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TechFest 2010

April 14th, 2010

Thank you for coming out to TechFest!

Edition: Department: Tags:

WordPress Makes Websites Easy

WordPress is a free, open source tool that OIT uses to publish and maintain websites and blogs, including the one you’re looking at right now. We’ve found it excellent for small scale websites such as College departments and organizations.

People like being able to update their site without having to know HTML, and being able to make their changes through a web interface – there’s no fussing with local copies and file transfers, nor worrying about files getting out of sync. Web developers (i.e. code monkeys like me) enjoy the well documented, easy to use API, and being able completely control the look and layout of the site. Another great feature of WordPress is that you don’t need a web developer to get an attractive and functional site – there are hundreds of beautiful, free, pre-built themes available that can radically change the way your site looks and behaves, without affecting the content. With a just few clicks and no coding at all, you can change your site between these skins: more...

Themes Screenshot

While WordPress has extensive support for blogging, having a blog on your WordPress site is completely optional. It works very well as a lightweight content management system for any type of website.

To get a better idea of what WordPress can do, you can visit Williams’ sites that were developed using it:

Some other cool WordPress features:

  • Statistics that can tell you about your site’s traffic & visitors
  • Photo galleries
  • Multi-level user permissions that can control who can edit what
  • Forum-like commenting with automatic spam filtering
  • Web forms

If you’d like to find out more about WordPress, contact your Instructional Technology Liaison.

The Point & Click Show

After sitting Phil Remillard of Media Services & Dave Parks of Networks & Systems in front of a camera for an hour with no more instructions than to “just talk about OIT and crack as many jokes as you usually do,” we came up with the raw footage for the first episode of the Point & Click show. I hope you enjoy our impromptu comedy, which sneaks in a few interesting technology tidbits, including spam prevention, and fair use in copyright.

Computer Labs

Jesup:
101 – Media Studio, PC/Mac Lab
316 – Media Studio, PC/Mac Lab
204 – PC/Mac Lab w/ scanner
205 – PC computer classroom
207 – Mac computer classroom
B03 – PC/Mac Lab
’62 Center for Theater & Dance:
G81 PC/Mac Lab
Bronfman:
119 – PC Lab
Clark:
201 – PC/Mac Lab
Physics:
TPL 207 – PC Lab
Sawyer:
Downstairs – PC/Mac Lab
Schow:
027 – PC Instructional Room
Spencer Art:
216 – Media Studio, PC/Mac
Specialty Labs:
Bernhard Music Lab* (Mac Only)
Schow GIS Lab* (PC Only)
TCL 215 – Computer Science Lab (Mac Only)
North Academic Bldg Language Lab (PC/Mac) more...

*: access restricted to specific users

Lab locations on campus:

Campus map

Microsoft Office 2007/2008

With the New Year comes a new software package for the Williams community- Microsoft Office 2007 for PCs, and Office 2008 for Macs. The new Office products have a different user interface, but retain all the features of previous versions, plus some new features to help make computing easier. At first glance, Office 2007 & 2008 applications may seem challenging to get accustomed to, but testing has shown that they are much easier to use than previous versions, once the new layout of the software is learned. The main difference is that the new interface uses tabbed menus rather than drop-down menus, which allow you to see more formatting options at one time. Office 2007 & 2008 will most likely be deployed on new computers this spring or summer. In the meantime, the software is available for download by faculty and staff on our software site, or on disc at the Equipment Loan Center (x4091). We encourage anyone who would like to try the software to install it on their computer, and attend any workshops that are available for the software. more...

In Word 2003, you accessed tools using pulldown menus:

Microsoft Word 2003 screenshot

In Word 2007, the pulldown menus have been converted into tabs:

Microsoft Word 2007 screenshot

Mount Greylock High

In our last edition, Dinny Taylor wrote about the various fates of older “trickle” computers- one of which is donation to local schools. In this edition, we’re briefly following up on one of those schools- Mt. Greylock Regional High. Many people are unaware of the depth of the relationship that the College has with this school. While children of Williams faculty and staff attend other schools in the region, Mt. Greylock is the primary public high school for Williamstown, and roughly 90 students at the school have a parent affiliated with Williams. As such, Williams has a vested interest in the quality of education provided, and has created the Williams Center at Mt. Greylock “to maximize the academic value the College can provide the school.” more...

I met with Kaatje White, the Coordinator of the Center, who told me about a variety of projects that Williams is involved with to achieve this goal. One is a year-long writing intensive English class taken by all 9th graders. Williams provides a trained student Writing Fellow for each section of the class, who critiques drafts and supports the class in various ways. Williams also has provided support for curriculum development and new texts for this class. This has allowed Mt. Greylock to focus its resources on keeping class sizes small.

The Center arranges and provides transportation for Williams students to tutor Greylock students, and brings Williams professors and special performances to the high school. Recently James McAllister spoke about Presidential Elections, and Ken Kuttner addressed an assembly on the economic crisis. Two dance workshops with the Jose Limon Dance Company were held in collaboration with the ’62 Center. In addition, Greylock students are invited to our campus for classes, science labs, library access, speakers, life drawing, and other opportunities which are rare to find in public high schools.

Williams also provides infrastructural support where it can. In addition to providing computers that the school could not otherwise afford, furniture left in Stetson and in other buildings has been donated to the school over the years.

For more information about the Williams Center at Mt. Greylock, visit http://mgrhs.org/ and select ‘Williams Center’ from the navigation on the left. To get involved, contact Kaatje White at kwhite@williams.edu.

Printing Quotas

We all know that preparing terms papers, reading documents, and scribbling notes are part of the college experience, but with the proliferation of computers, printers and easy access to online documents, we may be using more paper than we really need. In an effort to raise awareness about paper consumption, the college is working toward implementing a paper quota system in the Fall of ’09. more...

The goal is to continue to provide students with the resources they need for classes, but also to add a mechanism that motivates students to cut down on the waste that sometimes happens as a result of unlimited access to printing. Currently students are not charged for paper or printing at any of the campus printers, so there is little motivation to find ways to use less. There are many ways that paper consumption could be reduced: selecting duplex printing, printing only those documents that will be used, reducing the number of flyers printed and finding other ways to advertise events, and editing and reading documents online when possible.

“We want to put an incentive system in place. We don’t want to tell you the best way to cut down on printing because we don’t have the perfect solution. We want people to figure out the solutions that suit them best.”

– Amy Johns, Zilkha Center

OIT has been tracking print jobs through PaperCut since the start of the Fall ’08 term, to evaluate student printing habits. The exact quota has not yet been determined, but is intended to be sufficient to support academic needs in most cases. Students will only be charged for additional paper if they exceed their quota.

Implementation

Many details are still under discussion, but here are a few that are unlikely to change:

  • Color printouts will cost more than black & white ones.
  • Students will be warned well in advance if their quota is low, and given ample opportunity to purchase more printing credits.
  • Credits will be purchased by students directly, rather than showing up on their term bill.
Quick Facts: in the Fall of ’08…
  • Students printed over 880000 impressions on over 500000 sheets of paper.
  • The 100 most prolific printers (~5% of the student body) did almost a quarter of all the printing.
  • The average student produced 475 impressions on 275 sheets of paper.
  • Seniors printed almost three times as much as first-years.

For more information about the quota, contact Stephanie Boyd, Director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives.


18% of the print jobs at Sawyer are abandoned at public printers. Nick Baker, librarian, shown with the orphans of Fall ’07.

Holiday Shutdown

The college’s experiment of shutting down non-essential buildings and services from Dec 25th to Jan 5th in order to cut costs and emissions was a success on a number of fronts, according the Zilkha Center. I spoke with Amy Johns, an environmental analyst on the team, about the project. “We’re very pleased with the results. The College saved roughly $90K in energy costs and about 1% of its annual carbon emissions.” more...

The College learned a few things from the shutdown. Amy summarized the biggest areas in which we can improve:
“This shutdown was done on fairly short notice. If Williams decides to do another, more notice would almost certainly make things run more smoothly.”
“Mail and package routing was definitely a challenge. To the best of our knowledge, everything ended up getting to the correct destinations, but it took a lot of work and patience.”
“Some of the newer buildings- like Morley – were designed to be very highly conditioned, and there’s no easy way to put them into a passive mode. There’s little or no dead zone between air conditioning and heating, so once the thermostats were set lower, the building went in to cooling mode – drawing in cold outside air and then reheating it, instead of just taking less steam from the heating plant. Facilities learned a lot about those buildings from this shut down, and are working on solutions to that issue.”
Monitoring energy use on campus during the shutdown gave the sustainability team more insight into the consumption patterns of different types of buildings. Most dorms nearly flatlined during the shutdown, which affirmed their assumption that most of the energy used in residential buildings goes into heating, light, and appliances.

Buildings like Jesup saw a much smaller reduction (about 18% less than normal), because essential services were still running- in this case the server room.

Overall, participation was excellent, and the savings from energy costs were nearly three times what was predicted. The Zilkha Center asked me to thank everyone who helped with the shutdown effort on their behalf. So a big thank you to everyone who took the time to pitch in, and faced the inconveniences. Your help was truly appreciated!
OIT’s role
As part of the shutdown, all of the classroom computers needed to be powered down and unplugged. A team of OIT employees made the rounds on Christmas Eve day to turn everything off, and came back early on Sunday the 4th to reboot and test all of the machines before people returned to campus. Out of 80 classrooms, only one computer failed to turn back on. The exercise has Media Services thinking about better ways to design classrooms to accommodate shutdowns- connecting them to a single power source that can be turned off via circuit breakers is being investigated.

Even though Jesup was closed, Desktop staff (Guy Randall and Josh Trivilino) continued to provide support from Hopkins Hall for those who needed to come in during the shutdown.

OIT staff

OIT’s shutdown strike force: Jim Lillie, Phil Remillard, Bruce Wheat, Jonathan Leamon, and Paul Smernoff.

For more information about sustainability at Williams, visit the sustainability website.

Workshop Tutorials

OIT is now offering tutorial versions of workshops on selected topics, in addition to our regularly scheduled classes. The tutorials are similar to the regular workshops, but it’s just you and the instructor, so the instructor can adjust the pace of the class to your level of technical expertise, and spend more time on topics that interest you. Since tutorials don’t have a preset date, they don’t appear on the workshop calendar- you’ll need to visit the full workshop listing to see what’s available. more...

If you’d like to participate in a tutorial…

  1. Sign up for the tutorial, like you would any workshop.
  2. When you sign up, the instructor is automatically notified.
  3. The instructor will contact you to figure out a good time and location to meet.

OIT staff working with professor

Chris Warren shows professor Hank Art the Williams Wiki.

Cellphone & Laptop Survey

Cell phone and laptop use by Williams students is increasing, while land lines are becoming obsolete.

Students who… 2006 2008
Have a cell phone: 86% 97%
Have a land line: 79% 26%
Have a laptop: 73% 92%

Desktops are rarely used as primary computers by Williams students, and the greatest growth in laptops has been by Macs. more...

Primary Computer is a… 2006 2008
Windows Desktop 13% 6%
Windows Laptop 58% 57%
Mac Desktop 3% 1%
Mac Laptop 23% 35%
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