Tell the CIO

 
The "Tell the CIO" service lets you communicate your ideas, gripes, and suggestions about the services that Amherst IT offers to me, David Hamilton, the interim CIO, and lets you propose new services that you'd like to see. Please let me know what you're thinking. I promise you a prompt answer.
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The CIO Responds

4/22/15: I'm really not a fan of the new athletics homepage. I think the fact that it exists outside of the navigation that governs the other 99% of the Amherst site is a mistake, and is a potential point of confusion for visitors. Additionally, I hate to be so negative, but the design in general feels corporate and not in the spirit of Amherst DIII athletics. Other alums who I have spoken to have expressed similar feelings, with everyone being confused as to why the site is separate from the rest of the website.

4/23/15: In addition to the actual tell the CIO I sent in, I heard that you got the nod as permanent CIO, so I wanted to say congratulations and best of luck! - Taylor

DH: Hi Taylor,

It's been a while - I hope all is well and you're enjoying your career post-amherst!

We launched the new athletics website in March after a number of years of discussion and assessment. Our office works in partnership with the Office of Communications to enhance, implement, and maintain Amherst College websites. For web development projects for external audiences, we mostly concentrate on the technical aspects of the implementation. We asked the Office of Communications for feedback so we could provide detailed information about the reasons behind the change.

The Office of Communications explains that the athletics website was completely revamped in partnership with Presto Sports, whose other clients include most NESCAC institutions as well as the NESCAC head office and hundreds of other college and university athletics programs. Differentiated athletics sites like this have become best practice in college athletics because the needs of those following these events are different than .edu sites. The feedback we have received from student-athletes, their families, and the teams' many fans on campus, among our alumni and beyond has been quite positive. The site is fully responsive for all mobile and stationary device formats and features easy access to some 120 live-streamed games each year, breaking news about game results, an image-oriented presentation that capitalizes on the pictorial and video richness of sports, and thorough interaction with our related social media channels.

As we have seen in IT many times, changing technologies, in this case the delivery format of the athletics website, takes a period of adjustment. We encourage you to give the new athletics website a chance as it has many new features and capabilities that were not available on the previous website.

Thanks for the kind words regarding my recent appointment,
David

2/24/15: IRS Phone Scam. About the current IRS phone scam that the police is warning the Amherst community about - it appears that Amherst's student accounts have been compromised - for the scammers to learn of Amherst student names and phone numbers. Is there need for concern about our passwords and financial information, social security numbers and the like?

DH. We have recently seen an increase in the amount of phishing attempts against many Amherst College accounts. The fraudulent emails are designed to coax the recipient into revealing the credentials of their account or other personal information. The authors of these fraudulent messages use several methods to harvest publicly available data that is available from multiple sources such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and our own college website, to name a few. They use the data they harvest to target potential victims, which includes Amherst College students, faculty, and staff.

When we detect that an account has been compromised, we lock the account, and work with the account holder to reset the password for the account and resolve any related issues. Most of the time, accounts that have been compromised are used to send out spam or to magnify a phishing attempt.

It is important to stress that no matter how threatening an email sounds, you should not provide your credentials after clicking on a link provided in an email. When in question, you can forward the email to phishing@amherst.edu so we can review the message, inform you if it is in fact a fraudulent message, and adjust our email filters accordingly if it is. We actively block fraudulent messages once notified to prevent others in our community from being deceived by a phishing attempt. You can also contact our help desk at x2526 to help you determine if a questionable message you receive is authentic.

As far as passwords, financial information, social security numbers, and other personal data, we use standard business protocols and abide by federal and state regulation for working with that type of data. Furthermore, your data is not stored in a single system, and you may need to sign in multiple times and maybe even in different systems to access some of that data. Employees who have access to your data can only see data that is relevant to their work. We have roles and permissions in place that prevent an employee from being able to see data that they should not be able to access. Nevertheless, the non-public data that is tied to your Amherst profile (which does not include financials and social security number), is only as safe as the complexity and the safety of your password. That is why it is so important to not reveal your password to anyone, including IT staff. We do not need your password in order to provide service.

When you want to change your password for any system, you will want to determine if you are on the correct website. To do that, look at the address bar of your web browser. The web address should be that of the entity in which you intend to change your password. As a best practice, instead of clicking a link in an email to change your password, you should visit the site by typing the website's address yourself. For example, to change your password at Amherst College, visit the website at http://www.amherst.edu, and click "Tools > Change/Manage Password." That is the safest method to make sure you do not fall victim to a phishing attempt, to safeguard your password, and to safeguard the information in your account.

11/22/14: Applicant Login. Hey I am unable to log in my Amherst account for like a month. I have tried using different browsers but no change was done.
So I wonder how I can log in and finish my application.
Thank you very much.--Tony

DH. A couple of things. First, when you need technical support, it is better to use Ask IT, which puts you in touch with the IT Service Desk. (And you'll need to supply more information than just your first name.)

Second, and in general, if you ever forget your Amherst login usename and/or password you should go to any page on the Amherst website, click the Tools menu, and select Change/Manage Password. Many groups, such as alums, applicants, and Five College students, don't even have to know their usernames in order to change their passwords.

11/06/14: BitTorrent. I am an alum who just graduated this past May. Since it has come to my attention that BitTorrent is now blocked on the Amherst network, I decided to write you an email.

The news of the new policy regarding BitTorrent reached me through social media. There was someone complaining they could not download a very long book that was already public domain, and other people started either complaining of similar issues or commenting that BitTorrent had officially been blocked by the IT department due to connectivity problems and firewall overloads, among other things.

Now, as an alum this has no immediate impact on my life, but as a student who was a heavy user of BitTorrent I felt the need to write to you on the topic and urge you to reconsider this stance. Note that by heavy user I do not mean to say I seeded copyrighted content all the time, but that I greatly enjoyed the wealth of legal content available in no other form or not as conveniently. Through my four years at Amherst I used BitTorrent extensively, and I did place a cap on the upload speeds when seeding files to reduce the strain on the bandwidth.

The majority of my BitTorrent downloads were for fan subtitled versions of Japanese TV shows (Anime). The whole fansub industry relies on BitTorrent to distribute currently airing Japanese shows that have not been licensed in the US (thus, legal content to be shared inside the country). Note that, there is no other way for accompanying these series. One could be hopeful that some American corporation buys the rights to a show, something that can take a year or never happen at all, and that they release a non-dubbed version, which is not super common. As a student who took 2.5 years of Japanese at Amherst and studied abroad in Japan, my inability to consume Japanese media would have been upsetting and counter-productive to my learning.

I believe the second category of important and convenient BitTorrent downloads, for me during my career at Amherst, was software such as large patches/add-ons to programs I needed, coding environments, Linux distros, etc. Some of these were just convenient to download through a BitTorrent client and some were not even made available in other formats. For example, an Ubuntu virtual machine set-up for coding a tiny Chinese quadcopter I had purchased was updated almost monthly when it was released, and only after ~6 months they started making direct downloads available, which was not as fast to download as through BitTorrent.

I can keep listing other important/convenient uses I made out of BitTorrent and it's huge wealth of content. This would include public domain collections of piano scores, books, music/shows from my home country not available in America (as an international student, this was quite important, since I obviously did not bring all the CDs I own with me to Amherst). But my point is, if there is a single student currently at Amherst College whose usage of BitTorrent is as important to him as mine was to me, I fail to see how choosing to simply block BitTorrent on campus, instead of addressing the connectivity/firewall issues, is a sensible approach. How grave are these firewall issues? Has the department not found reasonable ways of solving the BitTorrent problems by checking what solutions others institutions have implemented?

I would appreciate any clarifications on this issue, and I hope that the IT department will keep providing the campus community with great services. Thank you for your time.

DH. So first a bit of irony: I use BitTorrent quite a bit, including similar uses as yours, along with the BitTorrent sync client to support my own private cloud. I lament my loss of access to it at work.

This was purely a quality of service issue with our network - student BitTorrent activity was bringing down the college network repeatedly, including during exam week several times last year, which led us to block it. Our networking infrastructure is not capable of supporting the activity levels we were seeing, nor is it capable of traffic shaping or connection severing on an automated basis in such a way that we could guarantee network availability. Fixing this requires new networking hardware, and it's very expensive. Pieces of that hardware are in our budgets over the next several years, but budget approval is not guaranteed.

Thanks for sharing your concerns. I'm sorry I can't promise easy solutions, but the issue is on our radar and in our budgets.

11/04/14: Amherst Subdomains. A lot of people (myself included) instinctively type 'library.amherst.edu' into the URL bar when trying to get to the library page at Amherst. However, that subdomain currently doesn't have anything. Can we set up a redirect so library.amherst.edu redirects to the library page? This seems like a trivial thing to do that would make the website a lot more user-friendly.

DH: Although many academic institutions do use subdomains as redirects, our policy at Amherst is to use subdomains only when referring to a unique service living on a unique server, and not simply as redirects. Because the library site lives on the main webserver (www.amherst.edu/library), we do not as a matter of policy give it its own subdomain. 

Besides mere consistency, we have good reasons for this policy, such as:
Subdomain redirects can create confusing search results.
Subdomain redirects can skew analytics required to manage the website.
Implementing and maintaining subdomain redirects is a high-level function that only one staff member can perform. Thus, no maintenance or corrections when this person is out. We have many more people who can implement and maintain CMS-level redirects.

For now, we think the advantages of keeping our current policy outweigh the benefits of using subdomains as redirects, but it is an issue we review regularly.

10/28/14: Campus App. Hello David! I just wanted to thank you for the new Amherst Campus app! I had a couple questions about it.

1) Would we be able to add the Grab-n-Go menu to the app?

2) I can't seem to find the locations for any of the events on the app. Am I just not looking in the right place? Maybe locations should be made more obvious.

DH: 1) Our general plan for adding features to the app is a) to consult with the students in terms of what features to add next and b) try to be responsive to requests as they come in, when there is a consistent request for something. We actually poll users from withing the app.

The first poll requested laundry machine info and that¹s coming. The majority of direct feedback was about Grab-n-Go, so it¹s likely to come next if we can address the technical challenges.

2)  The app is built using a framework we licensed from a vendor (Modo Labs), and unfortunately it does not at present allow us to display location information on events. To get to location information, you need to  click through using the "Website" link at the bottom of each event. This sends you back to our website where we CAN control the presentation of location data.

We filed a feature request ticket with Modo Labs regarding this, and hope eventually that this will be possible for us. In the meantime, we're looking into renaming the "Website" link to something more informative, such as "More Information."

9/30/14: I'm an alum and want to log onto the website. How do I do it?

DH: All alums--even those who matriculated well before we had computers on campus--have accounts that let them log into the Amherst website. So what you need is a way to discover your Amherst username and set your Amherst password. To do that, access the Tools menu on any page of the Amherst website and select Change/Manage Password. On the next page, click the link that corresponds to your role. In your case, being an alum, you would select the link in the right column. Now, you need to enter the email address that the College has on file for you. You are then sent an email to that address. Follow the directions in the email to discover your username and set a password.

If the College doesn't have a current email address for you, you need to let the Alumni office know what your email address is. You can call (413.542.2313) email (alumni@amherst.edu).

9/18/14: I had a recent thought/question regarding the presentation of important meetings that happen on campus. As an alum, I only wish that I could be on campus every time there is a conversation that would potentially involve my input. I know there have been plenty of recordings of great conversations that can be found on the website, but I was wondering if Amherst has thought of providing live video, "town hall"esque presentations. I think back to how lucky I was to be on campus and hear President Biddy speak on the (then current) Title IX issues we faced, and how many of my fellow alum weren't provided that same chance. I would love to hear your thoughts on the feasibility of such a venture.

DH: Thanks for your note and your idea. The college netcasts a number of live events‹sporting events, commencement, etc.--but it is a fairly limited list in comparison to all the events that take place on campus. And though our netcasts currently are one-way, it would not be difficult set up a parallel chat channel where questions and comments from remote viewers could be relayed to a speaker or panel.

But while IT provides the capability, we don’t decide what to cover. The Alumni Office may assist in that regard. I will forward your note to the Alumni Office, as well as to the Chief Communications Officer.

8/18/14: Does the IT department offer any free or reduced price microsoft office softwares? 

GB: Yes we do offer microsoft software that you can download and install on up to 5 computers for $9.95. Detailed instructions are on the IT wesbite, link: http://bit.ly/VAQQM5.

8/7/14: Hi, ... I would like to point out a part of the Amherst website that is potentially misleading, specifically the AAS van calendar ... If one were to look at the calendar in the grid view, it would appear that on some days/time slots there are open periods where one can request a van. However, if the view is changed to 'list' it is not the case that the previously open slots are available. ...

GB: This calendar is managed by AAS so I forwarded your message to them and suggested that they add entries for when vans are not available, as Prof. Courtright does with her office hours calendar. Thanks for your note.

8/6/14: I think a picture of the IT staff on the "About" page that lists the staff would be really helpful. Sometimes I remember a particular person by face alone, and sometimes I've never met someone but had multiple phone calls and/or emails and would like to put a name to a face.

GB:  What a great suggestion, thank you.  Biology has done a good job with their faculty page so I'll see if we can do something like that (although many people -- not just in IT -- will resist having their picture on the web).

5/27/14: I, along with other students, have been receiving advertisements from businesses and, most recently, information from US military recruitment via my Amherst email. Does Amherst give our email addresses to these entities? If so, can we stop? If not, can we find a way to prevent them from getting this information? Thanks!

GB: I know how annoying this can be, and I myself am ruthless about either unsubscribing, filtering mail to the Trash, or using the "Block Sender" function, depending on which seems appropriate. There are many ways that businesses can get student names and email addresses, starting with the printed directory, so no, there is no way for us to entirely prevent this.  The Solomon Act requires that Amherst share information about students, including email addresses, with the military.

3/31/14: I hired a new person last week and we called the help desk for info on IT services - I knew there was a form, but couldn't find it on IT. So I e-mailed the Help Desk knowing the request goes to many. A staff person responded and told me the form was on the HR website. I filed the form immediately. This morning, I e-mailed the staff person to find out when it would happen and find out there is a class to take, and it happens on Mondays.  There has to be a smoother process than this.

GB: You're right -- there has to be a better way for "onboarding" new staff. I think it's on the HR list of things to do, but hasn't bubbled to the top yet.  The computer-phone page is one of the IT forms, and the Forms link is at the very bottom of the IT homepage, so I'm not surprised that you didn't find it.  Apparently (I haven't done it myself), you are supposed to get a confirmation email that mentions the security training.

3/4/14: I think it would be excellent to offer Dropbox to Amherst College faculty and staff, and maybe students. Many faculty members already use the service and   it is widely used by colleagues at other institutions. Dropbox is also integrated into many apps including several desktop and smartphone email apps   that allow for adding links to an email instead of attaching the actual file   (Postbox, Boxer, Mailbox etc).  I'm partial to Dropbox as it is strictly a cloud-based storage service. Google Drive is nice too, but so many people are confused by ACApps and logging in there versus their private Gmail etc. that I can't get folks to  use it... 

GB: We've put a line item for Dropbox or Box.net into the budget proposal for next year.  I'm sorry to hear that AC Apps/Google Drive isn't working for people, though, as I think it's such a great service.  I do have to keep my personal Gmail in one browser and AC Apps in another, though.

2/13/14: I'm an Amherst parent in California and have become a fan of the AmhCam cameras to see what's going on.  Mostly to see the weather and occasionally gloat to my daughter ;)  Writing to report that the camera that overlooks the quad seems to be falling - at the very least it got crooked.  I couldn't find where else to report it (since I don't have helpdesk access) so I landed here, I hope you can forward this to the owner of the camera to make sure it doesn't go tumbling down.

GB: Thank you for letting us know about this. The camera mount has been straightened. Currently the camera is mounted inside the vestibule in Frost library, looking through a pane of glass. IT is currently collaborating with Public Affairs and Facilties to consider upgrading the camera itself, and moving it to a mount on the exterior of the library. 

12/1/13: Would it be possible to put Word on the open computers in Merrill?

GB: Yes, and thanks for asking.  After consulting with the librarians to be sure they didn't have any objections, we will make the kiosk computers match the lab computers when they are re-imaged in January.

10/27/13: After talking around a bit, I came up with an idea for an app. Basically, it's a Val meal tracker; you tell it which dishes/meals you like for each meal, and the app alerts you when those meals are being served. Maybe a similar ability re: Grab-n-Go as well.  I think it'd help people plan where they're eating lunch more efficiently, and keep people from missing out on their favorite foods in Val and, conversely, helping them plan when to eat out if they want to- thus helping to normalize Val attendance and maybe make it more predictable. 

GB: That's a fun idea, thank you.  I know that "congo bar day" would be a popular choice in this department.  We've had limited success with people actually using other tools which allow personalization, but we'll see how complicated this might be when we update the menu-related systems in December.

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