academic consortia and international user groups are developing fonts and utilities free for academic and commercial use. Multilingual support is not just becoming universal, it is becoming open-source.
Where to Learn More: Penn State Resources
TLT Computing with Accents
Center for Language Acquisition (click "Resources")
Penn State CALPER Foreign Language CMCTools
Foreign Languages and ANGEL
Where to Learn More: Unicode
Alan Wood's Unicode Resources
Jukka Korpela's Tutorial on Character Coding
Tex Texin Internationalization Guy
Instructors of traditional courses that meet face-to-face can introduce themselves to students personally, providing a sense of their unique background, perspective, and teaching style. One way for instructors in online programs to accomplish this same goal is to post a brief, personalized "meet the instructor" video in an online course at the beginning of the term. The Faculty Multimedia Center (FMC), a service of Information Technology Services, maintains a studio Penn State instructors can use to tape such course-related videos.
This past July, five instructors in the new Master in Geographic Information Systems program used FMC studio facilities to tape one- to two-minute videos to introduce themselves to students. The online master's program, offered through World Campus, was developed at the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute, a unit of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Each instructor was taped in front of a blank green screen, after which backdrops would be superimposed on the videos in place of the green screen to make it appear as if the instructor were on-scene in various locales. The participants were David DiBiase, who heads the program, David OŐSullivan, Todd Bacastow, James Detwiler, and Robert Murray.
For this particular use of the FMC studio, Eric Spielvogel, e-Education Institute instructional designer, shot the video, while monitoring the result on a laptop using iMovie software. However, FMC staff are available to run the studio equipment for instructors lacking the expertise to do so themselves.
The five instructors each took a different approach to personalizing their video. One spoke informally about how he got into the field and about his family and travels. One structured his remarks around a handful of props he held up to the camera, including a piece of the Berlin Wall. Another sported 3D glasses, which the students will be using during the course. A common theme was letting the students know that their instructor was a real person who was looking forward to interacting with them.
At the time of the videotaping, none of the five instructors had finalized which backdrops to select for the final video. Spielvogel said possibilities included a location the instructor had once lived in or was going to-for example, one instructor was headed to New Zealand, a database, an exhibit from a course, or a location at which field work is being conducted. Spielvogel has produced one previous introduction video for a faculty member, in which seven different backdrops were used, including a lounge chair on the beach, the Cambridge quad, and a microscopic view of quartz. He said that it is ideal if the person being videotaped knows what the backdrop(s) will be in advance. He or she can then refer to what is being shown.
Spielvogel said that these introduction videos "serve to humanize you in an online course." Ann Luck, senior instructional designer and instructor with the program, reiterated, "This is a way of helping to bridge the distance between the faculty and the students. By incorporating this kind of introduction video at the beginning of the course, it really sets the stage. It lets the students get to know who their faculty member is, and feel like they have a bit more of a personal connection with them. Then, when they're reading e-mail or posting to a message board, they can "hear" their instructor's voice and "see" them in their head, and I think that's very powerful."
Luck added, "The Faculty Multimedia Center is a great resource for us. It provides all the technical capabilities, the green screen, the lighting, the acoustics, and so forth. It's really nice to have that facility to use."
Any Penn State instructor may set up an appointment to use the FMC. Instructors of resident education courses may use the facility for free. To schedule an appointment with a FMC multimedia consultant, call 814-863-7051 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit http://tlt.its.psu.edu/fmc/.
By Al Williams
When a person needs to make a decision about what software product to use, why is it important to have a variety of options? This is a situation where diversity can be a strength. It is good to have the freedom to choose from multiple solutions, realizing that freedom to choose does not necessarily imply that products are free. A decision maker needs to focus on the business need at hand and make technology decisions that support business strategies. We need to be able to control our destiny, and not let vendors unduly influence our decisions. Viable options better position us in a bargaining environment. We need to maintain the ability to change if or when needed. And we must maintain budget independence (no one vendor can control).
What choices do people have when they need to make a software selection decision? Let's look at that question and break it down into specific cases: servers; desktop OS; office productivity suites; and browsers. Looking at the situation that way may give us a better understanding of where we have reasonable choices.
There are quite a few server choices available: Microsoft Server 2003; Novell NetWare; OS2; Linux; Apple OS X Server; IBM AIX; Sun Solaris; and IBM z/OS. Of these Linux is used quite a bit here at Penn State. Linux is the back end server for:
Red Hat and Suse are two companies that provide Linux products targeted for the enterprise marketplace. They sell the Linux system as well as support and automated bug fixes. AIX is actually gaining share in the Unix server market, and z/OS is prevalent in the enterprise commercial market. The latter is being helped with the availability of Linux on IBM mainframes. Apple OS X server is a good product to watch. It has recently gained market share in Europe. A subset of the server systems is the web server. Here you might choose from the following: Microsoft Internet Integrated Server 6 (IIS 6); Apache; Sun One; Lotus Domino; and Netscape. The most prevalent web server on the Internet is Apache with about 60% market share.
In the desktop operating system market there are several choices: Windows XP; Apple OS X; Linux; Proprietary UNIX (Solaris, AIX, HP UX...); and free Unix (FreeBSD, OpenBSD, Darwin...). Apple OS X is a product that I believe is really worth considering. Linux bears watching and is becoming a contender. Several vendors have launched desktop initiatives based on Linux (Sun, HP, Red Hat, and Novell to name a few). These are noteworthy efforts that are gaining traction.
There are a lot of choices for office productivity software: Microsoft Office; StarOffice and OpenOffice; Corel WordPerfect; Lotus Smartsuite; Apple Works; GoBe Productive; and KOffice (to name a few). ITS struck a deal with Sun and distributes StarOffice on the student software CD (http://its.psu.edu/studentorientation/pacits.html). OpenOffice is the open source derivative of StarOffice and is freely downloadable from http://www.openoffice.org/. Most of these products tend to be pretty good at interchanging documents, presentations and spreadsheets.
For web browsers we have some excellent alternatives: Internet Explorer; Mozilla; Netscape; Safari; Opera; Foxfire (from Mozilla). I list Mozilla separately from Netscape as it seems to be developing into an interesting open source desktop platform offering email and calendar bundled in. Mozilla is freely downloadable from http://www.mozilla.org/. For email clients you can choose Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, Mozilla, Thunderbird, Ximian Evolution (looks and feels like Outlook), OS X Mail, Eudora, and many more. Mozilla and the Mozilla Thuderbird spin off are worth considering. They work very well across the Linux, Windows, and Mac OS desktop operating systems, and you can even copy settings between the operating systems.
Several of the options mentioned are open source products. This brings up the question of whether we should be favoring open source as a solution. Before we can answer that, we need to understand what is open source? For our purposes we use the following definition:
Open source is an application, program or utility where:
Open source is a popular revolution, and some good work is being done. The idea is to share development resources (a Stone Soup Model).
More eyes, i.e. more people, can help find errors. Problems and security holes are quickly fixed, and improvements can be made freely for the greater good. This does not imply that open source is free. You may need to have programmers to support open source products you adopt. You will need to have an appropriate programming infrastructure to be a participant in open source development. Vendors can resell open source products where they add value. Indeed there are quite a few vendors starting formal open source initiatives:
The March 1, 2004 article "The Myths of Open Source" from CIO Magazine gives some good reasons a business might choose open source products (http://www.cio.com/archive/030104/open.html). The article addresses issues such as the cost of open source, savings potential, and support issues. We actually use several open source solutions within ITS:
We also provide an open source mirror web site (http://carroll.aset.psu.edu).
If open source is a reasonable choice, what are some of the products, and how do you find open source offerings? Those are good questions. The products are very numerous, so I will just give some examples here, and also give some pointers to where to look for open source products. Here are some fairly well known products:
Those are interesting examples, but how do you go about finding what's available? Here are some references that you can browse:
- Apple Darwin
- Open Source Directory
- Unix apps for Mac
- GUI for Fink
http://sourceforge.net/projects/finkcommander (you need to install fink first)
So now we are down to the question of what should we do? Should we:
The answer to those questions is "yes" depending on the situation. Certainly ITS favors Open Standards based solutions. In my opinion it is key that we strive for interoperability. We want to be able to make decisions based on our business needs. Source managed solutions can be good (like our ANGEL project), and open source is a good option where the products match our needs. I believe we could and should work together to influence our vendors to be responsive to Penn State needs. We have done this before in order to address our concerns at the source; try to influence product direction; try to influence interoperability; and to build standards that we can live with.
So we come back to the question of whether there are meaningful choices and reasonable ways to diversify? Yes, I think there are reasonable options and we can work together to realize them by making a conscious effort to look at alternatives. Another option is participation in university-focused initiatives such as:
And a third is participation in user groups that seek to influence vendors such as
By using these strategies we can make software choices that are in the best interest of universities as a whole and Penn State in particular.
Higher education, government agencies, and large companies were hit hard this year when millions of computers fell prey to viruses and worms. Wasted resources have been measured in billions of dollars-and the next attack could be just around the corner. To help the University to meet these growing challenges, Information Technology Services (ITS) is launching a security awareness campaign this October and November with an urgent message for students, staff and faculty to "take control" by proactively ensuring that their computers are protected from security dangers such as viruses, worms and other system vulnerabilities.
The University's security awareness campaign features five important steps that Kathleen Kimball, director of Security Operations and Services at Penn State, encourages all Penn State community members to perform to ensure that their computers are fully protected, including the installation of firewall protection, consistent and regular security updates, secure passwords, and the installation of current antivirus and spyware detection software.
"Users need to know to update their systems as a matter of routine, setting their operating systems and antivirus software to be updated automatically," said Kimball, "They also need to be reviewing their vendor sites periodically to help ensure their own safety."
Although completing the five security steps involves some time and effort, ITS has tried to make the process as painless as possible by providing a Web site with step-by-step instructions for carrying out each of the security recommendations. In addition, to encourage students, faculty and staff to take strong interest in safeguarding their files, ITS is sponsoring a contest with two digital cameras as first prizes. Two digital audio players also will be presented as second prizes. To enter Penn State's computer security contest, go to the campaign Web site located at http://its.psu.edu/takecontrol/.
Individuals who would like assistance in completing the computer security steps outlined at the Web site should contact the ITS Help Desk at (814) 863-2494 or (814) 863-1035.
"With the frequency of Internet attacks-no matter whether you're connected via Penn State or through a commercial provider-you need to take action to protect your computer and to continuously update that protection," commented Kimball. "Don't wait for a warning, because attacks spread too quickly; you need to make proper personal computer security a routine today."
The importance of keeping up with security patches on computer operating systems has been reinforced again, as Microsoft last week issued a critical security alert telling users that there were problems with the way certain image files are handled by Windows and any applications that use the vulnerable code. The alert said that, theoretically, a malicious attacker could take over a vulnerable machine using a carefully crafted image that contained code to exploit the bug. This could mean that users find their machine under attack when they view images on the Web or when their e-mail program previews images contained in messages. For details, check the Web at http://www.us-cert.gov/cas/techalerts/TA04-260A.html.
"Any critical Microsoft problem or update-as this one is-affects Penn State," said Kimball.
E-mail correspondence at Penn State will get just a little bit safer by the time the spring 2005 semester arrives. By January 25, faculty, staff and students will be required to check e-mail via a secure-only connection using Secure Socket Layer (SSL), software that encrypts data as it is transmitted over the Internet. Once an e-mail client (such as Eudora or Mozilla) is configured to use an SSL connection, SSL encrypts or "scrambles" a user's Penn State Access Account userid (user I.D.) and password when he/she checks e-mail via mail.psu.edu or email.psu.edu and also encrypts the messages as they are downloaded from the e-mail servers to an e-mail client on the user's local machine.
Using SSL, as well as other methods for securely checking e-mail, have previously been optional choices for Penn State community members, but on January 25, 2005, configuring SSL will be mandatory for all students, faculty, and staff. (Individuals who use Penn State WebMail exclusively, however, do not need to participate, since WebMail is automatically configured to use SSL for sending and receiving e-mail.)
According to Kevin Morooney, senior director within Information Technology Services (ITS), Penn State's ultimate goal is to eliminate sending all data and passwords "in the clear" (or without encryption) in order to better protect computer users from crimes like identity theft, e-mail fraud and electronic eavesdropping.
"The Internet is not a secure place," Morooney stated. "In some instances, when individuals check e-mail using software such as Eudora or Outlook, their Penn State Access Account userid and password are sent over the Internet and could potentially be stolen. Someone who knows your userid and password can read your e-mail, view your grades, access personal financial data, and even change your classes. Requiring this new technology will significantly reduce the risk of someone's password being compromised."
ITS implemented SSL encryption on the University's mail servers in the early fall and is now in the position to require that all students, faculty, and staff configure the necessary SSL settings on their e-mail clients over the coming months. (Information on how to set up the correct SSL settings is available at: http://helpdesk.psu.edu/email/sslconfig.html.) ITS staff members emphasize that it is critical for all students, faculty, and staff to make the recommended SSL changes outlined at the Web site above, or they will not be able to send or access e-mail after January 25, 2005.
Many computer experts country-wide strongly encourage the use of SSL for e-mail communications whenever possible, citing that it's usually very easy to make the required e-mail software changes-and that the effort is well worth the greater security Internet users receive as a result.
In addition, students, faculty and staff can use the SSL encryption process regardless of whether their e-mail message recipients use it, since SSL is transparent to individuals who receive e-mail.
If you have questions regarding how to configure your e-mail software for SSL use, contact the ITS Help Desk at (814) 863-2494 or (814) 863-1035.
From fundamental-level seminars and classroom-style lectures to high-end technology training and one-on-one consultations, Information Technology Services (ITS) Training Services strives to accommodate all the technology training needs that Penn Staters may have. For that reason, each year ITS Training Services adjusts a few traditional services and experiments with new ideas to determine those that work best-and this year is no exception.
This academic year begins with a variety of changes and additional services offered by ITS Training Services, including an additional format for free technology seminars, a new concept for the Web site home page, and the Blended Training Solutions service that was recently launched for faculty.
Also new this year are several additional free seminar topics, an improved registration system, and the availability of a catalogue that lists the free technology seminars to be offered throughout the 2004-2005 academic year.Free Seminar Additions
In the upcoming academic year, ITS Training Services will offer more than 600 free technology seminars to Penn State faculty, staff, and students. These seminars take place over three sessions, which coincide with the fall, spring, and summer terms. Seminars cover a wide range of software topics in such categories as Web and Internet, Technologies for Teaching, Graphics, Multimedia, and Desktop Publishing, Office Applications, Operating Systems, and many more.
This year, ITS Training Services has expanded offerings in the Operating Systems category to include several courses on Linux and Mac OS X. "We're excited to be able to offer training on these operating s ystems," said ITS Training Services director Lisa Lacombe, who said they are working directly with Apple to coordinate and offer the Mac OS X training. Some of the Mac OS X course topics include getting started, troubleshooting, and server concepts.
Lacombe stressed the importance of making every effort to offer training on many of the software programs for which the University has site licenses. Thus, the new Linux training is a valued addition. "The Linux courses (offered for the first time this fall) filled up fast, so it must be a topic of high demand. We're glad to be able to meet that demand," she said. Linux topics include Configuring Network Services, Installing Linux and Dual-Booting with Windows XP, Migrating from Windows to Linux, and more.
Another popular addition, which was implemented over the summer, is a new seminar format called "Getting Started." These seminars are typically hands-on in format and less than two hours in length. They are meant to "get participants up and going with the software," according to Lacombe, who said that the training specialists carefully choose the relevant information to accomplish that purpose in the allotted time. "The goal is for participants to leave the seminar with the skills to use the software effectively for their jobs," she said, adding that shorter seminar durations fit better into busy schedules during the semester.
Feedback has been good so far, according to Lacombe, as well as to many of the training specialists who have taught these courses since summer. "Judging by seminar popularity, attendance, and wait list numbers, we can reasonably assume that people like this format," said Lacombe. Some of the "Getting Started" seminar topics include Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Excel, Microsoft Project, and Digital Photography.
To reference all the free seminars that will be offered throughout the year, ITS Training Services created a catalogue listing those seminars that will be offered during the fall 2004, spring 2005, and summer 2005 seminar sessions. The ITS Training Services Seminars Catalogue is an annual publication that is intended to serve as a reference list of the technology seminars offered at Penn State throughout the academic year. The catalogue is available upon request to those who did not receive it through campus mail. It is also available in PDF format via a link on the ITS Training Services home page.
It is important to note that, due to scheduling restrictions, seminars will appear in the online registration system only during the session in which they will be offered.Registration System Enhancements
Over the summer, the free seminar registration system went through some changes. "Users shouldn't notice too much of a change," said Alexa Kurilko, ITS Training Services seminar coordinator. "The system was enhanced to be more usable and intuitive," she said, adding that enhancements to the free seminar registration system include an improved interface and advanced search feature. Users who enter the system will find consistent navigation throughout the system, as well as expanded and intuitive search capabilities, according to Kurilko.
Now when a user enters the ITS Training Services registration system, a list of categories will appear as links in the center of the page. Users may simply click on the category link to view a list of seminars in that category, or click to view all seminars in alphabetical list format that are being offered for that session. The basic search feature is still available, whereby users may type a seminar title or part of a seminar title into the search field to search for specific seminars or topics of interest.
The advanced search feature is brand new and provides greater search control, giving users the options to search by seminar title, date range, sections with open seats, and more. Users can view their results in calendar or list view. In list view, they may sort alphabetically or by date. "This was a greatly needed enhancement," said Kurilko, who added, "the more flexible the system is, the better chance users will have to find what they're looking for."
Though users must log in to the registration system to view all the seminars that are currently available, they are not required to register for a seminar. Users are welcome to enter the system and browse around just to see what is available during the current session.Web Site Home Page News & Updates
Because information technology is such a dynamic topic, seminars may change or be added throughout the year, according to Kurilko. In order to keep participants and potential participants informed, ITS Training Services has revamped the Web site home page to incorporate monthly updates.
"We tried to think of the best way to keep people up-to-date without inundating them with e-mail," said Kurilko. "The Web site is the most public thing we have," she added, "so it just made sense to put it on the home page." At the beginning of each month, as updates occur, the new information will be listed in brief format on the home page. Longer stories will link to a full story page, and archived articles will be linked from the full story page.
Kurilko stressed that the best way to stay informed is still by joining the Training News list, to which new information is e-mailed before it is published on the site. "But for those who prefer to pull the information for themselves, rather than having it pushed at them, the home page updates are the way to go," she said.Blended Training Solutions
The Blended Training Solutions (BTS) service for faculty was launched over the summer and, according to Web-Based training specialist April Sheninger, has "really taken off." Blended Training Solutions combines hands-on instruction with Web-based resources. Through the Blended Training Solutions service, ITS Training Services specialists consult with faculty about the technology training options available through ITS Training Services, which they can use to help facilitate learning for their students.
The popularity of the service has a lot to do with a new partnership between ITS Training Services and the University's e-Portfolio Initiative, according to Sheninger. "We've been working with Glenn Johnson (e-Portfolio Initiative project manager) by taking over some of the hands-on e-Portfolio training sessions, and this has really helped get the BTS service off the ground," she said.
Though most of the requests for Blended Training have come in the form of e-Portfolio training, the BTS specialists also continue to provide other types of training, mostly on Web editing or Web page creation, page layout, graphics, and presentation applications.
Sheninger also feels that the service is popular because it provides the just-in-time training that students can use immediately and in the future, as well as the fact that BTS is a service that faculty needed. "We're offering a service that faculty really want," said Sheninger, "which is apparent by the popularity of the service."
Sheninger stressed the fact that instructor and lab resources are limited for this service, so the farther ahead that faculty can make the request, the better. Blended Training Solutions specialists are typically scheduled to capacity at least one month out, but planning a semester in advance is optimum, said Sheninger.
To learn more about all the services available through ITS Training Services, visit the Web site at http://its.psu.edu/training/.
Test-taking can be a stressful experience for many students, but for students with documented disabilities, taking a test without the necessary assistive technology can be a monumental task to accomplish. Information Technology Services (ITS) is committed to providing equal access to information technology for all students. In collaboration with the Office of Disability Services (ODS), Classroom and Lab Computing (CLC) recently completed work on a technology-enhanced testing facility in 115 Boucke Building for use by University Park students who may need assistance when taking a test.
In addition to four workstations in the main area of the center, the facility has two private sound-reduced rooms, each equipped with the latest in assistive technologies. Some of the assistive technologies available for students to use in the new testing facility include:
Use of the 115 Boucke Building testing center is limited to those students who are registered with ODS and determined to be eligible for certain academic adjustments. Students who are eligible for ODS services are regularly encouraged to notify ODS of any new or special technology needs. According to Karen Port, examination coordinator, "the students really appreciate what we do here, which makes me feel very satisfied with my work. This is a very rewarding career."
Penn State's Assistive Technology Committee, chaired by Mary Ramsey, manager of CLC's Software Support Group, and composed of representatives from various offices, meets on a regular basis to discuss student technology requests and select appropriate systems. CLC staff are responsible for software installation and maintenance in the new testing center, as well as other assistive technology workstations on campus.
For more information on assistive technologies available at University Park, visit http://clc.its.psu.edu/AssistiveTech/.
Every Penn State campus has an office designated to provide services for students with disabilities as mandated under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Any requests for accommodations or assistance should be directed to the Office of Disability Services at 814-863-1807 (voice or TTY). Information regarding their services and policies is available online at http://www.equity.psu.edu/ods/.
Three library tools available in Penn State's Course Management System, ANGEL, allow students to conveniently access course readings and research sources with a single logon. These are the Library Reserves tool, the Custom Library Guides tool, and the Ask a Librarian tool. These library tools have been made available to ANGEL users through a collaboration of the University Libraries and Information Technology Services (ITS).
Library Reserves tool
The Library Reserves tool allows an instructor to activate a link in an ANGEL course to materials that have been placed on reserve in the Libraries. As Loanne Snavely, University Libraries head of instructional programs, explained, placing readings on reserve has gradually become more of an electronic process, and students are often linked to full-text documents through the Library Web site. "But until we had this Reserves tool," she said, "the students still had to get out of their course management system and get into the Library and then get into the online catalog and then get into the reserves section and search for their class and then get their reserve list. It was a multi-step process." However, when students click the Library Reserves link in their ANGEL course, the reserve readings list is immediately available. Snavely also noted that because this list is dynamically generated, each time a student accesses it, the most recent reserves list is displayed.
Custom Library Guides tool
Custom library subject guides are developed by librarians for use in ANGEL courses. Each guide differs, but may contain information such as guidelines on defining a topic and conducting research, call numbers associated with a field of study, search tips for the CAT, and a list of pertinent books, periodicals, databases, and Internet resources. A subject guide can link directly to electronic sources, including full-text documents. Subject guides can be created at the campus, college, department, course abbreviation (major), course, and individual section level.
Snavely emphasized, "Our priority right now is to get at least one for every department, at the departmental level." Fifty-six departmental and major guides have already been created, and more are under development.
Only one subject guide may appear in an ANGEL course at a time, whichever is the most specific. A campus- or college-level guide will be linked in a course if no departmental-level guide is available. Six campus-level library guides, including one for University Park, have currently been completed.
Instructors who wish to request a new custom library guide may do so by e-mailing email@example.com. Snavely said that with input from the requester, a librarian most familiar with that subject area will make an effort to create the guide in a timely manner. Departmental-level guides will take first precedence, however.
Faculty are encouraged to direct students toward the library subject guide in their ANGEL course as a source of reliable, useful information. Snavely's message to students is simply, "Use it."
In fact, Snavely explained, the Library-ITS collaboration that led to the development of the Custom Library Guides tool in ANGEL was sparked by a 2002 EDUCAUSE Review article entitled "Course-Management Software: Where's the Library?" which warned that course management systems often lead students to Web resources of "uneven quality." It went on to note that libraries make large investments in resources purchased with the specific curricular needs of their institutions in mind, in consultation with faculty, but that unless students are led to these quality resources via the course management system, they may not use or even be aware of them. Snavely said, "Often what has happened is that the information thatŐs offered through the course management system is of an inferior quality. The issue has been: How do we connect our students with the scholarly information the University is already purchasing? So that's the premise on which we designed these tools."
Ask a Librarian tool
The newest library tool available in ANGEL courses is the Ask a Librarian link leading to the University Libraries Web site. There, students can engage in online chat with a librarian or e-mail to obtain reference assistance or find out the locations and phone numbers of reference desks. "If they have a research question," said Snavely, "they can ask right in ANGEL."
Snavely said the addition of the three library tools in ANGEL "has been a neat collaborative project." She noted that Penn State is an innovator on the national level in this initiative to make library resources available through its course management system.
Computer users are advised to avoid the use of unaffiliated third party Internet companies such as the Web service called MarketScore (formerly known as NetSetter). MarketScore, and other similar network re-direction services, advertise themselves as Internet connection speed accelerators. However, independent experts have not observed any appreciable improvement in connection speed as a result of using services such as MarketScore.
While MarketScore advertises its claims for improved connection speed to attract potential users, it, and other similar traffic re-routers, exist to cull, compile and trade aggregate user data to retailers and marketing researchers. The MarketScore stated goal is to ". . . help others understand Internet trends and patterns."
This help is done by collecting and selling information on Internet usage patterns. Once you sign up, your Web connections are routed through MarketScore's servers, where all of your Internet traffic may be stored and analyzed. This includes even your secure connections. As a result, MarketScore can potentially gain access to your usernames and passwords, credit card numbers, PINs, bank and purchase transactions, and other confidential information.
As sensitive and confidential information may pass through the MarketScore servers, users are increasing their potential for identity theft and invasive monitoring of personal Internet usage. It is recommended that all Penn State users refrain from use of services such as MarketScore due to the potential security concerns mentioned above.
To learn how to protect your computer and your privacy from this and other potential problems, see the Take Control Web site. The current versions of Spybot-S&D or Ad-Aware can remove MarketScore.
If you have questions or need assistance, please contact the ITS Help Desk.
ITS will be discontinuing it's large format color postscript plotting service (i.e. the 201 Pollock Lab HP plotters) at the end of Fall Semester 2004. The last day for plot submission using that service will be Monday, December 20. Plots submitted by that time will be available for pickup during open hours at the Pollock Lab until 5:00 PM Thursday, December 23.
Alternate local services (University Park area) for color plotting include:
Engineering Copy Center
101 Engineering Unit A
Multimedia and Print Center
101 North Atherton Street
For the next ITS Forum, Gary Augustson and Jeffrey Kuhns will discuss the unrealized potential of Internet technologies in education.
Title: Broadband America-An Unrealized Vision
Date: Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Time: 9:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.
Location: 141 Computer Building
Presented by: J. Gary Augustson, Jeffrey Kuhns
Description: Despite enormous progress in deploying Internet technology and services over the past fifteen years, many of the goals for use of the public Internet in education and research remain unrealized. This talk will examine the present situation and outline steps that would, if widely embraced, contribute to a revitalization of vision and expectation and lay the basis for creation of an advanced communications infrastructure for Americans, which would fully support the needs of the academic community and its educational mission.
Registration for ITS Forums will be done through the ITS Training Services registration system. To register for this seminar please visit the Web site at http://its.psu.edu/training/.
This newsletter is published by The Pennsylvania State University, Consulting and Support Services, a unit of Information Technology Services, 214 Computer Building, University Park, PA 16802. The newsletter is also produced as a set of Web pages and Acrobat PDF files at http://cac.psu.edu/news/ on the World Wide Web. A printed version is mailed to full-time faculty and staff at all locations. Copies are available at the Computer Building at University Park. To obtain copies by campus mail, contact Danette Yakymac at (814) 865-4757 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information Technology Services encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact us in advance of your participation or visit.
This publication is available in alternative media upon request.
Your comments and suggestions are welcome. Please contact the editor, Margaret Smith, 214 Computer Building, University Park; (814) 863-8125; e-mail email@example.com.
Editor in Chief
Kathy Mayberry, Director, User Services
Max Podurkin, student in ART 475, studying with Professor L. Sommese